Beneath His Kaleidoscope Eyes

The rattle of an aging radio agonizing over war and the address of his childhood home are faded structural realities. He grew up in isolation with an erased memory after contracting encephalitis, and he also grew up embraced by a loving family. He had nothing or he had everything. It depends on which way you want to tell it.

From his pipe, wispy gray strands of smoke swayed like living ghosts. Sunshine shimmered through his dusty window shades onto strewn book stacks and his silver threaded hair. Now with the wind exhaling, drifting the smell of fish from the bay into the walls of my grandpa’s apartment, he sat alone once again—this time in the vortex of the COVID-19 crisis.

When time slowed to a tormenting crawl, he turned on CNN. The news led him through the possibility of death and despair, a borderless sphere where loneliness reigns and hope is an ancient entity. With the click of the off button, he entered into a state of pure illusion, a state of numbness, like the numbness that follows an injury, before pain starts to make its way through. Everything seemed less real under the waves of oblivion, and that’s what he needed. I knew he longed for fiction.

Like the planets in celestial orbit, he was distant and lying beyond reach. Growing up in an era where silencing pain was status quo, Poppy maintained an emotional shield against vulnerability. To bridge the generational gaps between us, I searched the apartment for remnants of his former life. I found a 1960s Diana Camera wedged between tattered baseball cards and faded news clippings.

This unassuming blue and black piece of plastic was embedded with supernatural sorcery. With its transcendent powers, Diana dismantled Poppy’s manufactured illusion and revealed the true emotions beneath his facade. I photographed the lines of solitude etched in his forehead, the deep ravines of shadows that shrouded his existence. Through the lens of this vintage telescope, he communicated his untold stories and sorrows from youth: bursts of uncontrolled electrical activity between brain cells and his body bound to the wheelchair he called home. Emotional transparency, once an elusive concept, became a source of healing.

In my garage, aka the makeshift darkroom, I began to develop this picture while listening to Stevie Wonder’s “Love’s In Need of Love” melting on the record player’s rusting needle. In tune with his melody, it occurred to me that this fragmentary image allows me to peer into the larger questions of the moment, into a country mourning the loss of human connection. The pandemic has been an exercise in subtraction. Poppy has experienced the voids left by neighbors who have succumbed to COVID-19 and the absence of friends and family. And then there are the intimate things that are gone: the handshakes, pats, and the strokes that warm daily interactions.

As the photograph dried and the gradients of grey took form, I analyzed Poppy. In his chair surrounded by tchotchkes, he stared at the pictures of his former dog and my Grandma in the 80s with cheekbones adorned in bubble gum pink rouge at the roller skating rink. When days meld into one and the pipe’s vapors envelope his being, he entered into a permanent haze of oblivion to escape living in a constant flashback. His current existence cloistered in his apartment is reminiscent of his childhood when his fever rose and was forced to stay in isolation to recover. The black and white film replicated his portal to the past. Somewhere at the intersection of peace and longing, his concealed pain thawed within the picture.

I picked up Poppy the day I finished processing the film, and we went to the deli on Cross Bay Boulevard. I had not seen him for a long time and his sullen face slowly waned. It was early in the morning and for a fleeting moment the chaos of the pandemic blurred into stillness. We ate our bagels and lox together by the bay, the salty threads of air whispered and the ebb and flow of waves hummed. In between coffee sips, we talked about our shared feelings of loneliness and yearning for normalcy. I finally knew what was beneath his kaleidoscope eyes, once a confusing mosaic of opaque colors. Now, a translucent vision of an old man trying to nourish his relationship with his granddaughter and cope with childhood trauma.

When Gabrielle Beck is not writing or photographing, she can be found repurposing vintage denim. She is a finalist for New York Times “Coming of Age in 2020: A Special Multimedia Contest for Teenagers,” and recognized by the National Council of Teacher’s of English.

Art by Sarah Little

 

 

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Finally: an Un-cliché Depression Story

Cassandra Hartt, The Sea is Salt and So Am I, hardcover $18.99, ISBN: 987-1-250-61924-2

The Sea is Salt and So Am I, a novel by Cassandra Hartt, is a thoughtful and accurate portrayal of depression, coming-of-age, relationships, and heartbreak. Any teenager can see themselves in the town of West Finch — somewhere quiet and close to the water, where everyone knows their neighbours and their vices, soon to be washed away with the town itself as the earth erodes into the sea. Twin brothers Tommy Macqueen, who struggles with depression, and Ellis Macqueen, who bears the emotional burden of his brother’s depression, along with teenage activist Harlow Prout, who fears change and losing her best friend Ellis, are accessible and multidimensional narrators whose lives and issues create a space for each and every reader to feel heard in one way or another. But just because the stories told through these characters are accurate, doesn’t mean they are handled in the best way. 

The town of West Finch isn’t so much a setting, as a character itself. West Finch is sinking into the ocean little by little — a metaphor for everything wrong with the three narrators, and the fights they each battle in their own chapters of the story. Hartt says this most succinctly in the very first sentence of the book. “Any other town, it’d be all they could talk about: how much longer until the house on Ocean Drive hurls itself into the sea” (Hartt, 3). Each storyteller in this novel has their own set of mental obstacles, whether it be fear of change, the future, or straight-up mental illness, such as depression. Interestingly enough, the issue of the town’s fate is secondary to their personal struggles. 

Tommy’s suicide attempt occurs early on in the book — he tries to drown himself while swimming in the sea. He is promptly sent to a mental hospital, where he spends seventy-two hours. The neighbourhood — family, friends, classmates, etc. — highly anticipates his return home, and Mr. and Ms. MacQueen decide to throw him a party at the family diner. Harlow, afraid of losing best friend Ellis due to the emotional burden of his brother’s depression, is determined to take matters into her own hands and cure Tommy’s illness herself. Her strategy is to start “fake dating” him; she thinks making out with him behind closed doors and flirting with him when parents aren’t around is better medication than any antidepressant. While this strategy improves Tommy’s mood in the moment, it causes more harm than good in the long run. 

Harlow’s greatest downfall, like the other two narrators, is that she acts on impulse. While Hartt accurately portrays the immaturity and inexperience of adolescent minds, this also makes the book a little bit unbearable to read at times. A common problem that adult authors run into while writing teenagers is that they make them a bit too clueless — Harlow is as naïve as a thirteen or fourteen year old, while Ellis is on his way to becoming an adult. Tommy is the only one of the three narrators who is portrayed with a true seventeen-year-old mind, but so many of his thoughts and decisions are drowned out by his mental illness. Hartt’s teenage characters are relatable, but not completely truthful. 

Despite its downfalls with inaccuracies regarding the experiences of Tommy, Ellis, and Harlow, I would recommend this book. Readers can find themselves in these characters. Hartt sheds light on common teenage concerns that many people are too afraid to bring up themselves, or maybe feel are taboo to talk about. While it is hard to truly convey the struggle of depression and mental illness as a whole, Hartt achieves to tell the story in an original way. However, do not be fooled by the description on the back — this story is about so much more than mental health issues. It tackles matters such as the fear of growing up or growing apart, diving into the unknown, and taking the reins of your own life with your newfound independence. Hartt’s characters are lively, but full of flaws; most importantly, they are accessible to anyone in this book’s target audience.

By: Josephine Sporte

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Wong Halmoni

I knew Wong Halmoni¹ through my mother’s stories. From these stories I gathered two images of her: she had given everything to her church even while she was poor, and she once took my mother “shopping” to buy a live chicken from the market and cook it into soup. My mother and her brother cried inconsolably, their tears mixing with the glistening oils of the stock as they spooned the steamed chicken into their mouths. Later they would profess that there was nothing else like it.

As we drove to meet Wong Halmoni in Hwe-in, her hometown, I turned these stories over and over in my mind, the same way I rolled skipping stones in my hands before flinging them into the river. The kind of stones that fit right into your palm, the kind you could wrap your fingers around and press into every fissure and smooth surface–firm, tangible, knowable. Not like Wong Halmoni. My impression of her was little more than “generous old woman.”

The radio songs began to crackle with static, signaling our nearing arrival–Hwe-in had poor reception. It was yet another isolating factor for Wong Halmoni, who already lived by herself in a small rural town. As the soft static hummed through the air, my excitement to meet Wong Halmoni trickled into curiosity towards this woman who seemed to be a saint and yet also quite alone. 

“Why have I never met her before?” I asked my mother. 

She paused.

“I guess it’s because she lives in Korea and we don’t,” she said.

“Do her kids visit her?”

“I think they do,” she hesitated, “maybe once a year. They live in the city, about an hour away, but I’m sure they could visit more…”

She trailed off. We sat the rest of the car ride in silence. 

When we arrived, Wong Halmoni greeted us without stepping out of her house. A smile touched her eyes. Come in, come in, she motioned. I peered into the room. Her floor was made of substrate and dirt. She began moving on her hands and knees, swinging her elbows in jerky movements to inch her body forward, her legs dragging behind like dead weight. My mother asked her what she was doing, but she just kept walking–no, crawling–and in the next moment our confused silence was splintered by my mother’s stammers in Korean and abrupt ruptures into the English that I could understand.

“…When did this…”

“…Your legs…”

“…Nobody told me…”

They spoke back and forth in rapid Korean, and I strained my ears to understand a word or two. My mother later translated what Wong Halmoni said: she fell, the surgery wasn’t good, she couldn’t use her legs, but she was managing just fine, praise God. With that, Wong Halmoni carried on pulling herself across the floor with her elbows, and all I could hear was dragging and scraping, all I could think was where are her children?

Then I saw them on her walls, their photos everywhere. I was everywhere, alongside them. There were pictures from when I was born to my first day of school to my last birthday. A light peeked through the window, washing over the photos in a warm yellow. It was a wall common enough in our family to recognize it: this was a prayer wall. This was where she visited every morning and every night, asking God to keep her children’s health, to keep our strength. I took in her figure beside me–her white gossamer hairs that caught the light, her creased hands, her back hunkered over, her shallow breaths in and out, never uttering a word of complaint. Before I ever knew her, I realized, before she ever knew me, she had been praying for me. 

In that moment I sat beside her with a rising sense of suffocation, as I fumbled with all the words I would say to her if only I could speak Korean. I wanted to take her papery hands in mine, the way my mother did. Tell her that I missed her and was glad to see her, the way my mother did. But my mother’s relationship with Wong Halmoni was different the way her Korean was different from mine–the syllables were soft and loose and smooth in her mouth, while mine were clumsy, brief. At one point Wong Halmoni tilted her chin towards me and called me yeppuda. Pretty. I thanked her in broken Korean, smiling more than was natural to compensate for my blundering accent. For the rest of the afternoon I sat wedged in between them, too embarrassed to ask my mother to translate word for word, studying their expressions instead to make sense of their conversation. Wong Halmoni kept her gaze even, her voice gravelly. Mother reached forward to touch her wrist every now and then. I nodded along, not quite understanding. And when it was time to leave, I couldn’t help but feel that despite discovering that my great-grandmother had loved me my whole life, I hardly knew her enough. 

Some time later, after we left Korea, I would stop by the river to find a skipping stone. Examine it, then fling it far away. Watch it grow smaller and smaller until it becomes a dot in a space I can never reach. Hold my breath as it sinks into the deep blue, slipping out my field of vision like a memory.

 

¹Korean for “great-grandmother”

 

Miye Sugino is a seventeen-year-old who grew up in Tokyo and now lives in LA. Her work is published or forthcoming in Parallax Online, Cathartic Youth Literary Magazine, and HS Insider, among others. She will be attending the Kenyon Review Young Writers Workshop this summer.

Visual Art By: Heidi Songqian Li

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Something About Living

The veteran lives in his daughter’s house. He draws his curtains and lies on his bed. Its frame creaks, and it rots, and its mattress depresses with his weight, and a war torn land crosses his mind again. He thinks of barrenness, as he lies in his bed. But in spite of the sounds that come and stay, he lies and finds comfort in his bed’s depression.

He glances at his nightstand. A lamp, unlit, rests atop. A sepia woman sits next to it, captured in a photograph, darkened by light’s shadow—insignificant to the forgetful veteran. She had fled him, he had fled her. Besides the war he forgets most things.

He reaches for the nightstand in hopes of remembrance. He aims for the sepia woman, but he shakes and shakes more. The hand, a steamship, transports to the nightstand. But the hand, the feminine fingertips, the importance, the ship, she diverts her path—her hull trembles. She succumbs to a brighter light, guiding her into deeper, bluer obscurity. Steam puffs and flies in a different direction. She changes her course, the ocean’s breezes. The hand finds itself atop the handle of an antique drawer. She forgets again the photograph for which she had once lived. But reasons to live are only memories to the ship, drunken by the ocean. 

The hand clenches the nightstand’s hinge, and she pulls toward her person. The drawer glides ajar to reveal tall bottles, hard liquor, poison to the curtains, drawn evermore. The veteran thinks of war and screaming memories. The steam’s puffing and flying ceases, the dark room falls silent, and the drawer empties along with the old man’s mind, drunken.

Adjacent to the veteran’s room, a boy sits in a caned chair facing a mirror he stole from his mother’s vanity. His window grants passage to a mid-afternoon light, readying itself for the profound tone it saves for evening and night. He had grown up wishing for a lake by his house, one to reflect the colors of a setting sun, perhaps to echo birds’ songs. 

The old man’s sorrows reach his grandson. The boy hears an opening of a drawer and a clinking of tall bottles, making way for more clinking and more bottles and emptiness. However, he does not dwell on the tall bottles, but the thin walls, and he wishes quiet, blissful little things for his grandfather. He hopes these things would happen within their lifetimes, but maybe ideals belong to a world with a lakeview through his window. Maybe bliss belongs to a world of birds’ melodies. 

Deliberately the boy studies himself in the mirror. He hopes to the mirror often, mostly for materials, objects to display and then to discard. But today he hopes for clarity. He sees an unbrushed hair and combes it to his scalp. The mirror reflects a beauty, one exclusive to novelty and soft changes in light. 

First the walls hear clinking of full bottles, then empty ones. They hear an old man sigh dimly upon a glance of a photograph; he obliges another drink. And the boy who sees himself in the looking glass sighs, too, as he hopes and prepares for changes and a setting sun. Maybe a setting sun could bring him acceptance. The walls mute the family’s stilling echoes. 

As his mother warms gravy in the kitchen, the doorbell rings, and the boy descends to where the wallpaper peels in the foyer. The doorway’s opening reveals a boy his age, who smiles at the sight of him. The boy leads his visitor to an area outside the screened-in-porch. He closes the door shut before arriving there, however, and he smiles back at his guest. The door sends an echo throughout the house, which travels to a room with drawn curtains. 

The veteran had been sleeping, his fingertips embracing tall bottles. He had heard a door meet its threshold and, somewhere in the scape, a latch accept its lock. He wakes and moves to the windows and furls their drapes. The daylight instills in him a feeling so warm that he chooses to furl the rest of the blinds and do away with them completely for the evening. He looks outside from his bedroom’s vantage, escaping his dark room through the pane. He searches for the person who closed the door, who made him furl his drapes. 

The veteran sees his instiller of light, his grandson, standing before his daughter’s house’s façade. He presses delicate hands to the window and sees another boy smiling slowly at his grandson. It seems as though the guest offers something to the boy, something blurred, as the old man’s eyeglasses render useless from the nightstand. The boy’s hand approaches the guest’s in reach of the blur. Gently it transfers between the two silhouettes, and after, the guest’s eyes shimmer for a moment, which passes so quickly that if the old man upstairs had blinked or drunk or died, he would have missed the shimmer.

He is unsure of what overcame his grandson in response to this shimmer. His countenance directs away from his window. However, he believes his grandson reciprocated the guest’s sentiment, as their hands still linger where the blur’s transfer had taken place. Then the guest holds tighter to his grandson’s hand for one unapologetic second. 

He leaves the front door and the screened-in porch and the boy, who smiles slowly, stunned.

The veteran realizes the possibility of there having been no object, no blur, and their hands only touched because of the moment’s clarity. They were only but silhouettes, after all. He notices his fingertips embracing nothing but the window.

The sun descends loftily. The veteran no longer thinks of war and screaming things, but of his grandson, who held a boy’s hand and found acceptance under the shadow of a setting sun. 

An unfamiliar sobriety shields the old man’s face. He looks at the sepia woman atop his nightstand, and he sentinels himself before her. The window, blurry yet tender, had reminded him to protect her, their memory. In truth, he may have seen her in color for one fraction of a moment. 

He turns on the lamp next to her. He lets it shine onto her frame, giving her light like his grandson had for him. He becomes her sun like he had become his. He remembers forgotten things and descends to his daughter, who warms gravy in the kitchen. He brings his glasses with him. 

—Adelaide, he says at the bottom of the stairs. He sees clearly. He pauses. He repeats himself and apologizes. He mumbles subtleties to his daughter. His eyes tear slightly, blueing lightly. My darling, he says quietly. He whispers to her more.

His daughter leans over the stove but releases her wooden spoon after hearing his mournful cadence repaired. She lets go. She holds his face and serves him dinner. 

The boy, however, forgoes his mother’s gravy while he protects his guest’s path and watches it stretch into disappearance outside. Our lifetimes will meet again, he thinks. But in the meantime, I’ll stay with your memory. The walls might forever hold the smell of that night’s gravy. 

His path disappears, so the boy comes inside. The sun has set. He sees his mother holding onto, collapsing her entirety onto a delicate man who misses evening meals. His shoulders, scarred from the land where they fought and the bottles they emptied, feel embraced, beloved, felt. 

The veteran sees his grandson enter the kitchen. He lets his eyeglasses glide the bridge of his nose. The boy seems delighted and his mother complete, but the old man shows no emotion and says not a word. He only breathes a labial hum one expels when they can finally grasp something with an intense understanding.

His grandson had shifted something inside him. Unclear whether he feels heavier or more light, he knows nothing left him, but something old thawed. A war inside the veteran had broken; a window, opened. His grandson had alighted him from the nightstand, from the sepia woman, from the depression in his mattress. 

The old man considers thanking his grandson for daylight and for remembrance. He had shown him a setting sun, something about life, and something about living. 

Meanwhile, the boy thinks again of his guest. The setting sun had brought him what he wanted. He imagines a songbird’s call echoing off a lake. He feels the same tingling he had earlier, yielded by that affectionate hand on his.

Adelaide lets down her hair and pulls out a chair after hanging her apron by the stovetop. She sees her father already sitting, already sniffing warm gravy, already dropping warm, blue tears onto his placemat with every glance he steals from her son.

At the table, the veteran sees his grandson thinking of another boy’s shimmering eyes. So with his own, the grandfather weeps volumes of prideful acceptance.

Benjamin Herdeg is a high school student who just started creative writing over the summer, during the pandemic. He “uses writing as a vent into which he pours lots of emotion and unfinished thoughts.”

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To Fit The Part

 

Japanese square watermelons glisten in edges

a perfectly rounded cube, never sharp enough to draw blood

but shaved into beauty, enough corners to stay in place.

 

I wonder what came first, did an abnormal watermelon

happen to grow into a square that happened to be the shape of its cage

     or did the cage halt the fruit’s breath

     just early enough to fill

 

\\

 

I am quiet at first glance, five foot two, a fan of sweet earl grey tea,

a thin girl who likes to cook, Asian, a writer, not necessarily

     in that order, but then again, who decides this order?

 

Did I grow into a stereotype because that was all that was expected

of me in the country that once deemed me

unassimilable, then exceptional

 

A dirty carrier of the kung flu, spit on and cursed at then scrubbed clean

of color on a Washington performance report

 

     in the same breath

     in a matter of weeks

 

When I am white wiped of color, am I catered enough for you?

 

Does my neutralness signal lack of trauma

and does that sit well with you?

 

Will washing me colorless ease the white guilt that you so despise?

 

Or did I grow up with autonomy,

rights to “Life, Liberty, and the Pursuit of Happiness”,

to be as Asian as whoever I want to be?

 

     Hanbok trailing in watercolor silk and silver threads

     Midnight squid ink yielding thick Korean calligraphy

     Bullet-paced bargaining at traditional Sijangs

     Red hot rice cakes coated in Gochujang on winter nights

 

I look back at Seoul with my almond eyes

when it calls out to me, hands outstretched,

and know that I fit yet another mold here,

 

one that I am learning to describe. Forgive me, the privilege

of fitting in makes it hard to see what exactly you fit into.

 

and because of the way both halves of my life

have carved cages that seem to meld into my body

 

I may fit the part, but only by my will

     is what I repeat to set myself free.

 

Elina is a highschool junior from Seoul, South Korea. She attends Phillips Academy and is a graduate of the Sewanee Young Writers’ Conference and the Iowa Young Writers’ Studio. She is the executive poetry editor for The Qualia Review and loves to draw in her free time.

 

Visual Art by: Woohyung “Garfield” Jung

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Two Poems by Serena Deng

Day Six

Remember that our hands do not belong to our wrists

nor our wrists                                       to our bodies nor we                    

to each other. Black sheep take                     themselves into the fold

unknowingly and never run again. Perhaps blinded, perhaps

at night we mistake white wool for                  open air.

We do not choose                              ourselves or each other.

Remember that all our joints pull in different directions

and wish to be separated and one day 

the sheep outlive                                 the shepherd.

We roam free over hill and gully, forgetting

safety, company, how we fit against the other.

Still our names stay                          tacked to our ears.

Remember that God makes Adam with His own hands

and the red earth sticks to Him like second skin.

There is a moment, I think

when Creator and creation                               lock fingers and

never forget it.

 

 

This is the Summer

This is the summer we prayed for

mercy, strung ourselves out like laundry

sighing to the sun. This is the

summer our knuckles learned the grooves

of a washboard better than they

knew each other. We worked this tin machine over and

over and over again, five times,

six times,

day into night,

blisters pouring back into horizon.

This is the summer we prayed for

blood to wash us clean:

starched white cotton,

sparkling water droplets,

chlorine bleach.

This is the summer we prayed for

a new body, prayed to

turn our skin in on itself

and start again.

 

Serena Deng is currently a senior in high school. Her work has been recognized by the Scholastic Art and Writing awards, the NCTE, and Temple University, and can be found in Invisible City and Ricochet Review. She lives in NYC, where she drinks water straight from the tap.

 

Visual Art by: Elaine Zhang

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when i talk about the moon

i do not mean/ the sweet crescent-shaped thing in the sky/ from the cartoons we used to watch on channel twenty-four/ that glowing thing the princess drifts to after she swallows the magic pills/ and becomes immortal/ after the bad guy breaks into her home and gravity breaks/ like window pane/ i say moon and mean the moon the old poet bids his brother to look at on the nights they are not together/ the nights the moon cracks into two faces and falls out of/ old vending machines/ i saw the moon hanging by the skin of my heart the second time i broke it in the sink/ trying to make it paler than it is/ in the stranger who watched me watch him flit in and out of the subway window/ as it shudders and tilts to one side & there’s one night every year when my mother does not cook dinner/ she stays in her room with the door closed and watches the moon rise and set on the back of her eyelids/ i imagine it must look so peaceful/ and so white like my grandfather when he entered the room in an expensive suit/ and came back out in a metal ashtray/ i saw the moon sitting cross-legged on his femur when they pulled him out of there but nobody else did/ because there was so much water in their eyes/ dandelions bloomed from their sockets & i watched them get smothered/ by hands on which their carnage left an endless trail of ruined tutus/ i wrote a poem on my hand today and/ it too blossomed to the size of the moon so i/ get it if you don’t want to hold onto my hand anymore when the subway/ shudders/ i promised someone i would miss them today you see/ but i’m not sure what i mean when i say these things/ like when i say immortality i do not really mean the one who hogs all the seats/ who chews with his mouth open and gets off one stop too late/ anyway it is getting late in the station now and gravity/ is snapping each femur as the sidewalk/ bends/ so here/ take my swollen hand and what fingers you can still find while/ i hail a taxi and pray that it arrives before the streetlights come on/ and i explode into one thousand dandelions

 

*Cultural note: The beginning of this poem references a Chinese folktale. A princess and her husband are gifted with pills that make them immortal and enable them to fly to the moon. They promise to eat the pills together someday. One day, a jealous man breaks into their home and forces the princess to hand over the pills, but, in the moment, the princess swallows all the pills so the man will get none. She flies to the moon where she lives forever without her husband.

 

Henie Zhang is a high school senior from Shanghai. She is the editor-in-chief of the Zeitgeist Literary Magazine and can often be sighted fiddling with a camera or trying to keep her plants alive with debatable success. 

Visual Art By: BaS

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To Linger

When I called my mother from the settling dark of the cold November night, she was unprepared for the news. She rushed down forty floors of cold apartment steel with the tiny shovel and gloves in her hands, ran across the cold dead rubber of the playground floor in her purple rain boots. All I could do was point with shaking eyes and strained fingers at the cold box in the kudzu. I remember my cold fingers all but digging through my shirt, watching my mother trudge over the undergrowth like she had done every night for over a year, bending over to push apart the bushes like she had done every autumn night. The dead leaves crunched under her feet.

 

I remember being sent to wash my hands- wash the scent of deteriorating mammal from my pores. I remember looking into my own eyes and telling myself over and over, this was bound to happen, this was bound to happen. When I returned, my mother was holding a small, stiff bundle wrapped in a red blanket. And as she lowered the cold form into the hoary ground, the tears finally burst from my eyes- I crumpled in front of the small hole, unable to form words but begging his name over and over in the small prison of my clenched hands.

 

His name was Mang-gae. I named him on a malingering summer evening, crisp and clean as the first bite of an apple. I named him for a wrinkled, ugly traditional rice-cake- didn’t the orange kitten look a lot like a rice-cake, rounded and scrunched up? I named him for longevity-the ugliest names will go the longest. I named him first. Out of the litter of five, he was the first to venture out into the open air, buttery and clean and yet infused with the limber grip of summer. He hissed at me as he ate snacks from my hand- then came back for more. I recall that one evening he swiped at me and left a bloody gash on my left palm, but was forgiven with the slightest brush of his whiskers against my mosquito-bitten calf the next day. I loved him as one would love a younger brother- complaining yet with a ferocity impossible to hide.

 

When he was named, it was as if he sprung up from a bed of identical kittens as a fully grown tiger- his face popped out at me like a flashlight from the box his family lived in. I learned his features. The pink nose, the high forehead, the delicate stripes on the back of his head. I learned his habits- the quirk of the tail when he was pleased, the negligent hiss when he pretended to turn his back on me. My father would watch him jump in and out of the same cardboard box for hours on end, almost purring with him when he settled down. I squatted in front of his closed eyes, wishing every day to speak to him.

 

Sometimes these days, I wonder what a year meant in the life of a fun-sized ginger cat. Was it an expanse of time he didn’t dare to encompass with a single flick of his paw? Or did the year he spent with us fly past like his baby-faced meow? I suppose I never will know. But if Mang-gae asked me the same question, asked me my bulksome human opinion on our shared year in broken yowls and hisses, I would tell him it meant more than any bond I had ever shared, whispering sweet nothings to him as if he had never left. Every summer night I spent with him seemed rosy with the remnants of the evening sun, but now I know that light was never the verdant vermilion of a summer day but his blooming warmth leaning against my hand. To look into the eyes of a creature unable to speak and enjoy its company was unbelievably precious, precious beyond conversational frippery and dated gestures. He changed my world solely with his acknowledgment of its existence.

 

To be able to look at a feather and think of someone who won’t be able to remark on it- to look at a torn sleeve and automatically see the night it ripped play out in front of your eyes. To trace an old scar on your finger, so faint you can barely see it, and forgive the claw that ripped it a thousand times over. To wonder if the small furry mind thinks the same. To wonder out loud to a bare grave, wonder if the hours I spent with you meant the same to you and know the answer before the tears hit the earth. To indulge in the vivacity of a living being during its short tenure on earth. To see it flown, escaped from its shallow prison of clay. I pushed my feet against the ground and begged the name that now meant nothing but a wrinkled, cheap rice-cake. Why had I ever named you for longevity? The dirt kept settling over the red blanket, over and over and over.

 

When my mother prompted me to say a few words for you, I could not. How could I ever let fly in a few words a bond that had never been expressed in words? Sobbing, I stammered out a generic prayer. I wish for you to be happy, I wish you all the things I could never give you, I wish for you to live in a haven with all the small things that make you happy- pureed cat snacks, inexpensive neon toys, cardboard boxes rimmed with cheap yellow tape and God knows what else. Certain things can only be said in words, clumsy and awkward. Some nights I have wanted to call after you, wherever you live now in the clouds. Most nights I did not know what to call, and now I think I may understand. You were many things- none of them spoken, many of them simply felt. And when I leave as you took flight, I should like to linger as you did- not as a broken call malingering in the kudzu, but as the fading light of a summer day, inexpressible in words yet blooming in syllables of faint touch.

 

Min Lee is a sophomore at St Georges School in Rhode Island. She enjoys reading fiction and creative nonfictions. Her interest in the field of neuroscience will lead her to pursue the study in college.
Visual Art by: Rita Yiting Ruan
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declutter.

200%.

It’s a steaming mid-July day. The moving company is supposed to arrive in a few hours, but we still haven’t packed all our belongings. The morning flies past as my sister and I scurry through the jumble while our parents work their way through every corner of the house. I cover the vintage dishes in bubble wrap while my twin tapes the boxes with please-don’t-throw signs. The moving truck arrives, and we skip lunch. I watch the frustration rise as the huffs of my parents and the puffs of the movers’ ring across the tiny house. Tension mounts as the clock ticks closer and closer to 6 pm, the time when the house needs to be entirely cleared and when we need to be out of the house. It’s 5 pm, and all the big furniture has moved to the new house. I circle around empty rooms I once labeled as my bedroom. It’s a strange feeling because the space is much more open but the air still feels tight. I am soothing my cat in the master bedroom when I hear my mom cry out from the backyard. I soon realize that we have less than twenty minutes left to clear the entire backyard, the shed, and the garage, which never came into our minds to clean before. We grab as much as we can and drag them into the house. We build a Pisa tower with cans of paint, rolls of paper half-gnawed by rats, and branches once transformed into magic wands in sixth grade. While we stuff them into the remaining plastic bags, I feel adrenaline rush through my veins as I give quick glances at my watch. It’s 5:55, and the front door swings open. It’s the new owners of the house. They’re early, and they look mad that we aren’t out of the house yet. By 5:58, one of them, a man, throws a tantrum, yelling in a language I do not recognize, while kicking our boxes almost out the door. At 6:00, we are out of the house, but the boxes of junk are still sitting on the driveway. I feel I am in the center of attention as the man and my mom continue to shout, each in their world of defense. But all I feel is the shame upon the tower of junk we drag out of the house in front of the entire neighborhood. It is at that moment that I feel the rich flavor of humiliation.

 

For my whole life, I have lived in absolute disarray, in ways both physical and psychological. However long I live in a particular house, it is only a matter of a few weeks when cleaning becomes the mission of Hercules scrubbing the Augean stables. Laundry stretches across beds, plastic bags cover kitchen floors, uneaten food occupies the fridge, and impossibility settles upon the carpeted closets to be vacuumed inside. I am Atlas crushed by the weight of possessions. It’s not that I am entirely underprivileged, but luck always finds a way to slip by me, mockingly brushing past my life. Family matters get worse and worse until arguments become a weekend ritual. While financial problems and conflicts build-up, self-confidence plummets. No matter how many times I make wishes while blowing candle after candle on birthdays, nothing changes. Life has become a continuous cycle of clutter. Time chases me down, while clicking submit buttons at 11:59pm’s, rushing back and forth to meetings and pointless destinations, to-do lists are now a Sisyphean struggle. I am a maximalist.

 

180%.

Quarantine is helping me change that. I catch onto the Gen Z trend of reorganizing bedrooms to fight off boredom. At the same time, my mom introduces me to the world of “minimalism,” and with it comes a series of nagging to clean my room. And so it begins. A journey towards emptiness. 

I embark on a 1000 item challenge. First, the decade-old desk hutches, then the roll of flyers picked up from volunteering, booklets from university fairs, artworks from kindergarten, and dried-out pens leave the house one after another. Shelves and drawers are emptied until I can finally clear the dust off them. For weeks, I move from room to room, peeking into every furniture, poking at every binder, bag, and box, wondering what I can get rid of. It is in these moments that I feel a surge of triumph rushing through. I partake in a game of no wins, competing against my maximal self. Instead of searching for gold coins and treasure chests, I search for trash. As I progress further, I no longer spend time looking for things and where I’ve left them. Frantic runs to the lost-and-found during after-school hours, and passing of missing water bottle sketches are reduced to a minimum. By getting rid of things, I find more value in everything I possess.

 

170%.

A warning pops up, ‘Are you sure you want to remove them?’

“Yes.”

Remove. Remove. Remove. 

Satisfaction bubbles up as my fingers work their way through the phone, removing every

app I haven’t used in the past month. I’m getting better at this thing, this endeavor of

emptying.

Unsubscribe. Unsubscribe. Unsubscribe.

I feel less chaos in my inbox. I set a time limit for notifications.

Delete. Delete. De-

My fingers pause mid-air. I zoom into the picture, and I see my mom laughing, from three years ago. A rare picture of her. I find myself smiling until my mouth becomes a counterpart of my mom’s. I decide to keep the valuable ones.

 

140%.

I am determined to dive deeper into minimalism. I wish to leave behind as little waste as possible. However, it’s not an easy choice for a maximalist, and I realize that it must be a task of joined forces, involving the entire family. While I give up my unconditional obsession with cute stationeries, mom makes wipes out of old cloth. Dad makes trivets out of leftover wood while my sister ceases to order food. Checkouts at groceries become a polite series of no thank-you’s to plastic bags. When we decide to abandon the use of shampoo, I begin to wonder if minimalism has brought me a lifestyle backward in time. I feel like I’m fighting the currents of modern society. But it feels good. Good to be doing good for the earth.

 

110%.

I watch my possessions, leaving me one by one. Some move on for the better. Unused craft supplies, almost-new clothes, and childhood books are donated. My heart drums the loudest when they get sent to people in need, to people who have recently settled into the country. In the face of the current pandemic, I see a pattern of selfishness among people, stocking up their unnecessary needs, driven by public psychology. And I want to advise them, declutter.

 

100%.

I sit in front of the windows of the master bedroom, watching the late afternoon sunlight flooding in. Instead of squeezing in through furniture and possessions, light fills the entirety of the room, where my cat bathes. It’s my favorite time, the romantic period of the day, and a newly acquired luxury. I realize that home has become a space containing meaning. Time runs at a slower pace these days. In truth, I am nowhere close to the end, nowhere close to being a minimalist. But more than ever, I find myself living the moment. I tend to see the big picture more often. I no longer try to pursue perfection but, instead, find satisfaction within my weaknesses unique to myself.

 

There is beauty in being decluttered, beauty in emptiness, beauty in finding the internal beauty. Most importantly, I feel so light. It’s still the same old life, even plainer than ever, but I see it in a new light. I now wish to live a life where I fill the emptiness with “me.”

 

Grace Hur is currently a junior attending Sir John A. Macdonald Secondary School. She loves to voice herself through many mediums, her favorite being Instagram. She calls herself a passionate writer and a student leader but in truth, she’s just a typical teenage girl with a terrible sense of direction.

Art by Saki

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Roots

i.

uncle used to climb mountains.

he was a lion: the king who emerged

from unnatural mountains composed

only of gunpowder and the orders

of one man against another.

his skin is a map composed of ghosts

and places and ancient stories-

it is older with this knowledge,

but the strong golden of his hands

still holds remnants of the old summer’s striking sun.

ii.

grandmother was a pearl right out of the sea

when she stepped onto the land of the free.

grandmother sowed the seeds of the most beautiful

flowers. she planted them in crevices where light

was a stranger; she wove them in her hair.

i carry grandmother’s flowers, i keep the seeds in my heart.

i know she watches me by the sea where she stepped.

iii.

my father runs through smoke. through the dusk

he dodges ghosts and the cruel tongue of fire-

and leaves; a hero to the glass children and their mother.

father made castles out of autumn leaves and music out

of thunder.

father finds light in the dark: he chases the sun as

he carries me on his strong back.

i feel him as he holds his kind hands out- i

think of father’s golden heart.

he echoes grandmother. they both plant flowers

in the core of dark soil; a new beginning.

iv.

the canyon that is my skeleton,

the pang of my copper heart

preserved against the tough rock of my rib.

it is a song for them.

Katherine loves to write because it serves as both entertainment and a learning outlet for her. She currently serves as the editor of her school’s newspaper and literary magazine. Katherine’s writing focuses on her family, her favorite places, and anything else she finds interesting. Her favorite form of storytelling is poetry because she loves to experiment with all of its different styles. When she’s not writing, Katherine is either watercolor painting or reading a good book.

Art by Garfield

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