Fall 2018: Letter from the Editors

Dear Readers,

Welcome to the ninth edition of Voices & Visions Literary Journal, themed “Perspectives.” This theme is specifically important to our journal this season, as we have brought in three new staff members, all Smithies: Kayla Sylvia, Martha Terry, and Lily Sendroff. Expanding our staff has added new ideas and points of view to the journal.  This year,   Voices & Visions has relocated to Smith College’s Lewis Global Studies Center, and we hope that new contacts there will expand our international reach. This past season, we were read by readers in over 110 different countries.

This issue has some exciting  art, media, poetry, and prose from both girls’ high schools and women’s colleges. In the selection process, it was especially interesting to see the many directions in which our featured artists and writers took the theme of Perspectives. Perspectives can be imagined through points of view, through experiences, identities, through words and images. Additionally, the perspective you bring as an audience is crucial to how you interpret a piece, and openness to new perspectives leads to unique new insights.

We hope that our journal can act as a forum for these different perspectives, and that the works we present will allow you, our readers, to reflect on and expand your own perspectives.

Faith De Castro, Issue #9 Editor-in-Chief

Kraken

By: Mya Alexice

Barnard College, NY, USA

you come

from the root krake,

meaning an unnaturally

twisted creature.

I could never pinpoint where

you began and where you ended,

always a writhing thing—

spiral staircase, sea

serpent drawn on an old map

half body arched up, the other

hidden in green water;

curling, coiling around me.

 

when i try to latch onto you,

to grab you by your oily neck—

it’s like trying to catch smoke.

 

I see you— there— slithering out

of reach. Nothing but a wet

dream, a tentacled lover easing

back into the abyss.

were you only myth?

 

did i truly see you that night?

do i light a candle at my bedside

table, hoping you’ll catch its

glare from the window?

do i set a bowl of water on

the sill, a small sea for a

weary, travelling snake?

do i offer a companion,

a believer, above all a

witness to your lore?

Morning Steam | MRO

By: Madeline Olson

Mount Holyoke College, MA, USA

I have not yet learned the meaning of Māori yet,

 and i don’t think unknowing foolish anymore

        only a wise risk of lingering instead

 

            but i do say this     sometimes i harbor things in life

                                      such as the rain i let drain          in my mouth

                                      before clearing  grey                       swallow

                                      such as

                                        the morning                                 the

                                             kawakawa                          tea steam

                                         climbing the cup to dance up

                                                 into the air twisting

                                                          its fog tail

                                                             steamy

                                              languid

                                                         unbothered

i  mistake     this morning mug steam                         

for clouds over     Lake Wakatipu    could mistake it for         

the chalky air     over its  neighbors :  The Remarkables           

Cecil Peak  / Walter Peak / Ben Lomond / Queenstown Hill        

              so when i recognized       this fog in my tea steam i learned 

                          i am    not the only harborer               

          because when morning lull starts breaking

          it is te iti kahurangi, rising, unfettered

    the landscape   was bustling   we spoke    it informed me

    morning too   could be treasured  simply because it safeguards,

                                                                                               simply because it exists.

And so  the other day  i bought a $39 ticket to meet

these chalky    clouds    as i ascended the houses

started falling,

                         red

               yellow

                            brown like feathers

                            floating dissolving

                                                             compressed from sight

                                                             while gondolas scaled the mountain

                                                                shearing the treetops

                                                             one

                                                             two

                                                             three

green                                                                

brown                                                        

white                                                 

                                                                     red 

                                        yellow

                                                                          brown like feathers

there are no more houses left once i ascended the 790m peak

Look! Says my neighbor over the rail

Look! means to see how the clouds shepard

the wedged yellow and red houses, tucking

it only cries, you fool!

Look! means to see that maybe these clouds hang on their own time and

       these mountains, these mountains are backbones

seated around the lake, the water, one silent muscle

                      the soleus, the rectus, the tendons of nature’s body,

                                    tendons of time.

And even though the clouds are thirsting,

and it is so temperate in this creation,

it’s okay to worry, the clouds whisper

to confess,

                 i don’t know if this morning

                 steam comes from the clouds or

                 from my breath

 

but i do believe

in dwellings existing together.

Maybe believe in harmony too

and the wind,  is a steel pipe that whistles,

tunneling the ears              howling them clean

releasing echos that spool  upon

teardrop water                            

                  the coniferous trees, an army,

                  marching  in tempo alongside me   

                  to witness the clouds, saying 

                  this is our sacred whenua

                                       and that’s why the air feels

                                     so fresh up here.

You see, i am not the only harborer  the tea steam,

is not simply air sublimating      and this chalky hillside,

 

 this chalky hillside is the sanctuary

for the stranger beside me

The Road

By: Emma O’Neill-Dietel

Smith College, MA, USA

I.

            The road was too wide. Natalie’s favorite Willie Nelson song was playing at top volume, yet Jessie could still hear Erin crunching on potato chips a few inches away from her ear.

            “You know the next exit, Jess?” Erin shouted through a mouthful of Frito Lays, her feet wedged against the glove compartment.

             Jessie nodded, feeling too sick to respond. She knew she should probably pull over and let Erin take the wheel, but despite her white knuckles and churning stomach, she preferred to be in charge.

            Natalie and Erin had nominated Jessie as the primary driver on the journey from Pittsburgh to the Grand Canyon, and she had been more than happy to oblige. It was her car after all, a brand-new green pickup truck that set her apart from all the other students at their college. She assured her friends that she genuinely loved driving. It was the open road she couldn’t stand.

           When people talk about the Great American West, they always dwell on the open road. People describe it as something grand and gorgeous and all-American. No one ever mentions that along the panhandle of Oklahoma, the plains of Texas, and the desert of New Mexico, there are stretches of road that seem as barren and foreign as the moon. These gaping spaces in the landscape made Jessie feel entirely alone, even with her two best friends in the car.

            Willie Nelson crooned on, lamenting about lost love, reminiscing about times gone by, and charting new adventures on—what else? —the open road.

             “On the road again, I just can’t wait to get on the road again,” Natalie sang along, trailing her hand out the window. The open road made Jessie want to close herself into a box and never leave.

              When she looked out at the expanse in front of her, she had a sensation she knew all too well. It was the same feeling she’d had when she visited the library as a little girl, and realized that she would never be able to read every book on its shelves because new books were constantly arriving. It was the same feeling she had when she thought about how many nameless bodies laid buried and forgotten in ancient graveyards, and how deeply unknowable they all were now. It was the same feeling she’d had when she imagined the beauty of every possible alternate universe in which she did anything other than follow her high school boyfriend to college.

            It was crushed diamonds slipping through her fingers. It was a world too big to hold, a sun too bright to see. She felt as if she needed to peel back her eyelids to take in everything that was in front of her. She needed to split open her body just to take up enough space to exist.

           She convulsed involuntarily. Her arms jerked the steering wheel to the side. Natalie and Erin screamed, but Jessie remained stony-faced.

           “What the hell?” shouted Erin. Her shoulder slammed into the window as the car veered to the side of the road and lurched to a halt.

           “Is everybody okay?” asked Erin as she took stock of the car. Her voice was far louder than it needed to be in the suddenly still car. It rang out desperately over the soft strumming of Willie Nelson that still fell through the speakers.

           “Fine,” said Natalie shakily.

           “Jessie?” asked Erin. Jessie slowly unlocked the driver’s side door, unhooked her seatbelt, and stumbled out of the car. As soon as she was free, she stomped on the ground, desperate to feel her feet make contact with something, anything. The ground was unyielding, and her feet left no mark, so she turned to the next largest thing she could find: her truck. She raised her foot and felt a solid crunch where her steel-toed boot met the driver’s side door. She yelped and fell back, clutching her foot.

           “Jessie!” Erin shouted. She scrambled to untangle herself from the seatbelt and pushed through the passenger side door. Natalie sat in the backseat, her chest heaving. When Erin joined Jessie outside, she found her retching on the side of the road, hobbling on her injured foot. Willie Nelson serenaded her through the open car door.

           “What the hell was that?” asked Erin. “Are you okay? You looked totally spooky right before you crashed us. Like you were about to pass out or something.”

“It’s just…” gasped Jessie, still bent over, “I couldn’t… I don’t know.” Erin put a hand on her back tentatively.

             “You’re alright, Jess. Nobody’s hurt. The car looks fine… except for that.” She eyed the dent that Jessie had made. “You could probably get that fixed, right? It’s all good. Why don’t you get in the back with Nat? I’ll drive.”

           “Okay,” breathed Jessie. She was surprised to hear her own voice fill the space around her like a shield. It was the only sound to be heard for miles. Sometime in the moments after they had run off the road, Natalie had turned off the Willie Nelson album.

II.

        The road is too wide. It stretches into infinity, wider and wider, going against everything I know about perception.

When my daughter was first born, she cried and cried when we drove. My mother had told me that the gentle motion of wheels against road would soothe her, but it was just the opposite. The first time I took her in the car, we were driving to my mother’s house down the highway that cut through the cornfields between our Pennsylvania towns. I looked into the backseat and saw my baby’s eyes fixed on the road in front of us. Her face trembled with a fear that I recognized immediately: fear of a dead end, fear of paralysis, fear of finite space. Her eyes were tracing the long, flat road and saw it shrink to extinction on the horizon. In her mind that dot was our destination, and we were destined to crash.

           But we didn’t crash, of course. Perception worked in our favor, and what once seemed thin as a thread opened wider as we reached it, wide enough to let even a dented, secondhand pickup truck pass through comfortably. My baby learned what all babies must learn: what looks like an end is only a continuation. A heart isn’t broken when it breaks. Her mother isn’t gone forever when she leaves the room.

           Now the road is too wide, and I’m heading towards its unending sprawl with no baby in the backseat and no heart left to break. I left her in her crib this morning. I tiptoed in to kiss her on the forehead and she shifted in her sleep. Had she woken and looked into my eyes she would have paralyzed me, trapped me there in her room, held me to the floor beside her crib, and I would never have gotten in this car or out on this road. But she stayed asleep, so I kissed her and slunk from the room.

           I should have done this before she could speak, before she could cry out “Mama,” before she had grown to think that I would always come back when she called. My own mother will be there by now, ready to pick my baby up to bring her to the nursery school where she works. She will let herself into the house expecting to see me sitting at the breakfast table with my baby dressed and eating beside me. Instead she will find my baby crying in her crib, still in her pajamas, alone and unfed. I focus on the road and try to let the picture in my mind fly out of the open passenger window.

           The road is so wide it eats up the periphery of my vision and consumes my mind as well. All I see is road.

           The road is my future, and it is swallowing me whole.

III.

           The road was too wide.

           “Are we there yet?” my brother Neil asked.

           “No.”

           I felt my breath being sucked out of my lungs, through the car window and into the abyss.

            “How about now?”

            “No.

            Neil stuck his hand out of the window and waved it, fanning the open air into the car.

           “Stop that,” I said. “The air conditioning is on.” I slammed hard on the button to roll up the window. It shuddered but remained open. It would be a miracle if our busted pickup, dubbed the Green Giant by Neil, made it to Colorado in one piece.

            “Mari, don’t bother him,” my mom said.

            “Yeah,” said Neil, “it’s for my closet-phobia.” My mom nodded.

             Ever since my seven-year-old brother had had a panic attack inside the elevator to my aunt’s apartment, he had been seeing a therapist for anxiety and “closet-phobia,” as he put it.

             Before Neil’s diagnosis, I had thought that things like claustrophobia and anxiety only happened to emo teenagers and aging psychotic poets. After he was diagnosed, I began to look for signs of mental illness in every person I knew:

              My eighth-grade teacher. My elderly neighbor. My older cousin.

              Myself.

              I was convinced that the very existence of anxiety was giving me anxiety. Neil, however, seemed less bothered by his anxiety than any anxious person had a right to be. In the seat next to me he sang a song he had made up after his first visit to a therapist. She had given him a worksheet to begin writing down the “tools” she gave him to deal with his anxiety.

              “Closet-phobia, closet-phobia, use your toolbox so you don’t explodia,” he chimed to himself.

               “Close the window or I’ll make you explodia,” I muttered.

               “Why do you care so much?” he whined.

               “It’s bothering me,” I said. “It’s not like driving in the city. Bugs could come flying in here.”

                “I like bugs,” said Neil. The car picked up speed to pass an enormous truck.

                “My papers could blow away in the wind!” I cried, clutching my sketchbook to my chest. “Everything could blow away.”

                 “Everything? Like what?” asked Neil. “How?”

                 “There’s too much space out there,” I said. It was true. Back home in New York City, cars moved slower than Neil could walk, and everything was held securely in place between the skyscrapers. The farther we drove away from New York and towards our new home in Colorado, the looser the world became. Cows roamed unfenced. Pages ripped themselves from my sketchbook. The road sprawled for what felt like years with nothing to tame it.

                  I could feel Neil watching me watch the scenery go by out the car window.

                  “I feel like you have the opposite of closet-phobia,” said Neil. “The Earth is too little for me but too big for you. Is that because you’re growing up?”

                  “That doesn’t make sense,” I said. “If I’m growing up, everything should seem littler. Like how you used to not be able to reach the sink in the bathroom, but now you can. You got bigger and the world got smaller.”

                  “No,” said Neil. “When you grow up you have to think about bigger things. Like taxes and the news.” I heard my mom chuckle from the front seat. “The world does get bigger,” Neil said. “Maybe you’re just not ready.”

                 “Then what does that make you?” I asked.

                 “I guess I’m just ready too early. I gotta wait for the world to get bigger before I grow more.”

                 “The world will be plenty bigger in Colorado,” my mom said from the front seat. “Plenty of space for both of you to be as big or as little as you want.”

                  Off in the distance I noticed the peaks of mountains that seemed to rise out of the ground like alien skyscrapers. Maybe the roads in Colorado would be held in after all; not quite as tightly as the skyscrapers would hold it, but just loose enough for Neil to feel comfortable, too.

Bubblegum

By: Bethany Velarde

Agnes Scott College, GA, USA

Letting you read my poetry is

 

8th grade hallway

 

Giving away the last piece

Unwrapped

 

Squished and fingerprinted

 

Letting it hit your tongue and dissolve

Chew and churn

 

Watching you

 

Smack your lips to my hurts

Pop my words

 

Bite marks in a thin sheet

Bubblegum

In Season

By: Emma Sachs

Agnes Scott College, GA, USA

             It began, I think, with the fruit trees. The ones planted by my father, holes dug by hand, in a last attempt to woo my mother into marrying him. At least, that’s the way he always told the story. She had flirted the edges of his world for years. A flower child turned arborist, whose family came from the same Steel Belt that had treated my father so kindly, his money held no interest to her. But my father planted her a dowry that she could not refuse. It was grown just off the back of the house in long and tilting rows. At the front there are plum trees, five of them, the European kind that grow into dark, palm-sized ovals – puncture the skin with your thumb, though, and you’ll find the flesh is yellow and sweet, sticking to your lips like sap. Next to them, finishing the first row, are the July Peaches: two trees that still have a slight lean to them, bending away from each other. My mother called them the “bickering brothers” competing to see who could ripen first. On some especially competitive years, the July Peaches were really June peaches, weighing heavy branches with golden circles just as the cicadas began shedding their skins.

             The second row, my mother’s favorite, is entirely made up of figs. They are Brown Turkey Figs, the kind that give not one, but two crops a season. The trees produced so many of the dark, seeded, fruits we could not keep them all. After hauling several baskets to the local grocery eager to take her donations, my mother usually resorted to drying them. Filling the oven with trays of sliced figs, sprinkled with salt and basil. She dropped the shiny, hardened slivers into glass jars, lining the back wall of the pantry to be eaten all winter. Just as the fig trees were my mother’s favorite, I think she was their favorite as well.

            The year she left us, there were no figs. I still tended the trees, then, hoping that she would realize her mistake and be all the more grateful we had kept up her orchard upon returning. When the first and second fig harvest times past with not a single fruit,  I remember searching under the leaves and along the ground testing the temperature of the soil. As dramatic as it sounds, I believe they were mourning her departure. As if they knew the hands that pruned their branches belonged to someone else. As if, like me, they were just as angry she did not pull them up from the root to take with her.

              Behind the figs, my father had planted three pear trees, Sunrise Pears, the kind that bloom red along the bottom when ripe. My mother dubbed these her “blushing ladies,” saying they were flattered by the sun’s affection. They are the sweet kind, sweeter than the hard, woody pears you’ll find in a produce aisle. Perfect for jam, or compote, or to be eaten on the walk between the tree and the house leaving sticky fingerprints over the screen door.  Next to them were the persimmons. Wanting the thick, almost apricot-like flavor that my mother once mentioned, my father borrowed his brother’s truck and drove nine hours to Indiana to buy the two seedlings, just sprouting out of the plastic buckets. They grow taller than the pears now – though the fruits are small. The secret to persimmons that no one bothers to tell you is that you have to wait until they are overripe. So soft to the touch that your fingers bite easily into the orange flesh. That’s when they’re at their sweetest.

            Behind the third row stretching out one tree extra in each direction were the mulberry trees. Protector trees, they’re called. Not fit for eating, my mother told me, just good enough to keep the squirrels and birds satisfied: a peace offering. Although, I found the tart bite of a still green mulberry devilishly delicious. Especially as a child, it was almost like stealing, like taking something that belonged to the beasts and not to the house. A fruit that was not my mother’s. I would shake the low branches, dropping the berries down into my gathered shirt, keeping my pilfered harvest in a plastic tupperware box under the sink.

             There would be other plants later; like strawberries that grow beside the front porch, a bed of zinnias and dahlias and forget-me-nots along the driveway, a knot of blackberries out against the property line, wildflowers (dandelions and buttercups specifically), all across the front lawn that I never bother to weed. But at the beginning, it was just the trees. Back then they were wispy and leaning against the rake poles, tied together with shoelaces. It would be almost half a decade before the little limbs grew heavy with fruit, but it was enough for my mother. The promise of an orchard to tend and of life to grow at her fingertips. I don’t know if she even thought about whether or not she loved my father. I don’t know if she would have cared even if she did think of it. She loved the trees, the freedom from her family, the way the front hedges hid the white farmhouse (and all that grew behind it) from view. It was her own secret Eden – my father just came as part of the deal.

           I often think that she had me as a way of returning the favor of the trees, like payment, an evening of the scales. Or, on the days in which my anger (if you can really call it anger) is especially biting, I wonder if I was simply a way to entertain my father so she could live her life as separately as the four acres would allow.  My father wanted a family, and my mother wanted to be left alone. I was planted in winter, grown in the spring, at the same time as the rest of fruit, but pulled from my mother’s womb a whole week late, overripe, already having missed the last of the persimmon harvest. From the beginning, I interrupted her schedule. I’m not sure she ever forgave me for that.

           Her plan, if keeping my father occupied with an infant really had been her plan, worked better than expected. I was colicky and underweight and in need of constant attention. In those first months, my father rarely left the house. He rocked me so frequently that both his wrists swelled with carpal tunnel. He took a leave of absence from managing the finances of the mill,  disconnected the phone – back then it was as easy as pulling a wire from the wall–so that the ringing wouldn’t dare wake me. He locked us away in the top of the house, singing hymns and pacing through the halls all night so I would sleep, and slowly forgot about all that existed past our hedges. Some days, I am sure, he even forgot about my mother. You see, that’s the key to all of this. Even now, after all these years, I know that no party is blameless. But, it would be easier if I could pin it all on her. I could label her as flighty, as lacking maternal instinct, as possibly even sociopathic and be done with it all. I could pity my father and validate my anger, and get to work forgetting I ever had a mother. However, the strings of our lives are never so easily untangled. No, I see the fault knotted in all of us. In my mother’s inability to see beyond herself, in my father’s capacity to ignore everything that did not fit within his plan, and even my own unwavering need to be seen. We were all ruining each other, cutting off circulation. Can I truly blame her for leaving?

            Now, the memories of her are sporadic flashes. All washed in that bright color and fuzzy edge of childhood sight. The sharp ache of the sting from the bees that hung around the blossoms like waiting suitors, the knock of my father’s boots across the wooden floor, and the smell of my mother’s hands all earthy and wet with the slightest hint of sweet. The way my mother’s hands smelled is what I remember most. Some days, when the longing is heavy inside me, overripe and oozing, I will go to the garden store. They know me there and let me wander through the mulch and planting soil aisles. Some days I cry, but most days not.

             Still, I don’t know why it was the trees that got her, why she was so enwrapped by them. I have spent three decades trying to understand. She told me once that growing something made her feel a bit like God. There was a selfishness there, a desire to be the only one responsible for the production and upkeep of the trees. That should have been the first sign that my mother would eventually leave. The day she started feeling more like a gardener than a deity, she would have to move on. I just assumed that when she did, she would take us with her.

                It took my father too many years to realize my mother didn’t really want to be a mother. Her trees were children enough, requiring her watchful, present eye and ready hands. They were ministered and tended to while I was left to just be. Sometimes I wonder why she didn’t have another baby. A brother, perhaps, someone to occupy my time and my father’s time, pulling the eyes away from her once I was old enough to no longer be an ever present distraction. I think he would have liked to have a son, my father. Maybe it was the thought of being pulled away from the garden that stopped her, of having to hold another suckling infant to her breast as she walked the rows, tugging out dandelions with her spare hand. Maybe it was the those weeks and months when a mother was necessary, when my father’s well-meaning but often unknowing demeanor wouldn’t be enough for a little human new to this earth. Whatever the reason, it was just me. Sprawled on the entry hall floor coloring sheets of computer paper as my father smoked his pipe on the front steps, watching the mail truck drive slow past the house. Just me and him, walking carefully behind my mother as she dropped a worm infested plum or a dead branch into one of our waiting buckets. Clicking her tongue against the roof of her mouth as if dissapointed by the tree’s inability to ward off all predators.

             During the summer months, the entire back half of the house was off limits, the kitchen overtaken by canning and drying, the dining room a holding place for the baskets of harvest yet to be sorted for quality, and the back porch home to all the different things she needed for pruning, and plucking, and weeding, and watering. Sometimes, when she started baking, the front room became off limits as well. The top of the piano covered in tin foil bread trays and pie tins, things we would never eat and, just as they began to go stale, would eventually be delivered to neighbors and churches. My father and I wandered the top floor of the house, unsure of where to settle. We both learned to exist in the spaces she didn’t take up, silent in our efforts to disrupt her as little as possible. Perhaps, even then, we knew that was the key to keeping her happy. On the days my mother would load up the back of the minivan with crates of whatever she deemed ready for the farmer’s market, my father would occasionally sneak out into the yard. I never followed him for his quiet determination was alarming. But I would watch, face pressed to dormer window in the upstairs bathroom. He would walk in and out between the trees, sometimes pausing to run his hand along the rough-edged bark. Back then I thought he was admiring them, getting a closer look at the jewels my mother so closely guarded. Now though, I see the bitterness, the way it was rotting him from the inside. He hated the trees, the things that had brought my mother to him in the first place. How terrible it must have been, to know the only thing tethering his wife to her family, her home were a few rows of fruit trees. And how frightening to love her still. Because love her he did, I am sure of that. Even though some days I cannot even bring myself to love her, my father was as faithful as a dog, desperate to be fed from the hand that hit him. Skin and bones, showing up at her feet every evening, even when he knew there were no scraps to be had. I think he always expected her to come around. That she would walk through the door, handprints of dirt along her linen pants, look up at him, and realize that after nearly twenty years she was in love with him. Up until the end, when his mind slipped in and out between that hazy place of understanding, he loved her. Once, when I stopped by the home to visit, he thought I was her. He began crying so hard, I had to call one of the nurses in. It wasn’t until I made it back to my car, my throat wrapped in some invisible vice, that I realized I was crying too. I don’t think from sadness, but from the sheer weight of his own desire, and the way the words he shouted stuck to my skin. You’re home. You came home. I knew you would.

             When she left, he broke wide. I saw the moment it happened, the way he fractured along all these fault lines.

              On the day she left, her car and all the clothes from the guest room she had overtaken were gone, everything else left exactly as it had looked that morning. Well, there was a note written on the back of a shopping list and tacked to the fridge with a “Great Job!” sticker. I imagine her searching through the kitchen drawers to find tape, in a hurry to leave before my father and I returned home. She didn’t even know we kept the tape in the hall closet, she had never needed it before. I don’t know what that note said, he never let me read it. I’ve looked for it a few times since then, but never found it, not even when I was boxing up his bedroom. But there was a note, and her house key on the hall table, and that was it. He pulled the note free, hard enough to rip the sticker, leaving the left and top points of the star still clinging to the fridge. I followed him as he walked towards the backdoor, looking for her through the trees. She was not in the orchard, a stack of the mesh bags she used for harvesting lay piled at the base of one of the pear trees, fruit still hanging from the branches, ready to be picked. He left me there, feet slapping quick through the yard around the the driveway as if she might pull back in, a paper bag of groceries tucked under one arm, smiling. I waited, halfway between the trees and my father, suspended. The back door hung ajar. There was a slight breeze, not enough to shut it, just enough to push it ever so slowly, squeaking on its hinges. It sounded almost as if it was crying.

               I turned ten in August, and the beehive had been knocked loose off the oak tree growing along the driveway in a particularly bad storm that ripped through the windgap our house was built in. With the hive destroyed, the bees swarmed. Covering an entire column of the back porch, the sound of them a constant low hum. They were there for three days, waiting, like me for my mother to return. But she did not, and on the fourth morning I woke to find them gone, all but one. The queen had gotten trapped in the kitchen window between the screen and the glass. I watched her struggle for a moment, the distant sound of my father’s footsteps hollow overhead, as she knocked herself again and again trying to escape. Eventually I opened the window, letting her out into the kitchen. She flew quick and anxious in a few circles around the room. “They’re gone”, I told her. She didn’t seem to understand. “They left you”, I repeated. Eventually she calmed, and I considered opening the backdoor to let her out. But the sound of the squeak would have brought my father downstairs. And I could barely stand to be around the new, half-empty version of him. The way his eyes were always searching, looking for clues she did not leave. So I let the bee stay, watching as she settled onto the white of the counter.

            She moved along the slick surface until stopping at a small spot of something yellow. A drop of whatever preserve my mother had been working on the morning she finally decided the trees were not enough for her, that her life of growing and tending had become tedious. I couldn’t tell what it was from the color, so I carefully reached out my pinkie and swept up half the drop, leaving the rest for the bee. Touching it to my tongue, I immediately recognized the bright tang, the sweet of persimmon mixed with the tiniest bit of peach, and a few sprigs of rosemary: my father’s favorite. I opened up the cabinet just over head and found four of them that were no longer warm to the touch. I pulled out one, feeling the beveled edge of the jar with my fingers as I turned it, watching the thick liquid glint in the sun, like precious topaz or amber. The bee rubbed a foot through the drop on the counter; it was the last ounce of my mother. I heard a slam from upstairs. I imagined my father, still calling my mother on repeat with no answer, throwing the phone, the cord pulling it back like a tether after it hit the wall. From where I stood I could hear the heavy breaths of a sob. That sound had become familiar, yet something about it was still terrifying.

              And in that moment, hearing the echoing sound of the grief that now sat in our house become a tangible fog that could be grasped and molded in my palm,  the preserves were no longer beautiful. Instead, they were sickening and reminded me of pus, a symptom of a festering wound. I slammed the glass down hard against the counter, the shattering sound startling me. I watched, though, mesmerized, as the sweet liquid dripped down onto the floor, pooling on the counter, glistening amongst the shards of broken jar. It took me nearly a full minute to see the body. I eventually did, spotting the unnatural twist of a tiny leg. The bee had been there still when I threw the jar, and she lay, crushed, under one of the largest pieces of glass. A tiny body,  the fuzz on her thorax slicked back with the preserve. Whenever I think about the bee – and she still creeps into my mind now – I am thankful that before my anger killed her, she got to taste the fruit.

That Rule Was Begging To Be Broken

By: Olivia Handoko

Smith College, MA, USA

That rule was begging to be broken

Y’know the one about women?

Of conformity for cat calls and

Gift-wrapped shoulders and legs?

How about “no” to breastfeeding?

How about “whore” for “too revealing”?

I’m sick of these notions, they’re too unappealing.

I am a nonconformist of a woman

The one that daunts you in your wake.

Come at me with your “don’ts” for women–

I’ll show you my scars of everyday crusades.

I’ve battled tirades of piercing tongues;

Of sharp fingers engraved into skins.

I’m supposed to be hidden beneath them

Because I walk like I’m a woman

Because I walk like a human being.

But I stomp these woman feet of mine

To tell you “That ain’t gonna be me,”

Nor will it be any woman in this world

‘Cause that rule was begging to be broken

When women marched for gender equality.

I Forget

By: Kate Bruncati

Smith College, MA, USA

The words are right there

Hanging in the strands of my gray hair

This problem is something I can’t bear

I just can’t reach them; this illness is unfair

Who’s that? I remember that face

Where am I? I remember this place

My memory is losing the race

As past knowledge dies with no trace

Who am I? What’s my name?

Why can’t I win this twisted game?

This disease is all to blame

It leaves me frustrated, burning like a flame

My brain is empty and no answers are coming out

I stomp my feet and start to pout

This is some sick memory drought

Wait, what was I thinking about?

I shake my head and pick up a photo

Who’s that pretty lady in it, though?

There’s no resemblance to show

But those eyes have a familiar glow

I ask the nurse who’s standing by the door

After showing it to her, her face grows red, more and more

Of course, I don’t know that I’ve seen her before

Or that she’s my sister Lenore

I drop the picture and walk away

Leaving behind a memento in such a careless way

For in that picture stood my daughter Kay

Smiling on her gracious wedding day

Where I’m From

By: Rhea Jain

The Baldwin School, PA, USA

I am from rough, crinkly pages,

from the thin layer of dust coating each cover

like a blanket of snow lain over rolling hills.

I am from all the different realms

these pages transport me to,

from the castles to the forests

to the wide open flower fields.

I am from the black and white at my fingertips,

from the language that plays from my heart.

I am from the warm, relaxed melodies,

from the bouncing, buzzing, beating ballads.

I’m from the place where it takes me,

from the feeling it gives me,

and from the state it leaves me in.

I am from the sun basking on my neck,

from the silver glow on the tips of the trees.

I’m from the endless green surrounding me,

the crunch of orange and red at my feet.

I am from the crisp breeze that rustles my hair,

from the waft of spice and cinnamon.

I’m from the feel of the delicacies,

warm and melting on my tongue.

I’m from the thought of my father,

constantly in my mind,

his honor and respectability

which I strive to see in myself.

I am from the childhood with my mother,

the lessons she has taught me.

From the path through life

she has dreamed for me and spun.

I am from the chocolate brown of my eyes,

and from the wonder underneath.

The eyes that see the magic in everything

around me.

The eyes that create a world only I am from.

Spring 2018: Letter from the Editors

Dear Readers,

Welcome to the eighth edition of Voices & Visions, themed “Transitions.”  This theme in particular carries personal resonance for several of our staff members: Beth and Faizah are graduating, our first-year assistant editors, Aviva, Abby, Faith, and Camille, have taken on important roles in the production of this journal, and Professor Cohen, the journal’s founder, is taking on a new position as Director of the Lewis Global Studies Center at Smith. The journal itself is moving with her, and we are all excited to see what changes this transition will bring.

We are also excited to present our spring issue, comprising 15 written works and 14 visuals that express the fear and anticipation which transitions evoke, while celebrating positive aspects of change. Our contributors document physical, mental, and spiritual transitions that shape and define their lives. From the beauty of a receding tide to the complexities of gender, the writers and artists in this issue encourage us to embrace both constancy and uncertainty, heightening our awareness of the present moment while reminding us of the ways in which literature and art– themselves both enduring and evolving–buoy us in times of flux.

We hope these transformative works of art will inspire you to document your own transitions, whatever they may be.  Happy reading!

Sincerely,

Brittany Collins, Editor-In-Chief
Beth Derr, Managing Editor

on behalf of the Voices & Visions editorial staff

A Blur in the Binary

By: Alex Fallon

Agnes Scott College, GA, USA

Yawning—Stretching—standing proud for the day.
Warm sunlight trickles through the window
as condensation fogs the mirror.

Stepping out, a cloud of steam follows like a wedding dress.
They dry their feet on the rough mat,
lean forward,
run the towel to catch the drips that journey down their spine.

Walking to the mirror,
they use the towel to free their face from the glass cage.
Squared jaw, thick brows, the lips of ancient gods.

Following the mirror down with their eyes,
the body is blurred.
It is there, standing—real in every regard.
But no details shine through.

Does today bring a chest of supple mounds,
the nourishment of mankind?
Or would the day be one of endless fields,
sharp angles, and broad lines?

The fog melted down their neck.
Would their voice reach the submarine signals deep beneath the ocean blue?
Or would it fly high with the delicate birds in the clear blue sky?

Bringing their hand up to run through wet hair—
would it flow long, a twirl of braids and intricate patterns?
Or would it be twisted tight into a strong knot under their hat?

Maybe neither.

Maybe today they would exist in the blur.
The blur that permeated the image they faced.
Maybe their hair would flow long and their nails would shine bright–
their chest flat as a frozen lake, their voice a force that could make mountains tremble.

Maybe today they would be neither.
Maybe today they would be both.
And maybe that would be OK.

First appeared in an edition of MR. MA’AM Literary Journal at Emory University.

Dollar Tree

By: Meh Sod Paw

Agnes Scott College, GA, USA

During my first summer in America at the age of 11, I was preoccupied. I spent my days trying to figure out ways to return to the friends whom I had left behind in a refugee camp in Thailand. I missed the summer fun of collecting any water we could find, splashing one another during the Water Festival holidays in my new home in Stone Mountain, Georgia. I sat around inside of the apartment, waiting for the monotonous summer days to pass as swiftly as possible. To avoid the emptiness in my life, I agreed to walk with my mother to Dollar Tree, a store that we had recently heard about. As we walked in the searing Georgia heat, she said, disappointed, “Yah-leh-ta-mu-ler-mu-mae-nya,” meaning that she preferred to “travel in front of the sun” to avoid the heat on her face. It bothered her that I woke up late that morning, that we were unable to beat the sunrise. I just hated the summer for arriving before I could make any new friends at school or in the neighborhood.

Walking on the road to Dollar Tree introduced us to the busy life of America. It involved so many cars. In the refugee camp, we had one small road of paved concrete. Cars did not arrive one after another. In the United States, neither my mother nor I knew how to cross the street. I saw the way that my mother navigated her life here. She ran at the traffic light intersection as soon as the walking signals came on, and all I could do was follow fanatically.

After crossing, we encountered our very first nail salon, which surprised my mother. She laughed looking at her hands–the cracks, wrinkles, and lines that mapped the contours of surviving a farmer’s life. From a young age, the life that she knew consisted of packing lunch and going to the rice farm before dawn. Nail enhancement was a weird, unnecessary concept. With those hands, she dragged me away from the wall of compelling advertisements that captivated my young eyes.

Our excursion in the heat made it feel good to walk into Dollar Tree’s two-door entrance and breathe its soothing, cool air. I liked how all of the items knew which section they belonged to. Everything had its own place. I stood in the aisle where the kitchen tools hung neatly in their own spots. Like them, I wanted to be found and placed where I would fit in.  Big bottles of soda on the shelf brought back many etched memories of the small shops in the refugee camp. Each shop in the camp had a cooler filled with ice cubes and cans of soda. I learned to never walk to the cooler, knowing that there were never enough coins in my hand. Once, my mother gave me a cup of soda after she bought a bottle to offer to an important guest. To show appreciation to the people whom we respected, we offered them something more costly, like soda. It was fun for my siblings and me to watch the bubbles rise to the top of the bottle when my mother opened it. I thought about how lucky the kids in the United States must be, since they could see and taste the fizz much more often than I could. Things that were highly priced in a refugee camp only cost a dollar at Dollar Tree.

The very next day, after the first trip to Dollar Tree, my mother asked me to go out again. This time, we invited families in the neighborhood who were also Karen, an ethnic group from Burma. There was the man whom I called Uncle (Pah Tee) and his children. They never refused to come along with us on the walk. Since we were among the earliest refugee newcomers in the area, we did not know anyone who had a car. None of us really understood the new roads and streets, but we enjoyed being able to walk miles without seeing restricted signs like the ones back in the camp. When we all gathered to plan our trip on the street, everyone wanted go to Dollar Tree. No debating was involved. It was the closest store to our neighborhood and cheap enough that everyone could afford something.

Making our way to Dollar Tree as a group served as a time of sharing between the young and old. Pah Tee would mention how much he loved chicken; he cooked it for three months straight when he first arrived in the United States. Now, chicken no longer tasted as good as before, since he had been standing and working long hours at the chicken factory. The elders showed us their painful nails, blue from competing with the machines at the chicken factory. All summer long, their stories kept me busy, so I started worrying less about how lonely I was. All of us were trying to push through the land of unfamiliarity. Despite our dimmest phase of life, we were still walking on the busy street, being overly cautious and running at the crossroads to make it to Dollar Tree. When we got inside, it was a time of satisfaction. Pah Tee admitted that “America was truly the land of plenty.” On every trip to Dollar Tree, I always made sure to get my favorite snack: spicy Cheetos. Eating them made me happy. The spicy taste was the first thing that I found in the U.S. that was not foreign to me.  

We visited Dollar Tree countless times that summer. After many trips, we noticed that the poster advertising flip flops had changed to one with falling snowflakes. By looking at the seasonal goods, we became aware of the special holidays that many Americans celebrated in the United States.

Without our realizing, years really had passed. We started going to stores that sold our cultural food and went to Dollar Tree less often. It became very easy to spot other Burmese on a street. Soon, our Karen neighbors could buy a car and move out of their apartments and into a house. We helped them carry their things out. Later came the day when my family also decided to move.

While my mom never entered the nail salon, Dollar Tree has become just another store. Walking on a street to Dollar Tree turned into staring at it through the window of my car. Each time I spot a Dollar Tree, my memories of navigating through the door of the unknown return. I feel a bit of heartache when I realize that happiness can only be found in Hot Cheetos once in a lifetime. I know now what I didn’t know then: that crossing traffic from the Dollar Tree to home was a one-way trip.

Isis and Osiris

By: Sakina Alia

Bryn Mawr College, PA, USA

all the soldier wanted was a wife

but brideprice

too high without a pot to piss

ISIL (formerly known as ISIS—defamation of a GODDESS)

ISIL knows this

promise                         $$$

                brideprice

.if the soldier will fight.

— but when it is clear he is living to die killing as he kisses suicide he is given a Yazidi “bride”

and another

and another

and another

and another

                                                                                      at what price

and Isis wept

and Isis worked

and Isis wept

and Isis worked

and Isis wept

the Yazidi fight

true brides

Isis brought the dead back to life                            

                                                                  “oh Allah she is your throne”

 

Artist Statement for Isis and Osiris

Born of earth and sky, the Egyptian goddess Isis shows us that strength does not preclude feeling: an essential reminder as women transition into selfhood. Isis is here invoked to reclaim a name that has been sullied, while also serving as a reminder that mourning is a profound part of the process of empowerment, as it is in numbness that we are truly lost. It was up to her to restore the world when everything was ripped to pieces, and this was not a process without profound pain, a pain she was not afraid to show. As for the Yazidi and Kurdish women fighting against ISIL, they are not just tasked with restoring destroyed worlds within and without; many are directly confronting violence as soldiers themselves. The poem “Isis and Osiris” expresses that when tradition is upheld over what is natural and loving, our humanity is more easily degraded and we become numb. When this happens, we must fight like the Yazidi and Kurdish women to reclaim our humanity, because in states of numbness, humans are reduced to bodies, figments, and payments. Women’s transition into selfhood requires a reflection on the violence we have suffered, strength from the past, as well as creative new visions for humanity, as the old, however inspiring, may still keep us in cycles of subservience and domination.
As an artist and scholar, sakina seeks to unite facts with truth so that women’s transition into selfhood can be both fortified and tender. sakina earned a B.A. in Philosophy and Creative Writing from Bryn Mawr College, an M.A. in Religion and Literature from Yale Divinity School’s Institute of Sacred Music, and has been selected as a Mellon Mays, Fulbright, and Yale-China Fellow. As an artist, her work has been featured at the Camra Screening Scholarship Media Festival at the University of Pennsylvania, National Sawdust in Brooklyn, the Yale Off Broadway Theater, Yale Edgewood Gallery, and the Self-Organized Performance Biennial on Art and Politics in Athens, Greece.