Morning Steam | MRO

By: Madeline Olson

Mount Holyoke College, MA, USA

I have not yet learned the meaning of Māori yet,

 and i don’t think unknowing foolish anymore

        only a wise risk of lingering instead

 

            but i do say this     sometimes i harbor things in life

                                      such as the rain i let drain          in my mouth

                                      before clearing  grey                       swallow

                                      such as

                                        the morning                                 the

                                             kawakawa                          tea steam

                                         climbing the cup to dance up

                                                 into the air twisting

                                                          its fog tail

                                                             steamy

                                              languid

                                                         unbothered

i  mistake     this morning mug steam                         

for clouds over     Lake Wakatipu    could mistake it for         

the chalky air     over its  neighbors :  The Remarkables           

Cecil Peak  / Walter Peak / Ben Lomond / Queenstown Hill        

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

                          i am    not the only harborer               

          because when morning lull starts breaking

          it is te iti kahurangi, rising, unfettered

    the landscape   was bustling   we spoke    it informed me

    morning too   could be treasured  simply because it safeguards,

                                                                                               simply because it exists.

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

these chalky    clouds    as i ascended the houses

started falling,

                         red

               yellow

                            brown like feathers

                            floating dissolving

                                                             compressed from sight

                                                             while gondolas scaled the mountain

                                                                shearing the treetops

                                                             one

                                                             two

                                                             three

green                                                                

brown                                                        

white                                                 

                                                                     red 

                                        yellow

                                                                          brown like feathers

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

Look! Says my neighbor over the rail

Look! means to see how the clouds shepard

the wedged yellow and red houses, tucking

it only cries, you fool!

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

       these mountains, these mountains are backbones

seated around the lake, the water, one silent muscle

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

                                    tendons of time.

And even though the clouds are thirsting,

and it is so temperate in this creation,

it’s okay to worry, the clouds whisper

to confess,

                 i don’t know if this morning

                 steam comes from the clouds or

                 from my breath

 

but i do believe

in dwellings existing together.

Maybe believe in harmony too

and the wind,  is a steel pipe that whistles,

tunneling the ears              howling them clean

releasing echos that spool  upon

teardrop water                            

                  the coniferous trees, an army,

                  marching  in tempo alongside me   

                  to witness the clouds, saying 

                  this is our sacred whenua

                                       and that’s why the air feels

                                     so fresh up here.

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

is not simply air sublimating      and this chalky hillside,

 

 this chalky hillside is the sanctuary

for the stranger beside me

Movements of Life

By: Madeleine Olson
Mount Holyoke College, MA, USA

Now we are flowing

in between w a v e s of thin satin that dance in the sky,  

        soon floating

like a leaf that

    tumbles

                 in the breeze

landing to sink into the earth     

like baked clay                   

in the blazing sun                

                                        where pinwheels of rays            

        grow big enough to transform into a kaleidoscope of colors at night,

           spreading purple velvet over us thick enough to heat our bodies

so it sparks flames so scarlet

as to catch the eye of a bull

that charges with a racing heart

        that beats

to the march

of the drums

warning us about time

that slips

between

our toes,

washing back to the ocean that provides

the  w a v e s

                     to rock the boat

                that carries us through life,

                           lifted by the  w i n d s that toss

our  s o u l s  back into the sky.

Annual

By: Marisca Pichette

Mount Holyoke College, MA, USA

And the last step was like a prologue, bringing you out of one experience and into a premature memory– still forming, and quite delicate– balanced on the edge of comprehension. You didn’t see it at first, and maybe that means it didn’t really exist, for what better quantifier do we have for the world than our own perception?

           You’re right. It was never there. Not before you came.

           You walked the border between field and forest, the world a confusion of rock and dry leaves. They crumbled to dust under your feet, releasing muscle memory into the air– necrotic tissue that was ordinary in life, beautiful in death, mundane in decomposition. There’s nothing special about this experience; hasn’t it all happened before? The world unfolds for you, and you nod your head; you’ve seen it all once, twice, a dozen times. You would call it home if you weren’t so naïve.

           It’s almost close enough to be familiar, far enough to register some kind of boundary, some kind of other place. Another world. Facets of imagination stir in it until you come and see for yourself that it’s nothing more than another mile of woods, another messy composition of nature. Whiffs of death stir around your feet.

           Today could just have easily collapsed in rain. But the sun shines softly, playfully, through the tender branches. Buds quiver on their tips, cautious in the spring air, wary and vulnerable as your next thought, giving gently to the breeze. That is your right half. Your left is leaking onto the field, over rubble stonewall fragments and goldenrod– those spindly grasses that you always called tumbleweeds even though Texas is thousands of miles away.

           Are tumbleweeds found in Texas? You never thought to ask or check. It’s one of those things that you just take for granted because to question would be like asking which tree dropped the leaf that you just crushed underfoot.

           Nothing unfolds before you. The path is as straight as the old wall, meandering on the boundary between uninhibited and inhibited light. Half of you is dappled, the other warmed by the sun and chilled by the breeze. You kick away the leaves and bring the experience to a close.

           At the end of the road, the wall ends. You start to climb. It was always a bit of a climb, so subtle that only your eardrums could tell, but now the ground slopes so sharply you brace yourself as if the world has suddenly turned against you. Dry rivers dance in mesmerising swordplay at every other step, parrying and feinting around your toes. You stare for a moment, and then you continue.

           There is hardly ever any time to watch.

           Experience slides away, more vulnerable to gravity than you. It collects at the bottom of the hill, and you rise above it, both breeze and sun picking up to joust around you as you reach the summit. And there it is.

           Rows of pink shoot away from you, shining with a brilliance that you remember but can never imagine. Branches scratch at the sky, and a trilling mixes with the atmosphere. It could be a bird, or an insect whose name you don’t know.

           The peaches have yet to come. They wait, buried somewhere in the depths of the flowers that you now pass between, dragging their soft fragrance into your lungs, the long grass sweeping the leaf dust from your feet. For a moment you are just another blot of colour, a smattering of strokes on the Impressionist’s canvas as you stroll, wondering how you could have ever forgotten the dimensions of this place.

           Once, you heard them call it Turtle Hill. You wonder who gave it the name. It could be a thousand years old.

           Peach blossoms rule over the hill, and below them a court of apple trees tends to their every need, brilliant white against the weak grass, still recovering from winter’s touch. Some are older than you. Many are just beginning, striking out against the air, dealing in possibility. You sink down onto the cold ground.

Dew seeps into your clothes.

           Maybe this is all there is. But we know that isn’t the case.

Maybe this is all there should be. Of course, no. But maybe.

           Maybe this is all you ever wanted to find.

Turtle Women

By: Lydia Solodiuk

Mount Holyoke College, MA, USA

All of you have shells scarred
with the ravages of patriarchy
detailing old fights,
some of which you lost.
It was a world full of predators and struggle, so you learned
to live in your shells
Permanently.

Turtle women, you tell me to vomit my words onto the page
while you purse your closed lips.
Turtle women, you ask me to undress so you can fix me my broken body
while you stand there in your buttoned-up white coat and cashmere turtleneck.
Turtle women, you request my whole life story told in numbers and factoids
while you robotically type at your workstation.

You hide your true selves in the name of doing your duty.

In my parent’s living room, hidden in the pages of a dusty scrapbook,
there’s a picture of a bright-faced little girl staring
eye-to-eye with a turtle at the zoo,
separated by a piece of glass.

They teach us young feminists to smash glass ceilings,
but not how to speak through the glass walls that separate
us from you beautiful turtle women

Someday I’d like to walk with you,
to truly know you and understand the scars that roughen your shells and toughen your hearts.
But now I’ll just observe from the other side of the glass,

in admiration of beauty
and fierceness.

Silently Selected or Endings

By: Marisca Pichette

Mount Holyoke College, Massachusetts USA

 

I.

           I walked through shadow after shadow, counting the trees by the neat lines that they dropped in my path: alternating beams of grey and gold, steadily lengthening as the sun plunged low into their ranks. There was hardly any sound that evening, save for my own breathing and the tireless murmur of the waves. I found myself alone on a cool beach, walking on ocean-worn stones spotted with ageing salt and kelp. In turns they appeared like shining jewels or dull rocks, depending on whether the sun or tree-shadow caught them first.

It was a beautiful night, after a successful day. But I wasn’t happy. Looking out along the beach, catching the slight movement of other people meandering in the distance, I felt only tired. I’d been congratulated by a hundred voices, caroused with a dozen friends, consumed a few too many beers…  I’d done everything I’d planned to do, but I was not happy.

The morning came, and the moon hid his face in the pale clouds. Undressing in the crisp morning air, I played scenes from the future through my mind, imagining a day to remember.  In my mind, I told a joke and imagined his response.

I wrote all day, pouring out the thoughts that huddled in the corners of my distracted mind. I could not stop as he drew near; I could not focus on anything else. Closeted in my small beach house with only a bedroom and kitchen, I waited for time to take the hours away.

He came to me from the West like the rising moon overcomes the sun. I saw him walking up the beach, carrying the old suitcase that he always held onto, no matter how many times I told him to trash it. I met him outside of my little two-room house, and he smiled. His teeth were pale in the light of the rising dusk.

Down to the gentle waves he washed me. I remember rolling up the cuffs of our jeans and wading in the chilly water. We were both covered in goosebumps that night; I felt them on his forearms when we touched.

As the tide seeped out, we found a wide, flat rock and lay down on it. He told me about the moon. It was a waxing gibbous, gently rising over our heads, pale face showing in the settling night. I remember the way his voice mixed with the whispers of the water, ebbing and flowing with the waves. I closed my eyes and listened as hard as I could, imagining this moment lasting forever.

“Are you happy?” he asked.

I looked up at the moon’s shy face, lightly veiled by a wisp of cloud. His arm lay across my chest, his hand over my heart. He always loved to feel the beating of my heart. He said that it made him feel safe.

The clouds were gone from the moon when I finally thought to respond, but it was too late. His face was slack and peaceful, his breathing as measured as the waves. Gently, I stroked his cheek.

“Yes,” I said to the silent air. “I’m happy.”

II.

        “What are you looking at?” I asked him in the morning.

He stared out across the cold waves, stubble blurring the cut of his jaw. Grey eyes reflected the hazy light; his sandy hair was damp from the fog. He didn’t spare me a glance when he replied, voice low and measured like the waves.

“The world.”

I laughed. “The world?”

He didn’t smile back like I thought he would. Instead he just looked at me with those stormy eyes.

“It’s out there, Walt. It’s not here.” He turned back to face the waves, eyes narrowing. I heard the bitterness in his voice, usually so soft. “Nothing’s here.”

Taken aback, I swallowed, working through my confusion. I saw the precipice ahead, yawning wide with possibility.

“You want to go?” Those were the hardest words to say.

Somehow sensing my fear, he blinked, truly looking at me for the first time. “Go? Well, I mean—yeah. But not without you. I want you to come with me.”

My heart quickened. The air was suddenly filled with a subtle electric charge, seeping out of the morning fog. “Where?”

He reached out and took my hand; his palm was rough and calloused, while mine was soft and smooth. We were like the rocky beach and the soft waves, meeting along the surf, blending together before parting.

I should have known then that the tide would recede.

When I searched for his gaze, it was turned back out to sea, grey eyes reflecting the shrouded sunlight. “Europe,” he murmured.

He spoke as if he could see the continent already, just standing there on that rocky beach, watching the sun rise over the waves. And when I looked into his eyes, I believed it was true. I saw Europe too. I saw the times that we would have. I saw us together, and I smiled.

“Sing me something,” he said abruptly, not turning his gaze from the horizon.

Obediently, I took up my guitar from the salt-stained Adirondack chair by the front door. He sat down on the ground, eyes narrowed against the sun’s ever-brightening light.

“One of the originals,” he said.

I sat down beside him and began to play. When I sang, he hummed along in a deep baritone. That day we watched the sun rise over the Atlantic for the last time.

III.

        Last, I put on my socks. Closing the suitcase, locking the door, I said goodbye to that little beach house. I handed the deed to a friend of mine. In two years, that house—and all of the trees around it—would be bulldozed to make way for multimillion-dollar vacation homes.

I never went back to that beach.

We decided to go by plane. I had some savings, and he had a plan. We met at the airport just as the sun was setting; our flight was a late one. Sitting together outside of a Dunkin Donuts, sipping blueberry coffee, I started to wonder if this was the right thing to do. I looked at him. We’d only been together for three months.

“Are you sure about this?” I asked impulsively, setting down my cup.

He was watching the people walking past with a lively, anticipatory expression on his face. At my question, he frowned and turned to me, the excitement fading.

“Sure about what?”

“Going away. Just dropping everything.”

Casually, he checked his watch. “Walt, our plane’s in twenty minutes. It’s a little late to be second-guessing.”

“I know—it’s just…” I trailed off, staring at him. He raised his eyebrows, and I couldn’t help but smile.

“So?” he asked, lips quirked into a lopsided grin. “Where do you want to go first?”

“First?” I shook my head. “You’re insane.”

He turned back to watch the people passing by, the stupid grin subdued into a smile. “I know I am. I want to see Amsterdam, or Berlin.”

“Our flight is to Heathrow.”

He bobbed his head distractedly. “Yeah. That’s just a place to start. Then we can go to Paris and Milan. Beijing. Don’t you want to see Dubai? Oh, and we’re definitely going to Moscow later in the season.”

“Season?” I blurted. “Whoa, there. I don’t have that much saved. How long were you planning this vacation to last?”

“Vacation?” He blinked, turning back to look at me. “This isn’t a vacation, Walt. This is living.”

We saw London first. Straight off of the plane into the driving rain, we called a cab that took us into the city. I remember a wild weekend of pubs, walking, taking pictures, eating chips out of newspaper and getting lost on the way back each night. Then we drove into the country. We collected fossils at Lyme Regis, took the Oldenburg to Lundy. Hiking across the island in a single day, I gathered bones and feathers, and played my guitar at the tavern that night. Then it was back to Bridport, and up to Scotland.

It was hard to keep up at times. He moved with single-minded vigour, sweeping into an area, seeing all there was to see, then leaving before we’d had time to fully adjust to our surroundings. I had hardly registered that we were in the UK before we were flying to Paris, and suddenly everything was in French. I played guitar on the bank of the Seine, and he took pictures. His camera captured more than my eyes could take in, at the speed we were moving. Always, he was taking pictures. A few times I asked stranger to take one of the both of us, but he was never satisfied with the result. He wanted the sights—only the sights—while I longed for the memories. In this way, we sped through France.

Spain came next—nights full of wine and sweat and stars. Though we didn’t stay long, I saw many couples like us. He wanted to keep going, so we found ourselves in Germany. We walked the streets filled with pensive men, pensive writers, pensive onlookers. Their thoughtfulness rubbed off on me, and I carried it to Moscow, and Beijing, and Shanghai. We never went to Dubai, but instead to Chennai, Mumbai, and Singapore.

I ceased to watch the sights. Instead, I beheld my friend. I watched him smile at the sky; I watched him laugh at the clouds; I watched him talk about the hills. I watched him watch other men, other places, other sights. I watched him look at everything—everything but me.

It began to dawn on me that I was not travelling with a man who loved me as I loved him. The reality was so cold, so pure and clear— it was like a measured incision. I watched the cut be made, and I felt the pain, but then the anaesthetic took effect, and I was numb. I still saw the blood spreading from the wound, but my brain replaced real pain with a phantom. I knew that I still loved him just as much as when we’d begun. I couldn’t stop loving him just because I saw the truth.

My savings ran out in Mumbai, and I barely followed him to Singapore. The night we arrived in our hotel room, eating greasy takeout out of Styrofoam, I told him I couldn’t go on. In eight weeks we’d visited eight countries. I had no money left.

“Let’s go home,” I pleaded.

He stared out the window. It was dark, and the only view we had was an alley. I realized then that he never looked at me when there was somewhere else to imagine, somewhere else to be.

“I can’t. I can’t stop, Walt. You know that.”

It was the answer I’d expected, but I couldn’t take it, even then. Even after everything. I forced myself to confront the blood, and bear the incision he’d made.

“I love you,” I said, though it came out in a mumble. I didn’t have the energy to add volume or power to my words. “But this is too fast. I can’t live like you do. I need to go back.”

He nodded, still looking out the window, at the shadowy form of a concrete wall.

“Okay.”

In the morning, I called a cab. I left my guitar in the hotel room.

IV.

        At the airport, I watched people passing. I sat for hours, my muscles aching, my head aching, my heart aching. Night came, and they made me leave. I barely caught a cab; when I got in, I didn’t know where to go, or what to tell the driver. When she asked for the third time, I gave her my friend’s address. She grunted and took me there.

I climbed the steps to the apartment with heavy feet, wondering what I was doing here. He was in Singapore—or, in all likelihood, on to a new place, taking pictures of lands that would never feel his presence, never remember him like I did. When I reached his door I sat down against it, burying my head in my hands. I stayed there for the rest of the night.

In the morning I left, and just walked. I didn’t know where to go, but I stopped at a gas station and picked up travel brochures. The Rockies, Niagara Falls, Lake Huron—I sat with them at a bus stop and thought of travelling. When the bus came, the brochures stayed on the bench.

I was done travelling.

The weeks and months began to slip away, and summer was ending. One night, I slept in an old tobacco barn. I fancied I heard the ocean. That night there was no moon.

V.

        My life was on hiatus. I remember that it began again sometime in late September, in Louisiana. I was sitting outside of a dingy crab shack, watching people as they walked past me along the pier. A scene caught my eye:

It was like an Elizabethan dumb show or a health insurance commercial, depending on your life view. A pristine white sail dominated the background, fully illuminated in the southern sun—but that was not what struck me. Two young men stood facing one another. Friends, or more, I couldn’t tell. They were bidding each other goodbye.

The scene was not large, and it hardly attracted the attention of those who passed, but to me it was everything. They hugged, and the nature of their relationship unfolded before me with their delicate kiss. I thought it a bold thing, out in the open in this southern state. Those men didn’t care. They embraced, and I looked away rather than watch them depart.

Staring at my can of Corona, I wondered how many partings were happening like this one, all across the country, the world. I pictured San Francisco– men in bars, on the streets, holding hands and talking. Sharing. Loving each other. Not one of them was alone.

I hadn’t written a word since going to Europe. That night, I picked up my pen.

I wrote about endings.

VI.

        On my last day in Louisiana, I walked along a suburban street, meditating in the sweltering heat, relaxing my body and mind. I found some shade under a large, sprawling oak tree covered in moss. It reminded me of those trees in New England that no longer exist—a relic of the life that I’d left behind.

Casting my gaze up through the branches, I counted the spaces between light and shadow, between sun and shade. I remembered.

It might have been a hope for the future—for another friend, another companion like the one that I had lost. Or unlike, perhaps. I had dealt enough with wild spirits, with athletes. Maybe what I needed was a scholar like myself, an academic.

Or maybe it was a thought of that past, of those times walking the cold beach in early spring, pale moon overhead and the gentle murmur of the Atlantic in my ears, which always let me know my bearings.

Whatever it was, I knew that I couldn’t leave the tree without taking something along with me. I reached to the lowest branch and snapped off a twig, bending it idly between my fingers. Almost satisfied, I made to go—but then my eyes returned to the truncated branch, and I saw shreds of pale moss hanging, neglected and unsupported by their absent perch. They hardly moved in the sluggish, humid air.

I made up my mind that day. Gently, I peeled the moss away as well, wrapping it carefully around my twig, so they might not be parted again.

This small token came with me to San Francisco, joining me in a new life. A new city, full of men like me.

 

I left the oak alone, as I could never be.

Reliance

By: Jocelyn Mosman

Mount Holyoke College, South Hadley, Massachusetts

You are every stretch of tendon
wrist flexed, then relaxed
the curvature of hand,
steady and bent.

You are brain stem activity,
words and pain both flowing
down your spinal cord
until it is too hard to write.

You are mouth and throat,
soft spoken and fragile,
swallowing blood,
choking back heart.

You rely on the body:
hand to write,
spine to stand,
mouth to speak.

As you collapse inward
like a burning house,
all I can do is hold sound
the walls,

resist the destruction,
or flee.

I will not leave.
I will not watch you burn.

I will guide your hand
until words flow past
unspeakable pain
onto open page.

I will stand tall beside you,
become sturdy
lumbar vertebrae,
help you climb and stretch.

I will give your voice legacy
as student, as friend,
next generation of oral tradition
passed hand-to-hand like communion,

But when the house smolders,
the skeleton screams,
the joints crack.
I smell smoke.

As body relies on body,
I rely on you.

I will not leave.
I will not watch you burn.