There was a naughty boy And a naughty boy was he, For nothing would he do But scribble poetry-He took An ink stand In his hand And a pen Big as ten In the other, And away In a pother He ran.... John Keats, “Song About Myself ”
Welter, an annual literary journal, is published by the School of Communications Design at the University of Baltimore 1420 North Charles Street, Baltimore, Maryland 21201.
The Editors thank President Robert L. Bogomolny, Kendra Kopelke.
Editor-in-Chief: Amanda Stiltner Poetry Editor: Kerrin Smith Fiction Editor: Annie Stevenson Nonfiction Editor: Kayla Cordes Comics & Arts Editor:
“Lips” cover image is courtesy of Gary Sieck. Address inquiries to the University of Baltimore, care of Welter. Visit http://welter.ubalt.edu for guidelines.
Printed in the U.S.A. ©2012 University of Baltimore School of Communications Design.
Layout & Design: Anastasia Baranovskaya Gary Sieck Associate Editors: Lawanda Johnson Michael Haberman Michael Smith David Smith Ronnita Warren Ron Williams
Dear Readers, We love squirrels. And sometimes, squirrels get hit by cars. And sometimes, cars get hit by trains. And sometimes, trains of thought take us far, far away from our pathetic lives. And sometimes not. Making Welter can get a little squirrelly at times. So we end up having these constant pissing contests between two polarized schools of thought. It’s either, Welter should be serious, very serious; that it’s a place of sex, depression, and suicide. Or it’s like, Welter shouldn’t be that serious, as if a hundred squirrels could type for a hundred years and they would have Welter 2011. You might be able to catch it when you’re flipping through.
Just hold on to yourself for another second while we get through this last bit of self-indulgence. We promise, you’re almost to the good stuff. We just really want you to know that empty-minded decisions were cast aside in order to create greatness. The futile pursuit of perfection, our mild quest to reach out and touch the
face of the sun and join the canons of the heavens themselves is immortalized within these pages. We searched for words. We searched for transcendence; understanding, meaning, and stuff like that, or something. Wait, what? The Editors
contents / fiction
Yvonne Battle-Felton / Nine / 14
Matthew Falk / Nihilist Kitsch / 26
Jeffrey F. Barken / Draft Dodger / 51
Genevieve Anakwe-Charles /The Land of My Ancestors / 62 Kohahvah Zauditu / Brushstrokes / 73 Mark Belisle / War Drum / 107
Catherine Maire / Heaps of Wings / 112
Jasc / Me / 6
/ comics & arts
Christopher Warman / Childhood Friends / 36 Jennifer L. Singer / Fry Bread / 43 Jordan Van Horn / Untitled / 60
Eleanor Leonne Bennett / Untitled / 70 G. J. Sieck / The Crossing / 80
Lowell Silverstein / The Heroâ€™s Journey / 7 Amanda Stiltner / The Train Ride / 20 Abby Higgs / At the Table / 28 Kayla Cordes / A Voice / 33
Melissa Chichester / My Grandmotherâ€™s Wake / 37 Anastasia Baranovskaya / Before I was Born / 45 Michelle Junot / Obituaries / 57 Nairobi Collins / Townies / 67
Eli Dillard / A Heart-Shaped Face / 77 Jenna Myers / Christmas Gift / 83
Mitchell Tropin / The Semi-Pro From Champagne / 90 Judith Krummeck / That July Day / 98 Karen Levy / My Name / 111
Nathan Dennies / Always and Forever / 118
Victoria Wambui / A Notable Departure / 125
David Smith / Untitled / 86
Annie Stevenson / Grand Central / 105 Evan M. Lopez / Untitled / 106
Abby Logsdon / Peabody Library / 123
Christopher Douglass / Packing. For the End of the World / 10 Joe Darden Obi / I Want to Mount a Poem / 11 Julie Fisher / Rake / 13
contents Steve Matanle / Insomnia/ 18
Katherine Cottle / 5:45 A.M. / 87
Mary Mays / Joy Ride/ 24
Christopher Warman / Ruminations / 89
Cindy Rinne / Bamboo / 19
m.i.c.s.m.i.f. / The Old Man in Court Room C/ 25
Dave K. / this is a song about lactose intolerance / 27 Carol Bindel / How to Accept the Gift / 32 Kerrin Smith / Night / 36
Leilani Jones/ Strange Fruit/ 41 Abdu Ali Eaton / Untitled / 43
Madame Sadie Rae Sunshine / Brain Storm / 44 Rachael Wooley/ Brilliance / 48
Ron Kipling Williams / Hurricanes / 49
Pantea Amin Tofangchi /Cartoon Time / 55 Drew Robinson/ Sunday Evening / 56
Jonas Kyle-Sidell / Take the Night / 61
Megan Stolz / The Smallest of Screws/ 64 Ronnita Warren / Shades of Truth/ 65
Barbara DeCesare / The Bolder Currencies / 71
Kina Viola / Sunbather / 88
Wendy Hoffman / Birthday / 93
Mary Azrael / From Little Squares: 31 days in October / 94 Danielle Donaldson / The Fallen / 95 Larry Eby / The Merchant/ 96
Virginia Crawford / Sister / 97
Timothy Galligan / The Dialect of Deep Water / 101 Jessica Morey-Collins / Sum Ephemeral / 102 Patricia Dearing / Atalanta / 103
Nikia Chaney / Ripping Letters / 104 Alyse Clepper / November / 109
Kendra Kopelke / January 14, 2012, 8 a.m./ 110 Lauren Beck / Lost / 114
Mychael Zulauf / the first path: empty sky / 115 LaSchelle Ross / Who Am I? Who Am I? / 116 Michael Habermann / New Wave Poem / 120
Shirley Brewer /All That Remains / 72
Natalie Shaw / Masked / 121
Lawanda Johnson / Take a Risk / 79
Cyntia Riegler / Snow Angels / 124
Saralyn Lyons / Standard Issue / 78
Tabitha Surface / Your Belt / 122
The Hero’s Journey Lowell Silverstein
(Modeled using Joseph Campbell’s monomyth pattern from The Hero with a Thousand Faces) The Call to Adventure The Hero starts out as just a normal, white, upper-middle-class American boy, growing up in the ‘80s. Then one day he watches Star Wars. He watches The NeverEnding Story. He watches Superman. He watches He-Man. He watches everything there is to watch, where a normal boy suddenly finds out he’s the special chosen one with a destiny and the power and responsibility to defeat the evil and save the world. And the Hero knows he’s special too. Refusal of the Call The Hero knows he’s special and has a chosen his destiny to have power and responsibility, but he also knows that right now he’s just a little kid. He counts the abs on his He-Man action figure and knows that he won’t be able to fulfill his destiny until he has at least that many abs. He does a lot of sit-ups as part of his Hulk Hogan workout routine, but his little kid belly remains one soft undifferentiated mass. The Hero begins to doubt. Supernatural Aid Doubting his specialness, the Hero asks his Dad what’s going to happen when he grows up. His Dad says things like “You can
be anything you want to be, if you just believe in yourself,” and “God has a plan for you.” The Hero’s faith in his specialness is restored. The Crossing of the First Threshold The Hero’s Mom takes him to his first day of kindergarten, and the Hero breaks down in tears while clutching his Mom’s leg and begging her not to leave him. His new Teacher coaxes him away from his Mom with Transformers toys, and he becomes so distracted that he doesn’t notice his Mom leaving. When the Hero realizes she is gone, he begins to cry again. Belly of the Whale In first grade, the Son of the Teacher is in the Hero’s class. The Son of the Teacher torments the Hero daily. At recess, the Son takes the Hero’s Star Wars action figures from him, and when the Hero tries to get them back, the Son bites the Hero on the stomach hard enough to leave a mark that lasts several days. Like Luke Skywalker trapped in the Death Star’s trash compactor, the Hero knows he needs to get out of this perilous situation. The Hero complains to the Teacher, but this does nothing to stop her Son from biting the Hero again a few days later. 7
The Meeting with the Goddess In second grade, the Hero has a crush on a Girl in his class. As Link with Princess Zelda, he wants to win her heart, but he doesn’t know how; so he asks his Mom for advice. She tells him to give her a gift. The Hero gives the Girl the Berenstain Bears Mama Bear Toy from a McDonald’s Happy Meal as a token of his affection. She does not thank him. The entire class chants that the Hero and the Girl are sitting in a tree, and she runs from the room. In his head, the Hero can hear Link saying: “Well excuse me, Princess.” Link never gave up, and neither does the Hero. He knows he will win the Girl’s heart one day. But he is so ashamed of his rejection by the Girl and the taunts by his classmates that he barely speaks to the Girl anymore after second grade. Woman as Temptress In seventh grade history class, the Hero sits behind the Second Girl. Just as Cyclops was led to neglect his duties as leader of the X-Men by the wiles of the Goblin Queen, the Hero finds himself unable to pay attention to the lesson because he is busy peering past the Second Girl’s arms at her recently-developed breasts, the largest of any girl in the class. Still, the Hero focuses enough attention on his classes to graduate with a solid B average. Atonement with the Father After the Hero graduates from high school, he decides he no longer believes in God. He never mentions this to his Dad, fearing it would cause his Dad to disown him. When the Hero 8
goes off to college and moves into his dorm room, he receives a letter from his Dad. It is full of the same sort of encouragement his Dad would give him when he was a boy. Towards the end, the letter mentions that his Dad knows the Hero no longer believes in God. “That’s okay,” the letter says. “You might not believe in God, but He believes in you.” The Ultimate Boon Like Indiana Jones finding the Ark of the Covenant, the Hero gets a job as a Document Analyst. He has no idea what a Document Analyst is, but he is glad to have a steady paycheck. On his first day of work, the Hero finds out that Document Analysts remove staples from pieces of paper that have been stapled together so that they can be digitally scanned, and then staple the pages back together after the scanning. After one day of unstapling and restapling, the Hero gets in his car and cries. He calls his Mom and tells her he feels his soul being crushed, and he is thinking about quitting. The Hero’s Mom urges him to give it a week at least. Refusal of the Return After a week of removing and replacing staples, the Hero is transferred to scanning the papers, which he finds slightly less soul-crushing. Like Frodo in Minas Tirith, the Hero becomes complacent. In the back of his mind, the Hero remembers something about specialness, and destiny, and being chosen to save the world from evil, and being able to be anything he wants
to be; he feels a tug in his heart. But if he scans enough papers, he starts to forget, and the tug starts to weaken. Freedom to Live Eventually, the Hero moves on to other more fulfilling jobs. He dates. He writes. He learns to play guitar. He forms lasting, supportive friendships. He grows up. Like Buffy Summers looking out over the great pit that was once the Hellmouth, the Hero realizes that he is free from the burden of being special and having a destiny. He may have certain powers and responsibilities, but not to defeat evil and save the world. He has the power to make his friends laugh and the responsibility to take care of his girlfriend when she is sick. He has the power to earn a solid income and the responsibility to pay his bills. He has the same powers and responsibilities everyone has, because life is not a comic book, and no one is Superman. And the Hero is okay with that. Most of the time.
Packing. For the End of the World Christopher Douglass
Pack. Pack. Pack. Pack. Pack thoughts into the corners of the mind like sardines.
Remember them like the back of your hand. Stay cool.
Breathe. The end is near. Pack. Pack. Pack. Pack.
Pack. Pack. Pack. Pack. Pack memories of birthdays, Halloweens, first kisses,
long nights, hard times, good times, in between times, the first suck, fuck, nibble into the realms of the mind never seen like babies crammed in
wombs ready to burst from heaven. Stay cool.
Breathe. The end is near. Pack. Pack. Pack. Pack. 10
Pack the greatest emotions love, hate, anger
Pack the blessings of a lifetime. Say goodbye to your worldly possessions. And the vessel that is not you. Walk to the sun. Fulfilled. Stay cool. Breathe. The end is near.
I Want to Mount a Poem Jo Darden-Obi
i want to mount a poem and hang it on the rivers of eternity where posterity can see it and remind us who we said we would be: as for me, a dancing flowered lace angel-oak frothy drama of seamless golden cream as for you, the better self that you dream i want to mount the internal destiny of rhyme and flame sweet metered madness that creeps up and slaps down i want to hang a fire on the main line of humanity call up every marginalized character in history’s walk of shame channel up the mysteries of martyrs and canes like the smoke that rose up in spite of the chains i need to mount a poem in your brain freak you out with words that don’t make sense for the life of you that burp and hurt inside of you like something fake you ate turn you upside down and question your old harangue on everythang then resonate, postulate until you get your answers straight create a couplet to catheterize pain ellipsis yusef calypso ‘trane blues is the muse for my words no shame in that 11
i am wearied from articulate specifics my faith is in hanging heuristics i may never be able to teach you to write to connect and combine or to undermine fragments but i might be able to ignite a hierarchy of truth that is innate inside you incite metaphors of peace to wrack war in the space of your mind that deals with puns honey, it will not forsake you. the poem i nail to the most inextricable prisons of your brain can’t wait. it is now- right now there is a poem behind you it will remind you what you already know about love science obscurity fear it’s right here right now right hear i wanna mount a poem in your hand i wanna mount a poem in your heart i wanna mount a poem somewhere that matters right here, right now it’s the only way the only way to convey anything.
Julie Fisher If I give you my poem will you peel back the skin of your breastbone and lay it there for safe keeping? Whiskey, leather and cigarettes are my undoing. I write of your fingers. Words well under my tongue. They spill out of my mouth like small, dark spiders their little legs trailing silk and leaving tattoos of my thoughts. I wait for lime green tendrils to unfurl from my moist and earthy places.
I am just a skittering thing. Tiny eyes ambering at the edge of the clearing. When I wonder about you I wake up. My flesh bursting like feathers. I open. Fling myself upward spiral and arch through my desire like bird play. My swoon on paper, looks simple. Careful my talons are sharpened.
Yvonne Battle-Felton There are ten cracks in the sidewalk between Riley’s stoop and the corner that she isn’t allowed to cross anyway. Ten opportunities, each requiring careful consideration, to break her mother’s back. The first cracks are easy. Riley forgives her mother for forcing her go to bed early last night, for making her miss “Fat Albert” and for making her eat what Corrine claimed was spaghetti. Everyone knows that Corrine can’t cook. Riley steps, on this hot summer’s day, from one baking slab of concrete to the next, the trinkets on her patent leather shoes clinking. Riley stops. Her foot rests, dangling, waiting as she contemplates the next crack. The thin whine of car horns wafts on breezes from Vine Street, bringing the world that much closer to 20th Street where boys on bicycles whiz by. They race up wooden ramps over plastic milk crates, Evil Keneviling through the air. Riley watches girls with braided pony tails jumping Double Dutch, their pink sneakers springing then slapping the pavement in rhythm. The girls, most of them older than Riley, watch one another. Still, as if on cue, one boy then another sails through the air, and the girls turn their heads in unison in the general direction of where they imagine the boy will land. They smile to no one in 14
particular. Only Lilith, the ropes whishing over her lean frame, brown body twisting, slender neck taut, gazes into the eyes of the boy who risked it all, for her, before gazing into the eyes of the next one. No one watches Riley. As Riley considers forgiving her mother for buying rice cakes instead of Doritos, poor Corrine’s fate becomes less certain. By crack seven, it relies solely on the rationalizations of a nine-yearold. By crack ten, if she squints, Riley can almost see inside the open door of Griffin’s, the corner store. At Griffin’s, you can get an iced cold can of Coke, two sticky green Now and Laters and a bag of chips, maybe even the Gold Nips Riley likes, without spending a dime. All you have to do, according to the neighborhood girls and a few of the boys, is let Mr. Jameson stand a little too close and brush his hairy arms on your naked neck, maybe let him blow hot air along the fresh scrubbed skin beneath your chin. For an ice cold Coke on a day like today, Riley just might risk being nice to Mr. Jameson, especially if it means the Gold Nips. Without realizing it, Riley has planted herself on the curb. Across the street, the stoops are littered with clear bottles and brown bags. Worn sneakers drape telephone lines. The walls of abandoned row homes are covered with faded graffiti. Riley is tempted by all of this. Somehow, Riley’s mother is to blame. Corrine had warned her daughters about winos and dope fiends hiding in alleys waiting for little girls and making them do
God-knows-what or selling them, as slaves maybe, to faraway lands. Riley wasn’t sure she believed her though. After all, this was the same woman who had told her about Santa Claus. “Riley!” her mother trills. Riley’s mother has spent years cultivating what she hopes is a superior tone that sounds, to the untrained ear, like, “Riley, I would appreciate your coming over here right now, please.” But that translates to her children as, “Get your ass over here now!” It does. Riley shudders the way she imagines good girls do, turns and runs home. Right foot, then left, right, left. She steps on all ten cracks. An hour later, Riley stands perched on the red concrete stoop in front of her home and twirls a complete circle before putting both hands on her fleshy hips. “I said, I can’t play with y’all right now,” she repeats, glowering at her big sister and her sister’s friends gathered around the bottom of the steps. “I’m all dressed up.” Riley doesn’t want any scuffs on her tight, crimson patent leather shoes, or any stains on her soft red and white striped summer dress with its strawberry-shaped pockets and the big papery, strawberry-shaped bow along the back. Riley’s father is on his way to pick her and Lilith up for the weekend. Lilith and her friends exchange glances and skip across the street. You know you’re too old to be skipping, Riley wants to say. But, she knows better.
Her sister rarely invites her to play with her friends, so although Riley knows she won’t be invited again, Riley doesn’t want to make Lilith mad, just in case. And it’s so easy to make Lilith mad these days. Like today, Lilith refused to talk to their father on the phone. She stood, long arms crossed before her slender frame, dark eyes staring blankly, lips pursed. She wouldn’t say a word. When he asked if his baby girl had missed him, she let the phone slip between her delicate fingers, leaving it to dangle inches from the floor. Her answer had been footsteps shuffling across the worn carpet. Their mother should have made her answer him, Riley thought. Corrine should have slapped Lilith across the face for sucking her teeth and rolling her eyes at their father, even if he couldn’t see her do it. But Corrine shook her head, her gold earrings swaying and gave the phone to Riley. They didn’t talk long. Since she can’t play hopscotch with Lilith and her friends or jacks with her own friends up the street, Riley entertains herself by tilting her head this way and that as the ribbons her mother tied around her lone pony tail kiss the back of her neck. She practices rolling her eyes and her neck in one fluid motion the way Lilith does. She has mastered the look of irritation, eyes tightly closed, lips puckered and one corner of her mouth slightly raised. This is the same look she reserves for indignation, impatience and indulgence. Lilith makes it look effortless. Riley glances across the street. No sign of her sister. Lilith’s 15
friends are unraveling thin ropes for Double Dutch. From her perch, Riley searches the identical concrete stoops of the houses on either side of hers. Each brightly painted door leads to an identical brick row house, each one indistinguishable from the next. But, Riley knows well enough what goes on behind each door. Kids talk. Sliding the thick soles of her shiny shoes along the pavement, Riley strolls to the curb. Her underarms begin to tingle. If Lilith isn’t around when their father pulls up, he’ll go looking for her. Lilith is his favorite, but he doesn’t know anything about her. He doesn’t know much about Riley either. He doesn’t know their friends, what they like to do, what they’re afraid of. He won’t find Lilith. Eventually, he will give up. Annoyed, he will leave. Riley will be left behind. Panic seeps through Riley’s skin as she considers where Lilith could be. She could be sitting just behind the wooden fence across the street, letting that curly haired, hazel-eyed boy touch her again. So many of the panels are missing that Riley should be able to catch a glimpse of a shoulder, a slice of thigh. That’s how she caught Lilith last time. Riley thinks about telling their mother. But, she can’t mention that boy without confessing what she already knows. She’ll get in trouble along with Lilith for not telling in the first place. Riley paces the length of the block, elm-lined corner to elm-lined corner. The tingle beneath her arms spreads. Sticky with perspiration, she counts the steps from her house to the 16
corner and back. Her heart beats faster as she recognizes Lilith’s boyfriend walking towards Tiffany and Lauren. Without slowing his stride, he shrugs, glances at Riley and continues walking down the street. “Damn,” Riley thinks. “I’m telling,” she decides. There’s no other choice but to walk in the house and say, “Corrine,” because that’s what she always calls her mother when she imagines these conversations. “Corrine, something just ain’t right.” “Momma?” Riley calls to her mother from the hallway. “Why don’t you come over sometime tonight?” Corrine says into the telephone. “Is that daddy?” Riley asks. At bedtime, when she and Lilith will talk about their day in the room they share, Riley will imitate the look on Corrine’s face. She will snap her head to glare over her shoulder at Lilith, she will squint her eyes, her nose and her lips as if Lilith just farted. Riley will settle back into her squishy mattress wondering if she should go to the bathroom again, and Lilith will turn back towards the wall, wiping the tears from her eyes. For now, Riley sits, right foot snug beneath her left thigh, collapsed on the steps pressing her pretty, paper bow to the concrete. She had changed her mind about telling on Lilith. With that one look, Corrine had again become the enemy. By the time Tiffany and Lauren finish practicing turning Double Dutch, Lilith ambles up the block, slim legs wobbling, gingerly cradling four cans of soda in the swell of her blouse.
Silently, Lilith hands Riley a wet can of grape soda, setting two cans at the bottom of the steps and clutching the last one between her trembling hands. Riley watches her rub the sweat from the can, up, then down, up, then down, with minute, even strokes. “Where’d you get these?” Licking her thin, cracked lips, Lilith pops open her can and looking into her sister’s eyes, she tips it on its end. Lilith tilts her head to watch the liquid sizzle to the pavement. She stands, tiny feet rooted to the concrete, mesmerized by the pools of purple collecting between the cracks. Riley watches Tiffany and Lauren steal glances at the unopened cans; she watches as they wrap up their jump ropes. Sweat trickles down Riley’s spine. Lilith’s friends turn to walk away. “So, that’s how it’s gonna be,” Riley thinks cracking her knuckles. “Leave them be,” Lilith says, knowing Riley well enough to know she can’t take on both girls in a fair fight. “That’s just another way we’re different,” Riley thinks. “I never plan to fight fair.” Instead of running across the street, Riley pretends to be content with rolling the empty can back and forth between her once shiny shoes. Riley’s stomach bubbles; she has no taste for patience. “Riley, he isn’t coming, is he?” Lilith asks. Riley stands on the bottom of her red concrete steps, one hand anchored within Lilith’s, as both girls watch a line of ants follow the trail of grape
soda. With a sigh, Riley gathers a soda can in each chubby fist. She shakes the cans until her arms ache. Gripping the cans tightly, she imagines they are the sweaty necks of sweet little girls and of the men who like them. “No,” she whispers, mindless of the foam bursting as she snaps the tabs. As tiny pale splashes of purple stain the rims of her white socks, she continues, “You need to be more careful of the company you keep.” She doesn’t say if she means Tiffany and Lauren, the fast boy, Mr. Jameson, her father or all of them. She knows by the slope of Lilith’s shoulders that she doesn’t have to.
Insomnia Steve Matanle
At 3 a.m. I envy everyone who is sleeping. All those hours they don’t have to exist! All those hours they don’t have to think about, don’t have to listen to uncertainty between each / heart / beat. Everything I know about sleep I learned from staying awake until my parents fell asleep and the house was quiet, and finally night itself would fall asleep, like a blind dog.
Bamboo Cindy Rinne
I see her walking on a path of knives and straws longing for a hot meal. She stands before layers of bamboo trunk, strong and cold. Slick leaves point in different directions circling above her head. Under the diamond star veil she searches for the Milky Way. I see her hidden black as bamboo shadows in the orange 1985 Dodge Colt. She carries her life in this car: pillows, blankets, a gray shoe box, and her Grandmotherâ€™s 1940s dresses. Oil stained road holds the weight of her transparent cage fused together by metal lines. Glasses gleam. Pen is ready. I see her pick up words off the floor and tie them to her hair so she wonâ€™t forget. Children laugh. Dogs bark. Her interior monologue protected by tears as she prays through the night. She wonders how to continue. Only three dollars left.
The Train Ride Amanda Stiltner
It was on a whim, the first time my cousin, Rachel, and I talked about backpacking through Europe. I agreed, thinking it would be one of those things we talked about doing every time we saw each other, but never took any action to make it happen “Oh yeah, we need to plan our Europe trip soon! Next time though. Next time.” It’s not that I didn’t want to do it, but all I could see flashing through my mind was a newspaper headline reporting our disappearance. Rachel was serious though, and I worked two jobs to save up my money, while Rachel was hard at work planning our itinerary. It wasn’t until after we booked our flight that she proposed we traverse from country to country by train.
“It’s called a EuroRail pass.” She explained it was an unlimited pass to anywhere in Europe accessible by train. “And it’s cheap!” This is smart of us, I thought to myself sarcastically, I’ve never even been on a train in America. I was reluctant but Rachel assured me it was the easiest way to get around. I let her call the shots. I’m scared of her. The first leg of our trip takes us to Paris. It’s dirty and expensive, and we booked our hostel near the Moulin Rouge. It’s not until we get there that we learn it’s in a district of Paris heavily populated with prostitutes. Had our research in to the Moulin Rouge surpassed more than watching the enchanting 20
musical of the same name, we probably would have known that. Three days pass in Paris before we are to embark on the first leg of our train adventure. As we arrive at the Paris train station, I find it has about as much appeal as a McDonald’s bathroom.
We are scheduled to depart Paris at 11:00pm for a grueling 14 hour trip until we reach Venice, Italy the next day. As we walk on to the crowded platform, we are greeted by a clunky old train; dirty and rusty and my home for the next 14 hours. They shuttle us aboard, like a herd of cattle and as we travel down the narrow corridor to our cabin, I’m finding I need to hold my head back and up to be able to breathe properly. Rachel and I reach our cabin to find a small, 8X8 room, with platforms lying horizontally and attached to the wall, three on each side. No matter which “bed” you choose, there isn’t enough room between them to be able to sit up, so we are forced to lye for the next 14 hours in a cabin with four strangers (all male) who don’t speak any English and are wearing far too much cologne. The train embarks and the lights go off in the cabin. As I close my eyes and try to picture myself anywhere but where I am, I fight back tears. I’ve never wanted to be home so badly in my life. I hear Rachel from the platform under me, “Amanda.” she says.
I replied with a pathetic whimper, since it was all I could muster. After a moment, she responds. “This sucks.”
I couldn’t help but let out a nervous laugh.
“I know” I replied “let’s go get a Snickers bar.” That night I had a wonderful dream that the train crashed and Rachel and I ran to Venice in the fresh open air.
Our stay in Venice was brief, yet we made the decision to take a day trip, by train of course, to Verona. I note how much nicer the Venice train station is than the one in Paris. We board the clean and modern train to find quite a different set-up than we were used to; the train car had a main walkway going through the center of the car, while benches, which faced each other and had a table in between, flanked both sides. Rachel and I took a seat on one of the benches and rested our things on the table. As we sat there waiting to embark, an elderly Italian couple sat on the bench adjacent to us. I looked around to find a completely empty train car, but we just nodded and smiled and they returned the sentiment. As Rachel and I chatted, the couple seemed intrigued that we were speaking English. “Are you from America?” the woman asked in very broken English.
We replied in Italian to try to show we weren’t completely ignorant Americans. It should be noted, I only know four words in Italian; si, which is yes; grazie, which is thanks; vino, which is wine; and fromaggio, which is cheese. I should probably know more, but my small Italian vocabulary has gotten me everything I’ve wanted thus far. She begins to strike up a conversation
with us, and we lean our heads in closer, hoping it will help us understand her better. In the midst of it all, we caught her asking if we would like a drink. Rachel and I looked at each other, wondering what our parents would think if they knew we were taking food offers from strangers on trains. We shrugged our shoulders and accepted her offer. I assumed by asking us for a drink, she meant going to the dining car and bringing us back a soda, until she proceeded to remove four Heinekens from her bag, pop them all open and hand them to us. “It’s 10 a.m.” I thought to myself “I love Italy”.
As we pulled in to the Verona train station, our new drinking buddies offered us up some sandwiches as well, but we declined.
Rachel and I kept busy while in Verona, completely forgetting to eat-a rarity for us. As we arrive at the train station to head back to Venice, we are greeted with the marvelous and familiar smells of old grease and ketchup. A McDonalds, which we seemed to have missed on our way out this morning, has appeared, like a vision, in the corner of the station. We had just enough time to order two #1’s and a Coke before running to catch the next train. We sit and open our glorious food and we don’t speak. We just eat. Within minutes we polished off our burgers and fries like a couple of rapid dogs. I suddenly became aware of our surroundings; it was around 5 o’clock, and the train was crowded with commuters on their way home from work. I looked around to find everyone in the immediate vicinity staring with disgust at what they had just witnessed. At that moment 21
we were solidifying any stereotypes Europeans may have about fat Americans who stuff their faces with fast food. I realize I’m okay with that, it was one of the best meals I’ve ever had.
The next couple of train rides included some interesting characters; Venice to Rome included an old Italian man snort in my face, then yell at me in his native tongue; Rome to Sorrento included another sandwich offer, a sexual proposition by two seedy French men, and a two hour delay on the tracks due to mechanical failure; and Sorrento back to Rome entertained us with a random musical number preformed by eight Italian business men, and a homeless gypsy boy with an accordion swiping money from me on the platform. And then it was time to go home. Our last train ride would take us from Rome to Paris, with a stopover in Milan to switch trains. We boarded our first leg, a roughly 8 hour ride, late in the night and settled in to get some sleep before our stop. I awoke with a start in the middle of the night to a banging on our cabin door. Still half asleep, I opened it to find the conductor standing in front of me. “Out, last stop.” He barked.
It didn’t seem like we were on the train for that long, but I woke up Rachel and we gathered our things and departed. The platform was empty. The clock above the door to the train station tells me it’s 4 a.m. and I struggle to figure out where we are and what has happened while half asleep. I walk up to the ticket booth and explain our situation, only to find out we boarded the wrong train in Rome and are now in Bologna. The 22
friendly woman behind the ticket counter assures us that there is a train heading to Milan arriving in about an hour, and if we sit tight, she will get us on that train. It would get us to Milan around 7:30, a half hour too late for us to catch our train from Milan to Paris, which departs at 7 a.m. We wait, not having much a choice, and cross our fingers that by some stroke of luck, we can catch our connecting train. We board in Bologna, and head to Milan, and I toss and turn worrying about catching our next train. Upon arrival, we find that all the hoping and praying we did didn’t pay off, and our train to Paris already departed. Before we panic, we walk to the ticket booth and tell them our situation. “When is the next train to Paris?” I ask. She explains that the next train is at 11 a.m., but it’s sold out. “And after that?” I ask. Not until 11 p.m. tonight.
My heart sank and Rachel immediately broke out the international cell phone her parents bought her for emergencies. While she cried to her mom on the phone, I became determined to resolve the situation and get us back to Paris in time to catch our flight. “Rachel, your mom can’t help us, get off the phone so we can try to figure this out.” “You just need to calm down Amanda!” she shouted at me through tears and slobber.
I had had it. The fatigue of dealing with the same company for
the last three weeks, combined with the pressure of the situation caused me to break. I marched up to the ticket counter. “I need to get on that morning train.” I proclaimed.
She informed me she could squeeze me in, but it would be standing only, and she could only fit one.
After arriving in Paris, I departed the train and the station that day knowing I would never have to experience another train in Europe again. The feeling was bittersweet, and as I reflected on our experiences in my head, both good and bad, Rachel’s voice interrupted my thoughts “next time, we’re taking planes.”
“That’s fine” I said “she can figure her own way home.”
I immediately felt guilty as I looked over at Rachel, scared and panicking, still on the phone. I can’t leave her here. She’s family, plus her mother would kill me. I walked up to her, and in the calmest voice I could muster, explained the situation between gritted teeth “Rachel, I got myself on the next train, and if you don’t get off the god damn phone, I will leave you here to sell yourself on the streets of Milan.”
She looked at me, told her mother she had to go, and hung up. We sweet talked the ticket woman to get us both on the train, with the condition that we stand. It didn’t occur to us that this was a 13 hour ride; we just celebrated our victory by buying ourselves a Snickers bar and Italian scarves. The first six hours weren’t too bad, but as we rode further in to the mountains of France, more passengers began to board with ski gear. The more gear that boarded, the more I found myself standing in a small space between two of the train cars, wedged between backpacks and skis. By hour 11, our legs and feet fatigued from standing, the train had emptied out enough to allow us to sit. We slept. 23
Joy Ride Mary Mays
She is propped beside the cracked passenger widow. Locks of sunlit blond traverse her tattooed shoulder. I spend second glance seconds searching for a single honey hued freckle lost inside a sheath of pale and try not to notice how the fluttering of an eyelash becomes the stretch of a spiderâ€™s legs. She wraps her troubles around me like the bending of loverâ€™s armsâˆ’ shifts one thigh over the other the same way highway drivers change lanes, then change their minds, then change lanes again. A pressing left palm stroke against smear of mascara and saline watercolor brushes a cheek blotted with the blush of long ago affairs, and I ask her where she wants me to go. 24
The Old Man in Court Room C m.i.c.s.m.i.f
The rain banged down on the court like a gavel Yo nerves like yo lawyers cheap threads start to unravel This is not the first time the district has seen you If you show contrition maybe you won’t be in trouble Though This is not a logical conclusion Cause you caused the witness for the prosecution a contusion Suc-ka you shoulda thought smarter Cause if you hit him any harder It woulda been a manslaughter Sitting in court watching yo trial and it hit me This is real life no tuning out like T.V. You couldn’t spin a one eighty judge gave you three sixty Your family ambles out the courtroom limply Crying in a chorus their sorrow sounds like a symphony One less cell in the B.C.D.C will be empty Cause you got six prior charges in the past quarter century All D.U.I.’s Why you gotta drink and drive? You 77 now and I’m surprised you still alive Judge said you was a menace to society and “oh lawd” The bitch just compared Father Time to “O Dawg” I watched them shackle your withered wrists together I bet you hoped the worse part about today would be the weather… 25
Nihilist Kitsch Matthew Falk
Ick, I think I’m ill. Is it this gin? I sigh, I lisp, I stink. This grim shindig is indistinct. I’m nibbling insipid ziti in squid ink, figs, grits, Thin Mints. Sting is singing; I’m cringing with misgivings. Miss Lilli flits in, flirts in mink, lifts miniskirt. Christi, grinning, sticks six-inch pins in Phil, inciting shrill twitching. Wild Bill is biting Gil. (This is his first picnic.) Still, Gil is chill, thinks Wild Bill kind. Biff, tripping, sits picking his zits. Willis fights Irving; Irving whips Willis. Rick is tickling this Irish-Finnish girl’s ticklish midriff. Liz, in string bikini, kicks Rick’s shin. Rick spits milk, rips his shirt. Sick Mick is giving his victims inimic pills, which kill. This irks Iris. Big Jim is imbibing pints, which disinhibit him. (His piss is pinkish.) Nick’s schtick is high-fiving whilst finding pi’s digits in his mind. If Sir Sphinx tricks his twin sis, his sis will hiss. This Swiss chick with gingivitis films this blind kid digging pits with sticks. Dwight is filching this clinic’s wrist splints. Gigi frisks Dwight, indicts him in Hindi. Cindi climbs this birch, clips this finch’s wings. Dirk is pickling dill, hiding nightlights in his fists, fixing things with shims. With his fish-finder, Mr. Mills finds fish, which Mrs. Mills will grill. (Mr. Mills is British: Fish with chips will fit his bill.) Isis’s ibis jilts djinns. Mindi’s dimwit chimp flings shit (it’s his instinct), which hits Mrs. Mills’s fifth child. I split. It is spring. Finis. 26
this is a song about lactose intolerance Dave K.
a woman sits alone sits, i said, waiting. soon she will stand up leave the stall wash her hands flick a loose ribbon of toilet paper into the trash and sit again still sitting at her desk accomplishing about as much as when she stands up takes the elevator takes the bus takes a seat in a bar with strange acquaintances drinking apple martini after apple martini after apple martini
after apple martini after apple martini after apple martini. but for now sheâ€™s in the only place she can be. and thereâ€™s nothing like a good long sit.
At the Table Abby Higgs
My dad had pulled pork in his mouth. As he chewed his cheeks tightened, his mouth opened, just a crack, revealing brown meat shreds dangling in loose stalactites from his upper teeth. His eyes glazed over. Whenever my dad ate, he seemed to be lost in thought.
Across the table, my mother cocked her head to one side, studying the food. Was everything there? Had she forgotten the crescent rolls? I pushed peas around with my fork, rolled them to the rim of my plate, let them spin back down and hurtle into the mountain range of mashed potatoes I’d made. I was 21, far too old to be playing with my food, but I couldn’t help it; I found it comforting. I was about to tell my parents about Judy, and I wasn’t sure how to start. Should I tell them I was pregnant, that the father was some random guy I’d just met at Ball State, then soften the news by saying it was all a lie - ha, ha! - I’d simply found my biological mother online?
I let the peas on my plate rest, looked at my folks at the table and mustered a smile. Then I sat my fork down. In high school, my dinner table confessions had become almost ritualistic.
As a high school freshman, I’d been caught ditching school
with five boys. I spent an afternoon in Earlham Woods getting high, climbing trees, learning to tree-jump, shotgun-smoke and sing Blues Traveler lyrics with such vivacissimo that we lost track of time. Officer Morrow, the school policeman, caught us ducking around cars in the school parking lot just before the final bell rang, trying to sneak back to our lockers.
“What are you kids doing?” Officer Morrow approached us in policeman fashion, swaggering, gnashing on gum. He was nearly seven feet tall; his forehead was a vast tundra of interrogating lines, his torso was as thick as a barrel and when he spoke, he sounded hollow. My friend, Andy, threw his pipe under a Corolla.
“Nothing,” I said, standing erect and suspect. My bloodshot eyes were level with Officer Morrow’s abdomen. I kept my head down and saw that his large black shoes looked like penguin feet, tapping on the pavement. I giggled. I’d never been this up close and personal with Officer Morrow before. “Pavement,” I said, snickering.
“Nothing, Abby?” I cringed at the sound of my name from Morrow’s hollow keg of a chest. Morrow and my family attended the same Baptist church. Andy and the others shot me a skeptical glare when Morrow referred to me by name, as if I were some informant for the school’s D.A.R.E. squad, smoking pot with the baddies only to retrieve vital information on whose
locker had the stuff. I looked at the boys helplessly, as if to say, What? I’m as bad as y’all.
Before I had a chance to answer, a stout woman approached us, her ratted hair clinging to her scalp like a frightened cat. “I found this,” she said, handing Officer Morrow the pipe. “He threw it.” She pointed at Andy. “I saw it all from my bus.”
We were going to be suspended. Officer Morrow gave me one night to tell my parents on my own. “Tomorrow”, he said, gnashing his gum, the school will notify them about the details, i.e. the pot and paraphernalia. “You’d better ‘fess up tonight, Abby.”
That night, I’d sat at the kitchen table playing with my food, feeling terribly ill. Quietly, I put my fork down, let out a deep apprehensive sigh, and told my parents that I’d been caught ditching school and was probably going to be suspended. My mother cried. My dad sat quietly, seemingly deep in thought until he announced that I was grounded: No more soccer conditioning after school, no television for a month. I omitted the part about the weed. They found that out, like Morrow promised, a day later, when the school made them sign documents as my legal guardians stating I’d been caught with illicit substances on school grounds. Then it was no Driver’s Ed. for a year; I would have to wait until I was seventeen to crash my first car. I was good at neglecting details when I had to spill the
beans. A year after the ditching/weed/Blues Traveler incident, I was caught dealing acid in school. Over a bowl of chicken and rice, I confessed that I was in trouble with Officer Morrow again but left out telling them I might be expelled for good from Richmond High. Over macaroni casserole, I admitted to “borrowing” the 1985 Mustang I was supposed to be learning to drive one afternoon. What I failed to mention at the table was that I’d made mud circles with it around Dad’s alfalfa field; that it was stuck there, and if they’d just turn around to look out the back window, they could see its front rosy-red fender poking through the crabgrass. Every dinner table confession was a half-assed attempt to lessen the blow to my parents by neglecting specific, but major, details that were going to be revealed soon enough. After admitting to stealing the Mustang, it took my dad five minutes to realize it was still missing. When he finally asked where it was, I blushed and waved my fork in the direction of his largest crop field. No, the faux-pregnancy schtick wasn’t going to work. I just sighed and put my fork down.
Sure enough, this move was equivalent to a couple of hushing gavel taps in a courtroom. The kitchen grew quiet. Mom and Dad looked at me. They waited and blinked, blinked, blinked. I knew I ought to do this the right way. Just be honest, and, for once, not omit any major details because the major details
were all I had.
I spoke evenly and avoided eye contact. I said, “I know I ought to do this the right way, be honest, and, for once, not omit any major details because the major details are all I have.” I made a triangle with my fingers. My parents didn’t speak. My dad rolled his eyes. My mom squinted. Were they thinking I’d been kicked out of Ball State? Perhaps I had succeeded in lowering my parents’ expectations so effectively that this particular dinner table confession would require no more reaction than the news that I’d left my toothbrush at school. “Well,” my dad said. “Go on.”
Methodically, I began to tell my story. “There’s a lady online who might be my biological mother. I was messing around on Ellen’s computer and she just popped up. Seriously, I was looking for platform boots.” I continued, “Do I really think she’s my mom? No.” I sent home my response with a fist on the table. “Swear to God.” My parents stared at me. I stared at the crescent rolls on the table. My dad spoke first. “Don’t swear to God,” he said. I looked down at my lap.
“How did you go from looking for shoes to finding your biological mother?” my mom asked. 30
“I don’t know,” I said. “I was bored.” I pulled a ripped sheet of lined paper from my pocket. On it, I’d scribbled my confirmation code: 2429. “Here.” I handed the slip to my mom. “The website gave me this.” More silence. My mother looked at the paper, scratched her head and then she sat, stiff, staring at the slip. Her face was motionless, locked in concern; her right hand shook a bit, like everyone’s does when they’re completely still, focused on a pertinent piece of paper in their hand. “Her name is Judy,” I added.
Dad took another bite, and looked out the window. I knew I had upset them both. Mom’s eyes grew damp. There was nothing that made me feel more helpless than seeing my mom cry; or worse, trying not to cry. Though I had told the entire truth, I felt miserable. I crushed a roll in my hand beneath the table; watched as the dogs lapped up the crumbs.
Should’ve waited, I thought. Should’ve made sure the site was legit. “Dickson,” my dad said. “Judy Dickson.” “What?” I asked.
“When we signed your adoption papers,” he continued, “the social worker turned around and I, you know, snuck a peek at your file. I saw her signature. Judy Dickson.”
I stared at Dad, dumbfounded.
He smiled a crooked smile and swallowed his food.
How to Accept the Gift Carol Bindel
The twins, boredom and depression, hold hands and skip along your river path say, Here we are! We will ride your back for a while. Through daily steps, slept-through, sleepless times of fever, lassitude, pain: physical, emotional, spiritualthe common bonds, the common dividesyou stretch, long, heavy, fragile, balanced on the rim of somewhere else like a leaf on the edge at the waterfall, no turning back, no escape, no pill that will clear the ills and murk, and you must turn and say to your specific, aching, encasing muscles and skin, What kind of pain, exactly? Sharp, achy, smooth and continuous, pulsing, weepy? And you must explore the weight that covers you like a lead body suit 32
that you cannot unzip and shed, And you must find an inner cauldron where you will hold that excess heat, chill, and constancy, and say, This too, this too, and in that container the thought of unbearable becomes unrecognizable, (Of course. You bear your life as given as long as breath comes, and fair is only a summer event in small towns with a Ferris wheel and a big tent.) And you will find beauty, joy and delight, finally, anyway, in the flavors of light in days and nights, in faces, shoulders, thighs of all who help you rise, and bathe, who bring their whirlwind and their own honest misery, reverence, laughter and fear, tears and the carrying of the twins and all, And finally you turn with an eager shout, Yes!
Kayla Cordes I was an inconvenience to this young mother. She wanted to sleep around, do drugs and party; I was the only thing stopping her. Then, she was tall, had long blonde hair and bright blue eyes with the figure all the men wanted. She knew that and she gave it to them. That is why she isn’t sure who my father is, but being young and “sexy” was her excuse. After giving birth to me, her figure changed and so did her bubbly personality. She became a mother and to her, that was not okay. I was born and since there was no clue who my father was, her current boyfriend gave me his last name, Cordes. After about 11 months of life, I began to be passed around from my mother to my grandparents, Mom and Pop. Sometimes it was days, weeks, then it became months. The length of time with my grandparents depended on my mother’s mood and most times her mood was bad; so I paid for it. My grandparents lived in Baltimore City and my mother bounced around between counties depending on who her friends and boyfriends were at the time. My grandparents didn’t like the lifestyle she was living and wanted to have custody of me. They tried to bring up the idea of custody to make it seem like they were helping her, but as usual she became defensive and that’s when the abuse started. No one could have me, let alone see me. She couldn’t keep me from seeing Mom and Pop in general
because she knew my grandparents wouldn’t let that happen, so the weekends were the best she could do. From about the age of four to eight the visitations were shortened to weekends only and when I came home I had to tell my mother every detail of every conversation and action that happened at Mom and Pop’s house. If I refused to tell her, she would hit me or my things would be thrown in the trash. I wanted to tell Mom and Pop what was going on but I was too afraid I would get hurt, or worse, if my mother found out. Whenever she picked me up at the end of the weekend, Mom and Pop would always send me home with food and a new toy. My favorites were Barbies and baby dolls. Barbie was who I wanted to look like, beautiful skin without a bruise in site, perfect figure because Barbie was never hungry and always smiling because Barbie was always happy. I loved baby dolls because I would treat them the way I wished my mother would treat me, the way Mom and Pop treated me; loving, caring and cherished. Those items never made it to my bedroom because once I got into my mother’s car, she would stab my toys with scissors or knives and tell me “If you keep this up, you wont have anything. I buy you toys, stop making them feel bad for you Kayla. I swear you will never see them again if you don’t start listening to me.” Then she would throw them out the window while driving or make me throw them into the trash when we made it home. The only toy I managed to keep was my bear pillow, Beary, that I still have to this day. I put it into the very bottom of my over night 33
bag when I left Mom and Pop’s and then hid it under my other pillows when I wasn’t home so she couldn’t throw him away. I slept with Beary every night and pretended he was a messenger between my grandparents and me. Whatever I told Beary, he would relay the message to Mom and Pop. I was so afraid I would never see Mom and Pop again. I was happy with them, protected and cared for. But my grandparents didn’t have custody of me so I had to live with weekend visitations. Whenever my mother came, Pop would always tell me: “Be strong Kayla, Pop isn’t going to let anything happen to you. I promise I am going to bring you home with me and you will never have to go back.” Of course I would start crying, I was a child and I was afraid. I held on to those words each and every day. My mother was not the best of parents and I knew she wasn’t ever going to try to be one either. Common sense didn’t exist in her mind. Especially when it came to whom she brought into my life. Yeah, she slept around but she also had several marriages; one in particular that changed my life forever. She married a man named Scott Mitchell when I was seven then after a few months had my baby sister Faith. He had several children with other women and had been in jail for drugs before. I hadn’t found out until I was older that she married him even after finding out he molested and raped his other children. One night my mother wanted to go out with my Aunt Ginger and left Faith and I with Scott. After she left, I watched him place duct tape over the eye hole of our front door. I didn’t 34
know what was coming but I had a feeling it wasn’t good. We had dinner, then he told me after bath time I could watch a movie before bed. Bath time consisted of him washing me, even though I was seven going on eight and had been taking baths alone for a few years. Then we went to the living room and he had a box full of tapes out and told me to pick one. I did. The first scene was a cartoon of some ants walking around but then it turned into a group of people having sex. He told me I had to finish watching the whole thing before bedtime. I sat in silence with my knees tucked under my chin squeezing my eyes closed as hard as I could but the tears escaped anyway. The movie was over and I went to the bathroom to brush my teeth when I found women’s red panties lying on the sink. He told me to put them on, but I didn’t. I ran to my room and shut the door. I fell asleep for what seemed like a minute and I heard my door open. I squeezed Beary the whole time. I heard my mother’s drunken voice come into the apartment and Scott ran out of my room, trying to fix his pants after leaving me with his evidence on my legs. The following morning I told my mother what happened but she told me I was dreaming and that Scott would never do that. So that’s what I told myself. I never mentioned it again until I was sixteen, when my cousin came out to the family that Scott had done the same thing to him. We both took Scott to court and he got 20 years for me and 15 for my cousin. Scott is currently in a Maryland prison, I don’t know the name of it because I don’t want to know. I don’t want to know how close or
far away he is. Knowing he is in Maryland is scary enough. Among other things, there are certain basic things mothers do for their children like protect them from danger, care for them and teach them. She couldn’t even do a basic thing like feeding her child. When I was born, the story goes, I died for about two minutes because I was so undernourished. My grandmother would always throw this into my mother’s face when ever she tried to say I was perfectly fine living with her. This was a trend with my mother. In the few years that I spent with her from about the age of six-eight, I had to eat whatever I could get her to give me or I waited all week until Mom and Pop came to pick me up. My breakfasts were usually an egg and a mini water jug, kind of like the little colored Huggie drinks you get as a kid but I could only drink water. A typical lunch was a cheese sandwich, which was two slices of bread and one slice of cheese. Dinner usually was something frozen and tossed in the microwave or I was in trouble for something and didn’t get to eat dinner at all. At my old elementary school, there were shelves outside our classrooms to put our lunch boxes; I didn’t have a lunch box. My mother didn’t think I should bring lunch to school for reasons I still don’t know. When it was about an hour before lunchtime, I would ask to go to the bathroom. When my teacher gave me the pass I would walk out of the classroom and snag a lunch box off the shelf, take it to the bathroom and eat as fast as I could. I was starving. I felt bad for stealing lunches but I didn’t want to tell anyone I was hungry so my mother wouldn’t get in trouble. One day, I became brave and brought another kid’s lunchbox
to the cafeteria to eat with my class. It was my lucky day. Inside the lunch box was a peanut butter sandwich, a blue and purple Capri Sun, a pudding cup, a banana and a TastyKake. I was almost finished when my teacher, Mr. Silver, and a very unhappy girl came up to me and asked for the lunch box. My friend Mckenzie tried heroically to defend me but we both knew it wasn’t my lunch box and knew I was in big trouble. Before Mr. Silver could finish yelling at me, Mckenzie kept poking me with her elbow and told me to look at the cafeteria entrance. Afraid it was my mother, I tried to wipe the tears off my face before turning around. Finally, when I turned to look, my heart jumped. It wasn’t my mother; it was Pop. I knew at that moment I would never have to be hungry again. This was the day I had been waiting for my whole life. I ran past the confused teacher and crying student straight into Pop’s arms. He picked me up and swung me around while telling me “everything was gonna be okay”. I believed him. When we walked out of the building I saw my grandma in the car with tears in her eyes and a jacket for me in her hand. I ran to her so fast I almost tripped over my own feet. All of my things were in the car; Beary, my Barbie blanket and my small basket of clothes were all packed and ready to go. Pop told me that our next stop was Happy Day Diner to fill my belly and then the mall to buy me some new clothes. Mom turned to me to help fix my seatbelt and said I was never going back there. I never did. That was probably the best day of my life. 35
Kerrin Smith I am tired, but I canâ€™t sleep yet. I have things to dostring to be tied in knots and gory horror movies to be watched. I am tired, but I must be busy. I must keep fraying my skin with thread. I must keep listening to this movie. I must think of a thousand compulsions before I wake up, forgetting that Iâ€™ve slept. I stretch a hole in the window blinds; this is five-thirty and a watery sunrise. I begin again. So much time now, to do so many little things.
My Grandmother’s Wake Melissa Chichester
I walk down the aisle toward the front of St. Anne’s Catholic Church, unaware that behind me my husband and sister want me to wait for them. Roses, peace lilies and assorted houseplants adorn the altar in decorative baskets and curled, satin ribbon. Some of them have glass statues peeking up from blades of green and soft, floral petals. I look up at the crucifix that hangs from the ceiling. Jesus has carved abs and his skin is unrealistically light. For my entire life, I have been waiting for this cross to fall onto the altar during mass. It looks so heavy, Jesus Christ suspended in the air. My legs feel far away from my body and I am far ahead of my husband. He calls for me to wait, but I keep walking. I just want to get there, to see her. My shoes are heavy and the thumps resonate like a cane of an angry person beating the ground. There is already a small crowd surrounding the bronze coffin. I am surprised by how expensive it looks, lined with silky cream fabric. This coffin might be the most extravagant thing my grandmother has ever owned. It is supposed to be a quiet and dignified family hour before the wake, but there are children crawling over the kneeler next to the coffin with their loud parents standing supportively behind them, flamboyant and unashamed of their grief. A path clears for me to greet her, my grandmother who
passed away five days earlier. It is unraveling, more intimate than accidentally seeing her naked, to see her without lipstick. She isn’t wearing lipstick. She isn’t wearing lipstick. My heartbeat ripples loudly in my ears and I want to run to the church entrance where her hot pink lipstick sits next to the programs. Irma Josephine Soumis, they say above her photo. I want to grab a stick and paint her face the way she did, a thick slab of wax way over the lip line and onto the skin below her nose. I hate seeing a faint mustache instead of all that hot pink. She would hate that I noticed and feel embarrassed. Immediately, I feel sorry for even thinking it and my arms tingle and burn with heat. Someone is hugging me; it is my aunt, my father’s youngest sister, Marie. She is crying and smiling. I just now notice that I am crying too and wonder if the mascara I worked so hard to apply just right is running all over my face. I thought my tears had already run out. All I can focus on is her mouth. Gramma’s lips are thinner than I thought they were. I am paralyzed by this and watch her, getting lost in the space and distance between us. For a moment it is just us, and it feels like she will wake up and hug me and tell me I am beautiful and “look so good” in the exaggerated tone she always spoke in. I need her to wake up. I need to see her again. I was so close. I feel like Veda Sultanfuss in My Girl. I want to scream about Gramma’s lipstick the way Veda does about Thomas J’s glasses. He can’t see without his glasses. She can’t kiss me without her lipstick.
She looks good, though. We are wearing the same color, a rich burgundy wine. I am mortified that I am dressed in the same shade as...a corpse. I hate that word. I hate that she is dead. There is so much anger inside of me that I don’t know where to put it. I could rest it at the feet of the Virgin Mary and ask her to pray for me, but I am too stubborn for that. Melissa, I hear. I don’t know who is saying my name. There are too many people surrounding this coffin, and they are comfortable with it. Gramma’s hands are folded, resting on a furry, leopard-print stole. A brown rosary snakes around her forearm and wrist; the cross rests on the top of her hand. I already know she is cold, so when Uncle Bobby presses his hand against her forehead and says this out loud, I want to yell at him and everyone around me, to tell them they are fools for even suggesting she could be another temperature. But, I don’t do this. Knowing when not to say a word is a quality my mother blessed me with. Because of her, I am civilized and know when to draw a line between wasted breaths. A big crucifix lies underneath Gramma’s palms. She gave me a crucifix once, and it hangs near the telephone in my parents’ home. It is heavy, the base black with outlying sterling. A skull and crossbones rests at the feet of Jesus, and although I once asked a priest what this meant, the reason escapes me. I saw the same crucifix hanging in a display at Ellis Island, where Gramma’s parents traveled through from Italy to begin their 38
new lives in America in the early 1920s. I like to think that there is a connection between the one in New York and the one hanging by the telephone in my tiny Michigan town. I wonder if my crucifix is from Italy, like the one behind the glass. Although my grandmother looks beautiful, I am superficial and angry that she is dressed so plainly. I want her to be dressed in something elegant and silky and glamorous, something like the draped, fuchsia dress that she wore to my wedding. I am mad that she is wearing black pants instead of a skirt. Uncle Bobby explains that the shirt is new, something she purchased on a trip to Minneapolis. I am angry again, mad that she didn’t get to wear this shirt out to dinner or to see one of her grandchildren play basketball. Uncle Bobby says it cost just thirteen dollars.
More people are arriving now. I sit down in the first wooden pew and bury my face into my scarf, pressing the hot burning tears back into my eyes with the soft, warm fabric. Someone rubs my back with sweeping motions, lulling me into a drowsy haze. My body burns with heat and my legs tingle. I am confused, expecting to feel differently about this loss. The confusion is profound and gnawing; something points and laughs but I don’t know who or what. Auntie Frances would call this the devil. She always warns us that the devil is lurking in every nook, waiting to tempt us into a bad decision, but I don’t live my life this way. Noise builds as more and more people enter the church.
Before this day, I was unsure of just how many of us there are, but the obituary reads “34 grandchildren; 20 greatgrandchildren”, and nobody knows if that is accurate or a low estimate. When I married my husband, Alan, this clan measured around eighty, sweeping “a small family wedding” into the dustbin before names were set in ink. We do everything together: eat, laugh, sing, cry and mourn. We do this sitting on each other’s laps, hugging, gripping onto the newest baby and stroking their soft cheeks and pinching their earlobes. We sit through holidays without eating at tables and instead eat crammed into hallways, again sitting on each other’s laps or on the floor. We go wherever will hold us, as an overwhelming heap of limbs, breaths, and voices. While some have tried to get out by moving across state lines and grabbing ahold of a life bigger than this family, the ribbons never get cut and we all remain as one solitary diamond shimmering in the mine, waiting to get detonated by sentient circumstances. Because of this intensity, I once worried about finding a husband, a life partner, a person to fall in love with and enjoy for our entire lives. Now my gem is sitting beside me; he is the one rubbing my back with his flat palms. The fire burning inside of my throat wants to pull away, but the fibers of my nerves are dull and lack strength. I have no reason to pull away, because I love this man and have for ten years now. I just want my grandmother back, because I was so close. We were both so close to seeing her just five days ago.
I raise my head and pull myself out of the scarf, no longer able to see the side door of the church or even across the aisle to the other pews, because there are people standing everywhere, crying with their arms flailing in the air before they grasp onto each other in tight hugs. Looking forward, I spot my father standing next to the coffin. He is just a few feet in front of me and turned to the side, gazing at his mother. There are tears in his eyes and the rims are red; his hand rests on the back of my sister, Molly. She doesn’t wear emotion well and never knows which shelf to rest it on, so she hides it in the back and crams it in tight until the contents spill forward at once. Here though, the doors don’t shut so easily and tears spring forth. Watching them makes me shrivel and curl up, the fire turning to smoke and ash. What about me, Dad? I need you too. Hug me, love me, and make this go away. But he knows I have Alan to fix this wound, and I let him do whatever it is he has to do right now, because we are like each other. Even though his soul is shredded inside, he will refuse comfort and push through the prick of every tiny thorn, not caring if he bleeds. Guilt visits again; I am happy it isn’t my father in that coffin. He had a heart attack in July, an event that made it into Auntie Frances’ annual Christmas letter. My limbs need motion, so I stand and move ahead the few steps it takes to reach my sister. My brother has finally arrived; I leave my husband in his company and wrap my arms around Molly for a quick hug. We stand before Gramma and hold hands like two little girls instead of the grown women that we are;
I know we are both wishing for childhood again, days of sharing a bedroom and staying up all night whispering and giggling under the covers, trying to hide those late nights from our parents. “You both have a lot of your grandma in you,” my dad says. Molly nods. I wonder what this means but don’t dare ask in the buzzing church- the crying is building and so is the laughing. I hope that he means we have a great capacity to love. That is what she needs us to carry. That is what I need to carry.
Strange Fruit Leilani Jones
Strange Fruit? Strange Fruit…Strange Fruit? There is nothing strange about my people, before the origin of Planned Parenthood my people were fruitful. Strange Fruit (hmph), my people always have been and continue to be beautiful, different shades and hues from the beige, butter scotch, caramel, toffee, hazelnut, ebony, and purplish blue. Every weight, age, variation of complexion, mixture of hair texture, gender, country of origin, ancestry, sexual orientation, educational make up, natural abilities to move in sync with every beat since we were all blessed with rhythm, clearly descendants from heaven and earth’s first people. Strange Fruit…there’s nothing strange about W.E.B. DuBois and the talented tenth, this man had an entrepreneurial mind and ideas to preserve the state of our people. Strange Fruit…they clearly don’t know our name, that man was more concerned with black men becoming leaders of their race by continuing their education, writing books and being directly involved in social change. Being the head of the NAACP, labeled the father of Pan-Africanism, even Mary McLeod Bethune with the future of our people she was definitely intuned. Unable to list all of her accomplishments here are just a few if they are new to you be sure to look up at least one or two: founded and was president of the Daytona Normal and Industrial Institute for Negro Girls (now
Bethune-Cookman College). President of the National Association of Colored Women, Director of Negro Affairs in the National Youth Administration. Key influence of the National Council of Negro Women. Vice-president of the NAACP. This woman was clearly a woman concerned with her people and wanted for them nothing less than a better future. Strange Fruit (hmph) my people, my women, are women desired...but they used to call us jezebel and sapphire. We as black women were supposedly nothing more than taboo, what every woman wanted to be and if every man could have, he would have at least two. We are strange fruit but people do everything to look like us, pay for the same features they used to make fun of, they tan to have our tone, get nose jobs and disfigure their bones, wear padded panties because they lack that round, rotund, hypnotizing sway that for us just comes so naturally, they imitate our walk, talk, style, music and dress. Strange Fruit? My people are what they want to be, look in the mirror and wish they’d see. They imitate our men, wish they could be strong and carry the weight of the world on their shoulders while being constantly pulled down and discouraged while trying to provide for family, wish they could have that baritone rumble vibrate through their chest cavity to announce 41
they’ve entered a room, those chiseled facial features that clearly display that our men mean business and aren’t to be fucked with particularly when protecting their women and children. Strange Fruit? Try anointed fruit, God appointed fruit, of God with hair like wool, eyes like fire and feet like bronze because my people were made in God’s image fruit, Nanny’s to even white children fruit, Fathers not by blood but by choice to their children fruit, engineers, entrepreneurs, lawyers, educators, doctors, military officials, scientists, innovators, cultivators, artisans, musicians, you name it we’ve done it fruit. Unbreakable, renewable, never consumable, stars that shine so bright their glory is irrefutable fruit. I truly appreciate Billie Holiday and what her thought provoking song and the message Strange Fruit was meant to portray, my only problem is that today, the masses of my people still only see each other in this way. Our current generation hanging themselves, rather than properly displaying themselves and older generation wanting nothing to do with them, walking by with noses turned up as if appalled by the stench or mere sight of them. So today I challenge you to pull up a stranger
and remind them that they are not strange fruit but beautiful, delectable, enjoyable, handsome, palatable, the most desired with endless possibilities of full bloom and by that I mean leadership fruit.
Dedicated to: My Beautiful Fruit…Today’s Youth 07/19/11 8:12pm
Abdu Ali Eaton The still painting, leaping for light,
hustles the apple.
Fry Bread, Jennifer L. Singer
Madame Sadie Rae Sunshine From breaches in the western wall, the dayâ€™s last rays of light flood in through curls of smoke spread out over the room like rumpled sheets of satin. Camped out at ground zero, here, amidst the dancing dunes of soot and dust, the one breath of freshness is the sweet suspense of imminent success. Geysers of light, enlightened erupt from the epic crevasse where emotion meets cognition, wherein the captive finds his freedom, where the space between is fat with vibrations of color and sound. And with every cubic centimeter of every passing moment 44
so fertile with uncharted musicality, the purveyors venture valiantly onward, ever-seeking the empyreal elevation.
Before I Was Born Anastasia Baranovskaya
“There was no sex in the Soviet Union,” my mom would constantly repeat when unveiling another story of herself and her numerous female classmates.
During my university years that I spent in Russia, my mom liked to give me a tea portion of the times of her youth, telling me about the time before I was born. We would sit in our tidy and tiny kitchen, a favorite hangout spot of any Russian family. She would tell me how they went to the only restaurant in the city where you could also dance, and my dad would get mad if mom danced with somebody else. One time he even threw a tantrum, and mom, being an independent girl, left home. My dad followed her all the way to her house, just to make sure she got there safe. Or how my parents liked to travel and go out partying almost every weekend which was uncommon for young soviet couples who tended to get married and have kids without dating for a year. There were three conditions upon which she would start a conversation: hot bergamot tea on the table, I was not partying till the crack of dawn, and if my dad was asleep or not home. I don’t think she was trying to hide anything from him; she tried to make those few hours as intimate as possible, and that is exactly why I enjoyed them and pretended they were our little
secret. I was attracted to my mom’s phenomenal ability to talk to me as if I was a friend, not her seventeen year old daughter. Every time, she would draw me into the grown up world with her meticulous descriptions. No wonder her favorite Russian saying was, “Say yes shew, but put into his mouth!”
Since I left Russia four years ago and do not see my mom often, those bits of time, so small in comparison to what I spent with my girlfriends chitchatting about boys, are now the ones that I cherish and often reminisce on snowless winter nights in Baltimore.
“I thought I was pregnant when your dad and I decided to get married. I did not go to the doctor, we did not have pregnancy tests available either,” she started one time. You have to know up front there is no fuss about marriage proposals in Russia nowadays, back then it was even more casual. Girls did not go to Tiffany’s to look at the rings they would like to receive, grooms were not stressed out trying to pick the right diamond shape. “If you want to get married, you get married,” my mom took the first sip of her hot steamy tea. It was one of those early December nights when the fresh fallen snow is still untouched by man’s feet, just like my mom’s memories remained clear and untouched in her head. It was so quiet outside that from time to time I thought I could hear the crunchy sound of somebody making a path home in the dark. My dad was long gone to bed and we could hear his
monotonous snoring even behind the closed bedroom and kitchen doors. I often wondered if he has been snoring all his life, and what my mom thought about it when she met him. I never asked, but liked it, because it was a sign for secrets to be told (it also let me sneak out to the night club unnoticed, of course, with my mom’s help).
“We were lucky with your dad,” my mom said as a professional storyteller. “His mom had connections working in the food industry. You know how it was right after the Union broke…No connections, no food, only vodka and dill pickles for the wedding,” she laughed loudly. I recognized myself when she tilted her head back when making that bright sparkly sound. I smiled back. I thought how I always wanted to resemble my mom, but everyone in my family says I look like my dad. Not at that moment. “Even a venue was a problem,” she continued. “Most of the weddings were celebrated in those tiny flats that Khrushchev built for his dear comrades.” I remembered the pictures from their wedding that I used to look at, imagining I was there. I was confused, “But you had a venue! I remember the pictures. It was like a cafeteria in one of those government buildings: plain white walls, tables framing them, and a so called dance floor in the center of the room.”
“Right. Your grandma arranged it. We had almost a hundred guests, caviar and Soviet champagne. We celebrated for two days and…” 46
“…And you had a beautiful and most original dress I have ever seen!” I finished for her.
The dress of my childhood dreams had a simple long white robe that reminds me of long summer dresses that are in vogue right now. And on top of it there was a lace cover with wing sleeves that went all the way down covering the snow white closed toe slip-ons. Instead of the veil my mom chose a hat, also covered with lace. It was one of those French musketeer hats that were romanticized by Alexandre Dumas. I was in love with this writer in high school, and immediately tied my mom’s wedding look to “The Three Musketeers”. She was my ideal of Milady de Winter of the 21st century.
“Oh the dress,” her eyes lit up with excitement and I saw my mom a young woman, once again excited to wear her wedding gown. “Oh, that’s what your dad’s mom couldn’t arrange! You know, I used to work at the big government store in the clothing department. That is where I got your dad a suit for the wedding. I ordered a dress from Germany without knowing how it was going to look. Since I had an access to all the clothing deliveries to the store, I was one of the few people to look through them first and pick whatever I want. That is how I got it. It was the only dress that was not an hourglass shape, which I absolutely dislike.” Oh yes! My mom always finds a way to remind herself how boyish her skinny figure is and that she is not a curvy type. “Well, it was perfect for your situation, I interrupted with my know-it-all comment while staring at the pile of chocolate
candy wrappers surrounding my teacup.When I lifted up my eyes I saw a mysterious smile on my mom’s face.
“Lya-lya!” (Russian term of endearment equal to an American “honey”) She said and dramatically paused for a few seconds. “A month before the wedding we figured out it was a mistake, you know, about me being pregnant. I got married at 22, and I had you at 24. Too old to have my first child for an average soviet woman.”
I felt how my genius comment turned into a useless combination of words.
“I bet you’ve been concerned with aging since I was born,” I said and smiled to myself. Women like my mom hate their birthdays and the presents they bring with age, such as grey hair, wrinkles, back pain, and dry hands from hand washing clothes, dishes, and floors. I don’t know how long I sat there silent thinking of what if that mistake never happened, they never got married, and I would have never been born. “ But what did dad say? He still wanted to get married?”
My mom was staring at me as if she was looking at her future husband 18 years ago, weighing all pros and cons of the upcoming marriage. “He proposed again. I love insistent men. Besides, you don’t say no when you are asked twice. ”
Brilliance Rachel Wooley
Twist a star out of the sky, watch the night roil in its absence, envious of its
escape toward the palpable flesh of the
planet. That star will scorch the ground
black, like ink, will leave a vapor trail behinddamp mist like fog. The clouds:
amorous of a glow that reaches like tendrils into the atmosphere.
They will beckon it home, but its
open space will close on itself in despair, soon
nothing but a scar to remain unseen in the dark.
Ron Kipling Williams Women are coming in the form of hurricanes to teach men a lesson no more corruption no more corporate greed no more cuts in social programs no more trampling on human rights no more destruction to the environment no more war The power of the matriarchy will wipe out the male ego and replace it with a kinder, gentler society Women are coming in the form of hurricanes to teach men a lesson and the waves are going to come down like machetes
to cut off every tongue of every man who cursed them to cut off every fist of every man who abused them to cut out every throat of every man who murdered them and cut off every dick of every man who raped them Katrina and Rita and Wilma is just the beginning we’ll be calling the big ones hurricanes Nzinga and Nefertiti and Makeda we’ll be calling the big ones hurricanes Harriet and Sojourner and Ida B. we’ll be calling the big ones Rosa and Coretta and Fanny Lou Women are coming in the form of hurricanes
to teach men a lesson never again will women be blamed for falling out of God’s favor never again will a bible justify man’s absolute reign over the planet never again will books written by male jealousy and fear oppress and subjugate women and never will there be another story about a woman being made from a dumb trifling pitiful caveman’s rib There will be no more priests banging boys no more pastors banging housewives and no more Jimmy Swaggarts crying 49
crocodile tears on TV after banging sex workers in motels The patriarchal clergy will be wiped out and replaced by authentic healers and medicine people and the planet will be restored to its natural order Women are coming in the form of hurricanes to teach men a lesson no more baby daddy drama no more chasing child support no more down low scheming no more lie detector tests and no more private investigators They are going to smack these men to the ground and make them get on their knees and pray 50
as they shout to them who’s wearing the belt buckle? who’s wearing the pants? who’s your daddy now, bitch?! Then all men will be like the examples that some men have already set for them They will be accountable for their actions attentive to their duties and available for their families Women are coming in the form of hurricanes to teach men a lesson because they are sick and tired of being sick and tired and men still consider them a joke until which time they’ll discover the joke is on them because
hell hath no fury like a woman scorned There will be no more suicides no more genital mutilations no more eating disorders no more preventable diseases no more unnatural deaths Women and men will take their rightful places in the universe and there will be peace And when it is all said and done and order is completely restored women will no longer have to come in the form of hurricanes they can just be water.
Draft Dodger Jeffrey F. Barken
Ella had never run so fast through the market. What a blur. She saw the bags and the breads and the colors of the clothes that were hanging. She saw the tan arms of the vendors reaching out, raking figs and dates and sculpting pyramids out of finely ground green and red colored spices. She heard change jingling in pockets and watched the waving hands of tourists as they tried to express themselves, first in broken Hebrew, then in English, German, Russian and Spanish. She heard the shouting and bargaining and smelled the fried falafel and the sweet pomegranate nectar. It was like a chalked up impressionist picture. Too much had smeared, and there were no faces. Not even a solid object, it seemed, could capture her attention. She was running towards the beach. Safe on Allenby Street, Ella straightened out her uniform. She found a hair tie in her pocket and tied her brown curls in a knot. She was still walking very fast, and she was sweating. She had exactly an hour to meet her brother, and it was already fifteen minutes into her break. “How will I even recognize him?” she kept on worrying as she crossed busy Ben Yehuda and started walking along the beach towards Jaffa. She had this memory of Yoni six years ago. She knew he didn’t wear glasses anymore and that he had grown his hair long and that he had lost a lot of weight.
“But pictures aren’t a person,” she thought. “I haven’t seen my brother in six years.” He had said, “[to meet by] the pier, near the park, you know….” But, he had stuttered in search of a landmark because he didn’t remember Tel Aviv. “Come on El, meet me by that sculpture!” He had thought his frustration was funny, but Ella could barely move she was so frightened. “Yoni. What are you thinking? You can’t call me here,” she said in English while casting nervous stares down the aisles of cubicles that filled the Central Intelligence Office where she was doing her obligatory army service. Next she was whispering in Hebrew, “Where are you? Where are you? No, no, I’ll come right away…” Now that she was on the beach, her eyes were darting every which way trying to spot him. Beyond the sand bar the wind was strong and white water waves were crashing. She wished he hadn’t said the beach. She would have preferred some place less open and more private, but, then again, at least it was a landmark they both couldn’t miss. As she walked, she had this feeling that he would spot her before she ever saw him. Sure enough, he appeared behind her, tapped her on the shoulder and then captured her in his arms, making the biggest hug. She 51
didn’t let go and was speaking like Babel, a mixture of English and Hebrew that was all confused thoughts. “Nice uniform,” he started to tease, but he stopped when he saw her face. “Yoni, ani rotze, I mean I can’t…I can’t believe ze atah. It’s you!” A part of her wanted to hit him; she was so startled to feel his embrace. “Aba? Ima, Mom, Dad, do they know? You shouldn’t have come. I mean you can’t stay here. Can you? They’ll take you and put you in jail. Lo rotzeh. Yoni, I don’t want you to get in trouble.” She was crying into his shoulder desperate not to make a scene. And yet, unsure what she wanted from him. Yoni was laughing again. He had his dark hair up in a ponytail; two straight strands were hanging down over his eyes, and he hadn’t shaved. “Ella, Ella!” He pulled her ears like he used to and held her away from him so that he could look her in the eyes. “Don’t be silly. Look, it’s alright. I’m only stopping through. I’ve got friends taking care of me, and it wasn’t hard to get into the country. I’m here three days, and then I’m gone. But you think I’d come and go and not visit my little sister?” She was wiping her eyes and held her brother’s hand. His superior English left an envious impression. 52
“Let’s walk a little? I know you don’t have much time,” he said as put his arm back around her. “Which way?” They walked north towards the Arab port of Jaffa. Seagulls were feasting on the picnic crumbs left near the playground, and children were running on the grass. Yoni talked about his job in the States and how their uncle was a crazy man. He ran a tattoo parlor in New York, and Yoni had learned his business. He showed Ella the tattoo he’d gotten on his back before he left. It was a picture of Popeye the Sailorman hoisting an anchor over his shoulder and flexing his sea scarred arm. Ella gave Yoni a playful push. “Mom’s going to kill you!” she exaggerated. He smiled, showing all his big white teeth. “Can’t be worse than Dad,” he mumbled. Suddenly, a small blue ball rolled down the path past his feet. He scrambled to catch it before it fell into the water and happily tossed it back toward the little boy who had lost his toy. “Anyway, Dad was the one who wouldn’t talk to me after… Mom always tried to call.” “But aren’t you worried, Yoni? Three days is too long. You should go to Jordan and get out. Anything can happen and then they’ll put you in jail for dodging the draft. You’ll hate it there…” Ella had always been emotional and sympathetic. This was why Yoni got along with her best and not their older
brother, Natan. Ella was the little girl who would follow him anywhere when they were younger. They had shared a room on their kibbutz, and she’d stay up late with him after they were supposed be in bed, playing games like Backgammon and Gin. They had built forts in the forest and would go fishing together. When he was in high school, already dreading the army, Ella would hide his report cards for him and keep his secrets about girls and planning to go abroad. With his gifts and exciting rebellious stories, Yoni always knew how to make her smile. Natan, on the other hand, was more serious. He was a straight shooter and a fighter. He had been to Lebanon. The hard Israeli war had made him proud and cynical. The last time Yoni had tried to contact his brother from the States, Natan had called him a coward and hung up the phone. “Look, I brought you something. I have a present for you.” Yoni wanted to keep his sister smiling. “Really?” “I have presents for Mom and Dad and Natan also. Let’s sit down.” He pointed to the big rocks overhanging the pier, “let’s sit down for a minute, then I’ll go. But will you give the presents to Mom and Dad?” He was making her look inside his backpack even before they had sat down, and it was silly to be so rushed. The presents were
still all wrapped in used Christmas paper, and she wouldn’t have been able to see a thing. “When are you going to see them next?” he asked about his parents as he handed her a little wrapped box covered with red and green ribbon. “Yoni, what’s this?” “It’s hard to find better gift wrap in New York on Christmas, and the Hanukkah paper is so tacky,” he explained. Ella was impressed that he had taken the time to wrap the presents at all. She tore off the paper and opened the small green box that was underneath. Inside there were two pearl earrings. The pearls were held in silver leaves that dangled from the studs. Yoni watched happily as she put them on. They fit her round face perfectly and made her smile. Now Ella wanted to know about New York. She said she couldn’t talk about Mom and Dad. Not now anyway. With so little time she only wanted to hear about her brother’s adventures. “There’s so much space!” he tried to impress her. He had been west to California. He had been south too. He had a wedding to go to in March. The wedding was in Baltimore. Then he showed Ella his passport. 53
“And England also? You were in England?” Yoni nodded. Ella handed him back his passport and reached behind her back to let down her hair. Her curls fell out and hid the earrings he had given her. “I don’t see why you couldn’t have waited,” she wanted to tell her brother. She was angry with him for not waiting to go abroad until after the army, but she couldn’t say anything. She looked aimlessly out to the sea. The wind and spray came at her. There was a masked splash, but the scream was unmistakable. They both leapt up to keep from getting wet; Yoni was tense. He was the closest. The little boy with the ball had run off the edge and hit his head. Below them the brown skinned boy was floating unconscious in the foam being smashed against the shallow rocks with every white-capped wave that rolled through and slowly drifting out to sea. Ella shivered as her brother leapt towards the water. The boy’s mother was running across the field. Everyone was yelling, but Yoni was there. He was almost there. He lay on his stomach across a rock. Another wave crashed over his head, but he held on tight. In a minute, they saw him drenched, spitting salt water and gasping for air. He had caught the boy in his arms in the wake of the undertow. Now two other men were carefully climbing down to help. The shawl wrapped mother screamed 54
in Arabic for her boy. Her little boy! Yoni only managed to pass the bloodied unconscious child to men on the rocks moments before another wave crashed over his head. He bobbed up again and found his grip. He even tried to grab the blue ball that had floated near him in the tide, but he knew to reach for the hand instead. The second man grabbed hold and pulled hard. The two of them stumbled onto shore. Sopping wet and salty, suddenly Yoni looked scared. He looked at his sister, and he looked at the boy. He heard the ambulance and the police sirens coming. He saw two soldiers hurrying toward the rocks, and he glanced again at his sister. Ella knew he was going to run.
Pantea Amin Tofangchi Again?! everyday the power outage along with the stupid war has to happen on cartoon time? I exclaimed to my mom . . . I wish . . . (the sound of anti-aircrafts were loud, so I started to yell) canâ€™t they just bomb in the mornings?
Sunday Evening Drew Robinson
another day is spent. you cannot be bothered with my black moods. the rat-trap we set before you left has caught an angry finger the knuckle bloody and broken. blessing the pain i straighten the fracture with the heft of a bible.
Obituaries Michelle Junot
Dead at Sixty-Three I was two, going on three, and he was my Papa. The artery in his leg was repaired within hours of its tear, but it was too late for his kidneys. That’s what everyone else remembers; I remember saying goodbye. Everyone lined up, and walked past the open casket. The family was last. Daddy held me on the left side of his body and the casket rested on his right. I looked at him as he looked at Papa. “Why are you crying Daddy? Papa is Mommy’s Daddy.” “Don’t worry about it, baby.” Never Made it Home Candice had the best grand jetes, prettiest pirouettes, and high top jazz shoes. I was in second grade, and she was my college-aged dance teacher. When her Dad died, Mom and I went to the funeral. He’d been working on an offshore oilrig when a pole fell and killed him instantly. The funeral home was packed, and Mom whispered in my ear to say a prayer for this man I did not know. In the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. God, please, please let this moment end. Amen. Candice pulled me into her lap, smiling as she cried, and
asked if I was going to tumbling the following day. “Yes ma’am.” The next day, my friends asked, “Mrs. June, why are you teaching us? Where’s Candy?” Courtney looked at me. “She never misses, where could she be?” “Maybe she’s sick.” I said. Houma’s First Postmaster I was mesmerized by Pa Jack’s oxygen tank and watched him drag it around as we toured his garden. The tomatoes, cucumbers, banana peppers, and eggplant looked healthy. He did not. When I hugged him at Easter, I worried it would be our last. I held on longer than necessary but didn’t tell him I loved him. In May he was hospitalized, sedated, and no longer able to breathe on his own. He didn’t want to live on machines. The respirator was turned off in the morning and he died that afternoon. I sat on the couch in the living room, alone in the house, and cried in the dark. A Week Shy of Graduation Every night I set my alarm for 6:30 and every morning Mom woke me up at 6:28. Dear God, why can’t she just let me have those 57
two minutes? The morning my alarm woke me up, I knew something was wrong. There was a note on my mirror. Michelle, Wake me up when you get up. I’m bringing you to school. Adam.
I walked downstairs to a too-dark and too-quiet dining room. He sat at our dining room table waiting for me. “Chad died last night.” Chad was one of my sister’s best friends. “What? How? Mom and Dad saw him last weekend!” “Your parents got the call around midnight, they don’t know what happened.” He just died, and they just left me. I sat in Civics class and stared out the window. Then English. Art. PE. My parents had met him only the weekend before and now he was dead. 22 and dead. Lived and Died by Example Four missed calls on Saturday morning didn’t mean Lori wanted to catch up. I’d been up late partying so it took a minute for her “sit down, I have bad news” to register. “Mrs. Baudier died last night.” Our high school was small—barely 600 students—and everyone knew everyone by name, face, and family. Mrs. Baudier was our assistant principal and disciplinarian. Every Thursday after mass she’d tell us to make good decisions. Life can change in 58
an instant she’d say. “What do you mean she died?” “She was in a head-on collision on the Breaux Bridge highway. They took her off life support around three this morning.” Oh my God. Oh my God. “Oh my God.” “You need to tell Thomas if someone else hasn’t.” Thomas was my high school boyfriend and still pseudoboyfriend at the time. He always left his dorm room unlocked, so I let myself in. I tried waking him up three times. The fourth time I punched him. “Whaaattt!” “Thomas, look at me. Seriously, you awake?” “Yes! What do you want?” I didn’t know whether to cry or punch him again, so I went to the bathroom and threw up. He Always Smiled “Where are you? I need to talk to you.” Marissa’s strained voice came through the phone. “What is it? I’m trying to sleep.” As Editor-in-Chief of the yearbook, I had zero experience and even less support. Except from Dean Womack. We met weekly and he always told me he was proud of me and the work I was doing. He’d ask how my writing classes were going and what I wanted to do after graduation, and he secured free summer housing and food for me when I stayed to finish the
book. He took an interest in the life of each student he met. He was genuine. Then he died. “Dean Womack had a heart attack on the golf course this morning.” There was no air in my lungs. My feet carried me to the room where everyone gathered. There were counselors present— counselors who didn’t know me. Or him, for that matter. “Did you know him? You seem very upset.” Who is this idiot, and why is she touching me? I glared. “He was the Dean. Everyone knew him.” “I’m sorry, you just seemed to…” I don’t know how her sentence ended. I got up and walked to another table where she couldn’t reach me. Laid to Rest in Unmarked Graves “If you’ve recently experienced death or a break up, are struggling with depression or eating disorders, or you’re just not in a good place emotionally, you may want to seriously reconsider taking this class.” It’s the first Monday of the semester and I’m sitting in my Holocaust Art, Literature, and Film Class. I’m not worried. I’ve learned about the Holocaust before— seen movies, read books; I’ve even spoken with a survivor—I can handle it. “The following footage is from the Allied Forces’ Liberation of concentration camps across Europe. If you need to excuse
yourself, you may do so, as these images are extremely graphic.” Contorted bodies fill the screen. Grandfathers, wives, sisters, cousins, neighbors, lovers, and children lie naked and lifeless on the ground. As bulldozers push their crumpled remains into mass graves, I fight back my tears and the sick feeling in my stomach. I wasn’t prepared. I wasn’t ready. I can’t handle it. These were people with lives, with stories. They were dance teachers with students who hugged them every week after class. They were high school administrators who stood up at assemblies encouraging their students to choose the right path. They were college students whose lives were cut short before they ever fully began. They were loved. And now they are bones in a pit—remembered, studied, but forgotten. “Remember the names of each camp and a few notes about each. We’ll pick up here next week.” Everyone begins packing up, but a heavy silence remains. I should seriously reconsider taking this class. But I won’t. I’ll take the class; I’ll finish the semester; I’ll live my life. 21 and grieving.
Untitled, Jordan Van Horn 60
I can spot the suffering ‘longside the willpower,
the bus lines. (Smile, baby, the weeks are long in my head – )
I need a patch of steel wool, split-second clairvoyance.
trying to roll under the basement door. . . the rats are comin’, it’s a one man show.
behind there, rustling, as I sit here on the couch; with its loose fur and awful tail. Fuck! Just heard another one
in there, literally, trying to stuff them out. But I can hear one, now,
a hole above the floor between the dishwasher and stove. I’ve been stuffing books
The rats are comin’, from the alley out back. Peeking through
Take the Night
The Land of My Ancestors Genevieve Anakwe-Charles
The night sky is a clear, dark and deep backdrop for the brilliant array of sparkling stars. The night air is warm and kissed with the softness of breezes. I am sitting on the balcony of my father’s two-story house. The surprisingly soothing sounds of owls are interrupted by the humming of electric generators. Fireflies sparkle in the night, and tall palm trees sheathed in the shadows stretch up like arrows into the sky. I am back in my father’s hometown of Abatete, Southeastern Nigeria. This is the land of my ancestors. A land entrenched in rich traditions and beliefs. I close my eyes and breathe in the crisp air. The memories of being here as a child flood back into my mind like a sea tide. I remember my siblings and me sitting by our father’s leg under the moonlight starry-eyed and mesmerized by his incredible tales of the Biafran War. He would boastfully tell us how he fought so gallantly during the Biafran War of the 1960s. The Biafran War was a political conflict that was caused by the attempted secession of the southeastern province as the self-proclaimed Republic of Biafran. The Igbo people, Ndiigbo, fought for an equal stake in the national stage. The remnants of this old ethnic and religious tension are still felt in Nigerian politics today. Looking back now, his stories seem so outlandish, but, as a child, I hung on to his every word. Now I just nod in agreement when he talks about his adventures, taking it with a grain of salt. 62
“I killed over one hundred persons in my compound alone!” he would say. But this is my father; he never ceases to amaze. My father has an imposing presence with bravado to match. He is fearless both in physical propensity and intellectual prowess, a striking six feet and four inches in height with piercing brown eyes that had a hint of enigma and adventure. His calloused hands are a blatant symbol of his hard work. And at seventythree years of age he still has the tenacity and zeal of a man half his age. And, he never hesitates to make that known. He would say with vehement conviction, “I can fight a twenty-year-old man and win!” We jokingly call him Eze wan mmadu amongst ourselves, meaning leader of people. My father’s war stories were often accompanied by tales about the Igbo culture. Deep-rooted traditions and superstitions governed the practices of Ndiigbo from generations to generations. The Igbo traditional religion, Odinala is the foundation for the Igbo culture, Omenala. Every story is a puzzle piece to this enduring tapestry of culture and history. Everything I know about the Igbo culture, I learned from my father. He would often speak in proverbs, especially when he wanted to emphasize his point. He would say it in the Igbo language and tell us to ask mother if we did not understand. Whenever my unruly brother misbehaved, my father began the scolding with
the adage, “A child that won’t allow his parents to sleep won’t sleep as well.” And during celebrations, the breaking of the kola nut would be preceded by several adages that pay homage to the traditions of this great culture. The elders would always say, “Nkasi (ede) anaghi ako n’ala a kuru ya, nkasi na-adigide ndu-ndu gaa ndu”, meaning that once planted, the cocoa yam remains in the land for generations without end. Like many cultures that have existed, there is always a glimmer of irrationality and barbarity. The Igbo culture is archaic, but it served my ancestors well despite the many atrocities that resulted from its practices. Those are the sins of the father. The black forest, which is about four blocks from my father’s house, is known as the forest of the gods. The black forest was known as the forbidden forest, infamous for the abandonment of twins during pre-colonial times. The birth of twins was regarded as alu, a taboo that had the potential to bring misfortune to not only the family, but the village as a whole. Hence, twin babies were often taken to the black forest and left there to die. This was a necessary sacrifice to appease the gods. Unfortunately, this tradition still persists in some Southeastern parts of Nigeria today. A more enduring tradition is the Osu caste system. Osu are the slaves of the gods. They are separated from the free-borns, Dialas. It is an abomination to interact with Osus because they were viewed as bad luck. Fathers would disown their children if they married an Osu. My father would say, “Tu fu akwa!” meaning god forbid. Christian evangelization, fostered by
colonialism in the Igboland, sought to bring an end to this practice. But, some practices are so interwoven into the fabric of the culture that it endures the test of time. Ndiigbo believe in the dual existence of life, referred to as Mmadu (human being) and Chi (spiritual guardian). Many so-called Christian Igbos still dabble in traditional practices. They often seek the guidance of Dibias (spiritual practitioners) to settle their problems. Some are willing to sacrifice a family member to the gods to get rich. Human body part trafficking and witchcraft is very much a part of the Nigerian Culture. Superstition is real for those that believe in it. There was a man that was arrested for killing his daughter after her severed head was discovered hidden in his house. Apparently, the man had used her in a ritual to become wealthy. My father’s voice jars me away from my thoughts. He advises me not to step out of the house this evening because the village masquerade would be walking the streets. This brings back memories of being chased by the menacing masquerade as a child. In Igbo culture, masquerades are believed to embody the human and spirit worlds. They are often seen during funerals and festivals. The thought of seeing one is enough to send my heart galloping. I take a sip of palm wine and let it run down my throat in a soothing stream. I close my eyes for a few seconds and relish in the soft caress of the cool breeze. Then, I gaze at the dark canopy of the sky again. There is a magnificent full moon with a faint sprinkling of stars. There was something magical about all this. I am home, home with my ancestors. 63
Smallest of Screws Megan Stoltz
the screw in the eyeglasses does not apologize, not to you nor to the lens, they twist themselves into tiny holes they know their power miniscule, camouflaged less than forgotten they mislead us they feign unimportance lose one and bring a grown man to his knees screwing himself into the ground
Shades of Truth Ronnita Warren
I asked God to take my baby back. She was born the wrong color. Given a hue so dark society will not own her. Black shadow cast upon the perception of most. Reminder of shrouded ghosts lurking in the past. Shades pulled down no light could cast off the stain she left on the minds of others. I cradle her in my arms not yet ready to cast her to the wolves. She stares back at me the blissfulness of ignorance her reply. I wonder why?
Life for her must be this way. From the day the sun rose upon her birth evening stretched its hand toward her future. I try to paint a picture in her mind of how she should see herself. But my reflection vanished long ago replaced by a photo of something else. So in reply I give back the notions you tried to send me. Force-feeding your stereotypes of the perfect woman onto my plate I declare this one course meal to be my buffet. I create the menu we will dine on this day. See, your diet does not sit well with me.
I cannot digest it properly. My mindâ€™s belly rejects lies covered by garnishes. I regurgitate them on site. I will not be your object of ridicule. I who am precious as jewels with skin kissed by the sun. Hair so thick the gods envy its texture. No doubt I am the opposite of your conjecture which states I must remain in my place. That space you tried to trap me in. Eternally. Locked in the chains of bondage 65
which state I am less than.
His reflection is the one I seek.
Meager and earnings of my worth placed in your hands. I snatch them back and declare my freedom.
Black is the color that you gave but my destiny is of another shade. Golden as the sunrise you canâ€™t break through. Denying me love of self is license not permitted to be left in your clutches. The truth is what I trust in. Rooted and grounded I stand tall growing out of my infancy I will declare to be awakened. Inevitably I find my baby blossoming to be the shade of uncovered perfection.
Climbing up the blood drenched paths. A history of my reality. My definition of beauty will not be the empty promises passed off to me. Your hand-me-downs I will not drown in. Instead I begin continuing down this path God has given me. 66
Nairobi Collins When I try to recall things to share as stories, I sit back with my eyes closed and wander into my memory: a dark place filled with ghosts. There are a couple of problems with feeling around in the dark. For one, the mind tries to set a map of familiar things that have usual places. In real life, these would be things such as furniture, shoes, and creaky spots in the floor. In the darkness of the mind, these would be birthdays, first loves, and occasionally, creaky spots in the floor. The other problem is the reasoning behind the blind cartography: the avoidance of painful things. Sometimes, feeling around in the dark is rewarded with finding a switch that sheds light and makes everything clear. Often, stumbling through the darkness leads to bumping into things that hurt. As usual, the journey into the dark took me to the town I grew up in. It was a small place that was easy to navigate. On a map, it is only a five- mile wide blip surrounded by a tenmile moat of swamp and woods. In my mind, it is a series of photographs laid out and arranged in no particular order: the people in them are ghosts.
The “professor” was the ghost of the Mather Academy. This was a school for the children of former slaves. The campus was a large square of green land surrounding a tall, empty brick
building. Some of the windows had been broken, and the doors were barred shut, but scarred from multiple attempts to break in. The sign out front read in ageless metal letters “Boylan Haven Mather Academy.” It was built on the site of a former plantation house. The professor was an old black man in a faded suit, blackrimmed glasses and combed his hair to the left of his head in a style I had only seen in movies about civil rights. He always wore suits as he wandered the streets of Camden. My mother told me that he was her old teacher; a very smart man with a couple of degrees and a drinking problem. I would see him as I walked home after school. He was always on the corner in front of the old academy looking as though he were waiting for a bus. Crazy Joe was a local handyman. Another old black man who roamed the streets of Camden. He was short, very dark, and had skin like black leather. He was always friendly and loved to talk; and unless you were an old southerner, it was hard to understand what he was saying. My friends and I would play in the large field that was centered between all of our homes and we watched as he made his rounds mowing lawns in our neighborhood. Crazy Joe’s mower would grind away loudly as we tackled each other and attempted to drag one another across the field. When the mower would stop, we would sit in silence and listen as Joe sang old spirituals and made his way down the
street. Sometimes we would speculate on why they called him “Crazy”.
Jonathan, a red -faced country boy with blonde hair and big feet said that his dad told him Joe got a bad temper and reputation where he came from. Benjamin, his little brother with the same red face and big red ears, said his mother said it was because he always sang out loud even if no one was around to listen. My mother told me that he was actually called “Fool Joe” and it was because he was a really funny guy. She explained, “White folk think that fool means crazy, in Shakespeare, fools ain’t crazy and neither is he.” On late Saturday afternoons, after “Fool Joe” had gone home, my friends and I would sit on my porch and wait for parents to start calling their children home. By 7 o’clock everyone played within earshot of their mothers voice; fathers rarely yelled for their children. This time of day was when “Snake Lady” and “Marlboro Man” would come staggering down the street. They often fought and kissed as they strolled around town. “Snake Lady” was a woman of medium height with graying blonde hair and old blue-gray eyes covered in squinted wrinkled lids. Her voice was raspy and loud. “Marlboro Man” had a mullet of graying blonde hair, a bushy mustache, and a pair of aviator glasses like the kind police wore. He spoke in barks and slurs. They were always arguing over who drank the last of whatever they were drinking that day and they never failed to say hello to us. Scottie, the preacher’s son who lived next door to me, told 68
me that his dad said they were going to hell for living in sin and that decent people don’t act like them. I could hear his dad sometimes on Sunday, almost yelling in the church across the street.
I had never seen “Snake” and “Marlboro” apart from each other. I had also seen Scottie’s dad, while clean and sober, yell at his wife for being fat and called her a disgrace in his preacher’s “fire and brimstone” voice in front me and our other friends as we came into his home for lemonade. He would leave her to sit in the kitchen crying as we pretended not to notice. For weeks I could hear his sermons about her belting out of all of their windows and doors; closed or not. Eventually, they filed for divorce and Scottie and his mother moved away. For a couple months, the lone preacher remained in the empty, quiet house. Sometimes, on late Saturday afternoons he would mow his lawn and he would watch as “Snake Lady” and “Marlboro Man” made their way down the street staggering and causing their usual ruckus as they held hands and kissed.
This is my bump in the dark; the edge that finds the big toe. My mother, before dawn, would wake me and ask me to walk with her through the streets of Camden. The house would be quiet except for the creaky floorboard by my bed that my mother would always step on as she woke me. She would whisper to me while I dressed, as my brother and sister slept soundly in their rooms. My mother and I would make our way down the dark hallway and past open doors of bedrooms where dolls and
children lay glowing by the ambient light of streetlamps.
The houses of Camden scrolled by slowly as we walked quietly to the main street and made our way to town. I would always look at the windows in hopes of catching a glimpse of the life within. I wondered who was awake and what the sleepers were dreaming. Sometimes there would be a chicken cackling from someone’s backyard as we crossed from the darkness into the lamps of the main street. From the darkness of her mind, my mother would lead me through the Camden of her youth. I could see the old warehouses along the main strip as well as the twin hotels and the town’s first furniture store. The buildings in her mind were brick and wooden with large hand-painted signs. She would tell me what used to be standing where, and who used to live or work there. I knew we were walking on two different sidewalks as she let her memory paint the old town back into place. We passed decaying houses hidden off the road on dilapidated, overgrown lots.
“I knew some of the people that used to live around here. They are gone now.” Though most of the layout of our towns was the same, a lot of what she knew to be her home was getting washed away by time and progress. We pressed on into the empty town where old store fronts were only painted into new store fronts. Here is where towns of our youth coincided: the historic district. We were traveling to the center of town to get to the post office; one of her favorite things to do.
I would stand watch as my mother dug in the post office waste bins for catalogs. The post office was old with brass adorning every part that wasn’t painted white. On the farthest wall there was a mural of hunters chasing a fox that was hidden in the brush below a jumping horse. On another wall was a mural of the end of a revolutionary battle in which Red Coats were surrendering as freedom fighters pulled their dead from the battlefield. My mother liked nostalgia catalogs filled with old fashioned radios and pictures of rosy cheeked people sitting at a well- dressed table. She liked catalogs of things she would never buy such as lawn mowers and sexy underwear, though I would later learn that I was wrong about the latter. After the pillaging, we would walk quietly home with arms full of catalogs and junk mail through the town my mother grew up in. I tried to picture the world through her eyes. We would pass old buildings and new ones as we stepped forward to home stopping only for penny candy and a newspaper at a gas station that had just opened for the day. It would still be dark and the stars only just start to fade as we stepped into the silent house where my siblings were still sleeping. My mother would follow me through the dark hallway and to my room. She would kiss me on the cheek and squeak the floor as she left, and I would crawl back into bed and wonder where people like “The Professor,” “Crazy Joe,” “Snake Lady,” and “Marlboro Man” slept and what the world was like through their eyes in the darkness of their memories.
Untitled, Eleanor Leonne Bennett
for Sonny Liston Were you beautiful ever? Even one day? The day you were born? A day with no date, no sky blue or gray, no clouds or stars, no rivers running, no trees, their leaves neither falling nor budding nor sheltering, no breeze, no birds, no mule, no plow, no tumbledown house or strongarm landlord, no calendar on which to mark, no mark? Maybe you were born a beast. Maybe ugly, already fighting, or maybe you were beautiful. Your tiny toothless mouthâ€™s declaration of your first thirsts, and fists quiver high as youâ€™re cut free. If you were beautiful you threw it away immediately. Smart kid, I know. They say a smile opens doors. You know a shoulder takes them down.
All That Remains Shirley Brewer
…hurry please…he ripped her face off… —from the 911 call, after a chimpanzee attacked Charla Nash in 2009 A jaunty fabric remnant stitched to your straw hat shields the ruined surface where a face once defined you.
Beyond your wounds lives a fighter. You envision another chance: prosthetic hands, a new face. In the face of loss, you give thanks for your daughter, your brothers, for all that remains.
Your voice calm behind the flowery veil, you forgive the chimp who changed you.
I touch my lips, fleshy gems in the middle of my face, the sweet terrain I always take for granted.
Two hundred pounds of fury, a giant brown wrecking ball, a sudden cannibal— he lunged, obliterated your hands, your features, your sight.
A smile for you, I say.
You wear your real face on the inside where memory resides—how at seventeen you joined the rodeo circuit out West. Your eyes sparkled, you showed spunk, the will to hold on.
Kohahvah Zauditu-Salassie The policeman opens the cell gate, and the striped faces you saw as you walked the long corridor come into a sharper focus. A white man, wearing an Armani suit, face shadowed by stubble, looks up as you enter. He stares for a while before resting his elbows on his thighs to cradle his forehead in his hands. You try to stop looking at faces and sit on one of the six benches bolted to the concrete floor. You choose a seat at the far corner of the jail cell, away from the iron bars. If someone wants to fight you, he won’t bang your head against the metal. The thick air reeks of sweat, funk and oily maleness. The pimply-faced teenager gets up and moves to another bench on the other side of the room when you sit down. You decide against looking at the wall after you see a man, with sagging pants, turn his eyes into slits to sustain a leer. The gate clinks open, and a man stumbles in. He looks like he is drunk. After surveying the room, he does not sit. He threads his hands through the metal bars. A man who looks as if he weighs nearly three hundred pounds is sitting on the toilet. There is a toothpick in his mouth that he rolls from side to side with his tongue. You try to block out the sounds of him grunting as he bears down. There is no door. No privacy is afforded to the man as he handles his business, as your grandmother calls it. You try to stop looking.
The stench fills the air. “Damn nigger, you stink,” the man with the tattooed neck calls out. “Don’t have me come off this toilet and kick your monkey-ass, bitch.” The tattooed man does not answer back. This is how the hold of the ship must have been during the Middle Passage—defecation, perspiration, regurgitation, humiliation, urination, resignation, deprivation and other atrocities connected to the transatlantic trade. You learned about it in your Black Studies class at Clark Atlanta University. You’d gone to Atlanta to study English. You wanted to be a writer, but you dropped out of school. This isn’t your first time in jail, but you promise yourself that it will be your last. You find some carved words, a diversion that directs your gaze downwards. Miguel, RaeKwan, Pooh Bear and Phillip are near where your right hand grips the bench. “Motherfucker”, “cock”, “bitch” and “fuck the police” are etched in a circle. Your grandmother, Big Ma, always said that cussing was a sign of low intelligence. Two men are talking about you. “Look at that nigger.” A phlegm-filled voice rattles. “Yes, indeed. I needs me a blow job from this pretty motherfucker.” 73
Inching closer to the edge of the bench, you now wish you were nearer to the front of the cell because, maybe then, someone will hear you if you scream. A burly-looking man with a bald head and a handlebar mustache blows you a kiss. He’s been looking at you since you came in. On his neck, there is a skull and crossbones tattoo. In the middle of where the left eye would have been, there is a dagger. You put your head down again. “Leave him alone!” the man on the toilet says. “Any of you touch him, you’ll have to fuck wit’ me.” The toilet flushes. You adjust your skirt, pulling it down over your knees.
Although you are sad that Jatari looked at you that way, you are titillated by the thought of Jatari’s muscular arms. You have an erection. Repositioning your penis next to your stomach, you walk home.
When she first found out about your different self, you were in the seventh grade. She had gone to her Eastern Star meeting at Second Benevolent AME Church. You didn’t know that she was going to get one of her sick headaches and come home early. When she walked into her room and saw you standing tall in her heels, face tinted with rouge, lips painted bright red and eyebrows drawn on, you had a look of surprise. She returned the look through questioning eyes. You were wearing her new wig that she had been saving for a special occasion. She left the room and told you to get in the bathtub. Before she left the room, she glanced at her dresser at the comb and brush set with the mother-of-pearl handles, a gift from your grandfather, her prized possession. It was undisturbed. While you were still in the tub, she came in with a bottle of gin.
You are twelve, and you are walking home from school with your next door neighbor, Jatari. You think he is handsome. You imagine that he is your boyfriend. As you walk, you move your hips a little more from side to side than you usually do. You like moving your hips like that. You see two squirrels chase each other up the leathery trunk of an oak tree. You want to chase Jatari, catch him and then roll on him. Actually, you want to feel his stomach on your back. Jatari tells a joke. The laugh you make does not sound like a boy’s laugh. Jatari turns around and looks at you. He has a strange look on his face. Your hand is still near your mouth from the laugh you made. Jatari says, “Man, Imma’ go to the store. I’ll see you tomorrow.” 74
Now that the men are no longer staring at you, you begin to think about what could be keeping Tavanté. You hope that he comes up with the money and that he doesn’t have to call Big Ma. You hate the thought of your grandmother having to come down to this place, again. ***
You cupped your hand to hide your penis. Her gnarled brown fingers shook as she poured the gin into the tub and over your head to cut the evil she said was growing inside of you. When you got out of the tub, she made you kneel down as she prayed the first Psalm over and over again, “Blessed is the man who walketh not in the council of the ungodly, nor standeth in the ways of sinners…” as your naked body shivered with shame. The next morning at breakfast all she said was, “Picasso, I raised you better than this. Lord knows I did.” In high school, the shop teacher caught you and Nicco in the utility closet. You had told Mr. Demarco that you would lock up as usual. While you were putting the supplies and unused wood back in the cabinet, Nicco, one of the star athletes, came into the room. You always had a crush on him. You went to all the games to see him. He was on both the football and basketball teams. He started kissing the back of your neck. His tongue was gentle. You were grateful for his tenderness. Most of the boys had been brutal and rough. You often bled. You didn’t hear the door open. The only sounds you heard were Nicco’s breath in your ear and the sex sounds you both made. Nicco had his hand on the back of your neck, tensing his body. Then you heard, “What are you boys doing? Come with me!” As Nicco pulled out, semen sprayed your back. You retrieved your pants from around your ankles, pulled down your shirt and followed him and Mr. Demarco to the principal’s office. As you walked down the corridor, you could feel the eyes of
the girls who had just finished cheerleading practice. Their stares bore a hole into your cold, sticky back. Nicco didn’t look at you as Mr. Demarco and the principal lectured. Big Ma came to get you. Again, her disappointment saddened you. She took you to see one of her church friends, Miss Ella, who tried to pray the “sick spirit” out of you. Kneeling in front of a life-sized statue of Jesus, you listened as she rebuked the demon that had taken residence in you. She bathed you in cold water taken from a clay jar that was covered by a piece of indigo cloth. Afterwards, you sat on the couch; your face glowed in the candle’s light. Big Ma reached in her bra and took a handkerchief from the space near her breastbone. Unknotting the worn cloth dotted with purple irises, she gave Miss Edna three pleated dollar bills shaped like ships. Although it has been a long time since you have thought of yourself as a sinner, the last time you spoke to Big Ma, you told her that you had a girlfriend. If she hadn’t asked, you wouldn’t have had to lie. She must have known you were lying because she said, “You my baby, and you will always be my baby. No matter what.” You wondered why she asked at all. One time Big Ma told you that it was her fault. She spoiled you after your mother died. She told you that she shouldn’t have let you pin-curl her hair at night. You told her that it wasn’t her doing. At night, you go to the bars. You wear women’s clothes. Your name, Picasso, a source of ridicule when you were young, even in the Black community, becomes a point of conversation when 75
you start working the streets. Men find your name fascinating. “Oh, that is so interesting,” they say, “are you an artist or something?” They ask, “Can you show me some of your techniques.” “I mean your brush strokes,” they tease. You are an artist. You’ve mastered the art of applying makeup tastefully; just a little lip-gloss, a bit of mascara and a bit of mineral powder. Your own hair is long and flowing, so you don’t need wigs. The Dominicans at the shop on Central Avenue keep it bouncing and behaving. A ruffled blouse, a calf-length pencil skirt and mules with kitten heels round out the look you call secretary, and it complements your slim build. You don’t look male at all. You didn’t know that the man who came to sit beside you in the bar was an undercover cop. You’d been admiring his dreadlocks, so thick and long. When he turned to you and asked to buy you a drink, you were happy. You wished it could’ve been a date, but you needed the money. You left the bar with him after two Long Island Iced Teas and began telling him what you could do for him and with him along with the prices for those services. When he pulled out his badge, you didn’t look at him while he read you your rights. ***
Footsteps tap down the hall floor, and keys jingle. “Picasso Brown,” the guard says. You stand up, adjust your pantyhose, tuck your penis back
in place, smooth your skirt and walk down the hall. Some of the men in the cell mock you, calling out your name in falsetto. Some of the men whistle. You don’t turn around. After signing the papers, you collect your belongings: a gold clutch purse with a tube of pink lip-gloss, two condoms and a stack of bills held together with a Hello Kitty money clip. When you open the door to the reception area, you look for Tavanté. He is not there. Your eyes meet Big Ma’s. She stands up, squares her narrow shoulders and walks toward
A Heart-Shaped Face Eli Dillard
My face has fourteen bones, roughly a square foot of skin and about forty-three muscles. I say about because I could not find the same number in the same two sources. One source said forty-three, another said fifty-two, another said it varied from person to person. I asked a friend who I thought would know and he said just open your face and count them. I didn’t want to do that, so I decided forty-three sounded best. I have narrow-set blue eyes. Just about everyday that I leave my house someone compliments them. When I say that no one has ever told me I have mesmerizing eyes, they believe me. They are denim blue in the middle, dark blue around the outside and yellow and green around the pupil. Very few people get close enough to see the yellow-green; when this happens, it is usually our downfall. I’ve heard blue eyes are actually colorless. My laugh lines have become more prominent over the past few years, and I have lost a dimple. I only have one in my left cheek. I hope it doesn’t leave; I’d rather have one dimple than none. My nose is wide when I smile and I used to hate it. My lips are thin, my teeth are small, my ears stick out a little and I have full, arched eyebrows. My face is what they call a heart shape. I don’t know if this has any significance to personality type or emotional
vulnerability, but I imagine some people think there is a correlation similar to the way people read into zodiac signs. I’m a Sagittarius, and if you look up the sign’s major traits, they’re pretty dead on to my personality: independent, likes to travel, optimistic, and unemotional. While I’m not completely devoid of emotion, I think I know what they mean by the word unemotional in context to being a Sagittarius. I don’t usually talk about my feelings unless asked; I often resort to passionate love making rather than bathing my partner with compliments; and I ditch friends and lovers so I can have alone time. Maybe face is god playing with irony. He’s always fucking with our lives to play with irony. If people with heart-shaped faces are unemotional, that would mean square-shaped faces are never boring, circle-shaped faces are boring and oval-shaped faces are emotional. Sure.
Standard Issue Saralyn Lyons
He named his rifle after the cross-eyed girl
At night, he would carry it to bed
he loved in high school. He lifted it with his fingertips,
in the breathing silence of the barracks
the steel laughing at his touch. Their partnership
and let it sleep quiet and hungry beneath his bunk,
blossomed like blood across a chest. In the field
while his thoughts would wander back
he pressed his cheek to its side and squeezed
to Skeet and the nights he spent alone
its new-cocked trigger. He memorized its chambers
unsatisfied and aching for her.
and barrel, a teenagerâ€™s frenzied fumblings. He could make it sing, a buzz beginning at the bottom then trembling up and down its body.
Take a Risk
Lawanda Johnson Cocoa skin touches pale skin for the first time, amazed, liberated she sees eagerness in his eyes holds breath counts to five relax, take it all inside bodies intertwine like a conversation eyes lock, hands connect sweet moments, tasty lips Heâ€™s her forbidden fruit A fine bliss waking up together in the morning dew.
The Christmas Gift Jenna Myers
I’m beyond uncomfortable as I sit alone in the bright, yellowwalled waiting room at the doctor’s office, my fingers and feet swollen with the pressure of what feels like a cinder block crushing my bladder. I can’t help but notice every detail about the women who surround me: the way they hold their husbands’ hands with excitement and anticipation, the obnoxiously expensive maternity clothes that drape their bodies in just a way that makes their sudden weight gain and pop belly flattering, and the books they read about what to expect. And here I sit in my oversized sweatpants, holding the tears back from erupting. I have smeared mascara, bags under my eyes, and a nine-month-old sinus infection. My name’s called out, crashing my train of thought. “Nicole Erikson?” asks an overly cheerful nurse in scrubs with small pastel hand prints on it. “Follow me.” Same procedure, different day, for the nurse and for me. Weight, temperature, blood pressure, pee into a cup, and wait. “The doctor will be in shortly. Undress from the waist down and drape that over you,” the nurse explains, closing the door behind her. Ten minutes pass before the doctor gives a small knock and barges in, clipboard in hand. He manages to make awkward conversation while simultaneously poking and prodding around
inside of me. “It’s almost time, the baby has dropped and you are two centimeters dilated. I noticed the amniotic fluid levels are lower than normal. If they drop anymore, we will have to perform an emergency C-section. I understand you are placing the child for adoption?” he asks, his tone professional and impersonal. “Yes, that’s right.” “Okay then, I will put that in our records. I will see you in a few days for your next check-up.” As I walk out of the office, I feel all eyes on me. If they only knew. **** Now, I’m not very religious, but every night for the next few days I pray myself to sleep, in hope that it will cause these fluid levels to drop. The combination of excitement, fear, impending relief, and grief is weighing on my stomach like a small sandbag. My hands lay pressed against my bulging basketball belly, fingers crossed inside my hoodie pocket so no one can see the childish superstition I still carry with me at twenty-one. “Nicole Erikson?” a woman calls out. “Come with me, sweetie.” This woman is not the nurse from the other day, but she is soft spoken, with sympathetic eyes. She puts her hand on my shoulder as she leads me into the sonogram room. As I lay 83
on the table, she says: “You’re placing her for adoption? That’s very brave of you.” “Yeah. I really just want her out of me at this point. I’m ready to start fresh,” I reply quickly, as I feel the burn of unwelcome tears attempting to make their appearance. I swallow hard, but my chin still quivers. “You are doing an amazing thing, Nicole. You are a strong woman,” the nurse says as she rubs my shoulder and hands me a tissue. “I just don’t want to give...my baby...away...on Christmas!” I finally blurt out in between sobs. “Well, I can help you with that. You are already ‘full term’, and if your levels have fallen since your last visit, they will most likely want to do an emergency C-section. Can I just measure the lowest amount of fluid for you instead?” she asks. I quietly shake my head as I feel a single tear tumble down my cheek. The levels are low enough for the C-section. Looks like today’s the day. It’s as if every minute I feel a different emotion: sadness, excitement, nervousness, and relief. I get into my car, take a deep breath and take my phone out of my pocket. It’s time to make the call to Lindsey, my adoption counselor. “Call Daniel! I’m going in today! Tell him today is the day 84
he gets to meet his daughter!” I say before Lindsey can even say ‘hello’. Daniel and Elsa are the perfect couple to adopt my baby. They are who I would’ve chosen, had I been able to pick my own parents. Elsa is in Sweden and will be taking the next flight home, so Daniel will be meeting me at the hospital. I knew this was going to happen and I wish Elsa could be here too. Reality sets in as the excitement starts to wear off the closer I get to my house. “This is the best Christmas gift you could give,” I repeatedly tell myself. Sarah, my best friend, is supposed to be spending this wonderful stay in the hospital with me, but she’s in Texas. Why the hell she is in Texas, I have no idea. But she is about to board a flight home. My mother is the lucky lady who gets to deal with me. Two hours pass too quickly, and I’m not ready for any of this, but I can’t wait. How I feel is too damn confusing. Finally, Sarah comes running in, with a duffel bag twice her size. “I’m here! You waited for me! That was so nice of you!” she jokes. “I held her in just for you, how’d you know?” I shoot back. Not long after Sarah, the doctor walks through the door to go over procedures. Sarah spends this time getting ready for the “O.R.”- playing dress up, basically. Her silliness is a pleasant
compliment to the craziness of emotion that’s going on. The curtain flings back, and there stands Sarah, head to toe in blue disposable scrubs. She has it all on: the hair cap (covering a short mohawk), the blue paper jumpsuit, the shoe covers. She dramatically turns around while snapping her last latex glove on her hand. This is why Sarah is my best friend. The anesthesiologist comes in to prepare me, and Sarah leaves. “Sit up straight, lean forward, and hug the pillow. Now do not move. Your legs will begin to feel very heavy, and you won’t be able to move them, so don’t panic when you can’t. Also, you won’t be able to feel yourself breathing, but you will be. So don’t panic about that either,” the anesthesiologist casually states. “Don’t panic? I won’t know that I am breathing, and I’ll be paralyzed from the chest down.” I’m already panicking. I’ve never felt so claustrophobic in my own body before. The needle goes in and I jump, of course. “Now just lay back and rest your arms here,” he says while he moves my arms out to my sides as if I’m flying. He starts to strap my arms down to a board and a giant sheet flies up over my face. If I wasn’t feeling claustrophobic before, I definitely am now. “No, no, no, no. You can’t do that to me! I will have a panic attack!” I try to explain to him. At that moment, Sarah is finally allowed in the room and I thank God. Together we convince
the anesthesiologist to let me have my arms. He explains that it’s a natural instinct for a woman to grab her stomach during a C-section. So, I promise not to grab my stomach and I shut up. The C-section is grueling. The numbness of the anesthesia and pressure from the doctor moving my organs out of the way doesn’t help. “I’m not very happy with you, Dr. Norman,” I tell my OBGYN. “That’s why I didn’t come in here any sooner!” He snaps back. He and I have a similar sense of humor and he gets me to chuckle. Sarah starts talking to distract me since I voice how uncomfortable I am about every ten seconds. Suddenly, everything slows down. The discomfort is there, but it’s okay. Morphine. My eyes jump around the room to find the clock. It’s 3:33 pm. The small cry I’ve been waiting to hear breaks my concentration, then silence again. “Was that the baby? Why did she stop crying? Where did she go?” I ask. “That was your daughter! We are going to weigh her and get her vitals in another room. That’s what you wanted, right?” Dr. Norman replies. “Yeah, that’s what I wanted. Does she look healthy?” I ask. “She looks so healthy, I can’t imagine a baby that big inside such a small girl!” he says. Knowing she’s okay puts me at an 85
indescribable ease. I swear another half an hour passes before I get to go into recovery, a very uncomfortable thirty minutes. The recovery room is depressing. It’s dark, and the woman to my left is nursing her newborn and husband by her side. The nurses are short with me, as if they are at the tail end of a twelve hour shift. Sarah is giving updates to everyone, as Lindsey comes to check on me. “How are Daniel and the baby?” I immediately ask. “Daniel and Emma are doing great. He is such a proud Dad! You gave a wonderful Christmas gift today. Do you still not want to see Emma until the papers are signed tomorrow?” Lindsey asks. “Yeah, it’s probably best that way. I don’t want to have any chance to change my mind. I can’t do that to Daniel, Elsa or Emma,” I reply confidently. Morning comes too fast. It’s time to sign the papers. After the paperwork is complete, the nurse walks me over to the nursery where Emma is. I immediately know which baby is her. “Oh, okay,” I say when I see her for the first time. I turn around and slowly shuffle back to my room. The face I put on for these people scares me. So confident on the outside, but I feel like I’m dying. Like someone took my soul out of my body, empty, sad, and alone. I spend my night yearning, bawling, and weeping. The release 86
is like an avalanche, uncontrollable, yet I welcome it as it wipes out all the things in my past and lays a fresh foundation for my future. It’s a new day and Daniel wants me to spend some alone time with Emma, just the two of us with no one to analyze me. I appreciate his empathy and trust, as this can’t be easy for him either. I sing to Emma, tell her how much I love her, and just stare at her for hours while she lies asleep in my arms. Now I understand what it is like to be a mother, I feel what it is like to be a mother, a person I never thought I could be. Elsa bursts through my door, tears streaming down her face, and before even looking at Emma, or Daniel or anyone, she runs to me and gives me the biggest hug and the biggest kiss on the cheek. I smile, reminded again why I chose Elsa to be Emma’s mom and hand Elsa her new baby girl. I quietly say “congratulations”. Elsa’s face lights up. The room goes silent. A flash lights up the room. Daniel has his camera on Elsa so he could capture her face the very first time she sees Emma. Her eyes radiate an unconditional love I have never witnessed before. The only sound in the room is Elsa’s joyful, thankful sobbing as she holds her daughter. It is in this moment that I realize the gift I had given.
Katherine Cottle In another house, my father’s arm raises the cigarette before he even wakes, the movement from hand to mouth a fluid line, like blood or breath, the urgency grown past crutch into undeniable instinct. Next to him, in another bed, my mother’s fingers intertwine into the woven slates of a tiny roof, her hands gripped into prayer, begging for guidance this day, as the fleeting darkness of the night stays closed tight within her palms. In my own house, the remaining caramel drops shimmer in my husband’s tumbler, warm licks across the coffee table, the sparkle of escape still peeking out from behind the glassthe hint of flight, a passage through.
Yesterday’s picture still hangs crooked on the refrigerator, miniature skulls blending into daggers and arrows, little bits of violence that only my son can make, proving again and again, that he will have the last word. And I am left with only the sparkly pen with the silver feather on the cap, all other writing instruments either eaten by the dog or carried away, barely a chance left to find what it is I am looking for, somewhere here under the unmoving lines of the paper.
Sunbather Kina Viola
I spent the day topless on a yellow-green lawn entangled in books that are not mine, in words that are not mine and do not speak to the softness of the grass in this early-spring atmosphere, breathing the dirt and allowing if not asking for the seeping sun, deep, into my skin. Itâ€™s the kind of sun that is a weight on a browning back, each miniscule shard of spine electrified by March air. My father is at the woodpile, throwing sticks in a heap as they crackle, a fire, or the clank of bones. He is walking towards the house and notices me, steps back, stops. Everything is lost in the shock of a womanâ€™s body, in the curves of his little girl lying flat on her stomach, back arched to the world, arching her neck at the opening air in a stretch before descending like a cloud, like a fogged morning slipping its greyness around a house. And I fall asleep, wrapped in sun.
Christopher Warman Exquisite: The patter of fire, the crackle of rain Mere octaves apart.
Untitled, David Smith
The Semi-Pro From Champaign Mitchell Tropin
Soaring above the other players, arms extended far above his head, he reaches for the basketball as it bangs off the rim. The newspaper photo captures the drama in a frozen moment. The man dominating the scene is my dad, Harry Tropinsky. Another photo shows him going to the hoop for a score and there is the traditional team photo- my dad is sitting on the floor with his legs crossed Indian-style. The players are wearing sleeveless jerseys, short satin shorts, and high-top canvas shoes. The year was 1938. The war was years away. Living in Champaign Ill., about one hour from Chicago, my father spent evenings and weekends playing semi-pro basketball. The sport was then a relatively minor diversion for Americans, ranking far behind baseball, boxing, horse racing, and football. The black-and-white snapshots were kept in an album stored in the living room of my family’s Washington, D.C. apartment. I scrutinized the photos often. The album was part of my growing up. Taller-than-usual for his times, six-foot-three Harry Tropinsky towered above people as he walked down crowded streets. He played center, a position played today by seven-foot giants. Blessed with thick wavy black hair and broad shoulders, my father sported a nifty-looking, pencil-thin mustache, and wire-rim glasses. 90
The son of a Russian tailor, my dad grew up in the Bronx when it was a Jewish enclave. He graduated from City College of New York with a chemistry degree, but ignored his parents’ wishes to become a pharmacist. The big guy could not picture himself wearing a drab white coat and filling prescriptions. After graduation, he roamed around the country. “Heschel,’’ as my grandfather called him, drifted to the Midwest. He found all sorts of odd work, such as teaching the “chemistry of art,’’ at a local college. He showed student artists how to handle toxic and flammable paint without poisoning themselves or blowing themselves up. Outside of Chicago there were not many Jews. Basketball offered a place where my father could belong. He played under the name, Harry Tropin, because it sounded “less Jewish,’’ although he never legally adopted the shorter moniker. When I am born, however, he specifically told the hospital to put “Tropin’’ on my birth certificate as my last name, not Tropinsky. I owe my last name to basketball. During World War II, my father served in the Navy as a flight instructor; showing pilots how to identify enemy planes in total darkness. After the war, he left the Chicago area and returned home to New York, where he met my future mother. Marrying in 1945, their first child, my sister, was born in 1946.
d to Washington, D.C., a especially in retail. There my s a furniture salesman. He also ame, Tropin. aking great pride in his ability rted getting cold feet, he would n faltered, he would step in , they talk about the ``money last shot when the game is on the Semi-Pro from Champaign most evenings, my father would day’s receipts, my father would r, treating them like game
y father was 33 years old and ws him standing in the surf at oulders and flat stomach. Puffing juts from the side of his mouth . ports, and basketball in particular, Sitting on his lap while he ress my cheek to his rough a morning shave. Carefully eeling its heat and seeing its d photos of his favorite team, the player, Bill Russell, the best big
During those years, my father’s basketball days never seemed far away. One Sunday afternoon, he was sitting in his big chair, reading the newspaper, and I was sitting on the floor watching a football game. I may have been nine or 10 years old. The room was silent, except for the sound of the television, which was typical for my home. A sports announcer on TV mentioned the University of Illinois and my father abruptly looked up from his newspaper, reminding me that the school is in Champaign where he played ball. When I reached my teen years, my dad awarded my interest in basketball in buying me a pair of Converse ``Chuck Taylor’’ basketball shoes, the gold standard for such footwear in the 1960’s. As I sat down to put on the shoes, my father got down on one knee to show me the proper way to tie them; pulling and tightening the clean white laces, systematically moving from one eyelet to next. ``This is the way a basketball player does it,’’ the big man said in a soft voice, passing on closely guarded secrets of the craft. During my adolescence, one day stood out from the rest of the year: The Jewish New Year, Rosh Hashanah. What made it memorable had nothing to do with going to temple. My father was a non-observant Jew, but would not work on the High Holiday. It was the only time when Harry Tropin voluntarily took the day off. Best of all, he spent the entire day with me. We would have breakfast in a diner near the Florida Avenue wholesale market in Northeast Washington. Side by side with the truckers in the noisy, smoke-filled and crowded eatery, we 91
would devour enormous, he-man breakfasts. Next my father would take me downtown, buying me school clothes for the fall. The afternoon meant a first-run movie, like the ``Magnificent Seven.’’ Sitting in the half-empty theatre, we would watch Steve McQueen and Yul Brenner on the giant screen. The grand finale was picking up my mother and sister and whisking over to my father’s favorite restaurant, Tom Sarris’s New Orleans Steak House- big steaks for a big man. The day was seamless and flawless, clearly one of the most special days of my life. It never occurred to me that other fathers did this sort of thing with their sons more than once a year. When I reached high school, basketball and sports kept me close to Dad. We would drive for over an hour to see the Celtics play the then-Baltimore Bullets in creaky old Baltimore Arena. The aging auditorium held the smoke from every cigarette smoked there and the stink from every beer served, but the cozy building let you sit right on top of the players, close to the action. Basketball, however, could not help when events changed my father’s life irrevocably. Harry Tropin saw his life became a raging sea on April 4, 1968—the day Dr. King was assassinated. During the ensuing Washington riots, his furniture store was totally destroyed. Suddenly he was out of work for the first time since the Great Depression. The Semi-Pro from Champaign went from job to job, some lasting a few weeks. No matter the circumstances, no position seemed right. Late at night, he would come home from work, 92
frustrated and dejected. I would sit across the room from my father, invisible to him as he spoke with my mother. Hushed conferences went on through the night. After exhausting the opportunities in downtown Washington, my father sought work in the suburbs. Each job required him to rise earlier, drive longer, and return home later. I saw the big guy less and less. He often left for work in the morning before I woke. When he came home, I usually was asleep. Even if I had been awake, there was nothing I could say to him. After a few months he was working in towns over an hour away from Washington; places I never had heard of, like Woodbridge, Virginia. The summer was joyless and filled with uncertainty. My father still envisioned himself as the semi-pro athlete. I only saw Willy Loman. Then it was my turn to see things change irrevocably. When the Jewish New Year arrived that year, Dad got up and went to work. Without a word of explanation, he proceeded as if it were an ordinary day of the week. I did not see that our annual day together had become an unaffordable luxury. The event also seemed to mark the end of my closeness with my father. At the invitation of my girlfriend’s family, I started going to synagogue on the Jewish New Year. Sitting between the adults wearing skullcaps and prayer shawls, I really missed the SemiPro from Champaign.
Wendy Hoffman Azaleas spit up jeweled nipples, bleeding hearts rip spare earth, camellia bushes shout scarlet yellow blood; lopsided magnolias erupt magenta blue as I sing to my humming garden after its winter, a chord in myself plucks out of the underworld, out of tangled colonies of bulbs, grasshoppers; as a slow bloom gleaned from the wise soil spirals under my feet, up my vertebrae, as a deliberate dove juts through green avalanches.
From Little Squares: 31 Days in October Mary Azrael
28 Sweat seasons my upper lip. Want a taste? A gaze accepts. A stare refuses. Patchouli or musk – whatever he’s wearing makes my mouth water, and whatever I’m saying pretends to be about something else like a poem I want him, don’t want him to understand.
29 Banjo music shivers the moon light, topples the mountain, rides the rapids, falls over waterfalls and swings her yo-yo far and wide and held to the center like a planet on a string.
30 Old man, unpin that silver barrette and let your silver hair float. Talk to me in the dark – tell the story of when you fell out of the sky, the stars rushing by, and were hurt but didn’t die. Tell it again again. I’ll be the listening boy, your son, your voice a night parachute to let me softly down. Tell me, voice more real than a book.
Danielle Donaldson Pulling tendon from bone Wrapping flushed lips Around a sliver of gristle Hunched behind a Chinese restaurant Leaning against a sticky dumpster While a child chases after A bowling ball skipping Across potholes Whistling between missing teeth
The Merchant Larry Eby
There are hieroglyphs in the sandbox, pigeon shit dripping down the wood fence. There anything left in that stomach of yours? An apple dumpling, battery acid. All rings of coins to me. Rats bite off their tails, leave their ribcages on windowsills.
Virginia Crawford My sister would have had my mother’s dark hair and brown eyes. I’m certain she would have been determined, a block of a woman like out of a Giotto painting or trim and feisty, nearly invisible except for her enormous personality. I’m not sure if she would be older or younger or even a twin, but she would have liked the blue Slurpee better than the red. And she would have talked more than I did as a child. She would have said all the things I thought but kept inside as if they were delicate glass birds that would have shattered if released, and I would have loved her for it. She would have loved dogs and stroked every one we would have met on our walks home from school. And I would have stood a few feet
back, watching her hands in all that soft fur, wishing I was free enough to love things I did not know. Clearly, no reasonable person can miss a sister who has never existed. The laws of physics insist that you can not fill an empty space you can not find. Yet we know very well how to yearn. If you had never seen a clear sky, never fallen into this girl’s eyes, would you be distraught over the lack of blue?
That July Day Judith Krummeck
When I ventured out that July day, the first thing that struck me was the heat. People say, as an African, I should be used to heat. But I had never known anything like this. In South Africa it is a dry heat. It is a heat that makes the buildings seem to shimmer, and the roads appear wet from a kind of mirage. There is a stillness to that heat, a drawing in on yourself to hold it at bay. Sounds seem to come from far off; there might be just the buzzing of a fly nearby. And the heat is entirely driven by the sun, baking down on the powdery, dry soil. When you step into the shade, the temperature drops immediately, and your pupils don’t adjust quickly enough to avoid a momentary blindness. On the Highveld, around Johannesburg, you can almost set your clock by the 4 p.m. thunderstorm that cools things off for the evening. In Cape Town, the summer South Easter blows away the city smog, and, though the wind tries the nerves with its relentlessness, it’s called The Cape Doctor for good reason. Durban, on the East Coast, has the most humidity, but nothing like the opaque heat of that July day. This heat was like a living thing. It gripped me as I stepped outside. It instantly made my sandals stick to my feet and my skin prickle with moisture. When I went out on that day, the voices were a wall of 98
sound. Throngs of people, not as oppressed by the humid heat as I was, were out enjoying the summer day. I listened to the speech around me, and I heard a foreign language. Except it was not foreign; it was American. I was walking down Prince Street in Old Town, Alexandria, Virginia. But the voices sounded strange to me, as if I couldn’t speak the language. Not quite Babel, but close. It wasn’t so much the words, although that was a part of it. It was the rhythms and inflections. The sentences turned up at the ends. I went into a stationery shop; I already had so much to write about. I asked the shop attendant to put my purchases into a packet. He looked at me questioningly, groping for a meaning. A bag. A bag was what I wanted. The more conscious I became of language, the more it seemed to splinter into a thousand possibilities—like all the threads that make up English. American English and African English have the same source, after all. But any amateur Henry Higgins can clearly pick up countless English dialects—in America, the musical drawl of the southern states to the flattened twang of New York; in Africa, the heavy, weighted consonants from Afrikaans to the shortened vowels from the black languages. So, it was not just the rhythms and inflections that sounded foreign to me on that July day, it was
also the dialect. The pronunciation is the easy part. It’s not that hard to learn to pronounce the words; to learn to say “loo-tenant” rather than “leff-tenant”, “bro-CHURE” instead of “BRO-chure”, “aluminum” in place of “aluminium”, “skedule” not “shedule”—or to ask for a bag instead of a packet. The accent is much more intricate because it’s a part of you, like a gesture or a walk, and it’s bound up with the timbre of your voice. I was expecting the obvious distinction of the American “a”. Americans “cann’t” do something, and the English “cahn’t” do it. But I learned that the “o” is distinct too. Americans buy fresh “prohduce” from a grocery store, whereas I buy fresh “prodduce”. And, for me, Bach is not a “Baroke” composer, but a “Barock” one. In America, I heard the suggestion of a Northern Irish accent. In South Africa, English sometimes still has remnants of the old-fashioned, 19th century language that our ancestors brought from Britain. But, more often, the English there takes on the heavier overtones of the other ten official languages—from Afrikaans to Zulu. When I ventured out into the wall of sound that July, the seasons were upside down. In Africa, the seasons blend into one another, as day does into night—there are no long-drawn-out twilights there. In March, the trees turn subtly in the autumn, and Cape Town has a chill, damp winter in July. In Johannesburg, the sun shines brightly through the winter, and, though temperatures dip below freezing at night, the days are warm. Spring comes to Johannesburg
in October with a purple canopy of jacaranda trees, and, in Namaqualand, north of Cape Town, the semi-desert is transformed, briefly, into a carpet of absurdly bright colors as the wildflowers bloom in late winter and early spring—late August and early September. Time is measured there in months rather than seasons. On that hot, July day, it was hard to imagine any other season. But I had been in New York City for the blizzard of ’96. When I had heard Americans say, “In the winter I did such-and-such” or, “next summer we’re going to ...” it seemed like a quaint turn of phrase. I didn’t realize, then, how the cycle of life is measured by the clearly demarcated seasons. Suddenly the rejuvenation of spring coinciding with Easter made sense. I came to learn that the long, slow, lazy days of summer were neatly bracketed by Memorial Day in May and Labor Day in September. My own summer holidays in Africa had always centered around Christmas, but now all the Dickensian images of carolers and freezing snow and steaming Christmas dinners would come to life in a northern hemisphere winter. When I walked out onto Prince Street that summer day, my internal compass was awry. As people came towards me on the sidewalk, I wanted to step left instead of right. It was a precursor to learning to drive on the other side, banging my left hand on the driver’s window as I instinctively reached to change gears. I would pull out into traffic, having carefully ascertained that nobody was 99
coming on my right, and there would be a wildly gesticulating driver screeching to a halt inches from my left, because I was inadvertently turning onto the wrong side of the road in front of him. I trained myself to look left and right, and left and right again, before I dared to walk across the street. My orientation was still set for the southern hemisphere that July, and when I went into Washington I couldn’t tell where north was. The night sky was disorienting, too. The Southern Cross was not where it should have been. And bathwater ran out of the plug anti-clockwise ... or clockwise ... anyway, the opposite direction from the southern hemisphere. When I ventured out that day, it was like Isak Dinesen’s Out of Africa in reverse. There was a confidence, an openness, a frankness in the people around me that was disarming and baffling. A perfect stranger happily embarked on her life story—yet that, it seemed, was that. The promising start came to nothing. It began with a crescendo and the rest was diminuendo. I had been used to exactly the opposite trajectory, where friendships grew, gradually, over years and cups of tea. One of my oldest friends has translucent, light blue eyes and a whispering, silvery voice that surprises you when it turns into a belly laugh. She is funny and fey and intuitive and kind, and she has such empathy that I feel as if I’m talking to my soul. And I love her, and I left her, in a cold, dry, wintry Johannesburg. When I ventured out on that July day, it was my first day as an immigrant in America. 100
I had come from everything that was familiar to everything that was not. I hadn’t yet understood how difficult it would be to make new friends. I hadn’t yet found where I would live or work or play. I had never yet celebrated Thanksgiving or the Fourth of July. I couldn’t yet tell the nickel from the dime. I hadn’t yet learned to turn the light switch up for on. I hadn’t yet discovered that I could feel patriotic. I didn’t yet know if this could feel like home, when I ventured out that day.
The Dialect of Deep Water Timothy Galligan
I speak to you in eddies now, beneath the din of melted snow that pulls musk from the lichen. Mottled shade beneath the aspen and conifer. Has the sorrow passed? The beetles sweeping the forest, drilling their deadly nests into lodge poles. I grow sentimental: the strange dialect of deep water. Here, the harbor gets fat in the rain. Docks keen to the seawall. Chop, striae, edges the swollen belly, pulls anchors from the dredge. My voice is lost to the slow breath, a roll, a swell, a language I do not know.
Sum Ephemeral Jessica Morey-Collins
I held my arms to my sides to stand inside the shadow of a tree; for a moment I was nothing to the sun. The rest of the time the sun stares unrelenting, blooming melanin, setting free my radicals. Imagine change as tonic.
At times a body craves the sun. The body craves skin, surely. Touch settles into basin hips, consummate sap and sundial: eventually, man evaporates. Imagine decay as bucolic, stripped of its horror, nutritive.
Patricia Dearing In full armor, Atalanta, you surpassed them on the track while they ran naked and unweighted though they lost their heads every time. But like Eve
apples were your downfall.
they were golden. Did you prefer them to men?
who alone in the end kept his head?
could he outrun you nor own your seduction:
Had he lost he had been beheaded at once.
this is a letter to it. this letter is to it. this is a letter written down and sent to it. this letter is to be read by it. this letter is a question, a timebomb. this letter smiles looks to it so that it can breathe. this letter’s smell will blur and sting. this letter’s feel, for it is heavy. this is Edward’s letter. this is Jeffrey’s letter. this is Richard’s leftover in the car, waiting for him, letter. this letter is like that. this letter is made of chicken wire pulled tight to cut out a name. this letter is made of ice to clean out the room. this letter is pieces of grass, of eggs, of sunlight in the glass. this letter is a rip. this letter will take dog-eared hands of understanding and place them back on road, where Yolanda can be clear, or at least love with her feet next time. This letter, says, yes, Inshallah, but this letter is not cotton candy. It is not that they left this letter to crawl slowly out of that place where medication is sprinkled on shredded minds. It is not that they left this letter to it, the whispering,“I can’t make him love me”, and the walls running with their skirts away from the war, and the understanding of goodbye. This letter is it. This letter, this particular brand of cure.
Grand Central, Annie Stevenson
Untitled, Evan M. Lopez
War Drum Mark Belisle
It all starts with a shove. Her crimson fingernails push against his chest. It’s a thing she usually does when they joke, but this time there is real malice behind those hands. He stares at her as the blood rushes to his head and he feels shame and anger in his pulse’s throb. Her face is the same shade as her nail polish, and her eyes brim with tears. She asks him if it was worth it, if it felt that good. And she shoves him again, a little harder this time. He feels the anger starting to boil over and remembers what his mother preached when he was young: Walk away. Leave. Never hit. Never hurt. It’s a litany he repeats in his head, over and over. He feels his heartbeat in his ears, the thud thud thud of a war drum. It reminds him of Westerns he’s seen. It’s the sound of Custer, of Indians lining up on the bluff, preparing to massacre the white man in the valley below. He tells her to get the fuck out of his way. She asks where he is going, and he moves around her and out the door as he says, “away”. He is going away. She screams after him, and he imagines the tears falling now, rolling down her red cheeks and onto her shirt. “Fine,” she says, “go get your dick sucked by your little whore.” As he gets his coat from its place on the doorknob, he lets her
know that this is a wonderful idea; his little whore is better at it than she is. He knows she’s sensitive about her smile, so he adds that he doesn’t have to worry about his little whore gnawing it off with teeth that are too big for her mouth. He hears her stomping behind him, and just before he reaches the top of the staircase, she darts in front of him again. She calls him a motherfucker and slaps his face hard enough to clack his teeth together. The anger blossoms into fury, and his hands are moving without his consent. It all starts with a shove. He pushes her full force and watches her as she tumbles down the stairs. The sound is horrid; loud thuds on the wood, limbs smacking on each step, bones snapping as they give way to gravity and unnatural angles. And the worst is her long cry, a scream that crescendos until her neck is broken. And above all the noise is the war drum constantly beating in his ears lending an awful tempo to the cacophony and the violence. The sight of her on the cold, white foyer tiles horrifies him. Her left arm bends at a ninety-degree angle halfway between her shoulder and her elbow. Her spine has an unnatural twist where it used to be straight. Her bare ass is sticking up in the air; the fall had pulled down her pants, and he can’t help thinking about their first camping trip when they had fucked doggy style against a tree as the sun set. 107
“Oh no,” he says. “Oh shit.” He rushes down the stairs, nearly falling down himself. He kneels next to her and almost moves her but stops when he remembers that you aren’t supposed to move people with spinal injuries. So he yells her name over and over until he’s sure she’s not going to answer. She’s dead, and he’s killed her. Then, she moans. The response time is great, a real credit to emergency medicine. The paramedics do what they can, but there’s no saving that twisted, destroyed spine. They all know she won’t walk again, even without the X-rays and MRIs. But, they are kinder to him than the police. The detectives grill him. His entire world is filled with the sounds of interrogation, the fists pounding on the tables, the hard lock of cell doors and even the low hum of the harsh fluorescent lighting overhead. And then, there are the accusations. The officers tell him they’ll get the truth. Their words are like sledgehammers crushing bones, bluntly telling him how he pushed her down the steps and watched as she tumbled to the floor. He spends every night for three weeks waking from nightmares of prison bars, sweat and tears in his eyes as the pulse pounds in his ears. But there are no charges filed. She doesn’t remember what happened. 108
“Amnesia,” the lead detective tells him across the long interrogation desk. How convenient for him. When he’s finally allowed to visit her, he cries. Her body is broken and her mind is polluted by painkillers. She shits in a bag; this is what repulses him the most. That she shits in a bag and needs a nurse to clean her when she’s done. She remembers him, remembers they were fighting but doesn’t remember about what. He tells her it was over something stupid; he can’t even remember. He tells her he loves her with all his heart. She is depressed when he brings her home. She hasn’t adjusted to the wheelchair and resents the constant attention she needs. He dutifully cares for her, but it doesn’t temper her moods, which swing from despondent to furious. He carries her up the same stairs he pushed her down every night when they go to bed. He remembers. It all started with a shove. She is looking at him now, her face that same shade of red. She’s furious she can’t take a bath by herself. She yells and curses as he holds her tight at the top of the stairs. And when she slaps him, he can feel the sting linger as the old tempo in his ears starts up again, each beat reminding him of the old war drum as he looks down the stairs to the whitetiled foyer below.
November Alyse Clepper november, I
i’ll continue to piece together a eulogy overdue with only a chip on my front tooth to remember you by when will i sleep through the mornings again when will i take your picture from the drawer
i wore your slippers to the bonfire we drank we always did a talk of backyard vagrants ensued but an uneasiness was felt through our laughter i stumbled through the dark of a late summer morning along a rotating sidewalk you were a friend even after the shameful return of my plum-colored bra
Vale Street an unnecessarily narrow drive atop a damp picnic table i fell into your lap i’ll never forget your Rhode Island tongue, that way you said “quarter”
January 14, 2012, 8 a.m. Kendra Kopelke
White feathery smoke rises from the old, grim chimney heatâ€™s being made over there, the duel is on, the frigid day before us. Bare pine branches glow like fire irons I looked at the roof just as the sun was taking aim and it blinded me. Whatâ€™s so good about the present? To sit still and watch the big ball of light rise up like a bear in your window? When I woke, it was dark, the moon was still in its office, absorbed in work, the sky in the east raising its mask. If you were here, we would have a conversation but poems, like the moon, travel light, do not like to be coaxed, the page says, over and over, you start, I want to talk to another human being and have it feel the way looking does. 110
My name makes little sense in Israel and less in America, where even its spelling, Karen, misleads people to incorrect pronunciations. “Caren,” I repeat without fail after every introduction, people leaning forward, watching my mouth like lip readers trying to capture the sound I make as I caw out my name. “Caaa-ren,” I repeat as they smile politely and nod no closer to understanding. And although in Hebrew my name doesn’t make people feel like their mouths are filled with rocks, my third grade teacher still suggests my mother change it to something more Israeli, adding herself to the list of individuals my mother dislikes. I listen to other children’s names as they are read in class on the first day of school, tasting them on my tongue like newly offered sweets. Israeli names I translate as they bloom into their definition around me, Vered, pretty as the rose her name describes, Iris, lean and lovely. Dalia, bright and showy as she raises her hand in response to the teacher’s calling of her name. I should have been a Violet, I think to myself as I shrink into my seat, waiting for my turn to explain, to repeat, to wish away a name that has no explanation in a world where I need to make sense. In America my envy of others’ names grows worse, the field from which my parents could have picked dizzying in its possibilities. Pearl shimmers in the seat across the classroom
aisle from me, while Grace drapes herself over the arm of a boy she likes. Dorothy lays claim to the Emerald City, while Elizabeth gets to be regal or just plain Lizzy when it suits her. Like titles of books in which I search for someone who will tell me how to be me, these names contain the blueprints of their owners, glimpses of potential lives they may one day lead. If only I could have been an Esperanza filled with hope to carry me through uncertain times. Or Joy, promising happiness to those I meet. Even a Wendy would do, dreaming at the window until Peter came to whisk me away to his Never Land. My mother should have listened to the Israeli hospital clerk who argued and refused to accept the name she offered on the forms the day I was born. Perhaps he had seen what she could not when he looked down into the crib where I lay waiting for my story to begin.
Heaps of Wings Catherine Maire
The coldest January in ten years. I sit on the radiator cover, forehead to the cold windowpane, breath a fog that blurs the swirling blue-red-blue-red ambulance light, and you, Daddy, stretched and distorted, leaving forever after only ten scrawny years. I wish mother could love me more. Spring creeps in on gray pussy-willow feet, and fog slides under the front door. I wish the priest would stop saying God needs you more than I do. I’m ten years old for Christ’s sake. Running cold water over my wrists in summer to cool the grief because I am too young for blood. The priest tells my brother that he is the man of the house now, and, being fourteen, my brother takes this seriously. School comes with sweaters and stomachaches and nuns with sharp rulers. I want only to lay on the couch all day and watch reruns of “I Love Lucy”. I learn to hold the thermometer just near enough to a light bulb to raise the temperature to 101. I am a gifted child. Driving to doctors and chemo and the hospital. The same CD playing over and over: I can’t stand to fly I’m not that naïve I’m just out to find The better part of me. 112
I wish I had better words. I roll down the car windows. How can this light, sweet scent cheer me when I am driving towards your hospital bed? I keep a snakebite kit in the glove compartment, for luck. But, you know this already. I wish I could remember the exact moment I first loved you. Heat so hard it smacks me to oblivion. I think I dream you die. A doctor I have never met calls me at nine in the morning, the day after the Fourth of July, your third day in intensive care, where last night you ate a whole cup of red Jell-O. He says, “Your husband wants to die today,” and I say, “okay,” and go wake up the children. I wish I had saved you. Or at least said all the words I now can never say. Fall comes. I opt out. The children are away at school. I do not wish to grow old. I want our children to love me even though I am undeserving. The psychiatrist says to me “So, every man you’ve ever loved has died?” Instantly my brain splits down the middle, one half already out the door to save our son from certain death, the other quipping, “I hardly think two men in thirty-seven years is a trend.” The therapist assigned to me (along with the drugs) is a former nun. She does not tell me this. She wears no habit. But, I recognize her manner, her ever-a-nun haircut and long skirts
and sensible shoes. A marriage to Christ is always evident. The diploma from Catholic University hanging on the wall is also a giveaway. There is no way I can tell a nun, even a former one, that the thing I miss most in these first months is the great sex we had, so I cry uncontrollably while I assure her that my children are, indeed, doing quite well in school. Cold weather slows my blood, freezing my grief solid enough to skate on. I see the Aurora Borealis for the first time. Sheer spectral curtains shimmer across the sky, but there are no ghosts. Seeing the Aurora was on my bucket list. “One step closer,” I whisper to the cold air. Piles of snow retreat into the Earth until the last penetrating tendril disappears like a tumor absorbed back into the body. Silently awaiting more favorable conditions, no doubt. I wish to have a straight back and a steady gaze when the winds come for me. I wish I could remember how to fall asleep. When my daughter turns twenty-one, we go out to lunch with my mother. Over pizza, my mother instructs my daughter on responsible drinking, “Once I went to Happy Hour after work, and I had three martinis instead of my usual two. I had a long drive home, but I made sure I held on to that steering wheel as tight as I could. The whole way home, I gripped that wheel as tight as I could. You can never be too careful with martinis.” My daughter casts an appalled look my way. Welcome to my childhood, my eyes say, hold tight to the wheel. Life continues in spite of our desires. Ten years is a lot of
sleeping pills. I had forgotten daffodils and forsythia. The colors of a lifetime ago. I see a young Asian woman, tall and thin and confident, with baggage on wheels, and I want to be her; or at least to have been her. I want to rise from the grief in my knees to extend into a perfect triangle pose. I want to be one of those fourth generation Miracle Monarchs that flies three thousand miles to Mexico to mate in a frenzy and die frozen in a heap of wings on the forest floor.
Lauren Beck Lost is on a dying nebula, on the tip of a snails radula, the nucleus of a raindrop. Itâ€™s in the peach fuzz of my nerves, in the folds of my knuckles, on the rind of my heart. Lost is here, in my bedroom, under the bed and deep inside the drawers, in the places where I cannot find anything, even myself, where even my shadow has forsaken me. Lost grows on the underbellies of seahorses, in the semi-permanent folds where our young once grew, stretched beyond the edge of elasticity, like a universe expanding until it implodes. Lost is the time I couldnâ€™t see anything, even in the light, 114
except for blurry visions of Venus de Milo passing by like subway trains, never giving pause, never recognizing hope. Lost takes form in the winter, dead center of February, in the middle of the night, when angels conceal their wings with cloaks and wear hats with fake horns, wishing to be devils. Lost visits me on occasion, brings a hatbox filled with riddles, a cane on which to lean once its strength gives out, once I remember that I invited it in, not the other way around.
the first path: empty sky Mychael Zulauf
here, under the frank and autumn blue the wind departs in secret through thedark spaces of the only home i keep:
for it is here, against this thoughtless blue, that threadbare clouds gather hesitant and weary as if to say, â€œyes, you have made it this far, at leastâ€?
this bag, slung across my back and heavy, each step reminding me of where i cannot walk again but how should i measure the distance between my feet, with the cold that pleads for thicker socks or this empty autumn dusk?
Who Am I? Who Am I? LaSchelle Ross
Who Am I? Who Am I? Let’s take a look and see, I know that you see all the voluptuous curves that my full figure unfolds. You see my full lips and breasts that are big and bold. But Honey I am so much more than what you see, You have to look at what’s on the inside of me. I am the one who gets up in the middle of the night to close the window, when the breeze gives you a chill. And I get back up when the baby starts to whimper and can’t sleep still. I know you’re thinking that’s what I am supposed to do But let me remind you of some other things too… I am the one who rises, while you still snore, And before anyone else in this house is up - I began the endless list of chores. Breakfast served in bed made extra special for you Get the children up, washed, dressed and fed, Pack their lunch and take them to school Clean the house from top to bottom, do marketing, and Pick your clothes up from the cleaners and then some, while I’m on the move. Three course dinners are waiting on you each & every night, And you’re greeted with smiles and a love so bright.
I am the one who runs your bubble bath and rubs your back. In the heat of passion I’m the one who knows how to make your toes curl. Honey, I’m not ashamed to swallow each and every drop of your tasty nut Yes, I’m your personal freak who loves to take it in the butt. Ride or die, I have your back all the way to the end, Baby, when you are down, I say all the right words, to let you know that you’re still gonna win. Thanks for the Casablanca lilies, Sweetie, you know they’re my favorite! -But do you hear what I am saying? Do you understand the many hats I wear? I am your partner and I am your friend, Your spontaneous whore behind closed doors, a lady in public, A mother to your children, a nurse to you & them, A maid, who makes your house feel like a home, Your personal assistant and chauffer, your prayer warrior and so much more I gladly do all of this and then some, without complaining, because it’s you I adore Oh, but Sweetie, don’t get it twisted and take me for granted or you will see, that all this right here, will end very quickly, And you will bring out my alter ego - the Mr. Hyde in me! Who Am I? Who - Am - I?
Always and Forever Nathan Dennies
I’m sitting at The Bloody Bucket having a few post-work drinks with my girlfriend Ellen, when this guy walks in. He has long, blonde dreadlocks, and a piercing through the bridge of his nose. He’s wearing hiking boots, a shirt he’s cut the sleeves off of, and pants he’s turned into a makeshift pair of shorts. He looks familiar, and I can’t shake the feeling that this is the guy. I turn to Ellen, and she says: “Is that Frank B.? You know, the guy whose name is graffitied all over your bedroom wall?” The whole thing goes back about a month, when I first moved into the Copycat Building, and discovered some very interesting markings on my wall. The culprit, a girl named Misty who lived in the room some years before, went through a break-up so bad and monumental, she decided to document the entire thing on the wall—my future wall—for all future tenants to see. In her days of heartache, with nothing but her tears in her eyes and a permanent marker, she penned such treasures as “Frank B. broke my heart on 11/11/07,” and “Frank B. is the biggest asshole guy in all of Baltimore, but I will love him always and forever -11/12/07.” I was captivated and immediately showed the graffiti to Ellen. The whole situation provided countless hours of entertainment and speculation. We became somewhat obsessed 118
over the relationship, creating our own exposition and putting personalities to the two ill-fated lovers. We assumed that Frank B. was this cool, older guy, and Misty was the young, vapid art student he seduced. It all made sense looking at the graffiti on my wall. I mean, what kind of person catalogues their relationship problems on the walls of their room? We even looked them up on Facebook and were able to put a face to the mysterious Frank B. We browsed through dozens of photos documenting his life, including an album of him posing by himself in a horned viking helmet, screaming to Valhalla. Ellen and I ate it up. This man was truly ridiculous. Fast forward a month, and we’re at The Bloody Bucket. We think we see the guy. He fits the photos from Facebook, but we’re still uncertain. Perhaps he’s an imposter; we encountered one a few weeks before at Dionysus—a guy who fit the profile, but ended up being an acquaintance of one of Ellen’s friends. By this time we’re already a few drinks deep, and we begin to acquire the sort of social bravery associated with drunkenness. I take another moment to give him a thorough look over, and now I’m thoroughly convinced we’ve found him. I turn to Ellen wide-eyed and excited. Then, slowly, she turns to him, and begins the conversation that will finally put an end to the mystery:
“This might seem odd, but are you Frank B.?” “Yeah...do I know you?” “Well actually, it’s kind of a funny story. You see, my boyfriend has this room in the Copycat...” As we get deeper and deeper into conversation with Frank B., our entire perception of the great romance we’d been building up got flipped entirely on its head. Frank B. told us he met Misty through an online video game when he was nineteen. She was thirty at the time and decided to move from her mansion home in Delaware to live with him in the Copycat Building— that filthy warehouse space occupied by broke art students that I call home. Ellen and I are in complete disbelief. This isn’t the story we pictured. The whole story exceeds our expectations, and after we leave the bar, we spend hours trying to make sense of the real thing. Why would a thirty year old woman who lived in a mansion move into the Copycat with a nineteen year old? We are never able to get any real answers, and since that night, Ellen and I have stopped talking about the graffiti on my wall. We were never able to get Misty’s side of the story. Apparently she moved to Hawaii with some other guy she met on the Internet. There was nothing left to learn within our reach, and no amount of speculation could get us the answers we needed. With the information we had, there just wasn’t any point. Now that we knew Frank B. was real, and now that we had met him in the flesh, it just seemed wrong to write our own version of the relationship.
I haven’t talked to Frank B. since that night. Sometimes I see him riding by on a bicycle or at the other end of a bar, but I never feel the urge to stop and chat. He has already fulfilled his purpose, and all our relationship will ever add up to is passing, awkward waves of acknowledgement. We’ll never get in contact with Misty, and there’s no sense in trying. I think of how awkward it would be as a complete stranger to inquire about a relationship she’s probably embarrassed over. Frankly, it just seems weird to think of Misty—the girl who lived in my dreadful Copycat room—living in Hawaii. To me, she’ll always be that vapid art student who in a fit of overpowering heartache and emotion penned the legacy of her failed romance. To me, Frank B. will always be “the biggest asshole guy in Baltimore” who broke Misty’s heart, but who she will continue to love “always and forever.”
New Wave Poem Michael Habermann
The girls I meet at parties are like actresses in Godard films. Cigarettes never far from reach. Uneven hairdos do them sexual justice but only from a male gaze. They really are nothing. Fads derived from movements derived from anti-establishment ideals derived from philosophy. But in this chain, nothing is preserved, and the end result is a hollow attitude mimicking the oppression of lost peoples. This is what I observe in Middle America.
My mother left the candles out from Christmas for me because coming home in the dark to a dark house is like coming home to a crypt: the wide windows, dead eyes that never blink; the rusted door, tight like muscles upon which rigor mortis has set; my key, the mortician forcing a semblance of life into the body of my house. Electric candles offer a fake glow like rouge applied to powdered lips of the dead. Tonight, my house is a crypt- a silent veil of inked darkness punctured by the false light of counterfeit flame. 121
Tabitha Surface Cracked leather, brown and brass. I know the sound of it snapping free of Levi loops into the palms of my hands, cupped to catch the pain. You always found other flesh: my sun brown thighs at ten, the promise not yet kept of a flare where a shirt rucked up. Our skin was so close in shade, burnished by summer, by the way the light burned inside our chests. You were a sailor, gunnerâ€™s mate. I imagined you standing on deck at sea and you were different than the man that slammed a girl into a wall, a chair into a doorframe, a world crushed between your gritted teeth.
Peabody Library, Abby Logsdon
Snow Angels Cynthia Riegler
I was lying in the angel formation, dreaming moonstruck up into the blue-black abyss of God’s delft earthenware, watching the crystals, descendants of Bentley’s, fall on me like powdered sugar on Christstollen. Heaven was a tree branch away, through falling wet stars. In solitude I wandered through thoughts of the dark woods, at the end of the yard, where the boy at 15 hanged himself on a summer night at about the time I arrived home from a date and noticed how black and bleak the woods without the light shining on it. I didn’t know the boy had snuffed it out. I felt a chill in the July heat, then rushed into the house. I wondered about Guardian Angels on this quiescent, snow lit night, orbed peace keepers rescuing those prey to darkness. In the woods buried, a blue pearl crocus shivered and closed its golden eye. 124
A Notable Departure Victoria Wambui
I had been working at Scratch-n-Sniff, a self-proclaimed avantgarde clothing store, for about two months and was starting to be bored by the influx of kids from the School of the Arts. Local musicians, shell-shocked by the experience of almost making it out of Baltimore and ending up in the same shit-hole they started from, came in often to bitch and complain but never to buy. I listened to their stories about close calls with fame and the predictable lost record deals. Sitting in the large display window at the front counter, I watched the foot traffic along Saratoga Street: delivery men, old ladies with big hair, and pedestrians bound for Granny’s Candle Shop or Lexington Market. Alana, a film school drop-out from Holland, was the quasimanager which translated into my babysitter on a daily basis. She walked around the store with an air of aloofness that demonstrated just how out of touch she was with reality. So the customers deferred to me for any assistance that needed real human interaction; Alana just handled the cash. I started to recognize the regulars. Sadly, that was becoming the highlight of the job, right after the new clothing shipments from New York and London. Kelly forged herself into my memory. She was a poor little rich girl who reeked of insecurity and lamented her lack of black friends because according to her, they felt she wasn’t black enough and the absence of white
friends because they didn’t understand her. I became a new ear for her to wear out every afternoon about being rejected at school and ignored at home but she could buy any damn thing she wanted off the racks, while she waited for her driver to pick her up. Personally, I could think of worse dilemmas. A stranger walked past one Tuesday. He was carrying a trumpet case and wearing a white tee and jeans that looked rumpled but clean, as if they had dried on a clothesline. He was older than the art school kids but had a youthful look about him. Like a young David Bowie before the Ziggy Stardust days, he was super-slim and tall with a wisp of light brown hair falling across his brow. He was a welcome change from the regular procession of aimless wanderers who normally walked by in the midday. When he got close enough, he looked directly at me, smiled and waved. I was surprised. People didn’t usually do that. I’m sure they noticed me sitting there but probably the way one notices a mannequin. Ernie, my burned-out hippie boss, and his much-younger wife didn’t really need a retail clerk, in my opinion. The store was only busy on Saturdays and that’s when the area musicians and clubhoppers came in to shop. It was during the week that the school kids stopped by on their way to the bus stop and bought protest buttons to pin on their jackets. I had no complaints because even 125
though they didn’t pay much, the job allowed me to keep myself stocked with union jack tee shirts, rubber bangles, parachute dresses and any other interesting thing shipped to the store. I could tell I was a prop for the business. Why else would they want the salesperson to sit in the window all day, reading Details magazine and keeping her personal collection of music in heavy rotation? Echo and the Bunnymen, the Eurythmics, New Order, U2, Kate Bush, and Rickie Lee Jones were some of the acts whose music I brought to work. It was like sitting in my living room: listening to my records, occasionally cleaning up, looking out the window. As long as I came dressed as the cool black chic, I was good advertisement. My presence announced: “Hey we’re cool. Come on in.” I had it made. The first day I showed up was a Saturday. I was a 20 yearold aspiring singer and wandered in with my buzzed haircut, gladiator sandals, I Love Lucy A-line skirt and black cat-eye shades. The clerk asked me straight up if I wanted to work there. He was going on tour with his band and was charged with the duty of finding his replacement. He said, “You’ve got the look.” He asked nothing about my work experience, when he asked, “You interested?” I knew I could get a discount, so I accepted the offer. Into the fall, I set a pattern of showing up late, socializing 126
with the school kids and unemployed musicians and roadies, but mostly, I daydreamed at the front window. It got to the point where I looked forward to seeing the stranger. He happened by one Saturday, while Alana and I were working together. This was a notable departure from his regular Tuesday trek. She was strolling around the store actually engaging the Saturday crowd in conversation. I noticed how she’d been trying to tweak her people skills, ever since a British D.J. (one of the regulars) flipped a nickel across the counter and told her to “buy yourself a new personality,” in heavy Cockney. I hunched her when the stranger came into view. I wasn’t at my usual perch, but helping with sales. Just as she turned to glance, he made a sharp right and walked through the door. I wasn’t prepared for the change in his routine. She walked up and greeted him, “Hi, welcome to Scratch-n-Sniff. Let me know if you need any help. Ok?” I wondered if someone had lodged a complaint with Ernie about her cool demeanor. He walked up to me and handed me a single red rose. Alana continued to smile, while I was totally blank, more surprised than I would have expected to be. “This is Tory,” she said, smiling at him then turning to me for a response. In the silence, she continued, “We’re going to The Charles tonight to see Kiss of the Spider Woman. Wanna come?”
He looked confused about being asked out on a date by a secondary character while the primary target remained mute. “Hi. I’m Nick,” he said, never looking at Alana, who was not accustomed to being ignored. She walked away to tend to the store, as I gave him my full attention. He was a little older than I originally thought. His skin was slightly tanned from the August sun and pockmarked from adolescent acne that gave him an edgy look. He had beautiful green eyes and a really nice smile. He raised his eyebrows in a questioning gesture and I relaxed, finally smiling back. “Is the invitation from your friend or from you?” “For the movie? Oh sure. You can come,” I said. I usually avoided musicians romantically but he intrigued me. I felt like I knew him through our non-verbal contact but now I had to find something to say. I’d never dated a White guy before yet the thought of getting to know him better was appealing. He gave me a brief hug, which startled me, after agreeing to meet at the Charles at 7:00. Alana smiled from across the room, giving her approval. Ernie and his wife had come from the backroom and they had Danny with them, the clerk who had left to tour with his band. Danny came over to me and said, ”See, I told you, you would fit in here. And you look great.” I was wearing some combination
of punk and 50’s retro, as usual. The Saturday crowd died down early that day and I was seated in my regular spot, while Alana stood in the doorway. I was surprised that Ernie had stayed all day. He usually left after lunch. He had taken his break with Danny and then come back. I couldn’t tell if Alana was surprised or not. Normally, she kept facial expressions to a minimum. She was the poster girl of indifference, when she left a little early. We had plans to meet at her apartment on Read Street before the movie, along with her eyeliner-wearing husband. I vacuumed the carpet and hung a late shipment of brocade jackets on a rack up front, as Ernie counted the cash drawer. It was the end of the day and Saratoga Street had quickly become deserted. Ernie waited until we were leaving out together, when he turned to me and said, “I don’t think we’ll need you anymore after today. Danny’s coming back next week.” I turned up the volume on my Walkman, Pet Shop Boys sang about “West End Girls” and I rejected the prickle of tears behind my shades. I walked off into the stillness that Baltimore’s downtown becomes in the evening, an unsteady mixture of dark shadows and electricity. It was the perfect soundtrack for my exit.
The text of Welter is set in Adobe Caslon Pro. This font was designed by William Caslon and based on seventeenth-century Dutch oldstyle designs, which were then used extensively in England. The first printings of the American Declaration of Independence and the Constitution were set in Caslon. Adobe Caslon Pro is a popular choice for magazines, journals, and corporate communications. The headings of Welter are set in Myriad Pro. Myriad is a humanist sans-serif typeface designed in the 1990’s by Robert Slimbach and Carol Twombly for Adobe Systems. Myriad is easily recognized due to its special “y” descender (tail), slanting “e” cut, and rounded curves. Welter was published and bound by Indigo Ink, Maryland.
Welter is a literary magazine run by the undergraduate students at the University of Baltimore.