Three Works

Art / Roberto Jamora

:: Three Works ::

 

 

From the artist

:: Account ::

Each gra­di­ent is a vignette of an expe­ri­ence or place in my Pass­ing Mem­o­ries series. I attempt to com­mit impor­tant events in my life to mem­o­ry via paint­ing. I mine col­or from mem­o­ry and pho­tos I’ve taken/have been tagged in on social media. Cold wax and oil paint are swiped across the can­vas to con­ceal extra­ne­ous pos­si­bil­i­ties and to lim­it sen­ti­men­tal­i­ty. A thin trace of land­scape is revealed. Skin tones, days at the beach, climb­ing a moun­tain with a lover, my par­ents’ back­yard, a city side­walk, the bay­ous in Louisiana where my ances­tors once lived: col­or trig­gers these rec­ol­lec­tions.

Re: Post­cards from Uncle Rena­to to Lola and Lolo

I am not a reli­gious per­son but feel most spir­i­tu­al when I paint about my fam­i­ly or the Fil­ip­inx dias­po­ra — try­ing to make a con­nec­tion with the past. While mak­ing this piece I tried to con­jure the ances­tors, specif­i­cal­ly my Lola (grand­moth­er), Lolo (grand­fa­ther), and Uncle Rena­to: he was the first of my dad’s sib­lings to immi­grate to the US. I nev­er met him or Lolo because they died sev­er­al years before I was born. In 2010, I was at an artist res­i­den­cy in Que­zon City, Philip­pines and took a trip to my dad’s ances­tral home in Sor­so­gon, Bicol. My cousin Michael found a bag of photos/postcards/letters that my Lola (my grand­moth­er who had passed away in 2005) hid in the fam­i­ly store­house next to sacks of rice. I scanned as many of the pho­tos as I could at the uni­ver­si­ty Michael taught at. I wasn’t sure what I would do with the new­found his­tor­i­cal doc­u­ments of my fam­i­ly until recent­ly, but real­ized that these pho­tos are some of my only visu­al con­nec­tions to my family’s past. The gra­di­ents in this work are from Uncle Renato’s post­cards and pho­tos of Lola and Lolo. The lay­er on top is the skin tones from aged pho­tos (hence the pink­ish violet/ochre sepia tones) of my Lola, Lolo, Uncle Rena­to, and my own skin tone.

 

Rober­to Jamo­ra (b. 1987, Annapo­lis, MD) holds a BFA from Vir­ginia Com­mon­wealth Uni­ver­si­ty and an MFA from Pur­chase Col­lege, State Uni­ver­si­ty of New York. He lives and works in Rich­mond, VA and is an Adjunct Pro­fes­sor at VCU School of the Arts. He was award­ed a 2018 Artist Com­mu­ni­ty Engage­ment Grant from the Rema Hort Mann Foun­da­tion for his project “An Inven­to­ry of Traces,” a series of abstract paint­ings inspired by sto­ries of immi­grants in NYC. He has par­tic­i­pat­ed in res­i­den­cies at Joan Mitchell Cen­ter, Rag­dale, and Sam­ba­likhaan. This sum­mer, he will be a Fel­low at Vir­ginia Cen­ter for Cre­ative Arts. His work has been in exhi­bi­tions at Frost Art Muse­um, Con­tem­po­rary Art Cen­ter New Orleans, Topaz Arts, Page Bond Gallery, ADA Gallery, Juice­Box Art Space, Norte Maar, Shock­oe Art­space, Good Enough Projects, Qual­i­ty Gallery, Scott Charmin Gallery, Foula­di Projects, Gay­lord & Dorothy Don­nel­ly Foun­da­tion, Open Space, and Out­let Fine Art.

Hypocrisy Bridge Rebuilt

Nonfiction / Emily Townsend

:: Hypocrisy Bridge Rebuilt ::

 

View this work as a PDF

From the writer

:: Account ::

The red text in the first half of this essay sparked the whole thing. My boyfriend inad­ver­tent­ly offend­ed me with porn­stars’ pic­tures, which set off my exis­ten­tial cri­sis about being unable to accept a hyper­sex­u­al­ized society/being frus­trat­ed at my asex­u­al­i­ty. What real­ly freaked me out was that once we start­ed doing sex­u­al stuff, I lost the sex­u­al­i­ty I had always labeled myself as. Writ­ing helps me con­front the issues I’m con­fused about. Going through three layers—the text, my pre­vi­ous pub­li­ca­tions about asex­u­al­i­ty, the present real­iza­tion of a past self—of one sub­ject fur­ther dis­or­ders the process of sort­ing through this heavy per­son­al issue. I bor­rowed the form of John D’Agata’s The Lifes­pan of a Fact for the columns, and used the pre­vi­ous pub­li­ca­tions as a means of com­mu­ni­ca­tion between the text and the self I was before I met my boyfriend. I was a scared, lone­ly col­lege stu­dent, yearn­ing for a rela­tion­ship, yet I nev­er want­ed to be touched. So when I got a boyfriend, I knew I’d have to deal with phys­i­cal inti­ma­cy even­tu­al­ly. Going back to how I react­ed to touch when I was nine­teen ver­sus now, 23 and accept­ing touch, was a weird bridge of liminality—how did I ever become com­fort­able with what I once could nev­er han­dle? Change is inevitable; how­ev­er, change is rarely received in the same man­ner every time. I despise change, but this trans­for­ma­tion was sur­pris­ing­ly accept­ed.

 

Emi­ly Townsend is a grad­u­ate stu­dent in Eng­lish at Stephen F. Austin State Uni­ver­si­ty. Her works have appeared in cream city review, Super­sti­tion Review, Thought­ful Dog, Noble / Gas Qtr­lySan­ta Clara Review, East­ern Iowa Review, Paci­fi­ca Lit­er­ary Review, and oth­ers. A nom­i­nee for a Push­cart Prize and 2019 AWP Intro Jour­nals Award, she is cur­rent­ly work­ing on a sec­ond col­lec­tion of essays in Nacog­doches, Texas.

Lie Park: Fragments from a Psychogeography of the Sixth Borough of New York

Nonfiction / Pete Segall

 

:: Lie Park:

Fragments from a Psychogeography of the Sixth Borough of New York ::

On nights when I was young and lat­er as an adult I would fol­low Ohio Avenue as it sloped toward the Hud­son. Years before, at the begin­ning of the last cen­tu­ry, the street was lined with vast, sprawl­ing homes, the homes of exec­u­tives, ship­ping mag­nates, men with build­ings bear­ing their fam­i­ly name at Choate and Yale. Mas­sive alders blocked the sun set­ting over the riv­er. The spaces sur­round­ing these homes—spaces that could be legit­i­mate­ly called “grounds”—were expan­sive enough to actu­al­ly be for­bid­ding. That much space in the city, pri­vate­ly held, was bewil­der­ing and a warn­ing, a brute odd­i­ty whose vast­ness demand­ed one keep away (remem­ber­ing here that bewil­der is a lin­guis­tic rel­a­tive of wilder­ness, of which these spaces were a very par­tic­u­lar sort).

My par­ents jok­ing­ly called Ohio “Fifth Avenue Squared.” When my wife and I moved here from the Upper West Side, she said we might as well be in Ohio the state, it felt so removed from the rest of the city.

I don’t ever recall see­ing any­one on these grounds when I’d make this walk in my teens, though that’s prob­a­bly mem­o­ry slan­der­ing real­i­ty. I must have seen a game of touch foot­ball or a din­ner par­ty between the branch­es or even a soli­tary per­son tak­ing a walk like me. I’m sure one of these things must have hap­pened. But for what­ev­er rea­son the evi­dence, the mem­o­ry, has been purged.

Today, the man­sions along Ohio, as well as Rot­ter­dam and Bre­mer­haven and Southamp­ton, and their grounds are gone. In their place are apart­ment blocks, too unre­mark­able to car­ry the mer­its of bru­tal­ism. Every hun­dred yards or so an alder remains, though in their soli­tude they are the ones who seem bewil­dered, who seem to have wan­dered into a land­scape they have no busi­ness being a part of. What­ev­er bush-league Robert Moses over­saw the rethink­ing of Ohio Avenue from gild­ed to glut­ted did make one curi­ous choice: at the very end of the road, at the last bit of arch­ing land before the riv­er, a serene cres­cent of wood­land was left untouched.

It’s main­ly oak and catal­pa; rows of phlox and baby’s breath. It’s a place I find end­less­ly hum­ble. It makes no assump­tions and does not demand any­thing of you. It is not impos­ing or inspir­ing, makes no reach toward the sub­lime. As a park it is like a well-designed post office and I say that in the most affec­tion­ate way pos­si­ble for I believe that’s what drew me there almost every night as cer­tain aspects of my life were col­laps­ing or cur­dling or stalling out. The sim­plic­i­ty was depend­able and com­fort­ing. This lit­tle col­lec­tion of trees and shade is actu­al­ly a real park with a real name, over­seen by the Depart­ment of Parks, just like Prospect and Cen­tral and Union Square. It’s called Lie Park.

*

Lie Park. It’s fun to imag­ine a few bureau­crats sit­ting down and decid­ing that this tight­ly hemmed wedge of green­ery was insignif­i­cant enough that it was actu­al­ly a fic­tion. The mon­u­ment of the Hud­son before you, the dinosaur skele­ton of the Mor­gen­thau Bridge off to the right, the full­ness of all time and space cap­tured in the west­ern sky above every­thing: where you are is not real. This place is not here. It only exists because you need it to.

*

I rarely encoun­tered any­one else in the park. If I did it was either elder­ly cou­ples or young par­ents, labor­ing to get their babies to sleep. It was strange that such a peace­ful place would go unused. One night I stopped at a bode­ga on the way down the hill to ask if there was some­thing keep­ing peo­ple away from the park, ghost sto­ries or unre­port­ed sex­u­al assaults, any­thing, but the guy behind the counter just shook his head. He was old­er than me, Ethiopi­an or Eritre­an, with bright, blis­ter­ing eyes. Noth­ing wrong with it, he said. It’s just so small. I guess you could say that’s the prob­lem.

I bought a tall boy of Miller High Life and thanked him for his time. It was late in the sum­mer. I knew that by the time I reached the park, drank my beer, engaged in what­ev­er con­tem­pla­tion I arrived upon (this seemed to be the park’s price of admis­sion) and walked back home, it would be well past dark. My wife would ask if I’d gone on anoth­er walk and I would say yes. She would ask why I nev­er invit­ed her to come with. I would make a face and say some­thing like, I’m not sure.

*

Trygve Lie was a Nor­we­gian diplo­mat and the first sec­re­tary gen­er­al of the Unit­ed Nations, before it had its per­ma­nent home in Man­hat­tan. From all I can tell he was a mid­dling fig­ure, unre­mark­able enough that this half-extant park was deemed a suf­fi­cient memo­r­i­al to him. I have come across an account of his life in New York that men­tions his fond­ness for the area. “[W]hen there, one imag­ines that a city is not only a wel­ter. It hums, but soft­ly,” he wrote to a Nor­we­gian friend.

*

I poured out the last few ounces of my beer at the base of a catal­pa for poor Mr. Lie. The lights from the apart­ments up the hill were begin­ning to feel oppres­sive. The pres­ences of Riverdale and Co-Op City in the dis­tance were almost too much to bear. I need­ed to go back home. Instead of going up Ohio, I fol­lowed the walk­ing path north, where it even­tu­al­ly dropped me into Armistice Boule­vard.

Every­thing about Armistice Boule­vard seems to serve as a reminder of our own impend­ing deaths.

Not a thought was giv­en to sleep­ing police­men, actu­al police­men, cross­ing guards, brighter sig­nage, more stop­lights. The Boule­vard was ful­ly formed and immutable. You don’t move among traf­fic with­out an acute aware­ness that time is gain­ing on you. Over­lay speed on place and you know your term here is fixed. But even in spite of its parade of patholo­gies, I knew that Armistice Boule­vard was just as much a part of my expe­ri­ence as Lie Park.

*

One evening, when my wife said she was stay­ing in Mid­town for din­ner with a friend who I know now wasn’t just that, I walked back to the Arm. In a very real sort of way I felt cleaved, that there was a part of me tak­ing this walk because the idea of wan­der­ing the bor­ough had start­ed to coa­lesce from point­less strolling impuls­es into a thing with form and teeth; and anoth­er part that need­ed to be out of the house. These were two entire­ly dif­fer­ent motives head­ing toward their own objec­tives. To walk as an observ­er was sound enough to lead me, open-eyed, some­place I hadn’t intend­ed to go. I might have start­ed on Armistice (it was only two blocks from our own house) and paid atten­tion to the rock­et-pro­pelled traf­fic, the pre­pon­der­ance of big box stores, from dia­per empo­ria to cof­fin deal­er­ships but soon­er or lat­er some­thing would have pulled me aside. Or some­one. A voice, a mem­o­ry, an unde­fined urge. To walk through the city with­out pur­pose is to leave your­self sus­cep­ti­ble to hid­den grav­i­ties. We’ve aged out the fla­neur. There are too many large bod­ies and sin­gu­lar­i­ties.

But if I’d gone sim­ply to go, to remove myself from a place that I’d already pol­lut­ed with bad feel­ing and was well on its way to becom­ing a spir­i­tu­al brown­field, then I could have set off for the Arm know­ing my course was not in any dan­ger of devi­at­ing. Grief makes pre­cise nav­i­ga­tors. We run cold and true. Which would it be then, the observ­er or the escapee? To be both was impos­si­ble. I stood between the Astral 17 Sta­di­um Mul­ti­plex and a school bus whole­saler and had to assume a role. The air around me feels brit­tle and I’m slight­ly nau­seous. I’m not good at deci­sions.

 

From the writer

:: Account ::

In Feb­ru­ary of 2001 I was laid off from my dot-com job in Man­hat­tan. I was giv­en an obscene­ly large sev­er­ance pack­age. A week lat­er I got a phone call telling me I’d been accept­ed to grad school.

I had mon­ey and nowhere to be and a date of depar­ture. So I start­ed walk­ing. I walked from the West Vil­lage to Coney Island. I walked up Broad­way to the Clois­ters. If there is one thing New York is good for it’s that its unceas­ing human fric­tion is a strong way of get­ting you mov­ing.

In an “Art of Non­fic­tion” inter­view in The Paris Review, Geoff Dyer makes the claim that the dis­tinc­tion between fic­tion and non­fic­tion isn’t about facts but form. There obvi­ous­ly is no sixth bor­ough of New York, but mov­ing through that or any city—and the psy­chic imprint left by move­ment and place—is a form fit­ted to truth. The inven­tion of street names or topo­graph­ic details does not make the act of emo­tion­al obser­va­tion as evoked by place less real. (Tryvge Lie was real, if that mat­ters.) The New York here is my New York: a hec­tic and bewil­der­ing and sur­pris­ing place, and a ter­ri­ble one for the lone­ly. It does not mat­ter what that feel­ing is laid over. If the form car­ries the expec­ta­tion and feel­ing of truth, then there is no rea­son not to call it true.

 

Pete Segall is a grad­u­ate of the Iowa Writ­ers’ Work­shop, where he was a Tru­man Capote Fel­low. His work has appeared in Con­junc­tions, Elec­tric Literature’s Rec­om­mend­ed Read­ing, Smoke­Long Quar­ter­ly, Match­bookJoy­land, and else­where, and is forth­com­ing in The Lit­er­ary Review. He has received fel­low­ships from the Ver­mont Stu­dio Cen­ter and Vir­ginia Cen­ter for the Cre­ative Arts.

Anatomy of a Ghost

Nonfiction / Brian Clifton

:: Anatomy of a Ghost ::

A young woman bolts out of her house; she appears to be chased by some­thing invis­i­ble. As she zigza­gs around the street, her focus shifts from some­thing fol­low­ing to what is in front of her. She gazes at the cam­era. Her face is both ter­ri­fied and des­per­ate. She looks simul­ta­ne­ous­ly at the view­er and her invis­i­ble chas­er because, for a moment, they are the same. She jukes and darts back into her house, and the cam­era pans to fol­low her. Almost imme­di­ate­ly, she reemerges and runs to a car. She peels out and down the block.

This is the first scene of It Fol­lows—a movie that fol­lows a young woman, Jay, and her friends as they are ter­ror­ized by an invis­i­ble mon­ster whose blood­lust seeks the newest per­son added to a long chain of sex­u­al encoun­ters. The mon­ster is slow and relent­less. It can imper­son­ate any­one, but often it takes the appear­ance of those famil­iar to its tar­get. Through­out the film, char­ac­ters sub­tly break the fourth wall—both in the pres­ence and absence of the imposter that fol­lows.

In the film’s next scene, the cam­era is perched in the back­seat as the young woman dri­ves down a high­way. She white-knuck­les the steer­ing wheel. As if by twitch, she turns to look behind her.

*


                              S-O-S 
                              she’s   in disguise. 
                              S-O-S 
                              she’s   in disguise. 
                              There’s a 
                              she-wolf 
                              in 
                              disguise.

*

One night, after crash­ing my bicy­cle, I booked an Uber to dri­ve me from West­port, the swift­ly gen­tri­fied bar dis­trict of South Kansas City, to where I lived in the His­toric North­east. My apart­ment lurked behind the inter­sec­tion of Glad­stone Boule­vard and Inde­pen­dence Avenue, which put it very east of Troost (the street that the Nichols fam­i­ly used to red­line Kansas City in order to keep African Amer­i­cans and Jews pinned between high­ways and sep­a­rate from the WASP‑y pop­u­la­tion they desired) and a smidge east of Prospect, which was often cit­ed, despite the inter­mit­tent opu­lence and pover­ty east and west of the street, as the bound­ary between those who had and those who had not.

I loaded my bike into the Uber’s van and got into the front seat. The dri­ver cruised down Paseo, inch­ing clos­er and clos­er to my neigh­bor­hood. We drove under a high­way; the dri­ver looked around as gourmet donut shops were replaced by pay­day loans, as bars dis­ap­peared and con­ve­nience stores filled their places. He looked at me. He said, This is not you.

Yes, I respond­ed. He pushed fur­ther, repeat­ing this-is-not-you like a hook. At first, I tried to explain that I did in fact live in this part of town. Unable to con­vince him, I qui­et­ed, try­ing instead to con­vince myself—a sit­u­a­tion made more dif­fi­cult by my recent accep­tance into a grad­u­ate pro­gram, a return to the insti­tu­tion that I had fled years before.

Is this me? I asked myself as I wheeled my bicy­cle into my apart­ment. Is this me? I asked my stu­dents when I lec­tured about “the the­sis.” Is this me? I asked my plan­ner, its days filled with “assign­ments.” Is this me? I asked my school email address, its seams split­ting with the uncat­e­go­rized waves of announce­ments, ques­tions, adver­tise­ments, and sur­veys.

*

“Even Bri­an has been pub­lished!” I over­heard one PhD stu­dent say to anoth­er. It was at night. We were at a bar. My first year of the pro­gram and fresh from a string of man­u­script rejec­tions, I already had a bad case of Imposter Syn­drome. Approach­ing 30, I was often embar­rassed by it—I thought I should have grown out of the feel­ing by now, but here it was like a sheep­ish child peer­ing out from behind me.

I con­tin­ue to social­ize with this man. He is a poet I admire. Our con­ver­sa­tions are slight­ly awk­ward, but no more so than any two peo­ple who have only a vague connection—a base­ball fan and a beach vol­ley­ball fan bond­ing over their love of “sport.” He is nei­ther hos­tile nor resent­ful; I nev­er hear him say any­thing sim­i­lar about me or any­one else again.

Some­times, I won­der if that was what was said at all or just what I heard. Oth­er times, I won­der if that dis­tinc­tion mat­ters.

*

Baby, baby, baby, oh, baby, baby, baby, no. I whis­per-sing on a friend’s bal­cony. These are the lyrics to Justin Bieber’s “Baby,” a song that lands rel­a­tive­ly ear­ly in Bieber’s oeu­vre. I have nev­er heard the song: not on the inter­net, not on the radio, not at par­ties. Yet, the hook, which I’ve tak­en to whis­per-sing when I need to vocal­ize but have noth­ing to say, is some­how ingrained in my mind. My friend says that I’m singing it wrong and pulls out her phone to find a video of the song on YouTube.

Please, don’t do that, I plead. Baby, baby, baby, no, baby, baby, baby, oh. I con­tin­ue to say the words out of sync as the song’s first bars twin­kle through her iPhone. A man sticks his head out of the apart­ment and calls for her. She leaves. I stay on the bal­cony, say­ing again Baby, baby, baby, oh, baby, baby, baby, no.

I think about the moment’s uncan­ni­ness. What is more sim­i­lar to Justin Bieber, his record­ed voice, dig­i­tized and squeezed through the air, some cir­cuit­ry, the almost mol­e­c­u­lar sized iPhone speak­er, or Bri­an Clifton whis­per-singing the hook to a song Bieber had sung near­ly a decade ago when puber­ty had not yet carved away his boy­ish­ness? Which enti­ty is the imposter?

*

Between my first and sec­ond year of my PhD stud­ies, I had two jobs. I was a teach­ing assis­tant for a lit­er­a­ture class. I washed dish­es to make ends meet over the sum­mer. My sched­ule was Fri­day through Mon­day 5:00pm to 2:00am. The work was short, rep­e­ti­tious, and gru­el­ing. Often, I found it hard to grip things dur­ing my days off because my hands were so sore. My feet shriv­eled from being con­stant­ly wet. Because I lived in a col­lege town, most of my cowork­ers attend­ed the uni­ver­si­ty I attend­ed. One of the servers, Fran­cie, I knew from the lit­er­a­ture class I taught direct­ly before I washed dish­es.

When Fran­cie came back to the dish pit, we would talk about lit­er­a­ture, her immi­nent grad­u­a­tion, and the oth­er stu­dents in the class. At first, we orches­trate this show each shift we have togeth­er. Slow­ly, our words become clipped. Slow­ly, there ceas­es to be a need to express our­selves.

*

In sev­enth grade, AOL Instant Mes­sen­ger (AIM) enthralled my friends. We chat­ted online; we made away mes­sages from the lyrics of our favorite songs; we sent each oth­er the screen names of strangers. One evening an AIM win­dow popped up on my com­put­er, “hey.” “hey. whos this?”

The gener­ic screen name, bedaz­zled with punc­tu­a­tion marks, responded—it belonged to a girl (was her name Mad­die?). We chat­ted for weeks. We divulged secrets. We devel­oped some­thing akin to feel­ings. We agreed that we were dat­ing. We had nev­er met each oth­er. We were text bounc­ing through cir­cuit boards.

*

Anato­my of a Ghost was also a screamo band from the ear­ly aughts. The group nev­er achieved wide­spread suc­cess, dis­band­ing after their first album in 2004. A cou­ple mem­bers went on to start Por­tu­gal. The Man, an indie pop out­fit that now crafts com­mer­cial-ready licks. Their fourth album, The Satan­ic Satanist, is a col­lec­tion of down-tem­po soul­ful indie pop.

One day after dri­ving my car, my dad runs into our house and demands I burn him a copy of what­ev­er CD was play­ing in the dash. As I do, he raves about the band’s sound, about how it is music. I give him the Mem­o­rex disc, “Por­tu­gal. The Man – The Satan­ic Satanist,” writ­ten in Sharpie on it.

My dad nev­er speaks of this album or them again, and so, in our brains, the band returns to its pre­vi­ous oth­er-life: a dis­mem­bered specter, a dia­gram of a mem­o­ry.

*

We   hear
the   night
watchman
click   his 
flashlight, 
ask if it’s 
him      or 
them 
that’s 
insane.

*

After Jay and her para­mour have sex in an aban­doned park­ing lot, he drugs her, ties her to a wheel­chair, and brings her into a dilap­i­dat­ed build­ing. Jay ques­tions her lover, who explains the monster’s motive and the sim­ple rules by which it abides, name­ly that it fol­lows who­ev­er had sex with the most recent­ly cursed per­son. The two then see an approach­ing fig­ure. As the boy wheels Jay around, the two face direct­ly into the cam­era. Jay screams, “What do you want?”

Soon, Jay real­izes that the boy was not lying. The mon­ster enters her home, caus­ing her to flee to a park on a bicy­cle. Her friends and her neigh­bor, Greg, run after her. They tell Greg some­one had bro­ken into her house. Sob­bing in close-up, Jay says, “I need to find him.” The cam­era shows Jay and her friends fac­ing the view­er while Greg’s right tor­so fills the left side of the frame. It is as if the char­ac­ters are hud­dled, delib­er­at­ing, in a cir­cle under a street­light and the cam­era hangs in the space between being occlud­ed from the group and com­plet­ing the hud­dle. Respond­ing to Jay’s demand, Greg says, “The per­son who broke into your house.” His inflec­tion makes his words both a state­ment and a ques­tion. He removes his hand from the pock­et of his den­im jack­et and ges­tures behind him. His thumb points into the cam­era.

The group finds the boy who had cursed Jay with the mon­ster. Real­iz­ing the mon­ster is real, they dri­ve to Greg’s family’s lake house. When the mon­ster arrives, it chas­es Jay and her friends into a boat shed. It busts a cir­cu­lar hole into the shed’s door. The group looks through it as if through a viewfind­er at the beach where they had just been. The only dif­fer­ence between what the group sees and what the view­er had just seen is the absence of them­selves.

*

No Brain­er” fea­tures Justin Bieber—his voice being more impor­tant than his lyrics, which any­one can find online. Dust­ed by post-pro­duc­tion mag­ic, Bieber’s vocal track is otherworldly—simultaneously strain­ing to sound con­fi­dent and sex­u­al while remain­ing lock-step and mech­a­nized. Life­less yet relent­less, Bieber’s vocals are a mall pop­u­lat­ed by repli­cants.

The uncan­ni­ness that envelopes Bieber’s voice increas­es through­out “No Brain­er,” cul­mi­nat­ing in an intri­cate war­ren of Bieber’s hook with a slew of falset­to har­monies and trilling whoas. The tan­gled melodies ghost mul­ti­ple Bieber’s and mul­ti­ple, frag­ment­ed moments with­in Bieber’s ser­e­nade.

Lis­ten­ing to the song is to under­stand that its mes­sage doesn’t come direct­ly from one (or many) human beings but instead is a string of sounds pro­duced to imi­tate human con­nec­tion via lan­guage. “No Brain­er” is a love song sung by no one to no one.

*

I read a book of gar­ish sen­tences. I do not bring up my judg­ment in class (or I do). Even I roll my eyes at this type of per­for­mance.

*

In morn­ing traf­fic between Dal­las and Den­ton, I sit at a stand­still in the left-most lane. I am alone. The sun has come up (I know by the time I get back home it will have gone down). On the shoul­der, near the con­crete bar­ri­er between I‑35 North and I‑35 south, is a dead pit­bull. Its body is rigid but not bloat­ed. Its fur is gore-stained. I think, because it was hit on the high­way, it must have died near instan­ta­neous­ly; I do not know how these things work.

The dog corpse is next to me. We hov­er near each oth­er for what seems to be an eter­ni­ty. The dog’s pelt does not appear bro­ken, though its insides jut angu­lar­ly, sug­gest­ing the chaos that the col­li­sion must have ini­ti­at­ed with­in the pitbull’s body. As I stare at the dead body, I bring my hand to my mouth and my eyes water—my mind still sting­ing from, weeks before, believ­ing my own pet was about to die.

Traf­fic lurch­es for­ward, dis­si­pates. I speed off to drop off rent and then to teach fresh­men the neces­si­ty of a the­sis. I hear myself say, Why did you cov­er your mouth? Go through the per­for­mance of tears and then not cry?

*

Fran­cie was not the only stu­dent I worked with. As I would find out in the fall, Claris­sa would also be a stu­dent of mine. Over the sum­mer, Claris­sa watched me dance to songs about how sex on a sofa can be a type of yoga, about want­i­ng men in Timb’s, about basic bitch­es think­ing I’m a head case.

On the first day of class, I walked into class and see Claris­sa in her black, cat-eyed glass­es. She sat near the back. I told her specif­i­cal­ly hel­lo. I imme­di­ate­ly became a dish­wash­er mas­querad­ing as a pro­fes­sor. I tried to restart my per­for­mance of a “laid back” prof. I stum­bled. I got through class. After­ward, I asked Claris­sa if she is alright being in my class. She said she was. Great, I said.

*

In my ear­ly twen­ties, I saw Por­tu­gal. The Man play a small venue in Lawrence. I had dri­ven there from Kansas City with an ex-girl­friend and her new boyfriend who was a friend of mine. We smoked weed in the car. I was unsure what to say, so I drove faster, hop­ing soon the venue would be so full of music I could feel safe­ly alone. When the band struck up, I snuck into the crowd and twitched like a sad virus.

*

After work, I dri­ve an hour home. My car’s check engine light flash­es at me (indi­cat­ing mis­fires). Anoth­er light on the dash informs me my airbag sys­tem is mal­func­tion­ing. For the past four­teen miles, a small orange gas pump has shone next to my fuel gage. When I pull off the high­way, my car strains and rat­tles; things grate against each oth­er; met­al squeaks when I stop. My car is its own imposter, and a poor one at that.

*

I am that 
bitch, 
I'm-a, 
I'm-a that 
bih,   yeah 
You  know 
I'm     that 
bih,   can't 
get  off   of 
this      dih, 
yeah

*

I tilt­ed my head and bobbed it back and forth. I said with a smile, “Nice.” I let my body go slack. I repeat­ed this action, say­ing var­i­ous pos­i­tive phras­es: fuck yeah, sick, that’s rad. It was dark. Dal­las unfurled into bits of halo­gen. I con­tin­ued to imi­tate the friends I believed sup­port­ed every­one.

*

It Fol­lows ends with Jay and Paul hold­ing hands and walk­ing down a neigh­bor­hood street. The mon­ster that fol­lowed had not been defeat­ed so much as rerout­ed; scenes ear­li­er Paul dri­ves to a seedy and indus­tri­al part of Detroit to vis­it a sex work­er. It is implied the plan was to pass the crea­ture to some­one who rou­tine­ly had sex with a vast array of peo­ple.

One of the most com­pelling ambi­gu­i­ties of the film, for me, is its mes­sage. Is It Fol­lows anti-sex? There are plen­ty of indi­ca­tions that this is the case—a mon­ster that is sent to pun­ish the sex­u­al­ly active, the reduc­tion of human sex­u­al­i­ty to a trans­ac­tion for sur­vival (the sex scenes in the film play out self-seri­ous and duti­ful with more des­per­a­tion than pas­sion). Yet the sex­u­al con­tent of It Fol­lows is shown neu­tral­ly. Nei­ther Jay nor Paul are shamed for their sex­u­al­i­ty once becom­ing sex­u­al­ly active. And in one scene the two char­ac­ters rem­i­nisce about find­ing pornog­ra­phy and look­ing at it as a group on one of their lawns. Paul says, “We had no idea how bad it was.”

This sen­ti­ment, cou­pled with how often the fourth wall is bro­ken, seems to push the film’s mes­sage away from being anti-sex into being a more nuanced cri­tique of social­ized sham­ing. Maybe the film’s mon­ster then becomes not a pun­ish­ment for sex but an embod­i­ment of the inse­cu­ri­ties Jay and Paul project onto indi­vid­u­als of their repressed and repress­ing society—what would my neighbors/mother/cousins/friends think if they knew I had had sex? Or maybe it is the inse­cu­ri­ties these peo­ple have of per­form­ing sexually—did I enjoy this encounter enough or was my plea­sure a show?

*

I pulled into our dri­ve­way around 2:45am. I had fin­ished a clos­ing shift wash­ing dish­es. The radio’s rapid twitches—extreme met­al-click-Viet­namese lounge-click-bub­blegum pop-click-neo-lib­er­tar­i­an con­spir­a­cy theories-click-trap-click-advertisement—wafted like dust around my still and silent hatch­back.

I show­ered and drank a Topo Chico. I sat, my hair wrapped in a tow­el. I refreshed my email. I checked my bank account. I stum­bled into the dark bed­room; Rowen, my part­ner, was curled on her side, already asleep. We spooned in the way long­time lovers must on a full mat­tress.

My body still vibrat­ed from the quick suc­ces­sion of repet­i­tive tasks I had done for the past eight and a half hours. I won­dered if, even while sleep­ing, Rowen could know I was the one in the dark with her. Was there an essen­tial aspect to me, my touch that let her know I was there and not anoth­er? Was this the case with every­one? If so, why did my eyes watch the door ready for a ter­ror to waltz through when­ev­er Rowen left to use the bath­room, why did I imper­cep­ti­bly jump when she clutched my body in the dark?

As I thought and thought, I sat up and craned my head over so I could see around her shoul­ders, her hair. In the dark, I squint­ed at her, find­ing what made this sleep­ing face hers. Yes, the body next to me was Rowen. Yes, I am myself. I fell asleep.

*

A few days before a mid­dle school mix­er, I mes­saged Mad­die, “we should meet at the dance.”

…”

… ☺”

ok”

I wait­ed, but Mad­die didn’t show. Our par­ents arrived. Mad­die dis­ap­peared from AIM. A few weeks lat­er, a friend told me Mad­die was real­ly Justin, a boy in our class, the whole thing was a joke, and many peo­ple were aware of it.

I looked at Justin, at the oth­er kids in the class—aware of the dif­fer­ence between how they saw me and how I had seen myself in the past weeks, aware of the dif­fer­ence between how I had seen them before and how I saw them after.

*

Years after first see­ing Por­tu­gal. The Man, I rode my bicy­cle around Kansas City and came across a free con­cert series on top of hill that ris­es between I‑35 and Broad­way Boule­vard. Head­lin­ing the event was Por­tu­gal. The Man. I locked up my bike and made my way to the front of the stage. I hard­ly rec­og­nized the band—the singer, who used to posi­tion his mic side­ways so he wouldn’t have to look at the crowd, direct­ly addressed us, his hair recent­ly cut short, his lips accen­tu­at­ed with a neat mous­tache.

Por­tu­gal. The Man played songs I did not rec­og­nize. All around me were peo­ple I did not know bop­ping along in flip-flops, cut-offs, tank tops, and ungod­ly flu­o­res­cent rimmed sun­glass­es. I drift­ed back, watch­ing the space I had occu­pied in the crowd slow­ly dis­perse, like a ghost into the stained walls of a haunt­ed house.

*

A man mes­sages me on Face­book. He tells me Rick Barot sent him a per­son­al rejec­tion for a group of poems he sub­mit­ted to the New Eng­land Review. He, this man, men­tored me dur­ing my first stint in grad­u­ate school.

In a pre­vi­ous mes­sage, he asked, “Do you know an edi­tor there? Or is it just that your poem was THAT good?” A year pre­vi­ous, he told me that it was great that I was using my per­son­al con­nec­tions to get pub­lished.

I con­grat­u­late this man. I say good things are com­ing.

*

For a time dur­ing my com­mute, I repeat, Why did you cov­er your mouth? Go through the per­for­mance of tears and then not cry? It is true: there was no one else in my car and I doubt any­one in traf­fic was mon­i­tor­ing me, I felt no con­nec­tion to this ani­mal oth­er than the one all ani­mals feel, I will not be both­ered by this expe­ri­ence a year from now. As if by twitch, I look behind me. I switch lanes. I look in the mir­ror and see myself look­ing back. Maybe every­one per­forms a lit­tle for them­selves, for the micro­scop­ic feed­back loop between the synapse and the eye, the ear, the hand, the nose. Maybe this per­for­mance is nec­es­sary, but why? And for whom do we bring our hands to our mouths—the future self or the past? Are they so dis­tinct?

*

 I’m 
different. 
Yeah,   I’m 
different 
—pull    up 
to          the 
scene   with 
my   ceiling 
missing.

*

A pro­fes­sor posts a ques­tion in an online dis­cus­sion board. I answer his ques­tion with a series of ques­tions. In class he ref­er­ences Rosen­crantz and Guildenstern’s game of ques­tions. I don’t get the ref­er­ence, but I laugh and say I hadn’t thought of it that way.

*

Mov­ing up an onto­log­i­cal lev­el, It Fol­lows unspools like a dream, a pro­jec­tion of the viewer’s inse­cu­ri­ties onto the suc­ces­sion of dig­i­tal images. The sound­track aids this effect. Crys­talline and dis­tort­ed synths dis­solve into ethe­re­al amor­phous swells; it is simul­ta­ne­ous­ly a prod­uct of a Vase­line-smeared 80s aes­thet­ic and dis­tinct­ly sep­a­rate from it (a ghost of the future the 80s pre­dict­ed that nev­er came). The sound­track becomes most haunt­ing­ly poignant in the film’s final scene. Its syn­thet­ic tex­tures fade into crisp ren­di­tions of birds and yard work—close yet uncan­ni­ly dis­tant from sound­ing nat­ur­al like how a voice in a dream booms with­in the dream-self’s mind rather than emanates from the mouth of its speak­er.

Jay and Paul walk, hold­ing hands. Their heads casu­al­ly rotate from each oth­er to the cam­era, to the side­walk, to the hous­es around them as does ours—another instance of the bro­ken fourth wall. Like the sound­track, they become immersed in the nat­u­ral­is­tic sounds. Jay’s sex­u­al his­to­ry is known to us, the view­er, and to Paul. Paul’s sex­u­al his­to­ry is known to Jay and to us. We exist, the three us—Jay, Paul, and viewer—aware of each oth­er, con­clu­sive­ly our­selves as we gaze as if there were noth­ing before our eyes—absences ready to be filled.

*

One night dur­ing clos­ing, I put on Dead in the Dirt’s The Blind Hole. The songs pum­mel their feed­back-laced riffs and snare-heavy blast beats into every­thing 50 sec­onds at a time. I tow­el melt­ed ice cream from the dish rack. I hose bits of bacon and grilled chick­en cling­ing to the side of the dish­wash­er. I squeegee a grey-white liq­uid from where the walls meet the floor to the drains in the cen­ter of the room. Dead in the Dirt grinds. Dead in the Dirt screams. “I was a dog on a short chain and now there’s no chain.”

 

 

From the writer

:: Account ::

Between semes­ters of the PhD pro­gram I was a dish­wash­er at a restau­rant where two of my stu­dents also worked. I had been feel­ing like I didn’t belong in acad­e­mia and this, to me, fur­ther insin­u­at­ed that. I want­ed to show a mind wrestling with the con­stant­ly mutat­ing per­for­mance of self that is asked of a per­son in pub­lic no mat­ter where that is. Who am I in the car? Who am I at my job? Who am I at the gro­cery store? Are all these selves com­pat­i­ble?

I also thought using song lyrics from musi­cians that had gone through dra­mat­ic per­sona shifts—Shakira’s move from Span­ish-lan­guage to Eng­lish-lan­guage pop star, Bob Dylan’s chameleon-like iden­ti­ty, Qveen Herby’s move from Dis­ney star to raunch rap, 2Chainz’s move from Tity Boi to trap star—would trou­ble the idea of per­for­mance and authen­tic­i­ty. What does it mean when the peo­ple whose words infil­trate a lot of my day are play act­ing as some­one oth­er than them­selves?

 

Bri­an Clifton is a PhD stu­dent at the Uni­ver­si­ty of North Texas. His work can be found in: Pleiades, Guer­ni­ca, Cincin­nati Review, Salt Hill, Prairie Schooner, The Jour­nal, Beloit Poet­ry Jour­nal, and oth­er mag­a­zines. He is an avid record col­lec­tor and cura­tor of curiosi­ties.

Three Poems

Poetry / Alicia Wright

:: Compress Pastoral ::

          for Jude Walters, operator at Rome Cotton Compress Company

Not another one like it for a hundred-odd miles

This cotton compress’s so efficient it needs only one operator 

No spider men darting around iron legs losing fingers

The oldest one still in operation also owned by the same man 

Whose customary reticence shortened threads we have left

Jude who runs the big machine while its owner hunts in Nova Scotia 

Selling bale by bale in Boston bale by bale 500 lbs a bale

Stated commission: 50 cents per bale when local sourcing 

These bales the preference of the surrounding mills 

Prices shift per telegram: 5 1/8, 5 5/8 4s you don’t care 

Top crop or small fruit which makes the grade

Even disinterested experts confirm the plant’s superior 

Whether or not the cotton’s injured or will have a bad showing 

Harbor (meaning wait and do nothing) as spots don’t respond 

To decline in futures

Jude you are full of care moving under the belly

The machine like a ladder too high to picture with its bell dome 

Crushing the cotton you confirmed was of quality not slipping 

In thinning gradients these distinctions to you the most clear


The Cloud of Unknow­ing, Chap­ter 20: Almighty God will answer well for all those who choose not to give up their devo­tion to lov­ing him in order to jus­ti­fy them­selves.

 

:: Buckshot ::

          from Anec­dotes and Rem­i­nis­cences in A His­to­ry of Rome and Floyd Coun­ty by          George Macrud­er Bat­tey Jr. (1922)

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Cloud of Unknow­ing, Chap­ter 53: Var­i­ous kinds of unseem­ly behav­iour that attend those who dis­re­gard the work dis­cussed in this book.

 

:: Irradiation ::

          Harbin Clinic, Rome, Georgia

I.

The cot­ton bro­ker could afford 100 grams of radi­um,
          which he pur­chased, in con­sul­ta­tion with his doc­tor,
in the sum­mer of 1919. Two facil­i­ties pro­duced a quan­ti­ty
          enough to be con­sid­ered for phil­an­thropic acqui­si­tion:
one in Pitts­burgh, anoth­er Den­ver. Because the one
          out west was cheap­er, per­haps spec­u­la­tive­ly, the bro­ker
placed his order there. It arrived to Rome’s med­ical clin­ic
          intend­ed for the treat­ment of those who could not
oth­er­wise afford it. Some side effects were begin­ning
          to be chart­ed: lac­er­a­tion, red­den­ing of skin, small burns,
dete­ri­o­ra­tion & weak­ness over­all, but the cot­ton bro­ker
          pressed his busi­ness. The cot­ton bro­ker named him­self,
a record shows, a cap­i­tal­ist, & in Boston medi­at­ed sales of bales
          grown from the upland soil tilled by pen­nied Recon­struc­tion
labor. He was over­com­pen­sat­ed hand­some­ly. He built schools.
          He upheld codes. He owned a tex­tile mill him­self, through
his wife’s family’s tragedy: one broth­er shot a fiancé, but
          that’s anoth­er angle—a mark way down a bar­rel. Or is it, as
the deep ther­a­py X‑ray machine the bro­ker bought for the
          ema­na­tion of irra­di­ate lumi­nous met­al into super­fi­cial
der­mis shows oth­er­wise devel­op­ing cells, dis­col­orations, pro­tru­sions,
          tumors? The excres­cence of a body willed mys­te­ri­ous­ly away.
The X‑ray is a vehi­cle for sight into tis­sue, for secrets kept
          by bod­ies until cut, or split, whose cracks or seep­ages would
self-expire. They acti­vat­ed radi­um into an idea so they’d con­tact
          the insides of them­selves, & blast through killing parts.

II.

The results report­ed back to the bro­ker jus­ti­fied expense:
Dur­ing the month of March, we had nine cas­es for Radi­um. These cas­es,

with one excep­tion, were small local­ized car­ci­no­mas, which
usu­al­ly respond quite read­i­ly to Radi­um treat­ment, and sev­er­al

of these have dis­ap­peared already. One was an exten­sive car­ci­no­ma
of the breast in which Radi­um was post-oper­a­tive, and in which

oper­a­tion itself would not have been attempt­ed, had not pos­sessed
Radi­um to fol­low it up. Four were car­ci­no­mas about the head and face

in which sur­gi­cal mea­sures would have been impos­si­ble and where
the only relief lay in the use of Radi­um. The doc­tor, cau­tious

with the appli­ca­tion of his source, the Radi­um Fund, added
on, appre­cia­tive­ly: You may be inter­est­ed to know that one of the

first cas­es upon which we used the Radi­um, in a fibroid tumor, returned
sev­er­al days ago and the tumor has entire­ly dis­ap­peared.

III.

          The bro­ker & the doc­tor under­stood each oth­er, under­stood
the fragili­ty & impact, the work of local use. Two knowl­edge

sys­tems over­lay, begin to blur to one action: a fund­ed fund,
          a store of pos­si­bil­i­ty. The pos­si­bil­i­ty itself makes bod­ies glow,

brains glow imag­in­ing their work: direct a tube con­duct­ing
          volt­age, at low wattage—& point the brain toward the body, watch

no, feel the work begin. The nec­es­sary burn­ing through, though
          inter­nal tumors could not be reached with­out irrecov­er­able sear,

& if the X‑ray’s effects were not enough, poi­son radi­um drops bead­ing
          from a met­al tube tip would be touched to tumor, to affect­ed area.

The cap­i­tal of skin con­densed by their for­mal dia­logue. The cap­i­tal
          of who’s attritional—some bod­ies, say the blast­ing tubes, inflam­ing

brains, are to be seen in terms of use, dis­use. Lan­guages of care
          & cap­i­tal mutate, bro­ker­ing, ray­ing out from the lim­its of what

could be known, of what the two men could & would be will­ing
          to be shown. The sto­ry here is not an ele­gy, attend­ing to a death,

though some patients did die despite treat­ment: Dead, four; cured,
          twen­ty-six; under treat­ment, twen­ty-four; and hope­less, sev­en, wrote the

doc­tor some months lat­er. There are quite a num­ber of these who are
          now under treat­ment who I feel sure we will be able to trans­fer to the group

of cured. Those which I have clas­si­fied as hope­less are ones which pre­sent­ed an              impos­si­ble con­di­tion when they first came and for whom we used

the radi­um with the hope of relief. What grows from liv­ing bod­ies
          helps us mea­sure dis­tance? What then when a body’s dead?

Care’s cap­i­tal dis­placed into out­come, pro­fes­sion­al­ly detached—
          how if we care to deter­mine good from bad, bad from worse,

& good from bet­ter shapes into, from history’s lens, nar­ra­tive
          abscess­es. From exter­nal beam what can be seen, which sam­ples

ought be held to light? Let­ters & accounts come radi­at­ing selves—
          archival resonance—through con­tact, brought to sight, illu­mined

struc­tures, the dam­age in mate­r­i­al, a body’s seg­ment lay­ered into shapes
          & scanned for mean­ing. To look at some­one like a ray. To see

their body stark, back­lit, hold­ing self, cur­va­tures of mes­sages dis­tend­ed,
          how heal­ing is a sil­hou­ette of pow­er in tech­nol­o­gy applied

to voices—past this half life each one a sep­a­rate sound, a sanc­ti­ty.
          The ques­tion of who speaks, and if one speaks, one must attune

through lay­ing self aside, let work work its way to heal or recom­bine.
          The question’s if these, their forms, have been, will be benign.

 

 

From the writer

:: Account ::

Com­press Pas­toral

The rela­tion­ship between the writer and the archive is, in a sense, a con­stant, as is the idea of hav­ing inter­act­ed with that archival mate­r­i­al that changes both the writer and the extant infor­ma­tion reshaped into the poem’s present. Or, I saw a pic­ture, which exists with­in my family’s archive, of a man iden­ti­fied as Jude, stand­ing before this mas­sive, mon­strous machine called a cot­ton com­press, which com­pact­ed bales of cot­ton into incred­i­bly dense seg­ments of mate­r­i­al. I want to memo­ri­al­ize Jude’s skill and labor, and think about the mean­ing of his skill in rela­tion to poet­ic form, while also con­sid­er­ing the impact that indus­tri­al farm equipment—strange, now eso­teric, then-new, cut­ting-edge technology—was begin­ning to have on labor, skill, and whether and how this reori­ent­ed or atten­u­at­ed our rela­tion­ship both to land­scape and to action itself. Rather than sen­ti­men­tal­ize the past and those who lived in it, I try to think about con­di­tions, dis­tri­b­u­tions, auton­o­my, refusals, and enact­ments through both form and con­tent.

Buck­shot

So often when I’m work­ing with his­tor­i­cal mate­r­i­al from my home­town, a small town in the U.S. South, it’s as though I’m work­ing through the past’s dirt and detri­tus, try­ing to get my hands into the root sys­tems of think­ing, try­ing to find the rhi­zomes of vio­lence and vio­lent think­ing, to uproot them, pull them apart. One text clus­ter at a time. As a poet I’m not beyond satire, nor humor, and the atten­dant fears that under­gird them. Form, here, always, being tak­en dead­ly seri­ous­ly.

Irra­di­a­tion

What would it mean for a nar­ra­tive poem to con­sid­er that very per­spec­tive it occu­pies? What does it mean to [be hon­est] look, con­tin­u­al­ly, at his­to­ry, with the dou­ble vision of objec­tiv­i­ty and hermeneu­tic instinct, work­ing through accounts and infor­ma­tion, inevitably, as a poet? Can one have X ray vision, real­ly, the fan­ta­sy of true objec­tiv­i­ty, and from which tem­po­ral posi­tion would this be the most accu­rate method of seeing—and, what hap­pens, real­ly, to local think­ing, local sto­ries, once they’re sit­u­at­ed in nar­ra­tive? Can topo­graph­i­cal poetry—lyric, in a sense—and topo­log­i­cal poetry—narrative, by contrast—work in tan­dem, and would that very prac­tice itself pose risk? In a way, this is my for­ay into writ­ing into ques­tions that a poet I learn from and admire, Robyn Schiff, pos­es in her work and teach­ing.

 

Ali­cia Wright is orig­i­nal­ly from Rome, Geor­gia, and she has received fel­low­ships from the Iowa Writ­ers’ Work­shop. Poems appear or are forth­com­ing in Eco­tone, West Branch, The Lit­er­ary Review, Poet­ry North­west, Flag + Void, and The South­east Review, among oth­ers. The win­ner of the 2017 Wabash Prize from Sycamore Review, Indi­ana Review’s 2016 Poet­ry Prize, and of New South’s 2015 New Writ­ing Con­test, she is at present work­ing toward a PhD in Lit­er­ary Arts at the Uni­ver­si­ty of Den­ver, where she serves as con­ver­sa­tions edi­tor for Den­ver Quar­ter­ly.

The End of College?

Criticism / Molly K. Robey

:: The End of College? ::

In the spring of 2018, the fic­tion writer Danielle Evans vis­it­ed the small, mid­west­ern lib­er­al arts col­lege where I teach in the Eng­lish depart­ment. Evans read her recent­ly pub­lished short sto­ry, “Boys Go to Jupiter,” and I’ve been think­ing about it ever since. Clear­ly, I’m not the only one to have felt its pow­er. Rox­ane Gay recent­ly select­ed the sto­ry for the 2018 edi­tion of the icon­ic Best Amer­i­can Short Sto­ries series.

Boys Go to Jupiter” tells the sto­ry of Claire, a white, first-year stu­dent at fic­tion­al Den­nis Col­lege in New Eng­land, who finds her­self at the cen­ter of esca­lat­ing con­tro­ver­sy after a pho­to­graph of her wear­ing a Con­fed­er­ate flag biki­ni goes viral. She’s goad­ed into wear­ing the swim­suit by a tem­po­rary boyfriend, and she goes along with it, hop­ing the “trashy” biki­ni will piss off her new step­moth­er. Claire bare­ly reg­is­ters the sig­nif­i­cance of her cloth­ing choice, until the boyfriend posts the pho­to to Face­book. It doesn’t take long for the pho­to to become a sub­ject of intense debate and con­tro­ver­sy. Claire’s African-Amer­i­can hall mate prompt­ly sees the pho­to and tweets her out­rage. Claire’s pho­to is repost­ed and re-tweet­ed in var­i­ous con­texts. The local­ly trend­ing top­ic #clairewil­liamsva­ca­tion­ideas includes the sug­ges­tions “Auschwitz, My Lai,” and “Wound­ed Knee.” [i] An orga­ni­za­tion named the Her­itage Defend­ers takes up what they imag­ine to be Claire’s cause (though Claire, a recent res­i­dent of the north­ern Vir­ginia sub­urbs, can hard­ly claim south­ern iden­ti­ty). Claire’s email address is made pub­lic, and hun­dreds of angry, sup­port­ive, and porno­graph­ic mes­sages find their way to her inbox. With­in a few days, the Den­nis Col­lege cam­pus has erupt­ed in ten­sion. Claire her­self dou­bles down in the midst of this con­tro­ver­sy, print­ing a Con­fed­er­ate flag post­card for the hall mate and post­ing anoth­er to her dorm door. Claire’s advis­er and the Vice Dean of Diver­si­ty ask Claire to apol­o­gize for her behav­ior. At the cam­pus town hall held to help stu­dents process the anger and fear the biki­ni pho­to has inspired, Claire remains unre­pen­tant. In this moment, sur­round­ed by angry peers, Claire per­sists in telling her­self “she can still be any­body she wants to.” [ii]

For those of us who work and live in the world of the small lib­er­al arts col­lege, the story’s events ring true. Over the past four years, our small school has wit­nessed assort­ed inci­dents: the tear­ing down of Black Lives Mat­ter posters and the defac­ing of Mus­lim Stu­dent Asso­ci­a­tion posters, the scrawl­ing of the n‑word across the “Aspi­ra­tion Foun­tain” where ori­en­ta­tion lead­ers encour­age first-year stu­dents to chalk their hopes and dreams. We’ve watched the uni­ver­si­ty respond to each inci­dent in its insti­tu­tion­al man­ner, with forums held and force­ful yet vague promis­es made to meet stu­dent demands for a bet­ter, more inclu­sive, cam­pus cli­mate. Stu­dents have orga­nized and request­ed that fac­ul­ty receive manda­to­ry diver­si­ty train­ing each year, and the fac­ul­ty have assent­ed. Evans’s sto­ry sug­gests that these kinds of insti­tu­tion­al respons­es are inad­e­quate; they bare­ly scratch the sur­face of the mod­ern prob­lems such events man­i­fest: the ways that social media deter­mine the truths with­in which we must live, the ways that priv­i­lege has co-opt­ed the lan­guage of resis­tance, the com­plex­i­ty of indi­vid­ual cul­pa­bil­i­ty in a sys­tem­i­cal­ly racist soci­ety. But for those of us who work in this world, some­thing else res­onates here as well. The sto­ry asserts that the idea of college—as a space of trans­for­ma­tion and reinvention—is mere fic­tion. When Claire tells her­self in the midst of this chaos that, “she can still be any­body she wants to,” we know she is wrong.

Like Claire, I believed that in col­lege I would be able to become any­body I want­ed to. This was the mid-1990s, and my pile of col­lege brochures, each thick and glossy, full of beau­ti­ful­ly casu­al peo­ple walk­ing past lush, ancient trees in their sweat­shirts, was a trea­sured stash. I stud­ied these images, try­ing to deter­mine the per­fect place to go, the place where I would become myself, some­one whol­ly new and still unthink­able. Shirley Mar­chalo­nis com­pares this ide­al of col­lege to the “green world” described by Shake­speare schol­ars. [iii] In this view, col­lege is a space “away from the ‘real world’’’ that has “its own real­i­ty,” a space that is “beau­ti­ful, mys­te­ri­ous, and mag­i­cal.” [iv] This col­lege is a “place of trans­for­ma­tion,” where “tem­po­rary inhab­i­tants grow, change, seek iden­ti­ties and find solu­tions.” [v] This col­lege was the one I assumed was wait­ing for me. The impres­sion in my mind was vague but pal­pa­ble. Much like the title char­ac­ter of Owen Johnson’s 1912 nov­el Stover at Yale, I antic­i­pat­ed the free­dom that col­lege seemed to promise. I, too, imag­ined that the free­dom “to ven­ture and to expe­ri­ence” would lead me to the knowl­edge of “that strange, guard­ed mystery—life.” [vi]

For the past few years, I have been study­ing the sto­ries we tell about col­lege. Per­haps because I keep hear­ing the refrain that high­er edu­ca­tion is in “cri­sis” (a cur­so­ry search for “cri­sis” on The Chron­i­cle of High­er Edu­ca­tion web­site will yield more than 230 arti­cles pub­lished in the past year alone), or per­haps because my stu­dents’ expe­ri­ence of col­lege life appears so dif­fer­ent from my own, I’ve felt drawn to think­ing about the ways that col­lege has been under­stood and imag­ined. The sto­ries we tell about col­lege are chang­ing. Are they chang­ing because col­lege itself has changed? A num­ber of schol­ars have assert­ed that recent decades have wit­nessed the “finan­cial­iza­tion” of the uni­ver­si­ty and that the university’s assim­i­la­tion of cor­po­rate ideals has fun­da­men­tal­ly altered edu­ca­tion. [vii] The past two decades have also seen the advent and ascen­sion of social media. Can col­lege no longer make itself a “world apart” in this dig­i­tal envi­ron­ment? Or, are the sto­ries we tell about col­lege chang­ing to reflect a real­i­ty that has always exist­ed? Was my fan­ta­sy of col­lege trans­for­ma­tion only ever fan­ta­sy, the prod­uct of some amount of priv­i­lege and blind­ness? I’ll admit there is nos­tal­gia moti­vat­ing me in this pur­suit, some impre­cise sense that things used to be bet­ter in some way. Like most nos­tal­gia, the real­i­ty turns out to be more com­plex than the con­tours of my fuzzy, sepia-toned mem­o­ries would lead me to believe.

In the Unit­ed States, sto­ries about col­lege life began to be told in the 1830s, and they gained pop­u­lar­i­ty as the nine­teenth cen­tu­ry wore on. Per­haps what is most sur­pris­ing about the pop­u­lar­i­ty of such sto­ries is that it out­paced the actu­al pop­u­lar­i­ty of col­lege itself. By 1900, only about 4 per­cent of the school-age pop­u­la­tion attend­ed col­lege. [viii] At the same time, the sub­ject of the col­lege man or col­lege girl appeared reg­u­lar­ly in pop­u­lar mag­a­zines, and books about cam­pus life enjoyed healthy sales. Despite the pauci­ty of actu­al col­lege stu­dents in the Unit­ed States in the nine­teenth and ear­ly twen­ti­eth cen­turies, the idea of col­lege cir­cu­lat­ed wide­ly and seems to have occu­pied an out­sized role in the way read­ers imag­ined the mat­u­ra­tion of the indi­vid­ual in demo­c­ra­t­ic soci­ety.

The ear­li­est of these pub­lished col­lege sto­ries sug­gest that trans­for­ma­tion and growth were cen­tral to the sto­ry of col­lege. The few schol­ars who ana­lyze col­lege fic­tion inevitably refer to sto­ries and books about cam­pus life as bil­dungsro­man, sto­ries of a young person’s devel­op­ment and emer­gence into soci­ety. Nathaniel Hawthorne’s 1828 nov­el Fan­shawe traces the mat­u­ra­tion of the fic­tion­al Harley Col­lege stu­dents Edward Wal­cott and Fan­shawe as they com­pete with each oth­er over the col­lege president’s young ward Ellen Lang­ton and lat­er res­cue her from kid­nap­ping. Wal­cott and Fan­shawe, one a rather super­fi­cial young man and the oth­er a seri­ous and sick­ly schol­ar, each change, becom­ing thought­ful men of action through their inter­ac­tions with each oth­er. [ix] Still, Fan­shawe offers a rather slight por­trait of its char­ac­ters’ devel­op­ment. 

By the end of the nine­teenth cen­tu­ry, we can read about more sub­stan­tive col­lege trans­for­ma­tions. The hand­some and care­free title char­ac­ter of Eliz­a­beth Stu­art Phelps’s 1893 nov­el Don­ald Mar­cy “finds every­thing has always come eas­i­ly to him,” until a haz­ing inci­dent gone ter­ri­bly wrong caus­es intro­spec­tion. [x] Before he even under­stands it, Mar­cy begins to see the “edu­cat­ed life” as con­nect­ed to “the hon­or and the pre­cious­ness of all those intan­gi­ble val­ues which come to a man.” [xi] Mar­cy turns away from the cap­i­tal­ism and mate­ri­al­ism of his Wall Street father and the hijinks of his ear­ly col­lege friends, find­ing self-real­iza­tion in study­ing and help­ing oth­ers. Marcy’s matu­ri­ty is due in large part to the influ­ence of his friend­ship with the Smith Col­lege stu­dent Fay, whose for­mi­da­ble intel­lect and accom­plish­ments set a mod­el for him to emu­late.

Col­lege women too could expect to leave school with a new sense of self in addi­tion to their iron­i­cal­ly named bachelor’s degrees. In Helen Dawes Brown’s Two Col­lege Girls (1886), the effer­ves­cent, super­fi­cial Rosamund gains a seri­ous­ness of pur­pose through her col­lege expe­ri­ence while her intel­lec­tu­al and prim room­mate Edna emerges as a more com­pas­sion­ate and social­ly adept woman. What Edna trea­sures as the most “real” expe­ri­ence of her life, she states, is “the find­ing out of new ideas—the see­ing of old things in a new light” that has tran­spired in col­lege. [xii] Speak­ing at com­mence­ment, Edna’s room­mate Rosamund fond­ly recounts the “colleging”—the pranks, hol­i­days, friend­ships, and schol­ar­ly triumphs—that have led to her own and her fel­low grad­u­ates’ con­sid­er­able per­son­al devel­op­ment. [xiii] For these young women, as for count­less oth­er under­grad­u­ates imag­ined in the col­lege fic­tion of the era, col­lege is a space in which indi­vid­u­als tend to dis­cov­er them­selves, devel­op­ing their nascent tal­ents and strengths and dis­card­ing their care­less behav­iors and poor man­ners.

In Two Col­lege Girls, Edna and Rosamund’s teach­ers explain that col­lege inevitably leads to trans­for­ma­tion, because it puts stu­dents “in the way of influ­enc­ing each oth­er.” [ivx] Gen­uine friend­ship, forged unex­pect­ed­ly across the social bor­ders of pop­u­lar­i­ty, tem­pera­ment, region­al affil­i­a­tion, and class, pro­vides the cat­a­lyst for most of the col­le­giate trans­for­ma­tion that takes place in col­lege sto­ries. Study­ing mat­ters, but the knowl­edge gained from expe­ri­ence, and in par­tic­u­lar the expe­ri­ence of oth­ers, mat­ters more.  In seem­ing to bring togeth­er diverse indi­vid­u­als in this way, col­lege has often occu­pied a sym­bol­ic place in U.S. cul­ture. It stands as a par­tic­u­lar­ly demo­c­ra­t­ic insti­tu­tion, a mer­i­toc­ra­cy in which indi­vid­u­als pur­sue achieve­ment on a lev­el play­ing field and gain valu­able train­ing as cit­i­zens. As the cul­tured Mon­sieur Dar­cy informs the young Armory Blaine in F. Scott Fitzgerald’s 1920 col­lege nov­el This Side of Par­adise, “democ­ra­cy” is some­thing he will “find plen­ty of … in col­lege.” [xv]

How­ev­er, the few schol­ar­ly stud­ies of col­lege fic­tion that have been pub­lished sug­gest that our ideals of col­lege democ­ra­cy and the trans­for­ma­tion it engen­ders have only ever been myth. Exam­in­ing rep­re­sen­ta­tions of friend­ship in post­bel­lum U.S. col­lege fic­tion, Travis M. Fos­ter con­cludes that the affec­tion­ate bonds depict­ed in these nov­els exist to con­sol­i­date white suprema­cy and to mend sec­tion­al ten­sions in the wake of nation­al divi­sion. Reach­ing sim­i­lar con­clu­sions, Christo­pher Find­eisen explores issues of class addressed in col­lege fic­tion, show­ing how col­lege has always been imag­ined as a space for the upper class to play and devel­op. What has changed over time, Find­eisen asserts, is that col­leges and uni­ver­si­ties have “evolved to become insti­tu­tions that pro­duced eco­nom­ic dif­fer­ences rather than insti­tu­tions that mere­ly reflect­ed them” [xvi] Both schol­ars have illu­mi­nat­ed the func­tion of not only the uni­ver­si­ty but also col­lege fic­tion in pro­duc­ing and repro­duc­ing an Amer­i­can elite. As our sto­ries about col­lege empha­size indi­vid­ual trans­for­ma­tion and achieve­ment, they direct atten­tion away from what yet remains vis­i­ble, that “the uni­ver­si­ty is large­ly a site for the upper class to com­pete with itself in games that have essen­tial­ly no eco­nom­ic mean­ing because their out­comes are more or less assured.” [xvii] Trans­for­ma­tion, or at least the illu­sion of trans­for­ma­tion, is a mark of priv­i­lege.

As Fos­ter notes, some voic­es ques­tioned the sto­ry of col­lege even as it was being writ­ten. In the short sto­ry “Of the Com­ing of John,” W. E. B. Du Bois writes of a young man from Altama­ha, Geor­gia, who departs for col­lege as the great pride of his rur­al black com­mu­ni­ty. At the Wells Insti­tute, John grows “in body and soul”; he gains “dig­ni­ty” and “thought­ful­ness.” [xvi­ii] His pro­fes­sor remarks, “all the world toward which he strove was of his own build­ing, and he build­ed slow and hard.” [ixx] Drawn away from home into a “world of thought,” John dis­cov­ers him­self and utter­ly trans­forms at college—in man­ner, per­spec­tive, skill, and under­stand­ing. [xx] How­ev­er, when John returns home to south­east­ern Geor­gia, he finds his intel­lec­tu­al and per­son­al growth have put him at odds with his fam­i­ly and com­mu­ni­ty, and, worse, they have pro­voked the town’s anx­ious white com­mu­ni­ty. Anoth­er John, the white son of the town’s judge, has also returned from col­lege. When this white John attempts to assault John’s sis­ter, John kills him and is lynched by a white mob. In Du Bois’s hands, we see the sto­ry of col­lege masks the sto­ry of sys­temic racism and pow­er. Nei­ther John trans­forms. The white John does not want to nor does he need to; the world is designed for him. The black John is not per­mit­ted such trans­for­ma­tion.

The sto­ry of col­lege that Du Bois tells here has been told again and again in African Amer­i­can lit­er­a­ture. A beau­ti­ful world of learn­ing pro­vides an oasis and a path to achieve­ment and uplift. This place promis­es the improve­ment of the indi­vid­ual, promis­es that here the indi­vid­ual can be remade and in turn can remake the world. Yet, this promise proves illu­so­ry. From Pauline Hopkins’s Of One Blood (1903–4) to Nel­la Larsen’s Quick­sand (1928) to Ralph Ellison’s Invis­i­ble Man (1947), col­lege becomes vis­i­ble as a space that exists not for indi­vid­ual trans­for­ma­tion but for the repro­duc­tion of the sta­tus quo.

The sto­ry of col­lege as trans­for­ma­tion meets this cri­tique of col­lege in “Boys Go to Jupiter.” Claire’s fan­ta­sy of rein­ven­tion at Den­nis Col­lege is man­i­fest­ly symp­to­matic of the white priv­i­lege Du Bois expos­es as tac­it­ly under­pin­ning assump­tions about high­er education’s trans­for­ma­tive poten­tial. Like “Of the Com­ing of John,” Evans’s sto­ry expos­es the fan­ta­sy of trans­for­ma­tion by jux­ta­pos­ing the inter­twined fates of its black and white char­ac­ters. As the con­se­quences of Claire’s unthink­ing mis­take unfold, flash­backs inform the read­er of a dark­er, more inti­mate sto­ry of race and racism, the sto­ry of Claire’s best friend­ship with Angela Hall. After Claire and Angela meet as six-year-old neigh­bors, the girls are insep­a­ra­ble, shar­ing a spe­cial affec­tion as they taunt Angela’s broth­er Aaron with the non­sense rhyme, “girls go to col­lege to get more knowl­edge, boys go to Jupiter to get more stu­pid­er” (643). The girls grow into ado­les­cents togeth­er and even endure their moth­ers’ respec­tive can­cers togeth­er. Claire plans that they will some­day “go to col­lege togeth­er,” where “the world will unrav­el for them, fall at their feet.” [xxi] Only Claire’s mother’s death and Angela’s mother’s recov­ery sev­ers the girls’ bond. And race, Angela’s black­ness, is only ever inci­den­tal. That is, inci­den­tal to Claire.

If the girls’ shared expe­ri­ence of their moth­ers’ ill­ness­es seems like evi­dence of the kind of uni­ver­sal expe­ri­ence and human con­nec­tion that under­lies some appeals to build­ing a post-racial U.S. soci­ety, fur­ther tragedy under­scores how unre­al­is­tic such a vision remains. One year after Claire’s mom’s death, Aaron dri­ves a drunk, griev­ing Claire home from a par­ty and is killed when a pack of white teenage boys run him off the road. The boys, who imag­ine they are res­cu­ing Claire from this young black man she has known all her life, are found not respon­si­ble, and Aaron’s death is ruled an acci­dent, though the Hall fam­i­ly under­stands the events through dif­fer­ent terms. As Aaron’s fate makes clear, even in the twen­ty-first cen­tu­ry and even among edu­cat­ed and priv­i­leged sub­ur­ban neigh­bors, not every­one can expect the world to fall at her feet.

As a child, Aaron points out the log­i­cal fal­la­cy of the girls’ rhyme. It doesn’t make sense that boys would go to Jupiter to get “more stu­pid­er,” Aaron quite ratio­nal­ly explains, since, in order to reach Jupiter, one would have to be incred­i­bly intel­li­gent.  Evans’s sto­ry seems to sug­gest that it is no more sen­si­ble to believe that “col­lege” is the place to get “more knowl­edge.” This is the stuff of child’s games.

After I lis­tened to Evans read this sto­ry before an audi­ence of alter­nate­ly eager, anx­ious, and bored under­grad­u­ates in the rich­ly wood-pan­eled audi­to­ri­um of our col­lege library, I felt dis­heart­ened. This sto­ry is about the end of col­lege, I thought. There is no rein­ven­tion, no trans­for­ma­tion, only sta­sis and spin. The nar­ra­tive that the cam­pus is fix­at­ed on, whether one young woman’s stu­pid choice to wear a hate­ful sym­bol should be con­demned as racist or cel­e­brat­ed for its self-expres­sion of south­ern “her­itage,” is not even the real sto­ry here.  Nei­ther of these inter­pre­ta­tions of Claire is true, exact­ly. The deep­er sto­ry of Claire’s rela­tion­ship to Angela and Aaron caus­es us to ask com­plex questions—what cul­pa­bil­i­ty does Claire have for what hap­pens to Aaron? Is she a dif­fer­ent kind of vic­tim, one of the racist and sex­ist ide­ol­o­gy that imag­ines her as the white woman ever vul­ner­a­ble to the preda­to­ry black male? Is igno­rance as bad as racism? How can love and racism coexist?—that are only flat­tened in this cam­pus envi­ron­ment. Den­nis Col­lege is not a world apart in which the free­dom of expe­ri­ence and the pur­suit of knowl­edge lead to rein­ven­tion and per­son­al growth. But for all the ways that Evans’s sto­ry sig­nals the end of the sto­ry of col­lege, it sug­gests that there might be anoth­er sto­ry to tell.

In an arti­cle pub­lished in The Chron­i­cle of High­er Edu­ca­tion in May 2018, Lisi Schoen­bach cau­tions read­ers against engag­ing in too spir­it­ed a cri­tique of the uni­ver­si­ty, lest we under­mine the cred­i­bil­i­ty of an insti­tu­tion we need now more than ever. Schoen­bach writes, “it can be true that the uni­ver­si­ty is impli­cat­ed in neolib­er­al­ism while also being true that uni­ver­si­ties are often the defend­ers of free speech, anti-instru­men­tal­i­ty, and dis­sent.” [xxii] Maybe col­lege is not and has nev­er been tru­ly a space of trans­for­ma­tion, but it can be a space of reck­on­ing, at least of a kind. Col­lege can be a space in which sys­temic injus­tice and the myths that ease its func­tion­ing are observed and named. It can be a space of dia­logue, con­fronta­tion, and expres­sion. In our cur­rent world, col­lege may be the only space where this is pos­si­ble.

The col­lege town hall event that con­cludes Evans’s sto­ry is not an oppor­tu­ni­ty to pose dif­fi­cult ques­tions. Still, in this space, even as Claire’s sto­ry is mis­un­der­stood, we see an exchange of per­spec­tives, and we see Claire begin to become aware of her priv­i­leged place in the world. One white stu­dent stands at the micro­phone and offers an apol­o­gy for racism, anoth­er recites the song “Sweet Home Alaba­ma,” though no one can tell whether this per­for­mance is an earnest endorse­ment or a cri­tique of the song’s glo­ri­fi­ca­tion of the U.S. South. Claire watch­es as var­i­ous speakers—all white—file on to and off of the stage. Car­men, the hall mate who first tweet­ed her out­rage at Claire’s biki­ni pho­to, sits in the audi­ence, “sur­round­ed by two full rows of black stu­dents, more black peo­ple than Claire has ever seen on cam­pus before—maybe, it occurs to her, more black peo­ple than Claire has ever seen at once in her life.” The group sits silent­ly. They wait. Even­tu­al­ly, after the stage has been emp­ty for ten min­utes, the black stu­dents stand and leave the room, inten­tion­al­ly, one at a time. No one has spo­ken, but it would be wrong to say that these stu­dents have not made them­selves heard. At the end, Claire finds her­self unable to resist the deaf­en­ing qui­et. She approach­es the micro­phone, as Evans tells us, still telling her­self that rein­ven­tion and trans­for­ma­tion remain pos­si­ble. We know this is the wrong sto­ry for Claire to tell her­self, but we can also see that col­lege has pre­cip­i­tat­ed some self-aware­ness, how­ev­er mod­est, for Claire. When it “occurs to her” that she has come face to face with “more black peo­ple than” she “has ever seen at once,” Claire has been brought to account in some small way. Evans also sug­gests here that Claire’s is not the only sto­ry of col­lege that war­rants telling. In their per­for­mance of pur­pose­ful silence, Car­men and her fel­low black stu­dents not only call into ques­tion the sto­ries that many of us have per­sist­ed in telling our­selves about col­lege. They also inti­mate the exis­tence of oth­er col­lege sto­ries that still remain to be told.

 


[i] Danielle Evans, “Boys Go to Jupiter,” Sewa­nee Review (Fall 2017), 646.
[ii] Evans, 661.
[iii] Shirley Mar­chalo­nis, Col­lege Girls: A Cen­tu­ry in Fic­tion (Rut­gers Uni­ver­si­ty Press, 1995), 25.
[iv] Ibid.
[v] Ibid.
[vi] Owen John­son, Stover at Yale (Fred­er­ick A. Stokes, 1912), 5.
[vii] Ste­fan Colli­ni, Speak­ing of Uni­ver­si­ties (Ver­so, 2017).
[viii] Col­in B. Burke, Amer­i­can Col­le­giate Pop­u­la­tions: A Test of the Tra­di­tion­al View (New York Univ. Press, 1982), 55.
[ix] It is worth not­ing that Hawthorne was so embar­rassed of this book, his first nov­el, that he lat­er attempt­ed to buy up all the exist­ing copies and burn them.
[x] Eliz­a­beth Stu­art Phelps, Don­ald Mar­cy (Houghton, Mif­flin and Com­pa­ny, 1983), 64.
[xi] Ibid., 72.
[xii] Helen Dawes Brown, Two Col­lege Girls (Houghton, Mif­flin and Com­pa­ny, 1886), 144.
[xiii] Ibid., 314.
[xiv] Ibid., 112.
[xv] F. Scott Fitzger­ald, This Side of Par­adise (Scrib­n­er, 1920), 32.
[xvi] Christo­pher Find­eisen, “‘The One Place Where Mon­ey Makes No Dif­fer­ence’: The Cam­pus Nov­el from Stover at Yale through The Art of Field­ing,” Amer­i­can Lit­er­a­ture 88. 1 (March 2016), 77.
[xvii] Ibid., 82.
[xvi­ii] W. E. B. Du Bois, “Of the Com­ing of John,” The Souls of Black Folk (1903; Barnes and Noble Clas­sics, 2003), 166.
[xix] Ibid., 163.
[xx] Ibid., 163.
[xxi] Evans, 648.
[xxii] Lisi Schoen­bach, “Enough with the Cri­sis Talk!: To Sal­vage the Uni­ver­si­ty, Explain Why It’s Worth Sav­ing,” The Chron­i­cle of High­er Edu­ca­tion (16 May 2018).

 

Works Cit­ed

Brown, Helen Dawes. Two Col­lege Girls. Houghton, Mif­flin and Com­pa­ny, 1886.

Burke, Col­in B. Amer­i­can Col­le­giate Pop­u­la­tions: A Test of the Tra­di­tion­al View. New York Univ. Press, 1982.

Colli­ni, Ste­fan. Speak­ing of Uni­ver­si­ties. Ver­so, 2017.

Du Bois, W. E. B. “Of the Com­ing of John.” The Souls of Black Folk. 1903; Barnes and Noble Clas­sics, 2003, 162–176.

Elli­son, Ralph. Invis­i­ble Man. Vin­tage Inter­na­tion­al, 1980.

Evans, Danielle. “Boys Go to Jupiter,” Sewa­nee Review, Fall 2017, 639–661, https://thesewaneereview.com/articles/boys-go-to-jupiter

Find­eisen, Christo­pher. “‘The One Place Where Mon­ey Makes No Dif­fer­ence’: The Cam­pus Nov­el from Stover at Yale through The Art of Field­ing,” Amer­i­can Lit­er­a­ture, 88.1, March 2016, 67–91.

Fitzger­ald, F. Scott. This Side of Par­adise. Scrib­n­er, 1920.

Fos­ter, Travis M. “Cam­pus Nov­els and the Nation of Peers,” Amer­i­can Lit­er­ary His­to­ry, 26.3, Fall 2014, 462–483.

Gay, Rox­ane, ed. The Best Amer­i­can Short Sto­ries 2018. Houghton Mif­flin Har­court, 2018.

Hawthorne, Nathaniel. Fan­shawe. Wild­side Press, 2003.

Hop­kins, Pauline. Of One Blood; Or, the Hid­den Self. Wash­ing­ton Square Press, 2004.

John­son, Owen. Stover at Yale. Fred­er­ick A. Stokes, 1912.

Larsen, Nel­la. Quick­sand. Mar­ti­no Pub­lish­ing, 2011.

Mar­chalo­nis, Shirley. Col­lege Girls: A Cen­tu­ry in Fic­tion. Rut­gers Uni­ver­si­ty Press, 1995.

Phelps, Eliz­a­beth Stu­art. Don­ald Mar­cy. Houghton, Mif­flin and Com­pa­ny, 1983, 64.

Schoen­bach, Lisi. “Enough with the Cri­sis Talk!: To Sal­vage the Uni­ver­si­ty, Explain Why It’s Worth Sav­ing,” The Chron­i­cle of High­er Edu­ca­tion, 16 May 2018, https://www.chronicle.com/article/Enough-With-the-Crisis-Talk-/243423

 

Mol­ly K. Robey is an assis­tant pro­fes­sor of Eng­lish at Illi­nois Wes­leyan Uni­ver­si­ty. She has pub­lished arti­cles in Amer­i­can Lit­er­a­ture, Lega­cy, Stud­ies in Amer­i­can Fic­tion, and Tul­sa Stud­ies in Women’s Lit­er­a­ture. Most recent­ly, she has been research­ing the ori­gins of the Col­lege Girl in U.S. cul­ture.

Toronto Life

Fiction / John Tavares

:: Toronto Life ::

Clay’s sec­ond cousin hiked the trail from the band office, where he had to deal with some kind of bureau­crat­ic red tape and bull over his white girl­friend liv­ing on the reserve with­out band per­mis­sion, even if she lived in town week­days, when she wasn’t fly­ing to reser­va­tions north of Sioux Look­out, where she worked as a social work­er with the First Nations social ser­vices agency. After he cursed Clay and blamed him for let­ting his leg hold traps sit to rust in the shed when he asked him to oil them, and showed him his bro­ken leg was heal­ing slow­ly from the snow­mo­bile acci­dent he had while ice fish­ing on Lac Seul, he said Clay inher­it­ed a con­do in Toron­to from his nephew. In dis­be­lief and dis­trac­tion, Clay returned to read­ing the Reader’s Digest large-print con­densed book, Gone with the Wind, beside the dim light from the lantern.

Then, at the reser­va­tion gas sta­tion and con­ve­nience store, Clay thought he was start­ing to go com­plete­ly deaf, but, over the din and noise of the announc­er shout­ing excit­ed­ly dur­ing the live tele­cast of the play­off hock­ey game from the tele­vi­sion on the refrig­er­a­tor beside the microwave oven, the lawyer con­firmed the bequest in a long-dis­tance tele­phone call. Clay still didn’t believe his nephew had left him a con­do­mini­um; the nature of the accom­mo­da­tion was ultra­mod­ern, exot­ic, to him; the loca­tion was for­eign, far­away. Lat­er, the chief explained to him at the reser­va­tion band office a con­do or con­do­mini­um was a fan­cy city name for an apart­ment. His nephew, a lawyer, spe­cial­iz­ing in law for indige­nous peo­ple, was killed in a fiery car crash on High­way 401 after he drove from the Six Nations reserve to help nego­ti­ate set­tle­ments for res­i­den­tial school and Six­ties Scoop claims.

His nephew’s lawyer part­ner said Nodin had no oth­er liv­ing rel­a­tives he held in high esteem, aside from his uncle Clay, who he remem­bered fond­ly. Nodin remem­bered the times Clay insist­ed on tak­ing him on his snow­mo­bile, all-ter­rain vehi­cle, and dog sled along the trails through the bush around Lac Seul and patient­ly taught him hunt­ing, fish­ing, and trap­ping skills on the bush and lake around Tobac­co Lodge reserve and the sur­round­ing water­ways, which, after the con­struc­tion of the hydro­elec­tric dam at Ears Falls, one could argue, turned into a reser­voir. His nephew espe­cial­ly loved the skills he learned snow­shoe­ing through the bush, along the lakeshore, and across the lakes, and fur trap­ping, ice fish­ing for wall­eye and lake trout, com­mer­cial fish­ing white­fish, set­ting snares and leg hold traps on the trap line in the snowy bush for snow­shoe hare, fox, lynx muskrat, beaver, mink, marten, fish­er, and wolves.

Nodin also respect­ed the fact Clay nev­er smoked or drank, or took advan­tage of women, or friends, or, for that mat­ter, judged him. The lawyer called him sev­er­al more times long dis­tance. Again, he had to snow­mo­bile or snow­shoe to the reser­va­tion con­ve­nience store to use the pay­phone or hike to the reser­va­tion band office to bor­row their land­line to lis­ten to the lawyer explain he should sim­ply sell the con­do­mini­um. The apart­ment was prob­a­bly worth a mil­lion dol­lars. The lawyer, his nephew’s part­ner, reas­sured him he would help him invest the funds, pur­chase an annu­ity, set up an invest­ment port­fo­lio of income earn­ing stocks and bonds, or set up a trust fund, which would pro­vide him with a pen­sion or month­ly income.

The chief agreed with the Toron­to lawyer he should sell the con­do. The chief claimed he had got­ten too used to, too accli­ma­tized, to life on the reser­va­tion, and the cul­ture shock of Toron­to might kill him. She said he’d hate life in the city, espe­cial­ly a big city like Toron­to, since he bet­ter appre­ci­at­ed the tra­di­tion­al way of life on the reserve and the sur­round­ing nature.

Clay nev­er liked the chief much and was mys­ti­fied by her claim to speak for him. Who said he hat­ed life in the city? he demand­ed. He nev­er said he didn’t like life in the city, or pre­ferred liv­ing in Sioux Look­out or Tobac­co Lodge to the city of Toron­to. He was sev­en­ty years old, and, in his mind, he felt fit and well, but he was afflict­ed with old age con­di­tions like arthri­tis. He was suf­fer­ing from gout and anky­los­ing spondyli­tis, and, short of breath, he wor­ried about the effects of heart dis­ease. He didn’t feel like he was in any phys­i­cal or psy­cho­log­i­cal con­di­tion to hunt and fish, and he was actu­al­ly tired of liv­ing on the reserve. At his age, sev­en­ty, he felt like he could no longer tol­er­ate the cold to snow­shoe the trap line, or even fish or guide tourists for wall­eye, musky, or north­ern pike on Lac Seul, or hunt for moose, white­tail deer, or ruffed grouse. The chief was incred­u­lous and so was his nephew’s lawyer, both of whom con­tin­ued to try to per­suade him to sell the con­do. Exas­per­at­ed and frus­trat­ed, they raised their voic­es and ges­tic­u­lat­ed as they tried to per­suade him to sell the con­do­mini­um, but he couldn’t pos­si­bly think of what he could do with a mil­lion dol­lars.

It’s a mil­lion dol­lars before tax­es, but after tax­es and fees,” the lawyer said, start­ing to sound offi­cious, like an accoun­tant, “the bequest will be far less.”

Even after tax­es, the chief said, how could he pos­si­bly spend a mil­lion dol­lars when he lived on a reser­va­tion like Tobac­co Lodge, if he didn’t smoke, or drink, or chase women. If he lived in the city of Toron­to, though, Clay argued, he would be close to med­ical spe­cial­ists like rheuma­tol­o­gists and car­di­ol­o­gists who would be able to help him with the aches and inflam­ma­tion of his rheuma­toid arthri­tis and anky­los­ing spondyli­tis and the short­ness of breath and chest pains asso­ci­at­ed with angi­na pec­toris. He didn’t real­ly have any close friends or rel­a­tives on the reserve, or even in the town of Sioux Look­out, near­by, any­way. He always enjoyed his vis­its to the city of Toron­to and stay­ing with his nephew. He liked vis­it­ing the gay bars and strip clubs, and he espe­cial­ly loved the cof­fee in the exot­ic vari­ety of cafes, full-bod­ied, strong flavoured, not water-downed or dilut­ed like in the local café, in Sioux Look­out. At the Round­house Café in Sioux Look­out, if you lin­gered a lit­tle too long, or said the wrong thing, or talked a lit­tle too loud, or didn’t smell like eau de cologne, the own­er, who hov­ered above cus­tomers like a stage mom, might kick you out and ban you.

Once again, the lawyer and the chief tried to per­suade him not to live in the con­do in Toron­to, warn­ing him about the high cost of liv­ing in Toron­to and the high cost of prop­er­ty tax­es. When he com­pared the prop­er­ty tax­es for the house he owned in Sioux Look­out with those in the city of Toron­to, though, he noticed the prop­er­ty tax­es weren’t that much high­er, even though the Sioux Look­out house was worth much less. You could buy sev­er­al hous­es in Toron­to for the price of that con­do­mini­um, and then you would have a real prop­er­ty tax prob­lem on your hands. So, he reas­sured them he had squir­reled away suf­fi­cient sav­ings, from the mon­ey he earned on the trapline, from his full-time job on the green chain and the plan­er and as a fil­er for the huge saw blades in the North­west­ern Ontario For­est Prod­ucts sawmill in Hud­son, and from the sum­mers he worked as a fish­ing guide on Lac Seul and the autumns he moon­light­ed as a hunt­ing guide for Amer­i­cans anx­ious to shoot a moose or black bear.

Like­wise, he could sell the small house he owned in Sioux Look­out, where he lived for a decade while he worked as a night watch­man at the Depart­ment of Indi­an Affairs Zone hos­pi­tal for indige­nous patients from the north­ern reserves. Besides, he didn’t even own the cab­in he lived in on the reserve in Tobac­co Lodge. He didn’t even feel like shov­el­ing the snow on the walkway—he didn’t want vis­i­tors and, if any­one was intent on vis­it­ing him, they could trudge through the snow—or fix­ing up and doing main­te­nance work on the cab­in.

Begin­ning to think a con­do might suit him after all, the lawyer reas­sured him fees would cov­er main­te­nance and upkeep for the con­do­mini­um. The lawyer explained he was a close friend of his nephew and would do what he could to help him when he flew to Toron­to.

Fly to Toron­to? I’m not fly­ing to Toron­to. I don’t need to be has­sled by met­al detec­tors and secu­ri­ty guards.”

Clay pre­ferred to take the pas­sen­ger train, which was slow by mod­ern stan­dards, tak­ing over a day in trav­el across the Cana­di­an Shield of North­ern Ontario before the train even start­ed trav­el­ling south to Toron­to. The Via Rail pas­sen­ger train was often late, falling behind the right of way of freight trains, but the trav­el was has­sle free and the dome car and large win­dow seats allowed him to sight see the Cana­di­an Shield land­scape, the lakes, the forests, the rivers, creeks, muskeg, swamps, rock out­crops, and small towns and camps and out­posts along the north­ern route.

Before he left, the chief called him to the band office and his office for one last meet­ing. He said he just want­ed to make cer­tain that there was no hard feel­ings. He tried to reas­sure him he wasn’t try­ing to tell him or order him what to do, espe­cial­ly with his own per­son­al life, but he was only think­ing about his best inter­ests and what he thought might make him hap­pi­est. He still didn’t think he would be hap­py over the long term liv­ing in Toron­to, espe­cial­ly com­pared to life on the reserve of Tobac­co Lodge. That judge­ment, she said, was based on her own per­son­al expe­ri­ence with fel­low band mem­bers, par­tic­u­lar­ly younger peo­ple, who moved to the city and became addict­ed to opi­oids, intra­venous drugs, and pills, or resort­ed to the sex trade or found them­selves vic­tims of human traf­fick­ing or trapped in a crim­i­nal lifestyle, drug traf­fick­ing, smug­gling, rob­bery, because of pover­ty or addic­tion, or got caught up in the wrong crowd in urban cen­tres like Win­nipeg, Thun­der Bay, or Toron­to. Still, she under­stood he had a life and mind of his own, and he was free to learn through expe­ri­ence how hard life could be in the city, par­tic­u­lar­ly in Toron­to, and he would always be a mem­ber of the band. He didn’t tell her he wouldn’t allow her to decide what was good for him, but he thanked her, even though he thought she was overe­d­u­cat­ed and a bit too con­de­scend­ing and over­bear­ing.

When he arrived in Toron­to, the lawyer friend of his nephew met him at Union Sta­tion, hired a lim­ou­sine to dri­ve him the short dis­tance down­town home, and helped him set up house in Aura, the con­do high-rise at Ger­ard and Yonge Street. He told him the Aura Build­ing, where his nephew owned a con­do­mini­um, which he now owned, was stacked sev­en­ty-nine sto­ries high, with more floors than any build­ing in Cana­da, and was taller than any res­i­den­tial build­ing in Cana­da.

Then the lawyer friend of his nephew said he was gay. The rea­son Nodin’s father or none of his broth­ers or sis­ters inher­it­ed the con­do­mini­um: Nodin was gay. No one in Nodin’s fam­i­ly accept­ed his sex­u­al ori­en­ta­tion or lifestyle. Born-again Chris­tians, Nodin’s fam­i­ly had dif­fi­cul­ty accept­ing their sibling’s and son’s homo­sex­u­al­i­ty and dis­owned him.

His nephew said Clay nev­er had an issue with his sex­u­al ori­en­ta­tion. Live and let live, Clay said, and he didn’t know what to add because he still thought the fact his nephew was gay wasn’t his busi­ness, and he couldn’t pass judge­ment. He was fam­i­ly and anoth­er per­son, no more, no less, except he was smart and tal­ent­ed and had spe­cial skills as a lawyer, all of which he admired. Then Josh told him that Nodin actu­al­ly died from AIDS.

AIDS? I thought you told me twice over the tele­phone he died from a car crash on the free­way.”

After he was diag­nosed with an HIV infec­tion, Nodin start­ed drink­ing, and he stopped tak­ing his med­ica­tions, which were also mak­ing him sick. Even­tu­al­ly, he con­tract­ed pneu­mo­nia caused by the HIV virus, and he died a painful death. But I couldn’t say he died from pneu­mo­nia relat­ed to AIDS to the peo­ple on the reser­va­tion. Then the gos­sip and rumour mill would go crazy, and his broth­er might dri­ve all the way down to Toron­to to shoot me.”

I don’t think they care.”

Pos­si­bly because they already know.”

They know he’s gay, but Nodin doesn’t exist for them any­more. Nodin was already dead to his clos­est fam­i­ly before he actu­al­ly died. He’s been dead to them since they dis­cov­ered he was gay, when he was caught by an OPP offi­cer with a teacher from Queen Eliz­a­beth High School, in a car parked overnight in Ojib­way Park. The teacher was fired, but Nodin was expelled from high school and went to Pel­i­can Falls Res­i­den­tial School when it reopened.”

But, Clay said, he knew he couldn’t men­tion Nodin’s name around his fam­i­ly because imme­di­ate­ly his moth­er flew into a fury or his father threat­ened to dri­ve a thou­sand miles to Toron­to to shoot him. Or his broth­ers joked about tak­ing him to down­town Sioux Look­out to the Fifth Avenue Club or Fathead’s sports bar and tying him to a tree or util­i­ty pole and allow­ing a loose woman from the rez or trail­er park or liv­ing on the streets have her way with him. They even joked about dri­ving to Dry­den and the strip club and lock­ing him up in a motel room with a strip­per who would give him more than a lap dance.

You should have an easy time liv­ing in Toron­to,” the friend said.

Clay said he hoped he would. The first sev­er­al months he bus­ied him­self with adapt­ing to the city envi­ron­ment and set­ting up house. He kept the tele­vi­sion and the com­put­er his nephew had in the con­do, but he bare­ly used them, except to watch a few movies and videos online and fish­ing and hunt­ing shows on the out­door tele­vi­sion chan­nels. In fact, he found the liv­ing quar­ters so emp­ty and bereft he spent as much time as he pos­si­bly could away from the high-rise apart­ment, with its spec­tac­u­lar view of the city, espe­cial­ly at night, and its ameni­ties and lux­u­ries, includ­ing the weight room, the swim­ming pool, and the gym­na­si­um. He bus­ied him­self with med­ical appoint­ments with the car­di­ol­o­gists and rheuma­tol­o­gists, and diag­nos­tic tests at the hos­pi­tal, but once he was placed on suit­able med­ica­tion at the prop­er dos­es, he was sta­ble and required lit­tle med­ical atten­tion. As he set­tled into city life, he bus­ied him­self with vis­it­ing the library to read the news­pa­pers from around the world or large-print best­seller books. Then, in the evenings, he vis­it­ed the restau­rants and cof­fee shops and the odd time  adult video shops and strip clubs sprawled across the city, but what he found pecu­liar and more inter­est­ing were the bus­es, sub­ways, and street­car rides across the city to vis­it dif­fer­ent estab­lish­ments, includ­ing a few art gal­leries and muse­ums. He felt, in fact, he had become what sub­way rid­ers called a straphang­er.

He enjoyed tak­ing the bus­es, sub­way rides, on expe­di­tions across the city. He enjoyed peo­ple watch­ing, amazed at the wide vari­ety of peo­ple who com­mut­ed and trav­elled across the vast city of Toron­to. What amazed him even more, though, was the way the tran­sit com­mis­sion police fol­lowed him across the city.

The tran­sit enforce­ment offi­cers seemed for­ev­er inter­est­ed in where Clay was trav­el­ling, what he was read­ing, usu­al­ly the Toron­to Sun, the Toron­to Star, or the Toron­to edi­tion of the Globe and Mail news­pa­per, left over by anoth­er com­muter, and they were usu­al­ly inter­est­ed in what or who he was look­ing at. When they stopped him and asked him where he was going, he was a bit embar­rassed to say he want­ed to go to a flea mar­ket sale and see if he could find video­tapes and DVDs of Mar­lon Bran­don movies on sale cheap at his favorite video store before it went out of busi­ness. He decid­ed to tell them he was vis­it­ing The House of Lan­cast­er on the Queensway and observed with bemuse­ment how they react­ed.

The offi­cers tried to per­suade him not to take the bus from the Keele sub­way sta­tion plat­form to the Queensway. They told him he was too old for a tit­ty bar. Anoth­er time they called him a dirty old man and tried to order him to go home. Once they fol­lowed him because they thought he was a fare jumper and didn’t believe that he could afford a tran­sit pass. They even dou­ble and triple checked his iden­ti­fi­ca­tion and month­ly tran­sit pass because they said he looked too young to be a senior and wor­ried he might be an ille­gal immi­grant. Anoth­er pair of tran­sit enforce­ment offi­cers told him they thought he was suf­fer­ing from demen­tia and prone to wan­der­ing aim­less­ly and dan­ger­ous­ly. The tran­sit offi­cer, whose tur­ban he admired, said, if Clay was from an Indi­an reser­va­tion, maybe he should return to the north and live there again.

An offi­cer said there had been com­plaints about him, and that he might be hap­pi­er on the reserve. “Tra­di­tion­al and ances­tral lands is where it’s at, eh?”

He asked him to tell him about the com­plaints, but the offi­cer shrugged, shook his head, rolled his eyes, and crossed his beefy arms. “You don’t under­stand women in the city,” he said. “Don’t you know it’s rude to stare?”

Lat­er, Clay even decid­ed to buy a smart­phone, from the elec­tron­ic retail­er in the Eaton’s Cen­tre, and, even though he didn’t learn how to com­plete­ly use the phone, he liked to read books, news­pa­pers, and mag­a­zines on the screen because he could enlarge the text to a size large enough to suit his blurred and fail­ing vision. Once, when he put down his smart­phone and for­got to pick up the device when he rose for his stop at Col­lege Sta­tion, a tran­sit super­vi­sor seized the cell­phone, and, when he tried to take it back from him, he said it was lost or stolen. He said he was turn­ing the smart­phone to the fare col­lec­tor, who would turn it in to the lost and found if no one claimed it by the end of his shift. Since Clay didn’t use the phone that often, any­way, and even then the calls to the reser­va­tion were cost­ly and depress­ing, he decid­ed why both­er com­plain­ing and attempt to have the smart­phone returned when his nephew had left him e‑book read­ers, full of books, which only need­ed to be recharged every sec­ond or third week, instead of every­day like the smart­phone.

Then, one evening, when he returned from a vis­it to a Star­bucks in the sub­urbs, and he entered through the auto­mat­ic gate, the burly pair of secu­ri­ty guards insist­ed on see­ing his iden­ti­fi­ca­tion and his tran­sit pass, insis­tent that he was fare jump­ing. When he showed them his tran­sit pass, they insist­ed it was stolen. When they asked to see his iden­ti­fi­ca­tion, to con­firm the name on his tran­sit pass matched my ID, he real­ized he for­got his wal­let with his iden­ti­fi­ca­tion in the strip club. No wor­ries, though, the door­man and secu­ri­ty guards in the men’s club knew him and would hold his wal­let for him until his next vis­it. The big burly bald secu­ri­ty guard insist­ed on see­ing his iden­ti­fi­ca­tion, imme­di­ate­ly, and put him in a head­lock, which turned into a choke­hold grip, when he tried to pull and twist away. He decid­ed to test the strength of his new den­tures on the man’s hands, bit­ing the flab­by fold of flesh between his thumb and fin­gers. He didn’t see what choice he had since the man was chok­ing him, suf­fo­cat­ing him. He knew the man was a secu­ri­ty guard and not a police offi­cer, so he didn’t see how the man was jus­ti­fied in using such force, but, after he bit him, the point was moot since the sec­ond secu­ri­ty guard, ini­tial­ly anx­ious his bud­dy was using exces­sive force, pound­ed his head with a baton.

So it came to pass Clay was hos­pi­tal­ized with a head injury in the inten­sive care unit of Toron­to Hos­pi­tal, and then he, in a coma, was trans­ferred to the neu­rol­o­gy and the neu­ro­surgery ward. The neu­ro­sur­geon oper­at­ed, drilling holes in his skull and remov­ing a sawn seg­ment of the cra­ni­um to relieve the intracra­nial pres­sure and stem the bleed­ing in his brain. After mul­ti­ple surg­eries, the doc­tors didn’t expect him to recov­er: he was tak­en off the res­pi­ra­tors and feed­ing tubes.

He was returned to Sioux Look­out in a hard­wood cas­ket in the car­go hold and lug­gage com­part­ment of the pas­sen­ger train, which, delayed and forced into rail rid­ings by an ear­ly win­ter bliz­zard, arrived six­teen hours late. Their breath turn­ing to clouds of smoke, the con­duc­tor and engi­neer cursed in the cold as they unloaded him from the bag­gage and lug­gage car, behind the loco­mo­tive, at the site of the aban­doned train sta­tion in Hud­son. Clay lay in the cof­fin along­side a piece of lost and mis­placed lug­gage on the bro­ken cement plat­form near the rail­road cross­ing in Hud­son, at the inter­sec­tion with the road to the sawmill, until the chief sent his cousins to pick him up in the blow­ing snow and freez­ing cold. The chief reas­sured his cousins they needn’t wor­ry, his estate and the sale of the con­do would pro­vide more than enough mon­ey to com­pen­sate them and to pro­vide funds to bury him in the reserve ceme­tery in Tobac­co Lodge, if no one want­ed him buried in the Ever­green Ceme­tery in Hud­son, or the ceme­tery in Sioux Look­out.

An emp­ty brown beer bot­tle and a few stubbed cig­a­rette butts on the fresh­ly packed soil marked the plot on the snowy land­scape in the chilly ceme­tery where he was buried. With a few days, the late leaf­less autumn turned harsh, win­ter grew dark and frigid and froze the lakes and the Cana­di­an Shield rocks, and the earth turned hard and the snow heaped high.

 

 

From the writer

:: Account ::

Toron­to Life” is, in a sense, a nar­ra­tive real­iza­tion and actu­al­iza­tion of my own skewed obser­va­tions of indi­vid­u­als’ per­son­al expe­ri­ences of life in pub­lic spaces in the city of Toron­to, includ­ing my own as a mature stu­dent. Toron­to is a won­der­ful, vibrant, cos­mopoli­tan city, but at the same time there is a cer­tain pres­sure to con­form to what I’ll call Metro norms, ideals, and stan­dards. If a per­son, par­tic­u­lar­ly an out­sider, finds they don’t adhere to these social codes and con­ven­tions, they may be pro­filed and tar­get­ed, or become ostra­cized and out­cast, not nec­es­sar­i­ly overt­ly or bla­tant­ly, since often­times the bias is sub­tle. (A few media pun­dits, includ­ing beloved Cana­di­an broad­cast­er Peter Gzows­ki, have not­ed that racism tends to be polite in Cana­da.) Out­liers in a sense, or those con­sid­ered The Oth­er, these same per­sons may also find them­selves intim­i­dat­ed and bul­lied by author­i­ties, the gate­keep­ers of the city. Of course, some more inde­pen­dent mind­ed, self-reliant, and indi­vid­u­al­is­tic per­sons who reject these con­ven­tion­al ideals or sub­scribe to dif­fer­ent beliefs may be con­tent or hap­py to occu­py posi­tions at the fringe. How­ev­er, what I find fas­ci­nat­ing about life in a big city like Toron­to is that some­times those who have led the most suc­cess­ful and at the same time the most trans­gres­sive of careers and exis­tences, harm­ing peo­ple in the process, are those who tend to blend in best with the crowd, say, behav­ing in pre­cise­ly the most social­ly accept­able man­ner, wear­ing what is fash­ion­able at the time, out­ward­ly adher­ing to social con­ven­tion. Three for­mer Toron­to­ni­ans come to mind in this con­text: David Rus­sell Williams, Paul Bernar­do, Bruce McArthur. In any event, “Toron­to Life” is an attempt at con­trast and juxtaposition—dramatizing a cul­tur­al gap and divide between north and south, sky­scrap­ers and forests, rur­al and urban, indige­nous and expa­tri­ate or non-native, and how these con­trasts may clash with less than ide­al out­comes. A city like Toron­to may be most fas­ci­nat­ing and appre­ci­at­ed by an indi­vid­ual who arrives from a place which is in many aspects, its exact oppo­site. The title, and indeed the sto­ry, is also a bit of an iron­ic play on the title of the lead­ing mag­a­zine in Toron­to, whose read­ers might be for­giv­en for think­ing all Toron­to­ni­ans are extreme­ly wealthy, well-dressed, well-edu­cat­ed, and mem­bers of high soci­ety, a very dif­fer­ent vision of every­day life than that pro­vid­ed dur­ing, say, a walk through a town or a reser­va­tion in the mid­dle of win­ter in North­west­ern Ontario.

 

John Tavares was born and raised in Sioux Look­out, in north­west­ern Ontario, but his par­ents immi­grat­ed from Sao Miguel, Azores. He grad­u­at­ed from Hum­ber Col­lege (Gen­er­al Arts and Sci­ence), Cen­ten­ni­al Col­lege (jour­nal­ism), and York Uni­ver­si­ty (Spe­cial­ized Hon­ors BA). His jour­nal­ism was print­ed in var­i­ous local news out­lets in Toron­to, main­ly trade and com­mu­ni­ty news­pa­pers. His short fic­tion has been pub­lished in a wide vari­ety of mag­a­zines and lit­er­ary jour­nals, online and in print, in Cana­da and the Unit­ed States.

The Last Rhubarb

Fiction / Christine Seifert

:: The Last Rhubarb ::

Heather arrives just before sev­en. She peeks into the tent where I am adjust­ing the anten­na on the old TV from Gary’s room. If he were home, instead of at his new dish­wash­ing job, he’d nev­er let me bor­row it.

Neat,” Heather says. She uses the toe of her right foot, clad in a dirty white sneak­er, a Keds knock-off that her moth­er bought her at the begin­ning of sum­mer, to poke at the boxy TV. “Where’s it plugged in?”

Garage,” I say. “It took two exten­sion cords.”

Where’s Gary?” Heather asks. She uses both hands to fluff out her hair. “Should we invite him out here?”

Gross,” I say. The flick­er of dis­ap­point­ment on Heather’s face comes and goes so fast that I almost miss it. But I don’t. I try to imag­ine Gary as a per­son oth­er than my broth­er. Would I too have a crush on him?

We eat Cool Ranch Dori­tos while we watch Bev­er­ly Hills, 90210. “I’m such a Kel­ly,” I say dur­ing a com­mer­cial.

You total­ly are,” Heather says. “I’m more of a Bren­da.”

Nei­ther of us are either of them. We are us. Knob­by-kneed with mild acne. Dry hair with chlo­rine dam­age. Long feet, pointy shoul­der blades, con­cave stom­achs, tan lines. We are girls of sum­mer. We are too young for jobs, but we are old enough to sleep in a tent in my back­yard. To watch TV out­doors with a bag of Dori­tos and two cold Cokes.

After the show, we bring the cord­less phone out to the tent, and it’s just close enough to the house to work. We call Todd first. Heather dials *67 to block caller ID. “Who do you like-like?” Heather asks in a low voice. She has a fad­ed yel­low pil­low­case placed over the phone receiv­er, a sure method, she claims, to dis­guise her voice. “This is a friend,” she insists to Todd. “I just want to know who you like.”

Damn,” she says to me. “He hung up.”

Call again,” I urge her.

She shakes her head. “Let’s call Brad Stock­ton and ask him if he real­ly did it with Tracey Lau­ren.” I flip open the worn phone book. “He’s unlist­ed,” I tell her and throw the slim book on Heather’s lap.

Hot damn,” Heather says.

She’s tak­en to say­ing that this sum­mer. Hot damn. It works for every­thing.

We open the phone book and dial what­ev­er num­ber we see first. We leave Dori­to stains on the flim­sy pages. We ask strangers if a Mr. Dong is avail­able. Every­one hangs up on us except an old woman who tells us to quit play­ing with the phone or she’ll call the police and have us tak­en to the jail in a pad­dy wag­on. I laugh so hard I almost pee my pants. Instead, Heather and I go behind the garage and pee on the rhubarb. “This stuff is poi­son,” I tell Heather about the plants. “If you eat the leaves, you’ll die.”

Why would you eat the leaves?” she asks.

If I were going to kill some­one,” I tell her, “I’d sit on them and force rhubarb leaves down their throat.”

Not me. I’d get the per­son to walk across the street with me and go on the path by the riv­er. Then I’d tell them there was some­thing on the riv­er bank, some­thing they had to see. Then I’d push them in.”

What if they could swim?” I asked. “Every­one over the age of five can swim. They would just climb out.”

They couldn’t swim if they were, like, high on rhubarb leaves.” It was a good point. “Also,” Heather adds, “I can’t swim.”

Well, I hope nobody push­es you in the riv­er.”

Why would any­body push me in the riv­er?” she asks and strikes a pose. “I’m too cute to die young.”

In the tent, we call strangers. Most­ly they hang up. One guy talks a lot. Heather keeps ask­ing him ques­tions. They talk about cas­settes and how lame New Kids on the Block are and how peo­ple in high school are so bogus. Heather whis­pers to him with her back to me, and I can’t hear what she’s say­ing for a long time. I strain and make out words: Come. Over. Soon. I grab the phone from her and hang up. “He can’t come over. My par­ents will freak. And you don’t know if this guy is old.”

He sounds young,” she says.

He sounds thir­ty.”

Heather grabs for the phone, but I quick­ly dial my own num­ber so she can’t hit re-dial. I hang up when I hear the busy sig­nal.

Fine,” she shrugs. “Let’s do some­thing else.” And so we go inside and get my year­book and draw mus­tach­es on all the girls we don’t like and poke pin-holes in the eyes of the boys we like but don’t want to like .

At eleven my dad comes out­side and tells us to be qui­et for god’s sake. And my mom comes out behind him and tells us to come inside if it rains or if we get scared. She says they will lock the door, but use the key if we need to get inside. The key is on a green stretchy bracelet around my wrist.

My par­ents nev­er lock their doors,” Heather tells my mom.

Well, we do.”

My mom is para­noid,” I tell Heather after my par­ents go back inside the house. “She always thinks some­one is going to mur­der us in our sleep.”

Is it bet­ter to be mur­dered while you are awake?”

It’s a good ques­tion. I make a point to ask my moth­er, in the same tone Heather used, next time she yells at one of us for for­get­ting to close our win­dows at night.

Heather does my hair in a French braid. I plug in rollers using the exten­sion cord from the TV. “You could be in a pageant,” I tell Heather when I’m done. She is pret­ti­er than I am, but she has only recent­ly fig­ured it out. She doesn’t hold it against me, nor I her. It’s just a fact.

At quar­ter to one, Heather sug­gests we get dressed and walk to Vil­lage Inn to say hi to Gary. “We can get pie.”

Then we get into an argu­ment because I don’t want to go. I don’t want to walk the five blocks. I don’t want to get in trou­ble if I get caught. I don’t want to see Gary. I don’t want to be mur­dered. Most­ly, I don’t want my best friend in the whole world to have a crush on my broth­er.

I am too young to explain what it is I feel for Heather. It’s not roman­tic, but it’s a cousin to romance. It’s a feel­ing endem­ic to being thir­teen and being a girl and hav­ing a best friend. I don’t want to kiss her or touch her, but what I do want is to feel so close to her that I will nev­er feel alone again. What hap­pens to me will hap­pen to her. We’ll be con­nect­ed to each oth­er always, like twins in a womb. We will be so sim­i­lar that when we die, they will have to iden­ti­fy us by our moles, our scars.

Heather gets mad and refus­es to talk to me. But she won’t go with­out me. I know that. I lis­ten to a George Michael cas­sette on my Walk­man and cry soft­ly. Final­ly, Heather soft­ens. She scoots her sleep­ing bag clos­er and snug­gles next to me. “Did you know that rhubarb is anoth­er word for a fight?” Heather whis­pers to me.

I don’t answer.

We had a rhubarb, you and me,” she says.

I feign sleep.

I’m sor­ry,” she whis­pers.

I don’t for­give her, but then I do. We sleep butt-to-butt, and I pre­tend it will always be like this.

It’s light out­side when I wake up again. My dad is out­side the tent. “Steffy, open up,” my dad is say­ing. I rub my eyes and unzip the flap. “Heather’s dad is here to pick her up.” My dad’s face is red and puffy. He’s wear­ing an under­shirt and grey sweat­pants. My mom will not come out­side with­out her make­up, with­out hav­ing first rolled her hair around hot rollers. “Didn’t you hear us call­ing?”

I roll over and throw an arm on the sleep­ing bag next to me. It’s emp­ty. “Where is Heather?” I ask.

~

I spend hours in the police sta­tion. They let me rest. They give me hot choco­late even though it is blaz­ing hot out­side. They buy Fun­yuns from the vend­ing machine for my snack. They let my mom in the inter­view room with me. Then they send her out, and she protests, but she gives up because the detec­tives are very reas­sur­ing. I am not being blamed, they say. I am not being accused of any­thing, they say. They just have ques­tions.

They ask me if Heather had a boyfriend. I tell them no, but I know she kissed Matt Vanyo at the top of the cov­ered slide at Lyn­don Street Ele­men­tary just last week. He put his tongue in her mouth and she described it as a big fat hairy cater­pil­lar.

They ask me what hap­pened to Heather that night. And I start to cry. They pat me on the back and call me sweet­heart. “I can’t remem­ber,” I say. And I can’t. It all runs togeth­er, a mas­sive blob of col­ors, words, and move­ments that can­not be sep­a­rat­ed into dis­crete pieces. The blob is unblob­bable.

They final­ly send me home to sleep, and I come back ear­ly the next morn­ing. I still haven’t show­ered since before that night. My hair is mat­ted and my eyes feel crusty. The detec­tives tell me to relax and to think care­ful­ly. Did I miss any­thing? Did I for­get any­thing?

I start from the begin­ning of the night when I brought the TV out­side. I tell them what hap­pened on Bev­er­ly Hills, 90210, about Bran­don at the beach club and Kel­ly and Dylan get­ting togeth­er behind Brenda’s back while she is in Paris with Don­na. I tell them about the prank phone calls and about the chips, the French braids, the rhubarb we had over Gary. My par­ents sit on either side of me. My mom cries and snif­fles loud­ly.

Were you very angry?” one of the detec­tives asks me. He is tall and thin with bushy dark hair and a skin­ny mus­tache.

I was very sad,” I tell him.

The detec­tive with the mus­tache pats my fore­arm. “Don’t wor­ry. You’ll remem­ber more lat­er. I promise. It’ll come back to you. It always does.”

When I sleep, I dream about the rhubarb patch.

~

School starts in Sep­tem­ber. I am not allowed to walk by myself, so my dad drops me off at the door, even though the school is only three blocks from home. “Gary will pick you up,” he tells me. “Don’t walk home.”

There’s a kid­nap­per on the loose, but the posters with Heather’s face are already start­ing to fade and fray. I think they should be refreshed, reprint­ed on clean white paper. I am some­what famous because I was the last one to see her. Reporters call our house. My pic­ture is shown on the news and my mom is hor­ri­fied. “What if he comes back for Steffy?” she hiss­es at my dad when she thinks I’m out of earshot.

I think that being Heather’s best friend will make the first day of eighth grade eas­i­er. It does not. Nobody talks to me. Nobody even comes near me. It’s as if I’m taint­ed. I car­ry all their fear and mine inside my Esprit shoul­der bag, my GUESS jeans, my Ben­neton crew-neck t‑shirt. It’s also inside me, min­gling with my guts and my bones. Nobody wants to breathe it in when I exhale.

I am falling asleep in Geog­ra­phy, halfway between con­scious and not, and it hap­pens: I am no longer in a stale class­room sur­round­ed by peo­ple who do not know me. I am back in the tent. It’s that night. I am there. Heather is there. A rush of love, warm and pleas­ant, sweeps over me. It’s like a breeze on the first sun­ny day of the year, when you hold your face up to sun and exhale. You won’t remem­ber win­ter for much longer.

When I open my eyes, I am on the dusty floor. Mr. Grif­fin is stand­ing over me. “Mar­tin,” he calls, “you get the nurse. Shel­by, you go get Mrs. Adam­son.”

Ew,” some­one whis­pers, “I think she peed her pants.”

~

I stay home from school for weeks. I do none of the work Mrs. Adam­son arranges to have sent to me each week. Some­times Gary brings it to me. Some­times Mrs. Adam­son her­self comes to the door, and when she does, I pre­tend to be sleep­ing. Dur­ing the day, I watch TV for hours. I’m watch­ing a re-run of Alice when it hap­pens again. One minute Mel is ver­bal­ly abus­ing Vera, who is so will­ful­ly stu­pid that it’s hard to side with her, then the next minute I’m back in the tent. My mos­qui­to bites itch. Sweat drips from my hair­line. Dori­to dust coats my fin­ger­tips. I can smell Cool Ranch.

Are you here?” I ask Heather.

Of course. Where else would I be?”

Are you going to see Gary?”

Gary?” Heather scoffs. “Why would I want to see Gary?” She pulls out a deck of cards. “I have tarot cards,” she says.

Will we stay here all night?” I ask her. “Can we stay in this tent?”

Of course,” she says. “Don’t be a ding-bat.”

~

I go back to school after Christ­mas break, and I join the jazz band. I am third-chair flute, along with eleven oth­er third-string flutists who do not know how to play well. We blow hard and chirp like a flock of chaot­ic birds. Mr. Dou­glas is patient and tells us to reg­u­late our air.

In the coa­t­room after class, I am putting my flute case back in my cub­by hole, safe for tomor­row, when it hap­pens. Nobody is near me, so I let myself sink down on the floor on a pile of soft downy coats.

In the tent, I am awake and Heather is asleep. I watch her. She breathes in and out in syn­co­pat­ed jazz rhythms. She purs­es her lips on the exhale. I find myself mir­ror­ing her move­ments. She opens her eyes. “Why are you being a total spaz?” she asks.

I need to know what’s going to hap­pen tonight,” I say.

Heather sits up and scratch­es her head. Her braid is half-undone and strands of hair stick up like a crown of thorns. “Did you hear that?” she asks.

I strain, but I hear noth­ing. “It’s a boy,” she says. “There’s a boy out there.” She points to the flap of the tent. We sit still for so long I wor­ry we will freeze like that and nev­er move again.

And then he is in the tent. “How did he get in—” I start, but Heather cuts me off. She gets on her knees. The tent is too short for her to stand. The boy is kneel­ing, too.

Have you come for us?” Heather asks.

If you would like to go with me,” the boy says. His cheeks are pink. His hair is thick and combed into a style from ages ago. Slicked back on the sides. Floofy in the front. Kind of like Brandon’s on 90210. He is our age, I think. Maybe old­er. Maybe much old­er.

Heather says, “He wants us to go with him.”

Where?” I ask. I am scram­bling for my shoes because I already assume she will assent, and I can’t let her out of my sight.

Just me,” she says. “You have to stay here.”

I won’t let you go alone.”

You don’t have a choice.”

~

They cor­rect me when I call it a hos­pi­tal, but that is what it is. I’m here for a rest, my mom tells me. I sleep and wake, wake and sleep, for what feels like for­ev­er but is real­ly only a week or two. Then I’m back at home. Our priest, Father Han­son, comes to vis­it me. He asks me to say a rosary with him, so I do, but I’d rather watch TV. Father Han­son tells me God has a plan. It will all work out accord­ing to the plan. “Why would God want Heather to be kid­napped?” I ask. Father Han­son doesn’t answer; instead, he tells me to pray. He gives me the words to say, and I know that there are oth­er words I can nev­er say. I remem­ber that I’ve only ever seen him with­out his col­lar once. He’s wear­ing it now. With­out it, he looks like some­one who looks like some­one I know.

I go back to school, but I’m too far behind in band to play. Instead, I sit out­side the door with my knees tucked up under my chin and lis­ten for the third chairs. The din ris­es above the real notes and it’s kind of beau­ti­ful, the way they are all doing some­thing dif­fer­ent togeth­er.

After school, I go to coun­sel­ing. Gary dri­ves me and waits out­side. He smokes in the car, and I wor­ry that the ther­a­pist will think it’s me. She nev­er asks about it. Maybe she assumes that any­one who comes to coun­sel­ing is also a smok­er.

Her name is Judy and she wears large paint­ed neck­laces made out of wood and broom­stick skirts. Her hair is very short, and she runs her fin­gers through the front three times per every five min­utes. “You don’t have to talk about Heather,” she tells me on my third vis­it. “That seems hard for you. Let’s talk about your par­ents instead.”

I tell her my mom makes deli­cious pota­to sal­ad and likes to play ten­nis on week­ends. She falls asleep when she watch­es TV, and she stays up late to read news mag­a­zines and drink Mr. Pibb. I tell Judy my dad is loud and loves to argue. He puts togeth­er mod­el planes for fun. He is an engi­neer and reads books about bridges. He met my moth­er on a dou­ble-date, but she was not his date. The oth­er girl, my father’s date, was the maid of hon­or in their wed­ding. She died of can­cer when she was only twen­ty-six, and my mom lights a can­dle on the anniver­sary of her death every year. My par­ents believe in God and the Catholic Church. By exten­sion, so do I.

Judy nods and writes notes on a small notepad in green ink. “I see,” she says. She paus­es occa­sion­al­ly to look through half-track glass­es that she keeps on a red string around her neck. I wor­ry that her large wood­en ear­rings will tear through her lobes and leave a bloody mess like the bot­tom of a pack­age of raw ham­burg­er.

Breathe in,” Judy tells me. I do.

Breathe out,” she orders. I do.

On the way home, in Gary’s car, the win­dow rolled down, I inhale his smoke until my lungs are full. Then I let it out the win­dow and pre­tend that I am smok­ing too. Gary plays a Metal­li­ca tape and my ears throb. It doesn’t take long for me to dis­ap­pear.

In the tent, Heather is talk­ing to the boy. The man. “I feel like I know you,” she says.

I have that effect on peo­ple,” he responds.

Who are you? Where did you come from?” I say.

The boy sits down and cross­es his legs like the stat­ue of Bud­dha I saw in my World His­to­ry text­book. He breathes slow­ly. Inhale. Exhale. “It doesn’t mat­ter who I am. I’m here for Heather.”

I don’t want her to go,” I say.

Steffy, don’t be a baby,” Heather says. “It’s not like I’m pick­ing him over you. This is, like, a sep­a­rate thing. Sep­a­rate from us, you know?”

I didn’t know. “Do you even know him?”

I don’t have to know him,” Heather says. “The point is that he’s come for me.”

The boy smiles. He reminds me of the glow­ing fig­ures in the stained-glass win­dows, the cherub faces that are not human but aren’t inhu­man either. “How old are you?” I ask.

The boy laughs. He has grooves in his fore­head, crin­kles at his eyes. He is not glow­ing so much as he is radi­at­ing some­thing, some­thing that feels hot and insis­tent and per­ma­nent.

~

After sup­per one night, when I’m already in my paja­mas with my teeth brushed and flossed, my mom and dad come to my room and sit on the edge of my bed. Gary hov­ers in the door­way. It is almost a year since Heather van­ished.

I yell for my par­ents. “I know what hap­pened to Heather!” I shout. The sto­ry appeared to me. Not in a dream. Not like a film. But like a thing that I always knew, like the col­or of my mother’s eyes and the smell of my sheets.

What? What have you remem­bered?” my dad asks. He shush­es my mom who has gasped, who has begun to cry.

You’ve remem­bered?” my mom says. She grabs the cord­less phone from my bed­side table. “I’m call­ing the police.”

My dad takes off his glass­es and rubs his eyes. He motions for my mom to sit. She sets the phone back in its cra­dle. “Why don’t you tell us, sweet­heart, before we involve the police,” he says, and I already know he doesn’t believe.

I tell them every­thing, includ­ing the bits that don’t mat­ter. I piece it all togeth­er, patch­works of mem­o­ries that have come back when I let them. I tell them about all the times I’ve gone away and come back with a new old mem­o­ry.

Who is this boy?” my mom inter­rupts. “We have to find him. We have to call the police.”

Sharon,” my dad says, “let her fin­ish.” He pats my leg, “Go ahead, Steffy. Fin­ish the sto­ry. We’re lis­ten­ing.”

He came to us. He was inside the tent with us. He was sent for Heather. He said just her. Not me. She was the one who was meant to go.”

My mom is cry­ing so hard that Gary must step into the room and prop her up. She is a scare­crow. He is a post.

Then they exit­ed the tent togeth­er?”

No, they didn’t exit. They dis­ap­peared.”

What does that even mean?” my dad asks.

Now I am annoyed because I know this sto­ry and now they are ruin­ing it with their ques­tions. “It means, one sec­ond they are there, the next they are not. I am alone in the tent.”

Poof,” my dad says.

Exact­ly. Poof. Gone. Now you are get­ting it.”

That’s not pos­si­ble.”

I shrug. “The boy, the man, said it is all pos­si­ble. Every­thing is.”

But I don’t under­stand,” my moth­er says. “Why didn’t you come get us? Why didn’t you scream? Why didn’t you tell the police? And who is this man? What did he look like?”

What does God look like?” I ask her. “You can’t say. It’s the same thing. I can’t say.”

My moth­er falls to her knees and wails. My dad tells her to stop. He tells Gary to take her to the kitchen, to leave us be for a minute or two. When they are gone, he picks up one of my hands. His palm is clam­my, but mine is soft and dry. “Steffy, how do you feel? You can be hon­est with me. I can help you. We can all help you.”

I don’t know. It was her time. It was meant to be. It was part of the plan. God will nev­er give you more than you can han­dle.” My cadence sounds famil­iar. I sound like Father Han­son mid-ser­mon. I think about the times Father Han­son picked me to help him in the rec­to­ry. He picked me more than any oth­er girl. I paid atten­tion. I thought about my hands in soapy water in the rec­to­ry sink, wash­ing dessert plates, and lis­ten­ing to Father Han­son tell me all the things God wants for me. I nev­er told him that when I was five, I thought he was God and I was hap­py that God lived in my church, not any­one else’s.

My mom returns with a cup of water in her hand, and I’m not sure if it’s meant for her or me. “He had pale skin, yel­low hair, red cheeks. He glowed, like a light­ning bug. He was human but not.”

Oh, my poor baby,” my moth­er whis­pers.

What do you mean?” my father asks.

He came to take Heather. And then they dis­ap­peared.” I snap my fin­gers to demon­strate how fast it was.

Steffy,” my father says, “peo­ple don’t just dis­ap­pear like that. They don’t get tak­en from tents by men who are like God but not God. That’s just not real­i­ty.

I shrug. “He works in mys­te­ri­ous ways.”

The man or God?” Gary asks, and now I’m start­ing to feel con­fused.

But this man,” my father per­sists. “Who is the man?”

I told you. He takes the form of a human, but he is from the spir­it world—or what­ev­er. I sup­pose you might call him an angel, but he didn’t real­ly say. It was Heather’s time to go, and he took her to be in a bet­ter place. She is where she’s meant to be, so we should all be hap­py for her. She’s been called home.” I feel relieved now. It’s all so clear, like the sur­face of glass table­top, that I mar­vel there was ever a time when I could not say these words, the words the man him­self told me. And only now does it all make sense. It all fits togeth­er per­fect­ly. I lay back and smile, for per­haps the first time since Heather left this world.

Oh, my baby,” my moth­er says again. She is shak­ing and sob­bing and Gary is back try­ing to pull her off of me. “None of this makes sense,” my father says, “it’s sim­ply not log­i­cal.”

Heather float­ed up, up, up. Out of the tent, up in the air. She dis­si­pat­ed. Like smoke. I could see it all through the can­vas. We can tell the police to stop look­ing,” I say. “If she comes back, it will be because the man brings her back from the sky. When it is time.” I smile at the three of them: Mom and Dad and Gary. See? I’m try­ing to say. It all works out.

She’s crazy,” Gary says, as if I can­not hear him. “She’s pure bat­shit.”

That can’t hap­pen,” my dad says again. “It just can’t.”

Why?” I ask, mar­veling at all he doesn’t know yet.

Because the uni­verse has rules!” my father shouts at me. For one brief moment, he looks at me as if I am some­one else. Then he is hold­ing both of my hands. “I’m sor­ry, Steffy. I’m sor­ry I yelled.” I gig­gle because his cheeks are too red, his hair messed up, his glass­es crooked.

My father stands up. “I’ll call the doc­tor,” he tells my moth­er.

I find myself drift­ing into sleep, deep and rest­ful. God gives. God takes away.

 

From the writer

:: Account ::

His­to­ry

I am orig­i­nal­ly from Far­go, North Dako­ta, which is prob­a­bly why I grav­i­tate toward dark and cold sto­ries set in the upper mid­west. I love char­ac­ters who are torn by what they want and what they *ought* to want. I’m intrigued by char­ac­ters who sur­prise me, who con­fuse or repel me, and who under­es­ti­mate the rip­ple effect of any one deci­sion (or inde­ci­sion). I like sto­ries that hint at the out­landish and the oth­er-world­ly, but also demon­strate the ter­ror of real­i­ty. I want read­ers to decide what’s worse: the realm of the super­nat­ur­al or the Tues­day we’re liv­ing right now.

Sketch

In this sto­ry, the main char­ac­ter, Steffy, is trau­ma­tized after her best friend dis­ap­pears while camp­ing in their back­yard. As the com­mu­ni­ty search­es for the miss­ing girl, Steffy expe­ri­ences flash­backs to that night. Does she know what real­ly hap­pened? Or is her mem­o­ry of Heather’s dis­ap­pear­ance col­ored by a pre­vi­ous trau­ma, one that is buried below a glossy sur­face?

Mark­er

All of my work grav­i­tates around one idea per­sis­tent ques­tion: Are we ever in con­trol of our own lives? What if it’s all a sham, I won­der. Maybe that’s the point of literature—or any kind of art: We all want to pre­tend we’re in con­trol of some­thing. Steffy thinks she’s in con­trol of her own mem­o­ries. And yet nobody believes that she has a grasp on real­i­ty. After all, she seems to think Heather has been kid­napped by God.

Repos­i­to­ry of Influ­ences

Like many writ­ers, and prob­a­bly like you, I’m a vora­cious read­er. I’m cyn­i­cal and irrev­er­ent and curi­ous and con­fused and doubt­ful. The sto­ries I love most are the ones that strike those chords and rat­tle my brain. I will nev­er for­get the line of sweat, the hair dye, run­ning down Arnold Friend’s face in Joyce Car­ol Oates’ sto­ry “Where Are You Going, Where Have you Been?” as Con­nie real­izes what she’s just done, the way she’s sealed her own fate. Steffy is an homage to Con­nie, but her Arnold Friend is hid­den in the depths of her own mind.

 

Chris­tine Seifert is the author of one nov­el pub­lished in three lan­guages: The Pre­dict­eds (2011); two non­fic­tion books for young read­ers: Whop­pers: History’s Most Out­ra­geous Lies and Liars (2015) and The Fac­to­ry Girls: A Kalei­do­scop­ic Account of the Tri­an­gle Shirt­waist Fac­to­ry (2017); and one aca­d­e­m­ic book: Vir­gin­i­ty in Young Adult Lit­er­a­ture after Twi­light (2015.) She’s also writ­ten for The Atavist, Bitch Mag­a­zine, and Inside High­er Ed, among oth­er pub­li­ca­tions. Born and raised in Far­go, North Dako­ta, Chris­tine is now a Pro­fes­sor of Com­mu­ni­ca­tion at West­min­ster Col­lege in Salt Lake City, Utah, where win­ter lasts a rea­son­able peri­od of time.

Not Capable of Giving Her Leprosy

Fiction / Vi Khi Nao

:: Not Capable of Giving Her Leprosy ::

The streets seem young to her.
Vegas was built overnight with poor plumb­ing .
She is wan­der­ing the streets again.

Over orange chick­en at Pan­da Express, he tells her that the white pro­fes­sor needs to return to the Unit­ed States. He needs to exer­cise a med­ical absence. He is white and he is hav­ing sex with his Kore­an stu­dents. He has been in Korea for about 1/5th of his life. His white dick hasn’t touched the vagi­nal sewage sys­tem of North Amer­i­ca for about a decade now. And, although mod­ern West­ern plump­ing doesn’t miss him, apple pies donate a large part of their de-tart­ed, but not re-tart­ed, pas­try life to crav­ing him. His grandmother’s nick­name is PP (for Peach Pie), and his aunt’s name is Rhubarb. He works for Bul­go­gi Uni­ver­si­ty, one of the best uni­ver­si­ties in Korea. It’s where a female-dom­i­nat­ed, Eng­lish-cur­ricu­lum-based edu­ca­tion teach­es female stu­dents how to learn Eng­lish from sick, per­vert­ed, white fac­ul­ty. It’s not an expen­sive edu­ca­tion. But there is no psy­chother­a­py there.

Pro­fes­sor Straw­ber­ry asks his young Kore­an stu­dent if she would have sex with him. She says,  “No.” As if “no” were a stage 4 can­cer that doesn’t know what lymph nodes or metasta­t­ic mean. The bold young Kore­an stu­dent doesn’t like straw­ber­ries in big batch­es. She prefers per­sim­mons in box­es as gifts.

Pro­fes­sor Straw­ber­ry doesn’t want to leave Bul­go­gi. At Bul­go­gi he has voca­tion­al and sex­u­al pow­er and prowess. Here, he has a grip on the upper ech­e­lon of South Korea’s Eng­lish lit­er­a­cy world. He is impor­tant. He is known. He has pow­er. Cer­tain female Kore­an stu­dents would want to have sex with him. If he returns to the Unit­ed States, he will need to devel­op a new hob­by for inter­net porn, the pedophil­i­ac kind—not relat­ed to lilacs—and may have to attend the same school, per­haps down­grad­ed, as Har­vey Wein­stein and Kevin Spacey.

He leans over to tell her that although he has pow­er, it’s sort of fake. Like Pro­fes­sor Straw­ber­ry is tech­ni­cal­ly pow­er­ful, but his pow­er is bor­rowed or lent  to him because he has blue eyes and white skin. True pow­er is race­less or face­less, she dis­cov­ers. Or col­or-deaf. In her mind, she doesn’t think any of this is true. True pow­er requires one to be dick-deaf. Is she dick-deaf? she asks her­self while she tries to stuff broc­coli and beef into her mouth. She isn’t hun­gry, but she is eat­ing because it is eas­i­er to lis­ten when one’s mouth is full.

Mean­while, about 6,000 miles away, in Las Vegas, eight Kore­an women in their late fifties all hud­dle in a Star­bucks fran­chise to dis­cuss the impor­tance of eat­ing meat while read­ing Han Kang’s The Veg­e­tar­i­an. One woman turns to anoth­er woman, ask­ing if it would be okay if she brought japchae to their next book club meet­ing.

Rib­eye fil­let goes so well with glass noo­dle!”
“Of course!”
“Yes, of course!”

Lit­er­a­ture is pre­dom­i­nate­ly a female voca­tion in Korea. Writ­ing would make men effem­i­nate and Kore­an cul­ture, like all oth­er cul­tures, thrives on mas­culin­i­ty or bibim­bap.

They walk to Ben and Jerry’s. After work­ing at a law office accom­plish­ing noth­ing, or so he tells her, he wants to treat him­self to some­thing sweet. She doesn’t want ice cream but she gives in. The last time, she watched him lick his ice cream and it was like watch­ing a white man giv­ing a blowjob to anoth­er white man and although blow­ing isn’t her thing, cli­mate change, espe­cial­ly on the tongue, is her thing. She has a thing for lick­ing things over. She recon­sid­ers his offer to buy her ice cream. Maybe through the ice cream thing, he is offer­ing her a free blowjob. Any­one would take it up, right? Think­ing things over is her thing.

Her father’s girl­friend is bisex­u­al.

Her bisex­u­al­i­ty con­sists of two grape­fruits and one rain­bow trout. Fry­ing fish is her thing. She likes her rela­tion­ship with oil to be around 350 to 375 degrees.

She walks into Trad­er Joe’s. It’s a Sat­ur­day. It’s crowd­ed. Walk­ing there led her to 7,342 steps. Every­one looks like they are wear­ing dia­pers and hold­ing each other’s hands and say­ing hel­lo and kiss­ing good­bye while wav­ing their gluten-free pota­to chips at each oth­er. When­ev­er they fart, the cush­ions on their dia­pers absorb the sound and smell and thus every­one at Trader’s Joe is hap­py with each oth­er. Dia­pers make every­one social­ly safe. When she exit­ed Smith’s just an hour ago, no adults were wear­ing dia­pers and they didn’t even know who they were shop­ping with, let alone wav­ing expen­sive organ­ic cocoa at anoth­er. When­ev­er a shop­per farts at Smith’s, every­one knows who it is and if their last meal was at McDonald’s or Jack in the Box. But at Trad­er Joe’s, all pol­lu­tion or inad­ver­tent acts of social trans­gres­sion are fam­i­ly-accept­ed and fam­i­ly-owned.

Before falling asleep, she tells her­self: although she can’t com­mit sui­cide now, her biggest revenge on God is the abil­i­ty to do it lat­er, when she can. When she is per­mit­ted to.

When the barks of tall palm trees fall on the streets of Vegas by the heavy zephyr or breaths of tum­ble­weeds, they look like the backs of armadil­los. When she saw the barks for the very first time, walk­ing to Wal­mart late one night, they star­tled her. She thought the wind was so strong that even the hard shells of the nine-band­ed noc­tur­nal omniv­o­rous mam­mals were not imper­vi­ous to the bru­tal dessert wind. But, upon clos­er inspec­tion, she dis­cov­ered that the bony plates of these ever­greens were not capa­ble of giv­ing her lep­rosy. Walk­ing to Wal­mart has a greater chance of giv­ing her nerve dam­age.

 

 

From the writer

:: Account ::

As shown in my prose, I wrote this dur­ing a very des­o­late time in my life. I had begun a friend­ship with a kind fic­tion writer in Vegas who want­ed to remove the iso­la­tion which has imbued my soul like the bony gar­ment of an armadil­lo. Dur­ing that friend­ship, I knew more about Korea than I ever did from all the books I was read­ing. It was inter­est­ing to me to hear what non-expa­tri­ate white men in the States thought of white men liv­ing abroad in Asia and Kore­an women resid­ing in their native home­land, Korea. Some of the con­ver­sa­tions between us were cap­tured near ver­ba­tim. My per­cep­tion of Korea altered after my hik­ing vis­its with him. I wrote this dur­ing the time in which Har­vey Wein­stein & the men who com­mit­ted sex­u­al crimes against women were oust­ed . We like fic­tion to not cap­ture real­i­ty so much, but some­times due to its  height­ened depth of form and its shame­less real­ism, we are, as a cul­ture, doomed to state the obvi­ous. We think we can dress real­i­ty in decep­tion or false­hood, but it’s real­ly impos­si­ble to.

 

Vi Khi Nao is the author of three poet­ry col­lec­tions, Sheep Machine (Black Sun Lit, 2018), Umbil­i­cal Hos­pi­tal (Press 1913, 2017), and The Old Philoso­pher (win­ner of the Night­boat Books Prize for Poet­ry in 2014), and of the short sto­ries col­lec­tion, A Brief Alpha­bet of Tor­ture (win­ner of the 2016 FC2’s Ronald Sukenick Inno­v­a­tive Fic­tion Prize), and the nov­el, Fish in Exile (Cof­fee House Press, 2016). Her work includes poet­ry, fic­tion, film and cross-genre col­lab­o­ra­tion. Her sto­ries, poems, and draw­ings have appeared in NOONPloughsharesBlack War­rior Review, and BOMB, among oth­ers. Vi holds an MFA in fic­tion from Brown Uni­ver­si­ty.

 

Cumbia

Fiction / Myriam Gurba

:: Cumbia ::

They met at a grim three­some.

She, a niece, as well as a writer, sat sidesad­dle on the deathbed.

A heather gray tunic draped her. Cut from t‑shirt mate­r­i­al, it dan­gled from spaghet­ti straps. Beneath it, a scoop-necked, cobalt top mold­ed itself to her. Her ex-boyfriend, a dra­ma teacher from whom she’d escaped sev­er­al months pri­or, had enjoyed shit talk­ing the Oxfords that com­plet­ed her out­fit.

They look like under­tak­er shoes,” he’d com­plain.

He’d been wrong. They were les­bian shoes, and he hadn’t under­stood this because he wasn’t a les­bian, he was a man, one which her clever les­bian friends found dis­taste­ful in his ordi­nar­i­ness.

She stared at her uncle’s face. The insti­tu­tion­al light fix­ture mount­ed above his head­board cast a glow about his shaved head. This didn’t look angel­ic. Flu­o­res­cence can’t.

Her uncle’s nos­trils twitched and pain yanked his head up and off his pil­low. His neck tensed, tendons/tendons/tendons, and agony twist­ed his fea­tures and kept twist­ing them, con­tort­ing his cheeks, nose, brow, and mouth in ways the writer had nev­er seen done to human skin. She’d only seen dishrags twist­ed like this when her moth­er had wrung them out on hope­less school nights. She’d felt sor­ry for the dishrags.

Her uncle’s tongue scraped his remain­ing teeth, nubs resem­bling pil­on­cil­lo, and the tongue froze like a flag in midair. What else does that? Is out and wet and pink and crisp? A dog’s penis. The writer thought of one, a pit bull’s she’d watched unsheathe itself as he squat­ted at a woman’s feet.

She’d been brunch­ing on an omelet.

Eye­balls bugged. Nos­trils flared. Eyes squeezed shut as her uncle shook his head, gri­maced, and exhaled hard enough to hurt him­self.

He looked Holo­causty.

And so the niece had arranged for help.

Breathe,” she whis­pered.

shut­up…” he moaned. Anoth­er parox­ysm was on its way.

Obey­ing, she wait­ed. She want­ed.

She want­ed her uncle to have what her grand­moth­er hadn’t, a dig­ni­fied death, the best death his veteran’s ben­e­fits could afford, and she knew that a final cur­tain like that would require opi­ates.

HE WILL FUCKING HAVE MORPHINE TONIGHT, the writer texted her lit­tle sis­ter, a Jew, and nurse, work­ing in New York City, OR ONE OF THESE FUCKS IS GONNA PAY.

The sis­ter replied, THEY STILL HAVEN’T GIVEN HIM MORPHINE??????

Three knife emo­jis fol­lowed the ques­tion.

NO

In return, the sis­ter texted triple the knife emo­jis.

EXACTLY, the writer replied. She sighed. She was ready to ruin someone’s evening or life for her uncle’s com­fort. She was ready to make some­one scared, to make some­one suf­fer. She want­ed to inflict what­ev­er pain necessary—physical, emo­tion­al, or psychic—and then she would scream at the admin­is­tra­tor or staff mem­ber or who­ev­er else need­ed to be screamed at.

She would demand, “How do you like it? Oh, you don’t like it? You want relief?

 WELL, YOU CAN’T HAVE ANY.”

Her uncle’s chest heaved.

She stared.

She under­stood what she was watch­ing.

Each fam­i­ly has a dying style: she knew what her family’s looked, smelled, and sound­ed like, and her uncle’s breath­ing was increas­ing­ly approx­i­mat­ing her abuelita’s the night before she woke up dead. Mem­o­ries of her abuelita’s death rat­tle evoked goth­ic images in the writer’s mind. One of them: a Mex­i­can hag with a black lace veil plopped over her sil­ver hair. Catholic lin­gerie …

In a Taga­log accent, some­one, prob­a­bly a nurs­ing assis­tant, chirped, “Hel­lo, doc­tor!”

I’m not a doc­tor!” a man barked back.

Foot­steps approached the pri­va­cy cur­tain. It swished. The writer turned to look.

At the foot of the bed stood a svelte bear of a man in a white coat. The blue of his eyes was remark­able. They were the blue of pop music and études. This made the writer angry. Why had some­one with libid­i­nal appeal been sent to the deathbed? It was vul­gar.

The writer thought about fir­ing the beard­ed man.

Her bisex­u­al gaze locked with his.

Hel­lo,” he told her. “I am the hos­pice nurse.”

 

 

From the writer

:: Account ::

I rarely write about love.

When I do, I’m often writ­ing about my uncle Hen­ry. If not writ­ing direct­ly about him, then I’m writ­ing indi­rect­ly about him.

I wrote this piece as what I thought was a deathbed account. My uncle was dying, though he didn’t die, and this sto­ry is a con­tin­u­a­tion of the sickbed por­trai­ture that I was mak­ing of him. I con­stant­ly doc­u­ment my uncle and am inspired to cre­ate arti­facts relat­ed to his many ill­ness­es. The first instance that I saw of such work was Han­nah Wilke’s Intra-Venus series. She cre­at­ed the pho­to­graph­ic series with her hus­band, Don­ald God­dard, while she was dying of can­cer.

The pho­tographs are equal parts beau­ty and grotesque, repel­lent and mag­net­ic, vul­ner­a­ble and rock hard. This tends to be a com­mon qual­i­ty in sickbed and deathbed por­trai­ture.

Anoth­er work that I had in mind was a paint­ing that I saw as a child. The paint­ing rep­re­sent­ed hell and fea­tured a soul burn­ing there. The soul, sur­round­ed by flames, appeared on a tall, met­al alms box in a Mex­i­can chapel. The image didn’t inspire me to give alms, but it inspired me to want to meet peo­ple in hell.

 

Myr­i­am Gur­ba is a high school teacher, writer, pod­cast­er and artist who lives in Long Beach, Cal­i­for­nia. Her most recent book, the true crime mem­oir Mean, was a New York Times edi­tors’ choice. Pub­lish­ers Week­ly describes her as a “lit­er­ary voice like none oth­er.” Gur­ba co-hosts the AskBi­Gr­lz advice pod­cast with car­toon­ist, and fel­low bira­cial­ist, Mari­Nao­mi. Her col­lage and dig­i­tal art­work has been shown in muse­ums, gal­leries, and com­mu­ni­ty cen­ters.

Two Poems

Poetry / Jason Schneiderman

:: The Last Ace of Base Enthusiast ::

The last Ace of Base Enthusiast wishes she could live in the 1990s. 
The last Ace of Base Enthusiast imagines a world where it was impossible
to avoid Ace of Base—where it would be playing over the stereo
when you entered a convenience store, or when you went to the bank.
At first she was annoyed when her friends asked her what the songs meant,
or tried to pin her down on precisely what “the sign” was, or insisted
on knowing why the main character was crying in “Don’t Turn Around.”
Later, she was frustrated when her friends refused to listen to her answers,
and she had to write a book explaining all of the lyrics, and the multiple
permutations by which they might be understood. No one bought the book,
so she started making dioramas of the convenience stores and banks
in the 1990s where you couldn’t avoid Ace of Base songs. Her show
of dioramas is well received, and highly regarded as an example of 
“The New Retrospectivists” though she is consistently hurt by the pride that
critics take in being able “to endure the hideous cacophony of screeching
vocals that the artist has dredged up from a past that we remember with
great pain, but as she has shown us, forget at our own peril.” Once, she thinks,
people would have bought the CD in the gift shop on the way out of the museum,
back in the 1990s, when there were CDs. 


 

:: Little Red Riding Wolf ::

On the lecture circuit, Little Red Riding Wolf
is generally brought to tears by at least one 
question. Wolves tend to accuse her of being
a collaborator, while humans tend to demand
to know if she has ever eaten a person herself.

Folklorists tend to dismiss her outright
as being trapped in a very stupid story, 
while a certain cadre of literary theorists
consider her very identity an ouroboros, 
a figure that they hope will become as popular

as the rhizome once became for an earlier
generation of scholars. None of this helps
Little Red Riding Wolf, whose only real
pleasure is cruising online dating apps, 
never meeting up, but pretending 

sometimes to be only a wolf, 
sometimes to be only a little girl.  



 

From the writer

:: Account ::

While these poems were writ­ten as part of very dif­fer­ent sequences, they both reflect the ways that I often see iden­ti­ty as radi­ant or con­ta­gious in ways that blur affin­i­ty or oblig­a­tion and defy sim­pli­fied (but nec­es­sary) forms of stand­point epis­te­mol­o­gy. I think we’re in a time when we are focused on uni­tary forms of iden­ti­ty, which is a cru­cial cor­rec­tive to a kind of post­mod­ernism that failed to decen­ter dom­i­nant modes of iden­ti­ty by extend­ing cer­tain fail­ures of mid twen­ti­eth cen­tu­ry human­ism. Both poems are about char­ac­ters caught in forms of iden­ti­ty that look inco­her­ent to the peo­ple around them. The char­ac­ters find strate­gies for being seen in ways that make the mis-recog­ni­tion pro­duc­tive and emo­tion­al­ly sat­is­fy­ing, but they can’t quite find their way to being per­ceived in the ways that they per­ceive them­selves. Poems allow me con­cretize the abstrac­tions that buzz around my head all day, so—fingers crossed—you enjoyed the poems more than the account.

 

Jason Schnei­der­man is the author of four books of poems: Hold Me Tight (Red Hen Press, 2020), Pri­ma­ry Source (Red Hen Press, 2016), Strik­ing Sur­face (Ash­land Poet­ry Press, 2010), and Sub­li­ma­tion Point (Four Way Books, 2004). He edit­ed the anthol­o­gy Queer: A Read­er for Writ­ers (Oxford Uni­ver­si­ty Press, 2016). His poet­ry and essays have appeared in Amer­i­can Poet­ry Review, The Best Amer­i­can Poet­ry, Poet­ry Lon­don, Grand Street, and The Pen­guin Book of the Son­net. He is an asso­ciate pro­fes­sor of Eng­lish at the Bor­ough of Man­hat­tan Com­mu­ni­ty Col­lege, CUNY, and lives in Brook­lyn.

A Song of Apples Falling Over a Cliff

Poetry / Jeremy Radin

:: A Song of Apples Falling Over a Cliff ::

A boy runs, dragging a forest behind him, babbling 
like a newspaper. Tigers file through the underbrush

whispering Yiddish—or what in a child’s dream sounds 
like Yiddish. Between the boy & me, a coffin full of honey

—we dip the bread, the apples, feed each other the sugar 
of years. Once I wore a tiger suit to the supermarket, 

growled up at stacks of cake. If I told you loneliness 
was a coffin built from sugar, what would you say 

with your warm & human mouth? I should tell you 
there’s a city where it always rains. I wish to live 

there. The boy wishes to live anywhere with tigers. 
The boy wishes to run. We were fat very quickly, 

a mountain of milk. The angel perches upon 
the fridge, in this, the room of my adulthood. 

A woman plays guitar & sings a song of apples 
falling over a cliff. Where does the moment go

& my hair? Ah, Jeremychild—there are such 
nothings with which to fill our bellies. Such 

rooms to back out of. Such silences to say.

 

 

From the writer

:: Account ::

For the past ten years, I have been in—and out of—recovery for an eat­ing dis­or­der. I’m a com­pul­sive vol­ume eater, which means I obses­sive­ly want and attempt to eat more than I can eat. As a result of this, I have spent the major­i­ty of my life over­weight, and I’ve let that con­di­tion dic­tate much of my life—I’ve allowed my fat­ness (and the myths I’ve made around my fat­ness) to keep me from inti­ma­cy both phys­i­cal and emo­tion­al, con­nect­ing to my feel­ings, con­nect­ing to the divine, to friends, to fam­i­ly, to part­ners.

The book I’m work­ing on endeav­ors to explore the facets of dis­or­dered eat­ing, body image, and recov­ery through can­dor, humor, warmth, and bewil­der­ment. Eat­ing dis­or­ders are flu­id. They are alive. They shift and adapt and sur­vive. My eat­ing dis­or­der has all the tools at its dis­pos­al that I have—my imag­i­na­tion, intel­li­gence, pow­ers of rationalization—the dif­fer­ence is it doesn’t get tired. What can I use to cre­ate a dia­logue with this tire­less­ness? What is tire­less enough so as to be up to the task? Well, there is god. But I am not par­tic­u­lar­ly reli­gious. And so how do I attempt, in my way, to com­mune with god? Well, there is poet­ry.

Poet­ry has been a remark­ably use­ful, if imper­fect, tool in my recov­ery. It attempts to remain as flu­id, as salta­to­ry, as capa­ble of leap­ing through and around the bounds of log­ic as the eat­ing dis­or­der itself. Poet­ry aims to occu­py the space out­side and beyond logic—the same space an eat­ing dis­or­der occu­pies. When one attempts to engage the eat­ing dis­or­der with log­ic, one becomes quick­ly frus­trat­ed. Often a binge is tied to nothing—it seems to have no ori­gin; it just appears. So how do I meet the eat­ing dis­or­der where it lives? While in treat­ment I lead a poet­ry work­shop in which my fel­low eaters and non-eaters and I wrote odes to foods that ter­ri­fied us. What we learned was that we were not writ­ing odes to the food but to our abil­i­ty to imbue the food with such size and mean­ing. What is an eat­ing dis­or­der if not the sign of a tremen­dous imag­i­na­tion? The capac­i­ty to cre­ate mean­ing out of noth­ing. And what is a poem?

We live in a time and in a country—and a glob­al community—where it is dif­fi­cult for me to con­ceive of the fact that there are peo­ple with­out eat­ing dis­or­ders. I live in Los Ange­les, where I am con­stant­ly bom­bard­ed with imagery that is deeply confusing—on Sun­set Boule­vard, a fifty-foot bill­board of a mod­el with a “per­fect” body next to a fifty-foot bill­board of a dou­ble bacon cheese­burg­er. And now, since the advent of the internet—a kind of por­tal onto a kind of Sun­set Boulevard—these frus­trat­ing mixed mes­sages have been glob­al­ized. How is any­one sup­posed to nav­i­gate pure­ly this most basic of sur­vival func­tions when we are told “eat this to look like this,” and then, not more than a few sec­onds lat­er, “doesn’t this look deli­cious?” Shame over the one inevitably leads to engag­ing in the oth­er: “I can’t look this this so I will eat this; I can’t eat this so I will look like this.” It is as if the food indus­try and beau­ty indus­try are toss­ing us glee­ful­ly back and forth, prof­it­ing not only off our con­fu­sion but, because we have been so fierce­ly shamed for it, our unwill­ing­ness to speak open­ly about this con­fu­sion.

My dream in work­ing on this project is that it makes avail­able more space where men can talk and lis­ten freely, togeth­er about dis­or­dered eat­ing and body image. I say specif­i­cal­ly men because I am a man, and this is the ver­sion of the sto­ry I can tell. Eat­ing dis­or­ders are ram­pant through­out all gen­ders and it is cer­tain­ly more dif­fi­cult, for many rea­sons, being a fat woman in this coun­try than a fat man—but I also believe that there is a dearth of lit­er­a­ture sur­round­ing men and eat­ing and men and their bod­ies. This, I believe, is because men—as emo­tion­al oppressors—have not been forced to evolve emo­tion­al­ly as quick­ly and ful­ly as women, and what women are attuned enough to their feel­ings to speak open­ly about, men are not.

It is a strange and com­plex thing to be a man with an eat­ing dis­or­der in this coun­try. As is so often the case, this com­plex­i­ty is root­ed in tox­ic mas­culin­i­ty. There exists the misog­y­nis­tic con­sid­er­a­tion that an eat­ing dis­or­der is a “woman’s dis­ease,” that for a man to strug­gle with an eat­ing dis­or­der is not only shame­ful in its own right, but emasculating—the idea being that only women could be weak and vain enough to be sus­cep­ti­ble to these con­fu­sions. As a result of this con­sid­er­a­tion many men remain silent about their eat­ing disorders—some to the point of death. Men are com­pul­sive eaters, anorex­i­cs, bulim­ics, exer­cise bulim­ics, orthorex­i­cs, restric­tors, etc. etc. As do so many tools of the patri­archy, this con­sid­er­a­tion hurts men under the guise of a sort of pro­tec­tion. Our silence will not pro­tect us.

Each time I share with friends, write, or speak pub­licly about my eat­ing dis­or­der, fat­ness, etc., a lay­er of shame is shaved off. In fact, I have become deeply grate­ful to my eat­ing dis­or­der for the remark­able dia­logues it has led me to. I wish for more men to enter into these con­ver­sa­tions because I believe that they will not only serve to des­tig­ma­tize dis­or­dered eat­ing and body dys­mor­phia, but that they may grant men a tremen­dous insight into the lives of the peo­ple with whom we will be shar­ing these con­ver­sa­tions, with whom we share this coun­try, this plan­et, and will lead us toward more thought­ful­ness and gen­tle­ness in our day to day encoun­ters with oth­er human beings, and, ulti­mate­ly, with our­selves.

So for any­one who may be strug­gling with food and body image, in secret or not, I say to you: Hel­lo. Let’s talk. I am not through it yet. I may nev­er be. But I am here, and I know you are too. We are not alone.

 

Jere­my Radin is a poet, actor, and teacher. His poems have appeared (or are forth­com­ing) Gulf Coast, The Cort­land Review, The Jour­nal, Vinyl, Pas­sages North, Cos­mo­nauts Avenue, and else­where. He is the author of two col­lec­tions of poet­ry, Slow Dance with Sasquatch (Write Bloody Pub­lish­ing, 2012) and Dear Sal (not a cult press, 2017). He lives in Los Ange­les with his six plants and refrig­er­a­tor. Fol­low him @germyradin.

Two Poems

Poetry / Autumn McClintock

:: Abiding Characteristics ::

	erased from Valerie’s journal: April 21, 1982

With each season

you	           stand the elusive 
reason	for why people “pass on.”
        you learn	to pick tulips

long-stemmed instead of right
from the blossom. Listening
        a glimpse
        you handle relationships

Know	how special you are. You’re just not
                   you’re not	    you’re
not	        you’re not


        so beautiful

                              the seasons
You	             unlearn

 
and	 accept
 

                        understand 
                          something
 
spoken of and		obvious 
you	          say, “get it, mom?”
                                        if you could
get around to the other side it would be 
easier

                         you love to run.


 

:: Isaiah 40: Erased from Headstone ::

          says your God

her hard service has been completed, 
she has received from the LORD’S hand

          the wilderness           the desert 

a highway           rough
and revealed.


And I said, What shall I cry? All people are      grass, 
     and all breath
blows the      grass.


     a high mountain           lift up
with a shout,
lift      up
the hollow breadth      of the heavens
Who has held the earth           in a basket?


Whom did the LORD consult 
and who was
the
     dust the
               fine dust

Do you not know?      Have you not heard?

Has it not been told you 
since the earth was
                     the earth,

 
its grass
stretches
                              like a canopy,

and reduces this world to
the ground
 
the	name
               is missing.

Why do you complain?
Why do you say

LORD my God 
LORD           God,
     no
LORD
               no
                  no.

 

 

From the writer

:: Account ::

These era­sures are, respec­tive­ly, from a jour­nal my moth­er wrote to/for me after I was born and from chap­ter 40 of Isa­iah, from the New Inter­na­tion­al Ver­sion of the Bible. This year, I am the age my moth­er was when she died: 41. This project allows our con­ver­sa­tion to go on. These works are also part of a longer man­u­script that exam­ines rela­tion­ships between/among women, ill­ness, grief, enter­ing mid­dle age, and what it means to out­live one’s par­ent in years and age. My hope is that the poems make pos­si­ble oth­er con­ver­sa­tions out in the world, between you and your dead or maybe even you and your liv­ing. Works of era­sure that have been invalu­able as I approached this project are The Ground I Stand on Is Not My Ground by Col­lier Nogues, Radi os by Ronald John­son, and Voy­ager by Srikanth Red­dy.

 

Autumn McClin­tock lives in Philadel­phia and works at the pub­lic library. Her first chap­book, After the Creek, was pub­lished in 2016. Poems of hers have recent­ly appeared or are forth­com­ing in Poet­ry Dai­ly, Green Moun­tains Review, Den­ver Quar­ter­ly, Cimar­ron Review, Drunk­en Boat, Spoon Riv­er Poet­ry Review, and oth­ers. She is a staff read­er for Ploughshares.

Late October

Poetry / Sandra Marchetti

:: Late October ::

It’s the first night of the World Series 
and ten jets, like stars, home
toward O’Hare. Runways roll
out the plains in draped carpet. 
Even though little league is over,
each ballfield lit up as if
by candles at the dinner table,
welcoming someone’s return.



 

From the writer

:: Account ::

I’ve writ­ten a cou­ple poems describ­ing how when land­ing in Chica­go I notice all the base­ball dia­monds. There seem to be more than in oth­er areas of the coun­try (per­haps because of the flat­ness?). I was tak­ing off from O’Hare in Octo­ber on the night of the first game of the World Series, two months after ama­teur base­ball is over, and a bunch of lit­tle league and park dis­trict fields were eeri­ly lit—as if they knew it was a big night for the game.

 

San­dra Mar­che­t­ti is the author of Con­flu­ence, a full-length col­lec­tion of poet­ry from Sun­dress Pub­li­ca­tions (2015), and four chap­books of poet­ry and lyric essays. Her poet­ry appears in Eco­tone, Poet Lore, Black­bird, Sug­ar House Review, Riv­er Styx, and else­where. Essays can be found in The Rum­pus, Mid-Amer­i­can Review, Bar­rel­house, Pleiades, and oth­er venues.

Two Poems

Poetry / Karen An-hwei Lee

:: Dear Millennium, Jade Rabbit on the Far Side of the Moon ::

We sent a rover called Jade Rabbit to the far side of our moon,
the other side of hiddenness as it faces away from this world,
where cotton seeds sprouted at first, but don’t expect the moon
to change into fresh cotton fields soon, thanks to airlessness—     
minus subzero in microgravity, absolutely freezing up there. 
The spacecraft which carried the rover was named for a lady 
who drank the elixir of immortality and floated to the moon.
She was the same lady who married the archer who shot nine
of the ten suns scorching the earth. As a little girl, I wondered 
if the lady was bored out of her wits from sitting on the moon,
a blanched, cold place without almond cakes or green cheese.
The moon is not made of jade, either. Of course, you can’t eat 
jade, but it is soothing to hold. Meanwhile, the moon’s far side
lies in utter darkness due to tidal locking, not what it sounds—
actually the moon’s orbit and its rotation are not about oceans
the way we feel the ebb and flow of their familiar nocturnes.
The darkness is more about not knowing what else is there. 
It is also not quite the opposite of what we do see, however.
Don’t expect that the moon will turn into cotton fields soon. 
It is not made of mutton fat. Neither cassia trees nor rabbits 
dwell there. On the far side, we find what we already know—
that seeds cannot survive in such weather, and sadly, we get 
no closer to knowing God in doing so, not even in reaching    
out to graze the edges of the farthest stars, dear millennium, 
when God is shooting valentines of love into jaded hearts
where strings hold our atoms of flesh together, for now.


 

:: Dear Millennium, on the Methuselah Star ::

The meteor shower, a famous one, arrives tonight.  
                              To see it, we must drive a hundred miles east 
to Joshua Tree, the high desert. The bright Perseids—  
                              How could we possibly make it
                    in time, crossing this long, clandestine distance 
                                                            to the inland empire?  
Past the drought-blighted avocado and lemon groves,
                                                  on cracked, desolate freeways—  
A pastor once described our path towards eternity 
                                        as a long obedience in the same direction.  
Sounds mundane. Even so, I love this austere method of sameness   
                    while night gently shawls the Mojave with stars— 
                                        ten-billion-year-old pixie dust 
speckling the eastern hemisphere—as our bodies, way stations
                    of hydrogen, carbon, and phosphorus atoms
becloud the hairpin-river of the Milky Way 
                              beyond the light pollution of Los Angeles,
midsummer August. Sea-bright on stillness, rose-prickled
                                                            and spectrally red-shifted, 
                                                  ancient star fumes    
blaze with our unbridled wishes,
                    blend with the coiled smoke of gashed comets 
barely the age of the oldest star discovered,
                              the Methuselah star— 
                                                  born fourteen billion years ago.	



 

From the writer

:: Account ::

Eter­ni­ty, not the per­fume, is on my mind late­ly, not so much for olfac­to­ry but onto­log­i­cal and oth­er rea­sons, or maybe just out of mun­dane curios­i­ty. The Methuse­lah star—over four bil­lion years old, a para­dox­i­cal age that makes it old­er than the universe—and China’s lunar rover—surface in these poems, thanks to my perusal of Space.com, whose items I pon­dered out of afore­said curios­i­ty as a poet. How can a star be old­er than the uni­verse? Why isn’t the dark side of the moon actu­al­ly dark? Will cot­ton seeds sur­vive on the moon? Why not? For the past two decades, I’ve lived in var­i­ous cities in south­ern Cal­i­for­nia, and now by the sea. The sky opens up with Hop­kins­esque grandeur. Dur­ing a new moon when its light is obscured, or if you ever dri­ve inland to the high desert, zil­lions of stars are vis­i­ble to an unaid­ed eye. When I hold myself still for a minute to bear wit­ness to these finite aspects of cre­ation, I feel God shoot­ing a fleet of valen­tines from the out­er reach­es of eter­ni­ty into the here-and-now of my heart. And in case any­one is won­der­ing, the age of the Methuse­lah star was recal­cu­lat­ed as 4.5 billion—give or take 800 mil­lion years—which would put it at slight­ly younger than the uni­verse, if we go with a minus sign.
__________________
INSPIRATION

Bar­tels, Meghan. “Cot­ton Seeds Sprout on Moon’s Far Side.” Space.com, 15 Jan­u­ary 2019, www.space.com/43012-china-cotton-seed-moon-far-side-chang-e4.html.

David, Leonard. “Chi­nese Rover and Lan­der Sur­vive 1st Frigid Night on Moon’s Far Side.” Space.com, 1 Feb­ru­ary 2019, www.space.com/43192-china-farside-moon-mission-survives-lunar-night.html.

Peter­son, Eugene. A Long Obe­di­ence in the Same Direc­tion. West­mont, IL: IVP Press, 1980.

Wall, Mike. “Strange ‘Methuse­lah’ Star Looks Old­er than the Uni­verse.” Space.com, 7 March 2013, www.space.com/20112-oldest-known-star-universe.html.

 

Karen An-hwei Lee is the author of Phy­la of Joy (Tupe­lo, 2012), Ardor (Tupe­lo, 2008), and In Medias Res (Sara­bande, 2004), win­ner of the Nor­ma Far­ber First Book Award. She authored two nov­els, Sonata in K (Ellip­sis, 2017) and The Maze of Trans­paren­cies (Ellip­sis, 2019). Lee’s trans­la­tions of Li Qingzhao’s writ­ing, Dou­bled Radi­ance: Poet­ry & Prose of Li Qingzhao (Singing Bone, 2018), is the first vol­ume in Eng­lish to col­lect Li’s work in both gen­res. Her book of lit­er­ary crit­i­cism, Anglo­phone Lit­er­a­tures in the Asian Dias­po­ra: Lit­er­ary Transna­tion­al­ism and Translin­gual Migra­tions (Cam­bria, 2013), was select­ed for the Cam­bria Sino­phone World Series. The recip­i­ent of a Nation­al Endow­ment for the Arts Grant, Lee is a vot­ing mem­ber of the Nation­al Book Crit­ics Cir­cle. Cur­rent­ly, she lives in San Diego, where she serves in the admin­is­tra­tion at Point Loma Nazarene Uni­ver­si­ty.

Three Poems

Poetry / W. Todd Kaneko and Amorak Huey

:: Axl Reads Proust on a Transatlantic Flight ::

/ There is no line between sea, sky. / No hori­zon between what we are, what we become; between fin­ger and string, body and song, book and read­er. / On the aisle you sleep, dream­ing prob­a­bly of sun­glass­es or hats or small pills, and though this tour stretch­es ahead as evi­dence that speak­ing the same lan­guage isn’t the only route to under­stand­ing / though we face anoth­er fugi­tive year of try­ing, our last verse has been writ­ten, our mem­o­ries have been mapped. / Out the win­dow, off-white sky blurs against off-white ocean as if some­one has ren­dered the day with a sin­gle col­or of paint. / What appears to be the bot­tom is not the bot­tom. / There is always some­where deep­er, cold­er, salti­er. / Per­haps your name is not the acci­dent you say it is. / Per­haps all bor­ders are fleet­ing, all part­ing inevitable. / The plane angles north toward dis­tant ice, tak­ing advan­tage of a wind we can­not see. /

 

:: Slash and Mr. Spock Sitting in the Waffle House at the End of the Universe ::

In the dying light of the final star,
there will be breakfast at that last
truck stop between here and oblivion,
 
a pair of quasars sunny side up,
a bundle of flimsy bacon and a bottle
of Jack Daniels. Spock can’t help
but admire that hue and ooze
of yolk, that way an egg is all
 
things—an embryo, a planet, a goop
of sunshine with a prehistoric bob
and quiver for the fork. Outside,
the truckers shake their heads
at the loads that won’t ever reach
 
their destinations: dilithium crystals
burned out for warp drives, wall clocks
with hands stuck forever at ten and two,
cans of chili con carne and cling peaches,
 
their expiration dates now irrelevant.
The Vulcan takes a slug of whiskey
as he observes Slash preparing to eat
a waffle, pouring syrup into every crevice
without spilling any onto the plate.
 
Just eat it, Spock says. At any moment
we could tumble ass over ashes, collapse
back into that cosmic dust that spawned
us in the vacuum. Slash takes a first bite
and wipes a dribble of syrup from his chin
on his sleeve. That’s rock and roll, he says
with his mouth full. Spock cannot argue logic
for the supernova, reason for catastrophe,
appetite for the eater of worlds.


 

:: Axl Paints a Watercolor of Slash ::

The medi­um is the messi­ness hard to tell when one song ends the next begins hard to know whether it mat­ters the blur of maples arranged along dis­tant hori­zon whis­pers grumpi­ly into the pale ear of the sky every­thing reminds me of smeared lip gloss the col­ors nev­er so bright as they are in my head the music nev­er so loud vis­i­ble brush strokes the fin­ger­prints of god gui­tar strings the let­ters of your name spi­der across the world the way they were meant to be writ­ten there are always moun­tains some­times the moun­tains are sil­ver some­times they look like skulls.

 

 

From the writer

:: Account ::

The poems in our Slash project were col­lab­o­ra­tive­ly writ­ten. That is, one of us wrote the ini­tial draft and then placed it in a file we both could access, and we each revised and adjust­ed until the ini­tial draft was gone and in its place a new poem that was not mine or yours, not his or the oth­er his, but ours. It required a great deal of let­ting go, of set­ting ego aside and work­ing in ser­vice of the poem.

These poems draw from music, from lone­li­ness, from long­ing, from Guns N’  Ros­es, and from what it was like to be alive in a met­al age.

 

 

W. Todd Kaneko is the author of The Dead Wrestler Ele­gies (Curb­side Splen­dor, 2014) and This Is How the Bone Sings (Black Lawrence Press, 2020), and co-author of Poet­ry: A Writer’s Guide and Anthol­o­gy (Blooms­bury Aca­d­e­m­ic, 2018). A Kundi­man fel­low, he is co-edi­tor of the online lit­er­ary jour­nal Waxwing and lives in Grand Rapids, Michi­gan, where he teach­es cre­ative writ­ing at Grand Val­ley State Uni­ver­si­ty.

Amorak Huey, a 2017 Nation­al Endow­ment for the Arts Fel­low, is author of the poet­ry col­lec­tions Seduc­ing the Aspara­gus Queen (Cloud­bank Books, 2018), Ha Ha Ha Thump (Sun­dress, 2015), and Boom Box (Sun­dress, 2019), as well as two chap­books. He is co-author of the text­book Poet­ry: A Writer’s Guide and Anthol­o­gy (Blooms­bury, 2018) and teach­es at Grand Val­ley State Uni­ver­si­ty.

My Mother Comes Back as a Dragonfly

Poetry / Sara Henning

:: My Mother Comes Back as a Dragonfly ::

I swear I saw      a bruised moon heat      some angel re-born     
in carnival glass     she was throwing shade from the junk store window          
strung out on fishing twine         some kitsch bird-of-paradise       
some tchotchke mama      flaunting a luminous       vintage thorax                  
I watched her    pivot      all done up with light      her compound eyes	     
twin disco balls      I still want the jewel tones      glinting from her spine     
to blow the sky open        I want the blaze      that means the dead 
no longer haunt      the coordinates of our world       and if we say         
the dead are only intransitive	      do they still seek a signifier?        
My mother      died two Mays ago      and I’m locking eyes with glass
some dime store effigy    hocked on clearance        I’m chump enough 
to believe        still holds her      some hoodoo grace   you could call it 
steeping every memory     I revise here as though     wanting a thing    
could make the act      (of wanting it)      simpler   than touch    Once I 
couldn’t stop searching    for the sheer breach of it   on my grandmother’s 
persimmon tree        the naked devotion      of simply witnessing    
(does that make it simple?)     a carapace slit open    a ghost-colored interloper  
easing its wings     from the breathing sarcophagus     knitted to a branch    
I watched the old eyes     go dead     but you could say      it was lovely   
the belly downright swindled     from its old skin    the muscles in the thorax    
all shiver   and blind urge    you could say   I was watching a spirit   jettison    
from its last known instar       gussy itself up      for flight    my mother 
once said    dragonflies are the spirits     of our lost ones     returned to us    
that when her uncle died     they thronged in swarms   by the mailbox    
the juniper garden just lit up        with them    like stars      she said  
that would land in her braid      churn their wings       with such fury    
she couldn’t unhear      the rusted-bicycle-spoke sound of it    until she 
was persuaded     that every iridescent body    is a soul come home  
it is said          that the dragonfly nymph          is a predator underwater     
and because science is shameful      its flight cycle lasts weeks   
not years     but these facts      don’t stop me from trusting    
that the dead need stories      to keep them iridescent      yes     my mother 
comes back to me     but not like eggs     on the sheen of water   
a version of herself feeding in the dark                she does not perch    
on persimmon trees    to sass the spirit     twisting out of her   last known body       
she does not shimmy her wings      just to show off       a reckoning       
much stronger than silk    I’m trying to say      that glimmer haunting me         
at the junk store window   is a fool’s errand   a trickster medicine     I can’t 
talk myself out of believing      I’m sorry      the dazzle of someone else’s 
lost splendor   brings me to my knees         when I say that angel    
was the winged thing      slipped out of my mother      I’m only saying       
my mother is dead          God help me                my mother is dead 



 

From the writer

:: Account ::

My moth­er died in 2016 of stage 4 metasta­t­ic ade­no­car­ci­no­ma, oth­er­wise known as colon can­cer. It had trans­ferred from her colon to her womb, to her liv­er, to her lungs, then final­ly back to her liv­er, and she final­ly died from com­pli­ca­tions due to liv­er necro­sis. She chose to keep the news of her can­cer from me for two years. I found out the night she called me in the midst of a post-oper­a­tive hal­lu­ci­na­tion from pain medication—she believed she had been stolen by a man in a van and tak­en to his house. She believed he was cut­ting her open and stitch­ing her closed to show a tox­ic rela­tion­ship to mas­cu­line dom­i­na­tion. After sher­iffs were alert­ed and her call was tracked, we found out she had placed the call from the hos­pi­tal. We found out the man she believed to be her abuser was her oncol­o­gy nurse. These poems doc­u­ment the pain of los­ing a moth­er to can­cer, the pain that stems from untruths, and how one may find one­self in the ret­ro­spec­tive glance of grief every­where one turns.

 

Sara Hen­ning is the author of two vol­umes of poet­ry, most recent­ly View from True North (South­ern Illi­nois Uni­ver­si­ty Press, 2018), win­ner of the 2017 Crab Orchard Poet­ry Open Prize. In 2015, she won the Crazy­horse Lyn­da Hull Memo­r­i­al Poet­ry Prize, judged by Alber­to Ríos, and most recent­ly, she is the win­ner of the 2019 Poet­ry Soci­ety of America’s George Bogin Memo­r­i­al Award. She has pub­lished poems in many jour­nals and antholo­gies, most notably Quar­ter­ly West, Crazy­horse, Wit­ness, Merid­i­an, and the Cincin­nati Review. She teach­es writ­ing at Stephen F. Austin State Uni­ver­si­ty, where she also serves as poet­ry edi­tor for Stephen F. Austin State Uni­ver­si­ty Press. Please vis­it her at her elec­tron­ic home: https://www.sarahenningpoet.com.

Two Poems

Poetry / Carolyn Guinzio

:: The Better Part of an Hour ::

The plane was bump­ing across the sky so we raised the arm­rest between us and tried to find mean­ing our neighbor’s Jaguar was a sym­bol of mean­ing­less con­sump­tion but my expen­sive purse was not it’s the inter­rup­tion you see they say it takes twen­ty min­utes to recov­er from each one and they seem to arrive twen­ty min­utes apart if you timed them as though they were con­trac­tions you were born in a stor­age clos­et because no one believed it was real­ly hap­pen­ing no one can ever real­ly grasp that it’s hap­pen­ing because it isn’t at least not now the screens all began to blink and we’d been sweep­ing our eyes over the sea of screens where the means of cop­ing was gen­er­al all over the plane with gra­di­ent changes in tone between super­heroes and friends but it did hap­pen once and then it hap­pened again the nurse scream­ing James can you hear me in his face and no one ever called him James only Jim or Jim­my to his par­ents to his sis­ter already gone and his broth­er now gone but every­one else said Jim and oh love I have not always been good to you but I feel the life in your arm now your hand and we are a we and the screens are sta­t­ic in their light

 

:: Where One Breath Ended and the Next Began ::

Listen: The field 
looks like a field, 
but water is flowing 
through it—ghost

water shuttling 
grains of red earth. 
Two of them at a time 
make a micro-

scopic glint 
in your beam,
mirroring the faint 
heads of Gemini.

We use light to tether 
dirt to stars, 
fashioning meaning 
out of the barred

owl we didn't
know was watching. 
Listen: Two mortals 
facing off behind

the field. Behind 
the water, the sound 
of talon or of tooth.
A yellowing

hook moon sank
or swung to another 
bit of exhalation- 
heavy sky, the smoky

case of our sphere. 
Someone will pick 
up where another 
left off, catching

a breath as it trails 
away into
not nothingness 
but being.



 

From the writer

:: Account ::

These poems are part of a mul­ti­me­dia project about bor­ders called Fault. The sequence, which received an Artists 360 Work-in-Progress Grant, con­sists of poems, hybrid writ­ing, short films, sound exper­i­ments and pho­to-col­lages. From the start, my inten­tion was to explore the idea of a bor­der in many sens­es, not mere­ly polit­i­cal or geo­graph­ic bor­ders, and the absur­di­ty of draw­ing a line between one thing and the next. I’ve seen ants defend­ing ter­ri­to­ry on the small­est of scales. Grains of dirt are kicked back and forth across the line.

The pieces are con­cerned with bor­ders best described as philosophical—between human and ani­mal, earth and sky, sky and space. Is there a spe­cif­ic sec­ond, when the heart stops, that the line between life and death is crossed, when one sec­ond ends and the next begins, or are things more flu­id than that? Like the bor­der between real­i­ty and mem­o­ry, per­cep­tion and real­i­ty, between what is actu­al­ly occur­ring and what you are think­ing about as it does? Some of the pieces in the project are meant to reflect the cacoph­o­ny we con­tend with in our dai­ly lives and how, no mat­ter how open one wish­es to be, some­thing must be built to fos­ter focus and com­pre­hen­sion. We live as if we’re in a room with many peo­ple speak­ing at once, and if we want to hear any of them, we have to block the oth­ers out. The poems attempt to cling to a thread of mean­ing amidst num­ber­less attempts to work the men­tal grasp free. From square inch­es of earth to galax­ies, they are try­ing to con­front both begin­ning and end from a sphere sus­pend­ed in the unknow­able.

 

Car­olyn Guinzio’s poems have appeared in The New York­er, AGNI, Har­vard Review, Bomb, Boston Review, and many oth­er jour­nals. Her sixth col­lec­tion is How Much of What Falls Will Be Left When It Gets to The Ground (Tol­sun Books, 2018). Among her pre­vi­ous books are Ozark Crows (Spuyten-Duyvil, 2018), Spoke & Dark (Red Hen, 2012), win­ner of the To the Lighthouse/A Room of Her Own Prize, and Quar­ry (Par­lor, 2008).

Reincarnation

Poetry / Hussain Ahmed

:: Reincarnation ::

the jinn that sits in my mother’s body is of a distant time zone.
she made tea in the night for all her unseen guests.

her tongue was a deserted ranch where nothing edible could grow,
she said the sky would swallow us all if she doesn’t keep guard. 

all our shadows could grow as tall as ten feet, but no one waters it.
mama’s shadow stops growing because she stops sleeping at night.

we sought refuge in the barracks anytime she sets our house on fire
or when the new angel in town was lynched to death. we panicked and left the house

all our windows opened, our sign of allegiance to the governance of the land
beyond the sky. I asked mama what would happen to the ghosts of all our dead

if they come home and find only the ruins of all that should remind them that we say dua’a 
in their names. She said let the curfew end, we will find a way to build back our walls.

curfew is our way of mourning all what could not be buried, because they turn ashes 
in the fire. the debris suggests where the fire started and it’s not the kitchen. 

I scribbled the names of all my dead aunties on the wall, I listed their favorite fruits
beside their names, with the thought that nothing has changed about them.



 

From the writer

:: Account ::

The poem “Rein­car­na­tion” was inspired by my mother’s sto­ries of how every Thurs­day night all our dead return back to life to come check on their liv­ing fam­i­lies. The sto­ries were to encour­age us say prayers for all our dead before we slept, and they end­ed up scar­ing us. I grew up argu­ing with my sib­lings about how loud dog bark­ing in the night were a sign that val­i­dat­ed our moth­er’s sto­ries of rein­car­na­tion. How­ev­er, I used to believe that our dead have signs that help them track our hous­es with­out los­ing their ways. I wrote the poem about the thought I once had about whether we lose any of the ghosts of our dead if the house gets burnt dur­ing a cri­sis and if they ever stop com­ing because we became scared to hear about them.

 

Hus­sain Ahmed is a Niger­ian writer and envi­ron­men­tal­ist. His poems are fea­tured or forth­com­ing in Prairie Schooner, Cincin­nati Review, The Jour­nal, Mag­ma, Bay­ou Mag­a­zine, and else­where. His chap­book was short­list­ed for the Hon­ey­suck­le Press, Black Riv­er con­test, and else­where.