POETRY, PROSE, DRAMA, & FINE ART
YOUNG HARRIS COLLEGE LITERARY MAGAZINE I
FACULTY SPONSOR Dr. Amanda Lawrence
TITLE PAGE ART Jacob Bennett
STAFF PAGE ART Sarah Boudreau
FROM THE STAFF
We would like to dedicate the 2015 issue of the Corn Creek Review to Dr. Amanda Lawrence, who has not only sponsored this magazine for the last eight years, but has become an integral part of it. It is hard to imagine this issue coming together without her support and guidance, and even harder to imagine that she will not be the sponsor of this organization next year. We are incredibly grateful to her for her unwavering dedication to the Corn Creek Review, and it is with great honor that we return the dedication in full. Thank you for everything youâ€™ve done; the magazine would not be the same without you.
LETTER FROM THE EDITORS EMMA & JAMI
If you canâ€™t fix it, put a box over it. - Jami & Emma
TAFF CCR S
TABLE OF CONTENTS NAVIGATION
Ouroboros..................................................................................5 The Artist..................................................................................75
I Write, Therefore I Am..............................................................1
Women of Flora: Claytonia Virginica......................................19 Contemplate.............................................................................81
Eighth Grade Observations.....................................................49
LAUREN M. S. HOHN
Empty Barrel............................................................................30 Little Square Tombstones.........................................................59
Ode to Watermelon..................................................................71
Me vs. Flowers..........................................................................20 4/15/13.....................................................................................40 Cold Feet..................................................................................45
My Blackness............................................................................56 Estrangement...........................................................................80
A Tree For Eva.........................................................................26 Transcendence..........................................................................43
The Perfect Man.........................................................................7
Episodes from a Walmart Parking Lot.......................................9
Wall-E......................................................................................48 This Little Light of Mine.........................................................70
The False Witness.......................................................................6 Cursed Light............................................................................17 Ode to Gratuitous Gore...........................................................73
When Giants Rage...................................................................27
I WRITE, THEREFORE I AM ZACK DAILY
If poets ever repeat themselves, Then you know to pay attention. A few years ago, In a high school classroom not far from home, A teacher of mine asked me “Why do you write?” I answered, of course, with a poem, A poem that, looking back, sucks. So, I’ve decided to try again, with another poem. So, Mr. Spencer: I write because I have words. I write because I have words, And they cannot be expressed by any means Other than a poem. I write because they had words, Because a man once told me I couldn’t. I have yet to forget his face, Though I only saw it once, But I remember the venom in his eyes And the serpent on his tongue As he told me That I was not allowed to bind these words together, As if I needed permission to put my shackles somewhere else. I write to give words to other people. I tell my story over and over again In hopes that someone’s struggle can be made easier Knowing they are not alone. I write because sometimes, I stay awake all night Staring at ghost-white walls that never keep the bad things out Some nights,
The only way I can fall asleep Is to pour my insomnia into a bottle of spray paint And vandalize those walls with warning signs: “WRONG WAY” “CURVE AHEAD” “STOP” I write because I stopped living once. Every night, I would lay down in my watery grave, And carve my obituary into my skin Sometimes, It was as easy as breathing Every night, I would let the demons in and out Inhale and exhale Take a drink and bleed Over and over again Try to hyperventilate Try to stop breathing Every night, I would recite my eulogy out loud, A chorus of misfired apologies and “I’m sorry’s” And “Don’t worry about me, I’ll be Okay” Over and over again. I write because I am still not Okay, But I will be someday, I have to believe that I will be someday. You see, I have this habit of hope. I’m always hoping, I’m always choosing a direction, Hoping it’s the right one, Falling asleep, Hoping I wake up in the morning,
Throwing myself off these cliffs, Hoping someone catches me at the bottom, Saying these words, Hoping they reach someone’s ears, Hoping they aren’t my last Because I still have so much more to say, And life is not an endless horizon Life is not eternally daytime Nightfall will happen, But we get to decide how beautiful the sunset will be Some will paint it Some will walk into it And I will write about it. I stopped living once, But when the sun sets, I will be there to write about it. Last week, A stranger asked me “Why do you write?” I write because I don’t want to stop living, Not now, And not ever – Never again.
THE FALSE WITNESS
Deceit was bound behind ivory bars, and the lies boiled upon their tongue â€˜til they begged for surcease. Howl though it did, this serpent of guile was forever forbidden to spew its venom and wound another. It could bite none but itself, and this it did â€˜til it could no more. Rendered dizzy from the ingestion of their misdirection and the bile of false blandishments bubbling from their lips, they knew the truth of what had befallen them. Do not speak lies to the angels, lest you choke on your sin.
THE PERFECT MAN
JAMI PADGET T
In Daoism, the art of usefulness is suffering. Uselessness is highly praised by sages – worshipped, revered, mastered. My dad texted me on Thanksgiving Day. When I was three, I felt safest when he couldn’t see me. I brought a toy cell phone with me in the closet and tried to call my neighbor. That night, I dreamed they called back. Just take the beer bottle away, they say, and crack it against the gravel driveway until the amber geometrics shake and send tremors through your father’s knuckles. Pray that your mother can keep her balance. Dad and I stopped talking when I was six, after he said that bringing me home wasn’t what the wringed neck of his bottle was telling him to do. When he got out of jail after my mother reported my kidnapping, he told me, through her, that he still loved me. He still loved me, as if I was the one who took him away from his family. I told mom not to expect forgiveness until her skin healed over the bruise-prints, until I didn’t have to watch bottle caps bend into useless, lifeless remnants of something resembling charisma. Dad,
thereâ€™s a passage in The Book of Chuang Tzu about trees with worthless, worm-eaten wood. They live the longest, it says, and if their branches construct a boat, it sinks. Useless trees are not producers, but knotted ships destined to sink their passengers and save themselves.
EPISODES FROM A WALMART PARKING LOT
1. Zachary prays silently, whispering syllables into the chill morning air. His breathing produces tiny clouds that gush out with silent intensity, and fade away just as quickly. He exhales another cloud, and looks over at his mother who is pulling groceries from a cart. He inhales deeply, savoring the precious oxygen. His mother notices the clouds. “Zachary, get your thumb out of your ass and help me load these into the truck.” Zach shivers as he walks over and grabs two bags by their crinkly plastic handles and lifts them with wiry arms. His mother sets down another bag in the bed of the truck. Thump. Her muscles bristle through her jacket sleeve, wiggling an immaculate Marines patch side to side. “Hey, you can hand me that hundred now.” Zach squeezes his eyes shut and lets the bags fall to his sides. “Uhm.” Zach pauses, stifling tears. “It’s… somewhere.” “Well hurry, I need it for Ingles.” Zach puts the bags in the truck and searches his pockets frantically. His mother grabs another couple bags with burly arms and sets them down, impatiently. Thump. Thump. Zach meticulously checks every single pocket on his person. They are all empty. He searches again, mouthing more syllables into the air. Wisps of vapor flow timidly from his lips as he pleads with the heavens. “I ain’t got all day, son.” His mother snaps, regarding him with penetrating green eyes. Her expression begins to shift. The corners of her mouth fall, and her brows lower. A vaporous cloud gushes from her nostrils. Zach cowers, and struggles to look in her direction. His mouth is moving, but he is not producing any sound. Not even clouds. His heart pounds in his ribcage. Thump. Thump. Thump. 2. “Dude, look at that lady yelling at her kid.” Craig gnaws
on a stick of spearmint gum, proudly displaying his cud with each bite. “That’s fucked up.” Jamie squints his eyes and pulls down his weathered trucker hat to fend off the strengthening morning sun. He bends down and picks up a plastic McDonald’s cup that had fallen from the car, tossing it back into its mobile prison. “Damn. Poor little fucker.” Jamie stands and shuts the car door with a sigh. “Reminds me of my mom.” Craig chews loudly, making wet, smacking noises. “Yeah, but your mom is hot. That lady looks like the She-Hulk.” Jamie’s lips curl up, revealing yellowed teeth. “Craig, you fucking disgust the shit out of me. Literally. Like I can’t even physically take a fucking shit right now, because you made all my shit disappear, because you disgust me so much.” Craig gathers all of his gum into a lump and stretches it with his tongue to create a pocket, then blows a bubble. He sucks the bubble past his reddened, chapped lips, and crushes it with cigarette stained teeth. “She’s still hot.” Jamie grimaces. “Whatever, dude. What all do we need again?” Craig spits his gum onto the concrete. A thin string of saliva hangs from his cracked lips, waving like a flag in the gentle breeze. He wipes it away with the sleeve of his hoodie. “We need beer, ground beef, and peppers.” Jamie frowns. “Not like, hot peppers, right? I have IBS, dude.” Craig squints his eyes. “What the fuck is that?” Jamie blinks. “Irritable Bowel Syndrome.” Craig stares, his jaw finally stationary. Jamie shifts his weight from one foot to the other. “It means I can’t eat hot stuff, or I’ll shit myself.” Craig reaches into his pocket and retrieves a pack of gum. He pulls out a strip from the package. The aluminum foil gleams brightly. “Nah, man. It’s just green peppers.” Jamie looks down at the concrete. A centipede slithers past his sneakers. “You can get jalapenos if you want, man. I’ll be fine.” Craig is chewing again. A drop of saliva leaps from his mouth and shimmers for a moment in the intensifying sunlight. “It’s all good, bro. I’m not gonna make you sick or nothing.” Jamie crinkles his nose, sniffing once. “Thanks, bro.”
3. Edna shakes as she removes her off-white, high-heeled, Prada brand church shoe with a pale, weathered hand. The buggy upon which she leans rattles gently from her furious tremors. She adjusts a pair of finely scratched bifocals with her free hand as wizened gray eyes regard the shoe with suppressed fury. “Son of a…” A pause. “hm.” She clears her throat, glancing left, then right and opens her purse, pushing aside coupons and a pack of Virginia Slims. Delicate fingers locate her change purse, and hastily remove a penny. The tips of her well-manicured fingers whiten, almost translucent, as she squeezes the copper coin, her bony hand quivering slightly as she scoops the metal underneath the blue-green hunk of chewing gum flattened on the bottom of her prized Sunday shoe like a wax seal. The semi-solid gunk curls like an orange peel over the penny. Edna grimaces, the red of her lipstick vanishing as she purses her lips. The edge of the blue-green gunk brushes her finger and she recoils in horror, dropping the shoe and bashing her elbow into the shopping cart, sending it careening across the pavement. Edna emits a soprano yelp and squeezes her eyes shut, violently shaking her hands in an attempt to remove the sticky feeling of disgust from her fingertips. Edna breathes in deeply, and a frown overtakes her expression. Her brow furrows as she attempts to collect herself. She lets out a long sigh, at first a hiss, that then crescendos into a symphony of anxiety. She opens her eyes and glances around, searching for her cart. Her knees tremble. She can’t see it. Edna reaches out to grasp the bumper of a nearby truck, and leans down to retrieve her shoe. Her wrinkled arms stretch out, the veins becoming illuminated in the midday sun. She grasps the shoe and rubs the sole against the concrete. The gum rolls off in a ball, still attached by a few thin strands. She lifts the shoe and the chunk of blue goo adheres to the concrete. She rubs the shoe once more on the pavement to remove the remaining strands and slowly, gingerly places the shoe back where it belongs. Her attention switches to a burgundy Honda, two cars away. Edna cautiously stands, breathes once, sharply, fixes her hair, and then gradually makes her way to
the Honda, occasionally leaning on a vehicle for support. 4. Tan work boots collide with the concrete, creating minute dust storms with each footstep. Rodney trudges across the lot, shielding his eyes from the sun directly above. He reaches into his brown Carhartt jacket with his right hand for a lighter, simultaneously retrieving a pack of cigarettes with his left. He stops walking, takes a cigarette, stands motionless and cups his hands in front of his face, back against the wind, shielding his lighter from the interfering breeze. He flicks the lighter twice, igniting the gas, briefly illuminating his dusty face, emblazoned with five o’clock shadow in the shady space beneath his fingers. Rodney takes a long drag, seeming to relish the scorching smoke entering his lungs. He runs a calloused hand through his short, dark, wavy hair, creating a wave of loose sawdust. He is wearing a silver class ring, with an imitation emerald shining brilliantly in the center. Engraved on the ring is an image of an electric guitar, hooked to an amp with lightning bolts sparking from it, and on the opposite side, a burly bulldog brooding in eternal petulance. Rodney notices motion from the corner of his eye, and turns his head slightly to observe the approaching figure. It’s a man. Rodney recognizes him. Rodney’s nostrils flare, and his eyes turn into sharp, horizontal slits, like stab wounds. Rodney’s breathing is strained, as if he is attempting to control it. The man passes Rodney, and they lock eyes. Rodney’s are intense. The man’s eyes are disinterested, facetious even. Rodney’s gaze follows the man for a moment, and then breaks away. Rodney snorts once like a bull. He holds his breath and steps forward, shaking his head, dismissing whatever unpleasant thoughts he may have been thinking. WHAM! A shopping cart hits Rodney in the side, causing him to lose his balance. He drops to ground. His knee collides with the pavement. “MOTHER FUCKER!” Spittle sprays from Rodney’s gnashing teeth. He stands up, but his hands are stuck in his jacket pockets, and he thrashes wildly in an attempt to free them from their cotton prison. He wrenches his hands upwards
slinging the jacket up into the air, and over his head. He whips a hand out of one twisted sleeve, and struggles to free the other. “Come back here you son of a bitch!” His remaining hand liberates itself and flails upward, sending his silver ring soaring. Rodney sprints at the man, tackling him to the ground. He yanks the man’s collar, ripping a clean hole in his shirt, and spins him around. Rodney straddles the man and looks him square in the eyes. “You’ve had this coming for a long time, Gerald! I told you to stay away from my sister!” Gerald looks terrified, confused. Rodney continues his rant. “I wasn’t even going to do anything to you. I was going to keep going on my merry way, but then you fucking push a shopping cart at me?? Are you fucked in the head?!” Rodney clenches his fists. The knuckles turn bone white. Gerald raises a hand pitifully, in an attempt to defend himself. “I didn’t do anything, man!” Rodney lifts a fist into the air, then again, and then once more, each subsequent fist covered in more blood than the last. 5. Its whiskers twitch. It senses a predator. It stands upright, brown and white fur rippling in the breeze. A bushy tail jolts forwards and back, maintaining balance for the small, jittery rodent. Beady, black eyes search the parking lot for predatory animals. The small, buck toothed mammal chatters fearfully, scanning the horizon once more. The parking lot is empty except for a few cars, two of which are flashing blue and red lights. It scratches its haunch, leaving a patch of fur disheveled. The creature seems perturbed, and smoothes the patch with a paw. A few hairs remain erect, and it chitters irritably. The rodent raises a paw to its mouth and coats it in a thin film of saliva. It strokes the patch once more with its salivated claw, and the fur retreats back to its original position. Seeming satisfied that it is safe and presentable, the rodent shimmies down one of the many street lamps dotting the blacktop, and pauses momentarily before hopping onto the rough concrete. It looks left, then right, and then left again, behaving as though it were a responsible driver, and skitters toward the lights, eyes glimmering crimson, sapphire, crimson, sapphire, crimson.
The rodent darts swiftly under and around the cars in the lot, intelligently scanning the asphalt, searching. It rushes from car to car, never leaving the safety of the shadows. The late evening sun makes it difficult to see in the pools of darkness collecting under the colossal vehicles, and the diminutive creature is virtually invisible. It scuttles beneath a cobalt blue truck, chittering excitedly. Something has caught its eye. A large boot comes down suddenly, sending pebbles skittering across the pavement and under the truck where the little one is hiding. Its tail jolts back and forth and it screeches in fury. A human, dressed in blue and speaking into a black box looks over. The man latches the box to his side, and appraises the creature. “Damn squirrels. All over the fucking place this year.” The human walks away disinterestedly, dirt and pebbles crunching beneath his heavy black boots. The rodent hisses. Something glimmers one car away, renewing the creature’s excitement. It chatters with joy. The rodent scampers over to investigate the shine. A small white object gleams in a pool of blood. It’s a tooth. A very shiny canine tooth. The rodent squeaks with each step toward the enameled bone. It snatches up its prize with reddened claws, and darts to its nest to hoard the new treasure away, leaving a trail of bloody paw prints behind. The little one climbs rapidly, eager to stow its new possession. Its home is inside the glass of a broken street lamp near the flashing blue and red lights. Long fibrous strands of blonde and auburn hair, quarters, dimes, nickels, colorful lengths of yarn, bird feathers, candy wrappers, and chip bags all inhabit the interior of the bulb. The creature crawls into the hole in the side of the glass, and looks below. The lights are driving away. The creature seems at peace. It places the tooth between a feather and two quarters, excitedly making short jittery motions with its jaw. It cycles through all the objects, making sure each is in its place. It gazes lovingly at each trinket it passes, producing a sharp, happy squeak, as though it were taking attendance. Suddenly, the rodent stops cold. There is something new here. Gleaming brilliantly from a clump of wires is a silver
ring with a dazzling emerald stone set in the center. The creature shrieks with joy and lurches forward to examine its beautiful surprise visitor. It perishes instantly as two hundred watts of electricity gush from the still live wires, jettisoning it from the bulb and onto the asphalt below. Its tail twitches one last time and then becomes still, only moving when a breeze ruffles its singed fur. 6. The setting sun shines directly into Henry’s face. He groans, and rubs his aging hazel eyes with clammy, dirt stained hands. A beetle is perched on the chest pocket of his faded trench coat. It spins slowly in a circle, fluttering a pair of antennae and munching the air with spindly mandibles. It marches across the wrinkled, olive polyester and collides with Henry’s voluminous white beard. Henry inhales, purses his dusty lips and blows, sending carbon dioxide and one very disconcerted beetle flying. The man slowly rises, bending his spine, and rocking back and forth on worn out tennis shoes. One shoe’s shoelace is noticeably shorter than the other shoe’s shoelace. Henry surveys the concrete lot. His face sags and he exhales forcefully, flapping his sun tanned lips like a whoopee cushion. Henry reaches up and scratches his neck, brushing a necklace crafted from a shoelace and several beer bottle caps. “Whelp. Figure it’s about that time again, huh?” He crinkles his nose, disturbing the layer of grime that has settled upon it. “Yep. I figure so, ol’ Henry.” He walks over to a trash bin and reaches a hand down into the darkness, apparently unafraid of what lies within. ”Henry, you’re such a funny guy. You should have the babes swarmin’ all round you like a pack of bloodthirsty piranhas thirsty for blood.” His hand stops searching and grasps something. “You got the style, you got the ambition, what’s stopping ya?” He pulls his hand from the darkness. It is holding a Pringles can. “Jack-pot, bay-bee!” His moist forehead crinkles, and the corners of his eyes and mouth crease like a paper fan. He removes the lid, and flips the can upside down, toward his opened hand. Nothing. His smile
fades, and Henry’s gaze plummets to the ground. “Never thought I’d be sad that people didn’t waste food.” His stomach rumbles, and Henry’s face turns somber. “I’d eat a god damned squirrel right…” Henry stops mid-sentence. “Dammit.” His stomach grumbles again, louder. There is a dead squirrel lying on the concrete a few feet away. Its fur is singed black on the tips. Henry’s eyes travel up and down its body, appraising its worth. “Well. It don’t stink. No worse than me.” He gingerly lifts the squirrel’s flimsy frame and stuffs it in his shirt pocket. The squirrel sizzles in the bottom of the make-shift trashcan grill. Small dead tree limbs crackle in the miniscule fire, slowly cooking the skinned rodent. A succulent smell, slightly gamey, wafts through the air. Henry’s mouth waters. His foot taps impatiently on the pavement, waiting for the skin to shift in hue. The squirrel’s color changes slowly from a bright crimson, to a seasoned yellow, and then at last the famed golden brown. Henry eagerly, yet cautiously removes the squirrel from the fire, and begins to peel at the skin. There isn’t much meat on the gangly rodent, but Henry steadfastly maintains an expression of elation as he feasts. The squirrel slowly dissipates with each pinch, until nothing remains but a skeleton, and the head and tail. Henry pats his stomach and grins earnestly, smacking his leathery lips. “Reckon I best head out, fore’ morning rolls round.” He picks up the trashcan and hauls it to the edge of the lot and overturns it, dumping the coals in the dirt and unkempt grass. Something flutters in the weeds to his left. He turns and squints his eyes, concentrating the limited light into his retinas. It is a small, rectangular sheet of paper with an image of a spectacled man. Henry grabs hold of it and raises it up to the nearest street lamp. He snorts. “Well I’ll be damned.” Henry stuffs the one hundred dollar bill into a grimy pocket, adjusts his bottle cap necklace and walks toward the highway.
JOSH SCHRADER 17
Jesus was a winter child, or so it’s been said, but I heard it’s more like early spring. I remembered this when we came upon a car in the road – my cousin’s – with its hazards blinking. The doe’s splintered legs contorted as it rose, writhing, then collapsed. An exhausted engine sounded as a man from town drove up in a ribbon-red truck, his white beard and hair disheveled by the night. He asked if we desired of him a mercy death. The gunshot was not the Eastern God-Star, Nor the rumbling engine a divine song. The roadside trees were not lit or flocked On Christmas night. The soft, russet corpse, limp on cold Earth, Was not witness to the Messiah’s birth.
WOMEN OF FLORA: CLAYTONIA VIRGINICA
ME VS. FLOWERS
1. It’s Thursday and I have 39 unread messages. Not that I don’t like the thought of people wanting to get in touch with me, I’m fairly self-absorbed. I sit in class, watching messages slide down my iPhone as I chime into the discussion about Victorian women and how fucked up their social standings are. The thought of prostitution being the most progressive way to control your life is slightly a buzz kill. Really, the thought of any man I didn’t want touching me is disgusting, sometimes the thought of even me touching me is disgusting. And then, somehow, sitting in class, my mind links prostitution to the first guy who touched me. He was the typical eleventh grade guy, or at least that’s what I chalk up his pig-like attributes to. The type of guy who made it publically known I had no idea shaving was a thing. I can’t blame ninth grade me; it was the first time anyone had put their hands past my navel. I can still remember—lying in the dark—his breathing being the only noise I could focus on. Focus, he didn’t seem to have a hard time focusing on his hands minus my lack of landscape (despite the uproar he clamored to his friends). Silly boy, I guess oppression is still a thing, just in different forms. My memory ends and I’m brought back into the conversation of Victorian woman. In the background, to the left of my phone, sits Abby. Her short hair is gelled with something she must have bought from the beauty section of Ingles. She is wearing black suspenders and a thin white shirt, somehow pulling off the whole “mannish brute” idea that Ruskin condemned women of his time for. I wonder if it’s for a cause—the whole short hair thing. I get causes, they’re easy to get behind—I mean ask Florence Nightingale, master at being behind a cause. I feel like I can get behind causes, especially since I’m doing such a great job talking about how fucked up the whole Victorian women plight is. Women shit. But I’m sitting in class, calling bullshit on the same idea I am part of; I’m more focused on the messages coming from my so-called sisters and
some guy’s hand down my pants. All the while, to my left sits the bicycle riding, cigarette smoking girl I aspire (or want to think I aspire) to be. 40 messages. This one was real important, something about wanting to make two batches of crazy daisy (my sorority’s signature drink). And like all we need are 2 things of Berry Rush Punch. The more I think about being in a sorority, the more I think it’s deflowering. Also I think we need to have a meeting about T-shirts. Rather than taking my virginity, sisterhood is sliding its hand down and stealing my independence. Don’t forget to dress up nice for little big reveal. Ironic, since we consider ourselves to be an independent sisterhood and we are all so consumed by what others think. I watch Abby, her short hair ahead of me walking to a silent beat as my phone vibrates in my pocket. 2. When I was little, I wanted to be a flower. I remember looking at my Dad’s garden and finding something especially romantic about the sunflowers. They stood, beautiful from afar, but when you got up close their stems were hairy and small black bugs made highways headed to leaves. I remember getting back from eating dinner at Ryan’s. It was some middle class buffet restaurant with warm rolls and honey butter. My parents were still together then. We pulled into our gravel drive way. It was always rutted out in the middle, like a small river should be barricading our house from the outside. It didn’t matter how much gravel my parents would put in the small gorge, it washed away. “I wanna be a flower.” “You know what that means Alison?” “It means I would be a flower.” “It means you would sleep outside, forever.” My dad answered the small question Mom had posed me. His voice was something like caramel. He opened up the car door, “Okay, you’ll be a flower.” I’m not sure I realized what being a flower really meant, childlike innocence. I just thought being outside all the time meant I wouldn’t be inside. Inside to listen to my parents argue and throw bulky white phones at each other. The same bulky white phone I would use to call my Dad a few years later when he moved out for a couple of months. They always seemed to lose charge too fast
and die before the conversation was really over (which was quite amazing if you could have seen how big the battery was on them). Charge didn’t matter if I was to be a flower; I would use photosynthesis. My Dad pulled out a Marlboro Red and my mom shook her head; she didn’t smoke. He stepped out and let me out from the back; the white door creaked open from where an accident months early had left a dent. I stepped out, my jelly shoes sparking in the moonlight, made of cheap plastic. I followed my parents, holding hands except when they had to open the gate which separated outside from our yard. This is the only time I can say I saw my parents’ affection towards each other. Maybe that is why I wanted to be a flower so bad; it gave them romance. Like I was some precious petal they had created and it took them replanting me to find their relationship roots. Thinking back, I want to share this moment with my sister, Emiley. I can’t remember where she was for this; she seems to infiltrate most of my memories, but not this one. She must have been at a friend’s house, probably playing with her build-a-bears and listening to Nsync. Talking about how Ms. Wood was the best 3rd grade teacher and how she was planning on buying a wooden pen at the school store on Monday. I like it though too, that this memory is mine and I’m not competing for my parents’ attention in it. Dad grabbed a shovel from the shed. The same shed he went to when he and Mom disagreed about going to church on Sundays. The same shed I remember finding my first Budweiser can outside of. It smelled of old stale wheat; the odor came so easily out of the open top and the scrunched bottom. My dad broke soil and a small Calvary hill started to form. I think back now, about how many homes I must have uprooted in my want to be planted. All the family of ants—who’d worked for years to create tunnels— ruined. All the worms who had finally broke soil were greeted by a metal hand. Maybe they had worked for years, trying to create a permanent home for their family. Maybe they had spent countless nights clipping coupons, working late shifts, sewing Halloween costumes, just so their families could have their new-soil home. Hopefully they had insurance, or some form of fall back, at least social security because my dad didn’t stop digging for them (or
their families). Not until the hole was deep enough for me to look into and feel like I could fall. The moon must have been full, there was too much magic for it not to be. Plus, I remember there being a lot of light, despite all the darkness buried under the surface. I looked down, and I looked up. And then I wrinkled my toes up in my shoes and pictured myself as a sunflower, the small bugs making highways from my hands to my chest. 3. Mindy was at Waffle House when I got my bid to join Alpha Iota. I know exactly where she was at because we had been texting the whole night. She was nervous about the whole idea of joining a sorority and decided that some hash browns would settle her stomach. I had declined the offer to go with her, and I’m not sure why, but looking back I’m glad. I was sitting on my made bed—the comforter perfectly folded, the Tommy Hilfiger flag under my left calf. I was overly giddy when I had gotten that comforter; it was so pink and flowery and everything I would never described myself as in pattern form. But for some reason, I had wanted it to be my college comforter—the center piece of my room. It was on that comforter, watching Ratatouille eating Whales, when I heard a knock on my dorm door. Since I shared the room with seven other girls, I assumed it was for one of them. I hardly ever got visitors minus Mindy, and I knew where she was—Waffle House. So I stayed planted on my comforter, thinking about the different sororities I was interested in. My door pushed open, and ten faces I’d seen hours earlier entered. Then, a girl with ribbons of darks, loose curls spoke to me. “The sisterhood of Alpha Iota formally extends this bid to you,” she said it rehearsed but nervously, which made it seem genuine. I think somewhere between extends and bid I must have gotten off my bed, because I remember holding an envelope. It had my name on it, in black ink letters that looked as if someone had taken time on them. I thought this must be what wedding invitations look like as I ran my finger over the thick and loopy lettering. The faces looked at me, twenty eyes eager to absorb my reaction. I’m not sure what my reaction was, but I guess I must have opened what they’d handed me, that seems logical. The letter was simple,
tasteful. It had a small print of three flowers that looked drawn. There is no way anyone could have none, especially the flowers, but three would be the same number of girls that would finish pledging with me. The flowers were raised and I rubbed my fingers over them multiple times before I flipped open the card. It was simple, like the envelope. Meet at the Gazebo at Mayor’s Park at 12:03 if you accept. It was chilly out, and about three days before October. I walked, wearing tennis shoes and a faded pink hoodie, to the gazebo. All the flower beds had been changed to mums and the wind seemed to be seeping through my hand holes. I was nervous about getting there too early or worse—late. It was like the first day of high school, when you’re not sure when to arrive. For some reason I think we are programmed to be worried about this timing, like it really makes a difference. I’m not sure if I got there at 12:02 or 12:04, but when I made it to the gazebo, Mindy was already there. Her fingers laced with four other girls, none of which I knew at the time. I sat down, squeezing between Mindy and a girl whose name I would later find out to be Hope (she would depledge a week before we were set to finish) and twined their fingers into mine. I wasn’t sure what was going to happen, but it was what needed to happen in order for me to become a “daisy.” 4. Daisy Gould sat outside on the stairs. They were big and made of wooden beams—the same ones that held up the Old Lodge where all the kids were dancing. It was on these steps, a week earlier, where a copper head was almost stepped on. Luckily, that wasn’t the case and the snake was relocated. At least that is what we told the campers; I’m pretty sure Kyle (the property keeper with a fantastic ginger handlebar mustache) smashed the thing with a shovel. I walked outside of the lodge party, something campers always looked forward to. It was amazing how an old building could turn into the ultimate club with a few speakers and a playlist put together hours before on Spotifiy. I had sweated through Rebecca’s maroon dress and needed some fresh air when I saw Daisy. Her hair was dark and cut to her shoulders. I walked up and sat down. I didn’t know her well, but it was under my job description to make
sure she was okay and supervised. Daisy lifted her head and turned towards me; she wiped her nose on her blue hoodie sleeve. “Too hot in there?” I asked, hoping the conversation would be quick so I could continue my sweat session. She grabbed her hands and looked down at her white converse, which seemed to be more brown than white. “It’s just too everything in there— I just want to sit outside.” “Then we can sit outside.” So we sat outside, and Daisy told me about why she had found a home outside, on the steps. A week before I was sweating through Rebecca’s dress, she had been diagnosed with Lyme disease. Daisy had come to camp in hopes to find out that she had enough strength to do a 211 mile planned hike. She didn’t find this out; she had found out that she hardly had enough strength to walk up the same stairs she was now sitting on and spent most of her energy on trying to stay positive. I guess I had caught her in one of those not trying to stay positive moods which is reasonable since she was and is human. I remember trying to say something, anything to help the situation. I talked to her about the new school she was transferring to in August and her favorite classes at camp. Somehow I even got to sneak in part of my sorority’s creed, telling daisy that no doubt the universe was unfolding as it should. It didn’t help though; she kept crying, and I kept doubting myself. “I was supposed to hike the John Muir trail— I was supposed to be outside forever.” I looked down at my wrist and slipped off my bracelet, a gift from a guy I knew I would never marry. He’d seen me eyeing the bracelet in a shop in downtown Athens. It was a nice gift, but it didn’t matter that he had given it to me. The daisy pressed against a green background clicked off and I handed it to her. “I wanted to be a flower once too.”
A TREE FOR EVA
BROOKE MUZIK 26
WHEN GIANTS RAGE AUTAMN WEBB
There is a great gathering in the sky. Clouds gather ‘round, Blocking the bolstering compassion of the sun, Depriving the Earth of coherence and sanity. Words—misunderstandings with no real virtue Grow heavy and fall with the rain. A flash of contempt before thunder barks with discontent. Unconscious confusion whirls blindly, Vicious accusations lick at tender faces. A Gale from the East strikes the Wind from the West; Unable to compose a passive harmony, They break into an impending tempest. While the Oaks and the Pine sway and creak, Their bark hardened with apathy, The Daffodil and Daisy turn their faces to the sky. The dark poison seeps into their pores As each precious petal is ripped From their very core.
I should’ve known by the heat of the moment You were going to put me through hell’s beautiful flames. I should’ve felt the staleness in the air when my lips Hesitantly touched yours. I should’ve tasted the unborn Breath of lies you possessed, but I fell into your trap. Those mud stained brown eyes presented a cry for help And who was I to run from a damsel in distress. I tried to be your Prince Charming hoping I could Sweep you off your feet, but I forgot this life Is no fairy tale. I dreamt of you and sailed a new sea On relation’s ship because I thought you were The girl of my dreams; I guess nothing was what it seemed. I ignored those vivid signs of you not being the one And was oblivious to the fact our life’s puzzle pieces Didn’t fit, but I wanted to prove a point; Maybe I could mold a girl viewed as a whore into a queen. I thought I could fill the cracks of your once hurt And lacerated heart with pieces of my own; I should’ve known you’d run away with my love. That’s okay now because I know you will remember me. You will remember a man that you shared unexplainable Feelings with. You will paint a picture of my face when The next person you love runs out on you. You will try To make love and realize he is only reaching in your Coin purse to see what your treasures feel like. You will walk down that alter resembling heaven’s angels Remembering your I do’s were once promised To another, then I want you to remember I won’t be there when you try to come back for me.
JACOB BENNET T 29
SETTING Nighttime; inside of a house. One girl, CHRISTINA, and two boys, JUDE and PETER, are seated around a low coffee table. CHRISTINA is in the middle. An ashtray rests near JUDE. On the center of the table is a pistol, unloaded. CHARACTERS CHRISTINA Female, teens. Dressed casually, wearing pants or a shirt with pockets. Girlfriend of Peter. JUDE Male, teens, the “mysterious” or “artsy” type. Has a box of cigarettes, and one in his mouth. PETER Male, teens, “boy next door” look. Religious. Wears a rosary. Boyfriend of Christina. (Lights up. All characters are focused on the pistol, but Peter seems especially nervous. Christina looks smug; she is clearly the mastermind behind this.) PETER: Are you sure it’s not loaded? JUDE: It’s not loaded. We wouldn’t play Russian Roulette with a loaded gun, idiot. CHRISTINA: I don’t know, Jude. It might make it more exciting if there was a bullet lodged in there.
(To Peter, taunting.) You’re not scared, are you, Peter? PETER: N–No... CHRISTINA: (Speaking over him.) You’re not going to be a girl about it, are you, Petey? You’re gonna be a man. (Peter looks embarrassed, but is quiet. Bored with him, Christina turns to Jude.) And you, Jude? How do you fare? JUDE: I could go for a drink. Should we break into the liquor cabinet? CHRISTINA: It might calm Peter down. (Jude starts to stand, but Christina stops him.) But it’s more fun when we’re all a little on edge. I want everyone to be afraid. JUDE: You’re sick. (Pause.) So? Are we going to do this or what? (Jude stubs out the cigarette and reaches for the pistol, but Peter grabs his hand.) What the fuck? PETER: Just—hold on. Can we—check it, Christina. CHRISTINA: (Annoyed.) Peter. There’s nothing in the goddamn cylinder. Jesus, stop being such a puss— JUDE: Look. (Jude grabs the pistol, flicking the compartment open to show that it is empty.) Okay? PETER: Sorry. JUDE: All right. (Jude examines the pistol, then puts it to his head. Peter has a visible reaction. Jude lowers it.)
You’re actually scared, aren’t you Peter?
CHRISTINA: He’s Catholic. He’s always scared; they have to be. PETER: I’m not scared. (To Jude.) It’s just—jarring, is all. To see you with a gun to your head. It’s weird. CHRISTINA: It’s not even loaded. JUDE: Yeah, man. It’s just a joke. (Lifting the gun to his temple.) Oh, look at me, I’m gonna blow my brains out! CHRISTINA: C’mon, Jude, you’ve gotta really sell it. I don’t believe you want to die. JUDE: Imagine that! CHRISTINA: Come on, Jude, make me cry. Make me feel it. (There is a shift; the room goes quiet. Jude mentally prepares himself for his “performance.”) JUDE: (Quietly.) I’m gonna do it. I’m gonna fucking do it. Gonna pull this trigger, gonna pull it, I hate myself, I hate the world because no one’s--fucking no one--is going--to miss me! (Pretending to cry.) Mom says I’m a fuck up, just like my dad. He walked out and I’m his big fuck up—but I’m done fucking up. I’m done, it’s over for me! Damn it all to hell! Damn it— (The gun clicks as he pulls the trigger.) —all— (Click.) —to hell! (A series of clicks.)
PETER: (Whispered.) That’s... (Jude begins to laugh. Christina joins in.) JUDE: Jesus fucking Christ, your faces! CHRISTINA: That’s so fucking dark. Bravo, encore! I’m officially moved! JUDE: Thank you, thank you. I couldn’t have done it without you. It’s the little people, everyone! (Jude takes another bow, then lights a new cigarette.) CHRISTINA: So how ‘bout it, Petey? Think you can live up to that stellar performance? PETER: I’m not doing it. CHRISTINA: Oh? Is it because you’re a giant pussy? PETER: Because I don’t—get off on watching my friend pretend to shoot himself. CHRISTINA: No one’s got their dick out, do they? (To Jude.) You? JUDE: Nope. Not even a twinge down there. CHRISTINA: Did you hear that, Petey? Not even a twinge. PETER: I told you— JUDE: Dude, it’s not loaded. It’s Russian Roulette minus the risk; you don’t have to be scared. PETER: I’m not scared!
CHRISTINA: Then prove it. (Christina reaches for the pistol, sliding it towards Peter.) Play the game, Peter. PETER: I don’t like it. CHRISTINA: No one asked if you liked it. Play the game. (Peter is shaking as he grips the pistol, holding it in both of his hands.) What’s it gonna be, Petey? PETER: Wh—what do you mean? CHRISTINA: I mean... (Christina reaches over, adjusting the pistol in Peter’s hands so that the barrel points to his heart.) You seem like the type to shoot yourself here. JUDE: (Aside.) Jesus. PETER: Here? CHRISTINA: Yeah. Because you love too much. (Christina kisses him slowly, then draws back. Peter pulls the trigger, which clicks.) See? Still alive. (Peter sets the pistol on the table.) JUDE: I hope this doesn’t count as a suicide attempt for you. You’d be in some deep Catholic shit, buddy. PETER: I’d never actually kill myself. CHRISTINA: Sure you would. (To Jude.) And so would you. And so would I. I can’t name a single person in this room that wouldn’t.
PETER: I wouldn’t. JUDE: Neither would I. CHRISTINA: I’m telling you, you would. We all would. JUDE: Oh yeah? And why the hell would we do that? CHRISTINA: There are lots of reasons. Maybe you’ll go bankrupt, or your wife will leave you. Maybe there’ll be a third World War and it’d be easier, you know, to shoot yourself instead of being tortured for days, and months, and years. Maybe I’ll dump Petey over here. PETER: I wouldn’t kill myself if you dumped me. CHRISTINA: Yeah, but I’d break your heart. That’s deadly, for someone like you. PETER: Maybe I’ll break your heart. CHRISTINA: I wouldn’t kill myself over you. I’ve got more important things to die over. (Christina reaches into her pocket, digging for something. After a moment of suspense, she pulls out a handful of bullets, which she smacks onto the table. No one touches them; if they roll, they follow their course. Christina picks up one of the bullets, snatching the pistol from the table.) This is the one. PETER: Christina—? JUDE: What are you—? (Christina loads the bullet into the gun and spins the cylinder.) What the fuck, Christina? PETER: What are you doing? CHRISTINA: (Laughing.) Jesus Christ, shut up. It’s more fun this
way! What’s the point of taking risks if you know the outcome? JUDE: Christina, stop. This isn’t funny. CHRISTINA: (Suddenly serious.) Who’s laughing? (Christina stands, gun in her hands.) Seriously, Jude. Get the Camel out of your ass. PETER: (Trying to remain calm.) Christina. Christina, I don’t think this is a good idea. CHRISTINA: Duh, Petey—of course it’s not. But when have I ever had good ideas? (Christina points the gun to her head. Peter stands quickly, ready to grab her. Jude breaks his cigarette.) PETER: Don’t do this. Please, don’t do this. CHRISTINA: Fuck, do you really think I’m going to die? Me? There’s a one in six chance that a bullet will come out and you think I’m just going to—to kick the goddamn bucket! I got you, Petey, so—I’d like to think I have better luck than that. (Christina starts to step away, but Peter grabs her.) PETER: Stop it, Christina. You’re scaring me. CHRISTINA: See, Petey? I was right. You do care too much. JUDE: We both care, Christina. Don’t do this to us; don’t you dare. CHRISTINA: (Laughs.) Oh my God! You’re so sappy, it’s—oh, oops. I guess I said I wasn’t laughing. (Christina points the gun towards Peter, who lets go of her in surprise. She steps backwards.) How would I kill myself?
PETER: Stop it! JUDE: Jesus—Jesus! CHRISTINA: If Jude shot himself in the head, it’s because he thinks too much. (Christina twirls the pistol.) And Petey would shoot himself in the heart, because he loves too much. And me... (As if struck by brilliance.) I would shoot myself in the mouth, because I talk too much. (Christina slips the gun between her lips, and then begins to laugh. She withdraws it.) Oh my God--Jesus, sorry. I was just--remember how we were talking about how no one was getting off to this? Doing that was literally like having Petey’s cock in my mouth. Anyone turned on, now? (To Jude.) Any twinges? (Silence.) Oh, come on. My jokes aren’t that distasteful, are they? Surely not as tasteless as this thing! (Silence.) Huh. Guess I should’ve gone with your angle, Jude. (Christina pushes the pistol back into her mouth.) PETER: Christina! (Blackout.)
it’s nice to think that instead of atoms we are composed of captured moments filled with thimble sized trees and thread thick rivers. flowing freely into one another. it’s nice to think that a small piece cut out by squinting scissors between the grip of an already decided hand makes something so seamless because it’s not nice to think that atoms explode and destroy each seam that they are sown into moments before a man crosses a finish line not expecting it to be the actual end.
LAUREN M.S. HOHN
I Anxiety has enslaved my compassion and bends love to its will, Fear commands I fear for others and fear for more things still Emotion is intelligence, and compassion makes you wise, Wisdom delivered, packaged, in suffering’s guise, So if my love means trembling, if my love means terror, I’d rather quake for love’s sake than risk cold-hearted error. II My compulsions form a rhythm, my fear a string quartet, Playing music to soothe to sleep what hasn’t happened yet; I conduct the orchestra (at least I think I do) To assuage my troubled heart, to pause what will come true. I didn’t play the music when I most needed the notes, So now I have a symphony to follow where I go. III The clock winds up, the clock winds down, The pendulum, it undulates, So goes life, so goes death, So goes each of all our fates. Turn the hand but not the time, Turn the gears and turn the wheel, Teach the gong to play the hour, Teach the minutes how to feel. Take one step, take one backwards, Take a bow for Father Time, He is waltzing with the Sandman, He is making moments rhyme.
Dream your vision lasts forever, Dream the Sandman to your will, It is not time to start the winding, It is yet a quarter till.
BROOKE MUZIK 43
Old socks are bunched right where my feet finger around in the dark under the blanket at the end of the bed. That is when I noticed it, that I had lost myself in all of your scatterings and at first I was worried because when you dam up a river you aren’t thinking about the ripples and runs you think about the vast sheeting of water and all the power that can be produced in a basin of man-made reflection. And reflection— like all those empty once fish filled rivers, made stagnant by finless hands—can be a scary thing. So, when I noticed the extra toothbrush beetling beside mine and the sweater from last Tuesday seated on my car floorboard it seemed unnatural to look into a reservoir I helped damn and only see you.
HANNAH HARRISON 46
Pink microscopic nails burned red, the blue Chevy car drove dents into the splintered slabs of wood on the front porch. Brother handled his yellow Tonka truck, his pale feet thump against the brown pallets of wood. “Whaammp—Move Sissy!” I toppled down the front steps, slab after slab, my small tender back flipping over soft miniscule hands and scarred pink knees. Tools clink and clang, onto the cement of the driveway, “Shit. Oh baby girl, goddammit.” Glinting gold hair whipped as my head snapped over my right elbow, crashing into my left ankle. I clenched my toddler-white fists, the blue Chevy car immersed in pine straw. Stained black, calloused-cracked hands wrapped around my baby-girl body, squeezing me to his wet sticky chest.
“Oh baby, I’m so sorry.” Daddy’s crackling voice unleashed sloppy wet tears. Pink lips puckered in resentment. My fist dug into his brown collarbone, in deep protest of my fall. I nearly caught it.
EIGHTH GRADE OBSERVATIONS
Google will tell you that Jefferson County is the worst county in Georgia in terms of unemployment, poverty, health care and unreported AIDS. It was also burned in Sherman’s March to the Sea. This is where I live and went to school. My father is the CEO of our family business, Queensborough National Bank and Trust, a mid-sized farmers’ bank, and my mother is retired from teaching English at Jefferson County High School. Louisville, Georgia has two grocery stores, one that mostly whites go to, and across town, one that mostly blacks go to. Some families went favored IGA because it was cheaper but others avoided it because it attracted a “lower rent” crowd, as they like to put it. I went to either depending on where I had wandered. Jefferson County has two options for school systems: the public schools and Thomas Jefferson Academy, where, in its history, there had never been a student of color. TJA also had maybe 120 students enrolled at any given time, while the public schools housed about three thousand students, a number of which took free lunch. And every day after football practice all the high school boys from Thomas Jefferson Academy would chew tobacco and smoke at the Circle K Gas and Food, sit on the tailgates of their lifted trucks, with matte black and chrome rims and jeer at anyone who drove buy in a car their father didn’t use the left over profits of last year’s crops to ensure their son would fit in. I did not go to Thomas Jefferson Academy. In town, at Louisville Drug Company, the walls are covered in newspapers nearly as old the Antebellum building and smells like it, the lights are dim, and all the employees and nearly all the customers are black. At The Peach Tree pharmacy, where they served sweet tea with every prescription and ice cream if you wanted it, one could buy a “southern” brand t-shirt with the rebel flag on it. I took my prescriptions to the Peach Tree pharmacy for the ice cream. I never stayed long and all ways left quickly, but
at Louisville Drug, where I would stop, when I was younger, to get a candy bar every now and again, I would always end up in a conversation. There was one public park in Louisville, where the black families would have reunions, birthday parties and church celebrations, each of which I loved attending because I would know someone there from school and they’d give me food and introduce him to family. I loved nothing more than meeting new people and being social. One afternoon I was working on my go cart with a man named O’del Thomas, who I, since I was knee high to a grass hopper and for no particular reason, had called “Two.” Two was a short, broad shouldered black man, dark as night, bent at the shoulders with short white curly hair in patches on the sides of his head. His hands were as hard wood and his fingers were as solid and rough as pine branches for he had been a working man all his life. He cut grass for the Easterlins and nearly everyone in Louisville. Two and I arrived at Napa Auto Parts store in Two’s used-to-be blue 1991 Chevrolet S-10, stick shift with very little of its cloth interior left, listening to gospel. Two walked inside and I followed. Two white men stood at the counter, the clerk and another man whose son probably went to Thomas Jefferson Academy, having relaxed conversation about the other’s Sunday projects. “Hey naih y’all” said Two as he walked in, without receiving a response. He walked straight to lawn mower batteries and started looking for the right size. I nodded respectably to the two other men in the store. Presently the clerk walked to rear of the store to get a part for the other man. As he walked by, Two asked “I can eschain dis’un hyeuh fuh a wukin one?” At that moment, I thought it odd that Two did not get an answer to his clearly audible question from the clerk who was not particularly busy. Two then put his eyes back to looking for the right size battery. The clerk walked back by Two without so much as exchanging a glance to help a man who had walked in a few moments after me and Two. I, at that moment, fully aware that Napa Auto was a customer of my father’s bank and that everyone in the county
knew who the Easterlins were and knew these men would know my name and who my father was walked behind the counter, up to the man who had not responded to Two, stuck out my hand and said, “Hi, I’m Frank Easterlin, Bill Easterlin’s son, and Mr. Thomas has a question I don’t think you heard.” “Oh,” said the clerk, slightly surprised by my forward attitude and out stretched hand, “Nice to meet you. Clark Smithers.” I walked from behind the counter allowing the man give his attention to Two and say “What is it I can help ya with?” Two asked again, “Y’all’ll eschain a battery woncha?” “Yessir we sho will.” After the man rang up the battery and gave the receipt to Two, I stuck out my hand again and said “Thank you s’much, Mr. Clark,” to which the man responded with a bland “Anytime,” and a smile as smug as mine. The Easterlins are among five prominent families in Jefferson County. However I had not gone to school or made friends with many of the other prominent families’ children. Most all of my family lived on the same street in the middle of Louisville. My house was 117 years old, original floors and rugs as old as the house. Though of course it and been updated, it still felt like an old home. My grandfather’s house was built in 1856, and was occupied by an Easterlin ever since. In every room but the kitchen, staying in Papa Frank’s house was like going back in time. Every bed frame was some type of hardwood that was a family heirloom its self. There are fire pits all over the house and over each fire pit was a marble head board and old books. Paintings of past family members hung in each bedroom, each one dated pre-1900. There wasn’t a carpet in the house that wasn’t hand woven or under 150 years old. I always got an eerie feeling from the house, occupied or not, night or day, but never felt unsafe. It was the feeling you got from your neighbor when you catch him watching you and your friends play from his second story window. You’ve never spoken to him but he still waves. In the middle of Papa Frank’s house, two staircases meet, one from the back of the house and one from the main hall, the two separated by a door to the back staircase, forming a well lit reading space big enough for one chair and two bookshelves that
was directly exposed to the front hall. Behind the bookshelves was an unexplained crawl space that led to nowhere else in the house, exposed no pipes, no wires or fuse box. I had always been told as child that it was a secret passage way to my aunt’s house but I never really believed it. I was in eighth grade when Louisville Middle School decided to split its classes by gender. The argument was that because girls and boys would not be together, there would be less commotion and distraction, therefore improving grades. This did not go well. My class was considered the A class, meaning we were expected to do the best. Ironically only two boys in the class went to ninth grade with A’s. It was honestly incredible that most of us actually got to the ninth grade. In August we were all dreading to go back to school but at least we didn’t have to impress girls while we were in class. So like 13 year old boys do, we whooped and hollered and farted and cussed when the teachers weren’t around, threw things at each other and played pain games like bloody knocks, each punching the other’s knuckles until one gave up, or quarters, each slinging a quarter across a desk into your opponent’s face down knuckles, usually drawing blood on the first strike, until one of us gave up. Early on in the semester Xavier Hawthorne stole the stapler off Mr. Byrapaka’s desk and learned the hard way that stapling Jamario Harris hurt worse than getting stapled. The next week while we were serving in-class lunch detention, each one of us there for a similar reason, talking, fighting, cussing or being obnoxious in general, David Davidson stole a piece of gum from Brandon Corley. When David wouldn’t admit to it, in front of Mr. Byrapaka and the Vice Principal, Mr. Hildebrandt, neither of whom were small men, but neither of whom could bench press more than the 13 year old Brandon Corley, Brandon nailed David in the nose, knocking him into Montell Mitchell, who then came for Brandon, causing Jamaree Flounory, who was bigger than Brandon, to join in to knock Montell in the teeth. It took four male teachers to break up the fight. Each one of them were suspended for only three days. After that things calmed
down for a while and Dr. Byrapaka learned to not give us any slack, but the halfway mark was coming and we would change schedules adding two new teachers to our schedule: Mrs Holdeman and Mrs Juke. Mrs. Holdeman was in her mid thirties. She walked too quickly with a substantial thud following each footstep and nearly had to turn sideways to enter the classroom. Her thin hair was dead leaf brown, curled in at the bottom, just above her collar bone and her small round face had a nose that each boy in the class wanted to use for a ramp for miniature skateboards. Her voice was piercing but not high pitched, the kind that made you want to walk away because it hurt to listen to. Her country drawl was thicker than molasses and she always talked with a matter-of-fact tone that made me regret listening. Her husband was an electrician and farm mechanic, one of the few in the county. The Holdemans were all over. They were business owners and farmer by trade, and were just wealthy enough to separate themselves from the masses of Jefferson County. One day in class, Mrs. Holdeman and Akevias Gilmore, the real troublemaker of the class, got into it. Since we had Mrs. Holdeman in the afternoon, she stuffed her face with candy and granola bars and washed it down with a Diet Coke every day at two, though we could not eat in the classroom. While I was in the back, Dylan, a quiet white kid from a lower income family, who was responsible for more than he had generally been suspected of, bumped hard on Mrs. Holdeman’s desk while horsing around, and knocked over her Diet Coke. One side of Dylan’s mouth slipped up his cheek as he let out an excited and elongated “Fuuuck,” laughed and darted out fo the room, past Akevious, who was in the door and nearly hit Mrs. Holdeman in the hallway. Once Dylan was around the hall corner he probably heard “AKEVIOUS!” and uttered to himself a victorious “fuck yea” because he knew he had just gotten away again. Mrs Holdeman walked in on Akevious standing over her desk half laughing thinking something along the lines of “serves her right” or more accurately “that’s what you get big ol’ bitch.” Though it did not matter what Akevious was thinking because right there on the spot Mrs. Holdeman was zeroed in on him.
“Akevious Gilmore, child you play to much! You were horsing around and spilled my Coke and ruined everyones grade so that everyone is going to have to do everything over all because of you. Just… Oh.. just get out of my sight, get out my classroom child. I do not want to see you.” Akevious returned “Watchu talm bout mih Holdeman? I ain do nun uh dis!” “Akevious get out of my face with you lying like that and take your happy behind to the principles office” “Fust off I ain in ya face cuz theres a desk buhtween me and you. Ain I goin any wheuh cuz I ain do shit.” Mrs. Holdeman slapped the papers she had in her hand on the table as hard as she could in frustration and anger screaming, “You ain do WHAT?” trying to mock Akevious’ speech. “Get your ASS to the principal’s office NOW!” Akevious sat in his desk looking straight forward at the whiteboard and said “T’Hell if I get out this desk cuz listen hyeuh, I’on know who did dat shit but I know it wudn’t Akevious Tyrone Gilmo’ cuz I walked in on ya shit like how it is now and you tryna put it on me cuz this school’ll feed a black boy but’cho fat ass still hawngry.” By that time, Mr. Hildebrandt and the Principal, Mr. Diesel, a six foot and four inches tall probably 300 pound man with proportionally large shoulders, arms and legs, were at the door, their eyes chained on Akevious. Each of the two large men walked to either side of Akevious, took him by the arms and took him out of the class room. I followed them because I crept around and got away with most things and when people saw me where I wasn’t meant to be they generally assumed that I was there to talk to someone. In the office you could hear them yelling and at fussing at Akevious and he wasn’t relenting one bit. I do not remember exactly what they said and it doesn’t really matter. What mattered was that Mrs. Juke was coming up the hallway, with thuds on each of her footsteps but they sound more like thunder and were the footstep you never wanted to hear coming your way. Mrs. Juke walked in the main office, greeted no one and went straight to Mr. Diesel’s office. I could hear what she said and remember it loud
and clear. All I heard from the office was Mrs. Juke saying “Boy hush dat fuss and if you sweah one more time I’m gonna call Trisha to come up here to beat’cho behind and if she can’t, she’ll let me.” Akevious said she had him by the back of the neck while she said that. I can imagine Akevious resisted a little bit but not much for avoiding and resisting Mrs. Juke was probably worse than getting through what she had in mind. Mrs. Juke was equal in size to Mrs. Holdeman, but she commanded so much more with each of her footsteps. Her words weren’t piercing or shrill but felt like being punched in the chest just hard enough, anymore and it would be battery. Mrs Juke was not a pleasant woman to look at either. Her skin was marred with different conditions, even on her face. Her cheeks were always so swollen that her eyes were permanently squinted. She had a huge nose that took up a great bit of her face. But as hard looking as she was for some reason, she was extremely approachable, the second time you approached her. The day Mrs. Holdeman decided to quit her job was, I guess, the day she announced she had given up on us and walked out of the door. We had been conditioned by Mrs. Juke to not get quite so intense. There was no more fighting or cussing out teachers, though we were not the little angels the school expected us to be. One of us was sent to the office with a referral nearly every day. On a usual day someone would start a paper wasp war. Each of us would fold paper until it was hard enough to really hurt when flung from a rubber band double wrapped around one’s forefinger and thumb. Or someone, usually me, would start up an argument that never ceased despite Mrs. Holdeman’s best efforts. I remember a lot of oddly specific things. I, however, do not remember what exactly it was that made Mrs. Holdeman lose it. Maybe we were arguing. Maybe we were playing with miniature skateboards. Maybe we were flinging things across the room like monkeys in a zoo. Whatever we were doing, it drove Mrs. Holdeman out of the public school system. She now teaches at Thomas Jefferson Academy.
Mrs. Holdeman and Mrs. Juke had a surprisingly lot of similarities. They shared a similar stature. Neither were pleasant to look at. Niether, for the most part, were pleasant to be around. When Mrs. Juke stepped into the room it went cold and quiet. We were like dogs caught in the garbage can. We knew what we were doing. And then Mrs. Juke called each and every one of us out: Akevias Gilmore for being stubborn, bull headed and a trouble maker, Jamaree Flonoury for being overly excitable, Xavier Hawthorne and Dylan Thomas for being instigators and myself for being argumentative, difficult and loud and continued down each row until each one of us had been single out. Mrs. Juke could not have been more accurate if she read about us in a book somewhere. However their similarities, Mrs. Juke and Mrs. Holdeman had one major difference. Where Mrs. Holdeman could not look past the bias of her community to see through our differences, Mrs. Juke cared not to even notice. Mrs. Juke saw no difference in her students, and that has made all the difference.
Obsidian skin and soul hard as stone. Despite tyrannical wind and rain, our pride remains strong until the final hour. Weâ€™ve never defied prejudice alone, Our strength united against a kingdom made of firebombs and billy-clubs. Gore would not muffle our heroic uproar! Free at last! We achieved our own freedom!
The right given to me by my ascendant will descend upon categories that an ancient regime set before us. Do not try and define my own pigment; No to your decrees! Dirt, mud, and feces. I resist by defining my own blackness.
LITTLE SQUARE TOMBSTONES
At nineteen years old, I fancied myself an Angel of Death. In the Hebrew Bible, the angels of death are also called “destroying angels.” I learn the former and the following from a Wikipedia page, pulled up in the fourth tab on the screen of my Macbook Air: the Destroyer kills bloodless firstborn children during Passover; a destroying angel decimates homes and Jerusalem residents and the families of those residents, or perhaps the families of other residents; the angel of the Lord destroys Sennacherib’s Assyrian army, claiming the lives of 185,000 men to, of all things, save Jerusalem. I think that’s a hell of a lot of men. The only person I’ve killed is my grandmother, but even that isn’t quite like how it sounds. *** There’s a story my mom likes to tell me about myself. She has especially liked to tell me since my taking of a World Religions class, where I learn of the blind men and the elephant and how the legs are mistaken as great pillars and how the tail is a tightly wound rope and how the trunk is a supporting tree branch and the tusk is a smoking pipe and the ear is a Japanese hand fan with kanji letters and the belly is an impassable impossible wall; where I begin to think about how little our perspective is of the universe, which is 13.8 billion years old, and I also begin to think about how we have occupied it for less than that grand expanse of time, far less, and that the universe has thirteen billion seven hundred ninety-nine million eight hundred thousand years on us where we did nothing and felt nothing and were nothing but the future, and I begin to wonder why I am expected to believe that Christianity is the only way to save myself from a universe that I
do not want to be saved from. I find it hard to believe we are in this aging universe alone, but I find it harder to believe that there is a pocketful of people, who trust in the Christian God, that have a vast understanding of the universe through a book created in the 16th century of our existence. I am not a Christian because I like to believe that no one is condemned for occupying the universe, and my mom would like for me to be a Christian, so she tells me this story. I was raised in the small but growing town of Ellijay, Georgia, but I was born in San Diego. In California, our house was two stories high and painted the same color as our neighbors’ houses. I’m told that that’s how things worked in the suburbs, or maybe it’s just in California that everyone has to be precisely exactly equal, but outside, our house looked like everyone else’s in the neighborhood, and our backyard fence was exactly precisely ten feet high. (The height played no part in keeping our black labrador, Ajax, trapped within them, and my parents would often get calls from our neighbors informing us that he was in their yard instead of ours.) My room was on the second floor of the house, probably smaller than the other rooms, and I remember the walls being pink, although I am told they were beige. What I remember of my room is the way my bedside lamp illuminated it, filtering pinkish light through the lampshade, and that I had a toy box with a blue lid somewhere in it, and that beanie babies lined the shelves of my wooden dresser. My bed was dressed in a yellow duvet, covered in flowers that weren’t sunflowers but still reminded me of sunshine. One night, probably far past my bedtime, I sat up in my bed and carefully turned down the sunshine sheets, gaze flickering between the two bedposts at my feet as I slowly lowered my bare feet onto the floor. Nudging myself from the mattress, I meandered towards the doorway. Pausing in the frame to look over my shoulder, I counted: one, two, three, four. Then I turned my back to my bedposts and scuttled downstairs to find my mother.
I must pause in my telling of the story to emphasize that I remember none of it, and the only source of the truth comes from my mother, so many of the questions that arise can only be answered hypothetically. For instance, I have no inkling as to where my father was during this time. He is a pilot, so one may presume he was out flying. I do not remember whether my mom was in the den or in her room, whether or not I had to wake her up or if she had yet to fall asleep. My mom does not mention either my dad or my dog in this story, so maybe it is a special circumstance that involved only us, or maybe it is a dream she once had that she confused with something real, but there must be some kind of truth to it if she thought to relay it to me. When she tells me this story, she consistently insists that I came to her first, and then I told her that there were people in my room. She looked at me funny. “What kind of people?” she asked. I didn’t know what to say, so I took her by her sleeve and tugged her in the direction of my room. I wanted to show her, to make sense of something that wasn’t quite piecing together properly in my head. I wished she’d ask how many. One, two, three, four. My mother, hesitance in her stride, let me lead her back to my bedroom with the pinkish walls and the sunshine duvet. I took two steps for one of hers, wrinkling her pajama shirt in my palm, and when we reached my bedroom door, I stopped in the frame. My mom was looking at the room funny, now. I looked at my mom, wide-eyed, wondering what she thought about the strange people standing by the bedposts. “Where are they?” she asked, and then her gaze shifted to me. I swallowed and crinkled my brow. It was my turn to peer inside, to
think: how come she can’t see them? Or maybe she could see them and she wasn’t telling me because there was something wrong with them. Maybe I was mistaking rosy for red. Whatever I was thinking, I lifted my free hand and stuck out my index finger, pointing to the bedpost closest to where we stood in the doorframe. Then I pointed to the one across from it. Then to the two at the headboard. One, two, three, four. I was in high school when my mom finally got around to telling me about this. I remember that, when she does, she makes sure to mention that she thought I saw demons. She said children see things we, adults, can’t; she was afraid I saw something evil, which is what drove her to ask what she did. “Emma,” she said, carefully. “Are they good people, or are they bad people?” I didn’t know much as a child, but I was always told that I was a good judge of character. I looked and looked at the people by the bedposts, thinking. My mom says I thought for a whole minute and a few seconds more before finally answering her. “They’re good,” I decided with a crisp nod. After a breath of relief, my mom tried to explain what they were. Guardian angels, she said, who kept me safe as I slept. I shyly looked between the four gentle intruders and unraveled my fingers from my mother’s shirt sleeve. The guardian angels glowed like sunshine. My mom said I checked my bedposts that night, and every night afterwards, to make sure they were still there. Eventually, obviously, I got older and I stopped seeing them. I stopped remembering that they were ever there. Here’s the thing, though: I don’t think they ever left.
*** My father’s parents died one summer apart, which I’ve always found strangely, tragically romantic. From what I hear, their marriage erred on the side of strange and tragic and bypassed the romance early on. They were divorced before I ever knew them, and I think the only time that I ever saw them in the same room was when my grandfather attended my grandmother’s funeral. I think that my grandfather fell in love with my grandmother’s voice, not my grandmother herself. He never spoke badly of my grandmother, nor did she him, but he never mentioned her unless he was talking about how much he loved listening to her sing. I remember feeling special when he told me I sang just like her; it fueled the idea that I was his favorite, which I still wholeheartedly believe. Between father and mother, I thought that my dad took his father’s death worse. Not because he liked him better than his mother, or was closer to him, and certainly not because he respected him more. As far as I know, my dad never saw his mother drunk. From what he says, he was his father’s designated driver at the bar some nights. My dad doesn’t hold that against my grandfather, but it was my grandmother he looked to for guidance. His gentle heart is her doing; his sharp, often meaningless wit is all his dad. My dad took his father’s death worse, maybe, because he already lost one parent. Maybe because we felt grandaddy slipping before that, and he just kept slipping. My grandfather had a stroke a few months after my grandmother’s funeral and was never quite the same. Close to Christmas, we drove to Atlanta to have brunch with them and I overheard him asking his wife, Mary, what my younger brother’s name was. He had forgotten and, defeated, whispered the question in a hushed, embarrassed tone. I pretended not to overhear. I even laughed at my blank phone screen, as if I was holding a conversation with a friend back home. My grandfather had a second stroke in June, which completely
paralyzed his left side. My dad made trips to Atlanta often, and stayed in the hospital for days at a time because we couldn’t afford to have someone outside of the family watch over him full-time. He kept scheduling visits for me and my brother, but the plans fell through each time. “He’s in too severe a condition,” dad said once. Another time: “I don’t feel well.” I never admitted this to him, but I was happy when our visits were cancelled. I was nineteen years old, and I had never seen my dad so depressed, and I began to think, perhaps stupidly, that things would get better if I never visited my grandfather. I was nineteen years old and my dad promised me we’d see Granddad on a Monday. I was afraid that, if I showed, he would die. *** The summer before, my dad and I took a trip, just the two of us, to see my ailing grandmother in the hospice. I don’t remember where, exactly, she ended up, nor do I have any recollection of the hospice or town name, but the drive was two and a half hours, around forty-five minutes past Atlanta. The car ride was neither tense nor easy. I kept skipping the sad songs on my iPhone, but the titles still caught my eye and lingered for a bit, etched into my memory. “Peace Come Over You.” I listened to part of that one, then apologized, pushing the righthand triangle. My dad thanked me. Said he liked the song. The outside of the hospice was tan, and the inside felt very brown. Concrete moats lined the building, and in carved rectangles of earth at the base of the walls, someone had the compulsion to plant an array of colorful flowers, all of which blur together in my memory, now.
Inside, past the front desk, there were unfinished quilts on the walls. My father and I were told that they were each hand stitched, and squares were added to the blank spaces as needed. Names and birth dates and death dates were sewn into the different swatches of fabric, sometimes clumsily, other times with the fluid motion of someone that has been doing it for years. I couldn’t decide whether the quilts on the walls were nice or not, if it was appropriate to hang up little square tombstones as if they were portraits. I eventually decided that the quilts were a way of coping and nothing more. People need something productive to do when they grieve, otherwise the grief just piles up and festers. At least with the quilt squares, the grief could rest in the stitching. I looked at the quilts for a long time, probably definitely pretending to be more interested in them than I actually was. I hadn’t seen my grandmother since her visit about three weeks ago, one week before she took a turn for the worse. She was attached to a machine that regulated her breathing, I was told. I figured this meant tubes in her arms and nose, plastic veins on the outside. I was also told she’d probably sleep for most of the visit, which made me feel both better and worse; better because I wouldn’t have to say goodbye, worse because I wanted a chance to say hello. To say, I’m here, Grandma. I made it. To know death is coming is a strange thing. It lingered in the hospice, tucked into the corners of the hallways, in the smiles the caretakers offered us, in me and my father. We carried it from the lobby to the cafeteria to the quilts on the walls then, finally, to my grandmother’s room, where it weighed the heaviest. The first thing I noticed were the tubes, and then the machine. I saw my grandmother attached to these things, but I don’t think the picture registered at first. Outside, the sun was shining, but filtered through the blinds of the windows in her room, the light made the entire place look like an old oil painting. My Grandmother, the artist would title it. Then a subtitle: The Portrait of Death. Or maybe just, Goodbye.
My grandmother was asleep when we arrived and stayed asleep for a long while. My dad sat in the wooden chair at the foot of the bed and let me take the armchair closest to the door. It was burgundy and uncomfortable, but I curled into it, my legs tucked under my hips, and read Looking for Alaska. I was not necessarily looking to such a sad book for comfort, but for understanding. I cried for Alaska instead of my grandmother. It was easier, I think, to cry for someone I knew only for five hours at the hospice. I read the book on my iPad, so I darken the screen and set it aside when I’m done, then I sit still for a while. I make eye-contact with my dad and he smiles to make me feel better, but it doesn’t make me feel better. I remember tears welling in my eyes, because then, I was crying for someone real. I was trying to ignore that, on the bed that took up most of the room, was my grandmother, and above her was Death. Below her was Death. All around her was Death. I had never been so frightened and comforted in the same unassisted breath. I was both frightened and comforted when my grandmother’s eyelids twitched and fluttered like blown away petals just a few seconds later. I almost apologized for waking her, but everything I thought to say was stuck somewhere. Not just in my throat, but in my head, wedged into the spaces of my ribcage. My father offered her a quiet, “Hey, mom,” and then gestured for me to come to the other side of the bed. My legs did as they were told. Then my hand took hers of its own volition and my fingers squeezed and I took a breath. She took one, too, though it was far shallower. It’s always been hard for me to find my voice when I cry. It lodges inside of me, scared of what my mind is telling it. My voice, I’ve learned, is fearful of the truth. It can swallow it, but it has trouble spitting it back out. My voice couldn’t say anything to her for a long time. Finally, my voice said, “I love you.”
“I love you,” she said back, in a shattered murmur. She looked at me and then looked past me. I thought that maybe she was looking at my father. She squeezed my hand, as if she was suddenly given the strength to do it, and murmured it again. She was tired, I could tell, but I wasn’t ready to let go of her. I wanted to thank her first, I think, for being in my life. I wanted to tell her that I had her beautiful gold necklace, that I got compliments on it all the time. I wanted to tell her that her stuffing was my favorite dish at Thanksgiving. I wanted to tell her that I was sorry for not liking the Prince Eric doll she bought for me, for agreeing with the faceless girls at the store who called it ugly. I wanted to tell her that I understood, now, why she thought the doll was more than what those girls said about it. The doll was different, not ugly. The doll had beautiful insides, maybe even a beautiful voice. I wanted to tell her that I wish I could’ve heard her sing, once, to know whether or not my voice was even half as beautiful. I wanted to say that I would miss her, but the problem was that I already did. I think what I most wanted to say, though, was hello. Hello, Grandma. I made it. Then I would let go of her hand. *** My grandfather died the Sunday before I was supposed to visit. My father told me after work that night. It was a quick exchange, where he poked his head through the door and smiled at me the same way he smiled when we exchanged glances in my grandmother’s hospice room. “Your grandfather died,” he said. “It happened earlier today, so.” He nodded instead of finishing his train of thought. I said okay. He nodded again and began to shut my door, but hesitated.
“You were his favorite,” he said, maybe knowing that I already knew that. “I know,” I said. I watched him duck out of the sliver between the door and the frame, listened to the lock click. I sat on my bed for a while, laptop open, and scrolled through an open page on the internet. I was talking to someone on skype about something else, and I idly continued the conversation, processing at my own speed. I was strangely already at peace with his death because I knew it was coming. When I was driving to work that day, I saw a raccoon in the middle of the road, fur matted, its color darkened from gray to black because of the bloody wound in its side. Its weak body straddled the line between the turning lane and the straight lane, a few feet in front of the light. It was still breathing, this raccoon. They were staggered, angry breaths that mimicked a terrified heartbeat, but the creature couldn’t move. It’s left side was useless, torn apart. I pushed my foot into the brake steadily, the wheels slowing as I neared him, got a better look at him despite not wanting to. Its teeth were bared, lips curled into a snarl. I could hear him cursing the God that did this to him, the human that did this to him. I had this ache to pull to the side of the road and lift him up into my arms, to show him one last instant of kindness, but this Death was different from my grandmother’s. It was nearly frightening nor comforting; it was merely sad. When I think of myself and the raccoon, I think of the blind men and the elephant. I think that, had I touched the raccoon without knowing what it was, with my eyes squeezed tightly shut, I would have thought it to be my grandfather. My dad says he went out giving God the finger. Two weeks from the death of my grandfather and the raccoon, I would attend his wake and I would drink a glass of wine and sniffle into my glass when other people recited his poetry.
He was a poet, my grandfather, but my grandfather’s death was not poetic. The raccoon was not poetic. They simply coincided, maybe purposefully and maybe by accident, and when I saw the raccoon I thought about my grandfather, and that is why I cried for it. *** My grandmother, although adamant about getting better beforehand, told the nurse to turn off her machine after my visit. It was brave of her, I think. She told my Aunt Kitty that she was ready to let go. She told her that she wasn’t scared anymore. I always wondered if I had something to do with that, but it wasn’t until the next summer that I had an explanation. I was an Angel of Death. At least, I briefly fancied myself one. Now, I wonder what it was my grandmother saw. I wonder what gave her the peace she was so hesitant to chase. I wonder if she was looking past me at my father or at something else, something that glowed like sunshine in the pinkish light. I wonder if delirium or sadness or Death grabbed hold of her, frightened her into relenting. I wonder would she would’ve seen had she touched the raccoon. I wonder if she tried to hold on for the sake of my father, if maybe he was the one who nodded behind me, who whispered goodbye when she needed him to. I wonder if my grandfather, who had forgotten even his own name, would see me the same way she did. What I remember most of these two deaths, though, is not how I felt. I do not remember nor do I know my grandparents’ last words. I do not remember if my grandmother said anything except I love you. I do not remember my dying grandfather as anything but the raccoon. What I remember is my father. My father, paying for both of his parents’ hospital care because his sisters could not afford it. My father, driving to and from Atlanta to see his dad, driving to and from the hospice to see his mother, staying out of the house not
because he wants to avoid us, but because he wants to be alone. My father, the pilot, smiling as he tells me that he threw toilet paper out of the window of his plane and cut it with the wing, vandalizing the clouds. My father at the wake without a drink, because his alcoholic father taught him, through example, never to get behind the wheel when he was drunk. My father, propelled through the windshield of his intoxicated fatherâ€™s car as a kid, with the scars to prove it. My father after my grandmotherâ€™s funeral, standing at the alter with his head bowed in prayer. Hello, he says. I made it.
THIS LITTLE LIGHT OF MINE
ODE TO WATERMELON SAMANTHA LOUDERMILK Out of all the melons in the world, you are my favorite. Sweet and succulent I take one bite, your juices slide down my hands then arms overtake my chin, stain my t-shirt. You make appearances in the Bible, King Tut’s tomb. I am so glad you travelled the world from Africa, to my back yard. After all, summertime wouldn’t be the same without you. 85 days- to transform from seed to melon. It’s worth the wait. Plucking you from the vine, cutting into your rind. Sliced and salted Cantaloupe has nothing on you.
ODE TO GRATUATIOUS GORE
The masters of horror spin in their desecrated graves, All we seek now is the mindless thrill, the grotesque distortion of proportion or the Silent Hill. Itâ€™s a mess. Who quotes the Raven? Nevermore do we hear the music of Eric Zann or blanche at a parlor papered in yellow. The fear is gone, the suspense suspended by the knotted fibers, dancing a hemp fandango to the tune of a dirge. The Birds pick at the monochrome bones, and the urge to challenge our perceptions and our sanity has been usurped by non-euclidean angles and shock factors. A tourniquet of apathy constricts about our souls, And pain becomes but a dull throbbing numbness. None but the greatest shocks can rock our senses Chainsaws blunt off our complacency as the mechanical roar deafens us to the gasped message. Feed the masses pointless, mindnumbing carnage. Bloat them with the disease and rot of the pustulant media until they burst into cursed hues of vibrant crimsons and gangrenes. Gulp and splurt and belch. Murder, desecrate and vomit. Make our bile rise.
RED JERILYN OQUENDO 74
THE ARTIST SARAH BOUDREAU According to the business card in your hand, you are looking for K.L. Browne—the Artist. Your daughter slips her hand into yours as the two of you walk from the car to the office park. She’s singing to herself, quite loudly, and you wonder why your wife couldn’t have taken her. You’ve got important things to do today, so why do you have to look after the kid? As you reach the front door, she bounds ahead to press the handicap entrance button. She puts out her hand, saying “Abracadabra!” as the door opens and you are hit with the icy blast of air conditioning and the smell of printer ink. You look down and check the business card you were handed last month— you can’t place the face of the man who gave it to you. Was he the one with the bad toupee? Or the one with the notebook? You can’t remember. You met him at that one meeting. “Call this number,” he had said as he forced the card into your hand. “Set up a consultation. They’re very professional over there. Very competent. John went to them last year and his problem is all cleared up.” You and your daughter walk through the whitewashed hallway. A fluorescent light flickers overhead. It strikes you how odd of a location this is. Well, you suppose technically it’s an office in an office park, which isn’t that unusual, but you’re looking for an artist, not a man in a cubicle. An artist of sorts, you suppose. The man in the meeting and the business card he gave you were not very specific. Ah, but here’s the suite! 116B. There’s no signage other than that. God, how are people supposed to know where this is? It’s not a very good setup, now, is it? You grumble a bit about this as you swing the door open to reveal a waiting room like that of a dentist’s. There is even a tank of tropical fish and a receptionist filling out paperwork behind a desk. The receptionist smiles warmly as she says, “Good morn-
ing! Why don’t you take a seat? The Artist will be with you in a moment-- there’s another client in there now.” You smile politely back as you comply. Your daughter busies herself with a copy of Highlights Magazine she finds on the table and you busy yourself with looking at the photographs hanging on the walls. They are black-and-white and sit in plain black frames. One depicts a candlelight vigil. Another depicts a man lying face-down in a pool of blood, five bullet holes in his back. You are suddenly glad that your daughter is engrossed in her magazine. Oh, now she’s found a coloring book. She’ll be fine. The office door swings open and a woman with carefully coiffed hair and a pantsuit strolls out, a briefcase clutched in her manicured hand. You nod cordially to her and she smiles back as a greeting. You recognize her; you met with her a few years ago about the passing of a bill. Now you shudder slightly. You can’t leave your daughter alone here, not now that you know what kind of people frequent the place. You don’t want your daughter making friendly, eight-year-old conversation with a woman like that. “The Artist can see you now,” the receptionist calls to you. “You can just go on ahead through that door right there and you can start your consultation.” She points and smiles again. Behind the simple black door lies a simple black desk and behind the simple black desk is a person wearing a simple black sweater and simple black jeans. The nameplate on the desk reads “K.L. Browne, Tragedy Artist.” K.L. Browne, Tragedy Artist is slim and of average height, has a few wrinkles around the eyes, wears no jewelry, and wears Converse sneakers. You cannot tell whether or not K.L. Browne, Tragedy Artist is male or female, and it makes you very uncomfortable. What are you supposed to say now? It’s nice to meet you, Mr. or Ms. Browne? But it is not nice for you to meet the Artist. You meet the Artist out of necessity. “Are you the Artist?” you ask and immediately reprimand yourself for saying something stupid. “Yes, I am,” the Artist says with a slight smile. It is a warm smile and instantly you are at ease. “And it appears that you are my client. Now that we’ve established this, please take a seat.”
The Artist waits for you to sit in one of the cushiony office chairs in front of you before sitting back down behind the desk. The Artist leans forward slightly, clasping hands. “I like to start these kind of consultations off by talking for a while about my studio and what we do here before we start talking about your goals and needs,” the Artist says. “Now, I know you haven’t received much information about me or my business-we do this on purpose so that we know our clients truly need our services when they come here—so I’ll start off with a bit of a description. “So you know that I am an artist. Most artists work in mediums such as paint or sculpture in order to draw a reaction from the viewer, to make the viewer think about the world around them and, occasionally, spur action. I work in the medium of tragedy. Like a spider weaving its web, I weave tragedy, using my resources to manipulate minds. I am the conductor of an orchestra of misfortune and loss, and the music we make moves the audience to tears. People such as yourself hire me to create a tragedy that will cause the people to react in the way you want, to call for the change you want. I am usually hired to cause death, though there are other ways I can create tragedy. “Death is not necessarily a tragedy. Disaster is not necessarily a tragedy. A tragedy is the death of innocence, or at least a perceived innocence. When a tragedy occurs, it dies in two ways: the innocence lost by the victims of the tragedy and the innocence lost by the public when they are forced to confront their world. They realize that this is how the world really works and they are forced to think about how warped that is. If an artist does his or her job right, after the public thinks, they will be inspired to act, whether that means buying a certain product or voting for a certain candidate or just changing their belief.” The Artist pauses, taking a long breath. “Now I can take you through the specifics. I offer two different services here: the complete tragedy and what I call ‘perception art.’ If you want a tragedy, you tell me what your goal is and I will custom-build a tragedy to suit you. I can give you an example later. After the tragic event, I will tell people how to feel about it. Perception art is simply when I, with my connections in
media, order the public to view things in a certain light. If your organization is dealing with a tragic event— whether it is one that I haven’t created that has already occurred or is about to occur—I can manipulate the public’s perception of the event to reflect you positively. However, given the nature of my work, I prefer to design and execute all aspects of the tragedy. Being intimately familiar with the details helps when managing the public’s views. “Say that you run a business that specializes in security. Maybe that means that you build metal detectors. Maybe that means you train security guards. Whatever it is, you want more money, you want more business from, say, schools. Schools are good for tragedies, so we’ll use that for our example. I come up with an idea, I plan things out, I quickly run it by you, and we are ready to go. In the end, everyone will have a single, basic thought: schools need to use your product… or else. “We start with the setup. Sometimes we have to wait for the perfect moment to have a tragedy; they work best when the event is either completely out of the blue or if tensions have built up enough that one little disaster will make things blow up. Now would be a perfect time for a large, school-related tragedy; as a nation, we’ve been dealing with this sort of thing since Columbine. First, we pick the location. This will be a school in an upper-class area where the security is lax because they don’t think their little wealthy angels are capable of violence. Then we have to find a willing kid, which will not be hard because such places usually have a handful of kids who are too smart and too bored and want to rip wings off insects. It will probably be a high school so we can find a kid to do it, but extra points if it is a combined middle and high school. “We are not looking to start a conflict about race or gender or class, so our kid will fit the typical school shooter mold: male, white, well-off. Maybe a bit of an outsider. We will call this kid David. We will tell David about the legacy of fear he will leave behind, how everyone will know his name. We will give David the supplies for the event and talk him through every step. We will have David do things like write angry blog posts about his school, have him talk about how the administration does not take him seriously as a threat after he only gets detention or suspension after
telling people he is going to kill someone. This is nothing new. “Then, finally, the day of the tragedy comes. On a special morning-- maybe his birthday? -- David decides to die and take the whole school with him. He places explosives in strategic points around the building. He stands in the middle of the front office, takes a deep breath, and detonates everything. Shrapnel and bodies fly everywhere with the initial blasts, then the structure of the school collapses in on itself, crushing students and staff under cement blocks. “In the end, David dies. The majority of the school dies. Some make it out, covered in burns, blood pouring from their wounds and tears pouring from their eyes as they drag the dead and dying from the debris. There are more survivors, though-those kids in gym class outside, far enough away from the explosion to escape unscathed. They see the whole thing happen. Some rush to the scene and are overcome by it all: the smell of death and the smell of chemicals as the remnants of the chem lab goes up in flames, the screams, the terrible grinding, wrenching sound of a collapsing building. “And with that, the first part of the tragedy is complete. Innocence has gone up in flames. The children are dead, but the innocence of the survivors has died as well. Next, we move on to perception art. The media will pounce on this, and by extension, the public. Their questioning will go as follows: ‘Who did this? Why did he do this? What can we do to stop this?’ “I try to get past the first two questions quickly so the public will focus on your issue. Since the media has David’s Internet history to examine, the identity of the killer and his motives are identified quickly. This forces the public to think about how children are capable of doing such a thing. Maybe, as the media focus is on David, we will put some ridiculous conspiracy theories online. People will reject those absurd ideas and just become more cemented with their own ideas—ideas which I form through media coverage. Now, on to ‘What can we do to stop this?’ “The media loves me. I provide them with a direction, a lens, I give them what they need to make compelling news. Sometimes I even write the scripts for them. They will do what I say. Their view will be that, in order to keep kids safe, schools need
added security. The media agrees, so the public agree, so politicians agree. They spend more on security, which means they spend more on you. If you build metal detectors, I will tell the media that metal detectors will help prevent kids from dying. If you train security guards, I will tell the media that security guards will help prevent kids from dying. “You give me your goal, I will kill innocence in the most beautiful way. I pull the strings. I weave the web. I concoct a tragedy that will move people to tears... and, more importantly, move people to give you money.” The Artist leans back in the chair, stretching. “Now,” the Artist says, “considering all that, what do you have in mind?” “Can you kill my puppy?” your daughter pipes up. “I want a raise in my allowance.” You whip around. You forgot you brought her into the office with you. She sits on the floor in the corner, coloring. The Artist slides her a business card.
ESTRANGEMENT ANDERSON MOSS Within the realm of comfort we unsheathe our blades and sound the drums of empty war. Our clans tears will fill hollow reservoirs, in terror of the violence bequeathed To them by natural singularity. Man your barricades! Ready your words! Cut through emotions! Swing your verbal swords! But now you’re blind to your brutality.
Mothers, have you forgotten your loved ones? Fathers, have you dismissed all compassion? Brothers and sisters, have you cut your ties of blood? This feud has seen enough returns. It is time to mend the broken fractionsâ€” Gather and unite! As joyous allies.
ACKNOWLEDGEMENT THANK YOU!
We would like to acknowledge Jo Bearse for her generous funding in honor of Danny Bearse, a member of the class of 1979.
The Corn Creek Review is Young Harris College's literary magazine. It is a created by and for the students of YHC and serves as a vehicle fo...
Published on Apr 29, 2015
The Corn Creek Review is Young Harris College's literary magazine. It is a created by and for the students of YHC and serves as a vehicle fo...