Piano Player Fingers

My mother said that Janet had piano player fingers: each segment arcing into the next, flexing in unison because that is how the human body is supposed to work. But the first thing I remember about Janet’s fingers is how she stuck them too close to my face and I, a teething toddler, promptly chomped down on them. A baby’s gums does nothing but coat everything in the slime of innocence, but she hollered for Mom anyway.

Janet gave up piano when she hit seventh grade because basketball was all the rage. Mom dragged me to all her games where my feet dangled as I saw on the bleachers. And when the people stepping over us to find seats stepped on my white sneakers, she would console me with those lemon drops she always kept in her purse when I knew that Janet liked basketball—she’d come home at seven from after-school practices, sweaty and beaming and starving—but I wondered if she started dribbling because she was sick of etudes and sonatinas, or if it was because she liked the way the ball arced into the hoop, a motion as natural as the way her fingers used to dance over the ivories.

The summer before Janet’s freshman year, we moved and sold the piano. My mom cried when she sold the piano; Janet cried when she said goodbye to her friends. And I sat, squashed in the backseat between Janet and her basketball shoes, glad that we were moving. I was sick of spending Saturday afternoons at the court with her.  In reality, I had nothing better to do. Janet had been going to sleepovers since she was five, while I had made a grand total of five friends in the twelve years that I had been alive. Some tangled organ inside of me sang that if we were moving, it meant that Janet wouldn’t have any friends either and so maybe, just maybe, she’d be my friend.

Seventh grade premonitions don’t come true. I learned that the day Janet strutted into high school and made it onto the varsity cheerleading squad freshman year. She dyed the ends of her hair platinum blonde and swiped mascara over her eyelashes as soon as Mom left the house in the mornings, sliding me the piece of toast with the most peanut butter as a peace offering. Or a bribe.

The high school didn’t play basketball or soccer or volleyball—they played lacrosse and waved pom poms at football games. Janet shot right up there on the social ladder, skipping rungs and accepting hands that boosted her up. Mom made me go with her to Janet’s first cheerleading performance. A couple of my new friends had sisters on the squad as well, so I sat with them, starry-eyed over the football players and watching as the cheerleaders flipped and danced and contorted themselves in perfect coordination: a red and white being of undulating limbs and high ponytails, high off of the attention fixated upon them.

That was the first and last time Mom saw Janet execute a perfect backflip: arcing through the stuffy gym air and landing, shoes squeaking against the varnished wood, without a wobble. Over sweet and sour chicken that night, she told Janet that she had found out that a retired concert pianist lived two blocks away and that he was willing to give lessons and let her practice on his piano.

“Such a waste of your lovely fingers—they’re so talented! And all those flips and tricks—what if you injure your fingers?”

I smirked. All of Janet’s friends were on the cheerleading squad, and if Mom made her quit, she wouldn’t even have time to kiss that football player she liked goodbye. The ladder would be wrenched out from right under her, and she’d hurtle down back into the masses and would no longer be perfect Janet.

 I saw Janet’s nails dig into her palms under the table. She went to bed early that night, but our new house had thin walls, and I could hear the whisper of the pom poms as they cut through the air, over and over again.

 But the next week, she came home from school, having traded her pom poms for a deck of cards.

“They’re vintage,” she told Mom when she huffed in disapproval at her eldest shuffling yellowing cards over the table,“like all those plates you like so much.”

I found out from my friend Bethany, whose brother was dating one of Janet’s cheerleader friends, that Janet was now playing poker at lunch and making a killing. When I came home from school, I’d find cards dancing as she made them vanish with a flick of her fingers and reappear in her other hand.

 Perfect arcs, still, and I envied her ability to make things flow just right. The diamonds soared through the air and landed in her other hand in a rapid burst of plastic-coated paper slapping each other, as if pulled by some invisible string. I wished that I could do that.

 She offered to teach me how to shuffle one Friday afternoon before her weekly piano lesson, but I was going to the movies with Andrew. He had shyly asked me out on Wednesday, during those last few precious moments of lunch. I left her offer untouched and instead asked can you lend me lip gloss.

 She put down her cards, the queen of hearts on top, looking at me solemnly, and led me upstairs where she rummaged through the back of her closet and gave me four different tubes of lip gloss to choose from. She covered their labels and named them for me: “tastes like raspberries, will get you into trouble at school, makes you look kissable and the one mom doesn’t mind.” I grabbed “makes you look kissable” but nothing happened in the dark cinema except for a lot of crying scenes. That was my last date with Andrew.

 Mom still thought that Janet was set on the trajectory towards Carnegie Hall.

 When she asked me for a favor, I couldn’t say no. I wanted to be the magnanimous sibling who helped their crying sister. The one who would climb into my window at three in the morning, mascara running and a deck of cards, creased and stained, sticking out of the pocket of her ripped jeans. I wanted that moral superiority to dangle over her stupid French-braided head. She asked me for money, and I handed it to her wordlessly. All one hundred and twenty dollars of my babysitting money for the family next door who always wanted me to come over and be such a good influence on little Izzy. Janet’s hand stayed outstretched, as if she expected more, but the moment that I opened my mouth to tell her that the wad of tens and twenties was it, she yanked me into a hug.

 She smelled like cigarette smoke and the girls’ locker room and cheap deodorant, so I held my breath until she let go of me and whispered in my ear. 

“You’re the best sister. Thank you so much, I swear I’ll pay you back. Please don’t tell Mom, thank you so much, good luck with your algebra test tomorrow.” 

She said that like a prayer. The mantra followed her to the window.

 Downstairs the next morning, I was greeted by my mother and a police officer who tipped his hat at me politely but I did not see him—I only saw my mother’s red-rimmed eyes and raspberry nose and the papers in front of her. I did not see Janet anywhere near.

 “Did you know anything about this?” Mom’s voice was switchblade soft, and I wasn’t fooled by her splotchy face anymore.

  She jabbed a blood-red finger onto the top document, and I leaned in and saw a mugshot with my sister’s eyes wide and not entirely focused and looking so young—nothing like the piano player, three-point shooter, card trickster that dwelled in the pictures on the mantelpiece. 

 “She asked us to contact you, miss, but as part of our policy we don’t contact minors. We called your mother when we picked her and some other teens up for illegal gambling. Turns out she was running quite a prolific business and was getting involved with some local gangs.” 

 Something heavy and sticky began bubbling up in my stomach, and for a second, I thought it might be the “makes you look kissable” lip gloss, but I knew it wasn’t that when I turned to my mother and said “piano player fingers, huh.”

Yong-Yu is a Taiwanese teenager who has lived in Malaysia for all her life. Her current favorite self-descriptive adjective is “culturally-confused.” She had been previously published in The Heritage Review and the bitter fruit review. In her spare time, she can be found binging Doctor Who, playing the flute, or lazing around the house.

Art by: Tao Tiva

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Two Poems by Nathan Lee

the king’s road

i don’t want this poem
to ache. i want to think

about that dusk as tenderness
instead of something with       teeth.

let me just tell you
about the asphalt, the white sycamores,
the silver car engines singing a river of light.

i was standing on the sidewalk,
breath dripping onto the dark earth, thinking

about the red scrapes of road burn
on tanned thighs.       how a car crash

ing into a boy will
smash his head and
snap       his spine into match

sticks, maple leaves, so many scars like
tire tracks smeared on concrete.

but
there was the cool evening breeze

and someone’s golden lab, his limbs joyfully askew,
is chasing his ratty tennis ball near the edge

of the road. that’s
this road going nowhere,

this road leading my body home, this road shattering
into a tunnel with a prism of color       at the end.

ignore
the bitter taste of       gasoline. i’ll tell you instead

how summer lingered in the air thick

enough to bite.

how through
the slender green pines across the street

i watched the sun paint
a watercolor goodnight.

Worm Moon

Imagine this: the stars
in your rearview mirror
are closer than they appear.
In the spring dusk,
the ripe apricot moon
kisses the asphalt.

Those stars, that moon,
the same bright fires
that lit up the night
when we tore ourselves
from the water of history. Now,

nothing is real but
the wind in your lungs
from the open windows,
the lilac freeway speeding by.

You grasp your breath in your palms
as it hums a holy melody;
your heart a bass beat
through the radio. Tell me again

how memories are anything
but half-remembered stories;
how love is the opposite of forgetting.

And oh, to be hand-in-hand and balancing
on the tender edge of desire.

Tonight, you sit in your car and let
the songs you loved back in middle school
blast out the open windows.

Tell me how you can still sing along.

Nathan Lee is an emerging transgender poet. He is currently a high school senior at Monta Vista High School in Cupertino, California. His work is forthcoming in Polyphony Lit and Lambda Literary’s collection Writing Out of the Closet and has been published in Celebrate Creativity, a local anthology.

Visual Art by: Johnson Anthony

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Two Poems by Vera Caldwell

Diagrams of Knots

                                                                          My eyes are lopsided like used tea bags

                                                      and my fingernails are picked into grey, upturned crescents

                                           by the time the sun has set.

                                   I reach into my deep blue sheets to find:

                          what-ifs like diagrams of knots,

                    abandoned requests for wisdom I don’t have,

              acres of misspoken wit,

          an elaborately constructed fantasy

      in which things are infinitely vibrant

   seem warped as if through a reflection

  in a mall fountain—I am haunted.

 In the light of this paraphernalia,

 I cannot sufficiently engage

 in anything of use.

   I recline in the yellow lamplight

     like a tiger head rug,

       conscious that my mouth hangs open,

           issuing myself correctives

                 that turn over every minute like paperwork

                        boring my eyes into the pictures on the walls

                               as if I could find some respite in them

                                        and hazily marveling

                                              at how I’ve ever been able to handle

                                                                                               the morning.

 

Evening With West Texas and Alzheimer’s

 

Oma stirs her melted ice cream,

spills a little on her plastic placemat:

 

Daddy, Lolly, and I got these bowls in Alpine at a tiny store just down the road from our house, during a stormy afternoon, when the sky had turned purple and the trees were trembling. We’d just taken the Thunderbird for a drive around the mountain and we wanted to do something special. Daddy saw these bowls and loved the blue enamel. I put the bag between my feet for the drive home, as the rain was starting, and they began to shine in such a beautiful way, with many different colors, that at first I worried the enamel was made of some sort of poison. I’ve never seen them shine like that again. Daddy said the altitude was so high and the atmosphere so thin that we got more radiation from the sun than other places, that it must have touched the bowls somehow that day.

 

with shaky hands she picks up the blue bowl from Costco

puts it by the sink

and disappears out the front door

to sweep the driveway for the fourth time that day

a few minutes later, we see her looking up at the dark sky

broom forgotten loosely hanging from her hand

her figure now smaller and shrouded by trees

 

Vera Caldwell is a sophomore at Houston’s High School for the Performing and Visual Arts. As well as writing, she plays guitar and composes songs in her band, Nobody’s Daughter. Some of her favorite writers include Mikhail Bulgakov, Stanislaw Lem, Patti Smith, Ocean Vuong, and Fleur Jaeggy.

Art by Sherry Huang

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Composition of Columbus

A.
This is a beginning
under the oak trees

where midwestern
boys burned their throats

with their father’s liquor
bottles. Girls came to

kiss at night, leaving cigarette burns
to scatter the ashes of their innocence.

This is a beginning in the quiet town
where we know real architecture

and real sounds of bullets. Both arch
over our heads and we embrace

these strange halos.

B.
This is a resolution
that we’ll leave the soil

where southern twang top
sour songs like syrup.

where everyone knows how to
strum a guitar,

and every girl sings Dolly Parton
for the elementary pageant.

This is a resolution
that we’ll fly to great cities

where skyscrapers make
us feel minuscule.

Magnificent things will seep into our minds,
all the urban ideas and emotions.

A.
This is a return
to the town where she never

thought she belonged. But
mother’s hand grew feeble,

fingers like brittle bird bones.
Father drove off into the

southern night years ago,
gone when the midnight ink

drenched his silverado.

Sarah Nachimson is an emerging writer with only a small scattering of published pieces. She hails from sunny California and is currently a sophomore at Yeshiva University Los Angeles Girls School. She is a reader for Polyphony H.S. and an editor for Siblini Journal. Her writing has been recognized by numerous organizations, including Scholastic, and published in the Los Angeles Times and New York Jewish Week, among other places.

Visual Art by Audrey Carver.

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Deaf Republic: A Step Beyond Protest

Deaf Republic by Ilya Kaminsky: ISBN-10: 1555978312. Price: $11.00. Published March 5, 2019.

Ilya Kaminsky´s Deaf Republic is a brilliantly-crafted book of narrative poetry that moves through a sad and deeply thought-provoking plotline, inspired by Kaminsky’s own experiences in Russia as a child. It follows the story of people in a fictional town using deafness as a form of protest against violence and war, after a soldier kills a deaf boy in the street.

The depictions of violence and love throughout are eerily and astonishingly beautiful. Kaminsky creates a terrifyingly dreary and oppressed feeling throughout the book, while also highlighting the beautiful relationships and hope the townspeople continue to have despite the violence and oppression they are surrounded by.

As the poems go on and the story progresses, the townspeople who do not give up their protests are taken away one by one if they show signs of deafness. Despite this, protests continue in a silent fashion, while the responses of the soldiers grow more and more violent and intense.

The poems themselves are experimental. For example, “Dramatis Personae” is an early poem in the book designed to introduce characters in the collection. Kaminsky is also unafraid to say what he means, sometimes very intensely such as in the poem “As Soldiers March, Alfonso Covers the Boy’s Face with a Newspaper.” One of the lines within this poem is “We see in Sonya’s open mouth / the nakedness / of a whole nation.” The poems progress the overall story, and while in general the story is quite heavy and sad at times, each poem also adds a surprising and delightful level of dark humour, shocking language and profound descriptions of the violence.

Deaf Republic does not fall into the tropes of what is popular in poetry right now, which is mostly geared towards younger readers and is generally humorous, or give an air of shallow meaning masquerading as powerful. Instead Kaminsky goes for something different, using humour in an intelligent and meaningful way, and using illustrations subtly. Deaf Republic explores traumatic topics and heavy storylines beautifully rather than making the reader feel bombarded by violence. One thing that Kaminsky does well here which is important is including love in a story about war. War often tests our ability to maintain love, positive feelings and peace within ourselves and our homes while we’re experiencing violence outside of them. One of the most important things to remember in times of war and violence is to keep a sense of love or joy in some way. Kaminsky highlights this importance through the relationship described in his book, and the townspeople in general.

Kaminsky, who is hard of hearing due to a misdiagnosis of mumps at an early age, incorporates sign language in conjunction with deafness and protest, through simple and beautiful illustrations of sign language throughout the book. These drawings add to the poems without the poems becoming reliant on them.Overall, Kaminsky provides readers with a beautiful experience with Deaf Republic. The themes and plot can, at times, be related to current issues, and the book does an amazing job of bringing hope out of a traumatic situation. We could all learn a lot from the townspeople of Deaf Republic who put their lives on the line in the name of hope and love, and who refuse to give in to oppression.

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Not Your Numbers

I was five when I decided that I wanted to be a writer, but when you’re born into a first-generation Korean-American family, even at five, you learn to hold your tongue about your ambitions. Instead, I confided in my grandfather—curled around him in his library, I told him what I was afraid to tell my own parents. He looked at me sympathetically as if he knew there would be so much that I’d have to endure to even have a chance at writing, and whispered, “There needs to be someone in this family who is in love with what they do.” I wrapped my arms around him; I think I cried.

I’m sure somewhere throughout my academic career I convinced myself that my writing was inconsequentially a part of who I was. Somewhere along my timeline were moments that led up to it: my third grade teacher putting “incredible!” at the top of all my writing, the speech I wrote in sixth grade that my teacher called “irrefutably beautiful” before I even knew what ‘irrefutably’ meant, the essay contest I won at the beginning of my junior year of high-school. I’m sure five-year-old me unknowingly learned to tie the voice in my writing to who I was. I’m sure I expected to grow into my identity as a writer like toddlers expect to grow into their parents’ clothes when they play dress up, even when they’re so small that the sleeves hang off their arms and trail on the ground behind them.

But on my seventeenth birthday, I lost my first writing competition—a mandated essay given by my school’s junior year English teachers. It was only then that I became solemnly convinced by the itchy feeling of lost ambition that the dream that I intended to grow up into didn’t fit me right around the shoulders and didn’t hug me in all the right places and left me a forgone version of myself. I wasn’t upset because I lost, as I explained to my English teacher shortly after, I was upset because I seemed to have deceived myself for years that this dream that I held so close to my heart was not mine to hold. I was upset because I felt as though a piece of me died: the only piece of me that I loved unconditionally.

Naturally, most people responded to my unsettlement by insisting that this one loss was not a reflection of who I was as a writer: it didn’t invalidate my writing or my love for my craft. Instead, to everyone else, it was just what it seemed to be—a loss. Friends and family couldn’t
comprehend why I was so upset, and truthfully, neither could I. It was only after taking a step back from the situation that I realized that the root of why I was so torn up was because somewhere along the way, I convinced myself that my writing was directly correlated to my worth. So if my writing wasn’t enough, I wasn’t either.

Suddenly, as I walked the halls of my academically competitive high-school, I realized that students from all across the board tied their worth to marks on papers and numbers on scantrons. In the same way that I believed my writing had a direct correlation to my worth, my peers held the same mentality about the numbers on their transcripts. And so did I. I became overtly cognizant of how unhealthy and unstable that attitude could be, but I could not abandon it. Even as I talked to peers throughout many different grade levels, they remarked that they felt the same way, but there was nothing they could do to change it. Having your worth determined by numbers and letters seemed to be a frightening standardization that most students are all too willing to accept as the general norm. As public school education becomes more competitive in the coming years, it will only get worse.

When I entered high-school, my ambition for writing was still there, so I’m confident that age didn’t distort my vision at all. Instead what I’ve come to realize throughout my years of public education is that the moment I began losing faith in that dream was when I started to see myself as a reflection of my grades rather than my passion: two-dimensional numbers on transcripts. The grade at the top of my in-class essay was more important than the writing that went into it—somehow the words on the page seemed to matter less than the single letter at the top of my paper. Who I was as a writer and a student became determined by people who only knew me for forty minutes a day, five days a week, and I let their impression of me and my work become a direct reflection of who I was. In retrospect, it’s no wonder I began hating what I saw in the mirror. It’s no wonder that so many students feel the same way.

School administrators nationwide tell students that their grades do not define them and that they’re more than the letters written on their transcripts. But they also recognize them as seven-digit student IDs and judge them by what can be valued on paper. Even the most well-rounded students get processed through the mass machine of public education and come out the other side two-dimensional. We insist that a set of numbers doesn’t define our children—we’re wrong.

Adam Grant, the author of “What Straight-A Students Get Wrong,” remarks that grades have little correlation with “creativity… and teamwork skills,” yet students still equate their worth to them, “[creating] an academic arms race,… [where]… students… strive for meaningless perfection.” The root of this problem has nothing to do with misconception—students are, for the most part, overwhelmingly aware of the fact that, in the long run, their SAT and AP exam scores won’t matter. The genuine issue is that it isn’t enough that in the long run, they won’t matter, because in their current state in their existing classrooms, they view their worth as directly correlated by those types of exams. The now is more critical, more consuming than the long-term consequences. Grant even illustrates the concept that in the workforce, more successful people are actually the students with lower GPAs and exam scores, and their high-scoring counterparts usually cannot find the strength within themselves to excel in real-world scenarios. We raise our children through a public education system that has almost no correlation between working in their schools and working in the real world. However, even if students know all this, and I’m afraid most of them do, they are still compelled by the notion to aim for the unobtainable. Because it’s not just their grades on the line, it’s their self-worth too.

Ideally, students would earn grades reflective of the time and effort they put in, but in reality, students who employ lucky guesswork on multiple choice exams are essentially equal to the students who know how to do the accurate work to complete problems. Because there’s no difference between these types of answers or students, students see their efforts as meaningless, or worse, fruitless, convinced they aren’t doing enough if they don’t have grades to show for it. Schools put awarding work ethic, and effort in the backseat behind the actual grades students earn, encouraging them to believe that how hard they work isn’t what matters—at the end of the day, it’s all about the number.

Stanford columnist Annie Jia references psychologist Madeline Levine’s quote that when students “‘feel… they’re only as good as their last performance, [they develop]… the inability to construct an internal sense of self.’” When you base your self-perception on your own and other people’s merits, you’re disappointed continuously, ceding to the same malicious mindset of many students. While academic competition is healthy and constructive for most school environments, the same competition can become debilitating and destructive for students if they don’t understand that their grades are not a determinant factor of their worth. The institution of this mass mentality leads kids to believe that if their grades aren’t as good as their peers, neither are they. Numbers only define this spectrum of self-worth; it doesn’t take into consideration students’ moral standing, personality, work ethic, or character.

When you don’t know the boy in your physics class, but know he has a C; when you’ve never spoken to that girl in history class, but you know her last quiz grade, understand that it’s easy to hang a number over someone’s head to measure their worth; it’s hard to look at people as more than that. Students do it all over the nation, and if we raise a generation so number-obsessed, aren’t we raising a generation that will never be satisfied with their worth or their accomplishments. Aren’t we raising children who invariably go through a cycle of believing that they are not good enough if they don’t have the numbers to show for it? Changing how you see people doesn’t require changing the world—it requires changing yours. Though schools determine students’ merit by grades earned and classes taken, I remind myself that students must be more than that. Because in the end, students aren’t two-dimensional reflections of a number, a letter, or a transcript, but products of passion, ambition, and heart: things that cannot be measured on paper.

Sara Jhong is a high school junior at Great Neck South High School on Long Island, New York. She has won awards from previous writing competitions in the past and greatly enjoys the Parallax Journal.

Displacement by Sumin Seo

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Om mani padme hum

What would Buddha be like if he were roaming the soil today?
Would he still wander India?
Or leave due to atrocious air quality and mass population?
These are things Siddhārtha never had to put up with

Would he still believe in putting up with everything?

The world is much too cynical, and we’d designate him as a cult leader
Or if he’s lucky, a trendsetter
Marketplace Buddhism seems to have consumed the West
At least the East remains pretty pious and punctilious
The West has just managed to pervert our daily meditation between Sunday brunch and our afternoon run
What would Buddha think of T.S. Eliot’s, Allen Ginsberg’s, and others’ flirtations with his doctrines?
Subverting them to their gyration and needs for transgression
(Though some engage with honesty)
America has seemed to distort Buddhism into chic leisure
If Siddhārtha was from America, he could’ve shown L. Ron Hubbard how to get the people clear without an E-meter
Buddhism could’ve been fantastic for capitalists if it was American
Would Buddha indeed remain so abstinent with all this hegemonic global marketing for intemperate gluttony?
A little leniency would’ve been helpful since there was no way he could have predicted what was to come
Would he have preferred the religious miscellany of Taiwan where temples amalgamate various beliefs, counting his developments?
Or favored the autonomous institutions of the West?

He’d have the intellect to discern the perpetual profit of unification

In our unified globalist world would he find bona fide social union?
Or technological excuses for minimal concrete interaction?
The traditional Buddhist wouldn’t bother with the strange portable hypnotic machine
But there’s the possibility that Buddha would shiver at the notion of it being away from him
Maybe we could’ve received texts of sutras personally from Gautama
His works on simplicity would align with Apple’s philosophy quite well
What would the political Buddha look like?
Would he lean left or right?
Or would he find it all to be in vain?
What would he have to say to the people of Myanmar who commit atrocities in his name?
What would he have to say to the tension-fueled relationship between the two Chinas?
Or about American carpet-bombing in the Middle East?
Would he find the will to keep on instructing in his ways?
The meditation to stay mindful in these mindless times
Or would he find it all hopeless
And see nothing human left
All that was left was humanity’s struggle to survive
And billions of zombies craving blue light and higher reception
Recording instead of listening to the monks in Taipei chanting the last of the meaningful matter

II

I’ve been set free
I’ve accepted the truth of suffering, and thus I’m free
I’ve rolled up to Buddha’s crib, and I’ve come out free
I’m unchained from the dead and the living
Free of the light and the dark
I’m free of linguistic oppression, and I now enumerate the beatitudes in Sanskrit
and chant mantras in Latin
I’ve fled to Taiwan only to find America
I’ve been working on a fifth noble truth; corporations
I’ve been lobbying Congress to send out presidential alerts for any metaphysical trembling
I’m set free of association, and I now use rosaries to recite the buddhavacana
I’ve never had so much spiritual rebellion and defiance
The rounds of suffering have left us tired and imprisoned to some fate
We’re only safe in the world we create

III

If you listen real close, you can hear the om
Just put your ear to the speakers of the universe, and it’ll resonate through you
The banging of the unseen echoing drum
The beat that we always go to
You don’t need to buy it on iTunes for $0.99
You don’t need to stream it either
Just listen to the flexing air void of suspense
And reach a little deeper

Gabriel T. Clément is a junior at Jersey City’s Saint Peter’s Preparatory. He was born in Montréal, Québec, and lives in Hoboken, New Jersey. His influences are mainly those from a Québécois background (Leonard Cohen, Émile Nelligan, Irving Layton) and others like Allen Ginsberg, T.S. Eliot, and Eliot Katz.

Visual Art by Sarah Little.

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Red Planet

and they say
that mars was once like earth
but now i see mars is earth
blackened red and barren
and once mars burned as we do now

and it’s always california
the blazing state
the deadly scorching state
the martian state

and people are fleeing
from cities, from homes
from smoke and choke

and they say good for her
fighting back
but it’s futile
and within 30 years our planet will black and blue

all salt
and ash and embers
blue melting sea
and red, sizzling land,
sinking, sinking, sinking

 

Delany Burk is a four year senior at Idyllwild Arts Academy who loves watching the stars, drinking coffee, and getting snuggly in cold weather. In her writing, she enjoys exploring the philosophical, scientific, and emotional side of writing.

Visual art by Reah Eunji Kang.

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Revitalized

 


 Thank you.
Thank you for the love.
Thank you for the fear.
Thank you for the tears.
Thank you for the rejection.
Because I learned to like being alone.


Thank you for the love.

Your cheeks are aching from all the smiling.

It is around dinner time when the baby blue color of the sky fades into shades of pink and lavender. Leo’s hands intertwine around your waist, and his head rests gently on your shoulder. The smell of his cotton perfume, which he adamantly argues is not limited to a woman’s scent, fills the space around you (and the entire apartment—it is quite strong). Staring out from the slightly dusty windows of the living room, you and Leo watch the sunset and frequently comment on some of the bizarre outfits of your neighbors outside, laughing a bit too loud when cranky Mrs. Dallows leaves the complex to walk her three Pomeranians in an electric purple jumpsuit paired with knee-high striped socks.

“Look! Mrs. Dallo—oh god—” you breathlessly manage to get out. Leo’s chuckling from behind, and you can feel the soft vibrations of his chest on your back.

“I feel like I’m in The Wizard of Oz all of a sudden!” he laughs.

Then, mindlessly, you crook your head to the side, locking your eyes with his doe ones. Bliss. It’s the only word that comes to mind when you’re with him.

Leo faces you, his eyes lingering a second too long on your lips. When he looks back to your eyes, which are still gazing at him, his cheeks wrinkle as he smiles, and he’s hugging you tighter.

“I love you,” you suddenly blurt out.

“I love you, too.”

And even though you’ve been together for three years, that’s all it takes to get your hands clammy and your heart beating erratically.


Thank you for the fear.

Your cheeks are sore from constantly gnawing on the insides of your mouth.

Sounds of light rain echo through the busy streets, and people are still out and about, socializing even during the darker hours.

You’re waiting. You’ve been waiting for an hour and twenty minutes now, and there’s still no sign of Leo.

Today is supposed to be a reunion date, where you both can catch up, after Leo’s month in Spain with his friends. Specifically, catch up on the past few months because you’re both living hectic lives: Leo with his new office career as a manager and you with your graduate school schedule and studies in English. Classes overlapped with business projects, internships with late-night shifts. But, despite the conflicts, it wasn’t like you to easily give up on a relationship, especially when you still think about Leo wherever you go. So, you desperately cling onto hope.

You wince when you accidentally bite your tongue and grab for the cup of water, which stands alongside a glass of Coke—his favorite—that stopped fizzing an hour ago. It’s pitiful. The side-stares you’re getting from the happily married couple on your right, the glances from the waiters, who are too nice to ask you to leave, and the replies you have yet to receive from your missing-in-action boyfriend.

You wonder if it’s worth calling Leo when you’ve already texted him every five minutes. But, scrolling through the previous messages in your conversation, you decide against it. He hasn’t messaged you anything longer than “no” or “sure” for over five months now.

It’s okay, you think. Leo’s probably jet-lagged and sleeping right now, you attempt to comfort yourself. But, your heart clenches funnily, and your lips begin to quiver.

The fear of losing him has haunted you for too long for you to spit out another reassurance. So, you leave the restaurant in hopes that the blackness of the night will hide your shaking shoulders.


Thank you for the tears.

Your cheeks become stained from crying.

It’s been a long day of classes, and, in between each one, you are either half-running to a building on the far end of campus or haphazardly stuffing a bagel into your mouth to satiate your grumbling stomach. It’s one of those days where Professor Helen didn’t get much sleep and screamed at you in front of the class about how your essay papers weren’t double sided. One of those days where your clumsy hands decide to spill hot coffee onto your new jeans and where you want to be with Leo, even after months of your daily calls going ignored and your date plans postponed.

Are you two still together? In your heart, yes. Even now, he has you wrapped around his finger.

The afternoon wind brushes the exposed parts of your skin, chilling your ankles and slapping against your face and neck. You are walking back to your apartment, choosing this over the bus or taxi so that the coldness of the winter will completely obliterate the thoughts in your mind.

Strolling through the city, you feel mocked by the buoyant sounds of laughter coming from the restaurants and cafes at each block, and there is a twang of jealousy every time an elderly couple or family walks past you. But, all the pessimistic thoughts come to a halt when you see him. The man who you cared for and loved; the one who made you feel so worried for the past seven months; the one who seemed to carry no worries as he walks towards you, his hands enclosed with another woman’s.

The clicking sound of your shoes ceases at once. You can’t take your eyes off of Leo, and maybe it’s your rapidly heaving chest or your tear stained cheeks that reflects the city lights, but his eyes meet yours. His smile falters at the sight of you.

Please, don’t leave me here like this, you plead with your eyes.

But perhaps her beauty is more outstanding than yours. Perhaps you look too embarrassing for Leo to approach you. Perhaps he can no longer conjure up his feelings of endearment for you. Maybe that is why he averts his gaze to her, scratches his head as if he sees nothing, and calmly walks past you.

Are you two still together? In his heart, no, and the thought of that breaks you.

Muffled whimpers escaped from your throat while streams of tears burn your numb face. The signs of the restaurants become far too blurry to read. Once again, you hope the city lights will disappear and the darkness of the night will hide your shaking shoulders.


Thank you for the rejection.

Your cheeks squish against your pillow.

You wake up on the couch with stains of wine on your shirt, but it doesn’t bother you. For the last few weeks, you’ve greeted every morning on the couch.

Since the breakup, or so you assume, you’ve come to realize that you can swat away or ease sadness, but you can’t avoid loneliness. Loneliness clings so tight that you begin suffocating. Loneliness can’t seem to get enough of you, hindering your ability to properly eat, sleep, study, or function as a normal human being. It creeps into your dreams, your mornings, your nights, and into your mind. It constantly reminds you of the image of Leo and that woman.

Do people drift away from each other this easily? you wonder.

You can’t help but look through pictures of you and him when there was happiness at the very beginning of the relationship. At the time, Leo was the type of guy who would walk you past your home so that he could spend the ten minutes it takes to go around the neighborhood to be with you. But now you realize that he was distancing himself because he was too much of a coward to tell you directly, I don’t love you anymore. Then again, could you handle the impact of those five words?


Because I learned to like being alone.

Your cheeks are getting hit by the rays of the sun.

By the time the sun has fully risen, you’re skipping from your bedroom to the kitchen to make breakfast. Pancakes have become your favorite breakfast food these days, and you begin mixing the batter after you turn on the turquoise colored record player, a recent splurge for yourself, to play some Frank Sinatra. From the refrigerator, you pull out a few strawberries and a handful of blueberries to top the pancakes. Sitting on the couch, you look out the window and smile, seeing the beautiful cherry blossom trees and dainty flowers fully open to admire, for the new season of spring had finally come.

Sometimes, when you’re greeted with the scent of cotton or see your still oddly dressed neighbors, you think of him. Sure, there was no exact closure or apology, but you’ve come to a point where there are no poignant thoughts about him. It took time and the understanding that you can depend on and be satisfied with yourself to stop rebuilding the walls that had been torn down from hurt and rejection. You even learned to embrace doing the activities you used to do with Leo alone—taking walks around town, enjoying Friday nights with movies and wine, or dancing to music.

Feeling fulfilled, you munch on your delicious pancakes, grin at the sight of Mrs. Dallows walking her Poms, and feel content with only the sound of music filling your apartment.

 

Mina Kim is currently a senior at Henry M. Gunn High School who has been enjoying creative writing through her class at school this year. She especially loves freewriting on sense or specific detail. In her free time, Mina likes to travel with her family, drink coffee, and doodle in her journal.

Photograph, titled “Inhale,” by Jules Landa Ventre.

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