Passing Clouds

Tara Harbo

St. Catherine University, North Carolina, USA

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Where are you going?”

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

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

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

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

“Okay, okay.”

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

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

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

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


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

“That’s really not an answer.”

She shrugs.

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


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

“You need to stop calling me that.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

“It’s a little late for that!”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“But you actually want to be here.”

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

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

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

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

“Far enough.”

“Without any food?”

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

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

“Thank you.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Thank you, and g’night Liam.”

“Night Mar’s.”

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


Diadou Sall

St. Catherine University, North Carolina, USA

The smallest cuts are the most painful.
You don’t know where they are,
When you get them,
Or who you get them from,
But you know they’re there.
Sending sharp tensions,
Down its desired path,
Both skin-deep and shallow.
Some a clean shot straight through the heart,
Others a mere pinch.
It’s there.
Small, yet discreet.
Sometimes you feel them,
And they hurt,
But others,
You forget they’re there.
Like the slums of their sorrow missed you
On its way to another,
Cursing them with its touch.
But it chose you.
It marked you,
Again and again,
Tricking you into thinking it’s gone,
But catches you at your most vulnerable.
It’s there.
Watching and waiting,
For the most perfect moment to strike,
And even risks it sometimes,
Losing its patience to take you down,
Wanting you now more than ever.
Here more than there.
It’s there.
It knows everywhere you are,
And everywhere you’ll be.

Tutorial Level

Fern Schiffer

St. Catherine University, St Paul, Minnesota, USA

Attempt 1:

Roommate sits down across from you, and starts crocheting.

>Say hey.

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

your throat. You lose.

Attempt 2:

Roommate sits down across from you, and starts crocheting.

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

>Look up from your laptop and say hey.

Roommate looks up, and back down. You lose.

Attempt 3:

Roommate sits down across from you, and starts crocheting.

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

>Look up from your laptop and say hey.

>Say how’s the homework been today?

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

>Shrug back.

>Say that’s rough.

Roommate looks up, then back down. You lose.

Attempt 4:

Roommate sits down across from you, and starts crocheting.

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

>Look up from your laptop and say hey

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

Attempt 5:

Roommate sits down across from you, and starts crocheting.

>get up and walk to your bedroom

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

Attempt 6:

Roommate sits down across from you, and starts crocheting.

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

>think to yourself about your roommate just sitting there.

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

>Look up, then back down

Attempt 7:

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

Attempt 8:

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

>all you can do is stare

Attempt 9:

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

will never render

Attempt 10:

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

>say I wish I could do that.

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

Roommate looks up.

Dress By Gram. Curls By Mom.

Nikkole DeMars

St. Catherine University, Minnesota, USA

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

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

Nature vs. Nurture

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

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

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

The Poop Diaries

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

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

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


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

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

Do you Want to See My Sister?

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

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

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

Love and Kisses from Gram

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

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

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

You should read a real book

Jessica-Ann Rodriguez

St. Catherine University, St. Paul, MN

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

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

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

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

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

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


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