Passing Clouds

Tara Harbo

St. Catherine University, North Carolina, USA

A cold fog dances over the black water, tickling at the branches and teasing the shore. In between the pitch-wash of the summer clouds, the moon glances down, its gaze carving through the mist, casting uneven shadows on the open river. Moths and water-flies follow its lead, braving the rapids just to bask in a momentary glare. Then the next cloud passes, the stream hazes over again, and the insects fall silent, waiting for the next glow to return to lead their next dance.

Four canoes lay beached in a small cove, just out of reach of the dark eddy. In the shade of the gnarled forest, their hard-plastic hulls look like cockroaches, fit with a mess of abandoned paddles as uneven legs. Each shell is neatly stamped with a simple tent logo, chipped and peeling, with the words “property of Camp Vermillion” underneath it. That same stamp adorns a handful of tents up the shore, gathered around the embers of an evening campfire.

A girl unzips one of the tent flaps and pokes her head out. With one hand, she eases the zipper open another six inches, and with the other she pulls herself out onto the tarp. The camp has an earthy smell to it, laced with a bitter edge – the musk of a burnt prairie mixed with the more mild air of an algae bloom. She blinks it off and hauls her duffel bag out. Then, with as much care as she took on her way out, she closes the flap, leaving the soft snores of her tent-mates behind.

The trail down towards the water is a scramble. Pebbles bounce and scratch over exposed roots as the girl slips down to the shore. She leans on a canoe long enough to ease her windbreaker over her pajama shirt. The water bubbles a greeting. She dips down and splashes her face, rinsing the last of the sleep from her eyes.

She never meant to be there. At that camp. On that canoe trip. Sleeping out in the dirt – out with a troupe of boys. She had fully intended to spend the summer at her friend’s place, playing Mario Kart and dodging her parents. Instead she ended up staring out at passing fields on her way to a washed up camp, where her mother became lifeguard certified and her father “had a religious experience”. At least she still didn’t have to see either of them after they left her at the dinghy remains of the base camp.

“Maybe this trip will help you clear your head,” they said. “It’ll help you come to your senses.”

The girl grips the edge of the canoe on the end of the stack. It scrapes down across the rocks and towards the shore, sending a cloud of dust and bugs scattering towards the water. The thud echoes across the river, and she grits her teeth. None of the tents stir, so she pushes the boat closer towards the tide.

Neither the canoeing nor the camp were all that bad. Sure, the days were long, but there’s something peaceful about the pull of the current and the slow crawl of the forest. The problem was just the boys. They were rough, and they were loud. More than anything, they knew just what to say to hurt a person, even if they didn’t know exactly who was going to take it personally.

The water catches the bow of the canoe, lifting it and offering to pull it out the rest of the way. The girl hooks it with her leg and throws her bag in.

“Where are you going?”

The girl whips around, stumbles back over the gunwale, before steadying out. There’s a boy behind her (Liam, at least that’s what she thinks his name is). He blinks a couple of times as he shuffles closer to her. A flashlight glares down at her from one hand, obscuring the expression on his face.

“Turn that off!” She says. The canoe bumps back against her leg. She reaches to steady it, but the river pulls back, urging its bow towards the main current. Liam lunges after it, splashing into the shallows. Murk laps at his ankles, then at his knees. He catches hold of the rim, and yanks it back towards the girl.

“[DEADNAME], what the fuck were you thinking?” Liam’s fully awake now.

“Come on, keep it down,” the girl holds a finger to her lips.

“Okay, okay.”

Maybe stealing a canoe in the middle of the night wasn’t the best plan. Actually getting it into the water was a question from the start, but it wasn’t so bad when compared to the thought of trying to steer a whole boat alone. Then again, it meant no more camp and no more boys.

Liam hefts the pack out of the bow and back onto the rocks. He wrings out the legs of his sweatpants, intermittently grunting and shooting daggers at the girl. (He’s such a fucking counselor’s pet.)

“What’s your deal? Just go back to your tent.” She says.

“What’s my deal? [DEADNAME], You’re the one trying to steal a fucking boat!” Liam eases himself to the ground as he tries to wrestle his drenched socks off. There’s one wet slap and then another.


“Why are you even up?” The girl stoops down next to him just long enough to grab her bag. He grabs her wrist.

“That’s really not an answer.”

She shrugs.

Liam sighs deeper than he had before, “I couldn’t sleep. My sleeping bag has a hole in the foot and I got cold.” He looks out towards the river. Lightning bugs glow on the water, highlighting the subtle swirl of the eddy.


“What, it’s true! That’s it [DEADNAME]. At least I’m not out here to steal a goddamn boat,” he flicks a pebble into the shallows. The silhouettes of minnows flit off for darker waters.

“You need to stop calling me that.”

“Oh.” He blinks, “what did you want me to call you?”

The name was what had thrown off her parents the most. When she came out to them, she asked their input – what would they have named her had she been born a girl? Her mother left the room and her father yelled. “You’re denying reality,” he tried, “how can you throw away what we gave you?”

“Marissa. Mara? I don’t know. Just not that,” Liam watches the girl stand back up and toss her pack back into the boat. She reaches over him for a paddle and a life jacket. With one more glare, she vaults over the gunwale and into the seat at the stern.

“For fucks sake,” Liam pitches after her, half leaping, half tripping into the back of the boat. The canoe rocks, and they both hold their breath as they glide out of the eddy and into the current.

The moon glows brighter from outside of the canopy, as it slices the midnight mist to ribbons. Out here the air is clear, free of the smell of charcoal and ash.

“Seriously?” The girl lifts her paddle clear of the water, letting the tide steer the boat downstream, “just let me go.”

“It’s a little late for that!”

She scoffs, spitting into the water, “nobody would have noticed if you hadn’t come with.”

In all fairness, Liam was the loudest of the campers. He was a leader, a wannabe counselor, and most apparently of all, a complete suck up – the cheeriest singer of the thirtieth line of “ninety-nine bottles of beer on the wall” and that kid that always advocated to put the rain fly up, even on the driest of nights.

“Yeah, I think they’d notice a missing canoe in the morning.”

“So you’re acknowledging that they wouldn’t miss me?”

Liam rolls his eyes more enthusiastically than he spouts shitty lyrics, “that isn’t what I said!”

The landscape blurs past as the canoe begins to pick up speed.

“I get why you want to run away, I really do,” the boy says. He grits his teeth against the cold of the fog as they round a bend.

“But you actually want to be here.”

“I didn’t always. Last year I was in a girls cabin, which… ummm, wasn’t really…it for me,” He says, gesturing to his outfit – a bright Star Wars t-shirt and a pair of sweatpants. The girl rolls her eyes.

He runs a hand along the surface of the water. The moon ripples off the wake, sending a glittering mist up and through the breeze, “I didn’t let my parents win. Instead of trying to let the camp ‘fix me,’ I treated it as a moment to prove them wrong. To be myself and still make friends anyway, even though I didn’t completely fit in.”

The girl shakes her head, “I can’t go back to my parents.”

“I didn’t say that you should, but how far did you think you’d get in a stolen canoe?”

“Far enough.”

“Without any food?”

A log floats past the canoe, its surface covered in moss. It bobs beneath the surface and sounds against the hull, a weighty thunk, followed by a long, sharp scrape. The girl’s eyes go wide as it passes.

“You-,” she pauses, “-ugh, fine. But no promises that I won’t steal food and try again tomorrow night.”

“Thank you.”

She dips the paddle into the water and scoops backwards, swinging the boat sideways. It’s an upstream battle back towards the camp. They push in sync, carving back into the cove.

“And for the record, I think that Marissa is a beautiful name.”

The girl’s cheeks flush, “thanks,” she climbs into the shallows, dragging the bow of the canoe back onto the rocks. “That, umm, that means a lot.”

Liam loops her bag onto his back, depositing the paddles back onto the shore. They flip the canoe and line its faded stamp up with the others.

“Could you, uhh, keep this whole thing on the down low?”

“Keep what on the down low?” Liam’s lips light up with a mischievous grin. The girl punches him on the arm.

“Thank you, and g’night Liam.”

“Night Mar’s.”

They walk the trail together, back up the scramble and towards their own, separate tents. The moon blinks through the leaves, and then disappears back behind a cloud, shrouding the river and the forest alike in that cold, dark fog.

Aanti of the Puddle

Chanelle A. Bergeron

Meredith College, Raleigh, North Carolina, USA

His name was hard to pronounce, so most people avoided it. A soft string of vowels made
it begin like a sigh in the mouths of those who preferred the sharp cluck of a consonant at the
front. His name hung like fresh water in the mouths of people who preferred truncated sounds.
Our sounds landed like the thud of an axe against wood, like the bark of a dog left out in the

He wore blues and reds, mostly, and he wore boots. Leather ones cuffed at the top like
the collar of a shirt, the light tan hide a color close to custard. These things made him stand out
amongst the rest of us, these blues and reds, this custard against our differing shades of green:
moss, forest, pea.

I was younger then, I was thinner, I was sanguine. My hair reached well beyond my
shoulder blades, and I could swim for miles in salty or fresh water. In water my hair trailing out
behind me in long unconcerned strands. I was one of the only people in the whole town who could swim at all, or even cross a puddle without fear or hesitation.

In the morning, the sky is reflected on the water but in the afternoon, if I looked closely,
it was my face and the sky, warbling on the surface of the water. On those days, I would step in.
Step into my reflection, step into the sky, wade into the water. Under its surface I would practice
pronouncing the water’s dense, droning sounds. On these days, my mouth filled with water, with
lake, and so I learned that water would take the shape of anything it was held by.

It was said that I was born in water. I never met my mother. I was always told it was
January when she had swum out past the pier where the seals bob and buoy and disappear. I
could never know for sure. But it was said that I was born in the caul. That I arrived in the world
with a wet veil still covering me completely, that I was still breathing water when most babies
would have taken their first, sharp breath of air.

My mother was said to have swum out on the coldest day of the year, ice like shattered
glass floated in the water. The sun bright and the moon still in the sky and the pier covered in
snow, in frost. The townspeople took me in, as they did all orphans back then, and never spoke
directly about my mother. Only in fragments, only in threads. Only over the phone to one
another as a casserole baked in the oven, and there was the need to remark that I was beginning to look more like her around the mouth, the long stoic neck, and in the inner webbing of my small hands.

I was almost always in water, but rarely in baths or bed or the pew at church on
Wednesday evenings when everyone liked most to go. Instead, I would go to the lake with my
books and read them underwater, my eyes open and taking in the words which moved like little
fish across the page. It was easier to turn the pages underwater than above, one simply needed to go slowly and densely like in a dream. When I couldn’t swim, I would go to the river and put the pebbles in my mouth, sucking them for their flavor of mineral and warm rain, returning them
back to the water with great care when I was through.

When he arrived in town, I was younger and thinner and used to the sound of water. The
first time I saw him, he was standing in a puddle in the middle of town, and he seemed as if to
ripple. The people in our small town were shocked, of course, they mumbled and clucked and
pointed. They were fearful. Their green offended by his blue and red; their consonant shaped
mouths unsure, trembled.

When he arrived in town, he did not stay long. Long enough to stand in a puddle, long
enough to ripple. Long enough for me to walk right up to him and ask his name as the town
gawked behind us. Long enough for me to learn his name and to see his swimmer’s eyes
reflected in mine.

Tutorial Level

Fern Schiffer

St. Catherine University, St Paul, Minnesota, USA

Attempt 1:

Roommate sits down across from you, and starts crocheting.

>Say hey.

While the words form in your brain and travel to your lungs for air, they get caught on something in

your throat. You lose.

Attempt 2:

Roommate sits down across from you, and starts crocheting.

>Take a deep breath, and hold it for a while.

>Look up from your laptop and say hey.

Roommate looks up, and back down. You lose.

Attempt 3:

Roommate sits down across from you, and starts crocheting.

>Take a deep breath, and hold it until that thing in your throat releases

>Look up from your laptop and say hey.

>Say how’s the homework been today?

Roommate shrugs and says okay, there’s too much of it but that’s how it is.

>Shrug back.

>Say that’s rough.

Roommate looks up, then back down. You lose.

Attempt 4:

Roommate sits down across from you, and starts crocheting.

>Take a deep breath until that thing in your throat unclenches its teeth and slinks back into its cave.

>Look up from your laptop and say hey

>Say my god, oh my god, am I doing this right

Attempt 5:

Roommate sits down across from you, and starts crocheting.

>get up and walk to your bedroom

>close the door behind you and wait for the world outside to stop rendering

Attempt 6:

Roommate sits down across from you, and starts crocheting.

>think to yourself about how you can’t even talk to your friends

>think to yourself about your roommate just sitting there.

>think to yourself that these are only words! How hard are words! Just talk!

>Look up, then back down

Attempt 7:

Roommate sits down in a chair in the living room, you haven’t left your room all day.

Attempt 8:

>try to say that’s a beautiful thing you’re making

>all you can do is stare

Attempt 9:

Roommate walks into the living room to grab a skein of yarn, and then returns to a bedroom which

will never render

Attempt 10:

>say that’s a beautiful thing you’re making.

>say I wish I could do that.

>say I’ve tried to make beautiful things before but there was always someone else I’d rather watch

Roommate looks up.

Mirror Mirror on the Wall

Ritika Das

Indraprastha College for Women, New Delhi, India

Mirror Mirror on the wall, it is a cliché question to ask but who am I?

What do I reflect to the world, what do I reflect to my surroundings?

What do I reflect on myself?

I try to look deep into the tinted glass frame hanging in front of me, trying to understand my true identity, my true reflection.

But all I can see is a shadow of mine which is constantly made and broken by society. 

I often try to see my reflection in the physical wounds that are a result of that weighed wedding band in my finger,

I portray the role of a good wife but all I can see is a timid and powerless woman.

When the same children who I nurtured yell their offensive frustrations at me, I try to gulp everything by thinking that I am just a mother who has over pampered her children.

But deep down I know, I am a reflection of a mother who is too submissive to even raise her own voice.

While trying to be a hands-on mother to my children, I have forgotten about that ailing old woman who lives miles away, my mother.

Mirror Mirror on the wall, that fact that I reflect an image of a failed daughter is not oblivion to me.

A pile of worn out scribbled papers are still lying somewhere amidst the dusty newspapers. The writings on the paper were meant to find a publisher but all it can do now is look through the adjacent window at the many shades of colour that the sky has in its palette.

Mirror Mirror on the wall, why can’t I see my younger self who wanted to become a storyteller, had cliché dreams of conquering the world and swaying people with her writings?

Why all I can see is a woman who looks tired by playing the same set of roles each and every day?

The mirror tells me to not be so harsh on myself because standing in front of the mirror, I am not the only one asking these questions. There are so many other people who, just like me, are stuck in the loop of life.

There are so many people like me who have a capability to think but not an ability to speak.

Mirror Mirror on the wall, the world may never know about my existence, about my identity but it would always be you who has witnessed my reflection from an attractive luminous light to a somber one.

Mirror Mirror on the wall, I may not stay that long to tell my story, but I know you will be there to give a reflection of my story, unless you are broken, just like me.

Dress By Gram. Curls By Mom.

Nikkole DeMars

St. Catherine University, Minnesota, USA

Throughout the course of my life, I never imagined that I would be the type of person to think that I was on a personal journey or transformation. You know, one of those corny opportunities for growth, change and self-acceptance that you see in posts on social media, or in the latest self-help book. It all seemed too superficial and cliché for me, and I certainly never considered my life to be some personal evolution; but unbeknownst to me, I was indeed on a quest for something that kept nudging at me with occasional whispers starting in my angsty teenage years. There was indeed something I needed to resolve within myself. 

The story that I was told was that I was left on the front steps of an orphanage in Seoul, Korea by a woman who simply could not care for me. There were no additional details that followed that single phrase by my adoptive parents, but I never questioned whether that actually happened or not. Mostly because I was grateful for them choosing me, and I never wanted them to feel like they were not enough. I never wanted to be that “child of adoption” that wanted to look for their biological parents, or visit their birth place, but when I look back now, I guess I was always looking for clues that would lead me to understand who I really am.

Nature vs. Nurture

I was fortunate to grow up with a dad that was constantly creating a forum for fostering curiosity with my brother and I. Early on in my childhood I can recall him facilitating an environment for me to ask anything, and there was never a limit on how many questions I might ask. One of the repeated philosophical conversations that we would embark on in my teen years and into my twenties, was around the concept of nature versus nurture, and what has a more powerful impact on an individual.

Each time we engaged in this conversation, I always came up short on the nature side of things, and we would end up talking more about my brother, who is my parents biological child. I could definitely see the impacts of nature when we talked about it in terms of him and my parents.  Honestly, I loved this debate because it allowed me to really examine the qualities within myself that were like my mother and father, and that gave me personal permission to feel deeply included in my family experience. 

I have ingrained in me this incredible sense of appreciation and zest for life, I am a loud talker, a loud laugher, but I am also most comfortable in the content quiet and processing of my own thoughts and emotions. In my family, I am the “go to” person, the connector, and most times the life of the party. I have a high sense of value for fun, and a great appreciation for loved ones, friends and family. My dad also possesses all of these same qualities, and these shared qualities have given me comfort throughout my formative years and beyond. I really like being like him.

The Poop Diaries

There were many times during my childhood that I found myself quietly looking for clues as to what my short-lived life was like in Seoul (8 months to be exact). At the time. I really didn’t understand why that was important, but I wanted clues; hints beyond the one phrase of “I was left on the front steps of an orphanage in Seoul, Korea by a woman who simply could not care for me.”

Recently, my dad was cleaning out some old papers that he had in storage and mailed me a package that contained some things that he thought I might be interested in. To my surprise and quiet delight there was a small book in the package that was weathered and worn, and it looked to be some kind of small, thin journal from the orphanage in Korea. I wasn’t exactly sure what information would be contained in this small booklet, but I felt as though it must have something tangible for me to understand more about my experience there. As I surgically turned each page, thinking the next would bring out some juicy indications about my infant life, I quickly realized this was a daily journal that documented my eating habits and my bowel movements. That was not a leading indicator of anything juicy, other than proof that I was regular! 

Although this was not the artifact that I was hoping for, it has proven to be a little something to hold onto. It was a sign that I was cared for, and someone was thoughtful enough to pass it along to my parents as a record of my health. It still feels like a treasure today, and I am grateful that my dad saved it all of these years. 


Going to the doctor’s office and being asked to complete the standard medical history questionnaire has always been a complicated experience for me. When you don’t have any details of your medical history, these questionnaires are both easy and complex. The easy part is when you just write a giant “N/A – Adopted” over the whole page. The complex part is related to the emotions that bubble to the surface when the doctor enters the room, reviews your chart and responds to your response. I have had a variety of different comments from doctors. Everything from complete silence upon review of my “completed” form, to “I’m sorry”, to “Are you sure you don’t know anything about your history?”

I have never pitied myself, and was not raised to feel sorry for myself as a child of adoption so the one response that has always stood out to me is when someone responds to your sharing of adoption with “I’m sorry.” My family never treated me like an underdog or a less fortunate child so it was (and still is) shocking to me when someone looks at me through that lens. 

Do you Want to See My Sister?

Another important tale that has been shared with me, starting when I was very young, is about the anticipation that my brother had regarding my arrival. He is three years older than me, and the story goes that once he heard that he was going to have a baby sister and that I was going to fly on a big airplane from far away with many other babies, he started asking anyone that he would encounter, “Do you want to see my sister?” Along with those words, he would reach into his front pockets and hold an invisible version of me cupped in his hands. 

My brother and I are polar opposites at the surface in every regard. I am talkative and outspoken; he is quiet and thoughtful. I tend to be attention seeking, and he is introverted. I have a big personality, and he is reserved and more measured. I could list many dichotomies between the two of us, but the one main commonality that we do share is unconditional love and deep respect for each other. I have always felt that the relationship with my brother was built out of pure love, long before we ever met. He carried that invisible version of me around in his pocket knowing that we were going to share something unexplainable and uniquely special between us. 

We shared all of the ups and downs that siblings share, and I could go on and on with funny and impactful stories about our relationship. Like the time I shoved an ice cream cone in his face just to get a reaction, or when he kicked out my front tooth with his moon boot, or when he offered me a couch to sleep on, and the encouragement to start my life anew after my divorce. I have always felt like my brother has treated me like a special treasure, even before we met.

Love and Kisses from Gram

She was the precise definition of glamour. Her clothes were classic, her home was stunning, her makeup and hair were perfection. In my eyes as a child, and still to this day, she was a mix between Marilyn Monroe, Zsa Zsa Gabor, and Martha Stewart. All beverages were served on a serving tray with tasteful accoutrements, and her vanity was chock full of the most beautiful lipsticks and eyeshadows, and glittering beautiful things. She even smelled glamorous.  

When it came to the most important day of my childhood, my naturalization ceremony to officially become a U.S. Citizen, it was an obvious choice, that Gram would make me a special dress for my big day. If it is possible to “steal the show” at a naturalization ceremony, I certainly did that day. I paraded down the aisle in my dress by Gram, and my perfectly coiffed curls by mom, gripping and waving my personal sized American flag and blowing kisses to the onlookers and other new citizens. 

I have come to realize that I feel like this little girl every single day of my life and that quest for understanding who I really am comes down to the people that have loved me, prioritized me and cared for me. In all of my efforts to seek my true self, I have come to recognize that you build your true self through everyday life, relationships, experiences, loss and traumas. The one through line in my life is the importance of human connection with those you love, and the acceptance that I am built by these people and experiences that have guided me along the way. Dress by Gram, curls by mom, always.

Baggage Claim

Kate Knox

Cottey College, Nevada, MO, USA

There is a small moment that few people dwell on when a plane lands. After it has touched down but before a point where it is appropriate for passengers to start gathering their things, there is a moment of unified peace throughout the cabin. The safety of the ground has been secured, and one is either home or almost there– wherever there may be. Most don’t pay attention to this moment; they are either groggily coming to thanks to the bump or itching for the opportunity to grab their carry-ons and go. But for some, this moment is pivotal– an end and beginning of a journey. 

This moment finds all who seek it, regardless of class, gender, age. It found the tallest woman of the three occupants of the first-class cabin gazing vapidly out the window. She was watching the tarmac around her, sipping in her last moments of peace before departure, and trying not to think about what she had left. Her companions were of the groggy camp, grumbling about how horrible they felt- 

That’s what they get for eating so much before a nine-hour flight- the leader thought. 

Screams erupted as the trio left their arrival gate, flanked by their bodyguards. The barricades did their best to hold the crowd back physically, but nothing held back its passion, its want. Hunger followed the women as they walked calmly towards baggage claim. It was in every single pair of eyes that gazed at them; sometimes accompanied by tears, sometimes not. Hands reached for those who were untouchable. They were all very used to this exchange: world-famous pop stars can’t just go as they please, especially in an age where their blood types were not only available to the public, but merchandisable, hanging from some of the crowd members’ bags as little personified charms. However, the leader always felt a cold pit in her stomach every time she saw those hands. 

They- the crowd- it- had no actual grasp on who they were reaching for. They had ideas of course: Knives, the leader in all of her ice princess glory, iconized for her cutthroat bars and devil-may-care attitude, Void, the vocal lead, beautiful and sweet as her voice and known for her fanservice, and Glitch, the queen of choreo, hailed for her dance skills and charisma. Goddesses amongst royalty. The top of the charts. The it-girls. Knives pitied them. All the members of VIXEN pitied them. The fans thought they looked at the group with so much love and adoration, but they couldn’t understand that their eyes betrayed them. 

The members of VIXEN knew hunger. They understood how quickly those hands, innocently splayed, hoping for just a brush with success personified, could turn into claws. The women kept close to each other within the body walls of security. They had no energy to give the vampires today. Knives was the only one who walked with her head high enough to see the hunger reflected back at her. She could smell the sweat, taste the desperation in the air, even through her mask. It made her sick, but not for the usual reason. These people-besides their unhealthy obsession with her- were ordinary, probably. They were probably going to get in trouble with work or school for skipping to watch the pop stars claim their baggage, probably had aspirations of their own to do something more than fawn over the life of another. Probably. 

Knives shook herself, feeling bile rising in her throat as she and the others kept going. They were not him. Statistically, they all couldn’t be like him. The group’s luck couldn’t be that bad. But… hunger is a state of fluidity, as unpredictable as water when left to its own devices. It can be a gentle wave pushing someone forward in their life, or it can be a tsunami, leaving nothing but destruction in the wake of its feeding. Her mind once again made the flight back to where they had all just come from, though she tried to force it back. 

He had a hunger that was tsunami-like. One would assume that being one of the biggest pop groups in the world would ensure safety, but stardom and money can’t buy experiences that make one feel human again, so the group had snuck out of their room to go take a walk. They were well disguised enough, and, for once, their hotel location hadn’t been leaked, so they took the opportunity as it presented itself. They had wanted a simple walk by the river of the city they had just played in, maybe to watch the sunrise together before their flight. They figured the worse they would have to deal with would be another lecture from their security head. They had not expected him. 

He was unfortunately large; athletic in a way their diet and weight restrictions wouldn’t allow. He was a starving tsunami, assuming that because they had chosen to be in his vicinity at his time, they had chosen him. His hands reached, as the crowd’s had done that night at the performance, but he had also misjudged. The members of VIXEN knew hunger. They had given their lives, their flesh, their talents, to satisfy the hunger of their fans and the industry. They, themselves, were hungry. They were just better at hiding it. But, like water, hunger can only be pulled back so far before it breaks, overflows, drowns. They were starving.

The moon averted its eyes as Glitch and Void made short work of their target, the ripping, chewing of flesh hidden under the soundscape of the busy city. He had been smart to corner them in the back alley they had taken to avoid the public. The coppery scent of blood caressed Knives’s nose– the girls were being sloppy, but Knives couldn’t blame them. It had been a while since they had actually gotten to eat– the injections just weren’t the same, especially when their blood supply was already running thin. Her own mouth began to water instinctively, but she swallowed it down. There was a suitcase in her room that could satisfy her needs, and she had always had a higher tolerance than the others. She had also made a point to snack incessantly before they went out– she had a feeling they would not be allowed to be women living their lives that night. Besides, someone had to be alert while the others got to have their gluttonous daze. Still, Knives could have a little treat without getting drunk off of the meal. 

 She flicked her wrist, blood spattering off of her hand. Whoever came across the scene would find a couple of blood drops, but no body to which they belonged. True hunger teaches one to leave no scraps. True hunger makes one smart. They had taken off their heavy jackets before carving him– giving him a little glimpse of getting what he wanted before ripping it away. Knives loved the moment of realization for those starving folk. The ones who thought they were hungrier than her companions and she. That they were smarter, entitled to feast on the women. They were always so shocked when the women’s eyes rushed full of hunger all at once. 

The members of VIXEN had blood stocks-ethically obtained- to keep themselves strong enough to perform without becoming unattractive in the eyes of their label, but nothing tasted sweeter to them than food sovereignty– especially when the meat was lean with its own ungodly hunger. When given the right motivation, mixed with anger and starvation, anyone can be strong enough to feed themselves, even if the feast seems to be bigger and stronger than them. They were illusionary Goliaths to society– giants untouchable with their wealth and fame, but still weak little girls, probably. Probably. 

Knives’s black suitcase was set at her feet. She met the guard’s gaze, sunglasses to sunglasses. 

“You all seem out of it today. Jet lag getting to you finally?”

“Yeah. Long tour. Glad to be home.”

He nodded, satisfied. They all made their way to the exit, still flanked by barricades and the crowd. It surged at them as they slipped into their separate cars to take them to their condos, but none of the women flinched. The women of VIXEN knew hunger well. 

Knife’s driver whistled, keeping chit-chat to a minimum. He knew better than to ply her when she was getting off of a world tour. As they neared her home, he did ask,

“Happy to be home, Miss?”

“Very. It was a good tour, but I am exhausted.”

“I bet. It’ll be nice to be in your own home again. A nice, warm dinner will do you well.”

Knives smiled under her mask, eyeing her suitcase through her sunglasses. Along with the vials that would keep her wine glass full tonight, she had, with skill, patience, and a lot of sealed bags, snuck in an extra snack. Her phone chimed at the same time, popping up with hashtags that fans were trending for the group: #ourheartsarewithyou #enjoyyourbreakVIXEN. Her smile grew wider as saliva flooded her mouth. She exited the vehicle at her gates, throwing her response out with a final wave to him. 

“A warm dinner sounds great, but I’m really just craving some tartar.”

Full Circle

Sophia Stuart

Barnard College, New York, NY, USA

I hate making decisions because I always find myself imagining the alternative—the path I did not take. Even something as insignificant as picking an ice cream flavor is daunting. It reminds me of a discussion my English Colloquium class had recently about Erasmus and Luther’s Discourse on Free Will. Erasmus argues that free will exists, and that one is responsible for one’s own actions. Conversely, Luther claims that one’s choices are already predestined. At first, I was confused by Luther’s argument. He was a devout Christian, so his absolute faith in God makes sense. Yet, I was surprised that he would be willing to strip himself so fully of any agency over his own behavior. I attributed my confusion to an inability to understand the extent of his beliefs; as I read on, however, I came to a passage that I saw as the root cause of Luther’s argument. In a section titled “Personal comfort in the doctrine of bondage”, Luther says:

“I should not want free will to be given to me…  nor anything else be left in my own hands to enable me to strive after my salvation”.

While Luther’s other claims were written boastfully, this statement showed a hint of his vulnerability. I am not religious, but I can relate to the feeling of wanting your choices to be in the hands of another; someone wise and all-knowing, who will make the right choice, or, at the very least, the wrong one so that you don’t have to. 

Like everyone, my life has been defined by a series of choices that adults made I couldn’t talk or walk, nonetheless voice an opinion. At that age, I was living in a Columbia-owned apartment on the corner of 110th and Broadway. I remember almost nothing about that time, except for the tomatoes. Maybe it’s because they were displayed at my eye-level when my mom pushed me the bodegas in my stroller; all I know is that they were plump and shone in the summer sun. My dad taught at Columbia Business School, but he transferred to Harvard when I was four. The first move of my conscience life was to a turreted, yellow Victorian in a quiet suburb outside of Boston. We lived there for six years, until we moved to California in 2010. 

Instead of going to Belmont Day, the small private school I attended in Massachusetts, I ended up completing 4th through 8th grade at Prospect Sierra. Despite my contrarian attitude—I hated my new room, California sucked—I made peace with the transition. I do not mean to say that I accepted this change passively—I had endless questions and many complaints—rather, I got used to it. It was, like every decision in my life had been, not my responsibility. I had to live with the consequences, but if the decision was a mistake, my parents had to face the regret. 

They did. Our first summer in Berkeley was a coarse and hot one. Warm breeze intensified the heat, and the dusty air was scorching in comparison to the humid East Coast weather. My parents bickered about the move. My dad complained about the new house while my mom reminisced about the beautiful garden we left behind in Massachusetts. A neighbor dropped off a crudely baked cake to welcome us to the neighborhood. The gift only served to remind my dad of how sophisticated our neighbors in Massachusetts had been. Though, looking back as an adult, I realized that this behavior was indicative of the deeper problems in my parents’ marriage—problems that lead to their later divorce—I attributed it at the time to a far simpler cause; my parents’ decision to move to California was a mistake. Their regret was making them miserable. 

I made friends with some of the kids in my humanities class (dubbed homeroom at Prospect Sierra). My favorite subject was history. I have always been an avid reader, so at Belmont Day I loved English; but California’s background of strife and peril fascinated me. We learned about The Gold Rush of 1848, in which thousands of people abandoned their homes and livelihoods to move West, hoping to strike rich. The odds of this happening were low, yet more and more miners flooded into California. People came from all over the world. They had little in common except for their hope and their willingness to risk everything they had for this tiny shot at a better life. This mishmash led to racism and violence, neither of which were punished. There were no real rules during to Gold Rush, or any enforced guidelines to contain this chaos. Only one thing was certain for these miners: there was no going back.     

My resistance to making decisions intensified until it was a hindrance. On my fifteenth birthday, my dad tried to taking me shopping. We spent hours at the mall, but I couldn’t settle on anything I saw in the stores. We eventually ended up arguing behind a perfumed rack of t-shirts in an Abercrombie. My dad was trying to impose a navy striped t-shirt on me, while I stubbornly retorted that the stripes were too large and that the shirt was ugly. Eventually, frustrated, he just gave me some cash and called it quits. 

Considering how unreasonable I was being, I lasted a long time without having to decide anything that substantial. I was adamant about not making big decisions that I might regret. I finished the eighth grade at Prospect Sierra, and went on to a small high school in Oakland that required an application. I wouldn’t send it in until my mom, dad, grandparents and aunt had all given the school their stamp of approval and reassured me heavily that I was making the right choice. 

   It wasn’t until I was a Senior in high school when I really found myself facing a choice I could not avoid: where to go to college. On campus, my peers had what I dubbed “college fever”.  Everyone was talking about their dream schools—their ambitions to get in, their doubts about whether or not their applications were good enough. Our college counselor gathered the entire grade together at lunch and soberly warned us about the dangers of discussing which schools we were applying to. Apparently, students had been bragging to their friends about all the big names they might get into—Harvard, Stanford, etc. Knowing that their friends were applying to rigorous schools made these students (many of whom did not have a chance of getting in) waste endless hours applying to every single Ivy League, just in case. 

College fever spread like wild fire through the Senior class. Even our forty-five-minute lunch break was infected. 

“I have a better shot if I apply to Claremont McKenna early”, my friend Jackie remarked one day, “but I’m not sure if I’m ready to make the commitment yet. I mean, I love Georgetown too”.

I gave a brief, uninspired response and steered the discussion in another direction. I did not have a favorite school, and I was tired of hearing other people rave about their options. I had taken the classic college-touring trip with my chipper Aunt. We rented a car and drove from Vermont to New Hampshire, Massachusetts and, finally, New York. The trip was fun, but the tours themselves felt endless and repetitive. After the first few visits, I was sick of listening to smiley student-appointed guides brag endlessly about the merits of each school while tossing heavily glossed pamphlets of college propaganda towards eager parents, desperate to make a good impression on their child’s behalf.

Barnard was one of the last schools I toured, and I went alone. After the visit concluded, I wandered along Riverside Park before finally ending up in front of the building I lived in as a child. I stared up at its façade. The ivory and peach cement blocks of the exterior brought back hazy memories; my mom pushing me to Westside Market in a stroller, staring up at barren treetops in Riverside Park during winter. I tried to pull this history to the forefront of my mind, to ask myself: do I belong back in this city, at this school? My three-year-old self could not help my seventeen-year-old-self make up her mind. Instead, I was reminded of a Mark Twain quote:

“When everyone is looking for gold, it’s a good time to be in the pick and shovel business.”

This statement has a practical meaning—by observing the needs of others, one can profit off of them. Yet, I was most struck by the contrast between the two options. One, mining for gold, was a big risk for an immense reward. The other, was a safer, smarter way to make a profit. Yet, there was something lackluster about the idea of selling shovels when everyone else was mining for gold.  

My peers seem to have the same attitude about college as the miners had about gold: shoot high. I, meanwhile, was more of a shovel maker—I just wanted an easy and sure option, whatever it may be, so that I could feel secure.  

I caught the downtown 1 at the 110th street station and met up with my dad at our Airbnb on Prince street. The first thing I did lament about how hard it was to pick a school and the impossibility of making up my mind by the early application deadline.  

“That’s up to you”, he said, “but I like Barnard. Your counselor says that you are a good candidate for early admission. Besides, you loved Morningside Heights when you were little, maybe it’s meant to be”.

My dad’s statement was in my head when, weeks later, I clicked submit on my early application to Barnard. It seems absurd, but his word made the choice easy. The idea of being in New York at a woman’s college spoke to me, but it was the idea that Barnard was “meant to be” that spoke to me the most. The idea of being destined, in a sense, to return to Morningside Heights, made me feel like I imagine Luther did when he thought about predestination—reassured. If I didn’t get in, or if I did and was unhappy, I would be blameless. If was blameless, I could not be burdened by regret. How could I hold myself accountable if I was “meant” to be there; it wasn’t up to me then, was it? I tried to reassure myself with this logic, but my heart pounded and my hands felt sweaty. I realized I hadn’t moved from the keyboard since I’d finished submitting. Stressed, I called my step-grandmother Barbara for advice. When I told her that my choice to go to Barnard was beyond me, she laughed: 

“Every decision you make is a risk”, she said. “You don’t have to worry about regretting the outcome; you made the choice, so you control what you make of the outcome. You don’t have to regret it unless you want to. I’ve been trying to tell your dad this.”   

Months later, my mom drove me to SFO. I was lucky enough to be accepted to Barnard, and I was flying to New York to attend my Freshman orientation. I tried to assuage my nerves by reminding myself of what Barb said—whatever happens, it’s my choice if I regret it. In order to not feel regret, all I had decided to do was to own my decision. I choose to go to Barnard, I told myself. I listened to other peoples’ advice, but they are not responsible. This admission wasn’t nearly as frightening as I thought it would be. In fact, it felt strangely invigorating. I wasn’t sure what college would be like, or if I would be happy there. My move to school felt as chaotic and uncertain as The Gold Rush, so I decided adopt its only rule: don’t look back. 

Works Consulted

Desiderius, Erasmus, et al. Discourse on Free Will. Bloomsbury, 2013. 

“The Gold Rush in California | The American West (Article).” Khan Academy, Khan Academy,

Let Us Eat Birthday Cake / Between Homes

Diana Lucero

Barnard College, New York City, NY, USA

Let Us Eat Birthday Cake

My dad and I frequently laugh about how much birthday cake we would eat if our entire family lived in the U.S. From January to April we would celebrate a birthday every single week. On January 5th we would celebrate tia Ana. 

On January 6th Nico. 

On January 14th my dad. 

On January 21st Jean Carlos. 

On February 2nd Fanny. 

On February 12 tia Doris. 

On February 16th me and Wilson. 

And on, and on, and on. 

We would celebrate birthday after birthday, single handedly keeping our local bakery up and running. The kids would run around, playing tag and musical chairs until Nana, one of my youngest cousins, cried because she didn’t sit on a chair when the music went off. We would laugh and then my tia Joyce would make the kids re-do the round so Nana could get one more chance. My other cousins would claim trampa, cheating, and they would be off to play hide and seek instead. 

Away from the chaos of the small army of kids, my tia Ana would be in the kitchen making enough arroz con pollo to feed the entire town of La Troncal, the town half of my family left behind when they came to New York. 

A six hour plane ride, a one hour car ride, and a broken U.S Immigration system keeps us from eating birthday cake every week. Instead, we settle with seeing photos of each other’s birthday dinners on Facebook. My dad and I try to laugh it off by saying, “comiendo tanto pastel subiriamos 10 libras.” 

Behind our laughter we mourn all the special occasions we miss, the birthdays, graduations, holidays. We ache for the ability to have dinner together, just because. We grieve all the laughter and all the tears we’ll never see. We crave the birthday cake and not feeling like a part of us is constantly missing. 

On my dad’s side I have two uncles and four aunts. My dad, uncles and my oldest aunt live in New York but my other three aunts still live in Ecuador. When my dad became a citizen he petitioned to bring my youngest aunt, tia Doris, to the United States. Much to their dismay the wait time was 10 years. Upon learning about the long wait time my other two aunts decided not to apply, ten years was too long and at the time they were doing alright in Ecuador. 

It has now been ten years since my dad petitioned for my tia Doris. In those ten years she had two children, Jean Carlos who is 9 and Sonia who is 5. She is not looking forward to leaving behind the place where she set roots with her kids but after the COVID-19 pandemic she has no choice. 

The pandemic highlighted the economic problems that have existed in Ecuador for a long time. Ten years ago one of my aunts who didn’t want my dad to petition on her behalf stated that Ecuador was her home and she had a stable source of income she knew would keep her afloat. She couldn’t have guessed that a pandemic would destroy her business in those ten years but the realization that her home might no longer be able to safely house her is devastating. 

Entire family units are leaving Ecuador and coming to the United States. In our neighborhood, my family knows three families that successfully crossed the border and are now in New York or New Jersey. The more people leave the neighborhood, the less customers my aunts have and the more they contemplate coming to New York themselves. Coming to the United States was made easier when Mexico opened its borders to Ecuadorian tourists. From there my aunts heard that people paid 7,000 dollars to get to the border. The idea was intriguing but before they could really contemplate it, the border had become vigilant again. 

With a flight to Mexico and 7,000 dollars there could have been a possibility for my family to finally indulge in all the birthday cake our hearts desired. But this was not the family reunification that I dreamed of. I want us all to be happy and where we feel most at home. 

New York is not my family’s home, it is the place they escaped to in order to avoid hunger. New York is where they survive and Ecuador is what their heart aches for. The long wait times and the little possibility to seek asylum will keep my family apart for the foreseeable future. I just wish that they would let us eat birthday cake.

Between Homes

I cry every time I am in an airport. Something about the cold metal chairs, the outlets in inconvenient locations, and the overpriced food is really tear inducing. Now, I’m the kind of person who cries easily. I even cry while watching TikToks about dogs, but the tears I shed in airports are different. They are the type of tears someone only cries between homes. 

There is something about the in-between stage of an airport that allows me to be vulnerable. I am not where I am going or where I am coming from so I can come up for air and breathe, just for a second. Between TSA checks and airplanes I feel tucked away in nothingness. 

While I wait for my plane to board I am comforted by the idea of being in no-man’s land. Not in Ecuador, where my parents were born, and not in New York, where I was born. During that small window of time I belong to no one, not to Ecuador, not to New York, not to my parents, not to anyone. I spend so much time trying to belong that it’s nice to not need to belong to anyone except myself. 

I’ve traveled to and from Ecuador since I was 5 years old. The first time I traveled there I flew with my uncle who was the first in our family to receive his green card. It was the first time I cried in an airport, wearing a poofy pink dress and a tiara. At the time my parents could not travel but they wanted so desperately for me to have a piece of their home, “le das dos abrazos a la abuelita, uno por mi y otro por ti” my mother would say as she embraced me one last time before I took off. It was the first of many bitter-sweet moments I would have in an airport. 

I was so lucky I could travel back and forth, bridging the distance between my parents and their families but I was so unlucky to have to do that. Armed with my silly little blue book I could fend off TSA the way my parents could only dream of. Though my parents immigration status has never been a secret, at five years old I didn’t understand what not having “papeles” had to do with traveling to visit family. 

As I cried in my big poofy dress and tiara, because my mother has always thought that airports are fashion shows, I recalled the story my mom would frequently recount of the last time she saw her mother. My mom came to the United States with a VISA, accompanying an elder woman who hired my mom to aid her in her travels. The last memory my mom had of her mother was that of watching her fade away as my mom disappeared into an airport. Out of sight of her mother my mom cried in the nothingness, not where she was going and not where she was coming from. My mom wouldn’t see her mother again for 14 years. 

That’s the worst part of airports for me, not knowing when I will be back or what I will find, or won’t find, once I return. Everytime I’m not in Ecuador, surrounded by my grandparents, aunts and cousins I feel like a part of me is missing. Yet everytime I’m in Ecuador I feel like I don’t really belong, not completely, not the way I feel I’m supposed to belong. The push and pull about which place feels more like home stops when I’m in an airport waiting for my flight to board. At that moment all I can do is cry because I have two homes but I can’t exist in both at once. A perpetual foreigner to both places I call home. Maybe the one place that perfectly encapsulates my existence between Ecuador and New York is the airport in which I leave one for the other. 

Pictured: Me in my poofy pink dress at John F. Kennedy Airport. Not pictured: my tiara, my silly little blue book, and the many tears that came after this picture was taken. 

Old man!

Gabriella Tucciarone

Smith College, Northampton, MA, USA

My dad is an old man but he is not any old man he is mine, My dad is a mild man, my dad is a mild old man but he is my mild old man. I carry those words “my old man” in my pocket. I finally have an old man! I will host old man parties in old nightclubs with old people with old topics and old breaths and rusty voices that are chipped from the years. I cannot wait to hear all the old man’s stories with other old people and maybe old people will talk to new people and new people will talk to old people and there will be a mix of people especially old people. The guest list will include droopy ears and stretched-out faces and baggy clothing only. These old man parties with be home to lots of wood and worn-out leather couches and withering cigars and he and I will host these parties in the indent of my forehead, they will all fit, inside the folds, inside my small wrinkles will be decks of cards and old man games will be shuffled. It will be warm and coming apart – the paint will be chipping off the walls but the dim lights will cover all the eroded things and claw-footed furniture will crawl up and down the linoleum-covered floor. There will be scratch marks draping across the floor. Everyone and everything will be eroded together. It will be the first old man party my dad will attend. I will watch from afar. But I cannot wait to see other old people talking to my old man. I will look through the window hosting my own old man party for my old man. And he will be so excited to talk about the weather.


Hiley Davis

Salem College, Winston-Salem, NC, USA

Athena was not one to frolic among mortals, unlike most of her relatives. However, there was one mortal she seemed to never have enough of, one she went out of her way to visit as much as she possibly could. 

Her name had been Medusa. 

Born a mortal with immortal parents and sisters, Medusa was left to raise herself, to provide for herself, and to live on her own. But she was not alone. She lived in a small polis, one where everyone was kind enough, and so she had many friends. But no one was as close to her as the goddess of wisdom. One could say the little mortal girl had the goddess wrapped tight around her finger. Athena herself would hardly ever deny it. After all, it wasn’t often someone like Medusa looked at her with such kindness in her eyes. When Athena came down from Olympus, she would always make time to visit the polis Medusa lived in. It was on one such visit Medusa came to her with an invitation. 

“A festival?” 

Athena and Medusa walk arm and arm through the streets of the polis. Around them, people go about their days in an ordinary fashion though all stop and bow to their goddess. She returns each one with a humble head nod but it’s easy to tell where her focus is, her gray eyes always lingering on Medusa’s face. 

Medusa smiles warmly and squeezes Athena’s arm. “It’s a celebration for another successful harvest year. I’m sure it won’t compare to parties on Olympus, but you’ll come, won’t you?” Her eyes meet Athena’s and the goddess looks away quickly, biting the inside of her mouth. 

“I am… not much fun at parties.” she admits. “Wouldn’t you rather take someone else? Alexander is, um, interested in you, is he not?”

“Well, yes, but,” Medusa places a hand on Athena’s cheek and guides her gaze back to the mortal’s face, “I would much rather go with you.” 

For a moment, Athena forgets how much she dislikes physical touch. Usually, all she can handle is the arm-in-arm walks the two take together, or the slight brush of their fingers. But Medusa’s hand is warm, soft, like silk feathers tickling Athena’s cheek in a teasing manner. Medusa pulls it away quickly, knowing well enough Athena’s disdain for touch, but the burning sensation of where she placed her hand remains as Athena tries to pull herself back into reality. 

“I suppose, I mean, I will be there.” the words tumble from her lips before she can process what they mean. Medusa’s face lights up immediately. 

“I look forward to it.” 

The festival takes place two nights later, underneath the gleam of Selene’s sky. Tables line the streets, piled high with food and wine, and people converse loudly with each other. In the polis’ center by the well a group has begun dancing to music offered up by a small band of three. In comparison to Olympus celebrations it is a much… tamer night. 

Medusa finds Athena almost instantly. She offers the goddess an insincere courtesy which makes Athena laugh ever so slightly. “That’s better.” Medusa says. “You look much more at ease now.” 

“I told you, I am not much fun at parties.” Athena reminds her. Medusa meets the words with a gentle expression. 

“But, still. Thank you for coming.” 

Athena prays to, well, herself that the night is dark enough that Medusa cannot see the burning of her cheeks. She clears her throat. “What do you wish to do?”

Just then, the crowd of dancers cheer as the musicians begin playing a more upbeat melody. Medusa grins and Athena grows nervous. The young girl offers Athena her hand. “Dance with me.” 

“I,” Athena stammers, “I can’t. I can’t dance, I mean. I don’t know how.” “Would you like me to teach you?” 

The hand remains outstretched towards her, alluring like a siren’s song, and Athena raises her own hesitantly. She places her fingers onto Medusa’s outstretched palm, barely pressing into the skin yet still feeling an unimaginable warmth seeping into her fingers from Medusa’s hands. No one has ever been so warm before. 

Medusa threads their fingers together slowly, allowing Athena time to pull back if she decides it’s too much. While the feeling is strange and a little overwhelming, she pushes through, the prospect of dancing together with Medusa too tempting to give up. 

“Are you alright?” Medusa asks. Athena swallows, hard, and nods. 

“Yes.” she says. “Whenever you are ready.” 

Medusa guides Athena to the other dancers, finding her other hand and holding it as well. Athena can hear her heartbeat in her ears as Medusa starts slowly, taking a step forward with her right foot. Athena steps back. Then Medusa side-steps, and Athena follows. Medusa steps back with her left foot and the two begin to find the rhythm of the music together, moving a bit faster with each step. 

Athena’s worries slowly wash away and she finds the experience quite enjoyable. Her favorite part of the dance was watching Medusa, the moon reflected against her curls and the shine of the night sky glowing against her skin.

The dance ends all too soon but they stay together, just a little bit of distance between them. Medusa squeezes Athena’s hands lightly. 

“Oh, Athena.” she speaks suddenly. “I think I’m in love with you.” 

Athena knocks twice on Medusa’s bedroom door. No answer. She sighs, and runs her hand through her hair. “Medusa, please.” 

“Go away!” she shouts from behind the door, muffled from the blankets she’s no doubt buried herself under. 

“Let’s talk about this.” 

“No!” Athena sighs again and presses her back against the wooden door. She slides down to sit in front of it and rubs her eyes. A few minutes of silence pass before Medusa speaks again. “Are you, uh, still there?” 

“Yes, Medusa.” 


Silence consumes them again as Athena purses her lips in thought. Eventually, she asks, “Why are you hiding from me?” 

“Because I’m scared.” 

“Scared I’m not going to return your feelings?” 


“And,” Athena begins, “what would you do if I did… return your feelings?” There’s a thud from the other side of the door and feet scrambling across the wooden flooring. The doorknob moves slightly before stopping suddenly. 

“Do you?” Medusa asks timidly. Athena stands and faces the door.

“Let me say it directly to you.” 

Slowly, the door opens and Medusa steps into view. She looks frightened and stares up at Athena with concern written clear across her face. Athena places both her hands onto Medusa’s face and smiles. “I love you, Medusa. More than you could ever know.” 

A sunny smile breaks through the clouds that cover Medusa’s face and she covers Athena’s hands with her own warm ones. “I, I love you too. So much, Athena. So much.” ~ 

When Athena returns to the temple, it’s in disarray. Smashed tile, overturned tables, ripped cloth all litter the floor. Most importantly, it smells of brandy and the salty sea air, of her ocean god uncle. Athena’s heart falters. 

“My love?” she calls out, her voice doing nothing to mask the uneasiness that has settled into her heart. It stutters against the silence and dissolves into nothing, making her fears increase tenfold. “Darling, are you here?” 

She steps hesitantly into the dim temple. Following the trail of broken items, she turns a corner. This hallway is off limits for the people for it’s where the priestess lives. But it too is empty and dark and cold. 

Suddenly, there’s a sob. Distant and faint, but nonetheless there, Athena swivels on her heels. She marches not with confidence but rather anxious hurry out to the back courtyard of the temple. There she finds the young priestess in a torn toga, hunched over a pond of fish. Her body, covered in bruises and dark spots, shakes with cries of a woman terrorized, a woman assaulted. Her fingers are covered with the golden blood of a god and Athena’s heart ached when she pictured Medusa trying desperately to fight back against Poseidon.

She takes a seat beside her lover and offers a hand. It’s all she can offer. Medusa takes it and the blood now covers both of their fingers. “I hate it.” the priestess sobs. With her free hand she grabs a clump of her sunkissed curls, her hair adored by so many. “He said it was this that made him do it. He said it was my hair that made him want me.” 

“This is not your fault.” Athena whispers but Medusa weeps on, unable to hear the goddess’ words. “Tell me, my love. What can I do for you?” 

“Protect me.” Medusa turns now, bloodshot brown eyes boring into Athena’s gray ones in a desperate plea. “I don’t want another man to look at me again. I don’t want another man to desire me for goddamned hair.” She pauses. “Make me a monster like my sisters.” 

Athena draws back in shock. This was not the answer she was expecting. Medusa notices the sudden change and pulls her hand away, returning her gaze to her distorted reflection in the pond. “If I became a monster,” she says softly, “would you stop loving me?” 

Athena’s doubts fade away. She takes Medusa’s hand once more, intertwining their fingers together, and smiles. “Nothing can stop me from loving you. You’ll never be a monster to me.” 

Her hand moves to cup Medusa’s face. Her thumb brushes against the tear-stained cheeks of her lover’s face. Her other hand runs its way through Medusa’s hair, changing the texture of it forever. Silk to scales. Curls to snakes. Men to stone. 

The gray clouds cover the sky when Athena lands on the shoreline where Medusa now lives. She makes her way to the mouth of the cave Medusa calls home, ignoring the terrified faces of the stone men that guard it. She knocks twice against the cave wall and Medusa’s voice echoes back to her from the darkness.

“Just a minute, love!” 

Athena waits patiently for Medusa to appear before her, her green scaly skin covered in small droplets of rainwater. The snakes in her hair hiss to Athena in greeting, twirling and twisting around each other as Medusa finishes taking the strip of cloth over her eyes. That done, she holds her arms out and Athena takes her hands and pulls her close. 

“I missed you.” she says and Medusa chuckles. 

“I can tell.” she says. “How’s Olympus?” 

“Please, don’t make me think of my family.” Athena pleads and Medusa laughs again. “Alright, alright.” She moves to step away but Athena pulls her close again, pressing their bodies together and twirling Medusa around. “What are you doing?” she asks. Athena smiles, though she knows Medusa cannot see it. 

“Dance with me.” 

“Athena, I–.” 

“I’ll guide you.” she says. “Dance with me. Please.” 

Medusa sighs and relaxes in Athena’s arms, leaning her head against the goddess’ shoulder. “Is this alright?” she asks. 

“More than alright, darling.” Athena replies. Then they sway silently together, the music of the rolling waves guiding their footsteps. They dance together until Athena is called back to Olympus. They dance together until the Fates tear them apart. 

Something is wrong. Athena senses it the moment her feet land on the pebbly shore of Medusa’s home. She attempts to call out for her lover but the fear causes the words to die in her throat. She discards her cloak, leaving it behind to be taken away by the ocean waves as she

rushes towards the mouth of the cave. It’s eerily silent, only the rustle of wind gracing Athena’s ears as she weaves through the stone statues of men who attempted to take Medusa’s life. She reaches the back of the cave and a scream bubbles up from the bit of her stomach. She collapses to her knees, desperately reaching a hand out to Medusa’s lifeless body, begging the Fates to change their design, to bring Medusa back to her. 

Medusa’s hand is cold when Athena’s fingers brush against it. 

Shaking, she gathers Medusa’ headless body in her arms, burying her face into the coolness of the body that was once the only source of Athena’s warmth. For the first time in her long, long life, the goddess cries.

Phantoms on a Forever Road

Serena Keenan

Smith College, Northampton, MA, USA

She sat in the passenger’s seat of the car, feet propped on the dashboard, all sunshine orange and summer regret. Lazily shifting her head to the right, she moved her hand to brush a long strand of hair out of the other girl’s face as she drove, the wind whipping through the convertible on the freeway. “I think we should make a stop soon,” she said, drowned out partially in the chaos, which she supposed was fitting for the two of them, speeding on the open road like a teenage dream. 

“Okay,” the other girl mouthed, red lips parting and then closing, the sound eaten greedily by the wind. She tapped her head softly to the music they couldn’t hear anymore, the ghost of a rhythm still haunting through the steering wheel. 

It was summer and it was not summer, the sunshine still here but the forgiveness gone. It was liminal now, just the two of them, but in theory they were infinite, phantoms on a forever road. 

In reality, she didn’t want to stop. Out here they were just Lila and her, red and orange, and out there they were anything but. Forever isn’t really forever, though, even in this stretch of road down the Midwest, because sometime they have to find the East, no matter how hard they tried not to. Maybe if they stopped somewhere first it would last longer, this honeymoon period of the suspension of disbelief.  

“I think I love you,” she said, and it’s over. 

“Yeah,” the other girl said quietly. She did not look away from the road, but her fingers on the steering wheel shook. “I don’t think I can answer you here.” 

Why not, she screamed, why can’t it be here, the only place we ever exist. Why not here, where I love you without anything, where I love you uncontrollably. Why not forever, out here, where we last until the ocean. 

“Okay,” she responded, fingering the necklace on her swollen throat, and they were quiet for a long time. 

They eventually pulled off the road where there is nothing except a diner with a name they’ll never remember. Inside, they sat down, neon lights flashing, facing each other in a worn down booth with stuffing sticking out of the vinyl. 

Lila, with her red hair and her almond eyes, faced her, looking both lost and found, alone and together. 

“Can you answer here?” She choked out, barely audible, legs wrapped around each other under the table. 

Lila closed her eyes, her beautiful big eyes, and said nothing. She inhaled slightly, holding on as if she were savoring it, as if this last breath would end her completely. “I don’t know. I don’t know if I can answer anywhere.”

In this truth, this ultimate, painful truth, she felt the break most completely. It was more real here where she was herself, where Lila was Lila, where they were meant to be forever, or until the East and its sun swallow them whole. It hurts less later, as most things do, but when has that ever mattered?

“Okay,” she said, and she ordered a milkshake. 

Lila ordered a strawberry one, and everything about her was red, red, red. Red like hearts and red like blood, like heartbreak and stop, like berries and like bricks. Red like cherries, red like love, red like everything in sight, everything that will ever matter. Red like forever. 

After a while they leave. It has been quiet, conversation not quite gone but not quite needed. Lila handed her the keys and they switched places, she propped her boots up on the airbag like a mirror image of three hours ago, hands on the steering wheel but her nails were orange. 

Lila turned up the radio a bit louder, but she couldn’t find anything except 70s music, the kind that makes the world seem a little bigger, a little less connected, and a little more free. 

In this space, the red gold desert, the plain wheat fields, there was no one for miles. Being the last person on the planet would be lonely, like blue. Blue for the ocean and blue for the end.

The heat bore down on them and Lila put her hair up before looking over at her and then softly trailing her fingers down the side of the other girl’s hand that was resting on the compartment in between their seats. 

Lila sighed, and slid her round sunglasses from her forehead to the bridge of her nose and she leaned her head back, slipping her fingers in between the other girl’s. 

They kept driving, Lila singing the words to the songs under her breath, and she remembered when they could talk through the silence. Before her and Lila were this, whatever it was, before they were infinite. Those girls might still be inside, but there is only so much you can go through with another person without it changing you. 

They still spoke, though. It’s just a little harder now, with this great beast of heartbreak in between them. 

She supposed that they were never meant to last. They were and they weren’t, their names spelled out forever in this car and on this road, but never inside a house or in a mouth. Secret, forever. A secret between two people and a car, two people and two graves. 

So soon, too soon, they were under the gray sky, still in hot desert but outside the houses. They were out of place now, somehow. Lila used both of her hands to pull her ponytail out, and left them both quietly in her lap, her form of soft shade. 

She sighed and it’s over, pulling up in front of a blue house with white trim and a white fence. She switched the car into park, the click of the transmission echoing forever and ever and ever. 

Lila turned to her, mouth pursed, hands shaking as she quickly squeezed her hand. “Goodbye,” she said like a promise.

“Goodbye, Lila,” she said softly, mouth full of cotton, and it’s all she could see. 

Lila, slightly taken aback at hearing her name, looked over her shoulder, not entirely out of the car. Opening her mouth only to close it again, she nodded before subconsciously tugging at the hem of her yellow shirt. “Yeah,” she said. “Goodbye.” 

Lila, in all of her warm glory, walked into the blue house like a funeral.

She drove away.  

The Truant

Jane Brinkley
Smith College Northampton, MA

With a tower of seabirds that coughed in tandem, the trudging ferryboats rang in the New
Moon. Heaped up with green fish whose unlatched jaws winked in the bright air, the sailors bent
over at the waist and rested ashore. Their skin, slapped up by the heat, shone with that Saturnine
yellow stuff that bellowed off the fish piles like a heavy shroud. I watched as the torsos curled
into the earth, their loads cascading into one of seven enormous leaden troughs on those banks.
The first men, relieved of their duties, sprinted toward the white oasis tent, stripping themselves
of their shirts and masks which snapped and curled in the wind. The shore teamed with the hot
odor of work. The first rain came, and the men gave thanks to God.

When I was fifteen and an outlaw, I used to sneak past my mother’s room on curled toes to
witness this return. Far off to the South, the broad mountains braided into the sky, to the North a
beggar’s platoon approached. Were it night, a stranger might mistake the barges for a solar
system– an entire golden litter of stars tossing its constituents into the dark. Now that you
mention it, I’d be inclined to say that I spent most moons like that– prostrate on the chin of some
great water tower to hunkered down in a cold chimney, pressing the palms of my hands to my
gripping surface so that the shiny redness was easier to hide come breakfast the next morning. I
languished on those moments like a wilting grape.

How do I describe this place? It isn’t beautiful, though it is ours, you see, and in plain
terms it amounts to no more than a few spherical crofts and lean-tos snuggled in the belly of a
hill. In a standard unit, the lower hemisphere draws up water from the soil and filters it, sending
it through a great arm that obeys invisible commands and turning it into steam power. We sleep
above, and sometimes on stormy nights there are big gaseous waves that crest over the glass
bubble, and in the morning it is green and dusty. If at some point the structure kept smogs away, I
don’t really recall, being too young and so on. As it is, we’ve made a habit of wetting towels to
stitch at the place where the wall meets the floor, as well as the exit. We get fat on fish skins in
the winter and we are very grateful for what remains of our planet.

Maybe you, like I, marshaled the terror of your childhood in a paddock called stories. If it
wasn’t the new testaments with their tungsten spines it was kid’s books set in cardboard shells
about pirates and royalty. I liked to sit with my back flat against the floor, my heels meeting the
glass ceiling, and behold the images of children whose faces and bodies looked much like mine.
When the harvest season crowned my house with restive festivity I’d risk a sheepish “could we
read this” at the dinner table, barely containing my joy at the deliciousness of the little private
moments that followed, the glittering fauna and rusty ghost towns and babies with fresh bottles
to drink from. Night fell.

If there was any question of my fitness for the moon journeys I thwarted it when I betrayed
my interest in stories to the committee. In a grey room, just a few paces long and weathered by
sand, I was told that the trip was beyond my bumbling snatches of masculine ability. The fishing
grounds lay at the foot of the Tumults, they said, where danger lies. It is not a job for those
citizens amongst us whose wills are weak. It is at this juncture that I mention the Tumults for the
first time, for because historians might herald them as the defining character of this time I have a
larger place in my heart for other parts of this particular story. Should you want to see them for
yourself, you’d need only paddle a pirogue for six or seven hours until you felt the fabric of your
clothing lift from your skin and your face felt smoother. Only at this point would your eyes begin
to pick out the shapes from the fog, and you might guess that you’re looking at a vast bed of
needles, infinite in number and staggeringly large. Your gambit would be to stay as far from the
foot of this needle-bed as possible while still encroaching on the cobalt atoll that houses the fish,
for if you were to venture too far, you’d succumb to whatever was lurking therein. Of course,
none of this was of any concern to me. I nodded and struck out home to count down the days
until thirty again.

There is something I have neglected to tell you about my home. Though I find myself
generally honest, this piece is a thorn in my side and I fear for my life to admit it. For although I
spoke of books like benign instruments of pleasure, there was one story that made in me a divine
rapture from which I’ve never quite awaken. One afternoon while everyone was sleeping, I
found a volume in a hidden station of my father’s bookshelf. Its jacket was stiff and rough to the
touch, but its pages were as thin as lamb’s skin and porous from age. It told the story of a man in
a place called Athens who entered a maze made of towering matter who, upon losing his way,
fell into a fit of hallucination and saw a horned beast. I say it here in secret, though perhaps you
have already made the inference that it has taken me all these years to come to. I know that the
island, the one written about in a 1955 almanac of ancient mythos, is the very same one that
bears us fish– I know that, many thousands of years before these Greeks, some powerful empire
snuffed out the embarrassing chemical byproduct of its labor in this massive grave, and tried to
hide it so that no student of this “labyrinth” would discover it. Many must have tried and failed,
my friend, because the men who leave the tumults stink of a foreign poison and dream of
monsters, still.

You should read a real book

Jessica-Ann Rodriguez

St. Catherine University, St. Paul, MN

When I was in the seventh grade, I had two English classes. One class was regular English 7, and the other was called READ 180. They didn’t like to refer to that class as remedial English, but that’s what it was because of standardized test scores. In this second English class, we would mainly do practice tests to prepare for the standardized testing season, individual reading, or study hall. My teacher walked around quiet reading time and stopped at my desk, “What are you reading” she asked me. I turned to look up at her, “Yotsuba,” I said, “It’s Anime…” I had never in my life seen a more disgusted face from one of my teachers. She handed my book back to me and said, very loudly, “Okay, well, next time you better bring a real book. I want to see you reading real books in this class, or I’m going to give you a lunch-detention.” I didn’t understand.

Reading Fun Home, a graphic novel by Alison Bechdel, makes me think about this idea of what constitutes a book being “real” and what does not. The traditional writing versus non-traditional writing comparison, in this case played out in a graphic novel, echoes in the background when I pick up Bechdel’s work. In Fun Home, in terms of it being an autobiography in a graphic novel style, Bechdel pushes back on this conversation. Bechdel’s work debunks what is “a real book” through the different literary devices she uses skillfully in her work. Bechdel makes us think about how we not only view traditional and non-traditional writing, but makes us look at how we view women’s writing, especially autobiographies. Through this graphic memoir, we can see all the boxes being checked. Bechdel’s work is on the same playing field as traditional literature because there are so many literary devices that she skillfully uses to tell her story, namely allegory, foreshadowing, simile, and metaphor.

Bechdel opens the memoir with an allegory of the myth of Icarus and Daedalus to represent her relationship with her father. She also draws parallels between Bruce Bechdel’s failure to accept himself and the suppression of his sexuality, to Icarus’s hubris. She writes, “Considering the fate of Icarus after he flouted his father’s advice and flew so close to the sun his wings melted, perhaps some dark humor is intended. In our particular reenactment of this mythic relationship, it was not me but my father who was to plummet from the sky” (Bechdel 4). It’s not until she revisits this allegory that she makes the full comparison of Bruce and Icarus at the end of the memoir. Bechdel also uses this allegory to foreshadow her father’s self-destructive behavior throughout her upbringing and the rest of the memoir.

Bechdel describes her father’s coldness to his needs or feelings using the simile of robot arms writing that he only values them if they are of use to him. She shows this treatment through a scene of her and her siblings are helping Bruce fix things around the house. Bechdel recounts this moment narrating, “…and of course, my brothers and I were free labor. Dad considered us extensions of his own body, like precision robot arms” (13). She creates the image and the narrative that her father only saw them as props or objects that he could control, especially when he needed to exhibit control. Bechdel uses simile again when she recalls the time when she saw a woman dressed in men’s clothing for the first time when she was young. In this moment, Alison and her father realized that the woman is the image of who she wants to be. By comparing herself to a traveler, Bechdel implies that she is more open to exploring her identity than her father, who is simultaneously closeted and closed off.

Bechdel uses the summer storm as a metaphor for the whirlwind that follows Bruce and the secrets he hides from his family. The storm metaphor also means that despite the struggles that she and her family face, they still manage to avoid complete destruction most likely because they were well versed in how to weather a storm. Bechdel also uses the creek from the Beech Creek as a metaphor for her father’s homosexuality, which he often tries to hide behind his different passions and need to appear perfect all the time. She writes that Beech creek appeared “crystal clear,” but only because of pollution from the adjacent strip mines (128). By using these metaphors she showcases two sides of her father Bruce: the storm being his inner turmoil because of his many secrets surrounding his closeted homosexuality and Beech creek being the image he tries to uphold in public.

When I read Fun Home, it brings me back to that time in my life where I not only loved reading, but I loved graphic novels, anime, and comic books. As a senior in college I finally took the time to read graphic novels and traditional novels recreationally. Yes, the words,“real books” still echo in the back of my mind, except this time it is for a different reason. Through the skillful use of literary devices in her work, Bechdel makes us think about how we compare traditional and non-traditional writing, as well as demands that we acknowledge that they are all real books.


Bechdel, Alison. Fun Home: A Family Tragicomic. Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 2006. Print. 

Love Letter to Myself

Isadora Kianovsky
Smith College, Northampton, MA

Tell me when you realized you were beautiful. 

Was it when you spent a summer morning lying in the grass? Bees buzzed around your head, thinking you a flower from the vibrant hues of your shirt and the floral perfume you decided to roll onto your wrists that morning. Your eyes glazed over while staring into the depth of the bluest sky you’d ever seen. You nestled into the grass like you belonged there, the damp dirt cold on your skin. The breeze rustled through your clothes and turned them into wings, and you thought that you could fly, if you wanted to. 

Or was it that autumn afternoon during the first few days of school, when you sat outside with your friends during lunch? None of the teachers had assigned homework yet, so your lunch hour was just for you. Sitting in a circle, surrounded by the kind of friends you never thought you’d have, you couldn’t help but smile. You smiled so much your cheeks hurt. Everything was silly jokes and pasta out of tupperware and picking at the grass until your fingertips were stained green. You laid down for a moment, staring up at the swaying trees that stood tall on the front lawn, and wondered if you’d ever felt more grown-up. 

Maybe it was in winter. You stood out in the falling snow, feeling the flakes settle on your eyelashes and adorn your messy hair. You looked like some kind of majestic figure, you thought. Divine and graceful. The snow drifted peacefully for a while and then gained speed, swirling rapidly in all directions. The once soft flakes now whipped wildly at your skin like tiny, frozen blades. Eventually you ran inside and began stripping off your boots and jacket, leaving morsels of packed snow all over the wooden floor. The heat of the house made your fingers and toes go numb, and you felt the pink rising in your cheeks. You made your way to the kitchen, grabbing the milk and your favorite mug, already tasting the sweet hot cocoa on your tongue. 

But perhaps it was in spring, one of those golden evenings where your hair glowed auburn and the scent of sweet flowers wafted around you. The air sat atop your skin like a gentle blanket, just enough pressure to feel like a hug. As days melted into liminal stretches of time where nothing mattered, you felt your soul expand into your whole chest because the world was yours for a little while. You sipped on iced chai and admired the specks of white and yellow and violet that peppered the lawns. Everything seemed so soft, so young. Honey-colored shadows rolled along the walls of buildings, and the sunset turned the clouds pink, and you felt welcome in your body. 

To me, you have been beautiful in every moment. I just didn’t know how to tell you. 

From Northampton to Philly, With Love (And Yeast)

Emma O’Neill-Dietel
Smith College, Northampton, USA

i. state street

Most people don’t keep yeast packets in the ashtray of their Honda Odyssey, but on the day my dad came to bring me home there they were, wedged between his Swiss Army Knife and a pile of parking meter quarters. He had called me when he was a few minutes away to tell me that he had to stop at the store first to see if they had any yeast left.

“Are you making bread when we get home?” I asked. It seemed like the strangest thing to do at the moment, but within a few days it would seem that everyone I knew was baking bread. My dad explained that we were flat out of yeast and it was apparently nowhere to be found in the entire city of Philadelphia. So while he had come up north to take me home, his equally important mission was to secure some yeast. He grumbled at the amateur bread bakers-to-be who had pillaged BJs and Trader Joe’s of their yeast supply ahead of the impending apocalypse. But fortunately there was a bountiful yeast supply at State Street Fruit Store, thanks to the year-round population of professional bread-baking lesbians inhabiting Northampton.

When my dad picked me up, I stared at the yeast as we drove out of the parking lot and past State Street. The little packet had the same color scheme and bold font as a 5-Hour Energy bottle. I would have mistaken it for medicine or chemicals if I didn’t know better. The packet screamed “FLEISCHMANN’S RAPID RISE INSTANT YEAST – FAST ACTING.” It made me uneasy. I don’t know where I thought yeast came from before that day. I think I always pictured it in an old jelly jar on a grandmother’s pantry shelf. I turned one of the packets over in my hand, trying to feel the contents through the glossy exterior. My hands were shaking, so I put it down and closed my eyes.

ii. hungry ghost

On the edge of town we stopped at a gas station and my dad tried to coax me to eat something for the first time in days. He presented me with juice, cheese, chips, pretzels, until finally he pulled out a massive paper bag from Hungry Ghost, our favorite bakery in town. I could smell the fresh bread before he opened it, and all of a sudden I was hungry again.

He launched into his customary presentation of the bag’s contents. He took pride in listing off food items, whether he had bought them or made them, whenever our family was together.

“You’ll see in there I bought some muffins, they’re cranberry and pecan, and there’s a danish too. There’s a loaf of rye, and another one, I’m not sure what that is, it might be a—” I took the bag out of his hands and unfurled the top. I tore into the first loaf I found at the top of the bag. I heard the clunk of my dad slicing a block of grocery store cheddar with his Swiss Army Knife on the center console. As fast as I could eat the bread, he was supplying me with slices of cheese to eat with it. I tore off chunks of bread with an urgency that left me covered with crumbs for the rest of the drive.

As I ate, I remembered a book I had read as a child, in which a girl uses what little money she has to buy bread for a starving woman and child on the street. As a child I imagined the famished woman eating a loaf of Wonder Bread, bleached and spongey and flavorless. I didn’t understand why the people in the story treated the bread like a decadent cake. But sitting in my dad’s Honda in the gas station parking lot, I understood that good bread, especially shared with someone you love, was nothing short of life-affirming.   

When we got home, my dad stashed his yeast packets away. We had little need for home-baked bread. Like my dad and his yeast, I squirreled away the bread he had brought back from Hungry Ghost. I ate slices of bread with cheese or jam or butter or just plain and toasted. I worried it would go stale, yet each day I made my slices thinner and thinner so it would last. There wasn’t much use in trying to slow myself down though. I ate that fleeting tie to my life before like it was air.

iii. sarcone’s

In my family, no one really reached the bread-baking stage of quarantine, despite my dad’s abundance of yeast. Spirits were so low in our house that even bread dough wouldn’t have been able to rise. My dad made frequent trips to Sarcone’s, our local bakery, just to have something to do. He knew without asking to buy me the little fist-sized dinner rolls and the pepperoni bread that I had loved since I could chew. I sat out on our deck with him, me with my bread and a podcast, and him with his bread and an adventure novel. I don’t know if my dad understands the way my stomach turns when I’m anxious, but he knows my favorite bread, and most of the time that’s enough.

My Hometown Girl

By: Mary Adeline Imanirakiza
Akilah Institute, Kigali, Rwanda

My hometown girl is sad, she always sits in her own dimmy corner with a heavy heart. She is hurt, she is suffering a lot. I have been looking at her for a long time, her big brown eyes blinking the tears back and forward in her eyelids. Her face is always cold and her voice is soft as a feather of a peacock bird. The more I look at her, the most I realise her beauty. She is young, powerful woman. Although she tries to force a smile on her lips, I can see her real smile from a far.

One day, as I was having a simple tour around the village, I saw her in her corner. She was wearing a small sunny dress that reflects her beauty in the sunlight. I was planning to let her have her moment, but my heart said otherwise. “You have to talk to her. Say hi at least!”. Who would ever disobey her heart, when it is the only fuel source. That’s how my heart gave me the power to approach her.

 I can’t forget how the pupils in her eyes danced when she saw me, she was surprised. “Hmm, can I sit here for a while?” I weakly said, I was afraid that she would turn me down. I thought that I was invading her privacy. But she smiled, I think it was a real smile. “Feel comfortable!” she answered me with a happy voice.

 It was my turn to look like a lost puppy, I thought that I was going to help a sad, weak girl that always sits alone. I sat down on the coral stone. I didn’t know what to do, or what to say because she wasn’t looking at me. Her eyes and mind were somewhere else.

 “This place is beautiful.” I said to break the awkward silence that was eating me alive, again she smiled. “Yeah, I call this place my home.” she said. Home? I wanted to ask her how the trees, shrubs and the poor houses around us were her home. 

“I call this place home because it is where I was born, I breathed my first breath here, I was breastfed by this place, I play around this place, I saw the first person in this place. So whenever I look around, I feel my heart swelling because this place is falling apart,” she continued, with unshed tears in her eyes. I looked at her feeling the same pain in her chest. What she was telling me is true. Our hometown was falling apart. There is no youth, young girls are mothers, young men are drug dealers and the adults that we call uncles and aunties are the bosses that own and  purchase the drugs in our community.

 As I look at my hometown girl, I understood why she sits in that corner alone and cries. I blamed myself for being blind and selfish. I only cared about myself. I should have realised the problems in the community. 

“You don’t have to feel sad or blame yourself. We don’t choose the communities to be born in, but we have a mission to make the community better than we found it. Therefore it is our turn to rise and shine, it is our time to make a change.” I didn’t believe that those strong words were from her. For a few minutes that I have been with her, I have realised that she is strong, she is courageous, she is hard-working, and that is my hometown girl.

When Sole Meets Concrete

By: Hana Rivers
Barnard College, New York City NY, USA

The mesh slippers we call Asian house shoes seem to me rid of historical specificity, at least the kind I am searching for. They are sold cheaply by the masses. You can find them in Chinatown, in colorful stacks neatly wrapped in gleaming plastic, but also parts of Harlem, and, inexplicably, on Amazon. It is nearly impossible to garner any research on them besides the fact that they are a commodity, a fetish object. They come hand in hand with articles about 90s-style footwear and flash shots of white celebrities in cheongsams, hair held up by chopsticks. At a few dollars per pair, with a wholesale value as low as nine cents per shoe, they lack value, are all but valueless.

These slippers come in a variety of shades—flaming orange, garish purple, hot pink, red. The shoe itself consists of a flat foam sole cheaply rimmed with zigzagging thread; a half moon of crosshatched plastic strips covers the foot from bony middle to toe tip. All along this makeshift mesh are sewn clusters of small beads. Scattered here and there are larger iridescent clusters made up of individual sequins stacked and fanned into floral shapes. The whole thing shines, reflecting light and exuding a cheap opulence which collides with its object-hood, its identity as made up of a number of disposable materials. 

Central to these shoes is their ability to transgress vestibule, to step out of the house and onto the streets, to move seamlessly from linoleum kitchen floor stinking of rice to scorch-hot New York concrete. As they transgress, they erode—meant only for the indoors, a barrier between body-edge and the sacred sanctum of private carpet, pavement wears them down. Transgression goes hand in hand with self-erosion, with the gradual loss of the object itself. An impossible metaphor; a threshold-crossing.

They seem to me a millennial, plastic, disposable iteration of the house slippers many Asian grandmothers wear across East and Southeast Asia. The latter are usually more substantial, often made from woven leather. My grandmother used to wear them, while shuffling across the scuffed hardwood of my mother’s childhood home back in Lansdale, Pennsylvania. In contrast to leather, plastic erodes, like ocean erodes rocks eons old; yet, unlike rocks, these shoes lack a history.

In light of their lack of historical specificity, I wear them outside, these markedly-inside shoes, abrading them on concrete and dampening them in the dirty puddles that line the curbs of New York streets. I do not feel I am scathing something sacred, even when the plastic upper disintegrates from the sole and the mesh lining sheds its iridescent flowers, loosely sewn, in a trail behind me. Shoes are meant to be a barrier between foot and world. What does it mean when we dispose of such a barrier?

These shoes are one of the few things I feel I can take with me, albeit in a different form and light, from my grandparents. Looking back at old photos of them, they have made themselves into style objects for a certain generation. The oldest photo I have of my grandmother is of her in the Manila airport in 1952, pictured with her mother, my great -grandmother, the last of the Bunyis. My grandmother’s mother wears a gauzy thing for a shirt, the butterfly sleeves like clouds dwarfing her thin brown arms, and a worried expression, the space between her eyebrows puckered with lines. My grandmother doesn’t seem to notice; she wears a stylish pair of sunglasses and a wry, coy smile that reminds me of my mother. In one, they stand, royal, at the edge of a pier in New Jersey, my grandmother looking like Jackie O in a long trench coat and sunglasses, my grandfather also wearing a trench coat, paired with loafers and a refined pair of reading glasses. In another, my grandmother is pictured on a boat, wearing a ruffly blue smock, as the sea boils behind her, whitecaps seeming to appear and disappear intermittently. The sea hems the sepia.

I overhear my mother and grandmother discussing the status of a piece of property back in the Philippines, one that my grandmother’s parents left to her and her siblings, an acre of land in Manila. My mother paces around the kitchen island as buttery light streams in from the back doors, her voice echoing through the hallway as she says, “I mean, I can’t, Mom. It wouldn’t make sense for me to have it. I’m so Americanized.”

And often, when overhearing her say this, I wonder: where does that leave me? Her daughter, doubly Americanized. The word “Americanized” compounded not only by my grandparent’s immigration here, their fierce attempts to speak only English, but also by the fact that their Philippines had always and already been a colonized entity. During the Japanese occupation, for example, the soldiers used my grandmother’s house as their headquarters. The family had to dress the oldest sister as an old lady, to dissuade the soldiers from raping her.

When I was small enough to sit in the folds of my grandmother’s skirt, she would bounce me up and down in a game we called “ping ping,” and her shrill laughter would permeate the humid rooms. As I grew older, I grew curious, and, sitting beside her on the scratchy plaid of that couch in the living room, I asked her to teach me some of her mother tongue, Tagalog, the language she never spoke. 

“Grandma, how do you say “hi” in Tagalog?” 

 “Oh. We just say ‘hi.’” 

When I looked up, her face was contorted into a pucker of shame. I dropped my gaze, fixating on her tiny feet in those brown leather house slippers. Over and over, I justify shoving myself into them, these Chinese discount store shoes, telling myself that I grew up on Clement street, took Mandarin lessons as a child, and even inherited my family home from a Chinese family. It would make sense to want to align myself with something that seems representative of a dominant Asian culture. What else am I meant to do, when I have nothing left of mine? When I have been made to inculcate myself into dominance my entire life, besides in the safe confines of my family home, the four of us trying to make our own community out of one we never had? What do I have left? Scraps maybe, but my grandfather died when I was fourteen, never having taught me how to make bibingka or oxtail stew or what we called ‘Grandpa stew,’ an umami-filled meld of potatoes, tender pork, and dark green leaves, whatever sort he had in his kitchen. 

The slipper: a cipher, then, for me, my grandparents’ granddaughter. Balenciaga made a pair once, in Fall 2016. Swathed in lace and Swarovski crystals, they retailed for one thousand, five hundred and forty-five dollars.

I wonder how the plastic these slippers are made from is produced, if the people inevitably exploited in their making are the same ones I think I’m carrying with me when I wear them. My grandfather’s cousin and mother’s childhood caregiver, Tita, still works in a factory to support her two grown children, having already paid their way through college. My mother was never allowed to have guests over growing up, because Tita was undocumented and the family was paranoid. She must be in her seventies, now, and still working. Until I see her, I always forget how thick her accent is, guttural to the point of near incomprehensibility. She is round, with a joyful smile and moles like stars dotting her dark face, and short enough that I could rest my elbow on the bun she wears at the top of her head. Nonstop toiling.

In my first two years at grade school in San Francisco I wrote haikus about koi fish and cherry blossoms, drew pictures of black-bunned, huge-headed girls wearing kimonos. I paid special attention to the eyelashes, slanting the eyes and drawing three distinct lines at their outermost edges, the lips a smacked triangle of red. Constantly, I would spar with Mariella Levy about whose drawings were better, and once I got in trouble for snatching back a drawing I had gifted her. I remember thinking that it was mine, the drawing, and that it was my best one yet, and that she shouldn’t have what I had worked so hard to perfect. She cried, Mariella Levy, the one other girl in my grade with a white dad and an Asian mom. In sixth grade, Daisy Batten, who was adopted, attended the Asian American Affinity club at our school, because she was the only girl in our grade with Mexican heritage, and so found solace in the small, rickety Language Learning room our meetings took place in. Me and the other girls who took Mandarin would always roll our eyes and laugh, but make space for her nonetheless.

There is a string that holds Mariella Levy, Daisy Batten and me in a taut line, the kind you hang your whites on to dry. The line sways slightly in a wind that ripples through long green grass. It speaks the languages of possession and dispossession, alignment and dis-alignment, but, most fluently, of something called in-disposability.

Again I ask myself: what does it mean to dispose of the barrier between foot and world? The distance between disappearance and disposal here is one mediated by residue: when you dispose of something, it does not immediately go away. For example, it takes one thousand years for plastic to biodegrade, one thousand years until the thing that was once the barrier immerses itself completely into the natural order of things.

Once, on Canal, while on my way to a yoga class, I came out of the subway and was immediately greeted by a frantic woman, her face lined and stricken. Green puffy jacket, white visor shadowing the eyes. It was one of those early summer days where the air was grey, the humidity placid, making everything feel fixed, immobile. The woman asked me something—in Cantonese, I think, the syllables too disparate and clanging for Mandarin—and searched my face for recognition. There was none; I couldn’t understand her. This mis-understandability, this failure of the residual, implanted something within me: a heavy stone, the kind that’s bad for skipping. Dark grey and slick with river moss, and stuck, suddenly, at the bottom of my throat. I mumbled an apology before dissipating into the herd.

I’m struck, often, by whatever it is within me that hopes for scraps like these. Like when I get a pedicure at the cheap place on 110th and Central park and the ladies there speak Mandarin instead of Vietnamese, and I am able to say, with a shaky voice, 请给我一点热水— please give me a little hot water. They’re happy to hear it, all of them jostling one other and giggling, as if it is something joyful that I can speak a small phrase of this language that is not mine, that was never even my grandparents’. I manage a meek smile, withdrawing, and make clumsy conversation with the woman scrubbing my feet. She has long dark hair pulled into a ponytail at the nape of her neck. Suddenly, I realize I do not know the word for lavender, so I say it in English— “Lavender, please”— and she takes the bottle from my hand.

Sometimes, my mother tries to recreate the adobo my grandmother would make when Jasmine and I were young. She does not use full-fat coconut milk. She simmers the meat in the instant pot and adds whatever greens have been left in the fridge for too long. The result tastes vaguely familiar, but the overwhelming effect is that of the Paleo recipe she used to make it. Filipino food isn’t healthy, she used to tell me when my grandmother would visit San Francisco and our family would go to Max’s in Daly City. My grandmother’s favorite thing to get there was the crispy pata, a thrice-fried mound of pork, a heart attack on a plate. “It’s a special occasion,” my grandmother would always say, stretching out the long a as if to plead. “Only a few times a year.” As children, Jasmine and I would always agree: “Yeah, mama, let’s get it,” we would chant. My father, ever the encourager of deviating from health, would nod excitedly. And we would, and my grandma would show me how to eat all of the meat off the bone so there wasn’t any remaining. I’ve always been good at that, at never leaving anything behind: at Thanh Long in San Francisco, that Vietnamese place with the garlic noodles and the crab where the waiters pull plastic bibs around your neck, I would crack the legs ferociously and let the drippings run down my face and soil the plastic. I would never leave a morsel untouched, and my parents would laugh at me, joking, “Its in your genes.”

It’s interesting to me, this intrepid desire to leave nothing behind, double edged in that the act in itself represents a fear of residue. What are the various manifestations of residue, in food versus in cultural longevity? For my ancestors in the Philippines, food must have, at many points, been a scarcity, the gnawed bones rooted in a compulsion originating in poverty; if not in my grandparents’ generation, then in generations before. In a country in which war has been imposed, transferred, carried across history like an impenetrable wind, it makes sense, the scarcity, makes sense, the lack of a residue, for all of that Spanish and Japanese and American influence must have erased most things of origin. Not my relishing of mango with sticky rice at cheap Thai restaurants; not the way my grandmother used to consistently get the gender of our old cat, Tang, confused, that remnant of a language barrier conjuring in the strangest of ways. The conjuring like a ghost in that it only ever appears when uncalled for. The language resurging in snippets of phone calls between my grandmother and her old classmates from back home. Who stays in touch with their friends from middle school at age eighty-six? Someone who fears leaving too much behind, I suppose. 

It’s easy to write in and around something without ever actually locating the subject. The subject evades. The subject has been made translucent by years of dispossession. An un-possessing of a place that was only ever possessed by its colonizers; language-imposers, rapists, pillagers. Recognizably this is an answerless task, to write about something that itself is not a subject. There is a filling in, though, the clotting of a wound, as with spiderwebs on fresh cuts. A swathing with stories, scabs, the parcels of memory wrapped in brown paper. But perhaps the answer is not the goal. Perhaps there is no goal except for the remembering itself. Re-member: to re-animate, to sew the limb back onto the body with a large needle. Skin and skin pulled together over absent, long-standing wound: voidful.

Tita’s kids, Nikki and Edwin, tell me this too. That there is never an origin point, a pure definition of this culture which evades. At the school Nikki advises at there is a Filipino heritage group whose only members have been pulled away from the geography of the place, who do not know about the insurrection or the tyranny, who are mixed. Placeless. In this way it is easy to think of the addition of whiteness as a dilution, as milk in blue liquor; whiteness creates further distance from whatever was once an origin, if there ever was one. And this mixing reinstates what was always the colonial problem: the pulling of people away from their origin stories. 

The slipper itself symbolizes a commercial exchange in which capitalism replaces culture, in which the dissipation of origin precipitates its transmutation into objects that mimic what once was, that provide those displaced from their cultures with a comic material object whose only role is, literally, to be degraded. Two summers ago, I would wear these Chinese discount store slippers all over the New York concrete. It was a stubborn, unreasonable act of defiance: against what, I do not know. All I know is that, by the end of August, the bottoms of the slippers had blackened with wear, having undergone an incessant process of gaining and losing: a gaining of whatever unsavory things resided in the folds of the sidewalk, a gradual losing of the shoe itself, the ridged plastic of the sole rubbing off in pieces against the ground. The grime, I took home with me: a different kind of remnant, I suppose.

My Mother; My Home

By: Gentille Kampire Constance

Davis College, Akilah Campus Rwanda


“Why am I even alive?” I cried loudly covering my face with hands. “How can this happen to us? What wrong have we done to be punished with losing all of them?” I said with tears trickling around my cheeks. My mother smiled and bent over to me. She hugged me with one hand tapping my back and another hand holding me tight to her. 

“It will be okay, dear. I am here for you as I will always be.” I will never forget these words because everything has been okay from that day on.

She was a mother and a father, a friend and a sibling, a teacher and a counsellor. In her arms I find true love, happiness and empathy. In such moments, I feel secure and comfortable. As I listen to her heart beat, I wish I could stay forever in her arms. It was hard for both of us, my mother and I. I was only ten years old, in third grade. I needed school fees, school supplies, and money for shopping as my father had promised. On the other hand, we needed food to eat, water, electricity, and other groceries. My mother was unemployed with no education qualifications to apply for any decent job. My father was our breadwinner. He had a master’s degree in computer science and got a job to work in one of the tech companies in the city. We were not that rich, but life was comfortable for us. His income was enough for the family to meet our basic needs. Life was satisfactory.

Not one of us had dreamt about the accident, which caused us to lose our father and my two brothers. It was a car crash which left us alone in this world of pain and wounds of the soul which will never be healed. Maybe we should have stopped them from going to church that day or found other reasons for them to stay with us. They are no longer alive, they went home. However, I have never felt lonely since that day because my mother was there for me. She raised me lovingly. She opened my soul’s doors to happiness and blocked all the sad doors in my heart. With her around I am secure and comfortable. She never laughs at me or makes fun of me, instead she makes sure that I am doing well. I love her more than anything else. She is my home, my lovely shelter, and the greatest gift I have been given from the Lord.


By Elizabeth Wayua Ndinda

Davis College Akilah Campus, Akilah, Rwanda

In a sleepy hilly village in Nyanza lies the home of Biage (her name means a granary). It is a compound of low roofed houses for each of his sons and grandsons. Each son also has a little grass thatched hut for all of their daughters. By the standards of Randani, (which is corrupted from London; maybe most of the villagers who live abroad end up in London and not Texas or Minnesota as I have always believed) this is a prosperous compound. There are cars parked in four of the compounds, motorcycles in some and even terrazzo pavements in one compound. The number of compounds in Biage’s homestead cannot be counted. It is a taboo to give a number to one’s children. This compound is fenced by the most prestigious plant in the region; bananas.

This is actually the banana republic. Welcome to Kisii County where bananas reign supreme. We do not only eat the sweet bananas but sell them for a living. Bananas are some of the county’s cash crops. Tea and avocado are the others. So too is sugarcane. These bananas are not only exported to Nairobi, but also to other countries of the world. Curiously, we never eat plantains. It is food for the weak. We, the people who call the banana county home, prefer millet ugali or the maize one if millet is scarce. West Africans call our ugali fufu.

Bananas also serve as a transport system for our famous night runners. They are believed to fly with the leaves at night. There are very potent concoctions on clumps of bananas. One is advised not to spend too long a lingering moment near any. The village rises and falls with the health of banana plants. That is why Biage made reference to this plant when she paid a rather surprise call to the home of his first born son one Friday morning.

You see, Biage had heard that his great grandson had been brought home from another Nyanza looking place called Rwanda. As was the tradition, the child had to get a ride on her back to be accepted into the clan. The little boy, unaware of the tradition, declined the offer. The confusion that ensued cannot be explained in words. Biage had left her warm bed at the crack of dawn to brace the dew and drizzle on a motorcycle to fulfill this tradition. She had travelled all the way from Randani to Magena (which can mean eggs or stones depending on the context). She had stilled her cracking bones with each bump on the ride. Her face had been beaming with a smile on this journey despite her circumstances, as this was a chance to bless the third generation of the great Nyatangi clan.

On inquiring why the boy had refused to climb on her back, “She is an old woman, it is disrespectful to make her carry a load as heavy as me.” Any persuasion did not dissuade him.

Now was Biage’s turn to take matters in her own hands literally. Her time was running out.

There is a banana tree outside this gate (pointing at the nearest one) Can that tree bear any bananas without the other lifeless tree supporting it? 


The boy’s older siblings replied

Which of these is alive, the banana tree or the other stick supporting it.

The banana tree of course.

While this story was being narrated, the little boy was resting easy on Biage’s back. He had no idea how he got there. Who in this great family had surprised the boy in to obedience without resistance?


Reflections on Loss of Home, Exile and the Proteus Spirit

By: Annima Bahukhandi

Indraprastha College for Women, Delhi University, Delhi, India

We are increasingly living in a world where the state of being a refugee represents one of largest common condition amongst a wide variety of people. There are those who are refugees due to civil strife and war, those who are forced to be refugees due to international or internal politics wherein exile remains the only option. We are increasingly also seeing a large number of those rendered as refugees due to environmental issues.  On the other hand, now more than ever we are also witnessing a movement of people who recognise themselves as ‘global citizens’ or ‘globe-trotters’ migrating from one place to another, many a times living just simply out of a back-pack. Given such a diverse background, how do we then conceptualise the idea of ‘home’? Does ‘home’ which has traditionally been recongised as a geographical and temporal location continue to be recongised as one? Or does home now become a memory or a metaphor for a spirit that one carries with them? This essay engages with questions on the idea of home, especially in the context where there has been a loss of the ‘geographical’ space identified as home as in the case of refugees who are exiled from their home-land. Additionally, the essay also engages with the flip-side of the problematique, the individual who is neither coerced out of their geographical home nor disallowed from entry back but leads a home-less or ‘multi-home’ existence, what Lifton terms as a Protean existence. The essay deals primarily with two theorists, one is Renos K Papadopoulos (2002) – a psychotherapist who has worked extensively with psychological rehabilitation of refugees. Papadopolous in his book Refugees, home and trauma (2002) offers us pithy insights into the psychological imagination of home and what its loss symbolises. The second theorist is Robert J Lifton (1995)- a psychiatrist who worked on issues of war, violnece and their psycho-social impacts. Lifton in his book Protean Self (1995) provides an analysis of our contemporary times which is marked by an increasing global connectivity and a deep desire in the youth to deal with historical changes through a rootless existence.

I will first begin with Papadopoulos’s text on refugees and then move to the two other texts from Papadopolous’s book that detail the experiences of psychologists who were supervising students in Kosovo to become counsellors to grieved refugees in their country. Finally, I will try to bring the themes together using Lifton’s ideas on increasing global interaction and a rise in what he calls as the ‘Protean spirit’.

Papadopoulos begins his text with the most telling insight about refugees, according to him the only common feature that all refugees share is a loss of home and not trauma or grief.  Home, then becomes their shared condition. Even though Papadopoulos is mostly talking about experiences of individuals who’ve had to flee their lands and settle elsewhere, like the Kosovars yet such accounts aren’t far away from our understanding. Today, a large number of people have settled in places away from what they call “home” for various reasons; however the longing or the pressure to return to a home that refugees feel (due to socio-political reasons that prohibit their returning to their lands) may not be present. This text becomes all the more important, given the socio-political conditions leading to frequent wars, riots or large scale migration around the globe. Refugees aren’t just those others that occupy one’s space temporarily and then move back, they are Tibetans exiled from their lands, living in ghettos in Delhi, they are Kashmiri pundits driven out of the valley, Bangladeshis working as laborers to earn better wages.

Home then is that place which provides a holding environment, a place of continuity which is able to contain the polarity of opposites. It is often the place where one starts from, but it also is the destination one wishes to reach. What happens then when this home, is no more inviting, or worse non-existent? What then does one call “home”? Papadopoulos helps us here, by illustrating that home is not just simply the literal piece of land or the physical structure, but it encapsulates the totality of experiences associated with home: the house, family, relationships, the continuity and the acceptance. So when a person loses their home it isn’t simply their geographical location that gets distorted on the map but the psychological and existential as well. “Nostalgic disorientation” is the word that the author employs to capture the refugees longing for their home. We can see this in the writings of many authors who’ve settled out of their home country yet through their literature there are able to maintain their homeward links. Khaled Hosseini is one such author whose family applied for asylum from a war torn Afghanistan when he was 11 years old. His writings are filled with nostalgia mostly centering on an Afghani protagonists and against the backdrop of a post-Soviet, Taliban regime in Afghanistan. He returned to his home country after 27 years and admitted to feeling like a “tourist in his own country”. Hosseini’s experience helps to understand Papadopoulos’s take on refugees better. Even though, Hosseini’s family was distant from the violence in their country and were able to resettle in USA safely yet, Hosseini’s protagonist’s aren’t doctors practicing in California, they are the young boys and girls still in Afghanistan, fighting against the odds. USA may have accepted Hosseini and he may have readily integrated into the society, yet home still invokes those familiar imageries of Afghanistan and but that home no longer exists, after all he feels like a tourist in his own country. Literature perhaps then becomes the space for Hossieni whereby he is able to fill this gap and bring together the past and the future, the home that he started from and the home that he longs to settle in.

Unfortunately, not all refugees are able to create such a space, most find themselves in an endless search to fill this gap in what Papadopoulos calls their “mosaic” and therapists or clinicians only perpetuate this by falling into the usual, victim-savior roles. Their suffering is pathologized and the atrocities forgotten. It is here, that the experiences of the clinical supervisors who visited Kosovo can come in handy. Helping refugees is about giving an ear to their sense of homelessness, it is about becoming a witness to what some clinician’s felt was like a “war crimes tribunal” and yet it isn’t about just that. From here, instead of rescuing them, you start to allow them their space to grow and heal. A psychological hypothermia, which reminded me of Veena Das’s (1990) work and how one woman told her that “it is our work to cry and your work to listen”. This isn’t just a task for therapists, helpers or counselors, but for all of us, the neighbors, the relatives and society, can we allow these refugees the space for them to heal, can we tolerate their grief, rage and anger without pathologizing them?

Finally I come to Lifton and his take on the lifestyles of contemporary men and women. Lifton in his book isn’t specifically speaking of refuges however I find many parallels between the “protean man” that Lifton talks of and the longing for the home (material and imagined) that refugees long for. Just like Proteus the shape shifter, the protean man is consistently changing, recreating, and reimagining the self. But what propels this inherent need for change? This is where our protean man’s inner world meets that of the refugee. The protean man in many ways is like our refugee, he is pushed by this need to constantly know and get in touch with new forms of ideas, thoughts, people, cultures, yet he doesn’t know where this need emanates from. Just like the refugee longs to fill the gap left by a loss of home, the protean man it seems is in a never ending quest to fill his mosaic, only he doesn’t know with what. Can it be said then that the protean man longs for a home that he never had, yet at the same time while a refugee carries the experience of losing his actual home, the protean man doesn’t also quite know what this feeling of home is due to its taken-for-granted-ness?

Lifton identifies two developments as leading to the protean way of life. One is the break from traditional symbols or historical dislocation and the other is the flooding of imagery. I can easily identify these two as significant in my own life trajectory. Both my parents grew up in different states, while my mother came from a Punjabi family, my father came from Uttrakhand with rich accounts of his life in the hills. As children both my brother and I were raised in Delhi in an environment with cultural symbols from both our parents’ cultures and as well as the environment that our public schools provided. Even though we assimilated both the cultures well we were never able to identify or grow a strong attachment to either the mother’s or the father’s side, we never considered ourselves as either Punjabi or from Uttrakhand, instead identifying as Delhi people. Over the years even that claim seems feeble. The point I’m trying to make is that the historical dislocation that protean man carries, not only puts his claims on a certain past in jeopardy but also give rise to feelings of finding that home, metaphoric more than literal where one is accepted, loved and able to fuse together all the differences. On the other hand, the flooding of information, from different parts of the globe facilitated by the World Wide Web only makes matter worse. It is easier to hold onto a clear sense of home when the outside world seemed is perceived as alien but when that world is brought closer through varied mediums every day, then what is home (inside) and what is outside? Instead, what emanates is a need to explore this world, to find an identity, an identity which feels more like one’s own than the ones in the past yet this need is placed in a world that is viewed as consistently changing and challenging, then is it possible for one identity to ever sufficiently envelope the inherent differences?

Just like for the beat generation, for the protean man travel then is seen as the ultimate answer, the balm for a bad breakup or an invitation to a new one. Home then takes varied forms, it becomes the place one is fleeing or the place one wishes to go to or maybe it’s just a place that is carried always in our hearts and minds. For Papadopoulos, home signifies the totality of all dimensions, but what happens to the protean man’s idea of a home and is it still represented by a totality of experience and if not, how does one carry it with oneself? Travel for me is like an invitation to explore the unknown, to purge myself into the newness of an experience, to open myself to varied forms of living but mostly to also cut out the familiar for the time being. Travel isn’t seen as means to a destination, it is the experience which is exalted and seen as liberating. The task however becomes to balance the quest for meaning beyond the mainstream and the home one comes from.

However, this very strong protean need to pack one’s bag and travel emanates from the growing familiarity, or dependence that one encounters when the environment loses its novel charm. The anxiety is felt as diffuse, the everyday becomes monotonous and existential anxieties overtake. Lifton uses the concept of “suspicion of counterfeit nurturance” to explain this tendency. Does the growing familiarity of a place signal a comforting acceptance that goes against the constant search of the protean life? Is that why vitality is felt in “on the road”? And in case this isn’t possible then is the mocking, self-effacing humour our only outlet? So either you are out there changing the world (is it the self?) or leading a monotonous life peppered with whining and mockery.

This flux of feelings creates a paradox where there is a struggle with the idea of change itself and in Lifton’s own words, “beneath transformation is nostalgia and beneath restoration is attraction to contemporary symbols”. A need to be the father, to know it all, to be the teacher, the harbinger and at the same time a sense of fatherlessness exists, a freedom from absolutes, from right and wrongs a freedom to question, to problematize and dissent if need be.

I do agree with Lifton that the contemporary men and women have immense potential for changing and shaping the world. They are the people who came out in the Tahrir Square, the ones leading the Hong Kong protests, the ones that join the anti-corruption movements and so on. Is this an effort at changing the world at the cost of subvert one’s own pain? Is it perhaps, the protean man’s sense of symbolic immortality which equips him to come out on to the streets and protest against the wrongs which have happened for decades, are these forays into danger and destruction an attempt to create revolutionary world that symbolically immortalizes them? Lifton sure thinks so; we may never fully know however the protean man’s inner struggle sure seems to hold great possibilities for the world. And it seems that only time will tell whether the protean men and women of our times are able to reconceptualise the idea of loss of geographical ‘home’ and create better homes both real and imagined. I’m rooting for them!


Das, V. (1990). Our Work to Cry: Your Work to Listen. In V. Das (Ed.), Mirrors of Violence (pp. 345-398). New Delhi: Oxford University Press.

Lifton, R. J. (1995). The Protean Self: Human Resilience In An Age Of Fragmentation. London: Basic Books.

Papadopoulos, R. K. (2002). Refugees, home and trauma. In R. K. Papadopoulos (Ed.), Therapeutic Care for Refugees: No Place Like Home. London: Karnac. Tavistock Clinic Series.



Remembering and Forgetting

By: Elizabeth Wayua Ndinda
English Instructor at Akilah Institute, Kigali Rwanda

For a long time, I could only think of what I had been told to think. And this is what I had been told: To remember my past as that is how I could know how to plan for my future. Growing up next to a dumpsite ensured that I had the sites putrid stench almost woven in to my DNA.

First there was the fetid smell of rotten banana peels; the ones that could break your kneecaps if you slipped. Then there was the rancid smell of rotten avocado which had been crushed my scavengers in this rainy season to ensure the perfect mix of green black and the brown of mud. Next there was the smell of decaying pads…which sometimes had big clots hidden within them, some thick yellow pus or even little feces. It appeared as if human being buried not only their wastes in the dump but also their souls.

There were also babies’ diapers. They came with all sorts of cargo. From liters of pungent Urine, to runny green diarrhea, to the firm yellowish type that you could easily confuse with pawpaw. Some rodents usually did…eating gleefully.

One day, a street child visited the landfill on a different mission, Instead of scavenging for food, he had a sack; ready to harvest. I remember wondering why the air stung my nostrils. My nose ached. Why could he not just put me down? Through a hole in the sack, I looked longingly back at my home, my filthy stinking comfortable home.


The neck gets sore from looking in one direction.


As the site of my home grew dim, I ached. From the shoving and pushing of everything the urchin had picked, I was almost squashed. The weight of the other stuff was almost overpowering. …I must have slept for a long time or lost consciousness because the next time I came to…there was an excruciating pain in my chest. This was completely alien to me. For a fleeting moment, I wondered why all those men of the cloth had lied to us about heaven, the afterlife, paradise. Did I really go to hell? Where was the fire? Could there be pain in heaven.

My eyes slowly gained focus on the familiar objects that had been uprooted from the garbage dump. Instead of enjoying the air, I ached for what I had always had. How I miss my stinking hole. Tears well in my eyes, nostalgia is almost killing me; then I remember:


The neck gets sore from looking in one direction.


My very existence depends on whether I remember or I forget. What should I do seeing that I do not even know how to choose?

A Bird in Hand

By: Emma O’Neill-Dietel
Smith College, Northampton MA, USA

I tugged at the braids coiled around the back of my head. They were thick and itchy and the bobby pins made my head ache. The church was sweltering hot and my black dress draped heavily across my knees. I had asked Maeve if I could wear shorts, and she said no, because it would be disrespectful. Maeve also braided my hair, since Mom was too busy getting ready. She was probably also too busy being sad, since it was her sister who died.

My aunt Eileen always wore her hair down. Maeve liked to braid it when she was my age, but Aunt Eileen always let me undo the braids when Maeve was finished. “Freedom!” she used to say when I finished. It made us both laugh. Aunt Eileen had long, smooth hair that was brown with little stripes of grey at the top. My own hair was frizzy and the color of the dirty linoleum tiles in my elementary school hallways.

Maeve saw me fidgeting with my hair and swatted my hand away. I glared at her. She took my hand in hers and squeezed, a little too hard to be friendly.

“Can I please undo it?” I whispered. Maeve pinched the skin on the back of my hand. I almost cried out, but I stopped myself just in time. Music swelled—well, it was too dreary to swell. It really just got louder and sadder, if that was possible. The men sitting in the row in front of me stood up and gathered around the casket. Maeve loosened her grip on my hand. I inched my other hand towards the back of my head as the men lifted the casket and began to carry it down the aisle. People around me shifted in their pews to watch them leave so I did too. I saw Uncle Frank, cousin Theo, and a few other men I only slightly recognized lifting on either side of the enormous wooden box. It didn’t really seem like Aunt Eileen was in there. If she was, she would pop out like a jack-in-the-box and make us all laugh at how dramatic we were being.

While Maeve’s head was turned towards the men, I used my hand that wasn’t pinned under hers to yank the bobby pins from my braid. They came out with little clumps of hair still attached. The men carrying the casket that was somehow holding Aunt Eileen reached the doors at the back of the church and my hair finally fell out of its coil. It was still braided, but I could almost feel the strands of hair unbraiding themselves. They were reaching out like plants growing towards light. I extracted my other hand from underneath Maeve’s and began to use both hands to unweave my hair. Maeve suddenly snapped back towards me.

“Fallon!” she hissed. I heard a soft thud as an attendant closed the doors behind the men and the casket. The pastor began speaking again but I couldn’t pay attention. Maeve was furiously pulling my hair back into place. I could feel the stare of a church lady behind me hot on my neck.

Maeve finished fixing my hair just as the pastor instructed us to make our way out to the cemetery behind the church. Maeve shoved one last pin into my hair where it jabbed at my scalp like a sharp-beaked bird. She grabbed my hand and I tried to wriggle away to no avail. I was much too old to hold someone’s hand, even if that someone was my sister and even though we were at a funeral where it seemed like everyone was holding hands and hugging. We filed out of the pews and joined our parents, who had been sitting in the front row. My mom was holding a tissue up to her eyes and my dad was holding her hand in both of his like a small and wounded bird. He was holding it tightly but in a way that meant she was protected, not captive. When he saw us he let go of her hand with one of his and put his arm around both of our shoulders.

“Come on, girls,” he said. “Let’s see Auntie Eileen off.” We walked outside in an awkward family clump, too close together to step normally. Maeve finally let go of my hand when we got to the hole for the casket. I saw her wind her fingers together and pick at her cuticles. If Mom had been watching she would have said something, but she was too busy staring blankly at the hole in the dirt.

“Remember when we used to play here?” I asked Maeve.

Maeve shushed me. “This is still a funeral, Fallon.”

“I know,” I said, “I’m not stupid. I’m just saying, remember how we used to play hide-and-seek behind the gravestones? That was really fun. Maybe someday kids will play around Aunt Eileen’s gravestone.”

“Don’t be morbid, Fallon,” said Maeve.

“What does ‘morbid’ mean?” I asked. My dad looked down at me as if he had just begun listening to our conversation.

“‘Morbid’ means something that is related to death,” he said. “What do you think is morbid, Maeve?”

“Fallon was saying that she hopes kids will play around Aunt Eileen’s grave someday.” Maeve looked at me and then back at my dad like I was a baby and she and my dad were both grown-ups.

“I think that’s a wonderful thing to hope, Fallon,” he said. “I think Aunt Eileen would like that very much.” My mom nodded, looking up from the hole in the dirt.

“Aunt Eileen and I played in this cemetery when we were your age,” she said.

“I didn’t know that,” I said. I tried to imagine my mom and Aunt Eileen when they were my age. They were only two years apart. From pictures I knew that my mom looked a lot like me and Aunt Eileen looked a lot like Maeve. If I concentrated really hard, I could pretend that I saw Aunt Eileen as a little girl poking her head over a gravestone and smiling at me. Her smile went up to her eyes the way that Maeve’s did when we were younger. The more I thought about it, the more the imaginary girl smiling at me looked like Maeve, not Aunt Eileen, and then when I looked at the casket my first thought was that Maeve was inside it. For the first time since Aunt Eileen had died, I started to cry.

My dad noticed and he knelt down and lifted me up into a hug. I wrapped my legs around his waist like I had when I was much smaller. My mom reached past me to hold Maeve’s hand. When I had finally stopped crying and my dad set me back on the ground, I saw Maeve squirming her fingers out of my mom’s grasp.

The Road

By: Emma O’Neill-Dietel

Smith College, MA, USA


            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.


        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.


           The road was too wide.

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


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

            “How about now?”


            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.


              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.