By: Lucy Liu
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.
That rule was begging to be broken
Y’know the one about women?
Of conformity for cat calls and
Gift-wrapped shoulders and legs?
How about “no” to breastfeeding?
How about “whore” for “too revealing”?
I’m sick of these notions, they’re too unappealing.
I am a nonconformist of a woman
The one that daunts you in your wake.
Come at me with your “don’ts” for women–
I’ll show you my scars of everyday crusades.
I’ve battled tirades of piercing tongues;
Of sharp fingers engraved into skins.
I’m supposed to be hidden beneath them
Because I walk like I’m a woman
Because I walk like a human being.
But I stomp these woman feet of mine
To tell you “That ain’t gonna be me,”
Nor will it be any woman in this world
‘Cause that rule was begging to be broken
When women marched for gender equality.
The words are right there
Hanging in the strands of my gray hair
This problem is something I can’t bear
I just can’t reach them; this illness is unfair
Who’s that? I remember that face
Where am I? I remember this place
My memory is losing the race
As past knowledge dies with no trace
Who am I? What’s my name?
Why can’t I win this twisted game?
This disease is all to blame
It leaves me frustrated, burning like a flame
My brain is empty and no answers are coming out
I stomp my feet and start to pout
This is some sick memory drought
Wait, what was I thinking about?
I shake my head and pick up a photo
Who’s that pretty lady in it, though?
There’s no resemblance to show
But those eyes have a familiar glow
I ask the nurse who’s standing by the door
After showing it to her, her face grows red, more and more
Of course, I don’t know that I’ve seen her before
Or that she’s my sister Lenore
I drop the picture and walk away
Leaving behind a memento in such a careless way
For in that picture stood my daughter Kay
Smiling on her gracious wedding day
The place where I am living tries to tell the story of my life so far. It does not hold memories.
It does not yet hold memories.
But that is okay. I breathe that down and trust that the memories will come.
I do not feel God here. I do not yet feel God here. I trust that she will speak through this place. But, so far, she only speaks through home. What does that mean about God? What does that mean about home?
The story of my life told by this place that barely knows my name sounds like the girls laughing in the hall upstairs while I do homework. It is told through my daily naps and the photos on the wall that spell out “CLE.”
This place does not know me yet. Still, she will tell you that I was the first person to visit her archives this year. “That was all I needed to know,” she says with a smile.
This place has only held me for forty-three days, but she has heard all of my secrets through the window of a psychologist’s office on Main Street. This place tells the story of my brokenness, but she didn’t do any of the breaking.
She did not yet do any of the breaking.
This place does not wipe away my tears, but she does absorb them. She calls to a city far away and tells her to bring tissues. When this place where I am living tells my story, she holds out her hands to show you the tears as they pool in her palms, but Cleveland has already wiped them up.
This place tells you that I don’t sing much, but she is lying. She knows that she is lying because, although she cannot hear my voice, she can feel how much I miss it.
This place where I am living cannot tell my whole story.
This place where I am living cannot yet tell my whole story.
But she waits.
We are both waiting.
When things are illuminated, life is beautiful. Luminosity is, indeed, a wonderful thing. You are anchored in your body, and that body is easy to please. You only have to honor the integrity of your senses. The bad smells bad, and the good is to be luxuriated in. You feel your senses acutely and realize that you were blessed with them because they make you into a deep participant in life. Others have their senses, too, and you share yours with them. Social intercourse is your way into earthly heaven. This is a difficult endeavor for some, and it makes peace of mind seem far from your grasp. So here’s to still fighting for that light. Some harder than others, it’s all part of what makes us different.
I often wonder if other people sit around thinking about what other people do. I often do. That sentence is as complicated as the thought process itself. I wonder if other people feel inexplicably distanced from everyone else, or even from themselves. It’s weird to think that you are a stranger to yourself, and yet that describes me. My feelings are mostly “fake news,” as Anna Akana has said on Youtube. It makes me unsure of what instinct to trust. Furthermore every human interaction is mediated by what the “norm” is and let’s be honest, most of us don’t fit the norm. So how do we know when we have actually connected, reached in and messed up someone else’s insides? Some philosopher, that I can’t remember the name of, said that the scariest discovery one makes is the discovery of the other, another just as complicated and capable. It is the most humbling discovery and yet it’s scary as shit. Basically… hell is other people.
So let’s get poetic for a minute, shall we?
Let me spew some feels…
Another breath taken is another chapter written in your book. You’ve been slapped in the face by rejection; tickled by success; whirled through the washing machine by indecision.
You have taken leaps of faith, only to fall a tad bit short and plummet into the soft, waiting darkness. People tell you: “You’re one year closer to your happy ending, buddy!”
Look around. Let all the destruction, all the grief, the sheer hopelessness in the world shatter your heart into a million crimson shards. Let that little beggar girl on the street make you want to crawl into bed and never go out again. You sit there with a cigarette in hand, trying to smoke this pain out. You look deep into her eyes, wondering how different they are from yours.
Let your tears soak your soul until you’re nothing but a tangled mess of nerves and veins and trembling sobs. Somehow sorrow and despair is so inviting; let sadness pull you into its warm, welcoming embrace and whisper sweet nothings in your ear.
Then glance up, and look at the sky. Instead of giving up on this dreadful race, the sun struggles to break through the horizon every damn day, just so we don’t cease to exist. That little beggar girl has a smile even more radiant than the sun. Feel the faint stirrings of hope yet?
Right about this time, pick up your phone and give happiness a quick missed call. Go hug anyone who makes you want to keep breathing. Drink a glass of reasonably strong alcohol, and try to taste the weightlessness. Feel it trickling through your throat and sprinkling your insides with life. Smile so hard that your lips go numb. Kiss another so much that you become one.
Just get off your bed and breathe in your beautifully flawed existence. If it’s a new day, you might as well make it happy.
At the end of the day, we are all just clumps of flesh filled with an endless pit of complicated feelings. I’m learning to not keep it all bottled up and just speak my damn mind. Experience all the bad and the good there is to feel. Never be afraid of being vulnerable.
As the person with the honor of writing the first staff blog post, I thought I’d share this poem I wrote at the beginning of this school year, which I feel encapsulates the unique nature of the adventures of being a student at a women’s college. Less than a hundred days away from my graduation, I’m appreciating my Smith experience more and more, and I’m so going to miss this women’s college environment.
Sweat-soaked and scalp-strained
from hot days and high buns,
we are drawn to the river,
after dinner, after dark.
The path is smooth; we need no flashlight
the moon is a crescent; it peers through the leaves.
Clothes shed, shoes kicked,
our toes sink into silt
we slip underwater,
icecold and sweet.
The river is smooth; there is no current
the moon is a voyeur; it makes our skin shine.
Skin cooled, clothes dripping
from our blissful solution,
we walk home without towels
Drips in the night.
The pavement is smooth; there are no potholes
the moon is a classmate; it laughs in the sky.
*Salmon fast during the entirety of the annual salmon run, never questioning their Darwinian instincts, nor their own mortality, as they rush to spawn on the graveled river beaches.
Steam coats my pebbled floor.
streaming river water,
your scent ripples off me,
aa down my creamy linens.
Slowly I run my hands along the dip you left in bed last night
and I remember what you taste like,
up your back spilling kisses, those
rosy tinges scaling down your upturned belly
like riptide. You are gorgeous. I
before slow nursing, silver sips,
suckling your finger tips –
I will be
aa the one to die
Kept upstream, a piece of the churning,
a ritual burning
through flesh, teething
into curdled fat, unstrung muscle
my milky skin, hung damply across bloated sand, those loose
eyes with the twinkling
of a kindling-kind-of-evening– her palm
churning your embers–She
is the stem you rub
between your thumb
and finger to squeeze
that sweet serum from. She
will bloom and bloom again
weaving around stones, up
through the spaces between
in the barefooted months. She
is crushed clove
buds in the alcove
of a neck, and dried fruit:
so plump and ripe she slumped
to the earth, sipping sunbeams
like champagne. moonlight beckons
celestial shifts, the waves round
her ragged edges and roll away to reveal
The Woman, as natural and glowing
as a pearl, a miniature moon
for our dim world.
Imagine that you are driving down a road in rural Tennessee. The baby sleeps feverishly in the back seat, but that’s no matter – you’ll be home before she wakes. You wind down the mountain and emerge in farm country, the slim fingers of the Cumberlands hedged around you. You know that you must have passed into northern Alabama at some point, but no sign welcomed you; this winding country road did not merit the effort. The late-afternoon September sun peeks through heavy trees, and the ever-present mountains follow alongside you at a distance.
You’d think that it would be beautiful, but it isn’t. It’s just road. Mile after mile with nowhere to turn around, no driveway, no intersection, just road. And it goes on. From nowhere to nowhere, with nothing in between. The dust clings to the windshield, and through it you notice that the fields look tired—beaten down, perhaps, by the heat. The mountains rise like pimples out of the earth. You cross the bridge over a small river named after some venomous snake. It smells. You pick up a railroad track running parallel to the highway and believe that you would give your eye teeth for a gravel driveway to turn around in.
You find the town that you were hoping for – a settlement large enough to have merited a place on the signpost thirty miles back in Tennessee. Or so you thought. It consists of one main street and no lights; its only noticeable intersection is at the railroad, where cars are lined up four deep; the train has caught up to you. Where did those cars come from, and where might they be going? Not here. The obligatory “antique” (that is, junk) shop and beauty salon are closed for the day. Only the bar is open, Confederate battle flags adorning its windows, its walls weathered in a way that resembles, you imagine, the faces of its clientele.
Can this be America?
Can this be the same country that is home to one of the world’s largest cities, where, in any given neighborhood, you might hear two dozen languages spoken—including the native tongue of your grandfather, whose immigrant parents knew no English but saw that their son went to law school? Where a beneficent deity presides over a sprawling metropolis and begs to be sent your poor, your tired, your huddled masses?
Would she welcome the poor and tired masses who dwell in defiant ruin here? This place could not be farther from that other, with its immigrant dreams, its museums and theaters, its reams of educated people. Even the harshest realities seem worlds apart from where you sit. In your progressive little soul (bless your heart), you will believe that you have died and gone to Hell.
Your heart sinks as you realize that neither Google nor Siri can quickly recognize where you are, but can you blame them? You scarcely know yourself. At last, your iPhone informs you that the quickest way home is back the way you came, back across the stagnant river, back past the tired farms and pustule-shaped hills, over the endless road.
The only way out is back.
What America did you have, Walt Whitman? There is no resolution to the cognitive dissonance; this place cannot be the same country that you know. You never left your car; crossed one small, stinking river by way of a natural landmark; met no one; traversed no border that you could perceive, yet you entered a foreign land. You are now a stranger in hostile territory, which is still, somehow, your native country.
Your palms sweat as you grip the wheel and realize that your head has hurt for the entirety of this drive; the baby stirs, fusses, goes back to sleep. You cross over the Tennessee border – Tennessee is more generous with its signage – and at the quarry are met with a confusion of white dust and shifting mounds, rusty elevators and railroad tracks. From this side, you can see how the road continues back up into the mountains. From the other side, coming at it level and amid the farms, you had slammed on your brakes in a panic, believing that you had reached the end of the road.
Time did not change the land in your absence. You’d thought that it would be beautiful, but it isn’t. Your sojourn into the wilderness has left you puzzled and drained – drained like this land, with its tired fields and blemishes for hills, its huddled masses who want nothing to do with you or that other America.
Yet you can’t quite bring yourself to see the strangers who inhabit this place as beasts of a breed far different from your own; you have nothing in common—you scarcely speak the same language, and it seems that there is more that divides than unites you—but the divorce is not yet final and there is peace in the thought. Your heart and vehicle begin to ascend; you have reached the mountain road shaded by a wealth of trees blocking out everything around you but the rising pavement—the beautiful, winding road that leads to civilization, to home, to somewhere.
Then it comes to you. The source of the peace. Perhaps it was the bend in the road but, in any case, you know now how the contradiction is to be resolved. You smile at its simplicity, its sheer impossibility. The baby stirs, opening her wide, refreshed eyes to meet yours in the rear-view mirror. All shall be well:
You shall love your crooked neighbor with your crooked heart.
I’m sixteen and sunburned. To my right, there is a line of birch trees straight as tooth picks. They stand tall like candles on a birthday cake of shore. Somewhere, a baby laughs. A fire burns. All is relevant.
Months ago, I sat alone in our family car with the engine off. My legs stuck to the seat as I held the wheel and sang to the stereo, peering through my window at stratus clouds above.
What does it mean to steer?
“It’s not the time of day that makes a trout want to eat; it’s the water temperature.” *
Serenity is watching a salmon sky give way to stars and bat wings. It is knowing how to resist. Knowing to keep still. In a metal boat on Lower Highland Lake, water seeps through invisible cracks—just enough to cover my Converse, to remind me of temporality. My seat shifts as worms twist in a plastic bucket. Expectancy abounds.
“Early anglers in Hawaii would embark upon lengthy fishing trips in dugout canoes provisioned with bananas… The farther they went, the fewer the fish, causing some of them to mistake correlation for causation.” **
Seated behind me, oars in hand, is my second cousin and his wife, Joan. Together, they craft a balance of humility and strength—outwitting the perch, getting tricked by sunfish. My iPhone is wrapped in a plastic bag tossed deep into a vinyl pack. It does not beep. My line bends into a delicate parabola above the water, cast and waving fast in the wind as we wait.
In the car, in my drive, I knew not how I would meet the road; how I would learn to stall and stop, to do K-turns when no one was watching. Our mailbox was an iron wall, a thorny thicket that I could not surpass.
On the lake, however, I do not see roads. I do not hear music, save for the bobolink and sparrow gossiping overhead. Three people in a boat and nobody is talking, for we are learning the language of quiescence, its syllables punctuated by the plunk of stones and the bubbles of creatures stalling beneath us. They gasp; I gasp; we keep out of sight.
At last, a tug. My “clown pole,” orange, leans towards luck. It is the same pole that caught plastic fish in the backyard of my childhood, sturdy as I cast its hook into soil; the pole with which my five-year-old hands pierced gummy worms—the red and clear kind—at a local fishing derby, determined to win. I think for a moment how proud it must be—my lovely clown pole—bright against the muck, just trying to fit in.
And then a flopping tail breaks the water. It is a rainbow trout, a fighter. The sinews of my wrist strain against its pull. We are wary of each other. My cousins chant encouragement from behind, and it feels as though a bird is caught on my line, a confused lark that was always meant to fly. Now is its chance, as it is mine and the clown pole’s, the three of us caught in a triangle of hope.
My forearm interrupts the potentials of this scene, shaking as the fish flies towards our boat. I say “flies” because it’s nicer than dangles; hangs; suffocates; the truth of the matter.
The trout is heavy and jeweled. I cannot control its path. My cousin, equanimitous in a linen shirt, watches as its tail comes closerandcloserand
Into his face!
He spits a fishy spit and grins, unfazed, at my flurried apologies. The fish bangs beneath us, muscular, and I do not think of its babies, or its gills, or the stratus clouds of our faces peering down into its home. I do not think of Elizabeth Bishop, or tinfoil eyes, or scansion. I can’t.
Cousin Dave hands me the oars, and I begin a rick-rack path to shore, but we stop. He knows. We peer at our rainbow in a box. It’s OK, he tells me as we take the fish from its pile of ice cubes and toss it into the water. It was never meant to fly. Or, if it was, it is not my duty to say so. Who puts a rainbow in a box?
Sometimes I think
of how nice it must feel
to slide through the water unseen.
And sometimes I think
of the water itself, slick
and cool and constant.
Sometimes I feel
the copper sand
the mica and algae and gems of the deep
but then I remember
hooks hanging down
in all the nice places
with worms of temptation
a floor of skeletal crayfish cast
in a sepulcher of sand
and I suppose
that we aren’t so different
that fish and I
gliding and dodging
potentials for change
they gasp; I gasp; we keep out of sight
but sometimes I don’t want to think
I don’t want to feel
like an ogre of the deep
or a plankton, either
I just want to float
like a lily on its pad
to wait and wade
where there are no hooks,
but we must move on.
I sit muddy on a park bench licking a spoon goopy with fudge. The outlines of my cousin’s eyes are cast against woodlands, dusky and deep. Joan tells me about Scrabble; the VHS tapes that she borrowed from the library; her blueberry pie. Dave razzes my unsteady hand as I suck a cherry from its fluorescent stem. An owl darts through fir trees.
I’m sixteen and sunburned and in need of someone who can teach me how to drive– who will exhale when I slam on the brake, nod when I say I knew better. Somewhere, a fish swims, scarred and smooth. The skeleton of a crayfish puffs against sand as a toddler jumps through the water, clumsy. A bobolink cries. It was not meant to swim.
A teacher appears with tackle and toolbox; he does not flinch at a fish to the face. “David,” says Joan, “you will have to teach Brittany to parallel park, to look over her shoulder as she changes lanes.”
Correlation. Gummy worms.
Months later, on an autumn afternoon, I’m in a denim jacket and leather boots, copper leaves flying around me. “Ready for the crooked bridge?” David asks. A creek laughs below as I learn a new kind of trust. We are not on but above water, and something is cast within me. Deep and lingering, it pulls against the strain of what I used to know and what I am coming to know. David talks about Moby Dick and antique car shows as I clutch my wheel, cautious on this beaten path—all pothole and gravel.
Mama died sometime in June.
That was the first time I saw my father really cry.
It was like he was losing a part of himself,
the part that was made from a ribcage
and banished from the island.
I read my father
a poem by some white lady
because I thought it would
make the hurting echo
to pinprick or goosebump
or something finite like
the flesh of an apple.
Grandmother. We, your oldest and youngest
granddaughters (two of twenty)
make our pilgrimage to your ashes
this rainy day after subdued Thanksgiving
to break our ten-year silence.
Forgive our wandering path toward you;
the roads in this cemetery caress the hills,
but you rest in a valley, we think.
We fan out and read the names of the dead
until my boots, wet with morning rain,
face your plain square headstone.
We clear the lichen from your name;
we set the record straight.
Your stone will be the most pristine,
most recently loved,
despite no flowers withering there –
we know you wouldn’t want them.
“How hard it was to live,” my cousin says
while scraping a twig against stone.
You lost the love of your life in a boxing match
married my grandfather within six months
then lost him to the Spanish flu.
Seventeen years and six children
four still here and stubborn as ever
two lost early and buried up the hill.
We cleaned their stone too, Grandmother.
We place two smooth acorns atop your shared grave
and clear the shards that the squirrels have left.
Did you live so nobly only to be a perch, Grandmother?
Outlasting your husband by forty years
governing children and property
Did his death set you free, or drown you?
We have cleaned your tomb, Grandmother.
We have taken our pictures
and though we never met
I feel you would be proud –
I wear a Smith hat, just like you.
Where are you, O my lover, O my depth
The infinite sky in our belly,
The deep violet ocean in our eyes,
The orange softness in our touch, where…
The touch that is sensual – that melts, that communicates, that walks us back to our
The love that walks us back to our silence – is the only love ?
love that makes us our own friends – love that makes us forgive – not the other first – but first
Love that has the power to melt us in ourselves,
love that meditates and meditation that loves.
My depths rise upwards
my eyes talk not to you – but to someone else in You,
my heart talks not to you – but to that heart which only knows wanderings,
That heart which is in you..
that body which I know, is not you,
I long to whisper the secrets of my soul to your soul
Oh I long to be in you
Oh I long to not just have our bodies make love
For all to make love
for our eyes to make love
I long for our hands to dissolve in love
I long for our feet swirling in the sky
Dancing on the stars
Playing hide and seek
Like children in the sky
where are you
At our Master’s feet
Then I wait
to arrive at Love’s feet
Perhaps this is pain,
You have your time,
to keep whispering
Someday, one day, any day,
you feel ready
we’ll rise in love
Oh love, just rise
I met a girl
While peering through a looking class
Where two selves bore their souls
As if it were Judgment Day
Where her body stood, two roads forked
Diverged in separate parts
While both parts clamored for her, reciting deep desires
Her face held strong
As if she heard nothing more than the wind whispering through the trees
Even a taut warrior poised to strike
Could find no fault in either choice of path
Yet she knew at the depths of her core
That there was only one way for her to go
One road would enslave her
The other set her free
But neither would be her own
Looking into her eyes,
Those dark sapphires that held so much more than mine
Admiration swelled within me
A longing to feel as if I could take on the world
Like her, who knew that her own date
Led down only the unbeaten path.
And when we met eye to eye
I saw many futures bellow about her
As she stood strong
All the choices she made,
They were fueled by her passion-ridden heart
I prayed that I might have a single ounce
Of what made her headstrong
So that I might live another day
So that I might leave another breath
I pulled away,
I turned to go
I was there that I could barely see a flash of who she would be
A flash across the eye, a semblance of a stormy sky
It held her heart in tact
And her head in place
As though she truly knew her own way
I was long gone before I could figure out the final chord
I whisked myself down an already beaten path
Whether it would enslave me, or set me free
I would not know
But now, at the end of time
Now that the Crone has called me home
I only wish that I had known that she was me all along.
When I was younger I wanted to become a writer
I didn’t realize it rose out of loneliness
Or that my mouth would be full of words that had no navels
My sewing needle has thread too short to make a knot
The only jobs I qualify for require banter that does not end
Smiles that have no meaning
My life is just beginning when young women talk about marriage, husbands, children
I am no longer a child
I am no longer a girl
I see the snow falling outside
And I imagine myself like other women
I am not like the other young women I sit next to in lectures
I used to think Ivory Tower meant theories trapped in a tower taught by old white men with no practical application
Most of what I learn cannot solve social ills
I learned more about racism than I had in a lifetime through my straight white roommate
She told me what to call people like me and educated me about politics
I am neither straight or white nor care much for politics
I just want to live my life as a tiger lily growing in foreign soil with just enough shade to thrive
(Out of the shade and out of the sun)
Magnified a thousand times I will bloom to an indifferent sky and perish
The life others thought I should live
Gabrielle Kassel Wolinsky
The girl with the dragon teeth
and fire folded in her red dress
orders a coffee, black, without making eye contact.
A single mother, age forty, watches her
six year old cram cake into his mouth-
wonders if he will one day treat a woman’s body
the way he treats his desserts.
The angry teen with the neck tattoo
and shaved head orders a bud light,
gets a call from the clinic; test: positive.
A veteran cracks his knuckles,
flinches at the sound.
The man running the 2014 Boston Marathon
straps revenge inside him
like a homemade bomb.
A divorced father has a dirty mouth,
a sucker punch and an appetite
A ninth grade teacher
reads my poem to the class-
calls it a tiny murder.
(as told by Eve)
Eve, Do You Love Him?
(the question my mother always wanted to ask her.)
Not if he were the last man on Earth.
He was the only man on Earth,
But I couldn’t see past the idea that
I could have my own ideas,
That the green apples could taste like something
Other than Heaven with such a bitter aftertaste.
Who’s to say you can’t argue with God?
But He named me woman
How could He expect me to cause
Anything more than woe?
I’d like to apologize to all of you
Women who wait for a savior
Who was once dressed as a man.
I’d like to apologize
Because I think God made some apples bitter
To spite me.
I’m just glad He remembers me–
His first taste of humanity.
I’m to blame for the word slut.
Don’t think it’s a bad thing.
Satan said words to me
Like he though I knew what they meant,
Knowledge existed between his legs.
I took it and I think
God was offended I didn’t want Him instead.
Now He gets men to look at you
Like they want you
What they really want is to be a god.
But, I guess those men weren’t lying to you
When they said education is bad
Look how my kids turned out.
Don’t let that fool you–
Boys will be boys. They want to be gods, remember?
When he asks you if you love him
That’s called the women’s movement.