WRITERS - University of Portland



WRITERS - University of Portland
A literary magazine
Ashley Hight
Bethanie Peterson
Corinne Anderson
Dena Cassella
Erin Chambers
Kelly Damewood
Mary Holdener
Danielle Jolicoeur
Stephanie Landis
Katie Mitchell
Tyler Moss
Lars Larson
Emily Sitton
Deanna Kishel
Cori Anderson
Dena Cassella
Mango Boy
History is a sine curve
10 Andrea Wujek
Green Tomatoes
12 Bethanie Peterson
Braving The Machinery
14 Scott Jamison
16 Danielle Jolicoeur
Che Bella Lingua
18 Ashley Hight
22 Nicole Hunt
The Parting
24 Ruby Stocking &
Heart Balloon
Olga Mosiychuk
27 Andrew Lyon
Life Is…
31 Robert Russell
35 Ingrid Hannan
The Second Tenet of Ethics
37 Courtney Carroll
When There’s Nothing Else There’s
Cherry Pie
41 Caterina Purves
42 Jedidiah Patton
The Evening Party
43 Douglas Orofino
Draped in Dreams Descending…
44 Amelia Gradt
Forest At Twilight
52 Sydney Syverson
A Paradoxical Mystery of Love
54 Mikel Johnson
There is A Reason
55 Michael Bakke
Ghoden’s Sword
57 Annemarie Medrzycki
Changing Seasons
63 John Hegarty
A Common Misconception
64 CJ Graves
70 Jordan Allensworth
Poem for the Night
71 Katherine Carlos
Pasame La Botella (Un Corrido)
76 Daniel Lower
A Sincere Response
77 Pierce Kennedy
82 Kristi Castellano
PHOTOS 13 Alexis Manning
15 Ingrid Hannan
17 Doug Franz
Ghost Rider
23 Erin Chambers
Colombia Park
11 Matt Hughson
Hood River Bridge Looking Over
26 Shayla Behling
Vienna, Austria
28 Brianna Bobiak
34 Hillary Ahearn
Punda Milia
40 Mary Miller
Trafalger Square Uprising, London
45 Ashley Hight
Working Class
51 Kevin Hannon
The Pipes
58 Nathan Haskell
Birds on A Wire
62 Alyssa Reget
65 Hilary Ahearn
69 Erica Ellingsen
Winter Break
75 Yelena Pavlovich
81 Emily Sitton
Portuguese Heroes
19 Andy Matarrese
Don’t Boss and Don’t Cross the
Redheaded Stranger
29 Kevin Krohn
38 Tyler Moss
Local Anesthetic
46 Stephanie Landis
The Three Forced Breakfasts
59 Oliver Anderson
65 Hilary Ahearn
72 Stephanie Cargill-Greer
Boring Seeking Excitement
78 Matthew Tongue
A Welcome From the University
A collection of prose, poetry, and photographs
History is a sine curve, I explain,
Caesar Calculus is conquering the world
He’s coming from the Abbasids, Englishmen, and Greeks
The derivative of his function means it will only take him weeks
I met him, I explain, we spoke politely
About the way backyard dirt smells like air and sunshine
The way a liquid popsicle’s sugar glaciers charm the tongue
The way fingers love the vibrating fur of a purring cat
The way neon-deadly frogs are cute but humble-bumble toads are not
And that because of the way that shoes are tied
Life became awkward for everyone
But all that will change when walking becomes unnecessary
The trigonometric tyrant’s chariot wheels are perfect squares
The integrals are integral, I explain
Until the elephant in the room steps on my toe
Je m’en fiche, says this member of the Catherine collective
She’s been seeing “The Messiah” in the drip-drip of the spigot
The world is daily conquering Calculus, Dea-chan,
Even as his territory expands
The inclusive monosyllable of the union of
Dancing elephants and the numbers e to pi
And I press her words into a tiny ball
Let the sphere fall, rise, fall, and calculate the curves
Just to gauge the tension in her nerves
She should be more like that other cat
Soft, and round, and fat
Mango Boy
He slept until she woke him. She woke him by tugging his hair, or knocking something over in the dark. He’s a light sleeper anyway, she’d say,
no harm. In the morning, when their sky was still night, cornflower
blue, the color crayon he could never find, she woke him to pick mangos. She armed him with broomstick and garbage bag. If someone coming you stay quiet, she warned, if someone coming no make noise.
Prom knew how to pick mangoes, it wasn’t hard, the fruit was heavy,
and its stem weak, one hit with the stick and it’d fall. The mango tree
wasn’t theirs. The mango tree grew in the graveyard next to their apartment: Mo’ili’ili cemetery, a tight-square plot for dead pineapple pickers
and sugarcane harvesters, used to scare him, but now he understands
dead is dead, so early morning he climbs the mango tree and collects
fruit for her to sell to neighbors and in markets and on road sides.
She named him Promenade, she calls him Prom. It was the first word
she liked when she arrived here. The coffee-skinned marine wanted to
walk her down to the promenade, and he was tall and smelt like washed
cotton so she went. He had white teeth: local boy, O’ahu grown he’d say,
and she’d giggle. He kissed her and she didn’t stop him, and later he left
and she never stopped him that time either and now she has Prom; half
coffee-skinned boy from Mo’ili’ili with Vietnamese eyes and her straight
silk hair, thick, good for tugging on. Prom knew his mother’s past, she
couldn’t talk about it and be happy, so he never asked how tall his father was, or how he made her laugh. But she will never thank him for
his silence, or for anything. She works at Honolulu Library on weekends; they let her stamp books and restock shelves. She lied, told them
she couldn’t read so she wouldn’t have to talk to people, so they make
her match numbers on spines of books to rows on shelves.
Mo’ili’ili was a legend, but now is a district of Honolulu. Gods walked
upon the lava rock fields, crushing them into blood-dirt pathways, and
now Datsun pick-ups rumble over that dirt towards shops and houses
and graveyards. Mo’o means lizard. Mo’ili’ili is chopped up lizard—pebbles
of dragon. One heated day on O’ahu, the goddess Hi’iaka destroyed the
giant lizard that crept out of the ocean and troubled her friends by tugging on their ears. Hi’iaka ripped the tapa cloth from her body, thrashing it through thick humid air, and cut the giant lizard into pieces.
Hi’iaka left the remains, and the black lizard flesh turned hard like
rocks, the dark porous skin grew dense and large, making green hills
and yellow dunes. Hills that grow mixed-race children and aloe and
other things that heal.
This morning he woke quickly. She smashed one of her grandmother’s
tea bowls by accident and he found her crying on the kitchen floor next
to him. He only slept in the kitchen during the summer: too hot for
sheets, tile made his skin loose.She didn’t look up from her crouched
half-moon shape over the green and beige ceramic shards. She stayed
rounded and hunched, while Prom picked the fractured pieces up from
about her.Weeping softly, she shook her head and pointed to the broomstick. Prom touched the soft-skinned forearm harboring her face and
tiptoed around her to the wall with the leaning broomstick, then to the
door, then to the graveyard. The graveyard looked different every morning. Today, gravestones grew out of the ground like barren mountains,
Prom pictured white goats climbing their rounded stone tops, and the
grass looked like this morning’s broken tea bowl, glazed and glistening
in dawn’s dull shadow.
The tree is infectious. Mango sap is deadly, cousin to poison ivy,
nature’s cruel trick: perfect climbing tree, strong-armed branches holding sweet sunset-painted eggs with tender meat, but sap that can blind,
choke, kill. She called it blood, but Prom understood she meant sap. No
blood in your eyes, can’t pick mangoes with blood in your eyes, she’d
say. Prom climbed carefully, grasping each crag of bark until he reached
branches, then he’d move quicker, jumping from limb to limb, slithering on his belly once he sees the fruit.He forgot his garbage bag. She
usually hands it to him, but this morning she could not leave the comfort of her half-moon shape and he did not want her to, so his exit was
silent and rushed. Hugging the branch with thin boy legs, he removes
his brown cotton shirt, tying a knot, closing the bottom hole, makes his
own bag. Prom sat proudly for a moment, then lowered his bare chest
to the tree’s coarseness and slinked, like a hungry snake, towards the
The sky shades shift. O’ahu sun forces it’s glow through the early
morning, folding blue into green, soaking darkness in gold. His thinboy-arm, a brown knobbed fist clinging to the broomstick, stabs the wet
heated air, injuring nothing, but breaking the stemmed barrier between
flower and fruit. Prom stabbed, hit, tapped his way through the branches, dropping bright bulbs to the hollow ground below. Only a few feet
from the earth, but Prom felt higher and bigger than reality. Unclipped
fingernails etched the rising pink bumps clustering on his bare chest.
Prom scratched the pink into red. He turned around on the branch and
laid his back down, staring up through the umbrella of long green slivers,
watching pieces of cloud whisk by as morning trades grew stronger, and
he scratched the poison deeper.
He remembered the first time the poison got onto his skin, but it
wasn’t the first time he had climbed the tree. Poison takes time. When it
happened, although it burned he did not cry. His face grew large and
scaly, blistering in the corner folds of skin by his eyes and lips. He felt
the bumps and scales with his fingertips, moving them gradual and
with persistence, trying to identify his own face. His skin was so tight
and heavy; he could not smile and tell his mother he was okay. Couldn’t
tell her he didn’t mind, he’d be better tomorrow, and that he would finish his picking in the morning. He was younger, still afraid of the tree,
still afraid of her. She wouldn’t take him to a doctor because no one had
ever taken her. He’d wait it out, like she had for many years.She had
climbed the mango tree too often for its fruit that now even going near
it made her react. Though young, Prom remembers her bursting
through the doors with garbage bags full, and eyes swollen shut, stumbling and screaming and scratching the poison into bloody stripes across
her body. She thought the tree reacted to her. Mad at me, angry I take
the fruit, she said, your turn now, now you climb, now you work.
She climbed when she was pregnant. She climbed after he left her,
with sadness and anger distracting her from the sickness. She did not
like to vomit. She wanted to keep everything she had, even the food inside her swollen belly. She needed money, and respectful neighbors
wouldn’t set foot in the graveyard, fearing something would come home
with them, attach itself to them.She had forgotten her fears. Loneliness
and resentment replaced most feeling in her. She would climb every
morning, even when she was too round, and she sold mangos to grocers
and neighbors and strangers. Her cousin and her husband lived on the
island for a few years and worked hard and were overwhelmed and
sometimes ate only rice because she had to afford the pill because they
couldn’t afford a child and she didn’t want him to leave. They moved
back when Prom was born. Rather take malaria pill and accidentally have
babies and eat noodles with pork in Hanoi than to be hungry in America.
Local ladies with their wiry gray hairs wrapped tight in colorful
Japanese-bands scold her when she goes to markets and to grocers with
her stolen mangos. They give her warnings she does not obey.Warnings
she will never tell her boy. Never turn your back to the ocean. Never
walk into graveyard with out food. Never leave graveyard with food.
Never pick flowers from the Queen’s garden on Kapahulu. Never walk
the beach at night, black Mo’o will slither onto the sand to scratch your
ankles, try to drag you into the water with him. Never move rocks —
they’re not yours to move, and they’ll move back when no one’s looking.
Never whistle at night, brings bad company. Never step on reef with
bare feet, brings illness. Never drive on Pali Highway with pork, car will
stall. Never touch or take with out asking.Never stare at a gravestone for
too long, you may attract needy spirits. Never doubt legends. Never
laugh at ghost story. If islands crept out of the ocean, so did Mo’o, and
myths and giant mango trees and blood-red pathways. On islands, after
a while, any truth becomes a legend. Not our stories, she’d think, no
harm, no matter.
Half coffee-skinned boy from Mo’ili’ili collects mangos from the
ground, stuffing as many as he can through the neck of his shirt. He
brings it up to her and she sees the red scratches on his chest. You ruin
your shirt, she yells and she throws a folded up garbage bag at his reddirt-stained feet. He collected the rest of his harvest in the garbage bag
and brings that to her, but she is not there when he returns, already on
her way to markets, already behind schedule because he took time to
look up through the leaves at the changing sky. He leaves the bag in the
kitchen and collects his pillow and bedding from the tiles. Prom scrubs
his hands and his chest with dish soap. He is not afraid of the poison,
but he wants to go to school today, so he scrubs extra hard until his
brown skin looks like it was burned red.
He does not tell his friends at school how early he wakes up or why
he has shirts with holes and snags or how well he knows the gripping
texture and pungent odor of mango trees. Other boys at school watch
him closely, know he does more than they see, and argue over what’s
his story. Too tall to be just Vietnamese, and still yet his skin grows
dark, they say. Girls his age like that he’s quiet and sometimes tell him
things that he keeps secret, but then forgets them after not too long.
During recess he will sit with others but is not aware of them, he will
laugh when they laugh and sometimes he will leave them to sit in the
shade of the thick rooted banyan tree. The banyan roots cage him quietly, dropping down from high branches like spider legs. Propping his
spine against a sturdy root he shuts his eyes and tries to dream. His
friends call him back to them. The girls are lying on the hot pavement,
with yellow playground lines gridding the black asphalt under their
thin prostrated bodies. The boys are shoving each other and spitting on
the hot pavement near the girls to make them scream. He saunters
over to them, bare feet crushing loose pebbles as he goes, trying not to
step on his own shadow. Prom joins them in the sun, thick black hair
shining like metal rooftops, the boys watch as he grows darker, and then
one begins to tell a story.
Green Tomatoes
The son, anxious, burning with an eagerness to create.
A man, though young, dreaming in creative color—
smacked with the realness of figures. prices. groceries.
So plan b involves ripening the MCAT & people skills,
Explaining to patients they are victims of fate—
While hating their malignant lethargy.
Even the late tomatoes in the side yard—picketed in
and painted by Tom’s youngest next door—
You pluck, hide in the closet, wrap gently with brown
paper bags and rest teetering on kitchen sills.
When knowing they are only germinated, stretched in the cooling air,
And meant, with culinary care and artistry,
to be dipped in batter, fried brown, eaten with parmesan and milk.
Hood River Bridge, Looking Over
to Oregon Side
braving the machinery
ration and logic spin, thread, dart, spike, gush.
designed to stimulate, prepare, restrain.
felt as ineffective somatic regulation.
i worry for your Y.
a full glass pushed, watch it pass my open hands,
crashing, shards, slices, overflow.
looks like my brain on the floor,
smeared on cold tile and dripping down walls.
could be any brain with a mind towards
hypocrisy, allusion, and conceit.
any mind with a body ready to get high,
to dive. i await progesterone’s timely withdrawal.
i see you peer through thick
warped pane of estrogen— first tap, then knock.
you find me and never mind the bloody pieces.
Bereft of intent
I turn down Elmwood and stumble upon the patron of the
She is the 11th hour centrepiece
For a clinical café audience,
To her left, 3 servants,
To her right, 3 subjects.
I struggle with the glass doors
(Which does not go unnoticed,)
And sidle to a familiar chair, my point of
This queen of the unresolved shoots pool,
Searching for a story.
A road trip to Armagh
Is unfruitful,
Recollected graft and part-time mishaps
Come up short.
Words serve her only to fill a void that intimacy and aficion call home
Her audience loses interest.
Elliot, with tousled red hair, bombards me with
Language (of a sort,)
Laughing periodically as is his want.
I respond with timed
Pleasantries, a craftsman of the polite,
Occasionally, erroneously,
A forgotten wallet makes iced water,
And not Darjeeling,
The order of the day.
As this debt settles to the bottom of its glass,
I leave.
Che Bella Lingua
No sé que es, no siempre recuerdo.
Est-ce que c’est
le son, le ton, les mots
Sur ma langue ? Ou peut-être
Es ist alles, was man spricht—
oder nichts. Mon Dieu,
Muss ich ein Käfer sein, damit du mich verstehst?
Damit du verstehst, l’enjouement de Goscinny, il filo mordace di Dante.
Que mes joues sont grosses, mes joues sont grosses.
Dime lo que sientas. Wir war das Wetter heute?
Tormentas con truenos y sol aislado.
Levez-vous vite, orage désiré, bruyant mais parfois
Genau, je pense donc je parle. Y
All I want to say is,
Yo quiero mostrarte die höheren Lagen der Alpen, le bolle nella mia
minestra, la paix
de mon joli cœur.
Mais—ma—pero—aber—alles, was man braucht
è la mia mano aperta
Ghost Rider
i was born with 10 fingers and 10 toes,
one of which acclimates me,
the other shows me where to go.
i have often wondered if there were a reversal
in which toes became fingers and vice versa.
would i be able to hang upside down as a baboon?
would travel occur at greater speeds?
would i be able to tighten or loosen my handgrip;
or eat without regurgitation?
you see,
i was born with 10 fingers and 10 toes,
one set lives the glamorous life
as the other lives dually enclosed in socks and shoes,
so the true hideousness of it’s beauty
could never abuse its holder.
it is a reminder in which we choose
to banish the ugliness away,
only to display their beautiful counterparts,
with cashmere woven gloves that demonstrate and contemplate
the fragility of fingers;
and their little piggy cousins
trapped in their socks,
scream weeee weeeee weeeee all the way home.
“Don’t Boss and Don’t Cross
the Redheaded Stranger”
If I were to take my whole life, or even in the past couple months, and
average out the number of comments I received about my hair, it would
probably total to one daily. That is to say, I have received a comment
about my hair every day of my life. There really isn’t anything special
about the way I wear it: no conditioner, gel, or highlights. Nor is there
anything special about the style. My mother called it a “Christopher
Robin” haircut to barbers, meaning generic.
Outside of my hair, there isn’t anything especially interesting or
physically remarkable about me. I’m not noticeably tall or short, big or
skinny, handsome or homely. No prominent scars, birthmarks, tattoos,
or deformities.
I just have bright red hair.
I hear a lot about it. Old ladies have no problem making red hair a
subject of conversation. They love it, in fact. They go over every warm
color in the crayon box, including ones I’ve never heard, describing and
fawning over it. Judging by my experience, every old lady on the planet
has a child, grandchild, or other family member with red hair. Suffice to
say, old ladies love me. I get extra free samples in the supermarket and
Carolyn in the Commons gives me extra cake and calls me sweetie.
On more than one occasion, women have asked me about my hair,
what shampoo/conditioner do I use, where do I get it done, etc., and it
can be quite flattering. Barbers and hairstylists seem to like cutting red
hair, too. Maybe it brings variety to their day, or maybe it’s easier to find
on the floor and sweep up.
Some people aren’t so complimentary. I have heard every single red
hair joke anyone could ever possibly formulate. Others have had the
gall to ask me if I dye my hair. I have a bit of a temper about such
things, and don’t react very well to gingerphobes in general; I tend to
hit them. The thought of rallying my people—there are about 20 million of us on the planet, while there are about 3 million active and reserve personnel in the US military—and raining down bloody justice on
all of “you people” has crossed my mind as well.
Once, someone asked me if it was true that redheads had bad tempers.
I told her that is was true, then walked away. I probably don’t make the
best case against the temperament stereotype, but Lizzie Borden, Nero,
Jesse James, Napoleon Bonaparte, Achilles, Billy the Kid, Henry VIII,
and George Armstrong Custer aren’t helping much either.
We all have something about us that’s different, whether or hindrance
or a blessing, and we all deal with it differently. I can’t speak for the rest
of my titian brothers and sisters and how they approach the pigmentallychallenged, befreckled life, nor would I try. I suppose we all handle that
a little differently too.
Some things are small, like accepting that there are days when I just
won’t go outside. I’ve accepted that any sunscreen below SPF 50 is not
going to do the trick. Other things have to do with larger world perspectives and attitudes. For me, aside from occasionally punching people,
having red hair has meant learning to deal with being in the spotlight,
all the time, whether I like it or not, or at least feeling that way. From
old ladies and complimenting gingerphiles to the most ardent redheadoppressors to those in between, the first thing folks notice when I enter
the room is the hair and it’s the first characteristic my friends use to
describe me to others. The legally blind can spot me from across the quad.
I can handle group situations pretty well. I’m a pretty good host.
Speaking in public doesn’t bother me much; I’ve been in two beauty
pageants and sang solo to a live audience. Nor does being a leader. I was
captain of my cross country team, a mentor to high school freshmen,
and the editor of two school newspapers. It wasn’t all because of the
mane, but it probably helped.
There’s a flipside to the coiffure as well. I tend to be fairly quiet most
of the time. I dress simply, t-shit and jeans, and feel uncomfortable
doing otherwise. I have had the same haircut for my entire life. I figure
I already stand out enough, so why draw attention to myself with a loud
mouth or flashy clothes? And as far as the hair goes, why mess with a
good thing?
I concede that the amount of attention I pay toward my crimson
locks, and the amount of clever euphemisms I have for them, is probably somewhat effeminate. I’m not one for using hair product, like I said,
but my day doesn’t really start unless I get my shower, and few males
get as nervous when going under the barber’s scissor as me. When it’s
the first thing people notice about you, you try to take care of it.
If there is one trait that the mop has given me, it’s a thick skin. I
probably don’t need to say that red head kids get picked on in school
more, but the ginger-basing can be a lot more systemic and subtle.
Look at the villains, the Riddlers, Poison Ivys, the school bullies in A
Christmas Story, Jack in Lord of the Flies and the O’Doyles in Billy
Madison. Look at the sidekicks, or the odd or nerdy ones, like Opie from
“Happy Days,” Jimmy Olsen in Superman, Chuckie in Rugrats, or Ron
Weasley in Harry Potter.
All these characters have red hair.
When I call “racism,” it’s hard to believe it’s entirely tongue-in-cheek,
even for me. Like I was saying, after all the redhead jokes, fights on the
playground, or negative portrayals of my people, getting the business
from someone for real reasons is easy.
I won’t start quoting Civil Rights Movement activists, but the last
thing any people ever needs is another division. Maybe the redhead
pinch of vanity is a reaction to playground teasing. Maybe artists, writers,
and Hollywood have us pegged. Maybe extra slices of cake in the
Commons are the universe’s way of counterbalancing the susceptibility
to skin cancer. What I can be sure of, though minus that when we get
up and fix our hair, ours is instantly better, we’re all the same at the end
of the day. We’re born bald, and we die bald.
Or, I could just call it quits, rally the troops and begin the ginger revolution.
Red power.
The Parting
They two walk in silence
Touching without feeling
Gazing towards the same tomorrow that no longer is.
Smiling the same smile they have always known
Slowly drifting, both aware, neither acknowledging
Walking past memories
Happier times flooding in, like the tears that have waited too long to fall.
Memories from before the chaos
Foreign lipstick on crisp white collars
Cologne he doesn’t recognize.
Lies and deceit.
One wrong would never validate the other.
“I love you,” he says
Routine, Painful
Meaningless white noise among the sirens and whispers
“I love you too.”
They hold one another in an empty embrace
Awkward and clumsy
A hug between strangers
The bridge of trust has collapsed, leaving only collateral damage.
They know this is best, though neither will say why
As they breathe their final goodbyes
Their bodies leave the comfortable warmth and they part
With empty forgivings…
Columbia Park
Heart Balloon
Send me your eyes
And let me see your world
Let me float in your sky
Watch me as upwards I twirl
I float, it seems, away from you
And we see distance as a curse
But understand the lovely hue
The earth takes on before I burst
And showers you with the fire we’ve preserved
Hold that flame fast, hold it near
And I will watch your missing face as you observe
The glow of the blaze we embrace without fear.
Distance lessens, love persists
Warm, not burning, nor ceasing to exist.
You ‘d watch me fall down into your waiting arms
Turning your entire cold world warm.
The fall as sweet as the ascent was bitter
The world sparkles and glitters.
Our love ignites all
Catch me as I fall.
I only see you in my dreams
When I’m along that stopped stream.
In the songs you write,
And your mother’s eyes so bright.
My music’s your solace when we are apart
And yours comprises the whole of my heart.
It sings and dances with effortless grace,
My, how I wish I could see your face.
Touch your hand, hold you
But I’ve already told you
That you have my heart
Forever, painted in my soul like a work of art.
Beautiful, this music is
This jazz you speak of really does exist.
Let us walk into that forest
And taste the music upon us.
There we will compose our symphony
Where together we’ll walk forward into eternity.
Is my heart at your fingertips
Like a new flavor upon your lips?
Is it flying so high you must leap to grasp it?
Or have you let my heart go? Bit by bit?
It may be flying like a bird in the sky
Just because you said goodbye.
It’s loaded waiting to explode
It’s yours, yours to hold.
Take a risk.
Give me the longing kiss.
Jump high, grab on, be bold
And I will ease your fall just as I’ve told.
Upon the stars,
On my cloud,
There we’ll watch the cars
And shout so loud.
For then will we not be apart,
Just don’t pop this heart.
Vienna, Austria
Life is…
Life is…A match, one little body of heat,
A victim overwhelmed with wind’s passing,
A fluctuating fluttering, The air it breathes,
Still Stuck, Struck suddenly, growing greater, peaks,
Fastened to its end, friction fades, gassing, gasping,
Grasping for something more, ‘Tis passion’s technique
To seek without seeing, feeling surpassing
All else, hasten to freely fasten, amassing a masking
For the hurt of heat, some satisfaction sweet,
Falling and rising, the flickering flame dancing,
Burning, yearning just the same, competes
With one wishful wisp within worlds everlasting,
Aching, breaking, forsaking foresight,
Serving unnerving swerving, one mortal light
Tirelessly tarries, restlessly carries,
Buried in layer upon layer of shadowed soot,
Dust lingers a little longer, a last salute
Settles on Ashen past, means to the same end,
Same trend, same blend, same story descends
Onto Dramatic, Pragmatic stacked static
In several dull grades, shades heterochromatic,
Silver linings in death’s fallen darkness cracks,
Silver flakes sprinkled, Wrinkled in black.
My dad used to say to me, “Mach die Tür zu,” when, after playing outside, I’d left the front door ajar. Though I couldn’t comprehend the heft
of the individual words, I learned that the phrase, taken as a whole, was
interchangeable with other favored adages of his—he also used to ask
why I was letting in the penguins, and if I had been born in a barn. As
he must have known, I was not born in a barn, and even if I had been,
how would such an experience logically come to bear on my leaving
the door open? Mary gave birth to Jesus in a barn of sorts, and so far as
I know, he wasn’t prone to inviting cold air into his abode as I sometimes was. Despite my imperfect understanding of language, I still
managed the somewhat divine feat of glimpsing the world from perspective of another. If someone asked me to write out what my dad had
said, which I couldn’t have done, I would have spelled mockdatutsu—
limited understanding indeed.
Now of course I know about things like writing, sentence structure,
separable prefix verbs, informal imperatives, the accusative case, foreign vocabulary, and so on. Instead of one unparsed notion, I can relate
the idea in terms of its parts, but like a clock’s gears and springs, the
gears and springs of language whir and click into and out of any one
fixed position. The irony—sometimes tragically so—is that a fuller
knowledge of the process of language begets a starker realization that
some amount of slippage will always exist, maybe more so than originally thought.
My favorite novel right now is 2666 by Roberto Bolano. I’m only a
hundred or so pages into it, and so far there are four literary critics enthralled with one author (a German), conspicuously absent from the
writing scene. He gives no interviews, makes no public appearances,
and only a handful of people can speak to having met him. The only information anyone can is: he is tall. With only words and literature as
their guide, the critics suffer the qualm of being swallowed up whole by
his works. There is no human contact to give body or context to the
words in the novels, and as they continue lacking that dimension, their
existential bearings become increasingly tenuous.
As a child I had a couple abstract phrases to guide me, just like the
critics, but I also had my dad. Then I had my education, and now I have
my relations with other people, someday hopefully a career, though I wait
now for the economy to cooperate. I hope I will broaden this scope by
filling it in with more abstract concepts with reference to other physical
bodies. As I experience the paradoxical unease of learning about language
and literature to learn how much I don’t know, the only thing mitigating the feeling up being swallowed up into a vast, slippery abstraction
of language and ideas is being grounded in the real world to some person or persons I can appeal to for clarification, empathy, support.
My dad was present to tell me that he knew there were no penguins
outside waiting to come in, and that “Mach die Tür zu” is German for
shut the damn door, I’m getting cold, and you’re wasting money and
the environment. I know all that now. Yet I continually appreciate how
difficult communication can be. I like to think of absolute zero. When
the temperature is at negative 273 degrees Celsius and scientists put an
electric charge into a coil, the zap can zing around at full strength forever.
But just a tiny bit warmer and efficiency plummets. Inevitably, in the
intervening stretch between when the charge is put in and taken out,
the vigor of the charge flags. The person who inserts the charge and the
one who extracts it both give context to the abstraction between them
by affirming the deleterious nature of the unplumbed, salt, estranging
sea between them. You can’t have the tragedy of losing a message if
there are no people it doesn’t reach.
I took some math class that showed through calculus how to reach
absolute zero: all matter has to be absent. Taken without people, I guess
language can be perfect — absolutely zero. But then, where is the fun,
and where does that leave us? Scientists have come within something
like a zillionth of a degree of absolute zero, but they’ll never reach it.
For some reason though, they keep trying.
They say I have no faith.
No belief to ground my morality.
No purpose to guide me through life.
Nothing to steady my hand when I quiver.
Me, I say that I am in the misty midst
Of an Existential Crisis,
A vague, philosophical process:
Doubt yourself; depress yourself.
Doubt society; depress your friends.
Doubt religion; lose God.
Doubt doubt; lose yourself.
All the while clawing
And grasping for the
Ground that won’t be found.
Not because it isn’t near.
It’s within reach.
But lost it will remain.
Their horizon barricades
The comfortable boundary
Of crumbly ground;
Forces eyes upward,
Only the mirror image.
No longer.
My doubt chains me
to the main mast,
Hands and head shackled,
Preventing any possibility for that pathetic call,
“Land ho!”
For their land is a ho,
Whored out to the land-lubbers–
Whored out to prodigal sons
And moneygrubbers alike.
I’ve sank my feet into their soil before.
The rock and sod sturdied my feet on many a march.
Until one sure-footed step took me too far. Terra-firma
opened up underneath me,
Enveloped my foot, my torso, my head,
My flailing arms.
Like Gandalf, I plummeted downward.
Endlessly down into the craggy abyss.
But without a Balrog to keep me company,
Or to grapple with, or to vanquish,
I could not emerge radiant and victorious.
So I tumbled downward
Through Nothingness. I fell for so long
I fell asleep…
Leviathan devoured the continents.
From inside the maw shiny swords
Sliced through the earthen crust,
Consuming relentlessly, equally,
Efficiently, rationally.
Underwhelmed by
The less than tragic loss,
I Doubted whether the
Large mounds of rock and sod
Ever existed. And I looked
Through the eyes of
Abruptly flattened against my Ship,
Awakened in no bed,
In no house, on no ground,
Only my Vessel.
I traveled.
I heard the fables of charlatans.
I danced to the tune of minstrels.
I listened to the tales of bards.
I went and came.
I sailed and saw.
I never conquered.
Not enough faith to conquer,
They say.
Can’t conquer without ground forces,
They say.
Pirate, pariah,
They say.
Quiet proselytizer of anathema.
But I know better.
I know I know the Truth,
However limited.
I have Faith.
Despite the ever-present threat
Of the Leviathan,
I believe that my Ship exists.
Despite persistent Descartes,
I believe that land-lubbers
And fellow sailors exist.
Despite all evidence to the contrary,
I believe that Earth exists.
How much more belief do I need
Until I have their faith?
I already have Faith!
I do have faith.
I do have faith.
I do have faith.
Punda Milia
The Second Tenet of Ethics
The porch light is on
to keep the bad things away.
The curtains are drawn
so that we can stay
hidden and safe in a box made of wood
protected from the glimmering shine of the stars
blocked from the sound of the crickets,
if you could
even hear them above the noise of the cars,
(they’re designed to get us there faster and faster
to make our schedules fit more and more)
watching TV shows about natural disaster,
god forbid we get cold, shut the door
(to keep out the man searching for cans.)
Run from your shadow, from spiders, from trees
separate the clouds and rivers from man,
don’t let the weather bring you down to your knees.
Go inside, cook with electric and metal,
eat food from someone else’s state
and keep healthy with tips from the dental office,
use toothpaste approved by the FDA.
Wear clothes made of things that you can’t grow,
get lost in the screen an inch from your face.
Learn politics so you can say what you know
about how we should live, no matter the place;
because clearly life is the same for us all,
we’re smart animals- we walk, not crawland we’ve learned that the planet is shaped like a ball,
it’s not flat- so there’s always someone on top
and they get to decide what has worth and what has not,
like oil is money and corn’s the best crop,
and only humans have feelings, we’re taught,
so guard your emotions, behind a locked door
be afraid of dependence
and always want more.
Keep out intruders with a white picket fence,
(and practice your laughter!)
(and practice the mantra the self help book spoke)
and live happily ever after
on your island with a sterilized moat.
When There’s Nothing Else There’s Cherry Pie
in the apple box I sat in disbelief
and the sun was the only thing that could defrost me
I told a waitress on her night shift over coffee and warm cherry pie
even though I wasn’t supposed to
the wind from the train as I ran beside it revived me, resuscitated me
but all it really offered was smoke and scraped knees
I went to the farthest cliff I could find and it was cloaked in fog and ferns
with head tilted to the sun, I looked up trunk of a redwood
and never saw the top
I hid in the bathroom, turned on the faucet so they wouldn’t hear me weep
my fingertips lightly traced his veins
I made the call that sent him away
I hate waiting to see if people will die
Local Anesthetic [Excerpted from the Novel Bridges]
I’m in Providence. The hospital, not the bullshit. Around me I can hear
the quiet mull of soft-spoken doctors and the turning of magazine pages.
For once, I’m not here to observe. I can only imagine how disheveled I
must look right now. When I approached the counter with vomit on my
shirt and dried blood in my hair, the clerk seemed a little surprised.
Now I’m letting myself sink into the slippery abyss of self-pity.
On the wall in front of me is a figurine of Jesus hanging on a cross.
The small model is nailed about three-quarters of the way up the wall,
as if saying, “You must be this tall to be seen by Christ.” I have never understood why so many hospitals have a religious affiliation. I guess God
must be a real advocate of modern medicine.
I attempt a staring contest with the Crucifix but Jesus and his beady
black eyes win. I have always been fascinated by the whole idea of the
cross symbol. What if He had died differently? Like decapitation by
guillotine or something. Imagine a church’s stained-glass window depicting the head of Jesus bouncing along the sandy landscape as a Roman
centurion stands in the background. Or what if he had been hung?
Would old ladies wear necklaces with little golden nooses on them? It’s
a good thing that guns hadn’t been invented yet because a Jesus oozing
blood from bullet wounds probably would not be very inspirational.
Symbols are weird. But maybe I’m just over thinking things.
I bury my head in my hands. “Happy Birthday to me,” I sing in a subdued whisper, hoping some random person might hear my twisted
blues and offer to spend a moment with a damaged young man on his
life’s anniversary. After a few minutes of waiting in the darkness of my
palms, I realize that everyone in here is too concerned with their own
problems to give me a second glance and I give up my crooning.
Apparently a crushed skull is not a very big priority around here because I’ve been waiting almost fifteen minutes and have already been
skipped over, the nurses favoring a four-fingered kid who was carrying
his thumb in a Ziploc bag.
Then a sound interrupts my concentration: a small sigh. I turn and
look. Sitting directly to my right is a little girl no more than five years
old, the blue bucket chair almost swallowing her small body. How I
hadn’t noticed her there before is beyond me, but then again, I was a
little caught up in my own problems. I notice she’s holding a doll that
looks like a baby, but it seems to be missing a head. Then I realize the
head of the doll is stuffed up her shirt. Her innocent little eyes look up
at me and she says, “Hello. Happy Birthday.”
“What?” I respond, surprised.
“I heard you singing.”
“Oh.” I pause a moment trying to figure out exactly what to say. “If
you don’t mind, why is the doll’s head in your shirt?”
The girl raises her eyebrows and gives me a look that clearly says,
“Are you stupid?”
“I’m nursing.” She says matter-of-factly.
A combination laugh/choke escapes my throat. Finally I mutter,
“Alright then.”
“Jonas Wilcox?” I stand up and walk through a pair of swinging double doors. A nurse leads me down a white-washed hall whose walls are
more of a dirty yellow than white. I’m then deposited in one of the
smaller waiting rooms. The nurse hands me one of those cotton dressing gowns. I look at her quizzically and she grunts:
“So you don’t get anymore blood on your clothes.”
My shirt is so stained in blood and vomit that I couldn’t care less at
this point, but I play along and take the gown. She leaves and I strip
down. Only after I tie the gown around my neck does it really occur to
me that it was not necessary to take my clothes off. Oh well. I lie down
on the narrow tissue paper strip and begin to doze. After only a few
minutes I’m awoken by a pain in my groin, my bladder reminding me
of previous evening’s alcohol consumption. Five minutes becomes ten
minutes and there is still no sign of a doctor. I have to pee but I’m not
going to wander the hospital halls looking for a toilet in this nightgown
thing and miss the doctor coming in. There must be priority levels assigned to different emergencies and mine is at the bottom. My eyes
wander around the room. The shelves are filled with little glass jars
housing cotton balls, popsicle sticks, and all sorts of other medical devices. There are a few tattered gossip magazines with the typical headlines: so and so lost thirty pounds by having a limb amputated, some
young starlet had a colonoscopy, five television stars come out of the
closet, etc. I’m dying to piss and would be a good minute and a half
from wetting my pants if I had bothered to put them back on. Then my
eyes rest on the sink. They’ve taken so long already, what the hell not?
I go for it. I hop off of the pad and wander over to the sink. I hoist one
leg over so I’m straddling it and release. As the fluid exits my body I’m
in ecstasy. And then the door opens.
A stout nurse and a tall, thin doctor stop dead in their tracks and
gape at me. The doorway acts as a frame, the doctor’s height and the
nurse’s girth filling out the majority of vacuous space in my mental
photograph. The brief moment of stunned silence passes, and the
nurse’s face turns into an imitation of “The Scream.”
Trafalgar Square Uprising, London
fingertips touching
smudges on the mirror
leaving blue across my face
i forgot — my hands
were covered
The Evening Party
Twirling gently
On a dark dance floor
The feet follow as the music leads
Only the melody and the
Of the lady’s dress is heard as the daylight fades
An evening party
The pleasant murmurings of content guests
Steady rhythm of the trees in the garden dancing
Swaying with the music
Keeping time with the moving feet
When the party ends
The people gather
In twos
In threes
In fours
Only two people,
One couple
Continue dancing
Twirling gently
On a dark dance floor
Draped in Dreams, Descending…
With languid breath
my sweet pains taste
And as I walk
the ground undoes my footsteps
And in their shallow pauses
Fills with desire
And as the night decays to stars
my soul, with sighs, she fills
To flow — o’re abounding
dulcetly — dulcetly — dulcetly
(and soft)
I wait
To see
The smiles
Of morning
In dew
And now does Day
softly spread her shimmers in the sea
To drift away,
and unto shadows fall
and unto lapsing whispers
I, draped in dreams, descend
Forest at Twilight
A darkness soft settles.
Between ancient trees
Spindly, thick and naked.
The carpet of calico mulch deadens all
Bird songs, they are dying.
And stillness reigns.
What eerie, placid shadows
Peer between these limbs
As branches silhouetted
Lift supplicating limbs
And hang against gray skies
They are knarled to the likeness
Of our very hands.
And lo, such quiet grows
Magnified in settling gloom
Any stick which breaks reverberates
Resounds between these sentries
Oh what magic lurks
In so tremulous an hour
Where daylight shuts her lids
Slowly, gradual, this foggy veil descends
And those creatures beyond
Our fathoming
Weave between the aspens
Their hour comes
While in distant shadows
Bay wolves a sunlight’s requiem.
Working Class
The Three Forced Breakfasts
When you woke to Hindi and then British accented English warning of
chicken flu in Bihar (where you just left by the way) and are jolted
awake by the train screeching to a halt on the tracks as it arrives at the
next stop, it’s important to open your eyes (even though they feel
heavy and fuzzy with lack of sleep) and gaze up at the blue train bed
above yours and try to remember if you had eaten chicken recently.
You have already been sick (dehydrated that is) that took you to a hospital that was dusty and hovering with mosquitoes, when really you wanted to close your eyes and pretend you were in the arms of your mother
or your lover.
Mmmm. Silver nappa leather. Rhinestone buckle detail gathered at
the center. Open toe. 31⁄2 inch covered heel. Made in Italy. Who could
say no to Manolos.
“Those are almost the price of our trip to India,” I told Lauren even
though I was in love.
“I know. But they are pretty shoes,” she said. I nodded, in a daze.
“Is Trent going to come and see you off at the airport?” Lauren asked
and I glanced up from the pumps.
“I don’t know. Maybe it doesn’t matter. Want to head over to Pioneer
We turned and walked towards the exit of Nordstrom. Lauren opened
the glass doors and we were hit with the slight breeze floating around
outside, like the noise of the city that filtered slowly into our ears.
“If he wants to come, then he should. He’s not really my boyfriend, I
don’t think,” I continued and watched the lady walking her poodle in
front of me.
“But he’s not just your friend like Cyril is.”
“Well of course more than that.”
I shrugged and focused on the rhythm of my shoes on the sidewalk.
“He might come if you asked him to,” she almost whispered. The possibility of might was instinctively more stressful than the concreteness of
making a promise, when a no seemed to be the worst thing to hear as
the answer to something you really wanted.
“I know,” I said, sighing, tucking a stand of hair behind my ear, and then
I brightened with a smile.
I couldn’t remember what chicken I had eaten, except maybe at our
Indian friend’s house where we had tried some kind of meat that had
been cooked and was either the chicken or goat that was previously
walking around his home. No I did have a chicken dish at the
Bhutanese tent, the tent restaurant that had a hunk of raw beef in the
small, convenience store-like fridge with bottles of Maaza, Limca and of
course Coca Cola.
I saw Lauren shift in her sleep out of the corner of my eye but Cyril
hadn’t moved in the bed above mine. He slept as heavy as a rock with
no movement; I knew this through camping trips where we had been
forced to sleep next to each other in the tent. My eyes stung so I covered my head with the rough brown blanket distributed to each passenger and tried to drown out the rhythmic Hindi prattle of the woman
that kept reporting the news and faced away from the light of Delhi
coming in through the window.
My peace lasted for all of three minutes because a man thrust open
the Velcro privacy curtain of our car and yelled loudly like a crow that it
was time for “Brek- Fast!!!” and he tossed two packages at my feet and
one at Lauren’s. I shook myself awake and met Lauren’s green disoriented eyes: we were both still laying down in doze mode.
She pursed her lips and told me “I guess we are done with sleeping
now. It’s time for breakfast.” I giggled and heard Cyril cackle in a baritone above me. I slowly sat up to retrieve my morning meal (a piece of
bread, pat of butter, packet of ketchup, banana and carton of Appy).
Cyril peered over his bed, looking right into my face with his beady
brown eyes, like dark colored buttons or stones that changed color in
the sun. I silently handed him his package of food and then he climbed
down to sit on my former bed. I picked at my food but nibbled on my
bread and butter.
“Good news,” Lauren said, pointing to the red dot on her Appy carton,
“Appy is veg.”
I nodded in agreement.
“Yes I would think cider is much better without meat in it,” Cyril responded and unpeeled his banana.
“Did you hear about that bird flu in Bihar?” Lauren asked.
“Well we have long departed from there. Leaving the bird flu and communists in Bodgayya, Bihar,” said Cyril.
Heh. Bird flu (gonna get you made it in my stable from the crap you drop
on my crop when they pay you). 1and reds (the statue of liberty is shakin’
her fist) in Bihar.
I found pitch black when we slept at our last hotel in Delhi. The
room would stay that way until about 9:30 a.m. the next morning when
I heard the door creak open and leak light from the lobby as the door
was being answered after a loud knock. There was the clink of pans, the
smell of chapati and a man announcing gratingly and insistently “Time
for breakfast!” My eyes barely fumbled open in the dark room, with the
only source of diminished light coming from a window that viewed the
wall of the building next door, the other walls paneled with mirrors and
cushion so we could see each other’s faces at all times, a doorway to toilet we did not know how to flush or not to flush, and complete with the
conversation piece T.V. (it didn’t work so we discussed the reasons why
it was there); and, therefore felt that I was in some weird sort of phantasmagoria as I heard Cyril say “No. Thank. You,” With great finality
and smoothness that his words hung in the silence and dark that was
thick throughout our strange room. Polite, yet, clear with a purpose. I
turned over in the dusty bed and could finally open my eyes.
“Gemma. That was your mother in the form of an Indian man telling
you that you need to eat more,” Lauren said, her mouth rasping from
forming that statement in lethargy.
We thought we would try to sleep in late on that day before we went
back to the States on our 5 a.m. flight so then we could stay up all night,
savoring fried samosas we bought on the street, sucking on subtle flavors of Indian sweets from ladoos, basundi to jelabee, filling me especially with an alleged pizza from a Delhi Pizza Hut: India’s formal
dining experience with booths and long lines and a man calling out
names of people who were waiting for tables. I say sort of a mock pizza,
because the only cheese in India was paneer, which sometimes came
out green and cubical if you tried to order fettuccini (much to Lauren’s
“I can see your clavicle and your sternum,” Lauren mentioned as I
posed in my cerulean Punjabi suit embroidered with gold thread and
hemmed in pink. Cyril put down his camera and pulled at the neckline
of my dress.
“Yep,” he said, acknowledging Lauren’s observation and adjusted the
sheet around him, to fix the makeshift toga.
“You should eat more pizza,” Lauren said pushing the box towards me.
Cyril turned down his nose.
“I can’t believe you made me go into a Western restaurant when I was
not in America,” he scoffed.
“She needs to gain more weight. She looks like a fucking skeleton,”
Lauren said. Cyril picked up his camera again.
“You should put on your shoes. And put your hair up in a bun. Yes …
She looks very Indian now,” he said and started aiming the camera at
me against the unlit window.
“She does,” Lauren agreed, munching on sticky burfee, her own toga
covering her lap like a layer of snow. Click. Click. Click. Went Cyril’s
camera. He paused for a moment and loosened my hair to make it less
stiff looking. Click. Click. Click.
“There seems to be a photo shoot going on in my room. Am I just here
to watch?” Lauren said.
“Hmm, hmm,” Cyril laughed hollowly. He turned around and snapped
a picture quickly at Lauren who threw an empty toilet paper roll at him.
“So ends the adventures of the man, the beauty and their tag along
friend,” Cyril said.
Many, many hours later after a veg croissant and waiting in Delhi
airport (who didn’t seem to mind Cyril taking a lighter on the airplane),
our eyes closed to meet an eighteen hour flight. We heard about the
food coming, we heard about the movie showings, but we left our eyes
shut and our trays up, Lauren by the window, me in the middle and
Cyril in the aisle. But the slam of the passenger trays, the shove of three
platters of food at us and the distinguishable voice of a fluent English
speaker announcing “Breakfast!” led us to no choice and no rest.
What really was almost three days later without sleep and Lauren
getting up to vomit and me eating and drinking everything I could get
my hands on after finishing pills that brought back my appetite, Cyril
held his nose up at the icky German sandwiches we were served and
ridiculed me for eating them; I wanted to sleep and have my American
boyfriend hold me and cry and feel better and get back to 109 pounds
like I was before.
Cyril and Lauren nodded off, or at least she tried to and I found myself watching the second Bollywood movie of my life, “Jab We Met,” that
luckily ran three hours with a rain scene, flowery Punjabi suits, sparkly
jewelry and Shahid singing to Kareena about receiving her intoxicating
glances that almost killed him. Just as everything was becoming Mauja
Hi Mauja, Fun and Fancy Free, Pyar se tere, At the Beloved’s house,
Cyril opened his eyes and slipped on his headphones. The movie concluded with glittery sets and Cyril turned to me and said he was quite
confused about what was going on since he had woken up to that celebration without knowing what it was for; however, the disillusionment
was often a product of viewing these types of films.
In the near future, Cyril sat against the couch in his dim den, strumming his mother of pearl inlaid banjo. I sat to the side, on a beanbag in
front of the T.V.
“He keeps calling me and I don’t know why,” I said. Cyril cradled his
banjo and set it on the couch.
“Well, you must talk to him and ask him want he wants in the relationship.
Nothing shall be resolved if you are not willing to risk asking. You don’t
really owe him anything though. Perhaps you should just start anew.”
“Yeah….but it’s hard to let go of someone you still love.”
Cyril switched the channel to cartoons. It was yet another episode of
Naruto, so Cyril clicked the remote back to the Food Network, where
Paula Dean was not handling butter for once, but people were competing in making cakes.
“Yup….Remember in ‘Jab We Met’ when Geet had to tell Anshuman off
because he rejected her?”
“What helped Geet go through with it?”
“She….I don’t remember.”
“Aditya was right there next to her when she made the phone call.
Maybe you need someone to remind you not to sleep with him again.”
The first thing I always notice when I arrive back in my state is the
air that infiltrates my lungs as pure and refreshing as water, that makes
you picture a forest of pine trees and remember their scent. And I want
to gulp it down as fast as I can, especially after finding out how dirty
each city in Hindustan was by the amount of blackness under my fingernails and inside my nose. I hurried across the airport quicker than
Lauren and Cyril, my feet padding on the green carpet tessellated with
red and purple streaks. But then I stopped and waited until they were at
the same pace.
I could no longer close my eyes for tiredness but I buried my head in
my boyfriend’s flannel shirt and shut them for a few moments, my hair
still full of Delhi, Agra, Bodgayya and Varanasi dust and apologized for
the smell, even though I didn’t really care and he didn’t either (“Don’t
worry darlin’. You’re beautiful”) but this was home. Apparently. Why
was it so clean though? Where was my auto rickshaw? How come I
couldn’t bargain for jewelry and food? I looked up into his china blue
eyes and he smiled and leaned in. I turned my head so his kiss touched
my cheek and thought of dancing in tulle or silk beaded saris or lehenga cholis and saying “Chhuna na dekho mohe aaj sajna” (I’m telling
you, don’t touch me my love).3
1 “Bird Flu” by M.I.A.
2 “Courtesy of the Red, White and Blue,” By Toby Keith.
3 “Dhoom Taana” from Om shanti om soundtrack
The Pipes
A Paradoxical Mystery of Love
How do you teach devotion?
How do you convey compassion?
Is it a rambunctious feeling?
—or is it a submissive action?
And if I were to lay cocooned in your lies,
—for one Summer’s time,
Would that action create oneness?
Would you always be mine?
And would the tick tocking of time,
—in a syncopated hiccup,
Give us the illusion of a life
With no get up and—
—go. And—
Just so you know,
Though entwined in your eyes are the lies
that covertly show,
I’d love you forever and—
I’d let you go. Even though,
You are the whistle in my wind,
The song in my tune,
You are the click in my heal,
The man in my moon.
And when a tire swing is swung,
I wonder if you were the force behind it.
I wonder when a candle flickers,
Was it you who thought to light it?
I think you were the breeze, last night
Lulling in from my window.
You are the maroon balloon sailing upwards,
With ambitious dreams held in—
tow. And—
Just so you know,
Though the sputtering of your sighs,
Seem to me really quite faux,
I’d love you forever and—
I’d let you go. Although,
You are not the strength in my smile,
Not the rhyme in my reason,
You are not the feeling in my gut,
Nor are you the Spring in my season.
And when a tire swing romps wildly,
I wonder was it you who forced it.
I wonder when a candle burns violently,
Was it you who torched it?
I think you were the storm, last night
Flailing up against my window.
You are the red hot air stifling dreams
Before they even think to—
grow. And—
Just so you know,
Though life with you would teach me,
I reap what I must sow,
I’d love you forever and—
I’d often and never let you go.
There is a Reason
You could see her skin crawl
When they came around.
Her stomach sunk, her face turned white,
And her palms, they sweat.
Color and strength return upon leaving.
Together, we fear the possibilities.
I asked her to pray with me
As I knelt
On the cold tile floor.
She was standing,
Still, and comparatively tall
And awkward.
I prayed to the God that hath condemned.
“When did you lose your voice?”
Scribbled, on paper,
“When I realized what it was I had to say.”
Ghoden’s Sword
For seven years the Norse king forged,
A blade to tame The Frost
That preyed upon his kingdom,
The helpless and the lost.
They called the crownéd Ghoden,
Their fair-haired champion.
Though lacking beard or battled look,
Still people urged him on.
Foul frozen fiends of north abode
Set greedy eyes far south.
With frozen shard and frozen lust,
They descended to The Mouth.
The Mouth, whose blue-green waters,
Usually ran so free,
Now showed its fearing people
A frozen vein to sea.
No hope remained for ship to pass
Thick sheets o’er icy gorge.
And so the humblest Ghoden
Went straight into the forge.
Only slowly did they come,
The wraiths of lifeless cast,
And thus they permitted Ghoden
The time to forge his last.
His populous near broken,
The world now turned to ice,
Ghoden fin’lly met his task
And pricked his finger twice.
With the blood of royal vein,
He c’ressed the new sword’s edge.
Fire sang, leapt from king to blade,
Now made his flaming sledge.
Ghoden ascended wearily
His place of eternal toil.
He then called forth The Eternal Frost,
His ever gruesome foil.
The Frozen King and Mighty Frost,
Stepped forth from his ranks.
Now only He and Ghoden stood
By icy river banks.
One sword frozen, one ablaze,
One heart on fire, the o’er on ice,
The two kings met and locked strong eyes
And stood without suffice.
At last The Frost could not wait,
He charged the king of men.
But Ghoden stood, stayed his earth,
Awaiting moment’s end.
That moment come, Ghoden swung
His blade just forged anew.
The Frost misjudged and fell too fast,
Sword shattered him in two.
From their view the people cheered
But saw they not the ice,
That little shard, tiny and sharp,
Ghoden took in sacrifice.
Into his heart lodged the spear
And melted there away.
And melted, too, the frozen host
Led by The Frost astray.
Thus ended Ghoden’s noble deed,
The Mouth again ran blue.
To mem’ry now, that King of men,
Returns each spring anew.
What do you feel
When the tough old winds push the age-ripened sun
Down into its frozen earth-bed?
Hibernation is forced upon the weakening orb.
The increasing frigidity of that which once stood as evidence
In the scientific appraisal
Of the universal pulse
Repels the hope-song of the soul.
Do you know remorse as you long for the infinite
Honey-comb moments of the withered seasons?
Will the fear of the ice-filled vacuum
Paralyze ambition and eliminate possibility?
Can we ever know as the moment bears down?
If we cannot wage war against the apathy,
And even fear is gone,
Will we recognize our own existence?
Birds on a Wire
Faded blue jeans hung below the giant foam hot dog outfit concealing
my torso. It covered almost everything from my knees up. The buns
surrounded both sides of me and my head protruded from a hole in the
wiener. There was a wavy yellow line that ran the length of the dog
which I can only imagine symbolized mustard. I clutched a stack of hot
pink Hot Dog Hut flyers in my left hand and handed them to snobby uninterested passers-by with my right. My face must have bore the look of
a defeated man as few would come close to meeting my eyes. They just
stared at the ground and kept walking, holding their hands at their side
to drive the point home that the last thing they wanted was a flyer from
a giant hot dog—those were the good ones anyway. Others would stare
right at me with sad eyes as if to say, “I’m so sorry”. They were the
worst. I know what I have to do and I don’t need their sad eyes to remind me. They always took a flyer too. They would grab it without
looking at it and flash me a smile forced from some place deep inside of
them as if trying to say, “thank-you so much” but I know what they’re
really thinking, “you poor son-of-a-bitch”.
My shame-filled eyes would dart from person to person in the
unwilling traffic of people. A few would laugh at me and mutter things
under their breath or even full out attack me. One young man—around
fifteen I would guess—tried to push me down to the delight of his mindless, chuckling friends. I wanted to push him back, to rip off the ridiculous costume that enslaved me and to beat that kid until blood streamed
from his smug, pudgy little face. I wanted to see the look on the faces of
his stupid little friends as I beat their leader until his mangled face was
no longer recognizable behind his bloodied and broken nose, but I
knew I couldn’t. So, I just smiled and let them pass as if nothing had
happened. I saw the same boy a day later except with a couple of girls.
Not surprisingly, he decided to ignore my presence.
Another day I was surprised to feel something strike me on the back
of my head. I turned around in time to see a car driving away. Searching
the ground, I found the culprit—several packets of relish. I was standing
next to a garbage bin at the time and at first I thought it may have been
an accident. My denial began to give to anger, however, as I mentally
calculated the odds of a handful of relish packets missing a garbage can
and proceeding to pelt a giant relish-less hot dog. The humor was lost
on me, as I could not tear my mind from revenge.
I’ve been thinking about the layout of my costume, and I believe I am
an East coast wiener. I have heard somewhere that people on the East
coast tend to prefer only mustard on their dogs, while West coasters
prefer ketchup, or a combination of the two. Since I have only a stripe
of mustard down my dog, I can only assume I am an East coast wiener.
Standing in the hot sun all day in a foam suit gives me the chance to
think about stuff like this.
I also have the opportunity to analyze the people who walk past me.
I have become quite adept at judging a person’s character just by looking at them. I can tell if they will take a flyer or not half a block away.
I can tell if they are happy to be where they are or even if they’re a
Democrat or Republican. Although I have no way of confirming this,
I feel confident in my judgments. At first I was unsure if it was right to
silently judge people, but I figured they had to be doing the same to me,
so why shouldn’t I?
Standing in the middle of a constant flow of people also allows me
the unique opportunity to listen in on brief pieces of conversation.
I can hear a small part of someone’s life. I have to say it has not assured
my faith in humanity. I overheard one woman arguing with someone
that I assumed to be her ex-husband over who had to watch “the kid”
tonight. More disturbing was the small girl staring at the ground as her
mother dragged her behind.
I hear people talking about the most unholy things without any regard for those around them. I hear drug deals going down, people discussing in great detail the gruesome things they would like to do to
their boss, and people planning out their sexual escapades, involving
things I cannot imagine are legal in this state.
Sweat rolled from my head and cascaded down the grooves of the
foam suit. The summer sun beat down on the pavement unrelentingly.
I no longer had the energy to even lift my arms and hand out flyers.
Instead, I just stood there and avoided eye contact with anyone who
dared walk past me.
Half-way through my shift I was struck in the back of the head with a
Big Gulp. I didn’t have the energy to turn and face the culprit, but instead just stood unmoving, letting the soda drip from my hair and run
down my back. It was caramel colored and from the little bit that trickled into my mouth I hypothesized that it must have been root beer. The
force of the blow knocked the flyers out of my hand and scattered them
over the sidewalk. People walked on or over them, spreading them
around and leaving me in a sea of hot-pink flyers. An ice-cube slid
down my back, making me shudder. The cold soda brought me relief
from the sun’s rays, and I stood there letting root beer flow down my
back. I relished in the momentary pleasure it gave me, letting my arms
lay limp at my sides and throwing back my head to the heavens.
Looking up at the bright blue summer sky, I felt I must be the last hotdog left.
A Common Misconception
People look at me
and all they see
is a basketball player.
A black T-shirt becomes purple,
a slogan becomes a name,
and a brand becomes a number.
But do they wonder?
What goes on in the brain
that a black scally cap
perpetually covers?
Why so rarely does he speak to others?
Where is he from?
Where is he going?
But more frequently I hear,
“Are you still growing?”
Does he like to read?
What does he really need?
Instead it’s just
“For a big guy you have good foot speed.”
Of course I walk around
with headphones blaring,
hidden beneath a hat or hood I’m wearing.
I’m never asked about
my favorite movie,
or television show.
Usually people just tell me that
I’m tall.
Believe me,
I already know.
History, lightning recorded,
May choose its own forked path.
Working its way through the night sky,
From ground to obscuring clouds.
Credit and blame are issued liberally
Based upon its path,
Though what did those who are lauded,
Or blamed,
Know before electric forks unfurled?
And even if they did know,
Could they touch it?
Shape it?
Or did they merely guess the path
At each breaking point?
What can we say of survivors of history?
Do they have scalded hands or lucky guesses?
What can we see between their clouds?
Or between our own?
I watch the reflection of the mascara wand slowly, and hesitantly,
sweep up the length of my eyelashes. A single, delicate Red-and-Yellow
Barbet sings an introductory song of redemption and revolution. The
small bird announces this day from the Acacia tree she’s surely perched
in. I am surprised that she’s out on a morning like this, when the skies
are sinking down, the burnt earth drawing down the drapes of fog,
pulling the clouds closer and closer. This grey morning seems too sleepy,
too monochromatic for such a brilliantly colored bird to preach about.
But, it’s Easter and she must be the only believer of her kind.
I curiously seek the vibrant bird’s reflection in the full-length mirror.
The mirror, hanging on the mud-brick wall, seems a paradoxical commodity in this rustic open-air bathroom. My eyes work to focus deep
into the mirror, far behind me to the trees and brush, and then strain as
they refocus back onto each single lash. This is the first time I have intentionally made my lashes darker and cheeks warmer in months. It
feels foreign. I put my beaded Maasai earrings in carefully. They dangle low from my ears, their red and white beads arranged in a circular
pattern like a target. A thin silver metal circle spins back and forth erratically below each target when I move my head, catching the light as
they spin, like fierce sparks of sunlight skipping off jagged water. I blink
once, deeply, to awaken myself from this slow-motion scene. When I
open my eyes, I again see the world at its normal centripetal pace.
I hand the mascara back to its owner, smooth out my dress, and
laugh quietly to myself as I pull a burr out of my thick, wool sock. I’m
wearing a floral, cotton dress and muddy hiking boots. The sand-colored
dress has cap-sleeves, a wide collar, and the fabric reaches to my midcalf. We were told that women dress conservatively in small Tanzanian
towns, so I had sewn in an extra piece of tan fabric to make the dress
longer before leaving the States. It’s not an attractive dress by most
standards, but here, in rural East Africa, it’s the fanciest, most glamorous dress at camp.
From our rustic base camp atop a hill in an area known as Kilimamoja,
the whole world looks unprocessed, everything still in its organic state.
It’s funny how things change after two months of living in small, canvas tents—people are quite unaccustomed to seeing anything unnatural. After deciding that on Easter we would look unordinary, both
Gabby and I had borrowed mascara, blush and eye shadow to paint our
faces. No one in our rugged study abroad program has ever seen me in
makeup, and as I walk out of the bathroom, Bobby blushes and says,
“You’re prettier than normal.”
Although Easter is just another day, it produces a sort of celestial and
airy aura around people, and as Gabby and I approach the others waiting to walk to Easter mass, they each radiate a soft glow against the
slate-colored sky. Michael Butler Brown smiles at us and I feel my face
flush. We all call him by his full name because that’s how he first introduced himself. It’s true though, Michael, even Michael Brown, just isn’t
sufficient. None of us have ever met anyone like Michael Butler Brown.
As we step out through the rust-red iron gate that introduces the
front of camp, I wave and offer a morning greeting, “Mambo. Habari
asubuhi?” to Joseph, my favorite askari. The askaris are our guards at
camp and they continuously patrol the premises. Joseph carries an old
simple bow and arrow, and a smile that reaches ear to ear. As he now
leans against the loose stone pillar which holds the gate erect, he also
emits a glow and I feel my eyes soften when I smile at him. His face is
smooth, dark and on his cheeks he bears the traditional brands of a
Maasai man. The Maasai tribe in this area traditionally burns patterns
onto the cheeks of its members when they are young. Joseph’s scars
are in a neat row of tiny vertical lines that follow the ridge of his cheekbones from his nose back to his temporal bone.
The askaris are of a different kind—able to appear and disappear at
will. One moment you see the bright blue fabric they drape over themselves, and you turn back around to find they have diffused somewhere
into the thick acacia scrubland. Joseph is the best at disappearing, but
now I see him in plain, clear light—devoid of mystery and full of Easter
truth. He gently laughs at me, wishes me a happy Easter by saying
“Heri ya Pasaka”, and then in carefully crafted English, warns me, “You
going to get wet.”
And wet I am. Michael Butler Brown, Gabby and I now follow Anton,
a Tanzanian staff member, down the slippery hill outside of camp. I
grab half-way down the skirt of my dress with one hand and pull it up
to just above my knees. Michael laughs at me because I look so feminine, yet so Indiana Jones, all at once. We have to walk very slowly because the red clay mud is slick and deep. Trying not to not to slip off of
the wet rocks, and moist, twisted roots of the African Strangling Fig
trees, we strategically proceed down the narrow path.
The trail down is tight and we move to the side to let two barefoot
neighbor boys clumsily run up the path past us. As they pass, they yell
“Heri ya Pasaka, Mzungu!” and both mischievously, and brilliantly, giggle.
“Mzungu” is the slang word for white person, or Westerner, in Swahili.
One of the giddy boys knows me, so as he frolics passed me, he playfully taps my arm and then squeals on upward toward camp. Michael and
Gabby both try to tickle the boy in back, but the child dodges their advances in triumphant agility, laughing after his friend up the mud.
Anton smiles, gently grabs Gabby’s arm and we continue down the hill.
It’s just as we emerge from the turn at the bottom of the hill that I
see something new in the distance. I now look forward to see the swiftmoving waters of a mud river tearing a route through the brush and
trees, carving out a place for itself in this once parched land. We have
walked this route to the primary school many times before, but never
have we seen such a dramatic barrier to our journey. In what had always been a dry riverbed, is now a violent rushing of hydrostatic fury.
The rain’s coming down heavier now as I approach the bank of this
raging flash-flood. Michael Butler Brown can hardly contain himself
next to me. He fumbles urgently with his shoes to get them off, smiles
at me, and steps right into the thick, soiled waters. Michael Butler Brown
is a wild one—always hanging from a tree limb or a cliff or a building.
He’s crazy, yet somehow you trust him more than most. Now, he stands
knee-deep in the rapid waters, with a hand outstretched to me on the
bank. I look at him, silently shake my head from side to side, and he
grins. He knows how stubborn I am, and that I want to do it on my own.
We are both wild, both waiting for something, or someone, to tame us.
Michael turns away from me and forcefully forges his way through
that raging river. I look tentatively at the water; it’s waiting for me,
taunting me. I love the adventure of simple things like this, simple
things that test your character. I look to Michael who’s already across
the water waiting on the other side, watching me and still smiling in
amusement. I hike up the skirt of my dress to well above my knees this
time. I keep my hiking boots and socks on because there’s really no
point of taking them off; my boots are already filled with soft mud,
sloshing and oozing in between my toes.
I breathe in deep. I soon lift up my leg and slowly lower it to the surface of the water to test the speed of the flow. I pull it back up quickly,
realizing just how powerful it is. Like most things in life, there’s only
one way to go about this—and that is to send one foot authoritatively
crashing forward into the chaos and cling to solid ground. Any hesitation, light step, or timid attempt, and the shoving water will abduct my
leg away, out from under me, leaving the rest of my body to drag behind it downstream.
So, I leave my left foot on the slippery bank, lodged behind a tree
root for stability, a lifeline, then take my right leg up and swiftly shove
it straight down to the earth below the water. At first, my leg is slammed
with impact, colliding with the current, like linemen that go sailing into
each other but end up in a split-second, motionless draw as the two
push with the same force. Eventually, the water gives and, to humor
me, agrees to move around my body. I bring my left leg into the now
accepting river and lean my upper body to the left, throwing my weight
in the opposite direction of the current.
Half-way across the river, I, for some unclear reason, stop and turn to
face the current. I stand still, halting time, letting the muddy water infiltrate my life, letting it capture every aspect of my attention. Its streams
of milky reddish-brown fill my vision as they continuously precede toward me, keeping time with their rhythm; its roaring voice silences all
other noise and hushes all other reverberations; its steady pressure
holds tightly onto my legs and its velocity tries to shred them; its temperamental nature presents an ultimatum that I can’t ignore.
I skim a pinky finger into the water, while allowing the river to gently sway me into complete entrancement. The chaos has, for a few seconds, become a calm and I think about where I am. I can’t help but feel
undeserving of this baptism. In a land that watches its people die every
day of famine, of disease, and of neglect, I can’t help but feel guilty for
the chance to be washed clean in these dirty waters. It’s as if the tears of
those left helpless in this country flood around me in desperate request. It is in this moment, this defining scene, that my eyes become
unclouded and, finally, I see the world in all of its breathtaking rawness.
After an uncertain amount of time, I narrow my eyes to refocus
them, hold my breath, cautiously turn to the right and wade slowly forward again towards the bank. As I reach the other side of the river,
I stretch out my hand to Michael Butler Brown. He looks at me now,
wide-eyed and unsmiling. He does not know why I stopped in the middle—neither do I—but he knows that those brief, motionless moments
changed something. Our hands solidly grasp each other, and I allow
him to lift me up the bank. With my pride tamed by the floodwaters,
I stare, humbled, at him. The mascara runs down my face, the beaded
earrings spin only in unpretentious purpose, the flowers on the dress
bleed their colors in the downpour. These once glittering things mean
nothing to the heavy, cleansing, Easter rain. On this Easter morning, it
was humble, ordinary things—a hand, a muddy river, a child, a row of
scars, and a tiny, prophetic Red-and Yellow Barbet—that stirred a sudden and inexplicable uprising within me. They stirred a silent revolution.
Where Pedestals Were Further
Poem for the Night
Cigars laid to rest, and spirits imbibed from silver hollowed
The menagerie drawn in, guests form a peremptory beast
Torrent horde burst o’er the lawn, perfume and voices swallowed
By the night air awash, on streets untrodden we flee the feast.
In hush and blackness step, all airs aside and politesse forgone
Oh, do not speak, if only to behold from night lamps extended limbs
Lucent across the sheen of black drives unsullied whereon
I once met your eyes, in which youthful shadows flitted then.
Pásame la botella (Un Corrido)
Pásame la botella...
Mi esposa es una bruja.
Ella durmió con mi mejor amigo
y el robó mis zapatos.
Vivo por la revolución
pero ella vive para la infidelidad.
Tiene veinte años menos de mi
pero me dijo que me amó, ¿sí?
Pásame la botella...
para que pueda olvidar
de mi marida, la pobreza,
las injusticias y la crueldad.
A los campos para trabajar
en la tierra fértil de mi país
y mientras estoy luchando para mis derechos
mi esposa estaba en nuestra cama con Félix.
Iré con Chávez a encontrar una nueva vida
en las playas de alegre California.
Quizás encontrare una nueva esposa,
hermosa, joven, rubia, y que puede pásame la botella...
Boring Seeking Excitement
I’m boring. It is a proven fact. I told the oldest of my girls, Brigid, that
she couldn’t wear these almost-underwear shorts with “Bootylicious”
pasted on the rump to Sunday Mass. She stood there like I had just told
her that Justin Timberlake did not bring sexy back and spat out, “Don’t
blame me ‘cause you and Dad are so boring!” Then her strappy yellow
stilts clicked “misunderstood” and “angst teen” all the way to her room.
Right then and there, I realized that I was one of those boring mothers.
My husband was boring. My life was boring.
I bought my first tabloid the next day. It had a very attractive “stud”
with his arm snaked around a watermelon-shirted costar on the cover.
Those movies stars that buy new clothes that look like a hobo previously
used them as a pillow and singers that invented words like “bootylicious”
and grunt out lyrics do really exciting things. That is why people idolize
them. They sniff risky drugs through rolled up “benjamins” and have affairs with costars and DJs. Since I don’t allow my kids to stick fingers
and jellybeans up their noses, I decided that I couldn’t be a “druggie”.
An affair sounds safer. I love my husband, but he is as boring as I am—
perhaps more so. He is an accountant (minus 1). He takes multivitamins
(minus 3). He drives his Honda at 55mph on the freeway because
“hooligans and hoodlums” go 65 (minus 6). I pondered telling him that
he should have an affair too, but he would have had an asthma attack.
I picked up the Spicy Singles section out of the newspaper. The
things people say are so scandalous and creative. (Word to the wise, a
“Sugar Daddy” has nothing to do with candy.) I took out a piece of kitten stationary to write my advertisement. There I found the problem of
my boringness again. I could never write this promiscuous stuff. The
“kinkiest” thing I have ever done was asking my husband for a foot massage—his fear of feet caused him to break out in hives. So I looked
around at the ads and tried to think “bad”. (Which somehow is also good.
“Bootylicious Woman Looking 4 Handsome Devil—married woman looking for a scandalous affair that is not boring.” I felt so proud of my crazy
and outrageous “kinkiness”. I am so adventurous! So I went on, “Must
like Pina Coladas and getting caught in the rain.” It sounded a bit familiar,
but I figured I read it in a past ad.
I decided that a younger man would be my best bet. I scanned the
titles and saw “One Sexy Senior Looking 4 Older Woman.” A college boy
may be a wee bit too young, but I decided to contact this “Sexy Senior”
via the email. (Brigid taught me how to use the email when she still
thought I had “un-boring” potential.) I sent him a picture of myself at
my little girl’s soccer game (I looked “dope” in that purple turtleneck
and black slacks) and a message to meet at a Starbucks on Maybury
Avenue at noon.
I stumbled into Starbucks ten minutes early. I confiscated Brigid’s
yellow stilts and black “Holla” skirt. (She thought that the outfit would
look good on her when we visited Grandma yesterday.) I added my
own yellow sweater that got me carded once at my sister’s bachelorette
party and oversized sunglasses that are supposed to hide your face and
make you look like a fly. I sat at a table in the corner and hoped that
none of the soccer moms would flock here in their SUVs to get a latte
before they fly away. I tugged my skirt down a bit, wishing that it would
at least reach the center of my thigh. The Starbucks clones were looking at me from behind their green armor when Sexy Senior walked in.
He looked like a picture that Brigid has of Mr. Brad Pitt. Sexy Senior ran
a butterscotch hand through hair the color of wet woodchips. He posed
in front of the door with one demi-god hand on his hip. It was almost
perfect how as an old man entered the wind caught his hair and shirt.
I blinked a Kodak moment. He swayed his faded jeans into the coffee
shop and up to a Starbucks clone, leaning on the counter to place an
order. He was not boring.
“Debra?” a grumbly voice said behind me. I spun around to see a
gray haired basset hound wearing a tan suit that could have been made
out of hay. He smiled a grin as he slowly sat down on the wooden chair
as if he thought it would run out from under him. This was the Sexy
Senior. The real Sexy Senior.Senior citizen. “I’m Eugene,” the basset
hound grumbled. Then he slowly leaned in closer and whispered, “but
you can call me Genie, you little vixen.”
I was about to have one of my husband’s asthma attacks. He began
talking about something about fish and seas. The basset hound gazed at
me with these huge veiny eyes that looked like they were dipped in yellow Vaseline. He had rows of hammocks under his eyes where little age
spots rested comfortably. Under his chin (or what I could assume was
his chin) was this droopy skin hanging like that weird thing under a
turkey’s neck. He took out a piece of orangey-looking gum and popped
it in his gaping mouth. He mentioned something about trying to quit
smoking. I watched that orange glob rolling around. A cement mixer
mixing orange cement.
“Wanna cup of coffee, sweetheart?” barked the basset hound, tilting
his head so all his droop hung to the left. Something was on my knee
that didn’t belong to me.
I shot up right like a stepped-on rake. “I’ll get it,” I squeaked as I
grabbed my purse. I teetered on the yellow stilts to the Starbucks clone
and waited in line to order two coffees. Mr. Brad-Pitt-Wanna-Be was sitting in a chair by the tray of sugar and cream. He gazed like a wolf
wanting to bite off my leg. I self-consciously pulled my daughter’s skirt
down.(If she thinks that she is going to wear this…)
“Hey there, hottie. You look so sweet that Slugworth woulda stolen
ya.” Mr. Brad Pitt said. He looked like he discovered the cure for cancer
while he was at a modeling gig. I awkwardly smiled at his smugness.
(Oh as in Slugworth in Willy Wonka! I didn’t catch that.) I glanced back
at the bassethound, and he was removing orange gum splatter from his
I got to the front of the line and ordered two coffee. Grabbing the
money out of my wallet, a photo fell out onto the counter. I picked it up
and stare at the faces. It was a family picture at Christmas. Brigid was
wearing a tube top with “Ho Ho Ho” advertised across the chest. My
youngest girl was itching at the velvet and chiffon dress I spent three
days making her. Then my husband—my sweet husband—and I were
in Hawaiian shirts and Santa hats. We were so adventurous to have
thought of that—summer in Christmas instead of Christmas in July.I
snorted out a laugh that made the clones of Starbucks, the basset
hound, and Mr. Brad Pitt look. Shoving the photo into my wallet, I waddled over to the basset hound. “I’m sorry, but I can’t do this. I’m married,” I looked at Mr. Brad Pitt, “and you both are too boring for me.” I
tore off the stilts and walk out to my precious minivan to pick up my
girls from school, wishing I knew what “bootylicious” actually meant.
A Sincere Response
Sometimes at family gatherings
I get asked the question I hate
Sometimes my family pries
In ways that make me irate
Over the good food and warm cheer
They ask “Do you have a girlfriend yet?”
I say no and they have to say
“By the end of the year you will, I bet”
Then they ask “are you pursuing anyone?
And does anyone like you?”
I say “no, no, I’m not doing that yet,”
And I’ll explain myself, too:
I’m not mature enough to be the right guy
Or to be a man so chivalrous
I’m not old enough to say the right things
When a girl gets mad and in a fuss
I’m far too young and far too shallow
Far too jaded and far too crass
I think too much about the way a girl looks
Like the color of her hair or the curve of her
Figure. Seriously, what did you think I was going to say?
This is the response you’re going to get
“I’m too naive, I’m too inexperienced,
And that’s why there’s no girlfriend, yet.”
Curious roots meander through the Muck
Searching for Damaged friends
While the Trunk slowly Decays.
Mossy armor Accumulates
Refusing light, keen on Protection
It’s a lovely Shell
A Welcome From the University President
From: Mony, Xavier, CSC
Sent: Mon 8/25/2059 08:08 AM
To: %allstudents
Subject: A Welcome from the University President
As we enter our 158 year, I would like to welcome (or welcome back)
all students to the University of Portland. There are quite a few announcements students should be aware of this year:
First, I regret to inform students that the previous President of the
University, Fr. Wilhelm Goodfield, has passed away. Fr. Goodfield
served the University for thirty years, and was known nearly a hundred
students as a man of great concern and consideration. Fr. Goodfield extended Waldschmidt Hall by three floors to fit new administrative personnel during his presidency, increased enrollment by 400 percent,
eliminated the complaint apparatus known as ASUP, and increased security, both on campus and on the University’s servers.
In accordance with Fr. Goodfield’s last wishes, he will be bronzed
and installed as a statue in the center of a stairwell on campus. His will
read that he wanted to be remembered as a “steady rock in the students’
chaotic stream. ”Given the scope of his contributions, he was more of a
boulder than a modest “rock.” The Goodfield family has given a generous grant to the University in his honor.
Onto better news: Dirk Dispot, the Undersecretary of Student Feed
Supervision, has informed me that last year’s disturbances regarding
overcrowding and food quality in the University Commons have been
addressed. The Soylent Corporation—an industry leader in crowd control and culinary excellence—won the bid to counsel the Student Feed
Supervision Department. Dirk tells me that the company will provide
crowd control vehicles equipped with humane containment apparatus.
Further, they have furnished recipes he is “anxious to try on the student
body.” I trust that with these solutions in effect, there will be no need to
deploy Public Safety peacekeepers to the University Commons, as was
necessary on several occasions last year.
Howie Bheet-Siu, Public Safety Commander, asks me to inform students that Public Safety peacekeepers will be armed this year. He tells
me that Public Safety is issuing the new equipment to combat the explosive squirrel population on campus and asks me to forward this message:
Due to the alarming upswing of reported squirrel-related incidents on
campus (including three incidents between the months of September and
November alone), Public Safety peacekeepers have been issued civiliangrade laspistols. Peacekeepers are instructed only to use these weapons in
case of a squirrel emergency. Due to generations of illicit student feeding,
squirrels on campus have grown increasingly aggressive, and are slowly
moving their rut-nests closer to the Public Safety Command Center, in
preparation for what we believe to be full-scale invasion.
Squirrels are insidious tacticians, quick learners, and filthy vectors of
lethal diseases. Their preferred tactic is to strike from above, then vanish
into the brush with whatever spoils their unprepared victims leave unattended.
Students are now required by the University’s Security Policy to report
all squirrel sightings to Public Safety. To reinforce this new policy, Public
Safety will be conducting Squirrel Drills, where we project hologs of squirrels on campus, and monitor students to ensure they report the sighting to
Public Safety. Students that fail a Squirrel Drill (e.g. fail to report the squirrel to Public Safety) will be subject to judicial action for endangering the
University community. Students that cannot provide proof of a squirrel to a
peacekeeper responding to a squirrel report will be subject to judicial action
for wasting peacekeeper time.
Howie would like to remind students that if stopped by a peacekeeper, they are required to provide valid student ID, student GPS tag, class
schedule, proof of birthdate, social security number (or student visa),
religious affiliation, sexual orientation, and medical history, and be prepared to submit to an iris scan, voice confirmation, handwriting analysis, dental cross-check, blood type test, urine test, breathalyzer test and
DNA test.
In order to increase security on the campus network, the Computer
Information Services and Communications Office will provide students
with custom-built, University-sanctioned 2-Senz™ vox/viz comp. As the
University now provides 2-Senzes™, students will have no need for personal v/v comps, and such personal devices will be prohibited in dormitories, to prevent their signal interfering with the University’s
interdimensional network. The University’s v/v comps will be outfitted
with the proper anti-viral and content confirmation modules, and will
be hard-coded to operate only during University-designated recreational hours.
The Computer Information Services and Communications Office
would like to remind students that University-distributed v/v comps do
not play pro-University propaganda during sleeping hours. Any student
experiencing this or similar symptoms of psychosis should report to the
Center for Student Soundness to receive sleep-enhancing medication
and hypnosis therapy.
Finally, in order to increase the visibility of Campus Ministry, the
University will be implementing changes in the dormitories. The
Bishop Association of America has released acceptable incense levels
in consecrated chapels. Incense concentration must be kept between
100 and 250 parts per million (ppm). Naturally, the University will be
enforcing these concentrations in dormitory chapels; but due to its
proactive approach to enhancing faith on campus, incense concentration will be enforced in the dormitories at large.
While enforcing this new policy, Campus Ministry has encountered
a few problems. The incense concentrations interfere with dormitory
smoke detectors. Consequently, the University is in the process of removing the smoke detectors, which will eventually be replaced with
sensors designed to ignore concentrations below 300 ppm. In order to
conserve incense, these sensors will be tied into each dormitory’s ventilation and fenestration systems. If the sensors determine that incense
levels are too low, they will increase vent suction in the dormitory
chapel, and close and lock all student-controlled windows. Tampering
with this system is grounds for immediate termination of enrollment
with the University.
Again, welcome (or welcome back) to the University of Portland. I
hope that each of you may grow and prosper as the University has with
student contributions.
Xavier Mony, CSC
Portuguese Heroes
It’s strange
how Time can dissolve
a memory
from the outside in
like developer in reverse
evaporating the essence
until all that’s left is
the cradle of an earlobe
the white of an eye
the silhouette of a lower lip
but the fragments no longer coalesce
like shards of shell
anchored in the sand
dispersed by
the turbulent rapture of the moon
inevitable crumbs of collision
tossed into waves of despair
and joy
emerging only beneath the ebb of chance
we attempt to align these shards
into icons of bygone possibilities
restoring memories
from the inside out
this time
waking only to discover
that the grains of sand
caking the soles of our feet
are daunting evidence
of Time’s steadfast plan
“Human life is utterly worth expressing.
The attempt to express the worst and the best that is in
us—even the doomed effort—is one of the great
spiritual disciplines available to humankind.
The effort alone is worthy of respect.”
—David James Duncan
Hilary Ahearn: Last spring, Hilary spent the semester studying
wildlife management and conservation in East Africa. If she could sit in
the sun next to a pasture full of horses, listening to country music,
everyday for the rest of her life she would—it would never get old.
Jordan Allensworth: Jordan Allensworth, senior.
Cori Anderson: Pizza maker extraordinaire with an eye for the camera
and a heart of gold. Cori is an editor of this publication.
Oliver Anderson: Oliver is a freshman at the University of Portland.
His major is yet undeclared as he is indecisive and has no real aspirations. While not classically handsome he does all right, thank you very
much. Oliver can eat two breakfasts.
Michael Bakke: Michael is a senior studying mechanical engineering
and planning on a career in military aviation.
Shayla Behling: Shayla is a sophomore nursing student with a passion
for photography. While studying abroad in Austria this year, she took
this picture of a street performer on the cobblestone streets of Vienna.
Briana Bobiak: Freshman English Pre-Med student from Bainbridge
Island, WA.
Katherine Carlos: Katherine is a senior civil engineering and Spanish
major graduating in August 2009. This corrido (Mexican ballad) was
written for a Spanish class and explores the themes of love, infidelity,
despair and hope.
Courtney Carroll: Courtney Carroll aspires to lead the peaceful life of
a shepherd.
Dena Cassella: Fact: The only guy in ZZTop without a beard has the
surname “Beard.” Dena is an editor of this publication.
Kristi Castellano: Her loves in life are traveling and writing. She intends to use her degree in international development nursing and hope
to one day lead a non-profit organization devoted to educating those
less fortunate with regards to disease prevention and wellness.
Erin Chambers: An Irish girl with a love for dogs and literature. Erin is
an editor of this publication.
Doug Franz: Doug Franz is a senior Finance major. He is a Western
Washington native who has been involved in photography for 8 years.
Amelia Gradt: Amelia a freshman this year at UP. She is an English
and Theatre double major, and loves to draw, write, sing, and act. She
love gothic novels and enjoy taking walks in the forest.
CJ Graves: CJ is an English and Psychology major who will graduate
next spring.
Ingrid Hannan: Ingrid enjoys friendship, warm conversations, exploring, adventuring, cooking with reckless abandon, being curious, and
growing sweetly wild.
Kevin Hannon: Kevin graduated from Moreau Catholic High School in
Hayward California. He is a freshmen at UP and is the sixth member of
his family to attend the University.
Nathan Haskell: Nathan is a sophomore English Lit./French major,
born and raised in the Philippines. Besides photography, he enjoys trying his hand at painting and ceramics, as well as eating lots of cookies
John Hegarty: John enjoys writing poetry, plays, short stories and
music and majors in English, with the intention of pursuing a master’s
degree in creative writing.During his free time he reads, writes, sings
and plays guitar and overall is enjoying his first experience on the West
Ashley Hight: Ashley is a shy wallflower who doubles as a grammar
nazi and tries to properly use as many obscure words as possible.
However, she just wishes people were more carefree and included random tidbits of songs into everyday conversation. Ashley is an editor of
this publication.
Matt Hughson: Matt is a pretty simple guy—often reflecting the antithesis of spontaneity. He tries to convince himself that he possesses
dry and witty characteristics, but as he sits here perusing the 2008
Darwin Awards, he realizes he should probably be content as a closet
Nicole Hunt: Nicole is a senior Finance major from Portland, OR. She
is a sucker for good coffee, suspense novels, poetry, and almost every
song ever written.
Scott Jamison: Scott is an international exchange student from
Northern Ireland, studying business in Portland this semester. This was
the first poem he's ever written, and was included in a collection that
he used for his English Literature degree in Ireland.
Mikel Johnson: Mikel is a sophomore at UP. She is studying Spanish
and English.
Danielle Jolicoeur: Danielle, an expert loose leaf tea brewer, was first
published for her simple masterpiece “Witches’ Brew” at age 9. In the
summer you can find her fly-fishing on the St. Joe River. Danielle is an
editor of this publication.
Pierce Kennedy: His favorite color is orange and he likes cheese,
chocolate, and creativity. Have a great day!
Deanna Kishel: Deanna is a French major who enjoys English and
Math as well.Yes, enjoys.
Kevin Krohn: Kevin done graduated in the fall. He majored in English
and cross country. Kevin is an editor for this publication. Not!
Stephanie Landis: Stephanie is a senior English major who is usually
out having adventures. Stephanie is an editor of this publication.
Daniel Lower: Daniel is a Senior Mathematics and Theology major. He
enjoys good company, electronic music, dancing, and exchanging
ideas, often about God and at ungodly hours.
Andrew Lyon: Andrew is a sophomore majoring in Spanish and Psychology. He loves playing sports (especially soccer), acting silly (especially melodramatically), dancing (wholeheartedly, like a free spirit),
and engaging himself in the truly important things in life…
Alexis Manning: Alexis is a sophomore English major with Communication and German minors. She loves traveling, and during a weekend
trip to Venice, she was lucky enough to catch this candid moment of a
gondolier standing beside a canal.
Andy Matarrese: Andy is a junior history and English major who hails
from Battle Ground, WA.
Annemarie Medrzycki: History and German Major class of 2011. She
likes being outside and taking long afternoon naps.
Mary Miller: Mary continues to marvel at those who can successfully
whistle and snap their fingers. Looking ahead, a long stint in the Air
Force, a return to her passion of photography, and somehow conquering these not-so-easy physical abilities are probable.
Olga Mosiychuk: Olga is a stickler for grammar. She enjoys running
(when she’s feeling athletic), blasting music and having a good time.
Hopefully, her passion for grammar and life will assist in her professional pursuits. She strives to become the editor of “Cosmopolitan
Tyler Moss: Tyler is a Junior English Major who wants to make
Creative Writing a career. His literary heroes include Mark Twain,
Raymond Carver, Miniver Cheevy, and the Lorax. Tyler is an editor of
this publication.
Douglas Orofino: Douglas is a freshman music education major. He
enjoys singing, acting, writing, photography, and half a passionate devotion to music as well as to his friends and family.
Jedidiah Patton: Poetry is something he picked up when thinking
about big events or emotions in his life. Other past times involve video
games, swimming, tennis and rugby. This poem was written for his
grandparents’ 50th anniversary.
Yelena Pavlovich: Yelena is a sophomore biochemistry major and is always trying to take pictures of everything around her because you
never know when you will come across the perfect shot. This “Duckie”
picture was shot off 23rd St. in downtown last summer.
Bethanie Peterson: Bethanie hopes to one day be a formidable Scrabble
player. She also could never have anticipated that she would be writing
her senior thesis on WWJD. Bethanie is an editor of this publication.
Caterina Purves: C. Purves was a campus squirrel. Desperate for more
submissions, the editors of the UP Writers Magazine captured her and
trained her to write poetry in exchange for Junior Mints. She dies two
days after the completion of “Childhood,” because squirrels are not supposed to eat candy.
Alyssa Reget: Alyssa is a Junior-type person who is just kind of going
where life takes her. Last year, life took her over to Europe where she
took lots of cool pictures. Lots. When she isn’t creeping on random
strangers in front of Italian museums, she enjoys sipping coffee, listening to good music, reading (the occasional) book, going for midnight
bike rides in the rain, and being with friends.
Robert Russell: Robert is a senior Philosophy and Political Science
major who enjoys most activities beginning with the letter ‘s’ (soccer,
skiing, school, spelunking, and presumably someday skydiving). He
has a palate for spontaneous platitudes and a myopic eye for irony but
more importantly he wonders, “why the purgatory are we here?”
Emily Sitton: Emily is a Communication Studies and Spanish major
who works as the Features Editor for The Beacon. She originally wanted to dive into a career in journalism after graduation, but is now interested in spending a year doing service after graduation. Studying in
Salzburg, Austria has cultivated her interests in languages, photography, and experiencing new cultures.
Ruby Stocking: Ruby is a Communications major and arguably the most
liberal person at this school. She loves long walks on the beach, film and
writes about the men she dates. She have been playing with film ever
since she was a kid so expect to see her name in Hollywood someday.
Sydney Syverson: Sydney is a sophomore Social Work major currently
studying abroad in Salzburg. She misses her family, friends, and otter
pops more than anything! She enjoys writing and believes people write
because they have something that they can’t keep to themselves any
longer; something that has to be said.
Matthew Tongue: Matthew is a senior Electrical Engineer with minors
in English and Mathematics. Unless you’re mad at him, in which case
he’s dead.
Andrea Wujek: Andrea is an English major hoping to graduate this
spring. She enjoys athletic endeavors, writing poetry on sunny—and
rainy—days in her Moleskine, and mango sorbet.
Special thanks to Bridge Bimrose-DelCarpio
and Susan Safve, in the hardworking
Marketing and Communications Department,
who helped redesign, reformat, and spice up this publication.
To Dr. Lars Larson, the wizard behind the curtain who guided us.
To our diligent editors, who worked tirelessly to convince students
to submit their art and collaborated to make a book.
And finally, to all of the students who bravely submitted
their art and literature to wow the student body
with their vibrancy and artistic insight.
Without you, this would be a sad, bland,
and pathetically small magazine. Merci.
—Your Senior Editors