Good Morning

Dianne Honan, Brenau University, Georgia, United States

The kitchen glows.

I lean gently

against the stone counter,

wincing as my thigh grazes

the cabinet door.

The peach in my hand

is heavy.

I roll my fingers around

its flesh,

and gaze out the window.

Finches chirp outside;

the trees sway with the tune

and the mother bird feeds her chick –

open-mouthed –waiting

for the broken worm.

I wait too,

for the sound of your boots.

Your silhouette moves

through the doorway

and your hands cover my bare shoulders.

Fingertips tracing the length of my arms,

you find the fruit in my hand.

Squeezing too hard,

you bruise that too.

A Letter to My Lost

Taylor Frost, Hollins University, Virginia, United States

 

To my own,

I think about you every day–

you are my morning thought, my midnight

prayer. I think about your undetected heartbeat,

about your undeveloped lungs, about your freckled

cheeks, about your rose petal lips never curling

into a smile, about your forehead and your nose

and your fingertips and the bottoms of your feet

and all of the delicate skin that I will never touch,

that I will never press against my crooning mouth

just to see your curious eyes open.

I think about the way your father would look

with your miracle body cradled in his arms–

I see him kissing the tips of your ears, weaving

lullabies into your corn silk hair, laughing into

your reaching, open palms. I see him spooning

drops of amber honey on to your tongue, feeding

you tales of peach fuzz summers, of afternoons

spent chewing honeycomb on your great-grandfather’s

farm. I see him in the dark, bare feet lifting from the cold

kitchen floor, raising you up, holding you face to face

with the moon.

I think about who I could have been with you–

the kind of mother who would wash your muddy legs

in the bed of a quiet river on a Sunday, the kind

of mother who would carry you up a mountain

on my back to watch your first sunrise, the kind of mother

who would plant honeysuckle beneath your window,

the kind of mother who would pull you out into the storm

just so that you could taste the rain. I would be the kind

of mother to count your first steps, your oceans of tears,

your lost teeth, the number of stars in your vast, endless sky.

There is a word in the Portuguese language

that refers to the feeling of longing for something or someone

that you love and which is lost, Saudade.

That is what I call you.

Her Conflicts With Life

Zhang Xiaowen, Ginling College, Nanjing, People’s Republic of China 

 

“When I am standing in front of you, you will see both my old wounds and healing.” Every time I read these words, I tend to think of my mom, who once underwent those sufferings and miseries in her life while always carrying on without any pains. This is the portrayal of her life and she calls all her troubles, conflicts with life, as said in a casual interview.

That was a sunny afternoon; she sat beside me on the sofa, wearing a gentle smile on her face the whole time. She was just ready to start our interview which was for a piece of my assignment. I needed to learn about an honorable female around me to gain some new perspectives on females nowadays. The person I chose was my mom, whom I thought was worth speaking of. Except for this chance I would never have in-depth knowledge about her. Accepting my invitation with pleasure, she responded to each question in detail, recalling her memory of the past little by little. Everything was told in a light and peaceful way, seeming to have nothing to do with her at all. At that moment, it was just like telling stories to others, great pains and sorrows all going away, but as a listener, I could clearly feel bitterness in her words. Those so-called conflicts were not so easily skimmed over.

Mom was not fortunate enough to be born in a family capable of keeping her warm and fed, instead, she had to strive for her living all along. Maybe this could be the start of her conflicts. The family took it for granted that she should take on more work and responsibilities because of her identity that she was the older one of the two children and she was a girl. This meant that she ought to take care of her brother and always gave the priority to him. Thus, it was almost impossible for her to focus on study. Everyday after she was dismissed from school, she used to hurry back home and prepare dinner for parents after a hard day. There was nearly no more time left for her to deal with her own things and she merely adapted herself to such a life pattern without complaints, regarding them as her duty. As time passed by, she grew up, dropping out of school at the age of 16 and working in a textile mill. The tasks were usually heavy and tiring. She was forced to be strong in order to tackle the tough work, which required her to stand from early morning to late night and finish her daily workload before leaving. I once saw a photo of her during that period, in which she looked quite thin and weak. I could hardly imagine how she went through all these sound and safe, and what a determined will she had. Luckily or unluckily, she met my biological father later, with whom she fell in love and got married regardless of great disapproval from her parents. She left the former home and built a family of three people downtown. In spite of her marriage, she still continued with her career. In my childhood, I could only remember her setting out early and returning late everyday. It could be said that she spared no effort to work and support the family, and at this moment, life just had another conflict with her. I felt her regret, due to the idleness and irresponsibility of my father. After several quarrels, he finally left, taking away everything except me. I was only 6, just realizing that I had to live without a father and nothing would change, but this was totally wrong. I didn’t know that if her parents hadn’t offered her some help, what our life would have been, and if she hadn’t chosen to work and live independently, what would have been the ending. Gratefully, she found a new job and kept struggling to seek a livelihood both for herself and me. Apart from going to work with me, sometimes she made my grandparents look after me. She tried her best to raise me up and create a life for me as good as others’, giving me an equal opportunity to receive education. Although I really didn’t understand all that she had done for me, now her image became taller and clearer. It was my mother that sent me to school and picked me up no matter if it rained or snowed; it was my mother that helped me improve my study with the knowledge she learned by herself. Carefully evaluated by anyone, she was sure to be a qualified mother. She stuck to fighting her way on her own and was brave to confront the conflicts. Pain always came to her, however, she was able to recover from it with perseverance and optimism.

After conflicts, there would surely be something cheerful. In her thirties, she met my stepfather, a trustworthy and hardworking man. She viewed their marriage as a kind of blessing and cherished it with gratitude. Her life seemed to be changed and her conflicts with life were gradually relieved. She is now living a happy and quiet life without rushing about and heavy worries. According to her words, she has no other big dream or want from life but the well-being of the whole family. Only when people had witnessed different incidents, could they fully understood the true meaning of life, and she was fortunate to get the key point of it.

Thanks to those conflicts with life, she knew how to treasure happiness and fight against other troubles in her future life. During the dark years, she held up on hope alone and made every attempt to strive for a pleasant ending. What pushed her to seek for and get ultimate happiness are those torturing conflicts and sufferings. This was the right golden rule in life.

When her words finished, she still smiled. I almost had an illusion that her whole life was presented before my eyes, making my heart full of complicated emotions. Looking at her through warm lights, I suddenly felt satisfied and proud. This was my mom, the winner in her fight with conflicts.

To Thought

Alina Siddiqui, Barnard College, New York, United States


I.

Do you ever talk and while talking, suddenly

you don’t know what’s coming out of your mouth anymore,

where did all your thoughts go?

and you stutter and stop.  you don’t know where.

and your conversation partner nods. Saving

you from the humiliation of acknowledging your

probably words,

lost in translation between the oceans in your mind.

Her nods invite you to trail off and

there.

the thought never needed to exist, says the peculiar

reassuring rearrangement of her eyebrows.

II.

My heart muscles are weak, I think

if a cigarette was found between my lips again

I would die on the spot.

so I run on the treadmill.

I start off fast.

trying to keep up with the beating of my heart, I run faster.

If I lower the speed, I’m out of sync.

worse,

I cannot keep balance without holding on to

the handrails.

I watch people fly and fall off besides me,

but I can only bear to stain the rubber rail

with the ever-present sweat of my palms,

while my tense rib muscles forbid my lungs

from collapse.

This is enough.

III.

I’ve always wondered,

tell me if you’ve wondered this too,

how long runaway balloons survive

floating in the great blue sky?

I think, the burst

might have to do with pressures,

I’d ask a physicist if I knew one,

where to find one,

how to approach one.

I wonder if this physicist would understand

my want to know

what happens.

to the ribbon, the knot, the shattered rubber,

I wonder if they ever touch land.

Brookdale Park

Megan Jacobs, Mills College, California, United States
 

Sitting in the dugout

I dig in

Wondering who will wander

into this park after dark

A girl runs the bases backward

on a pink and white

Princess bike

She stands

hair whipping

the texture of the dirt vibrating through metal

through her cells

tassels streaming on the left handlebar

the right one bare

The young men

with their bodies

sweating

skid and skim

Along the surface of the blue court

like insects on a concrete lake

nervous, erratic

aggressive

From somewhere comes

the scent of a sprinkler

the wind nips a little

and we all try

in our ways

to put off the dissolution of summer

A Divided Spirit Monologue

PaChia Vang, St. Catherine University, Minnesotta, United States
 

I’ve always felt like the odd bird among family and friends.  I don’t fit in completely with a crowd.  Don’t tune out on me just yet.  I promise you, this isn’t one of those monologues about how I am a unique circumstance or misfit and no one on the entire face of this earth understands me.

You see, I am a Hmong-American woman having double values and living a double lifestyle.  I have what you call a divided spirit.  I grew up with people wondering what ethnicity I was.  Not because I am Asian and I look “exotic,” but I am not like other Hmong girls.  I know because I have been told this and it is often implied wherever I go.  On a black to white spectrum, black being Hmong and white being white-American or vice versa, I’m definitely gray… gray to the max.

My parents had me after they graduated from the University of Minnesota.  They did not raise my precocious older brother, crazy younger sisters, and me as traditionally as other Hmong parents.  My parents were young and laid back.  They wanted to take us on road trips through out the country, rather than inform and remind us about our own culture.

I grew up in a household where I was taught to speak and read in English and watch re-runs of Little House on the Prairie or English period dramas (I’m an Anglophile because of it.)  Occasionally, my mom would dress my siblings and me in Hmong clothing and blast a traditional Hmong song for us to dance to.  That was occasionally.

My Hmong race and culture barely crossed my mind at times.  Sometimes, I forgot I was Hmong.  I would forget about my yellow complexion, chinky eyes and smaller than average frame.  I was just a girl with a big imagination and ethnicity had nothing to do with who I was.

I had bigger than life dreams.  I was going to be an excellent writer and tell extraordinary stories.  I was going to be an influential person.  I was going to be more than a Hmong-American girl.

~ ~ ~

Now at 20 years old, I see my yellow complexion, chinky eyes and smaller than average frame.  My ethnicity has everything to do with who I am.  I may be a Hmong- American woman who dreams of doing bigger than life things, but there is one thing I hold close to my heart.

Sometimes, I feel like I would let go of everything to tend to my extended family.  I love all my grandparents, uncles, aunts, cousins, nieces and nephews.  They are the roots that keep me grounded in my Hmong culture.  I continue to practice and learn about Hmong culture from older family members.  I hear my language and it is a beautiful song.   I don’t speak my native language as fluently or often as I would like to.  I can speak little bits and pieces of Hmong here and there, but I could not speak Hmong to save my life.  It’s always been hard for me to pick up my native language.

One of my favorite things to do when I am not binge watching Downton Abbey or talking to my college friends about being a writing superhero that saves the patriarchal world from its demise, is working with the gorgeous, witty, and strong women in my family at traditional Hmong gatherings.  I love the energy that is present.  There is tons of laughter, undivided support and words of wisdom that come from my grandmothers, aunts and cousins.  While we skillfully perform cooking and cleaning tasks, we reminisce over funny stories, usually about raising kids.  Not only is it truly amazing to hear what kids these days are saying or doing, but it is astonishing to know what they will bring to our family legacy.

I am divided.  Sometimes I wonder if I should be like the women in my family.   Instead of pursuing life in a fast pace individualistic society, what if I settled down for the simpler things in life: follow tradition, raise a family and get a small stable job that will pay the bills, but not place me in a powerful position?  These women I speak of, are just as influential as the ones I acknowledged as a girl.  The ones that I found were beyond what a Hmong-American girl was.

My ethnicity has everything to do with who I am, but I am a divided spirit.

Frozen Solitary

Amanda Carpenter, St. Catherine University, Minnesotta, United States

 

Snow-covered fields stretched beyond the horizon, bisected only by a flat stretch of freeway teeming with interstate truckers and fun-seeking motorists escaping the city. Beyond the closed space of my stopped car, the wind whipped the bare branches of trees, curling them like the bony fingers of a specter, beckoning in the watery last rays of the day.

Thirty minutes earlier I had been driving down the road, my husband my passenger. His words came out, fueled by the alcohol he had guzzled at the bar that he thought he’d hidden from me. He couldn’t hold hard liquor, it did something to him. He was supposed to behave – we were on our way to meet my friends.

“I want out.”

“I’m sorry?” I asked, thinking I had misheard him, “do you have to throw up?” I glanced at him while merging onto the gray, four-lane interstate, falling in place between monstrous semis.

“You have life insurance on me, right?” he asked, his eyes open too wide as he turned to me.

“Huh?” I tried to keep my eyes on the slightly uneven road as a semi braked before me.

“You’ll be better off.”

When I swerved to avoid a pothole on the overhead light came on and the seatbelt alarm dinged.

“What are you doing?” I yelled, jerking hard left, praying no one was next to me as his door slammed shut.

“I’m getting out of the car. This is the nicest thing I can ever do for you.” The look in his eyes was different, a calm lucidity behind a manic, alcohol-infused veneer. His eyes never left mine as he opened the door again and I aimed for what I hoped was the shoulder.

“I’m going 65 miles an hour and we’re surrounded by semis,” I screeched, my tone matching the scalding tires on the frozen pavement as I skidded to the shoulder, kicking up sand and road debris. The car jerked to a stop. But he was already out, his door left open to a snow-covered field. Another semi roared past, rocking the car with me still inside.

“Get back in the car!” I screamed to his fading back.

He walked unsteadily. The snow, higher than his knees, didn’t stall him from leaving me. I watched him raise his hood while I dialed his number with shaky hands. I was dismissed to his voicemail. “Hi, you’ve reached Tim.” He sounded normal. He sounded like my husband.

Tears of frustration and confusion welled. I would never catch him. Hip-high snow stood between us. I needed help. My friends were still an hour away. His friends were still at the bar, just a few minutes back.

“Tim just jumped out of the car – he’s walking through a field.”

“Yeah, right. Tell Tim he’s an asshole,” friend number one laughed, disconnecting.

Panicked I looked to the field, he was getting smaller. Too much adrenaline surged through my hands, I misdialed. “Don’t hang up,” I screamed at friend number two. “Tim really jumped out of the car and he’s walking through a field in the middle of nowhere. We’re still an hour from home.” The tears began spilling out of my eyes, frigid tracks on my cheeks as the wind howled through his open door.

I listened to the apologies. I must have given them directions to the dirt road I was now on. I could drive no farther into the field. Tim’s door still stood open. I watched as he trudged further through the hollow field as I sat in silence. Wherever we were it didn’t smell like cold snow. There were no smells of pine or spruce, of wood burning beneath the smoking chimneys of the farmhouses surrounding me, not even the smell of diesel exhaust from the semis thundering down the highway. We were in a void. A scentless void on the side of a highway. Hopeless thoughts flooded my brain: who jumps out of a moving car on a highway? The tears fell again. My husband, that’s who. My husband jumps out of a moving car on a highway. A busy highway.

The sun settled farther in the horizon, making way for the moon’s solace. The branches of the barren trees gave him safe passage while snagging the coats and the hair of the friends and farmers running through the field after him. From a distance they looked like children frolicking joyfully, ready to build a snowman. In reality my husband leapt to evade the people trying to catch him, ready to end his life if they would have just let him be.

Someone called the police – the phone was warm in my hand. A police car and an ambulance sat behind me, the lights flashing blue and red in the twilight. He would be so angry if he ever came back from the field. The dusky white field. Frozen. Solitary. Deafening with silence, devoid of smell. Waiting for the appearance of the distant stars and cover of the cool darkness. More appealing than marriage.

He ran.

I cried.

We said good-bye.

Unromance

Sidney Shank, Meredith College, North Carolina, United States


The first time I was not what you wanted,

you kissed me, and I

kissed you.

Only.

I the passion of bleached bone —

skeletal, seared in sun —

was not awake, when blood beats

red and flush

skin slides skin,

muscles taut,

muscles relax.

Spun from circadian sun,

not lightning strike.

No Juliet here,

wrapped in lover-lust;

just an unflappable fallacy,

and unromance,

and me,

flapping it in ’bye as you

drive away unsated.

The Shouts Echoed More Than the Tumble

Michaela Chinn, Smith College, Northampton, United States


Every Wednesday of that summer in 2000, my papa and I would take the old blue pickup with the crate on top down to the sale barn to find some good live meat. The lure of the place came a half-mile before reaching it when I could smell the ammonia and dirt from the cattle. When we got close the trees would disappear and buildings would emerge. The road became more refined and less bumpy, too. The truck would make its way through the labyrinth of quaking, mooing, and squealing, towards white pavement. We would always park in the back of that colossal brown building we called “The Meat Dealer.”

I remember how, with the rust of the truck’s door stuck under my fingernails, I would crinkle my hands under the sale barn doors to open them, which were withered, heavy, and oiled by the hands of others. I recall, whenever we climbed the stairs to the main door, how papa would be consumed with attention, bombarded with many firm handshakes, ripped to a person’s side for a thank you, and forced to answer the questions being screeched to him like how to get cows to come when called or on how one should handle that terrible man on the corner of Berrytown who liked to poison farm animals. Newcomers would gag at perfume of animal blood and they wouldn’t understand how we all could stand the human heat.

The mooing of cows and squeals of pigs were never ending, and the sale barn was so old, built when my papa was a young boy, it was always creaking and cracking under the slightest movements, even a sneeze! The gritty sawdust all over the floor would get into my mouth somehow. Skinny men in oil-drenched overalls who were scattered in between the forty rows of seats, would be sucking on hot dogs covered in chili or yelling at their wives to take control of their grubby kids. My papa and I would take our same spot, sitting in the middle, smack dab in front of the arena where the animals would be shown.

I would either be chowing down on some spicy pickles or a small hotdog smeared with mustard brought to me by Anna, a pathetic street dog-looking southern woman, ribs in all with nasty yellow hair. She’d shuffle along the sale barn with a greasy yellow tablet taking orders from grubby kids and exhausted mothers. I recall the “cha ching” of the register behind me. The shuffling of Anna who looked like she was going to break every time she moved was always present. Once the sale started, people really began to yap but not me. My eyes would be fixed on the two blonde brothers. The weaker boy had his cattle rod ready and on while his younger but stronger brother, with drops of sweat latched like leeches to his face, would take the first swipe barehanded at whichever beautiful dairy cow got too close for comfort, smacking her right in between those big polished eyes. That cow would make a theatrical tumble, would get covered in the sawdust, and cause even more of it to become airborne, dimming the lighting to a strange woody tint. I remember the place would shake with voices. The skinny men in oil-drenched overalls would raise their numbers after hearing the loud thud of all that weight.

Why I Don’t Date Engineers

Marissa Stephens, Georgia State University (Graduate Student), Georgia, United States
 

Marissa Stephens Photo

Sir Issac Newton sat beneath an apple tree,

finding refuge from me and my fury

at his economical ordering

of a scotch-on-the-rocks-hold-the-rocks

and pondered hackneyed,

the word he’d used to describe I love you,

a phrase not to be overused.

I’d wanted to hear them.

I wanted to hear those hackneyed words

every goddam day

while he played a ukulele outside my window

(preferably in the rain),

and I wanted them carved in a tree trunk,

in every tree trunk in the fucking forest

while he pirouetted about like Orlando in Arden

at their mere utterance,

and he did not know why,

when the apple knocked him on the head,

he felt his eyes well

the moment he knew

we fall because our mass and the earth’s mass

are inversely proportional

to the square of the distance between us.

Affectations

Sarah Hoenicke, Mills College California, United States

 Sarah Hoenicke Picture

“It’s the twenty-first century.  People fall in love on Instagram now.”

Helen was looking at her phone, her neck at such a drastic angle that Matthew felt compelled to stand behind her and pull her shoulders back, her chin in, to line up her spine.  He did just that, and she let him, setting her phone aside.

“We should get going,” she said, pulling away from his hands on her shoulders.  She looked down at her phone again as she walked to the counter and, without looking up, grabbed her keys and purse.

Matthew opened the door and Helen walked next to him down the stairs from their apartment and into the parking lot.  She scrubbed with spit and a fingernail at a spot on her white jeans as she walked. Her hair was slightly static from having been combed and sprayed into the smoothed-over beehive style she liked, and she had to wet the strands sticking to her neck with saliva, too, to get them to stay up.

“Look at this!” she said, and thrust her phone towards him as he dug in his pocket for the key to their Prius.  “They literally met on Instagram and got married three months later.”  She got into the car and buckled her seat belt, scrolling with her thumb through pictures of food and faces and cats and books.

He started the car after putting on his seatbelt.

“I wonder if they’re actually happy, or if they’re like Jeff and Franka, who everybody thought were happy ‘cause of what they posted—their life looked perfect!—and then now look at them, getting a divorce.”

He had just pulled onto the freeway.

“Want to take a break from your phone for a minute?  It’s our only day off together and today was supposed to be special.  Jeff and Franka’s story is sad but I don’t really want to talk about Instagram the whole way.”

She put her phone in the glove compartment and brushed her hands against each other like she was cleaning up after having eaten.

“I don’t like fake trees.”  She was looking out the window and moving her shoulders to the music in an exaggerated way that told him she didn’t actually like the song.

He skipped it.

“These are supposed to be really great, though.  That’s why there’s an expo and everything.  Biodegradable, easily put together and taken apart and stored.  The lights are already on them.  It’ll be so nice not to have to clean up pine needles like last year.  Plus, my boss got us invited and that seemed like a really big deal to her.”

Helen pulled the invitation from her purse—heavy, matte paper, the venue’s insignia printed across the top.  Matthew had said almost word for word what was printed below their embossed names.

“Well, your dad will be impressed.  He was so adamant about us not using tinsel to decorate this year since” – she made air quotes – “‘it will end up in landfills and clogging drains and choking marine animals’.”

Matthew chuckled.  “Yeah, he’s even worse than you.”

Helen took her phone from the glove box and opened the camera app, checking her smile in the reflection of herself on the screen and then leaning toward Matthew and snapping a picture of them both, while he drove.

They pulled into the parking garage; Matthew parked and then walked around to open her door for her.  She smirked at this show of chivalry and slapped his shoulder with the envelope from the invitation.

He mocked shock.  “I see how being nice gets me treated.  No more of that!”

She laughed and hoisted herself out of the car, balancing on her low heels, and deleting old photos on her phone since it had just warned her that she couldn’t capture anything more until she freed up space.

She looked up at Matthew walking toward the stairs, and shut the car door.

“Is it nice when you walk three feet ahead of your wife just because she’s in heels and can’t speed-walk?”

He stopped so she could catch up and then took her hand, making a show of taking tiny steps.

“Stop it.”  She hit him again with the paper and moved ahead of him into the elevator.

They stepped out of the elevator and she turned to him as they walked through a marble hallway towards glass doors. She raised her eyebrows.

“They aren’t kidding,” she said, finger-combing her hair and straightening her shiny shirt.

Matthew laughed and pulled her into his side with one arm, opening the door with the other.

Though it was only the middle of October, a band was playing Christmas music in the far right corner of the ballroom-like space, each of the musicians sporting red ties.  Garlands draped the railings bordering the stairs down into the main space and hung between the pillars supporting the painted ceiling.

They were welcomed by a woman in a long dress and directed toward the open bar on the opposite side of the room from the band.

Matthew retrieved two glasses of red wine and they began to walk from booth to booth.

“I had no idea that so many different companies made Christmas trees,” she said, and sipped her wine.

“The invitation said there would be more than fifty vendors, but not all of them sell trees.”

She rolled her eyes at him and pulled him from the booth they’d stopped at two spots over with a sign that read: No Mess, Traditional Pagan Trees.  Before entering the white tent, she took a picture of the sign.

“Pagan?”

She spoke too loudly—the person running the booth had heard.  He was thin and wore brown leather shoes and a striped shirt tucked neatly into his pants.  Tattoos were visible from his elbows to his wrists; there was a crown of thorns depicted right below his hairline on the back of his neck.

He stuck out his hand.  “Michael Grand.  Welcome.  Our trees are made to look like the trees used by the first celebrators of Yuletide, the holiday stolen and proliferated as Christmas by the Christians.”

“Interesting.”  Matthew said.

“What makes them like the first ones?”  Helen asked.

Michael turned away from them and grabbed the top sheet from a stack of identical matte flyers.

“This has all of our research outlined, and our pricing sheet is on the back.  Now, let me leave you to explore.”  With that, he walked toward the back of the booth and greeted newcomers.

They left Mr. Grand behind and walked to the booth directly adjacent to his, after Matthew had retrieved more wine.

“This is my last one,” he said, when Helen looked at him with her brows raised and her lips parted, like there was a string of words in her mouth, ready to be spit out.

His justification seemed to placate her, because she walked ahead of him and exclaimed, “Oh, look!  They let you put it together!”

The booth had four trees each in varying levels of completeness, and one that was fully assembled in the center.

Helen walked to the first tree, and a small woman in four-inch heels and a tight black skirt came over.

“This is our newest model,” – she turned and pointed to the complete tree at the center of the tent – “and that is what it looks like completed.”

She picked up a few of the branches and pushed them into the holes in the central pole.  The inserted limbs immediately lit up.

“We have our customers assemble some of their tree in store so that you can witness the ease of assembly, and also so that you can see how real an imitation tree can look once it’s finished.”

Helen nodded as the woman talked and turned to Matthew.

“Well, it definitely looks real,” she said, fingering the branches.

She leaned forward, putting her face into the tree.

“It even smells real.”

The saleswoman was still there.

“Oh yes, all of our trees will retain their smell for up to ten years and then you can have the scent replenished for $100—though that price may be adjusted for inflation.”

“Thank you for your help,” Helen said, dismissing her with a smile and a nod.

As soon as the saleswoman was out of auditory range, Helen lifted the pamphlet attached to a branch of the completed tree and turned it over.

“Holy.  This one’s $1500, before tax.”

Matthew whistled.  “We only talked about spending $500.  That’s what we’ve got left on the AmEx right now.  Let’s keep looking.”

They picked a Simple Traditional Evergreen tree made of a kind of plastic touted for its short (by plastic’s standards) but durable life and scanned the AmEx and then another card, because the limit was too low on the first to pay for it.

“It’s an investment,” Helen said, rubbing Matthew’s forearm.  “If we’d gone to a department store or the mall, we would have spent nearly as much for way less quality.”

He sighed.  “Yeah, you’re right.”  He put the credit cards back in his wallet and pulled out the stub from the parking garage.

Helen led the way to the elevator, but stopped right in front it.  She looked back over her shoulder at all the people still milling around the room, at the lights and trees and garland and band.

She pulled Matt into her and extended her arm out in front of them, until she could see their faces on the screen in her hand.

The background looked perfect: a swirl of tipsy faces and bright, colorful lights – Christmas in October.

“Smile, Matt!”

He smiled, and she took a few pictures.  The elevator doors opened.

They rode down to the garage in silence, as Helen made a collage of the pictures from the day and posted it.

The doors opened and she looked up, and then at Matt.

“They said it’ll be delivered in time for the party, right?  And that guy will put it together for us?”

He nodded in response as they walked to the car.

December

“We’ll be paying off this Christmas until next Christmas,” Helen said, and continued to wash the dust off their holiday plates and mugs.

Matthew dried them as he walked between the kitchen and dining room, where he set each place.

“With mom living alone in Alaska now, I really wanted her to have some good company and fun when she came down.  Plus, with nine other people coming, it’ll be nice to have the house presentable.”

He had stopped where he was, next to the table, and was messing with the large red and white floral arrangement at its center.

The wet dishes were piling up.

“I didn’t mean anything by what I just said.  I was just thinking about it,” she said.

She put another plate on the dripping stack.  “Matt, the dishes.”

He looked at his watch as he returned to his task.

“Shit, it’s 10 already.  We only have six hours before everybody gets here.”

“Ah, crap, I didn’t put the clothes in the dryer.”  She ran out of the room and he noticed the sound of the dryer starting a few minutes later.

He heard her feet on the outside stairs next and was irritated at her slow pace.

She came into the kitchen holding red holiday socks and sat down at the table before putting the socks, balled up in her fists, to her eyes and half-moaning, half-grunting.

“What?  What happened?”  Matthew asked.

She didn’t respond right away, so he continued setting the table.

She was crying, he could see that by the way her shoulders shook over the table.

He walked over to her and put his hand on her shoulder.

“What?  What happened?  Tell me.”

She looked up, red-faced.

“My socks were in the washer with my dress for today.”  She threw the socks across the room.

“The white dress?”  What this meant sunk in for him, then.  “So the dress is pink?”

She moaned into her forearms where she’d laid her head.

“But you still put everything in the dryer?”

She looked up at him, her face crumpled in annoyance.

“Yeah, it all still needs to be dried, doesn’t it?”

He heard a loud clunking noise coming from downstairs, like a lone shoe in a bag of towels, being swung against the wall.

“Were there shoes in the washer?”

She laughed.  “What?  No.”

“Then what’s that noise?”

She looked at him and lifted her hips off the chair so she could get all the way into her pockets, but she pulled her hands out, empty.

“Fucking A.”

She ran out of the room.  Matthew put the towel he was holding on the table and followed her.

She reached the laundry room first and he heard her open the dryer door while he was still on the stairs.

“Oh, you’ve got to be kidding me!”  Helen wailed.

He walked in just as she was pulling her phone out of the dryer, and picking little pieces of the screen out of a towel.

“Ruined!  Just like the dress!”

He knelt down beside her.

“Don’t worry about it, we got insurance, didn’t we?”

“No, we didn’t get insurance!  You were so sure the case would protect it.”  She scowled, but wasn’t looking at him.

He took a deep, audible breath and then began to take things from the dryer one at a time, examining them for glass.

They were both still on their hands and knees picking glass shards out of their socks and towels when Matthew heard his phone ringing upstairs.

“I’m going to go get that,” he said, and took the stairs two at a time.

It wasn’t a number he recognized, but since they were having quite a few out-of-towners over, he answered anyway.

“Hello?”  It was 10:55—they had five more hours.

“Honey, hi!”

“Mom?  Hey!  Why aren’t you calling from your phone?”

“I’ve been trying to get a hold of you for hours but the storm has knocked everything out.  No flights.  I won’t be there for dinner like we’d planned.  I’m so sorry, sweetie.”

“You’re not coming?  Are you okay?  Where are you?”

Her laugh came over the line.  “I’m fine, honey, just stranded at the airport.  It’s funny how things work out.  I was so looking forward to seeing you, but I also had some bad feelings about coming.  I have made some changes since moving away from your dad and California and I was going to tell you I’ve decided to stop celebrating Christmas.  I wasn’t sure if I should tell you, since I know you love the holiday, but I guess now I’m being forced to tell you and stop celebrating, since the people here said we’re not likely to get flights out for a week, at least.”  She laughed again.

Matthew sat down on the couch.  “Well, I’m glad you’re safe.”

He said it without feeling and she took his attitude to be a direct result of the news that he wouldn’t be seeing her.

“I’m so sorry, honey.  I did really want to be with you two, it’s just not going to happen today, or any time soon probably.  They’re saying flights might be delayed for up to two weeks or more because of all the snow.”

He was picturing the bill they’d gotten in the mail the week before that had listed the debts incurred by their preparations.  Grocery shopping, the tree, the once white dress, his new shoes, and the new couch they’d purchased because the old one didn’t match the rest of the living room.

Helen walked in from the laundry room carrying their clothes and towels in a plastic Hefty bag.  She passed him, seated on the new sofa.

“Do you smell something burning?”  She was looking at the shattered screen of her phone, which seemed to be working despite its run-in with the dryer.

“Kara and Devin said they’re going to be late.”  She looked at the message showing through her fractured screen and sucked her thumb where the glass had cut her.

He jumped up from the couch, saying, “Shit!” and handing his phone to Helen.

Helen ran after him to the kitchen, his phone to her ear and hers in her other hand, which was also still trailing the plastic bag.

Matthew was pulling the organic vegan stuffing and the Brussels sprouts, both now blackened, from the oven.

Helen hung up on Matthew’s mother.  She had put her own phone to her ear, with care to not actually press the battered device against her skin.

“The bakery just left a message saying that all of their pie deliveries for the day have been delayed by up to four hours.”  Matthew’s posture crumpled at this news.  It really was all going to hell.

Helen leaned against the doorjamb.  She looked at her phone and scrolled through the pictures from the day they’d gotten their tree at the expo.  She came across the one she’d taken while Matt was driving and posted it on Instagram with the tagline: “#throwbackthursday to the magical day we got our #tree!”

Matthew’s phone, which Helen had handed back to him, pinged with the notification generated by her post.

“Really?  Right now?  Your posting right now, while everything’s falling apart?”

Whispers

Julia Zyla, St. Catherine University, Minnesota, United States

 Julia Zyla Picture

Little One looks at the blade of grass with awe.

Eyes follow the dragonfly

Darting through a forest of green stalks.

Iridescent scales dance in the light

With every fine flutter of her wings.

The agile acrobat dips and dives with ease.

Little hands reach upward

In hopes of capturing its beauty.

Digits envelop the creature in darkness.

Little One holds the blue-green wonder to her ear

To hear her secrets.

Eyes close to concentrate curiosity.

Darkness fell upon both worlds

And nothing stirred in the deep

Save a distant pulse.

Suddenly, dispersed Whispers

Disturbed the void with an unmatched purpose.

From every ripple sprouted

Light

Color

Substance.

Symphonic movements created structure.

And Beauty was there.

Calls sound from every direction,

Begging to be answered.

Groans and grumbles shook the foundation.

Barks and shrieks upset the place.

Piercing melodies traveled by heartbeat.

And the allure of every crescendo beckoned for one more

To bask in its glory

And add to the chaotic order.

The epitome of the whispers

Culminated in the birth of

One to behold the mystery.

The foundations rumbled with anticipation,

As the final beginning was conceived.

The Whispers grew

And a tremendous cyclone

Whirled a wonder into form.

And the One marveled and wrestled

With its surroundings.

Newborn eyes surveyed its home,

Overwhelmed by its extent.

The One grew and changed in fascinating

And horrible ways,

Altering itself and the beauty around it.

Water issued forth,

And there was Pain and Happiness.

An immense struggle strangled the Beholder

With no particular cause to speak of,

Blinded from understanding.

Desires and Distractions permeated from its pores,

Poisoning the atmosphere

With Confusion.

And Fear made its foundations

In the flounder,

Confining One to the vestibule.

And the One was consumed

By what it had made.

And it could no longer hear the harmony

Which danced along the light beams

And illuminated the spectacle

That was stirred into being

From the Whispers of the deep.

Darkness fell and eyes were opened.

And Little One looks down

Upon the winged whispers with awe.

“Your Body is a War Zone”

Chris Murray, Smith College, Massachusetts, United States

My mother always told me

I hurt because there are worlds inside of me

waging wars with each other.

Make sure you’re the leader

of your own body, she said.

Kill anyone that tells you love makes women weak,

it makes us warriors.

She has always known what it means

to be a warrior,

stands up straight

so her spine looks stronger

than it is.

My mother told me bedtime stories

about all the men that tried to break her,

ending each one with:

it’s okay, there is a reason hurricanes are named after women.

My mother told me

the first time I cried for you,

all cracked lips

from the drought inside my mouth,

missing you–

the world will make sure

my body is only seen as a time-bomb

waiting to make men explode,

she told me

to make sure they tell you you’re

beautiful first,

but understand

they are the inventors of the bomb,

they think destruction is beautiful, baby,

they will try to destroy you.

But women only have “fragile” bones

so we can grow taller after they are broken,

only have penetrable skin

so we can take everything in

and learn all the weaknesses of the world,

we were monsters long before you

romanticized the idea of men as monster,

we will destroy you.

We are warriors,

waging wars with you

inside ourselves,

because you

have been turning our insides

into metal for years.

From the Sister of Superman

Cheryl Wollner, Agnes Scott College, Georgia, United States

Dear Superman-

Was I there when you got your nickname? Was I at Nicole’s birthday party when you raced her brother down the one-way street? It meant something to you to win a race when your opponent was on a bike and you were on your own light feet. He flattened the pedals to the ground and you pedaled your sneakers, jarring the center of the earth and pounding the uneven pavement into submission. I know the story so well I see hear Tyler bowing to your greatness and whooping as he crowned you Superman. But did I watch you don the red cape? I think I would have remembered cheering you on with the rest of your fans.

Dear Superman-

I’m Batman. You’re fueled by the sun so I don’t expect you to understand those of us who live in the dark, but let’s look at each other. I know your face with more detail than I know my own. Yet, I sometimes forget to dot your cheeks with dimples when I picture you smiling because I never look at the corner of your mouth in case I find remnants of Bells Palsy. I no longer picture you smiling.

Let’s look at each other. Let’s stand in the backyard where we play Frisbee and look at each other under the eye of your domain: the expansive sky and blinding sun. Watch the shadows on my face pool under my glasses; tell me if we have the same chocolate brown eyes.

Then let’s enter my realm. Let me take you spelunking into the caves of my mind. You’ve played man-hunt; you pretended to battle the shadows, but you don’t understand the dark the way I do. In thick blackness no amount of x-ray vision will make the world clearer, and heat vision travels unceasingly into the void and still you are left blind. Relish in blindness with me, Superman. We are completely equal in the dark. Now we can finally talk.

Dear Superman-

Superman doesn’t have a sister. Believe me, I’ve looked. Nowhere in DC comics does the Man of Steel have a sister. And no, Supergirl doesn’t count— she’s his cousin. Besides, I’m not blonde. And it would take hours to straighten my hair, and she’s the stronger one. Plus Supergirl has all of Superman’s powers and we’re nothing alike.

Feel free to disagree on this last point.

Dear Superman-

I’m thinking of shaving my head. More specifically I’m thinking of your reaction to me shaving my head. Will you view the razor against my scalp with the same horror as if I put a razor to my wrists? If it makes you feel better, hair is more difficult to clean from a drain than blood.

Dear Superman-

I’m sorry I preface my words with an apology. I know what you’re going to say to this, I begin. Or, I have something interesting I want to talk about and hear me through before you say anything. I tell you: I know you don’t care about this, but, and I go on from there. If you listen, you’ll know that what I’m really saying is: Superman, please don’t hate me. Superman, please don’t hang up on me. Superman, please when we end the conversation, tell me you love me too.

Dear Superman-

You’ve told me you have the right to say whatever you want. I can hear your resounding ewwww when you see a woman you find unattractive. I know your slut shaming, gay bashing, men’s rights activism— believe me, I keep a running list. But, if you don’t stop to think about what you say around me, think of all the things I could be saying around you. Because, believe me, I want to tell you all about the Lesbian Avengers, the feminist conversation I had over lunch, how I baked a queer cake with my queer friends and how even now you’re reading a queer letter from your queer sister. Believe me, I keep a running list.

Dear Superman-

Do you remember when I used to take gymnastics and in the evenings I would teach you what I learned in class? We would do handstands in the living room until we made permanent imprints in the mauve carpet. We fell into the shape of eternal snow angels and laughed because we were together. In the basement we would stretch our legs over the arms of the futon and kiss our knees. We would go into splits. Do you remember how I pressed your leg down at the knee and how you cried out in pain but I continued to press and I told you later that I enjoyed that moment of causing you pain and you were furious and stopped talking to me for a while? You were right to do so. Sometimes I still want to cause you pain.

Dear Mother-

Grandma never defended you against Grandpa when he flung harsh words and called you stupid, or laughed at your dreams of grace and ballet. “That’s your father!” Grandma would say to you and fling her hands up in the air. You promised to always defend me to make up for your mother’s neglect. 

When dealing with Superman, you never throw your hands up and exclaim, “That’s your brother!” Instead, you dust his beliefs like crumbs off the table that you plan to vacuum but never do. You tell me as we wash his dirty dishes, “Your brother has very interesting views. He has a right to his opinions.” He tells us at the dinner table that we’re wrong, there is no “war against women” that we don’t know what we’re talking about. He calls someone a fag when I have a friend over, to impress her with his masculinity. It must be a trait for the women in our family to excuse the men on the basis that they’re men. 

Dear Superman-

How do you take up so much space? Can you teach me? You’re lean, thin and muscled. You’re short (5’6” and yes, I am making fun of you) but you take up so much space. You live in your man-cave, and the basement exists only for your pleasure. A one-man show, you fill the room with your legs splayed and your arms crossed behind your head and it’s impossible not to stare at you upon your throne. I walk down the stairs, a supplicant requesting an audience.

But as I approach, the veneer wears off. You’re twenty-four and living in your mother’s basement. Your kingdom is one of scattered exercise weights, dust bunnies and half drunk iced coffee from Dunkin Donuts, sloshing and watery. Your throne is the unwashed futon in our basement. You are not a king or a savior or a hero. I am not inspired to don my own cape and fight for your cause, and still, it’s impossible not to look upon you and want, more than anything, to dethrone you.

Dear Superman-

I’ve always feared you. When I was young I felt I was so lucky to have an older brother who would rather talk late into the night in our living room rather than hit me to show his strength. I am lucky to have you.

Still, I was plagued with nightmares that you turned against me. Your muscled arm became a hammer and you gave chase. You’re too fast to outrun. You’re too strong to hold off. If you wanted to hurt me you could. Superman, I love you because I am grateful for what you could do but don’t.

Dear Superman-

I blocked you on facebook. I’m done reading your posts about “the perfect woman and her open orifices.”

Dear Superman-

Superman doesn’t have a sidekick. Believe me, I’ve looked, and before you start, sidekicks are not gay and I don’t want to hear anything about Batman and Robin. Robin is not, as you so eloquently put it, a fag. That story made an appearance on my feminist blog, by the way. You provide most of the content for this blog though you don’t know it exists. Whenever I write when I’m home with you, I keep a “safe tab” open, anticipating your presence in my room when you ask to play Frisbee or throw the football around. And when you stand over my shoulder and smile with your slightly stained teeth and bronzed skin I pray you don’t look at the computer.

It would hurt you to find out you’re the villain in my life and I fear your hurt would become hate. You know I’m a feminist. You know I’m asexual. But we don’t talk about it. Please, keep your ignorance.  Let’s pretend you’re still Superman and I’m a civilian gazing up at your greatness. Let’s pretend for a little while longer.

Dear Superman-

Do you remember when I felt a pressure in my chest a few summers ago and it hurt to breathe? It was almost midnight when we called the pediatrician’s emergency line and almost one in the morning before we got to the hospital. You sat slumped in a chair in the waiting room too tired to focus your eyes. You looked like a pile of old clothes wrapped haphazard and clinging to a scarecrow. Your head lolled against the hard plastic of the chair and your eyelids fluttered at every flicker of light that prevented you from sleeping. You didn’t have to be there. I was fine in the end, after all. You didn’t have to be there battling to keep your eyes open as you tried to comfort me, making a face just to get me to laugh (only to apologize when I told you it hurt to laugh, even though I wanted to keep laughing).

You didn’t have to take a walk with me a few days later into the woods around our house, or slow your pace to keep up with my plodding shuffle. I was terrified the doctors were wrong and that I wasn’t fine and that somehow I was dying because my sternum hurt when I breathed even after I took the damn medicine, because what if I was dying at that very moment and taking one step too fast over a mossy tree root would send me into cardiac arrest and— well, you didn’t have to walk with me. You didn’t have to share your own fears. You smile with your tongue slightly out because you still can’t smile properly after your bout with Bells Palsy. I always loved your smile and I love it more now that I know.

I don’t think I ever said thank you.

Dear Superman-

I used to pretend that if we weren’t siblings we would be best friends. But we would despise each other as mortal enemies both believing we stand for truth, justice and the American way. You would think, how can someone who writes a blog about Marvel comics and “queering Wolverine” ever be anything more than a man-hating-lesbian-feminist? I would think, how can someone who says he won’t live on the same street as a gay couple, ever be anything more than a bigot? And we’d both be so wrong. I’m more than a feminist and you’re more than a bigot.

It’s so easy to turn you into the stock-character villain invading my progressive world. I can pretend you’re Bizarro, the brutish, stupid, poorly cloned version of Superman, but I know that’s not who you are. I doubt you spend this much time creating new ways to hate me.

Dear Superman-

If I were to send you these letters would you read them? Would you respond?

Desire

Divyanshi Chugh, Lady Shri Ram College for Women, Dehli, India

 

(On the conflict between the passion of desire and unconditional servitude of love)
In the wild fire of desire,
The souls of us lovers
Struggled through the violence of love and peace.
His desire to be nothing,
And my desire to be one with him,
Left me as nothingness personified.
My desire to be everything,
And his desire to serve me,
Left him serving even tempests.
Our desire to love, care, and belong
in each other’s warmth,
even amidst insurmountable circumstances,
Left us enraged in our heads,
And wounded in our hearts.
But one in our spirit like never before.
Just as love exists,
In the bricks of imaginary homes of our souls
In a transcendental tie, away from
That old wildfire of desire,
Tsunamis of our pasts,
With courage in our hearts,
Strength in our selves,
And love in our spirits.

A Sestina for my Mother

Linda Patterson, Smith College, Northampton, Massachusetts

 

It was a dark time for childhood.

The Japanese ruled Korea

Food was scarce, my relatives starved

Life was painful for my mother.

She watched siblings suffer and die

All this caused her to become hard.

Responsibility was hard,

She never had a childhood.

At eight she watched her brother die.

Poor go un-helped in Korea.

His care fell under my mother

She watched as other siblings starved

Given away before she starved

My grandmother’s choices were hard.

To Japan she sent my mother

So she would survive childhood

A concubine from Korea

Was better than waiting to die.

My grandmother was doomed to die

Gaining surgery while they starved

was unlikely in Korea.

Making the sacrifice was hard

To leave her home of childhood

And marry to save her mother.

Father bought the hand of mother

So my grandmother would not die

Seeing too much in childhood

She chose to spend her life love starved.

The move to this country was hard

As was leaving loved Korea.

Never again would Korea

Be home for my lonely mother

Missing her sibling’s deaths was hard

One of the last of twelve to die

It is their love for which she starved

She regrets her lost childhood.

She had no choice in childhood

But to watch as family starve

And feel guilt when she did not die.

Dear Media, a letter to you from a Saudi Arabian Muslim girl born in 1992

Afnan Linjawi, Effat University, Makkah, Saudi Arabia 

Dear Media,

It was a summer breeze that made me first open my eyes

I was too little to see, but old enough to hear my mother’s cries

I heard her croon to me as she cuddled her first baby

But I also heard a boom before she told my dad to turn off the TV

“They bombed the Eastern Province, the Gulf War is here!”

My mother glared at my father, I felt her tears

“Please Abdulmalik, there will be no more news in our house

We have a child now. She will only know about Donald Duck and Mickey Mouse.”

My mother was a woman of peace

She hated the news because they never left her at ease

While my father was a news fan

He would lock me out to watch politicians rant

I would stick my ear to the door and peer through the keyhole

Daddy was watching gunshots and blood rivers

Streaming from Iraq to Palestine

As political analysts said it an inevitable sign.

Dear Media,

When I went to school to learn about the world

I came in with All Star shoes and fluent English, ready to explore.

My Palestinian teacher refused to meet my eye

I reminded her too much of the enemy that made her cry.

I felt guilty and like a traitor

I didn’t know what my crime was but I felt I betrayed her.

Slowly, Arabic became what I uttered

And black was my attire

Just as I was finding my place

A plane crashed in New York and killed hundreds

I was no longer watching Home Alone on TV

But pictures and names familiar to me.

Women dressing the way I did were headlines

Phone conversations in my language were threat lines

Internally I was chagrined for not doing more

Externally I was mocked for living in closed doors.

Dear Media,

After years of bewilderment and accepted nonsense

I realized that it was You who told me I was oppressed

You, told me I was misguided and unblessed

You, put a weapon in my hand

Turned my language into an international poison

Defined my attire as prison

And took away my voice by a caption.

You were my biggest influence

You taught me my place and my importance

You struck fear in my heart

You wanted to break me apart

So I wouldn’t reach out to the nations in their native tongue

And teach them the way my language is sung

So when a head-scarfed girl meets a white blond boy

They’d be too afraid to say hello.

Your photos made them blind to the coral beauty of Jeddah

Your ignorant accusations made them deaf to the stories of grandma

Their fear strung louder than Hijazi music

They missed the chance to create art and magic.

Dear Media,

You forgot to tell them that grandma finished school in the thirties

Before men knew how to drive or fix a light bulb

You forgot to tell them women used to guard Makkah

When men tended to pilgrims in Arafah.

Dear Media,

I am 23 years old now and I am a journalist

The time for me to write you has come

It is time I tell the world about my true home

It is time to bridge cultures and celebrate the differences.

TO BE OF BLACKNESS

Kinyaa Luka, Smith College, Northampton, Massachusetts 

 Kinyaa Luka Pic

To be hopeful, distinctive kindling,

Of rich black earth— this vessel mold for sound.

A panting breath of breeze and dust bearing,

This lisping bloom of dazzling leaf buds bound;

They play the flute song strewn of collectiveness.

A black and languid body hopeful, still.

The limp and haggard body of keen oneness—

A garden rhythmic black blanketing will,

Not caring whether morning comes with motion.

They drench the earth of sweet mourn-less splendor;

The collective dazzling without a notion

And stirring under the weights of faint stupor.

A wind amongst trees and earth’s dressed chance,

To be of breathful blackness– watchful trance.

The collective dazzling without a notion

And stirring under the weights of faint stupor.

A wind amongst trees and earth’s dressed chance,

To be of breathful blackness– watchful trance

Capua’s revolutionary decision

Linda Santini

Collegio Nuovo – Fondazione Sandra e Enea Mattei

Although Italy has one of the lowest ratios of investment in research and development, the history of the virologist Ilaria Capua is a case of excellence of our research at international level that deserves to be underlined, especially because there are some important peculiarities about it. Collegio Nuovo – Fondazione Sandra e Enea Mattei (in Pavia, Italy) had the honor of hosting this “Revolutionary Mind” (awarded by “Seed Magazine”) from which each of us should learn something. In particular, during the conference held last autumn, she told the story of her life, showing how each person could trigger a change, even in less privileged conditions. How to do this?

The starting point of her speech was a simple consideration: in Italy, making excellent research is really challenging, also due to the economic crisis that impacts on the ranking of sectors of public investment. One of the main reasons that explains this situation is that in the Italian Parliament there is only a handful of scientists, among whom Ilaria Capua and Elena Cattaneo (stem cell researcher), and Past Minister of Education, University and Research, Maria Chiara Carrozza (a biomedical engineer). Italy needs radical changes, it should follow the example of China, Brazil, Japan, where 40% of the members of the national parliament are researchers and/or scientists.  Indeed, research and knowledge are assets that we need to improve for the development of a civil nation and its democratic participation.

Moreover, nowadays it is very hard to change the internal mechanisms of the international health policy, especially if they are recognized as the best and adopted by the majority of the scientists and researchers. Nevertheless, as Capua’s experience has showed, an adjustment is possible. She indeed made possible a change.

In 2006 she challenged the WHO, refusing to settle the genetic sequence of a new flu virus in a database, whose access was limited only to 15 laboratories, and so she decided not to enter in a club of elected scientists. She instead shared her findings with Gen Bank, an open-access database, making them available to the entire scientific community. And this was a strong revolutionary decision.

Her act was due mainly to an ethical reason: to face the avian flu emergency, strong measures were needed and it was necessary for everybody to work together. Another reason of the difficult choice was the following: in her opinion, the results of a research financed by public funds have to be public and not reserved for the few. She is a public employee paid to protect the health of animals and people: she knows she did the right thing, the most logic one, following the common sense. She is aware of the important role of science in relation to the entire community and of the responsibility of those who work in the public sector, a system that too often lacks transparency. Knowledge is a public good, which can not be privatized or available for a small group of selected laboratories. From that period, it was no more possible having limited-access health databases.

Capua is the first woman that in 2011 won the prestigious Penn Vet Leadership in Animal Health Award. The University of Pennsylvania assigned it and gave to the Italian researcher the international prize of $ 100,000. This award, one of the most important ones, is given annually to a veterinarian who has “significantly altered the image and practice of the profession and has influenced the lives and careers of other people.”

At the end of the conference, Capua noted that, especially in Italy, it is still hard for women to reach top positions. In order to obtain remarkable results, women have to be brave and ready to take risks. They need to desire to stand out, they need to be able to make daring choices and to be drivers of change.

She also gave us some tips.  First: travel a lot and think out of the box, even if it is difficult, because it is the only way to survive, especially as a researcher. Old mechanisms are no more appropriate, there is a need for fresh ideas. Second: you must be ready to recognize and exploit, as best as you can, with optimism and enthusiasm, the opportunities you’ll find in your life. This is one of the way you have to reach the top. Third: you have to work hard and believe in what you are doing in order to succeed: you need to be proud of your work. Do not be afraid to feel inadequate, to be yourself.

The take home message is pretty simple and perfectly in accordance also with what we, as Collegio Nuovo students, experiment in our daily life: you need to reach out and grab your future. Good luck!

Linda Santini

International Business & Economics, Collegio Nuovo – Fondazione Sandra e Enea Mattei, Pavia

To Catch the Wind

Maura Lydon

Hollins University

Æther Captured

The Æther soared across the sky, seeming to cross an invisible line between night and day as it moved on into morning. Nerissa stood at the bow of the ship, watching the sunrise. She had never tired of watching the land below her gilded with the first morning sunlight, though it’d been years since her first journey. The sound of the wind elemental behind her and a friendly breeze curling around her wrist were indications that all was right in her world. The small gust that had come to say hello to her curled up her arm and puffed through her hair before resuming its journey through the skies. She brushed the dark brown hair out of her view and grinned after the breeze.

She had no intention of giving up what she had, but neither did she mean to squander it. After all, hadn’t she saved the world, when there had been significant advantages to letting it burn? Hadn’t she stuck by her friends in all that long journey, to a place none of them knew? She might not like the law, even defied it at times, but that wasn’t to say she didn’t like the quality of the civilization all around her.

A ring of elemental spirit circled the ship  a little more than halfway back, the only force keeping it in the air. Her ship differed from sea-faring vessels in several ways, the most obvious being the elaborate metal plating hammered to the sides and bottom of the Æther. It was even shaped differently than normal ships, with a heavier bow and smaller stern, to compensate for the elemental force driving it onward.

She left the bow and strolled down the length of the ship, speaking in the soft, whispery language of the air. “And isn’t the day a grand one for going hunting?”

“You know me,” A voice answered her in the same language, coming from the constantly circling ring of elemental energy. “As long as I have something to munch on I’m happy.” Nessa snorted in amusement and ran a hand along the smooth railing. The astral matter that lured the elemental into staying with them was extremely rare anywhere on Ankaria, and he knew very well that the merchant ship currently sailing a couple hours flight ahead of them was carrying a full load of the stuff. Each small cube was enough to power an elemental for five years, roughly, and was worth a startling seventy-five thousand gold coins. And that was just one cube.

As the first rays of dawn hit the hull of the ship, Nessa was joined by her lover and first mate, Korryrra. A cat-faced Wilder, Korry (as she was called by her less articulate human friends) was as much in love with the Æther as Nessa was. Wilder, or Catfolk as some called them, were uncommon on the mainland where they sailed now. Most of their kind could only be found in jungles on a large island off the coast of the desert to the east. Though the shorter fur that covered her body was as black as midnight, Korry also sported a head of flaming red hair, which announced her control over fire almost as much as it did her short temper.

When they had met almost ten years ago they had made a pact that as long as they stuck together, Nessa would be captain, and Korry second-in-command. That year had been the beginning of a lot of things for Nessa, including her ability to control the wind. While she had gotten the power of the air, her friend had chosen that of fire and flame. Now Korryrra held the power of a thousand fires at her fingertips, and was not afraid to use it.

“Up so early again?” Korry asked, stretching lazily and leaning against the main mast. “You do know we won’t be in range of the ship for another four or five hours, yes?”

“Of course I do,” Nessa replied, “I’m the one running the ship, remember?”

“Don’t forget me,” The elemental put in cheerfully, making Nessa roll her eyes.

“I’m just teasing you,” Korry said easily, grinning wide enough to show her sharp white teeth.
“And don’t I know it,” Nessa replied, her smile drawn out by Korry’s.
he ship required very little work, as the elemental controlled most of the power. There were some secondary sails, but those were mostly for a boost of speed when they were closing in on a target. Their skeleton crew filed out a few minutes later, a few sailors she had known from her own time in midships and others she’d picked up in various ports. More than a few Wilder had joined several years ago, and their dexterity came in handy in boarding parties.
The day continued to move on, and soon the other ship came into view, a different class entirely from the Æther. These were not the best ships to be found, at least as far as maneuverability went, but they were the fastest. The glitter of the solar cells built into the largest surface area on the ship (the sails) was visible even from several miles away, the ship motoring along a good deal faster than their own vessel could do at cruising speed. However, they weren’t at cruising speed right now; they hadn’t been since late last night. Their prey didn’t even realize what was happening until they were almost within jumping distance, piling on more sail at the last minute to try and pull away. “Idiots,” Korryrra said cheerfully, passing a length of rope to her. “You’d think they’d figure out we’re pirates when we come anywhere near boarding distance.”

“Ah well, all the better for us,” Nessa replied, readying herself. “Just tail the ship until I get back,” she added to the elemental, not even waiting for an agreement before she launched herself over the side, a heavy hawser uncoiling in her hands. The winds came at her call and swept her up over the side of the other ship, over the heads of the merchant’s crew; and allowed her to spin around the main mast with the rope still in her hands. “Cut that.” She dared the astonished sailors, and grinned. Her own crew swung across on the rope she’d secured, and Nessa herself drew her dagger and rapier before swinging down from the mast and onto the deck. The dagger, NightShine, glittered with small arcs of lightning, and the blade was made of solid diamond. It wasn’t exactly a magical weapon, but it was powerful beyond belief. It was also hers.
For now she concentrated on just winning the battle between the merchants and her people. Most of the sailors here were just that: sailors, not trained to fight. A couple of switchblades were nothing to her practiced hold of NightShine and rapier. It also helped that the instant someone was about to hit her, she turned herself to moving wind. The pirates were outnumbered from beginning to end, but they were also a lot more experienced.
She countered a strike from one of the sailors and struck him with NightShine’s hilt and watched him fall to the deck, unconscious. Summoning the winds once more, she jumped straight to the aft deck and faced off with the helmsman, who might or might not have been the captain. “Give it up.” She said, not even out of breath. “Call it surrender, and we don’t have to kill anyone.”

“I won’t surrender my ship to a bunch of filthy pirates.” He snarled, and came after her with a longsword. Unlike the other members of the crew, he actually knew what he was doing. Still, it was hard to beat a girl who had an element on her side, especially once one of her crew mates, Densharr, came up to help her. The captain looked slightly crazed, nearly landing several blows and actually making her think about her own attacks.

Densharr was a Wilder with dark grey fur who’d made himself a reputation on the Æther as a quick and efficient worker. Now he came up behind the captain and dug sharp claws into the man’s wrist. The human was forced to drop his sword, and Nessa smiled smugly. “Surrender yet?” she asked cheerfully, putting the tip of her rapier under the captain’s chin as Densharr forced him to his knees. She then dodged out of the way when their captive spit at her, but the elation of winning was too high right now for her to care. Looking around, she saw most of the merchant’s crew had been bound or knocked unconscious, rather than killed. Humming, she sauntered over to the hatch in the middle of the deck and descended, intending to inspect the cargo.

In the hold below the crew’s quarters, several large boxes had been stacked on top of one another. She didn’t need to open them to know they contained astral matter. The entire hold was nearly vibrating with the power of the stuff. When she got back up onto the main deck, Korryrra had come over from the Æther. With the enemy crew secured and the captain awaiting their pleasure in the brig, there was no need to leave a rear guard on their own ship.

“Next time, I get to lead the charge.” Korry said watching as a couple of their crew carefully unwound the hawser that bound their ship to the merchant’s. “And you can guard the ship.”

“It was my turn and you know it.” Nessa said distractedly, still on her exploration. She had spent her first year abroad on a ship much like this one, though maybe not quite as large. She opened the door to the captain’s cabin and stepped inside, noting the large stern windows letting in light. That glass must have cost a fortune, she thought, but a fluttering of paper in one corner drew her attention. One of her breezes had entered the cabin with her, and now circled the writing desk with a strange urgency. Nessa wandered over and picked up the letter left uppermost on the desk.
And I will tolerate no further delays. Find yourselves in port by tomorrow, with the cargo, or consider our bargain null and void.

That was not too uncommon, if the captain was taking on freelancer work instead of ferrying goods for a single company. She lifted the letter aside and looked at another in the same handwriting. The breeze had refused to wander off, as they normally did after a moment’s interest, but continued to circle restlessly.
…To set off from the Morristown port and make for Shanai without the appearance of delay. There will be an additional three thousand gold for each of the group members you find, but watch especially for the sky pirates Nerissa Caldwell and Korryrra Silver-tail. These will bring you another five thousand gold each. I desire their presence. Do not fail me again, captain.
Nessa stared at the last paragraph of the next letter for a long, incredulous moment. There was no signature on either of the letters, she noticed. For several more seconds she remained frozen, her mind still processing what on Earth was going on. Then, all in a rush, her senses returned to her, and panic set in. Turning to wind in an instant, the letter floated to the floor behind her as she raced towards the open doorway at a sudden, furious pace. She went from stock still to flat out running in less than a second, but it didn’t help her. Slamming up against the barrier, her wind form spread out over the edges, seeking the tiniest gap to set her free. There was none.

In a panic, she raced around the entire length of the room several times, noting only now that the cabin was a well-sealed as a sea-faring vessel would have been. Even the windows were airtight. Nessa resumed her human form and drew NightShine, bashing at the glass with the hilt of her dagger. It didn’t even crack.
Now anger was rising to her throat, as virulent as the panic, but not much more useful. “Well, well, well.” The captain’s voice drifted to her from beyond the doorway. She whirled and glared daggers at him, only wishing she had Korry’s power over fire so that she could burn him to a crisp.

“And here I thought you were supposed to be clever.”

“Let me out and I’ll show you just how clever I am with my knife,” She snarled, advancing on the door-that-wasn’t.

“I think I like you right where you are,” Her captor said with satisfaction. For a moment she wondered how they had caught Korry. If she had had time, her Wilder friend certainly would have burned down the ship around them rather than be captured. Right now, she felt the same way.

“What do you want with us?” She demanded with narrowed eyes.

“Well, besides the normal bounty for two such infamous pirates…” The captain began with a grin. “Your company is expected in Shanai,” He turned away from her, whistling cheerfully. Why in the name of Pelor was he taking them to Shanai? The Jeweled City was familiar to her only because one of her friends Denna, a notorious thief, currently held residence there. She didn’t even know who the rulers were.

Nessa slammed her fist against the solid boundary between her and freedom, fear and anger rising up to choke her, until her vision of the deck beyond her blurred.