Road Trip

Stella Pfahler’s poem paints the view of traffic, dust, and country landscapes outside a car window.

Orchards, syncopated

Flash by in rows, repeatedly.

Coalinga:

Stifling, the scent of false industry

Sweats along the country roads.

A mirage of a farmhand straightens up.

Sprawling road kill. Shreds of tires, unassuming.

First shards of LA, and anticlimactic.

 

Cars congregate-stop and go-

Shadows lengthen, the highway’s hum turns to an unforgiving lull.

You are forced to imagine the fragile ecosystems

Within car-worlds.

A state line is crossed. Street signs change,

And people with them.

Denny’s drive-thru

Because everyone has forgotten napkins.

In the morning: Rolling hills turn to mesas.

Heat rises in waves of invisible striving toward the sky.

Faceless horizons turn to dust.

By Stella Pfahler

Stella Pfahler is a Bay Area native who attends RASOTA for Creative Writing. She is a circus freak, enjoys surfing, and she plays the saxophone. 

Art by Fiona McDonald

When The Wise Man Speaks

Grace Vedock explores the conflicting drive of creative passion and its often exhausting nature in this piece.

I don’t mind sleepless nights
utterly unmanageable
afraid of drowning in
piping hot cups of coffee

So wind me up, watch me go
seventy-five down the metro
and moving from predator to prey
has not been easy, but natural

Rather mindful indeed, and not
an ounce of shame to show
proud and pearly whites
or matte black silhouettes

I’d play for you if I could
the melody of a thousand notes
the key change of a single song
if I mustn’t choke back
the fear (a dangerous
concoction when mixed
with passion)

To this day, I am
convinced that
He sang it better.

Executive entanglement, I’d like
to say, yet words fail me;
you belong on the couch
feet on top of mine;
tucked, frightened, and ready to run

The yellow pencil trembles
while I grasp it
I beg to communicate
a foreign and mental narrative
Pen for me not ten verses, but one.
The scraps of memories that live
in the darkest corners
and compartmentalized
into the ephemeral seasons

When pure bliss was mine,
I didn’t know.
Brilliant ideas rarely appear
in the “comfort zone”

But who you are is not
who I want you to be-
you belong to the people
who love you
hopelessly lost
in the labyrinth
of life

When you took a shot
at change, it worked.
You transform the intolerable
into the sentimental,
much like everything else:
Ideas that didn’t die.

 

By Grace Vedock

Grace Vedock is an aspiring poet. When she isn’t finishing her schoolwork, Grace enjoys looking to outside sources of inspiration for writing. Throughout her high school career, poetry and literature have been of great interest to Grace. On her own time, she decided to study and begin to write poetry. A handful of her poems have been published, most notably by Crashtest Magazine and The Noisy Island. She has an acute desire to share her poetry with the young readers and writers of the world.

Artwork by Sumin Seo.

In Memory of Emzara

Fiora Elbers-Tibbits describes her view of a world about to end in her short poem, “In Memory of Ezra.”

The world is ending soon, my love. In two
days’ time, tectonic plates will chatter teeth,
collide, muss up the golden mean, imbue
God’s weariness with fractures underneath
the sinking sea. I want to take an old
approach—dear Noah and his ark, infused
with elements of television: bold
and artificial roses grown, tokens used
to pair off passersby whose urge to pro-
create ensures our race’s breath. Relieve
me, knead me, slip and drag me into co-
existence. Skip the rite, forget to grieve.
Ignore the trembling ground and seizing foam;
I’m waiting in an empty house, alone.

By Fiora Elbers Tibbitts
Fiona is a senior creative writing major at Walnut Hill School for the Arts.

Artwork by David Gordon

 

Post-Partum

Explore the postpartum world of Sofia Haines’s delicately crafted poem that uses gripping imagery to effectively convey a story.

Touch my home. Touch my
walls and tablecloth and the coat I bought my son; he
will be a small blue boy, blue like paint,
and his round hands
spell out something like milk or salt.
I want him to sleep in the crook of an avocado.

 

Night breaks but does not open.
you are a beautiful woman
said the blue boy. Now, once he is here,
I see that he is blue
like an egg in the dark.
He leans in from a window that wasn’t
there before, kicking his toes against the wall
as he looks at the pink boy in the cradle.

 

Open this jar for me, I ask.
Our yarn has been cut, but open this jar for me:
see, it is filled with childhood and melted
plastic.

 

By Sofia Haines

Sofia Haines is a senior Creative Writing major at Walnut Hill School for the Arts.

Sorry

Rachel Hertzberg’s “Sorry” examines the often tumultuous patches of the relationship between Mother and child. Far from simple, this poem explores many familiar feelings and evokes a strong sense of nostalgia and sympathy.

You come from transient men.
Men who join the priesthood without warning
and run away to Florida and sell houses that weren’t theirs
but you come from women who are solid.
Women who fold their arms and
stare at you like Washington stared at the Delaware
like you are just something to be crossed
women you don’t talk back to
who stop at the grocery store after a funeral
who sew their own clothes and
keep leftovers for months to be stewed on some anxious winter evening
Women who tell you who you are
leaving you with the feeling
that you did something wrong.
All the recanting in the world
could not repent for the sin
of trying to correct them.
You are starting to look like your mother
Your features are carved by the same hand
Your nose is the same bridge; your eyes are the same river
Your fingers are the same half-closed drawbridges.
One day she notices your shorn hair
and your bare eyes and she says
Are you trying to turn yourself into a boy?
She says you have grown sullen, rebellious, dishonest.
But she does not see how the bones of your face
have grown strong as her own.
All of your apologies are backward glances
they are checking for monsters in the dark
they are stockpiling canned corn
they are knitting a suit of armor out of steel wool
they are whispering in the darkness
          so quietly
          so still
          your voice trembles, a fawn that does not know how to return to the forest
I will write down all your apologies
inscribe them in ebony ink and encircle them in gold leaf
bind them with red leather and velvet.
I’ll deliver them by hand to your mother’s feet,
so that she will know how you love her.

Dear Junior Year

Congratulations to Tenaya Berndsen for winning Honorable Mention in this years IAA Non-Major Contest.

She is unblemished,
As they say…

But blemished she is: Blemished is her mind,
Her inner eye.
His snaky kingdom, an intruder to her peaceful bliss, Mourns the mere chance it did not take To be a globalist movement under her blithe skin.
His every will, willing to appease, His every word, sweet nectar to mine ear.
And inner ease be his tremulous desire, That which she brings not into his life, But smothers with her accusations so.
She is not what I am, divine perfection of a woman.
This, misconceived, is not what I am but what she is.

As she hurts him so, she sees it not,
For her selfishness overpowers her being.. Draws Confidence For her selfishness eats her whole. He sees not that she hurts him so, Still ignorant pertaining to detecting evil. But the lights, they falter, And eyes strain to adjust.
And his cheek bones, defined by sorrow, Are jagged Not unlike my
heart.


He knows not what damage she has done,
For broken he is and the fault accredited to her.
For her grubby fingernails have defaced my poor, sweet angel..
Dare I call him so His innocence she robbed, if he ever was innocent at all.
I know not what damage he has done,
For broken I am and the fault accredited to him.
But repress I my sorrow, endeavoring to cushion him. Attempting to heal his feeble heartbeat.
May I save him if I sweep aside the wool Shorn Off His Back?

By: Tenaya Berndsen

Vialpando

Hannah Malik’s poem, Vialpando, explores the idea of childbirth and loss.

The mock-orange tree
looks pale as the flattened scar,
the heath upon which the heathen
screams.
The bough’s extent
graces the cropped and furrowed sky
of cloud and celestial smiles.
Dusk,
as the wail
clips pigeon wings overhead.
The winter breath a
silent re v
                        er
                                i
                                       e…

Top orange flame a hanging amber drop upended like the slaked mind drunk on hyacinth monkshood, heather, blossoms- opened- a jaw with whiskers, the honeysuckle. A sweeter smell against curlequed rubbings, rubbings conceived by the skull, the pale stretch of glossed-over belly: the woman, barren. Autumnal flesh never tasting spring but always chased by winter-
-Skoll, a raking claw to dispose of the blossom which knew no scent but citrus and hunger, no breath. Breathless. He stands beside her, greying hair and hands against her pelvis, she looks to sea in the growing dark. Her eyes a selkie’s greenish hue and knuckles white with hunger for what could have been. What was? What spoken spell beneath her branches could propose the blood and not the name, this woman with no heir.
No bosom full and glowing, pressed upon by the tasseled heads of fog and bitter smells from the locusts upon mock orange petals, fallen without aid of air to glide. She smiles. Her paling, nakedness exposed- the cold ripped her o f h e r b l o o m and took whatever happened, -in a night above the sea, beneath strains of stars- away.
Her branches trailing into dark, her squarish chin quivering as she grows bent by the winter wind that bites her heels. He calls her back, afraid, hands soaked in blood and nails caked with soil. She has already withered. He leaves a mock-orange leaf to seed.

By: Hannah Malik

Afternoon

Parisa Sheikholeslami draws us in with a magical poem full of nature, beauty, and soul.

I rest my trembling chest

by relying on a blanket of dancing leaves

the sage window is framing the tree

a picture parallels a memory of future

only a few blinks ago, I too was rowing my heart

life is a feather; it only takes place through letting go

it only dances when you let it trip through the air of breaths

all smiles and tears are an excuse to stare

at the ground or the sky filled with invisible eyes

and the parallax of people’s faces will make you

want to be a part of it again

a window of a moving train, the tail of a rat

or the city, resting near the shore

the ocean, its hair, the breeze, its voice

with arms opened wide, bursting out to azure

it all will turn into a journal of dusty poems

and the journal, someone else’s rotten box

at the end, all hands guiding you to yourself

it all is a pine, spinning through a forest of petals

 

By – Parisa Sheikholeslami

“Hi. It’s Me, Death” with Dana Levin

Tibetan Buddhism, hawks, death, dreams and Wikipedia Inspire Dana Levin to write Sky Burial.

Ana Garcia: What is your usual process for getting an idea for a poem, and then how is it for you to write it down?

Dana Levin: Ideas come primarily in two ways. One is from outside my head, like reading an article or seeing something in life, the news, or visual images. The first poem in Sky Burial describes something that happened to me: I came home and there was this hawk on the hedge, right there, and I was really surprised. Then I thought “Oh, this means something. It’s an omen!” I went up and I took a look at the symbol book, so that actually happened. With that experience and looking up what “hawk” meant, and how it started merging my internal experience with my parents and my sister being dead, it’s an example of the poem being externally inspired but ultimately coming back to what is internally on my mind. Another way that poems come to me is through the unconscious, like dream images.

The poem “Mentor” comes from a dream I had: ghosts that need reminding. Those three prose poems in the middle of Sky Burial come from dreams which seem very lofty… and I just felt like they had to stay in prose. When you read prose, there’s an expectation of reading for information of some kind, which doesn’t exactly happen when you see a poem format, it’s a different experience. It felt like I had to keep those in a prose format to be intentional with the fact that they came from just the weirdness of dreams. It was one of the things that helped me to write those.

 

Hannah Malik: What other religions and cultures did you research in your process of writing?

DL: The two main cultures I focused on were the Aztec and Tibetan Buddhism- and it’s a weird combo, because the Buddhism is very detached; everything is from the mind, nothing is completely real. They’re death-focused, but in such a way to teach us about impermanence. Nothing lasts. They do a lot of shamanic work, such as meditation to the point of imagining you cutting off your head, scooping out your brains to study the poison inside, then turning it into a golden elixir. Another imagines you chopping up your body and feeding it to your demons, it’s totally violent, but it’s all at the level of your mind… the Aztecs are completely different. They’re like a complete blood-cult and seem to me the most literal people I’ve encountered. For instance, they take captives from war, kill them, skin them and dye the skin golden. The chieftains would wear them for several days- while they’re rotting- and afterwards take off the skins and be new people; spring has arrived. To me, that’s a really literal interpretation. Blood sacrifice was practiced every twenty days to bring in the new months. I also studied things that didn’t necessarily make it into the book, for instance I studied the weird kinds of bugs found in Egyptian tombs for a while, but that didn’t end up in a poem. I read about really weird burial practices, but the only one that really came forward was the “sky burial”.

 

AG: You continuously mention websites and popular culture icons, along with more spiritual ideas such as the “sky burial”. What was your purpose in combining these two kinds of elements?

DL: I wanted to mix those details for a lot of reasons. One: that was my experience. On one hand I’m doing all of this meditation on Tibetan Buddhism and reading all of this very philosophical writing about Tibetan Buddhism approaches to death, and all of a sudden I’m on Wikipedia looking for what happens when a caterpillar turns into a butterfly. I was trying to show the fact that I was having a transcendental experience but I was also having a very ordinary experience. I used to be the kind of poet who would get angry if people mentioned things in their poems such as Dr. Pepper or chips, it broke the spell for me. Now I’m more aware of how huge our digital world is, how it is part of what we are now experiencing, and how I would like to document my engagement with it. Somebody was writing about my work, saying, “I love how she talks about Tibetan Buddhism but then mentions junk food” and I liked that. But when I was younger, it would have driven me insane, because I would have wanted to break the spell of the poem. I wanted to stay true to my experience, to witness my journey on this grief. What I found very interesting about investigating for example about body’s decay, what happens to the body after it dies, forensic anthropology, is how found it very calming.

 

HM: On top of being a recalibration for yourself, is there a message you would like to convey to your readers?

DL: Yes, it isn’t really in the book, but in a nutshell what the Tibetan Buddhism says is ‘we’re all going to die, so why not be nice to each other?’ and that really resonated with me. We’re always being mean to one another in bigger or smaller ways. I don’t think that comes through the book, but I feel they should make the confrontation with death. Don’t shy away from it- it’s profound! It’s hugely transformative, and we’re a total death-denying country. We’re constantly trying to keep it at bay, from plastic surgery to freaking-out about the food we put in our bodies. We put all our death on TV, too, and I think that’s to help us pretend it’s not happening in the world.

AG: You have mentioned that you are not a fiction writer. Apart from the format, for you what’s the essential difference between poetry and fiction?

Dana: I guess that most fiction writers think in terms of character and plot, that’s how they get inspired. For me, poets are often inspired by not situations but are interested in emotional perception: the way the light might look on the wall, seeing a hawk and wondering about it. So I think the way they want to engage the reader is very different in terms of what might inspire them. I also think that you could think of poets as people who want to drop down deep, and prose writers wanting sort of fill up and expand. It’s not exactly vertical versus horizontal, but in a way it kind of is. It’s just a different way of holding inspiration and figuring out how you want to work it out.

 

HM: Is there a specific way in which you sequence your poems?

DL: Yes, I pay very very very close attention to the way I sequenced the book. Originally, I had wanted it to be circular, but I don’t know how to do that effectively. My mentor originally sequenced the book very strangely: we had agreed from the start the book would start with Auger and end with Spring, but she had sequenced very dark poems with short, unrelated ones. Her reasoning for this was to keep waking the reader up and keep them interested, and that was truly innovative for me. I didn’t quite like how the second half of the book was put together, so I sequenced that part myself, but the book as a whole is still cyclical in nature.

 

AG: You mentioned during another interview that writing this book was not part of a mourning process, it was a “recalibration.” How do you interpret that?

DL: When that many people who are close to you die in such a short period of time, I thought I was really supposed to get death. This isn’t about my personal loss and feelings, this is about “Hi, it’s me, Death. Again. Taking someone you love from you right now,” and I just thought I had to make the confrontation with death, to really see into our nature. And also just grief was an amazing experience, because I became convinced that we are born with a set of emotions: I think we are born with the grief as an emotion but it doesn’t get activated until someone close to you dies. Once of the reasons grief can be so disorienting is because most of us don’t experience the dead of a close loved one until we are older, and at that point we know what it is to be sad, and we know how it is to be happy, and the physiological experiences that go with those feelings. However grief comes with its own set of physiological experiences like exhaustion, insomnia, it’s a whole other thing, a physical feeling. Especially if you are an adult because you felt like you understood the emotional palette, and then this one gets activated and you just can’t believe it, it’s very overwhelming. I was interested in trying to look at those experiences with a more analytical eye and I think that is what I did not drown in the feelings that I was also having. Recalibration means that I have to integrate death into my life, and it has actually made me a person I like, I like what death has done to me. I’m more tempered in the ways I deal with the world, I’m a little more fatalistic, and I don’t know if that’s good or bad, but I’m less anxious about living. I feel like before these experiences I was a hot sword that you’re making and you put it into cold water to temper it, and now I feel like I was a very hot sword and then death came and it was very shocking but now I’m stronger, sharper.

 

The Copper Flora Rain

Arthur Pembrook experiments with the phenomena of synaesthesia in this poem.

From the soundless, listless, whiteless pitch,

the scentless iris of the enmasked reposts as

atmospheric rupture tears away my flesh.

Now arrest from peace to pink barrage

to the rainbow that conceives a burning baby

falling from the ashen sky.

 

I taste the shock as thunder fills my throat,

and in that time I scrape a life away from broken sounds

and rolling holes of monotonous teeth.

 

They see me here, and know full well my aura flows outward.

“It tastes of purple.” I hear them say, in English far surpassing my own.

My softened will can not give in, but crawl,

crawl on bouts of blinded faith and trust,

where not but sanctum can make me rot.

 

I pass up the home, the green, the orange,

and beneath a fungal pillar ripe with fly and beetle,

I rest my nose and let it absorb the flavor of this world.

 

Cradle me under your wing so I can see some hope.

My breath is failing to touch my heart

and the crimson streaks of life are draining from broken dams.

Softly, I will spur this passage home, but today I can say

“I will forever consume the air of Orion’s Belt.”

 

-by Arthur Pembrook