All Posts in Volume 68
My grandfather died when I was sixteen. I’m not sure how exactly. Heart attack? Embolism? He collapsed one morning on the gold-flecked linoleum floor of the hallway between the kitchen and the parlor of the house in Flushing where he and my grandmother had lived since forever, since before (or so they said) a single Asian had arrived in Queens and all the store signs were replaced with Korean hieroglyphics and their Jewish neighbors decamped for Brooklyn. I don’t know if my grandfather died there in the house or in the ambulance or on a cold narrow cot in the hospital, but I do know that when my dad called to tell me the news I didn’t feel anything about it at all.
My grandfather’s name was Fred Zander, formerly Fritz Zander, once of the Zanders of Berlin and now the last patriarch of the Zanders of New York City. I called him Opa, which is the German word for grandfather. I did this even though he wasn’t really German but Jewish, and Jews, Opa told me, are always really Jewish no matter what country they happen to come from. Even though Opa was Jewish he hadn’t wanted a rabbi at his funeral—had, I later found out, specifically forbidden it. A rabbi showed up anyway. I don’t know who arranged for this but suspect my Aunt Caroline, who is the kind of person who never throws out the computer manual or wears white after Labor Day and thinks that having a religious figure at a funeral is compulsory.
The rabbi knew Opa as his piano tuner. They had spoken Yiddish together, the rabbi said. I hadn’t known Opa could speak Yiddish. The rabbi was a nice man and did his best, but it was clear he hadn’t really known Opa all that well and I couldn’t help looking at him as an imposter. I thought of Opa working on the rabbi’s piano. I imagined him rolling up his sleeves and plunging waist-deep into the belly of the organ, the wood vibrating around him like the muscle walls of a living heart as he plucked wires with the precision of a surgeon, making minute, deft adjustments until the valves pumped a rich aortic symphony under his hands. All this while the rabbi sat in his easy chair reading the paper.
I played this scene over in my mind as the rabbi talked until by the end of his speech I had convinced myself that Opa had been mortally insulted by this bourgeoisie pulpitarian, this self-righteous Talmudic fraud. I could barely bring myself to shake the rabbi’s hand. When he complimented my dress I wanted to hit him.
In retrospect, I should have been grateful the rabbi came at all. The overlarge funeral parlor made it painfully clear how very few mourners were in attendance. The room was almost empty. Most of my grandparents’ friends were dead, or, more likely, too old and lethargic to make the trip from Brooklyn. Perhaps they had even forgotten about the old man with the blue beret, the fraying suspenders and the thick-rimmed bifocals hanging from a cord around his neck. Perhaps they remembered instead only the handsome young piano tuner with the bootblack hair and clever, calloused hands. Such forgetting happened when people got old. When Opa had been admitted to the emergency room the week previous (chest pains? headache?) he hadn’t known what year it was, or who the president was, and kept glancing at my grandmother in confusion, as if wondering how this withered-apple woman had come to replace his wife.
The next speaker was Opa’s cousin, a famous sex therapist in a black pantsuit. Opa had all of the sex therapist’s books on a shelf over his desk, and once I was old enough to understand what the books were about I averted my eyes from them, embarrassed, and tried not to wonder what they were doing in his office. I hadn’t known that the famous sex therapist was his cousin. My grandmother didn’t get along with her and she was spoken of only in those strained, disapproving tones with which mention is made of illegitimate children in BBC costume dramas. This could have been due to sex therapist’s profession, but I suspect my grandmother simply disliked her, was, perhaps, even jealous of her. The sex therapist was after all a rich and successful woman, while my grandmother was only a secretary, married to a Jewish piano tuner.
The famous sex therapist talked about growing up with Opa in Berlin. She was an impoverished relative; his family owned a chain of movie theaters and had a chauffeur. They collected art, she said, then waved her hand as if to disperse a bad smell. The Nazis took it all, of course. I think of visiting the Met with Opa, him stopping suddenly in front of a painting, staring hard, frowning. I wonder if what I had taken for amateur interest was in fact a moment of recognition.
After the funeral we returned to the house in Flushing. Aunt Caroline marched around the living room thrusting trays of nuts and raw vegetables at the guests. She side-eyed the guys from my dad’s Alcoholics Anonymous biker group, who were tracking graveyard dirt between the treads of their combat boots. My dad stood by the fireplace with a scotch in his fist, the muscles in his face clenching and unclenching as he stared hard into the middle distance. His new wife clung to his arm and watched his eyes redden and blear with an expression of mingled dismay and resignation. His ex-fiancée looked on from across the room, nursing a seltzer and picking absently at the radiation burns on her arm. My mother was outside chain-smoking.
Somewhere between the eulogy and the burial my grandmother and the famous sex therapist had found time to put their contention temporarily aside, like a hat ill-suited for the season. They sat hip to hip on the couch and murmured to one another in French.
Someone (probably Caroline) had put an old home movie in the VHS. Muted images flickered across the screen. Christmas morning, my cousins serene amidst a carnage of torn paper and ribbons; my grandmother and I throwing baguette crusts at the ducks in Kissena Park; someone’s birthday cake. I was watching my sister run across the lawn of our vacation house on stubby toddler legs when suddenly a blurred shadow appeared in the frame. The image shifted, refocused: the shadow resolved itself into the palm of a hand. It was Opa, adjusting the lens.
During all the hours of footage Opa shot of us he had always remained a disembodied presence behind the camera. Sometimes he would speak, cajoling us into a smile, but more often he was silent. Now, seeing his hand hover on the screen, I felt as though I was witnessing one of the spectral apparitions that manifest in the Polaroids of eager tourists. After a moment the focus changed again and the hand withdrew—no more substantial than a glimmer on the lens, a ghost in a bad photograph.
Andrea Tapia '15
retomas tu ritmo,
que no llegas
¿Por qué los días?
¿Por qué no sólo un día?
¿Por qué no sólo un atardecer?
con uno basta,
a mí me basta,
Te ríes y lloras,
¿por qué no sientes?
ya lo presientes
tus agujas firmes
clavadas en tus ojos,
¿no lo sientes?
Y tú, ¿por qué?
¿Por qué la prisa?
que no llegas,
¿no lo ves?
Ya no sabes.
que te quedan.
Quizá un destello
fugaz, de luz serena,
paralice tu carrera,
te hunda en tu propio juego
y ya poco importe
si es que llegas,
o si es que caes,
y ni los días
Andrea Tapia, from Quito-Ecuador. Second term freshman studying literature and social sciences in Bennington College.
Jess Joho '14
Shackles lose their grip and quiet descends upon a fire lit room as the word Anonymous is signed onto fraying parchment. In one decisive sweep of the pen, foundations where cathedrals, theatres, laboratories, and libraries stand on, collapse. Beauty is emancipated. For once in her existence, Beauty lies bare, without all those men clambering to snatch her from the air, clip her wings, and sell her on the black market. The voiceless, for once in their lives, manage to issue a single, harmonious note from otherwise stifled throats. Those who stand outside the locked gate facing a mountainous cement wall suddenly realize how vaporous they are, how climbable that wall is.
Somewhere in the world, a woman stops. Her brisk strides falter on a cobblestone street with the inexplicable, unmistakable realization that she is being known. Someone—just then in that moment—has cupped her life in their hands, has created something monumental from the thin material that is her identity. She watches a disembodied hand with sinewy fingers and calloused palms write the word Anonymous across a page. “That’s me,” she exhales, release flooding her muscles and tears trailing her cheeks.
Something is shared universally—almost unanimously.
And that remarkable being—the emancipator of beauty—sits in an upright wooden chair, smiling wearily down at words which no longer lay dormant. The words will quite certainly be buried; with no owner to latch themselves on to, these words will hide in shadow of the act itself. But who in the world can care for legacy or endurance at a time like this—when a human being, for once in our existence, favors love over glory.
Tiny hands clambered for attention at Anonymous’ feet like the voiceless begging to be heard again. The children demanded immediacy because Catherine had pulled Sally’s hair and Sally had pushed Catherine into the dirt. And so, wrapping her irate children into her arms, Anonymous wipes the soot from a porcelain face. Rocking back and forth, she once again smiles down wearily at creation which had once been within her, is now without her, and will remain immeasurably beautiful forever.
Jess is a literature student and definitely not selfless enough to write anonymously.
Naomi Washer '12
Frau Gretchen once said
You have to be careful.
In springtime you might find
yourself under a bush
with a boy. I
was fourteen and wondered
what sort of poetry she
read to herself
in the bath.
Naomi is slowly saying goodbye to Vermont to pursue her MFA in nonfiction at Columbia College Chicago.
Hannah Kucharzak '13
I must have been a river salamander. Fins, feathers,
and blind. The water is murky to begin with.
In Japan, they called us monsters. They blame the river
for the deaths of childhood friends. Where else
could they have gone? I was six feet long, a smooth
wrestler. I would not bite your line, I swirled
right past and did not know the difference. One thousand
years ago, I lost my tail as I have lost memory.
I am in two places now: where does such spirit begin?
Hannah does poems.
Maria Jacobson '14
DEBRA, a woman
CHRISTOPHER, a man
SOCK, a sock
DEBRA, CHRISTOPHER, and SOCK sit in a plain room with white walls. DEBRA and CHRISTOPHER stand at opposite sides of the room with a chair at center stage. The sock lies on the floor. Anywhere downstage. DEBRA and CHRISTOPHER begin to laugh without smiling. This continues for a few minutes. CHRISTOPHER stops and looks toward the audience.
Why are you laughing.
Lights up on DEBRA and CHRISTOPHER sitting on top of each other in the chair. DEBRA on top. They turn their heads to look at each other when they speak.
Hello Christopher. What did you do today?
I fell in love.
Oh. With whom?
What did you say? I couldn’t hear you over the din.
The din of the refrigerator. It’s loud and obnoxious.
Well, all I said was “Oh, with whom?” Who did you fall in love with?
I saw her on the TEEEEEEEE-VEEEEEEEEEurrrrrrrrrgrgrggrglrlrlrgrrrrrrrggrlrlrl
(The ee sound turns into a low, gurgling noise.)
(Over the gurgling)
(CHRISTOPHER stops, pause)
Lights up on DEBRA sitting in the chair while CHRISTOPHER crawls around the room, apparently looking for something. He plops down, dejected.
(Speaking fast, determined)
And then I said, “ok ok ok ok ok!”
(He begins to scratch behind his ear)
Listen! Stop! Alright? Jeez.
I said, “ok ok ok, but where, like WHEEYYY-ERRRR are we going when we’re just sitting in this room… by ourselves… on this mountain… by ourselves… on this PLANET… by ourselves… I mean, ok ok ok we’re just sitting here and it’s, oh GOD, I mean OHHH GODDDD WHERE ARE WE??” And he says—
I know what he says.
And he says that—
(Suddenly very angry)
I KNOW GODDAMN WELL WHAT HE SAYS!!
Long silence. They stare at each other. SOCK begins to cry. They both look at sock. Long pause.
Now look what you’ve done.
Lights up on CHRISTOPHER and DEBRA both sitting in chairs equidistant from center. They look at SOCK. SOCK begins to speak.
Froufrou. F-R-O-U-F-R-O-U. Froufrou.
(CHRISTOPHER and DEBRA clap. They will do this after every word.)
Gelatin. G-E-L-A-T-I-N. Gelatin.
Abscess. A-B-S-C-E-S-S. Abscess.
Obelisk. O-B-E-L-I-S-K. Obelisk.
Bouillon. B-O-U-I-L-L-O-N. Bouillon.
Euthanasia. E-U-T-H-A-N-A-S-I-A. Euthanasia.
Its. I-T-APOSTROPHE-S. Its.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE VOICE
Ohhh, I’m sorry. The correct spelling is I-T-S. You spelled the conjunction of “it is” when you should have spelled the possessive of “it” as in its owner or its partner.
Long pause. DEBRA and CHRISTOPHER both stare at SOCK.
I am female, and I go to Bennington College.
Kestrel Slocombe '12
I met Jaime in the spring and from that first moment, I saw death retreating down the years like a deformed creature that doffed its cap to me. Jaime, my brother, my long-lost: he used to dance like a devil on the tables with the girls we’d meet down on the beach—like hungry children living by the light of dawn, we’d all cram into some vehicle with the top down. We’d have philosophical debates while we drove, sitting close as in a pew, only getting out when the wheels stopped spinning and Jaime started speaking Gaelic. He was speaking Gaelic when I met him. “Ishtar, Krishna, Orpheus, Osiris,” he said. And then something in Gaelic.
He was lying on his black leather couch when I first saw him, one leg thrown up on the back, like a weary marionette, with his long tweed limbs. He was surrounded by maps—his hobby, I was told. A bonafied cartophile. He had on a red hat, one of those Scottish hats, like a beret with a pom-pom in the middle. It was Christmas, the window was cracked open, the place was filled with Scots; a live band was playing murky hot jazz. Donovan, the red-haired cyclist, slung an arm around my shoulders and yelled, “Jack, old man. Have you met our host?” and that was when I saw him, there on the couch, not too tall, dark bright small eyes, a strong forehead, hollow cheeks. He showed me his map of India; I was drunk, but it made no difference, because he was too. He told me how the trains used to run hot and red as blood, metal hot in the sun, metal painted red, bright as a holy day, bright as that stupid red hat of his that he said had been passed down in his family; since the dawn of hats, he said.
All night I watched him: sometimes he walked like a king, a drunken king—but in the land without kings, the drunken king is still king. He could make a chair into a throne just by the way he sat in it; hold an apple and knife like an orb and scepter; bring a whiff of frankincense and myrrh with him. Watching him, I thought he’d shaken something off—that coldness you begin to feel after enough years have gone by. The presence of a certain being. Although no one else can see that being, you feel its hollow touch.
I had begun to feel it myself, just a year earlier, back on the east coast: when I walked up to that podium and Yale told me it was glad to see the back of me; when I threw two brown suitcases in the back of my sea-green ’51 Buick. This is one of the three stages, I thought. The three leavings. You leave home; then your kids leave home; then you leave this world. I’d just knocked number one off the list.
When I got to San Francisco, I told all this to a fortune teller. She listened, and then her eyes began to narrow and she dropped the persona—Madame Magdalena, or whatever it was—and told it to me straight: this happens to everyone upon leaving college. It’s called the quarter-life crisis. Get a job, you’ll feel better.
I lurked around my new rooms in San Francisco, avoiding the phone calls from home, the postcards, like cries from the grave: “Jack, you never said goodbye!” “Took me ages to get your address. How come you’re out there in California?” “Call me, Jack! What are you doing out there?” “Dead people,” I muttered. “Grave-people.” I could smell the gloomy East-Coast pine-trees when I thought of them—pine-trees and cemeteries.
Jaime smelled like smoke and gasoline. The wind at night on the summer highway. The unending sky. “You ever going back to Scotland?” I asked him sometimes. “Yeah, someday,” he’d say, like he had a thousand years to live. He was planning the trip to India when I met him—he said he wanted to sleep on the rocks where the gods slept, kiss the women the gods kissed. We stayed up all night, he dancing from map to map, scribbling, making notes, telling me things; sometimes we laughed, sometimes we stumbled sick and tired down the stairs at dawn, into the fog; Jaime still laughing, laughing like a seagull, Jaime on the stony beach with a bottle in his hand, unsteady in the tide with his coat flapping. Standing against the day, against the cold and gray, in his brown corduroy jacket with the leather elbow-patches, in his plaid pants, his Cuban boots, his goddamn hat. He told me, his strong brogue echoing out into the stillness, while somewhere behind us the sun was rising, “Some people hate this fog, y’know.”
“ ’S all right. Reminds me of home.”
Home of Jaime: somewhere at the ragged lip of the North Sea, where the land shook under the fearsome wind—quarries filled with rain, branches bleak and black, and Jaime just a young pup—I tried to see him, running sliding scrambling, panting, lonely, growing, rangy, lean, watching, waiting, waiting, howling.
“Show me,” I said, sitting at his kitchen table. “On a map. Where you lived. Where you came from.”
“Sorry, mate. I’ve only got maps of India.” He put the bottle to his lips.
“What? Only? But you collect—”
He swallowed, ducking his head. “Did, but I sold ’em. Only need the Indian ones now.”
“Once I’ve gone to India, I won’t need to go anywhere else. And I needed money for a ticket, as well. Why do you want to see, anyway? People hate Scotland. ’Cause it reminds them of death.” I could feel him looking at me. I tried to think of something to say, but he went on, “’Cause we’ve no sunlight, just rain, cold, and the smell of the dirt. But I’m going to India—land of Krishna! D’you know what he said? There are some things that never end, because they never began. Like being. Don’t you think that’s lovely?”
“Yeah, and they also have dead bodies floating down the Ganges, don’t they?”
“Exactly, and little children drinking out of it. The circle of life, mate! It’s grand!” He slapped my shoulder.
“Yeah, and then they die of some terrible disease.”
“Or they don’t. People die of terrible diseases everywhere. In India at least you see life first—really see it. You see gods. There are no gods in San Francisco—” He slapped my shoulder again and stood up. “Which is why I’m going to India, like a sensible person.”
“You won’t see their gods,” I called out to him, as he left the room. “You’ll only see their death.”
How much I didn’t see. How often I remember the wrinkles around his eyes, the way he’d bump into me while we were walking, how his voice began to get husky when we said goodbye in the airport. I only knew him eight months, but in that time he became my oldest friend. When I got the news I went to find somewhere to cry and feel like Someone was listening. While back in Connecticut my mother and father prayed for Him to make me good, Jaime was somewhere else. I never saw the green plants springing through the ribcage as it lay half-buried: the glory that never ended because it never began, it just was. But maybe he saw it, as he knelt there so close to his holy earth.
They burned his body—brother, you were always burning. Now the spirit and the body are one. Did they see the shapes of gods in the smoke? Would I? When I got the news, I touched the dry hard earth of America, and heard all the silence where once there had been singing. Was there anything here? Were there any bones left? Was it stupid to pray?
I did anyway, brother. I prayed you were floating down a river somewhere in India. Little children drink your body.
Kestrel Slocombe is a Massachusetts native who tends to write very long novels, but is learning how to write short stories like this one, thanks to Becky Godwin.
Alec Gear '15
the hot of skin on skin on skin:
of hali fevered and
forehead cracking and
spitting foam like sand
in storms in deserts and
blistered lips gasping gasps of leady cotton
on leg flab, lemon juiced bowl hair, Tigger,
chocolate smudge, ceremony-
less finger drums.
smile-mirror had wrinkled itself from its frame
had given me three games
had had three names
now: know none of them.
now: three three fingered finger
drums three times
All on black: steamy,
black: clacky hordes gorging,
black: caked and on the bottom of the shoe,
black: veining the world in rivulets,
black: bed of your river
Alec hides beneath sheep.
Brittany Kleinschnitz '13
Female deer do not normally produce antlers,
aside from reindeer or caribou.
The head - bare between the ears
and rounded, the flesh taut and
flat to skull - feminine,
and thus a lack of congenital weaponry.
So when she is found walking in fall,
between pines, a belly full,
they call her doe with skepticism, they
look at her branched antlers covered with velvet,
17 cm. high and bearing three points,
and say No woman here.
Artemis, Greek goddess of wilderness,
childbirth and virginity - a mother of the hunt and
simultaneous protector - her chariot is drawn by
four deer. The fifth, Kerynean, roams free and
cannot be captured.
When Agamemnon steals the life of a stag in
a forest dedicated to Artemis, the goddess snuffs out
the wind on the seas in Greece. For the wind’s
return she demands sacrifice as reparation in the
form of Iphigeneia, the king’s daughter. Yet, before
the youth could be slaughtered, the good mother
Artemis snatches her body up from the altar and
deposits a deer in its place.
who steals your motherhood?
Internally, too, she is horned and heart shaped.
There is a baby in the bicornuate,
the fertile cornucopia filled with a certain fruit,
the horns of which ended blindly.
No one before has told her that she cannot bear young.
Native American lore (that of the Cherokee,
the Muskogee, the Seminole, the Choctaw) calls the
deer a shape-shifter. “Deer Woman”, a spirit that
moves and morphs between forms at will from deer
to woman and back again. She is a teacher of
sexuality, fertility, and maturation.
When a man comes upon this spirit, she
appears to be the most beautiful woman he has ever
seen, his desire for a body contoured, lean and soft.
She lures him with movement and her sex, the chase,
towards the cover of trees, gives him a moment of
ecstasy before driving his head into dirt with strong
hooves, their edges sharp and cloven.
I see her move and I match stride through the thick
of dripping pines.
The curve of her body bulging with young,
and pumping blood.
Her spindly legs skipping beats, wobbling.
See me horned and heart shaped, too, internally.
I have branched antlers
where others are bare and rounded.
A bent and empty cornucopia,
for this body is not as lithe as hers,
and not nearly as strong
In the Celtic tradition, the deer is a symbol of
femininity. They believed them to be faeries, a
shape-shifter as well, changing from deer to woman
in order to protect her fellow females from being
hunted by men.
Celtic warrior, Finn, fell in love with and
married the goddess Sadb to allow her a human
form after a druid had turned her into a deer. Upon
returning from battle one day, Finn finds that Sadb
is missing and searches for her for seven years. Time
passes, and while out hunting, Finn comes upon a
boy. He is naked and his hair is long. The boy says
that he lives in the woods with his mother, a gentle
doe. Finn realizes he has found his love, and that she
had given birth to a human child, his child, and dubs
him Oisin, meaning “little fawn”.
What women are we, how masculine,
what organically malformed beauty is hidden beneath velvet skin?
In the heat of a sunbeam
she paws the dirt, upturning stones,
and grunts like a stag.
Rubbing soft clothed antlers impatiently on a tree,
the bark crumbling, she bends at the knees as woven wicker
and I move to sit parallel,
cross-legged. Her body shifts from beneath its weight
and the stomach rests, balanced
on a bed of moss and leaves.
Brittany Kleinschnitz is a junior and studies Visual Arts, with a focus in photography and printmaking, and Literature.
Catherine Pikula '13
Dreaming of red again: radishes, unwashed,
and hands too rough. Soil no longer washes
off properly but has begun to embed
in life lines and knuckles like so many
birthmarks blooming, at first unnoticed.
Push the radishes in a wheelbarrow,
uphill to the kitchen for rinsing.
At breakfast ask Bly,
what are radishes good for?
He says they cure kidney stones,
flush the liver and gallbladder.
Wonder what sense this makes
of the dream. He says, that it depends
on the color of the wheelbarrow.
The seeds were heirloom, radishes
would be white, mild in flavor when made
into juice. Dig three inch holes
with a trowel next to the greenhouse,
squeeze saplings from plastic planters,
and place them in beds, nestled with hay --
to keep the weeds down.
Catherine Pikula studies literature and philosophy.
Hannah Kucharzak '13
Nevermind the origins, as they are unbeknown
to even the oracles, but who knows the rules of
divine intervention? It feels lucid yet transcendent,
talking to him, as if a film or a dream in black-and-
white. I am watching myself, this girl with her
uncontrollably young grin, she is daring, she is
lucky on the spectrum of fear. And here is this man,
his narrow fox-eyes, heavy enough to have been cast
in bronze. And she worships him as such and he probably
is. Girls learn early how to speak to older men, post-
blunder, and here are the benefits. It’s all third-person
narrative because it’s too much a dream, it’s all
subconsciously calculated, but then enter hand, one
and then two, the short fingernails, the creases and I
wonder if each is for a woman he has loved, I wonder
if metaphors carry their validity into the decade he
has on me, they must, because here is the poem,
here is the entrance into a heavenly unspoken series,
here is this man, again, here are the hands, again.
Hannah does poems.
April 2012 - Comments Off on Quasar at redshift 1.110 with 1.7 Jy total flux density; 10h 58m 17.901s, +19 51′ 50.87″
Erick Daniszewski '14
"I could have gone on flying through space forever." - Yuri Gagarin
April 2012 - Comments Off on Abbatino [in the event of an accident]
Naomi Washer '12
In 1791, Frenchman Claude Chappe invented a system of two sided panels—one white, one black—and synchronized clocks to send messages. Moving hands on the clock paired with black or white side of panel displayed encoded messages visible through a telescope. Chappe called his invention the tachygraphe—from the Greek “fast writer” until a friend persuaded him to call it the telegraphe—“far writer.”
Compasses installed in cars indicate which direction the driver is headed. As a kid, I thought those four letters were my own initials and my father’s. N stood for North but I thought Naomi.
E was not only East but Erin, my middle name. W was both West and Washer, my last name from my father’s side—my father S/South/Steven.
MOCCASINS RUINED BY SNOW STOP WE’LL GO TO THE PARK IN SPRING STOP SOON AS MY FEET HAVE THAWED
Chappe’s invention depended on sight—on sight lines. Messages could only be received in short distances. It was personal. Visual and quick. Every early version of this invention held fast to the benefits of sight.
On long car rides in the back seat I was small enough to squish between two others, to watch the compass tell us who we were, where we were going. A long journey took us towards Naomi but turned sharply into quests for Erin. From Erin we would shift to seek the Washers and to go home we would always follow Steve.
LET’S DANGLE FEET IN MEKONG STOP MISS HOW WE WALKED IN CAMBODIA STOP CHEAP SANDALS ROAMING CITY STREETS
The telegram era was briskly ushered in by Samuel Morse and the invention of Morse code. Impersonal. Auditory and quick. Series of dots and dashes representing words, tapped out, transmitted across wires, received by operators. Hand of the writer rendered
irrelevant. Voice disembodied. Morse code’s small bandwidth could be amplified quite loud providing assurance that a message would always be received. Multiplexing: the ability to transmit eight messages simultaneously over a single wire—four in each direction.
I thought I understood what it meant to travel a path Northeast towards Naomi Erin. Northwest was logical too—my whole self. Heading Southwest meant going after Dad. But it perplexed me endlessly to ponder what I’d find if I ran Southeast.
STILL NOT WINTER HERE STOP DON’T KNOW WHY STOP SNOW WHEN I WAS FOUR PILED TALL AS DAD AT FRONT DOOR STOP NOT COLD NOW BUT LEAVES ON TREES TREMBLE STOP WONDER IF I SHOULD BE STOP KNOW YOU ARE
The height of the telegram age was the 1920’s and 30’s. Western Union maintained a fleet of 14,000 uniformed messenger boys on foot and bicycle. Telegrams took less than a day to be delivered, faster than a letter, more urgent than a letter’s wandering tone.
As a child I often rode in the back of station wagons, facing the road, traveling backwards while the driver moved forward. I never saw streetlights or signs until we passed them and stop signs breezed by my face—their warning message not received.
GET IN YOUR CAR STOP I’LL PAY GAS STOP ROOM ON COUCH TO SLEEP STOP PLEASE
Telegraph prose had a snappy brisk style. The frequent omission of pronouns and articles often became almost poetically ambiguous. Telegrams were almost always brief, pointed and momentous in a way unmatched by any other form of communication. Often used to inform loved ones of events too difficult to say aloud: the end of a life. Punctuation was more expensive than a word; telegrams avoided using periods, avoided proper sentences, merely found the essence of the message. Instead of “.” between lines, simply STOP.
HOW’S YOUR HEAD STOP KNOW YOU HATE DRIVING STOP WALLACE STEVENS NEVER LEARNED STOP PLEASE LEARN TO LOVE WALKING STOP THEY SAY HE WROTE POEMS BY FOOTFALLS
Caught up in the magical nature of telegrams, some people believed them capable of miraculous feats. In 1870 A woman in Prussia appeared at her local telegraph office carrying a plate of food. She asked that it be telegraphed to her son—a soldier fighting in the war against France. Operators told her it was impossible to telegraph a physical object. The woman insisted that if soldiers could be ordered to the front by telegram you should be able to telegraph sauerkraut. Another man tried to telegraph his son a pair of boots.
DOE EYES SEE NO BETTER ON MAIN ROADS STOP I MISS THE JOURNEY WHEN I READ ON BUSES STOP WORKING MY WAY UP NORTH STOP SAVE ME THE AIR
If your telegraph station is unable to receive, simply transmit the word “wait.” If a telegraph station does not reply, repeat your call at suitable intervals. Every telegram must be terminated with a cross signal.
I hide boxes of letters from old friends in the Northeast. I visit them and read the old piece of advice that got me through a difficult year: “Do what makes your heart beat faster. Or slower. Or consciously beat. Come to New York.” This piece of paper has become too frail. Years later I still feel the rhythm of these lines when I exhale.
FEEL LIKE I’M MELTING STOP CONNECTICUT CHEMTRAILS STOP SMOKING COWBOY KILLERS STOP NEW BOOTS ARE CLUNKY STOP NO MORE SHIT FROM STRANGERS
In Morse code 1 dash is equal to 3 dots. The space between signals that form the same
letter is equal to 1 dot. The space between 2 letters is equal to 3 dots and the space between 2 words is equal to 7 dots. Silence differentiates measure. Travel implicates empty space.
Wallace Stevens never learned to drive. He walked through Hartford’s purple light towards work and home again. Each day he’d use his footsteps to compose a line of poetry, backtracking and replacing certain words. I choose to walk because of this. I tell myself that getting there is not about the time it takes but the way in which one moves.
JAMMING FEET INSIDE POEMS STOP TRIED DRIVING STOP NEVER GOT LICENSE
By 1845 books of numeric codes were being published for use in telegrams. Many codes were numbered lists for words such as “A1645”—Alone.
I finish conversations and take the long road home. The words they uttered last become
my tempo: right, left, right, left, take, it easy, Naomi, take, it easy, Naomi, take, it easy, Naomi. My left hand taps out each melody against my thigh until my feet receive it—
1 3 4 3 2 1
1 3 4 3 2 1
1 3 4 3 2 1
GET OUT OF BED STOP GET YOUR POEMS READ
Some very sensitive business was conducted via telegram and codes were designed to keep information secret.
Libant: If it is not… Libavio: Why is it that you…
Liberons: The issue between us… Libitum: It is as I said…
Libongo: It is all wrong… Liburnos: Would jeopardize everything…
Librated: It will now soon be ended.
Naomi is slowly saying goodbye to Vermont to pursue her MFA in nonfiction at Columbia College Chicago.
Catherine Pikula '13
In summer, through cornfields Daphne wandered,
bow on shoulders, practiced her shooting.
Chased the turkeys down to the river.
Her dress cut at the knee, feet bare and loose
hair stuck with leaves. Set an arrow free,
aimed high and pierced the cantaloupe sun.
Sweat gathered at her neck, saliva of the sun.
Near white oak trees three deer wandered.
She tracked them to the corn field free
of crop. Drew back on her bow to shoot.
Fingers slackened as an arrow flew loose.
Dragged her prize by its hooves to the river.
Daphne served dinner at the river.
Her father’s table beneath evening sun
fenced by marble pillars with ivy loosely
strung. Father told her not to wander,
stole away her bow. Said shooting
was for men not daughters seeking freedom.
Daphne stood shaking walnuts free
from lower branches grey as river.
Bent to gather miner’s lettuce shooting
through the garden plot. Under sun
her face burned, jealous of the wandering
light. On her wrist a basket hung loosely.
She hid the rabbit hides, tied loose
their hands and feet. Never felt as free
with a secret from father, how she wandered.
Washed the mud from her body at the river.
Laid naked on the bank drying in sun
warm and probing. Drew her bow but couldn’t shoot.
Dug her toes in dirt for rooting, hands shooting
into bark. Father witnessed her loose
leaves catching fire in the red of the sun.
As the geese took flight for a winter free
of snow, father cried at the frozen river--
will never have grandchildren that wander.
The life of a laurel: thought to be free.
Wind blows across the stationary river.
In cornfields alone, turkeys wander.
Catherine Pikula is a student of Literature and Philosophy.
Naomi Washer '12
I am going to tell you this because you asked. I am going to believe you will go the way I tell you. You could drive onto one of the ramps from the entrance by the West Farms Mall, but you will feel displaced. That car of yours will guzzle too much life out of the landscape. You will see a landscape built for cars, transformed by flora as exotic as any jungle.
Drive to the Holy Family Monastery. Park in the lot closest to trees. Get out of the car with what few belongings you’ve brought with you. You are about to walk a great deal. Enter the serene, wooded area next to the lot. You will see prayer stations arranged in a circle, designed and labeled as the ideal Path of Peace. You will see other humans at these stations, or walking gently side by side in silence. Your presence is no disturbance, though you are on a different path. Muted metal statues of Mary and Jesus rise up alongside Connecticut’s white oaks, a small kneeling place beneath each one. Continue walking. You will come to the image of a woman washing the feet of Jesus. Stretching beyond this, an unmarked path. Take it. A large wire fence lies trampled up ahead, slowly becoming buried by dirt and time and beer cans. Don’t worry—this is the right way. You will need a pair of solid shoes. Mounds of dirt substantial enough to be called a hill require a bit of careful footing. Last time, at least seven huge logs, just horizontal trees really, seemed to be blocking my way to the base area. A simple obstruction, if you have brought a worthy friend with you. Don’t let him make you turn back; don’t let him think this is a bad sign. Remind him there are flattened cans of Bud Light all along the path—someone would have cleaned them up if anyone monitored this place.
These are the facts: Across the border of West Hartford and Farmington, a four-level Stack Interchange lies almost completely abandoned, built as sections of Interstates 84 and 291. The ultimate goal was a beltway surrounding the city of Hartford. The hope was better roadways; less traffic. The highways themselves were built to completion, as were the majority of the connecting ramps, but problems soon arose. Trouble with reservoirs, just north of 84 in West Hartford, halted completion of those portions of the Stack. Homeowners (whose houses backed right up to the 291 section) complained of problematic environmental conditions. They did not want the deafening sounds of never-ending motion, of motorcyclists, teenagers revving their engines, music blasting, or cop cars. The people won this argument, and all plans for the entire Stack were terminated.
Diagonally crossing each other, one right atop another, each highway is visible from every other in the Stack. You cannot climb from one to the next. You must retrace your steps, back to the base area, to follow the ramp which leads to the next highway. The lowest in the Stack is just above the active highway. This one is my favorite. No, I can’t choose. Here, you should stand with your torso leaning over the guardrail. Clasp onto it, then allow your body to loosen and become a detail of the scene. In summer, which is the season I recommend you go, the metal protected by shadow will feel cool to the touch. Shadows elongating from the extinct highways above form patterns intersecting with the street art at your feet. Whether you stand in these shadows, or throw your upper body over the guardrail in the sun, feet firmly planted on cement, no face in any car will feel your face. You could scream even. I have tried. I have flung my arms, waving hello, inviting them to take a glimpse. But I know it does not work this way. When I’m in a car, zipping down I-84, I sometimes think I see the abandoned highways—every highway looks dingy on the outside. There is a moment where I am certain I have plucked them out of the extinct jungle of their recreated existence; plunked them down into the suburban sprawl of vehicles. Then I see a car speed across it, and I know my secret landscape has eluded me once again.
This is what you should do: lean over the edge of the guardrail on the lowest highway in the Stack. Hold on tight as huge trucks and semis hurtle right at you. The floor of this highway will rumble and the metal bar will shake, rattling your wrists. The trucks pass through and under you. It looks as though they’ll hit you every time.
On the middle ramp, the one with the most street art, an active highway curves toward and past you. You will be no more than six feet from zooming vehicles. Do with this knowledge what you will.
I know hundreds have been there from the sight of broken beer bottles and the evidence of graffiti: “So it goes” stretches out long and black. “An eye for an eye makes the whole world blind,” “I’ll take you blindfolded dancing under bridges,” “Welcome to Narnia. Please wipe your feet.” All those young people; all their pains told through spray cans of paint. I suffer this affliction too; all suburban kids I’ve known do—writing out another’s words with care, precision, before learning to push through them to our own description.
Only once before have I run into strangers here—a group of young, rowdy boys drinking beer out of green bottles at two in the afternoon. This was well before my imagination could see any pleasure in that. They were smashing the bottles on the colorful pavement after emptying each one.
Once, from here, I watched a plastic grocery bag snap itself from a car window, fly over and under several, then settle to the ground, only to then be flung every which way by the speeding semis. Another time, here, I dangled one leg off the slab of concrete with no guardrail, feeling the ease with which I could sit in this dangerous spot, laughing. All I need is wind from cars in summer.
What I wonder is if the children of those homeowners—the ones who ended the building process—know what is in their backyard. I wonder if those kids ever found a short trail down.
Look: if anyone sees you, you know what to do. And don’t share this with just anyone, okay? Last thing: I dare you to find the plant that’s gone extinct—they say it grows nowhere else but the abandoned highways.
Till an undetermined time,
Naomi studies theatre, dance and literature, and loves to walk in Vermont.
Anna Gyorgy '14
the feeling of
falling but feeling
the falling as
falling not feeling
so simple he says
to fuck poetry and
not to feel it
not to feel
but indeed and oh god
he does so feel
Anna Gyorgy comes from the smallest state and has many small problems.
Leah Zander '12
Alice James is remembered as the brilliant invalid sister of author Henry James. In writing this vignette for "Historical Fictions", I drew upon Leon Edel's biographies of the James family as well as Alice James' own diaries.
There is a fly on the ceiling. Alice can see it from where she lies on the sofa. It creeps along the blurred meridian above the top of her book; every so often it pauses to rub its legs together, a gesture Alice cannot help but interpret as mocking. She wants very badly to throw her book at it, but this would be the act of a hysterical woman. Instead she resolves to ignore the fly. She will be a model of Christian restraint and forbearance. Vive et vivas.
Fortunately breakfast arrives before Alice’s tolerance is too sorely tested. Katherine carries the tray, looking, Alice thinks, more like a stern English governess than a Peabody-Loring in her muddy brown day-dress. While Katherine is bending down to arrange the tea tray on the table, Alice shrugs her shawl from her shoulders so that it falls about her knees. Katherine straightens to see Alice in wide-eyed disarray. Clucking her tongue, she tucks the shawl tight about Alice’s chest.
As Katherine unhinges the silver sugar dish, Alice kicks her foot-cushion to the floor. Katherine spoons twin lumps into Alice’s tea, stirs; she offers cup and saucer to Alice, who accepts with a tremulous hand. Katherine stoops to pick up the wayward pillow and replaces it beneath Alice’s slippered feet. She adjusts the shawl again and tucks back a strand of hair that has slipped from Alice’s braid. All this happens with the deft choreography of a ballet.
As Alice sips lukewarm tea Katherine begins her daily recounting of gossip, rumor, and news of dubious journalistic integrity. Alice supplements the narrative with dry remarks that make Katherine’s narrow shoulders quake with laughter. Katherine sits on the end of the settee; Alice can feel the warmth of her even through the thick cocoon of blankets, quilts, and shawls. The mid-morning sun that slants through a crack in the curtains illuminates Katherine from behind, giving her the golden aureole of a saint. Alice thinks of medieval paintings of the Virgin Mary, swathed in cerulean against a backdrop of pearly gold leaf; the knife-thin nose, pious mouth and almond-shaped eyes. She imagines Katherine fondling a fat baby and has to swallow an unrefined guffaw.
“Shall we go out today?” Katherine asks finally, once she has no more engagements and scandals to prevaricate upon. “The weather is very fine.”
Alice takes roster of her various ailments: the sore knee, agitated bowel, and head-ache that has been her constant companion for what feels like the age of the Earth. She thinks of sunlight, of fresh air. Is it spring? Will goldenrod grow woolly over the fence and meltwater rush in the brook again? Perhaps she will fling herself from her chair and roll bottom-first down a hill tangled with wildflowers, through the open gate of a cow-pen and onto the road, where she will set off into the great green beyond with weeds in her hair and dung on her skirt.
Or perhaps she will simply fall like an old woman and break something. Her hip, her wrist. It must be cold yet; she will catch a chill. The sunlight will blind her, the birdsong deafen her. She will be made mute by the chaos of color and noise. Or will she simply sit in her chair and smell the grass and remark upon the flowers and feel nothing but the ghost of sublime rattling through her?
Alice shakes her head. “Not today.”
The day passes. Alice lounges in the parlor, listlessly paging through her book. She does not know whether to blame the book for its dullness or herself for her indifference. Katherine has moved to the rocking-chair and is bent industriously over her embroidery. Alice watches her from around the sides of her book. Katherine’s face is a drama far more marvelous than that of Alice’s dreary novel. As her hands genuflect over the fabric her brows ascend and furrow, eyes squint and dilate, lips pucker and puff; within five minutes she has silently conveyed every agony and ecstasy of the human experience. The embroidered chrysanthemum on her lap has gained a leaf. Alice wonders what intensity of emotion a whole garden would require.
At noon her nurse brings lunch. Two boiled eggs and tomato sandwiches on blue china, as well as a bowl of what Alice has come to think of as invalid’s gruel: translucent chicken broth swimming with chopped greens. She sips it slowly while making faces at Katherine, who gives her an admonishing look over the rim of her teacup.
After lunch Alice takes the paper. It is heartier and more sustaining by far than the meal. There has been a deliciously gruesome murder in Cheapside; Alice reads the account out loud to Katherine, who listens with her mouth an O. Alice employs her most bombastic tones, like a prurient preacher whose enumerations of Hell’s lewdest horrors are accompanied with an ungodly enthusiasm. At the bloody denouement Katherine goes so pale that Alice pauses to ask if she should continue.
“Really,” she scolds, “we ought to regard fainting as wholly my office.”
“Oh, but do go on,” says Katherine breathlessly.
There is, Alice thinks, a little of the heathen in Katherine Loring.
The rest of the paper is not, perhaps, quite as exciting, but Alice savours each detail nonetheless: the continuing madness of the German emperor; the dauntless Irish, clamoring, as always, for Home Rule; the marriage of one Ambrose Pringle to a Lady Patience Lovestrand; the death of a Dutch painter. The final page is attended by the same rush of desolation that might accompany the sudden loss of a dear friend. Alice sighs. The hours until her guests arrive for supper stretch out endlessly.
When six o’clock arrives Alice is, of course, entirely unprepared. She must verbally flog her Nurse and maid into swift action. Her dressing-room seems suddenly full of a disproportionate number of hands, brushing and pinning up her hair, wrestling her into her only evening dress, rolling stockings up her legs and gloves down her arms, and struggling to work her bloated feet, so accustomed to slippers, into a new pair of shoes which prove perversely reluctant to accommodate her toes. By the time she has been dressed and propped up in the parlor Alice is exhausted and out of sorts. A fine film of perspiration has collected at her nape. She must fight the strong urge to rip off her clothes, crawl naked into bed and hibernate like a bear.
Henry arrives at half past. How odd, Alice thinks, that he should always contrive to make such a humble entrance, sidling into the hall with his chin tucked into his breast as though he were an under-butler and not the greatest writer of his generation. The effect is compounded by the fact that all of Henry seems to be sagging these days. His eyes have sunk into dark pouches as though exhausted by his battle against the inexorable assault of gravity. He has grown vastly fat. There is little left of the dark romantic gypsy-child he had been, save his hands. Long-fingered, knotted and chapped by vigorous activity, with milky oval nails, they are the hands of a poet crudely jointed to the body of a banker.
“Alice!” Henry says, his voice, as always upon greeting her, holding some note of surprise—as though he had expected to find her moldering and insensate and is instead delighted to discover that she has dallied in the lands of the living for yet a while longer. When he kisses her cheek his lips are as thin and dry as wax paper.
Alice plays the genteel Boston hostess and ushers him into the parlor. Despite the vase of fresh flowers on the mantle there remains the lingering staleness of infirmity. Henry pretends not to notice. Of the many things Alice appreciates about Henry, perhaps above all, is the fact that he never bothers to condescend to her (as William never fails to) with conversational pleasantries. Instead he speaks to her as she imagines he would any of his brilliant friends. He is no longer writing novels, he says; rather he will devote his talent to plays and short fiction.
“My literary posterity, as it were,” he says, “shall be in a large number of perfect short things.”
Alice imagines her brother constructing stories as precious and baroque as Faberge eggs. The thought comes, unbidden and unwelcome, that he has become irreparably European. Instead of dwelling on this perverse observation, Alice replies, “I have every confidence that you will astonish the critics.”
It is the wrong thing to say. Henry’s lips thin to a grim equator that seems to split his face like the hinged jaw of a ventriloquist’s doll. Too late, Alice remembers the damning response of the critics to his last novel, The Tragic Muse. It is clear from the way Henry seems to dwindle in his somber evening-suit that he is now reliving the agony of that still-fresh humiliation. He had always been baffled by bad reviews, never failing to take them personally. It is clear that without immediate intervention he will sulk throughout supper and spoil everyone’s appetite.
“I cannot lend you my fullest support in your endeavor, however,” Alice continues hastily, “for I have always thought perfection an entirely dull and commonplace aspiration. Take for example—” she begins warming to her topic—“the face of the society beauty. How many times, Henry, have you seen a lady powdered and tweezed with the acutest precision, her every feature rendered flawless by her own excruciating energies, only to create an effect with so little to interest one’s eye that it cannot help wandering from this banal visage to the buffet table? And is the converse not true as well—that the most unique defects can rescue an otherwise trite countenance, bestowing upon the wearer an ineffable allure?”
“I have often seen the proof of this,” says Katherine, understanding the game at once.
Henry’s eyes are bright with amusement. “Yes,” he says, “as have I, many times.”
“In fact,” says Alice, thus encouraged, “I am of the opinion that if the writer is to generate anything of worth he cannot limit his frontiers to the merely perfect when the purely interesting is so much more engaging of the mind and soul. Indeed, I move that we consider it the most Jamesian endeavor imaginable.”
She is rewarded by one of Henry’s true laughs, rich and delighted and seeming to sound from the very depths of him. He is about to reply, no doubt with a spirited rejoinder, when they are interrupted by the arrival of William and his wife. Alice stands too quickly and must clutch, dizzy, at the arm of the sofa for support. Katherine is at her side immediately, hands fluttering to feel her pulse, her forehead; William and the other Alice enter to see Alice slumped against Katherine like a drooping aspen, with Henry looking on in concern.
“I see we have coincided with an apoplexy,” says William mildly, handing his hat to the maid.
“Not at all.” Alice lowers herself back down onto the sofa. “We were only just discussing Harry’s new artistic direction.”
“Oh dear.” William smiles indulgently. “Henry, I hope you shall not prove one of those writers who cannot commit themselves to a single mode but rather skip from one to another as the fashion changes, like a mondaine at the hat-shop.”
“Henry isn’t a faddist, dear,” chides the other Alice, laying a gloved hand upon her husband’s arm.
“No, indeed,” says Henry, “I consider myself a bulwark of stolid integrity in a world where the novel is too often as cheap, as promptly obsolete and as easily disposed of as the New York World.” He licked his lips. “In fact, I find I have altogether grown out of the form.”
“Like last season’s bonnet, I suppose,” says William.
“Instead,” Henry pushes forth, “instead I shall write for the theater.”
William tugs his whiskers in an expression of pompous benevolence that is so very the mirror of their father that for a moment Alice can see the translucent image of the dead William transposed over that of the living. As soon as it is come it is gone again, leaving her with the sudden sure premonition that William is about to utterly ruin the evening.
“Let us adjourn to the dining room,” she says quickly, but it is too late; William has begun to speak and will not be interrupted.
“Henry, allow me to speak plainly. The truth of it is that you simply cannot call yourself an artist if you allow yourself to be influenced by these petty aesthetes. I have always said that the critic is nothing more than the merest chaff of human wit. Your last book was, perhaps, a mistake; still, you must not permit yourself the false comfort of self-pity. Take your inspiration from Socrates.”
“Socrates committed suicide,” Henry remarks.
“But his legacy endures. And so too, my dear brother, shall yours—but only as long as you do not allow this disappointment to drive you from the novel, the form which has made your career, and into the callow embrace of the theater. Chin up, Henry! Have done with regret; it is within you to make good your name once more.”
He stands back, beaming, as though he has just delivered the most soul-stirring address imaginable.
“The critics have never understood Henry,” says Alice. “Posterity shall vindicate him.”
But it is too little too late. Henry has receded into himself entirely, the folds of his suit closing around him like Ophelia’s waterlogged rags. William will be smug and self-satisfied all night. Everything is spoiled. Alice thinks sourly that family conversation is one arena in which the interesting can be held as subordinate to the perfectly dull.
Supper is that peculiarly British indulgence, the Sunday roast. Their plates are heaped with glistening slabs of beef and thick potato slices slathered with herbed mayonnaise; sweet buttered rolls, roast carrots, and faintly stinking Brussels sprouts. The excess makes Alice feel ill. She pushes a potato around her plate with her fork and surreptitiously watches the other Alice.
Naturally, other-Alice’s manners are impeccable. Each bite is precisely proportioned, speared elegantly on the end of her fork and lifted to her mouth; then a flash of pearly teeth, discreet mastication, and a slight bob of her slender throat as she swallows. Once the procedure is complete she lays down fork and knife crosswise across her plate and dabs delicately at her lips with a napkin.
Meanwhile William has been allowed to go on in sonorous tones about some subject or another which has been caught in the illuminating beacon of his attention. Alice has the unkind thought that her brother is at times a kind of human dirge. What is it he is speaking of, anyway? Ah, the Mind. Of course. And what is this obsession amongst their family with the Mind? Why has it become with William clinical, Henry literary, and Alice pathological? For a moment Alice allows herself to imagine them as disembodied brains, floating in the soup of human experience. Or drowning, as it were. She almost laughs—grimly, hysterically. She mustn’t be morbid. It worries people.
It is at this time that Alice notices the fly. It is the same fly from this morning; she is sure of it. The fly is crawling across the wallpaper above and to the left of Henry’s head. It stops and rubs its legs together, as if in greeting.
In her childhood Alice had once been permitted to look at a fly under a microscope. Beneath the miraculous glass Alice had perceived the minutest details of its features: the swollen, refracted eyes, the exquisite delicacy of the gossamer wings. It had bristled, she remembers, all over with hair, like the fuzzy down on the head of a human baby. It had fangs; she can recall them acutely. Terrible hair-thin fangs, each one like the needle of a syringe.
Alice must have stood without realizing. The conversation has ceased. At the corner of her eye she can see William and Henry exchanging looks of concern. The other Alice’s expression is entirely blank. She raises her fork to her mouth. Alice thinks of the flexing pincers of a fly. She will not remember collapsing; only the sudden smell of ozone, the brief, perfect joy of Katherine’s hand on her own.
James, Alice. The Diary of Alice James. Ed. Leon Edel. Dodd Mead & Company: Scranton, 1964.
James, Henry. Henry James Letters 1883-1895. Ed. Leon Edel. Harvard University Press: Cambridge, 1980.
James, Henry. The Notebooks of Henry James. Ed. F.O. Matthiessen and Kenneth B. Murdock. Oxford University Press: New York, 1947.
Strouse, Jean. Alice James: A Biography. Houghton Mifflin Company: 1964.
Toibin, Colm. The Master. Scribner: 2005.
Leah is a literature student at Bennington College.
I lead you darkly through the real wilderness
where light precipitates from the moon down
through the trees and hits the ground in quarters.
Snakes all around, gnats in transit, young apples,
old apples. How precarious our situation turns
when we are judged naked in the light.
But no one’s eye is like God’s eye
who discerns correctly the lily,
can shuck in one breath the orchid.
He knows what animal you stir in me.
Hannah Kucharzak '13
I wake up and relay my dreams to him,
whether or not he sleeps sideways or
longways, with me or not, beds are beds
and dreams are indiscriminate illusions.
I gain sleep tales in handfuls, even awake.
They are a number of things because they can be
but it pains me to create these stories. I feel
as though I am weaving a quilt of fine horse hair or
reading tea leaves from a black mug. But one must
think up stories, one must shift reality into
half-fiction, half-nothing. (Old men do this
masterfully, sitting with their pipes and their
yellow eyeball-whites, a life made of
sidewayses and longwayses with women
who did their dreaming for them.) One must
always change: these are the destructive
images we flash to create behind our globular
eyes, the tornadoes ripping through oceans,
the lordly tsunamis and the deteriorating
New York City wooden houses. I am never
tired but I always sleep, always wake changed.
Hannah is a palindrome.
Julia Mounsey '13
In the backyard her mouth is full of marbles
Comes from a shaking throat down a stomach full of scars
I remember this through glass, my eye to a beer bottle
After I drank it and before I chucked it at the cat
It didn’t break though because of the grass
Thumped and bounced, little sound on a big brown Ohio
There’s a thing, a brown thing about Ohio
It’s nothing like throwing marbles
It’s more to do with lying in the grass
Like my mother’s stomach, it’s a state of scars
She birthed me and felt ruined so she got a cat
When I was old enough I killed it with a bottle
I knew a girl once who could fit inside a bottle
She was the prettiest girl in Ohio
But she was eaten by my mother’s cat
So I tried to make it swallow marbles
We fought and he won, left me three scars
Skinny like three red blades of grass
Whenever I lie down it feels like grass
I wake up in green like my friend woke up in a bottle
One time we counted all my mother’s scars
She wasn’t awake but she looked like Ohio
There on the bed with eyes like skin-wrapped marbles
No one saw us do it except maybe the cat
And I don’t think she ever found the cat
I split it somewhere in the tall grass
And I don’t think I ever found my marbles
I got sick of glass which was why I threw the bottle
Thumped on the ugly bottom of Ohio
Very deep and bad and busy with scars
There’s a thing, a funny thing about my mother’s scars
When you squint your eyes they look like the cat
Or they look like the shape of Ohio
I saw her in the yard once with a mouth full of grass
Trying to get her face inside a bottle
But that was before I threw the marbles
I know the marbles are good because they don’t make scars
I know the bottle is bad because it killed the cat
And I know there’s grass always – I stuffed it in the bad wet mouth of Ohio.
Julia is from New York City. She likes Harmony Korine and Adventure Time.
Julian Delacruz '14
All I know is I got inside,
but not the way a man gets inside.
I sank into the earth with no shovel
where I became dim and agreeable.
For once, the sound of the lyre did not strike,
and the sun couldn’t sink low enough to follow.
I was allowed, finally, to taste umbra.
And then I began to remember,
because I did not yet drink
from the river,
what kind of person you were.
A chaser of things, a lover of beautiful things.
You would run after as if losing me
meant losing the rest of your life.
So I sat in hell’s burning throat
wondering what love note would pool
at the back of your throat,
how you would reach the gate of hell,
how you would open the gate of hell
to sway the gods.
And how I would dread the embarrassing song
That you would sing. That you would actually sing me back
when you have the arms to cast off the lidded earth
for the impossible journey alone.
November 2011 - Comments Off on Stopped for the Night Halfway South
Ben Redmond '14
Last night I dreamt that I was in love with you and you
were in love with the idea of my loving you. In a foreign
bed low to the ground like those from ancient Egypt
I lay down to sleep states south from my own
mattress, resting at a friend’s house midway to coastal
Carolina. I was far from the thin streets I take to get to you—
those with the elms and pine trees encroaching
heavily upon the pavement like the Yam Suph
waters closing in.
Heat unlike home led me to lay awake
and watch the dark and the time it took
to sleep led me to notice the light until I could make
out the corners of the room, not illumined, but present
again in the faintest plain yellow glow from beneath the bedroom
door, from the light of midnight outside—the sky must
have been clear—from the streetlight near the end
of the drive. Little radiance lithe enough to work
its way through the blinds albeit I had them closed tightly.
I remember the small twitching
of my fingers and knees when I did close my eyes, waiting for the saccade
of sleep to arrive, moving subtly the way dogs
sometimes do. And as my eyes moved below
their lids in REM, quick like minnows are, you showed
yourself. You were the same. Your arms were your arms
and I remember well how the warmth of those arms around
my shoulders resembled how your body feels
when it is near mine—I know the feelings of our waking
closeness. This goes for your eyes too and how
they search and lock at the same time and I always
wonder how you can do that. And I was some part
of myself, maybe something like astral
projection, maybe just an eye floating above the rest
of me, but only one, for I see clearly in dreams.
This one comes to memory in flashes; your lips
on my cheek; the pulse in my fingertips; the soft sounds
and the rustling of sheets; my lips on your cheek. I do not
know if I can call it a memory, though, recalling
in a dream how it felt to kiss and hold like lovers do.
I think about
you and I think about how much
I think about you
and I think about that, too. Did you know that?
I have told
you a third
of it, but hope that
know the rest, and I ask
myself what Brautigan asked
Akiko or Janice, but most
probably his Marcia:
“Do you think of me/as often/as I think/of you?”
I tell my new friends, faces you will never
know, about how you let me down
easy once, written word through computer wires
because of a he said-she said that was all true.
I wrote you letters and this is not the first
time I have written you into a poem, but the greater
guilt gets the best of me—this is a hard
thing to share.
If we are as close as we will be I would rather forget
having dreamt last night at all. If you cannot
love me, I should have been sleepless.
Ben Redmond used to read Word Up magazine.
Anna Gyorgy '14
he let the tiger out last
looking long into her wet eyes
before sliding the latch
walked inside to his rifle without
looking back to watch her padding
sweetly – quiet into the underbrush
he began with the wolves
the gray pups raised in April
grown now soft into blood flecked fur
showing signs of hunger – adolescence
he swung the chain link creaking as
they circled nervously expecting food
finding empty hands they ran loping
skinny noses to ground towards the interstate
the black bear takes her last black look at the pavement
the lion is chased to an ignominious chain link corner to be
shot like a cur – laid cold in a corona of early morning
November 2011 - Comments Off on The Topology of Human Networks Online
A current research topic of mine has been the architecting of social groupings and communities to shape the topology of human networks online. It's a new discipline that merges traditional computer security, social science, cognitive hacking, and computational ethology to think concretely about influence and behavior on the internet. Mathematical models that quantify the topological characteristics of complex networks provide insights into a system's controllability. My work comprises of the manufacturing, distribution, and automation of personas that are "socialbots" - robots that attempt to emulate every attribute of a person. The bots then attempt to influence human targets to behave in certain ways.
Through this work, the I'm particularly interested in the fabrication of social prosthetics to provide missing features to a network. Conducting the bots to lower frictions that prevent stories, ideas and other features of a network from being shared and distributed to other users. With community detection capabilities, bots can identify users with similar interests and group them to have heavier edges within the network. Modeling a network allows socialbots to act tactically based on user relations and interests. Recent field test results suggest increased human to human interaction in a network with deployed socialbots. This work is the first of it's kind to demonstrates the use of automation tools to shape online communities at a large scale.
Naomi Washer '12
In the evening it fit to sit upon the sill, with feet tapping against the chipped, white siding of the house. It was warmer in the daytime now; we weren’t wearing sweaters anymore. I dug my fingernails into thick orange skin and peeled, peeled. Juice dripped on my hands while a settled quiet overtook the street. From my perch on the low windowsill, the street seemed a moving painting in progress, detached from anything my toes or fingers could step on or touch. Silhouettes made their way down the road, each footfall a drop of paint from an unseen hand. Night was settling gently, a welcome change from winter’s cold, black cape, which tossed itself over treetops and secured its strings tightly before we could speak to allow it. Now, in the evenings, it was warm to sit snuggly in the window, watching the sky’s soft blue brushstrokes; watch them fade. I tossed orange seeds to the ground and dreamt of magic trees in Haitian folktales.
Hannah Kucharzak '13
It is the glade of dead trees that wakes my eyelids
and slur their film, each trunk like the stem
of a rose with its roots all brambled. The needles
are sticky on the ground; the light comes in patches
and rests on them like too-thin summer sheets.
The land is an animal. Heather fur surrounds the bald
underbelly, the most vulnerable, the most bizarre.
Inside, just trees dying at comfortable distances,
as men stuck up in tattered houses, unwilling
to submit to proper care. The last left to a name.
Azalea whistles on the outskirts. The sun presents itself
in bows of white, bending around pointed treetops,
generous with life. Yet the only life here is the slow
build of energetic death, the sound of my pulse
returning back to me in echos. Somewhere behind
my body, a tree cracks and I do not see it fall.
Hannah is a palindrome.