By: Usra Shaukat
Within a world of your own making, you cannot stop growing. It should be unthinkable to be negligent towards any Experience and any Emotions that you go through, for all of them make you who you really are and will help you in the path of discovering yourself. Downplaying your emotions and experiences cannot lead to an understanding of self or, beyond that, an understanding of life. Owning them, instead, translates into a kind of proprietorship and can define how much you know yourself, as well as how you want the world to view you. These emotions that you have, and every memory you created of, from, and for them, tell your story– which you author. So own them. They are you. They speak of you as you speak of them.
Every wracking cry, with the loss of someone from life and earth, accompanied by grief and pain and clouds of sadness is you.
Your earthy smile, with pressed lips or not, the styling of which is yours only, is you.
Your raw laughter, loud and weird, oozing happiness and moments of joy, is you.
Your blazing anger when it doesn’t feel right, when you witness a wrong-doing, when you cannot fathom how something like that could possibly happen– that feeling of heat and anger is you.
And feelings of simple nothingness, when, simply put, you feel emotionless and numb– you feel nothing… that is also you.
The hundreds of other feelings that you encounter are valid in their own way. They are results of our experiences and our ways of life. How you ensure your emotional wellbeing and approach what you want to express depends solely on your interpretations of what life has to offer you. Connecting yourself to the warmth, tenderness, energy, and vibe of each emotion can make you realize what you are, who you are, and how you are you. Stop and consider that. It’s a cycle, really; your experiences turn to emotions, and your emotions turn to experiences. That’s natural, but it requires work to feel as though these emotions and experiences are yours.
So, as you make memories because of and for your emotions, jump into your experiences. Fully realizing the depth and length of your experience is hard work, but it can also be extremely easy. It takes inquisitiveness and interest; approachability; courage. It takes the feeling of being a free soul with an open mind, ready to learn and grow through experience.
Embrace your mind and memories; embellish your soul, and see how it all fits.
You and I? We define our lives and the experiences and emotions that come out of it.
Last semester I wrote a research paper for my First Year Seminar, Educating Women at Home and Abroad. The paper was about women’s education in ultra orthodox Jewish society in Israel, the Haredim. What I found struck me because the Haredim have created a Jewish world that is so different from mine. The life I lead as a Jewish woman is unlike the lives these Haredi Jewish women lead in a society conceived around strict formations of culture and customs, all centered around Judaism.
Reflecting on this paper as well as my life as a Jewish woman at college, I thought about how two Jewish women can have drastically different experiences. It was fascinating to learn how women in the Haredi society are educated with their societal roles as mothers and wives in mind. These women are educated within the insular sphere that is the Haredim, keeping their society intact. As a Jewish woman myself, it was striking to study how these women’s educations are so rooted not only in their religion, but the specific place they hold in their society. Education in these two societies plays very different roles, especially in the way it is formatted to relate to women.
Growing up in the American educational system, Judaism was so divorced from my formal education. I grew up in two worlds, the public school system and a Jewish community learning about Jewish culture, customs, and religion. Judaism in my life signified a community that practices similar customs rather than a structural way of life. Judaism for me is a way of connecting with people, while also partaking in traditions, rather than a type of law. The divergence of my Jewish experience from other women’s experiences speaks to the diversity of the roles religion plays in people’s lives.
Inspired by the Dakota Access Pipeline protests, written in response to the following video:
These animals heard blood rolling under the earth.
They came in wide swaths across the plains,
Great Buffalo with heads bent and hirsute
called to that spot in dreams,
a shadow passing through the canvas of the tent.
Thousands stopped to listen to the rumble of them,
to yip from the tops of trucks while the pump of bullets
popping rubber against skin made maps of their ribs,
dark purple budding in wide circles above cartilage.
Over here, the grasses turn brown and then black with
soot from the flames that sleep in the blades of them.
I see a woman pacing with her child at her breast,
his mouth open wide to the aftertaste of sacrifice.
Faizah Aziz Aditya, student at the Asian University for Women in Bangladesh, created this visual reprise of her fall ’16 piece “Residing Within.” Her work illuminates themes of “Peace” just as much as “Traditions Old and New,” and we are excited to share this latest rendition of her work.
Welcome, readers, to this rich compilation of visual and written works brought to us by young women writers and artists from around the world. We are thrilled to share our Fall 2016 issue, comprising eleven visual pieces and thirteen works of prose and poetry. From South Africa to South Korea, eighth grade to college, our selected artists individually and collectively reveal what it means to create.
Grounding our work this fall is the theme of “Traditions: Old and New.” As editors, we found tradition a compelling, multivalent prompt—a constant by which to align and contrast diverse experiences, yet an ever-changing entity reflective of our times. Traditions are imbued in our ecology, from nuclear families to countries and cultures; they are instantiated by the foods we eat, the songs we sing in the shower, the ways we grieve and celebrate—tying themselves to our most intimate moments and public lives alike.
What are our traditions as women? Might we find commonality through tradition, and how may we honor our distinct differences? How should we negotiate tensions between our origins and futures? Which traditions do we hold dear, and which do we seek to disrupt? Do we wish to institute new traditions? If you look closely, the following pages seek to answer these questions. Perhaps they will inspire you to ask some of your own.
It is humbling to edit the craftsmanship of women we have never met, to be entrusted with their insights and expressions. To our contributors, thank you for your honest and refreshing perspectives. May the tradition of writing be ever in your fingertips.
Brittany Collins, Editor-in-Chief
Beth Derr, Managing Editor
She is a bright, hot, walking eruption of beauty. When she walks, eyes fall on her. The ground beneath her shakes. Plant embryos sprout from the ground in anticipation so as to not miss the spectacle that passes by. Dark skies split open to make way for the sun – for only its radiance is bright enough to surpass her glow. When she speaks, the world is enthralled, holding on to the words she utters as though they were gold. She knows her value and she puts the men who dare to challenge her finesse to shame. Who is she?
She is woman.
Without her glow, the world is dreary and cold. It is lifeless and monotonous. Embryos become stubborn in the ground for they know what awaits them above. The sun retires and appears for short spells, its presence no better than that of a dying streetlight in the night. Without her, the words of the world are corrupt and dry – gasping desperately for justice and life.
Even though she is the source of vivacity, zest, and felicity, many are still oblivious to the significance of her presence. Naïve; they cast their eyes away and deem themselves more powerful – confidently leading their world into annihilation. They doubt Woman’s power and deem her unequal or unfit to lead. Woman allows herself to be brainwashed by their ways. She follows and soon becomes blind to her own radiance. Her feet drag as she walks yet the flowers still bloom in her path and the sun still shines brightly upon her head. She sees it not, for her head droops, her eyes are filled with tears of worthlessness, and her shoulders carry empty struggles. The source of her power – her heart – dampens as she becomes dubious of her capabilities and self-worth.
But I am not.
Stand strong Woman! Stand strong! I say: you are the light and the hope that the world needs. It waits patiently for you. How much longer will you sit despairing in your puddle of self-pity? Do not lose yourself in the ways of this world. Dry your tears! Clear your eyes of the dust that corrupts your visions and aspirations. You have the power to move mountains. Your mind has the strength of a thousand men. Your destiny lies not in the shadows, but in the light, where all can dote in your presence once again. You are beautiful, and you are capable. I know this because I have seen your power and might. I know this because you are Woman. I know this because I am Woman too.
By: Madeline Massey
Laurel School, Shaker Heights, Ohio
Our song will always be the luminous late night conversations
Far apart and exhausted and cupping our phones in our hands like injured birds
It’s so fragile this mess I make out of our love
Our song will be what was once hers
The million melodies we’ve threaded through the open ears of other people
My harmony will be my hand on your head and your messy bun
Your lips on someone else’s neck
Sing to me about how the bones jut out on his spine
The curve of his ear
Sing to me about our bleary eyed sunset glances
The birds we’ll let nestle in other’s hearts
Oh these nests are such fragile things
Sing to me about her robin eggshell thin wrists
I’ll lace twigs in the grooves of your heart
By: Taraneh Tabib-Azar
Laurel School, Shaker Heights, Ohio
By: Thando Miambo
Barnard College, New York, NY
By: Sofia Ayres-Aronson
Laurel School, Shaker Heights, Ohio
He looks sad, standing there. His face is down, he’s looking at his hands. What’s in his hands? Paper, a little crumpled-up ball of paper, no bigger than a quarter. He says his soul is on ice. He’s wearing jeans and a plain white T-shirt; barefoot because he left his sneakers at the playground. Small ears, small nose, big lips, long toes. He’s standing at the blackboard and his palms are covered in white chalk dust. The last time I saw those palms they were wet and blue and colder than ice. Right when those little hands grasped my arm and I pulled him from wet icy rocks into the ambulance. Blaring lights. Blue hands. Brisk water.
He looks at the purple notes Ms. Burnes wrote on the blackboard. The purple notes bother him, because some letters aren’t purple. The e should be blue, and b is banana yellow, and c is peach. I can see him working this out in his head. The letters bother him. He’s stuck on it. He needs to fix it. His long nimble fingers reach for the eraser, and those long smooth nimble fingers quickly erase the purple grammar lesson. He relaxes as soon as the purple is gone.
He puts his basketball on a desk and unfolds the paper in his hand. I know that basketball- it’s the one his coach gave him after he had to be kicked off the team. The S in SPALDING is scratched out now, and green paint is sprinkled on the side. Wonder where that came from? There’s a knife in his pocket, and he takes it out. No, razor blade. He presses it into his skin and draws an angel (I think it’s an angel) into his wrist. A circle on top of a triangle for a head, wings, and a ring above the circle. Then he starts drawing something around it. Those nimble fingers falter and the blade slips and cuts him where he didn’t want it to go. The angel’s messed up now. He moves his lips, angry, but he can’t make any noise. He can’t let the foster lady see him here, of course he can’t, how could he forget? He presses the paper onto the bleeding angel with a slash down its middle. The blood runs together with the ink on the paper. He slips on his hoodie and picks up his basketball, the blade back in his pocket. Of course, the whole time, he never flinches. Mikey never flinches.
He licks his lips then. He puts the foster certificate with the wet angel-shaped bloodstain in the trash to rest among the old homework and pencil shavings. He runs his fingers down the bookcase, stopping at The Boxcar Children. I know he loves this series. He’s already read this one, though. He lowers his eyes and puts the book back. Then he just stands there, his back to me, and I can’t see what he’s doing, except his long fingers, those long brown fingers which strum his arm like he’s playing the guitar. I heard he played a hymn on his guitar for his father’s funeral. I wonder if he cried. I bet he didn’t cry.
He’s shaved his hair. Afro’s gone. There’s a kind of zig zag drawn in the back of his head, almost like a lightning bolt. The latest fashion. Even eight year olds want to be cool, and Mikey’s always worried about how he looks. I always told him he looks fine. Handsome, really. That pink braces girl Anya, fawned over him. Of course he never noticed. Mikey notices everything, except for that pink braces girl Anya.
And then he turns around and looks straight at me, straight through me and out the window at the evening sun. His mouth twitches and he thinks about crying, about the comfort of heaving cold, wet little sobs, and watching the sun set, then going home, wherever that is. But he doesn’t allow himself that. Of course he doesn’t, because after all these years, he’s still Mikey, my Mikey, and no matter how much he’s changed, he hasn’t changed at all.
By: Sarah Marshall
Bryn Mawr, Baltimore, Maryland
*NOTE: The following original poem is based on the painted screen “Women on a Bridge Tossing Fans into a River,” over which I have no claim. A link to the image is below for reference. The screen is currently in exhibition at The Metropolitan Museum of Art.
The crocuses died, three at a time, falling with cracking brown and bursts of pastel,
Swallowed up by the hues and hems and haws of the river rolling down the banks
And up the cartwheels, digging worn, rounded toes into the waves,
Gathering the old August, submerging the color, tainting the browns with yellow and silk
And down again, once more, the dreadful plunge.
Women walked along the banks of the Uji river, fans trailing in hand;
The wind shifted their skirts without the feet or certain movement, crocuses dying
Hours ahead and in the distances of silken gold and pink ribbons, shaped in roses,
They walked austerely, chins moon-like, raised, crescent and cast away from the sun
Into the darker parts of the water; they walked as if they tread on that darkening surface
Falling away from their feet and bringing death along in cauterized swirls and strider-darts
From the browning crocuses between their toes.
The fans dropped down abruptly, cutting the wind into fragments— they behaved as weapons
As they fell and slowed, curled under themselves in breaths of relief and icy exhales into the Staling fall air, and sank away over the froth of the bridge pillars and waterwheels,
Submerged and sinking into the approaching sunset.
The women watched them go from the bridge, hands to palms and fingers to the brittle edges of
Dragonfly fans, the green newly minted and fogging up the bone-backed translucent cloths
As they beckoned the breeze and plummeted into the rolling orange,
Sank, turned, and continued on toward the churning grain mills and the descending horizon.
Pinks danced on outstretched toes and unused fingernails, ribbons kissed and twisted
Into the golden wisps of atmosphere tugging at the women’s clothes.
The fans netted the wind, caught exhales of excitement as dark blue trouts breaching the water.
All colors muttered and gleamed as they swam down the Uji banks, seeping into the waves,
Scenes of foothill cherry trees and purple courts and cattails rolled into inky patches on the froth.
Every color brushed onto folded, thin canvas, every glance of the day but of this—
The red sun and clouded skies, the darkening water.
They gathered up the old August in scenes of happiness and tossed them down
Into the last hot breaths of the summer sky.
By: Daania Tahir
Laruel School, Shaker Heights, Ohio
I hope the sky is blue back home. A lustrous, vivid blue that infuses your heart with hopes of new beginnings. The sky is what keeps me sane these days. I think of it how it’s a blanket draped over the world, holding us under it’s beauty. It reminds me that there are gentle things in the world, fragile things that we humans cannot impair with our corrupted minds. It’s with you, suffused in our house, and with me, following me through the labyrinth of trenches. I keep to myself these days, terrified to open my heart to a friend, only to have theirs shot clean through the middle, or bombed into grim ashes. We are all intertwined, each pair of eyes in the trench shares the same hollow look of fear, fatigue, pity, and desperation that is irreparable. The pounding beat of bombs echoes in my ears and fades into a high pitched buzzing. I watch as my brothers eyes go black for the hunger of bloodshed, and it’s as though death has already caught us with its viscid fingers. The rats scurry throughout our trenches, nibbling our food and resources as though they are condemning us for our actions. All I can this is: we are no better than them. It is the human capacity of mercy, of undergoing sorrow and remorse that separates us from barbaric animals. We mourn and love and feel sentiments so deep in our souls which is what makes us so tragically beautiful. But I have been proven wrong, this race has proven itself wrong. We are brutal, deadly, moronic animals whose brains are dense with our own desires. We are taking lives, minds, hearts, souls, and people as though it is a daily step in our routine. When I see the silhouette of a man, I raise my hand and shoot without blinking, then scurry away like a rat leaving it’s meal half-finished. It is how we greet one another, a gunshot. It is how we gather together, a bomb. We tuck each other into our graves to say goodnight. All I am now is a remnant of war. After the battlefield has been worn out I will be the ghost of misery, a simple recollection of the human race stripped to it’s worst qualities. A reminder of the ruthless and infernal doings that one man can do to another. None of this can take away my glorious sky. The shrill of bullets, screams of comrades, splatters of blood, nights of constant terror are all hidden under an ominous and breathtaking curtain of blue. I hope that when the day comes for my life to be taken, for death to finally pull me under, that I am lying on my back and looking up at that sky, letting it inhale me into its wonder and innocence.
By: Vanessa Finnegan
Sweet Briar College, Virginia
I am both light and heavy. I have no feeling in my brain. My hair is only a formality. It grows from loose scalp that can easily be peeled away. My skull is brittle too, for it feels no passion towards what it poses to protect. It has no want at all except to decompose and become soil again. The brain within it is indifferent. It could be here or in some other realm completely. It could be as it is or as it was, the root of a tree or a bumble bee’s wing. It doesn’t matter except that it will not be decided by me. Today it is morning. Tomorrow it will probably be morning too, and then it will be night. It will never be by my own choice. My mouth is only a messenger, my heart only a drum that beats for fun. When it grows tired it will be done. None of this body grows to care for me, to love me, or become me more than physically. Once each is through it will disown me without pity or remorse. Each one will stay on being in some different form or way. But without them I evaporate, no form from which to change.
I feel her eternal lack of body when I walk through air; when I walk through it with such ease. I feel her nonexistence. The bruises that she gave me are almost completely vanished, and I haven’t felt pain in days. It’s a strange sort of feeling walking along this same cracked and crooked sidewalk, dragging my fingers along the sides of the same chain-link fences that have bordered my path to school for as long as I can remember. Strange because I let myself enjoy the feeling of the cold metal against my fingertips. I let it trickle up my palm until it gives me a shiver, and the shiver is like joy at a higher frequency—like a little jolt of electricity; I think it must be the closest feeling I’d know to describe the word euphoric. Strange because, where the sidewalk dips and crumbles, I can lift my feet and walk myself right over and it’s nothing. It means nothing to me. Or was it stranger before? Back when the cracked ground opened up and twisted the same way her mouth did and it made my stomach churn just to look; back when I’d drag my feet and stumble, and getting up seemed so hard that sometimes I’d just sit there and cry; back when I’d press my fingers hard into this chain-link fence and they would burn as I’d drag them along. Back then, everything, even my own body, spoke of her hatred and her harshness.
Now, as I step over the gaping cracks in my path, all I see is a flash of limp lips; harmless, immovable, meaningless pink flesh. I see them in the corner of my eye as I pass. For a moment, I think I can see specks of brown dotting their pink surface. My thoughts drift apprehensively towards a curiosity about the taste of dirt; the image of those brown specked lips urging me dangerously towards guilt and irrevocable regret. But my imagination is interrupted by the realization that I already know what dirt tastes like. I remember one night years ago: my face planted strongly against the ground where she held me by a fist-full of my long, knotted, grey-brown hair, her other hand shoving loose dirt in my face. Instead of a need for repentance, I recognize a sort of morbid irony and turn my focus towards kicking a small piece of cement that has chipped off of the sidewalk—watching it bounce along the hard surface, undamaged even as it is continually slammed into the larger counterpart from which it sprang.
Walking into my 1st period classroom, I decide that, instead of my usual seat in the back row amongst the nappers and the texters, I will take the empty seat at the front row next to its sole member, Henria. Henria is a small Russian girl whom I’ve never spoken to but whose voice is generally the only student voice I ever hear speaking words relevant to the topic we are meant to be learning. As I take the seat, she turns to me with small dark eyes and a round, somewhat dollish face.
“You are lost?” she says in her thick accent.
Without responding I lean over to open a faded green backpack with little dragonflies on it that I’ve had for as long as I can remember. I pause and get lost in the pattern. I remember the day I first got it. She used to like me back then, back when I was small and manageable. When I was ten I told her I needed a new one because it was too small for me. Oh right, that’s why. That was the day I tasted dirt. She never liked it when I’d admit to getting bigger.
“Khemm?” Henria coughs loudly.
“Good morning,” I say dismissively as I sit up with my notebook in hand and place it on my desk.
This is Chemistry class. We are learning how long it takes for garbage to decompose; a glass bottle takes a million years, a tin can fifty, a newspaper six weeks, etc. I wonder why it takes so much longer for a body to disintegrate than a soul. I’ve heard more of the words spoken in my classes these past ten days then in all fifteen years of my life together. I suppose sometimes you have to cut off a limb or two to save your vitals. My body works better without her; my legs, ears, arms, they all work so easily at my will. But I know it won’t always be this way. One day my body will be stiff flesh in the ground, and I will be gone.
Once I pulled the hair from my scalp and buried it with her in the yard. I know how similar her body is to mine; we have the same thin lips, the same long legs, the same knobby fingers. I know how my body came from hers, and to her it belongs. I didn’t look at her face when I dug down to her. I know we have the same eyes, and I still remember their pale stare the night her body betrayed her.
I think about death now and I don’t understand. I don’t understand why a person can’t simply will their body into action, into survival. It enrages me.
They say when a person becomes blind or deaf their other senses are heightened. As my body becomes stronger, hers is slowly rotting away.
“Hello?” prompts an irritated Russian voice.
I look up suddenly from my notebook where I have been tracing and retracing a sketch of mine; the lines now thick and dark to the point of nearly ripping through the paper. The sketch is of a pregnant woman with a young child at her side. At first glance you might think the mother and child are holding hands, but looking closer there are no hands to speak of on that place on the page. There are only wrists twisting together as if they were ropes; tied together inhumanly in a snake-like tangle; veins from one reaching into the other.
“We are partners” Says Henria.
I look at her blankly.
“We have to answer questions together.” She huffs impatiently, pointing to the worksheet that had been placed carelessly at the corner of my desk.
Suddenly looking down at where my hands rest on my notebook, she reaches over and takes it out from under me. My heart gives a jolt, eyes wide in fear. I’m exposed and paralyzed, unable to make a move to retrieve it. She looks at it contemplatively.
Suddenly her attitude seems to shift: “This is beautiful,” she says, “you’re a.. artist?”
I stay silent, frozen.
“Why are their arms like that?” she asks, tilting the notebook sideways and holding it up close to her face.
There’s silence for a moment, and then something compels me to tell her: “If the connection is cut, they both bleed out.” The words come out of me as if I’m in a dream, not really knowing what I mean until I say it.
Another silence, longer this time.
“Ahh,” she says excitedly as if understanding something significant. “It looks like a… placenta” she comments, tilting her head to one side and looking closely.
“Who are they?” she asks.
“It’s me as a kid… and my mother.”
“You must love her a lot.” She smiles at me as she hands back the notebook.
My heart feels like breaking, but I stifle a laugh. The bell rings.
This morning and every morning for the past five days, I have carried Little Gina the fifteen blocks to pre-school because she loves to be up high, and because my arms feel amazing, and because I’m celebrating that I know she’s getting there. This is probably the first time all year she has been to school for this long without an absence. After school I bring her home the same way.
When little Gina asks where mommy went I tell her I made it so she can’t hurt us anymore, and she wraps her little arms around my legs and giggles with delight, and that makes me feel better about it all. But when I tell her that mommy’s name was Gina too, and that she should change hers so she can have her own, she scrunches up her face and yells “No!” and starts to cry. I hate it, but I still ask her every day after school. I’m afraid that if she keeps that name she will betray me. We already have so much that ties us to her—so much that prophecies her resurrection through us.
Henria walks with me to pick up Little Gina. She says she wants to see more of my art. She talks a lot and I say little. She talks about how no one in our school wants to be anything, how they are all going to waste away here just like their parents and their parents before that. I wonder at how a person can find it so easy to open up like that. I’ve never said as much to anyone about what I really think, not nearly. She will be the first person to visit my house since the man who put Little Gina in my mom. She will be the first person to ever visit for me. Asking to bring home a friend was never worth it with her around. All it got me was bruises and tears and an earful about only trusting family.
“You listening?” asks Henria.
I look up from my feet and give a small nod.
“There she is,” I say, waving my arms to catch little Gina’s attention amongst the crowd of preschoolers waiting outside the school. She immediately rushes out to me, pushing violently past the horde of children as if she were nearly drowned and is just now finally coming up for air.
She reaches me with a stumbling smile which fades when she sees Henria standing near me. “Fee-fee, who’s she?” asks Little Gina with the accusing point of a stubby finger.
For a moment I don’t know what to say. Should I call her my friend, a classmate, someone who likes my sketches? I settle with “she’s coming home with us.”
Little Gina looks up at me with a very stern look on her face. “That’s bad,” she tells me.
Five years ago, the corpse in the ground in my backyard pushed my baby sister out of her own body. When we all came home from the hospital, that corpse watched me stroke my baby sister’s face and whisper, “you’re all mine baby,” but I wasn’t quiet enough and the corpse snatched my hand up from the baby’s face, squeezing it hard, and with her face right up to mine she told me, “this isn’t your baby, Fiona, she’s mine. Just like you’re mine, only this one’s gonna be so much better. She’s gonna be just like me.”
9 months earlier I was a little rap on that corpse’s tightly closed door, and she was the grunting and groaning sounds coming from the other side. The rest of that week I slept on the porch to learn a lesson about privacy.
“I’m going to be a doctor,” Henria tells us as we walk.
“Why’s that?” I ask.
“Because it’s respectable… and because doctors understand things, like how bodies work; like how to make people better, or sick if they want. They have power.”
“Power,’ I mumble to myself.
“What do you want to be, little one?” she asks, bending down and around me slightly to direct her question toward little Gina, who has been walking on my other side, grasping my pant leg but refusing to look me in the face.
“I don’t talk to strangers” she says indignantly, keeping her gaze straight ahead.
I open the short, rusty gate that separates the sidewalk from my property. The creak is my mother crying for me not to let outsiders in. There is a long, sharp, stretching pain in my chest as I force myself to ignore her. Henria takes a careless step onto the soil past the gate; her soil. Henria has no idea what she’s done; how this would make my mother feel, how she would make me suffer for it. It doesn’t matter though. It doesn’t matter. I try to slow my racing heart. It doesn’t matter. She’s gone. She’s nothing. It doesn’t matter. She’s gone and all that’s left of her is flesh and bones.
I am in a dark place, unable to move, unable to breathe. Cold hard matter packed in on me on all sides. I’m underground! No… I’m in the bottom drawer of my mother’s dresser, packed between piles of cold, thick jeans.
Before I know what’s happened, Henria and I are walking towards my bedroom having left Little Gina out in the living room to play grumpily with her array of stained and naked Barbie dolls, all missing one limb or another.
Just as I feel like I’m about to black out from a lack of oxygen, a glimmer of light shines through the crack of the drawer and gets increasingly brighter and larger as the drawer is pulled out from the dresser. I burst out from under the pile of jeans, take a deep breath and immediately start to cry.
“Mommy, why did you do that?” I sob, “Why did you put me in there?”
“You need to know who has the power around here, Fiona. You need to learn to respect me. I am your mother. I gave you life and I will make it what it should be.”
The first thing we see as we walk into my cold, dreary, dimly lit room is a huge dark sketch that takes up nearly the entirety of the back wall. It’s like the sketch I drew in chemistry class today, only different. In this sketch I am grown; as grown as I am now, anyways. Little Gina is not a fetus in my mother’s belly but the small child she is today, and I carry her in one arm. My other arm is still connected to my mother, tied in a knot of wrists and veins, but in this image she lays limp on the ground and it appears as though I am struggling to walk forward, dragging her behind me.
“Beautiful,” gasps Henria, going to touch the charcoal contours of my mother’s shape. Upon noticing the black she has gotten on her fingers, she bends her arm upwards at the elbow, holding her hand up daintily as if to remind herself it is now out of commission.
“Do you think power is always respectable?” I ask.
“Don’t matter. Power gets respect. Gets what it wants” She says matter-of-factly.
I wanted to kill her. I just didn’t expect it to be so easy. I stare at the limp charcoal woman for a long silent moment, a heat rising in my gut.
“Power isn’t real. Even the most powerful people die. They don’t have a choice,” I tell the wall.
Suddenly I feel that everything this girl, this stranger, has said to me, both simultaneously offends and illuminates the truth, and all of the weakness of my body returns to me. I am the same girl who falls down on the side walk and can’t will herself up. My eyes grow blurry and words pour like tears out of my mouth.
“You think you can have power by being a doctor, making people better…or sick if you want to. You can change their bodies, use your hands to fix or break them, but when those hands no longer work for you you’ll be nothing.” Then my words are violent and shrieking, echoing in my own ears.
“You won’t have the power to tell them: ‘move hands, move!’ because you’ll be dead whether you like it or not and those people you thought you held power over, they’ll die too whether fixed or broken. You die choiceless and powerless and pointless, no matter how much power you think you have.” I fall to the ground sobbing.
When I look up, Henria is gone.
I hear hurried footsteps making creaks across the living room floor, and then I hear the front door slam behind her.
When darkness falls, I tuck Little Gina into my bed and lay with her until she falls asleep. She never had her own room. She used to sleep with our mother, except on nights when our mother preferred to sleep alone and she’d have Little Gina sleep with me. I take one last look at the sketch on my wall, its shape like a shadow in the dark room with only the light coming through the cracked doorway making it visible. I know what I have to do.
As I watch the red stream of life pour out of me, I think I’ve done the right thing. She is my life source, and to keep the power of my own life I would have to drag her behind me forever. The only way to truly get rid of her is to get rid of all of her; to make her body whole. Now there will be no story of a struggle between powers. I thought I could sacrifice a limb to save my vitals, but I am the limb. She is the heart. A tree doesn’t simply rip itself from its roots and walk away. This body was never mine.
The stars blur and dim above me. The blood from my right wrist rushes down the side of my mother’s cold cheek like tears, as if she would ever cry for me, my hand resting limp on her forehead. My left wrist stains the faded green t-shirt Little Gina wears for a nightgown, my arm wrapped around her loosely now. The cut across her throat drips blood onto the soil beneath us.
Her chokes and cries remind me of the day she was born. It’s an amazing bit of symmetry; that day next to this one.
By: Evey Weisblat
Laurel School, Shaker Heights, Ohio
Ariadne, where are you?
I keep running into—
I am lost in here
hidden amidst the tangled chords
that over time have learned
to blind the guard inside
my lighthouse of a head
sometimes this labyrinth feels like a
a tragic kind of entropy quietly invading my ribcage,
plucking my silent heart strings
cutting my thread
never once stopping to ask if breathing is the very thing that’s
By: Katie Sowles
Hollins University, Virginia
Like heat and crushing pressure
Made me a diamond
By: Marci Batchelor
Hollins University, Virginia
A phantom lion greets me
at my doorstep.
His paws are the size of
a human face. I give him
and make a scooting
gesture towards my perfect
can ever knock this tower of me
Nature must think of me as some
in need of a purple scream.
A shadow lion ploy is cute.
I give Nature points.
Still, un-shuddered, I twist my
keys into the shiny door knob
my perfect home.
Still, un-shuddered, I twist my
form, stretch and yawn.
Nature is not one to let up.
A real visitor waits for me on the inside.
A small ant, solid and spindly, peeps.
Shriek of shrieks.
I drop my bags. Drop my jaw.
A gallon of whole milk busts.
By: Theresa Egan
Laurel School, Shaker Heights, Ohio
When I was a little girl,
My thanks never meant more than a genetically mutated goldfish
But my influence was transparent like filtered water from a kitchen sink
And my love and aggravation had wings to soar outside my integumentary bedroom.
When I was a young girl,
I spoke the truth with protruding branches.
Mother called back my obtuse gifts
But I leaped and bounded through golden oblivion.
When I was a middle school child,
Priority and commitment warred like the Greeks and Trojans,
Impurities broke the surface and required tools for fixing,
Tools like consciousness, carelessness, and metal wires.
Now I am a teenager in high school.
A veil has been lifted from my once glowing aura
Revealing a peculiar creature with mangled joy and wilting grace
Where Pandora’s box thrives with animosity inside a beating heart in wait.
By: Michaela Wuycheck
Xavier College Prep, Phoenix, Arizona
When you feel like you’re the one
That did the killing,
That held the knife and thrust the dagger,
That noosed the chord and threw the line,
And you did nothing more than
Turn an eye towards the horizon.
When you feel like you’re responsible
For silent tears shed in the night,
And secret glances at the clock
Because you’ve put a timer on the company
By doing nothing more than
Turning an eye towards the horizon.
You know you need this.
You think you want this.
But all you feel is guilt.
Somehow, you’re no longer broken, but
Responsible for breaking.
They don’t see you crumbling,
But see your blistered fingers
Pull the plaster from the wall.
You are the instigator.
You are the restless.
You left solidarity to find the hoax of singularity.
And your family—
They are the abandoned.
They are the comfortable,
They don’t see the horizon line.
You know they’ll support you, and want what’s best, but until that moment you’ll stand alone.
Fighting tears, faking smiles, and embracing the chilled embrace
Of a lying wind that whispers the secrets
Of a timer
Ticking the end.
By: Paola Mendez
Simmons College, Boston, Massachusetts
They hung there perfectly crystallized. A quilt entwining itself over her dark circles. Her cheeks had become accustomed to the rigidity and heaviness that nineteen years of open wounds, broken hearts, bubbling laughter, and cycling misery brought around. She had yet to meet a single professional whose hand hadn’t started to tremble the second their fingertips brushed against the translucent formations. The first doctor her parents took her to was disgusted and refused to even look at her, much less find any way to treat her. The second doctor told her she should try to get more rest and eat healthier. The third doctor gave her a prescription of pills that she was supposed to take three times a day, which stopped her from crying. When the effects started taking place, she realized she no longer felt anything. Feelings bounced off her skin, as though emotions were mosquitoes and she was bathed in bug repellant. When she realized laughter felt heavy and forced, like coughing cotton balls out of her throat, she stopped swallowing numbness. Truly, she thought, it is better to feel hurt and still be able to feel happiness than to feel nothing at all.
When she was younger, she learned that she was not conventionally pretty. It wasn’t the big nose that she had inherited from her mother’s side of the family, or how she felt as though her stomach always stuck out too far. When she became aware of how terrified people were of the permanence of her waterworks, she learned that others were just afraid of people like her — people who were walking bruises. As a matter of fact, she thought there was something oddly beautiful about the way she carried pain so publicly. In a society that glorified indestructible facades and repression dug deeper than buried treasure, she was the undeniable reminder of the peoples’ humanity.
As she got older, the load of her own perception of the world became too much to carry. The suffering going on everywhere was draining, and she carried the sorrow that she saw in the very core of her soul. Watching the news wasn’t an option anymore because she feared that one day her body would simply refuse to lift the density of existence. On the very last day of her life, she decided to take a visit to one of her favorite gardens. Strangers’ eyes bore holes through her fragile, aging body, but she tried her best to smile and reflect love. There was something definite about the steps that she was taking; they were firm, yet gentle and sure of themselves—as if her feet knew it was the last time they would ever kiss every patch of earth she walked on.
The garden was overgrown and blossoming with life. Rose bushes tangled and choked dandelions while patchworks of daisies made nature seem like a professional seamstress. Tulips opened their petals wide to the sky and large sunflowers overlooked the entanglement of
blooming scenery. On the far right of the garden, there was a weeping willow tree whose trunk had memorized the curve of her spine from the many years she had laid her head against him. Just like her, he was an allusion to all of the things that being and feeling brought along, so their relationship was one of understanding. He never spoke, and neither did she, but they never had to. A soft breeze blew by and stirred the tree’s long and flexible branches. She looked up and saw that dark clouds had managed to quickly move in and coat the sky. Her chest felt empty and anxious at the thought of such a beautiful moment being destroyed by heavy storms. “I could have easily checked the weather and avoided this,” she said out loud. “I could have easily stayed home and stayed dry.” As the words flew away with the gusts of air that began to furiously shake the willow tree, a small ladybug landed on one of her fingers. She had cried into her hands plenty of times, so they became filled with beautiful crystals that she admired for the way they reflected light so gracefully. Seeing the delicate red and black ladybug against the solidity of her own body, contrasted against the angry storm that had begun to take place, caused something inside of her to stir. The emptiness in her chest felt deeper than anything she had ever felt before, but looking at the beauty and simplicity of the small bug made her heart swell with joy.
She felt too much all at once, so she began to sob. Her chest heaved and her legs shook and collapsed beneath her when she tried to get up. Her eyes turned red and bloodshot, but her wailing didn’t end. She cried for the ladybug’s graceful beauty; she cried for the storm whose raging anger would no doubt rip apart the most beautiful parts of her favorite garden; she cried for the people who would never see her as beautiful; she cried for the people who would never see themselves as beautiful; she cried for the pain they kept inside; she cried for every centimeter of emotion that had ever existed on planet earth until her tear ducts were entirely empty. When her crying stopped, the world around her stood still. The garden was indisputably destroyed, but the sun cautiously peeked out and promised renewal. The weeping willow tree’s long limbs brushed gently against something hard, and he was immediately devastated when he realized what he was touching.
Her body lay there, beautiful and glowing beneath the crystallization caused by all of her tears. She was a giant gem, glimmering underneath the sunlight that streamed in through the tree’s branches. Her eyes were closed, and she looked the most peaceful she had ever been in her entire life. She had felt harder than anyone had ever felt. She had never been more present in her entire life, so the tree thought she would have been happy with the way the world had decided to let her go. Raindrops slid gently down blades of grass and the universe breathed a sigh of relief. On the very tip of her finger, beneath the layers of crystal that decorated the entirety of her body, sat the tiny little lady bug, red with black spots.
By: Halden Ingwersen
Agnes Scott College, Decatur, Georgia
The correct answer
when given the choice between permission
and forgiveness, is the third.
Pierce the needle through
your pressed lips
and draw tight the waxy thread
to feel the tensed pull.
The black seam
stitched across your mouth
Ask neither and do neither.
Simply sit and wish,
By: Pearl Thompson
Mills College, Oakland, California
log jams unseen underwater obscured
turbulence – the reflection of clouds
tricky swift undercurrents swirl
invisible to the eye ashore and at a distance
dragged under: the boy in the life jacket whom we cried about over the landline
tossed against the rocks: the girl I had never met, but we were both thirteen at the time
you swim up and down rivers and trickling rivulets
out of the current and into the shallows
run through foamy sand-brown surf
throwing pebbles and crystalline salt in your wake
the television says the smooth beaches and gentle creeks of my memory are deadly
and on bad days I believe this is true and recall tsunamis and flash floods instead
in familiar forest layers I take comfort
under the trees because the rain falls softer there
but rapidly and unexpectedly
there is a forest fire whirling out into the downpour
I am simultaneously the flames and the pouring rain, a riptide in a mountain stream
a salmon leaping up a waterfall, vision blurred by clouds of mist and smoke and memory
By Nampewo Josephine & Kobugenyi Grace
African Rural University, Uganda
Content Warnings: Mentions of rape and physical abuse
She gave life, she is a wife, she is a mother and she is a friend.
She is a sister and a survivor to the end,
appreciate her, we don’t dare.
Ask her worries, we don’t care,
wipe away her tears, they are invisible as air.
She works, cooks and cleans. She laughs, helps, comforts and hides her pain.
When you struggle, she pulls you through, and what do we do?
Complain and create a mess, provide stress and leave her feeling depressed.
Push her away and ignore her advice
Tell her she is nothing without thinking twice.
She was raped, tortured and abused.
Told she was nothing and would always be used just for pleasure to forget her pain.
She swallows her pride, puts her feelings aside.
She does as you need in order for you to be free.
She ignores your ignorance and tolerates your flaws.
You call her bitch, slut, and tramp, she answers with pride, dignity and a complete loss of self.
You call her nothing and I call her strong, smart and sensual.