Cocoon

Abigail Selby

Mills College, Oakland, CA, USA

 

Ripened

I am no soft thing,

no thing to be adored—

Where do my thoughts go

When they leave me, my Love?

Does my stomach twist and 

rhyme like boughs

off that tree where we picked persimmons

crisp, bloody, and smooth.

Should we no longer then, 

sleep together, past summer afternoons?

Lightless, she tells me

– no more.

Tells me no more stories,

nor lullabies. 

Reprimanded—I should not

– forget you.

Water to trickle down, 

“How long should we wait now?”

Can we make it past what we do not know;

like suitcases hidden behind walls,

– if I linger further,

– left inside that tender flesh

– of you and I. 

I should make a home, pack my bags,

and never return. Not once even look back.

Things Never Change

I wait for forgiveness that never comes

Wisteria in my pocket.

I hold out for one, just one, more day,

heed my backpack ready at a moment’s notice.

In it, my bag is suited with things I’ve witnessed die,

– like fire lilies, camellias, and more.

All these things with them, I seem pitiful, too. Constantly moving,

evolving, attempting to live—If not, attempting to flee. 

– Plant myself anew.

Breath in my lungs, strung out to the sky.

– I waited for love 

– that will never come.

So much time wasted not healing, but holding on: integrating. 

– My mother, tasting of cinnamon bears.

Honesty in the Sieve

How people look into one another’s eyes, 

only to look away in haste. View only the part of self we loathe;

– how tragic it is that I force myself to peel away.

You are not what I wanted, their eyes say. 

You belong somewhere else, they lie—or lie with the intent of biting truth.

Either way, I’m left with bite-marks and stains, flushing it out with cheap vodka

as if it’s all I ever was made out to be. 

You should go, we agree. 

What a great and awful chasm; to not be what someone wanted.

Not be enough to ransom myself to you, even if I could afford to. 

To not even fit inside this suitcase I’ve fashioned into a home.

– It’s not like that, you say.

– But it is, though, isn’t it?

Slipping through the cracks, each position of myself 

Taking leave, once again.

Honeycomb Blossom, Bite

Does the larvae nestle away, swept in dreams

of becoming more? In its shell it hides—life spent in waiting

When it arrives, it springs and breathes—the first fresh cry!

And so, it dies.

Back to the grave does its cries sink, down under that canvas it had once dreamt of

Could this have been worth it? -Worth all the life

whittled away in passing, yearning for something more?

Is it wrong to have waited, or to have been too haste?

Was the last breath and cry spent in vain—if only it’s first, 

 and it’s only? Can we not attempt to live 

more of this simple journey in-between time, in the folds

of those slivers of what is and what may come. 

To you, I seldom wait within

– but cry out nonetheless.

Does the larvae spend its life

wishing to blossom—or does it weep in regret once it has,

for the dream of the life it wasted in vain?

The Shell that Shrinks, Home Sweet Home

There is a price to pay

When you wind me open, Loosen me up and yet,

– Only to snap shut.

Your dismissal is deafening -My funds are the lowest they’ve been

I can’t keep going this way; wound so tight again. I fear this time

– I may stay like this, curled in

– the way a snail retracts into itself.

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, https://www.khanacademy.org/humanities/us-history/the-gilded-age/american-west/a/the-gold-rush.

Snakehead

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.” 

“Oh.” 

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?” 

“…Yes.” 

“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.

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.

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. 

It carries

Victoria Cadostin

New York City, New York, USA

This body, it carries
the thought behind the
I
it carries,
a spirit that does not yet trust in its
divinity


This body,
that knows no cues,
knows not when to eat
knows not when it’s full,
it carries
a hungerrrr inherited from her mother’s
good going-out bustier and the way she’d hold her breath the whole night,
carefully carved
in the shape of woman


This body, it carries
a nose ring her father wept blood for
called her a whore for
forgot what daughter was, for
This body
did not belong to him


This body, it carries
nails cut short
for the pleasure of her lovers
for the way skin to skin feels holy,
feels like Religion,
feels like Prayer


This body, it carries
hands that do no hold on too tight
that know when to let go, know
when to relinquish elbows, return to the hips and
shut the door behind her


This body, it carries
coarse, dark hair home-dyed violet that
never could listen to the rhythm of a comb but
will do its own dance
pink and pretty like cotton candy in the wind,
more free than she could ever be
to a country that

is not her own

This body, it carries
a nose for caribbean spices,
for her grandmother’s cooking
and the way nothing will ever taste as good as
di ri and sauce pwa and legume
when it’s hand-mixed by
pudgy, time-worn fingers and scooped up to
awaiting lips

This body, it carries
recipes
written in the skin,
instructions and measurements for Sunday dinner
stitched right into the lining

This body, it carries
a lonnnnging in the branches,
arms
that will always reach for home

This body, it carries
a heart that used to shrink to
fit
in other people’s palms
and pockets,
it carries
organs that know how to shapeshift
into daughter
and sister
and bestfriend
and
and
and

This body, it carries
tired bones,
lungs
that need practice breathing easy
feet
that are learning to be still
shoulders,
newly introduced to rest

This body, it carries
a girl desperate to be held by hands other than her own
This body, it carries a woman learning to be enough.