Migraine anti-lamentation

Something here will not survive. Yet somehow I feel like
I’m going to live forever. A gentle tingle pulses in my skull
letting me know I’m swaying through a moment of diseased
euphoria. Have I fallen? Do I remain standing? My feet seem
to float above the ground. Ache in the back of my head like an
axe signaling my death throes. I don’t know what I did, God,
but for Your forgiveness I extend my eternal gratitude as I falter
with my knees readying themselves, bending toward the ground
like sunflowers that face their master, the sun, my knees, my knees
just knowing, knowing, knowing they’re going to collapse any moment.
My lips are the purple of a rare, majestic butterfly I’ve only
seen in stock photos. My bare toes are soaked in foamy water I
can’t see as I trip over wooden chairs that deteriorate on the
floor with a spectacle of clangs. Yet somehow I feel like I’m
going to die today, right now, immediately. I don’t know where my
bed is and the columns of light that filter in through the blinds
never seem to be enough through the blunt force trauma that
comes solely from within. Mother would be proud of my ability
to describe my pain, boycotting the scale of one to ten. My next
reunion with her will likely have me under a white sheet the entire
time. I think I’ve found the bed through the confusion and apparent
darkness in the confusing space between blurry vision and seeing
nothing at all. Wounds speckle themselves on my body like a toss
of dizzying turpentine on a perfectly pastel wall. And when the abysmal
joy subsides I notice that when the sunlight strokes the floral
bedsheet at the golden hours of the day, the butterflies tiptoe through
the window. If only a butterfly could ask my mother to help me stand.
I am stuck on the floor with my knees bleeding and perhaps broken in
an orchestra of convulsive agony. Something here has refused to survive.
CA Russegger is a high school student from OB Montessori. CA loves visual art, writing, history, and literature very much, and spends all day with these things. Can be found with many, many stacks of books of many, many genres—Shakespeare is always a guilty pleasure.
Art by Elaine Zhang
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Elegy

 

A rosy infant once crawled upon a barren Earth,

tread a well-worn path of hackneyed poetry;

yet preserved in that nebulous memory

was a lone amber honeysuckle

by a motionless pond in a verdant carpet meadow

where the eternal thought of Spring

is timelessly encapsulated in stale air.

 

A silver toddler once traversed the gilded threads of this Earth,

balanced on a precarious tightrope

weaving fine gossamer webs

and slippery satin miracles

and a trail of ashen snowdrops bloomed in her wake;

 

A milky girl once walked this Earth

and sugared cherub hands close by plucked stars from the night:

twisted them into wistful notes

strung into a honeyed lamentation on the lyre

more intoxicating than love itself.

 

In memory of her

they brewed a pungent weedy tea;

In memory of her they grew a swollen peach;

In memory of her

they hung a twisting diamond shard,

suspended it beside the quarter moon

and called it their masterpiece–

and so it seized the light at a scintillating crescent angle

and yet it was

a little too sharp, a little too adamantine

whose reflection will never be quite right;

not for an effervescent being.

 

There once was an earthly girl glowed just a little too bright

so they burned her down, like a brilliant star,

with the tip of a searing flame

and ignited her soul,

and it caught aflame;

a white, warm light that was a sea of milk-threads–

woven into the frangible tapestry

of a tangible life.

 

There once was a phantom girl who was the dangling pear

on the branch of the dreamy willow

that exists in the poem only

a fragile image given too much power;

then one day she was stripped raw,

smoldered in molasses sunlight

submerged in incandescent dew: silent pleas that might have

fractured heretic hearts

if only their timbre wasn’t a silver-lined metaphor.

 

Time moved like a ghost

And in their remorse

they plucked a delicate plum for her

and it was wonderful in Spring–in the idyllic garden they made–

but when Summer came,

it was singed white cheeks

and charred pale lips, preserved forever in amber:

 

There once was a girl released into a cruel world by eager hands

when all she knew was love and caress–

so she never could have lived past Spring

not even in the poem: but instead

surrendered to the first stroke of Summer sun

in that transcendent way

of melting stars like butter

or withering skin like prunes

and lost youth like love

 

So when the tidal wave came just for her

(the rosy infant, the silver toddler, the milky girl)

she was not afraid,

felt nothing at all when she leapt off the crumbling surface of this barren Earth:

caught her soul of light in a guileless Mother Sea embrace

that swathed her in a starry quilt

and shuttled her home at last.

 

In the epilogue, we can only ever dwell on younger days

the flimsy, flinty promise of a brighter day

that lingers in still air like the perfumed sizzle of Spring:

exists in a memory, or was it the poem?

 

In the afterlife, it was an eternal dream from which she never could wake,

in which little honeysuckles grew, amber and lonely;

when the weathered Maker and the rosy-lipped Doll

and everyone who once

crawled tread walked this bitter barren Earth

could whisper pretty things and sing lush songs

about a girl who burned–forever.

 

Avery Lin is a 10th grade student and Balanchine ballet dancer. She lives in New York City with her mom and her younger brother. In her free time, she enjoys creative writing, watching the Noggin channel and staying up late reading all kinds of fantasy.

Art by Dawn Jooste 

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Adultolescence: A Money Grab for a Social Media-Crazed Generation

Gabbie Hanna, Adultolescence, $16.99, ISBN 978-5011-7832-0

Adultolescence by Gabbie Hanna is a playful and childish book of poetry, paired with Hanna’s own simple and beautiful artwork. It explores the mentality and struggles of the new adult generation, as well as the influence of social media on mental health and real life relationships.

The book depicts grueling subjects such as breakups, the struggle to find oneself, and even depression and suicide. However, despite the subjects, Adultolescence remains sarcastic and immature. The childishness of Hanna’s poetry has its charm, and follows the newly developed “Twitter-speak” form of poetry which derives its language and audience from the short, cynical style of the new social-media-crazed population. However, this style does not serve the subject matter in an effective way.

Some of the poems follow a rhyme scheme, yet are too short to fully carry it out. The poem HIDE (15) for example, follows an AA rhyme scheme, and explores the effects of hiding depression and other mental health issues. But this poem is too short to have an important or influential message of any kind. It seems that these subjects, which are common topics among teens and young adults today, are only there for the reader to relate to. In addition to falling short in the linguistic department, the shorter poems deal with heavier topics like mental health issues, even addressing death and the desire to die, or wanting someone else to die; yet the poems seem to trivialize these issues. For example, POUT examines these issues in an immature way, saying, “life sucks. be grateful, you woke up this morning. that’s the worst part.” (8-9) This type of language is often used by teenagers today; they joke about these feelings in conversation in order to mask them, using humor as a coping mechanism, which is not often a positive message for someone to be promoting. These short anecdotes are paralleled by longer poems and anecdotes which seem repetitive and dry, devoid of the sarcasm and wit that is present, albeit misused, in the shorter poems.

The art is interactive, often incorporating the poem into the drawing in one way or another. At times the art pairs well with the pieces, but ultimately does not help readers obtain a meaningful takeaway. Hanna is clearly artistically inclined, as her drawings are impressively detailed, while still sticking to a line art style. The realism of the drawings may take readers by surprise, as the people in them are easily recognisable, and often appear with Gabbie in her YouTube videos. All of these positive traits, however, do not make up for the writing, some of which is worked into the drawings in rather disappointing ways. One example of this is a poem titled “K,” which is an blank page, except for a text bubble with the letter “K” inside and a read receipt underneath.

Adultolescence follows a common thread, which seems to have stemmed from the Milk and Honey phenomenon, and follows the same pattern of good artwork paired with–at best–mediocre writing. Milk and Honey by Rupi Kaur was one of the highest grossing poetry books of 2017, and was Number Two on Amazon’s Best Seller list. It is widely loved and cited as an aesthetically pleasing and relatable work by many teen readers. That being said, Milk and Honey shows a pop-culture side of poetry, rather than the traditional style which uses beautiful language, and images found in the work of poets like Sylvia Plath and Emily Dickinson. This new and vulgar style is now simply being accepted by readers without much thought, due to its easily interpreted, relatable content.

Adultolescence–along with Milk and Honey–represents a new idea of “money grab” poetry, which stems from social media influencers, and the new Internet-focused generation. These influencers write books in the anecdotal style of Twitter and other word-space-limited social media platforms, and then claim them to be artistic and poetic, when really it is a way for an already well known celebrity to make even more money. People like Gabbie Hanna, who could be considered second tier influencers, and have a smaller audience than other big-name YouTubers, often share their financial situation with their fans and may have a lower income than larger influencers. This somewhat justifies the “easy money” of writing and selling books, as it pulls in readers from a smaller fan base, and expands the writer’s brand.

However, this does not justify the claim of “art.” Adultolescence does not represent what poetry really is to most published poets. The claim of poetry and art should be reserved for beautiful, intelligent, and playful works, and should not be applied to collections of on-trend, relatable, and sarcastic content, which sells more copies than authentic art, due to the popularity of the writer rather than the quality of the work.

By Delany Burk

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Two Poems by Amelia Van Donsel

Eyes Adjusting to Dark
 
I suppose any work that is done is yet to resurface.
It’ll bubble up,
I think,
As though it is made of
Cloudy little spaces.
Rise
A little sloppy, even.
The busking bodies’d stretch, next
Tucking into the cots of sidewalk,
Hunkering down for that wind that could ruffle ships.
But brave swallows, swallows
Tell all with such a temper!
Don a pace
Of sky and skin and hungry mouth.
The light crescents which dote on this day
Are bilious, all things considered.
To keep the man who grew me
Is to be told that heaven really is just bathtubs of fog.
Clawfoot or drop-in?
Yet the crested firmament has begun
Greasing under my fingertips 
Please don’t touch 
Touch
Don’t 
Don’t touch please
Please.
An ignorant abstention.
 
Calliope
I.
Calliope tells me
That light holds
Too much mercy.
She has not seen the
Barefoot and blessed.
It’s a miracle minus the blood.
I implore her to watch
The silk gowns fill new torsos with light
Pressed all the way through.
The balding monks murmur
Of the interstitial planes of consciousness
Between the hairs of spider legs.
The young are blue-lipped in the luminous waters
That lift skirts of pallid light.
Their skin must smell like petrichor, I think,
O, Christ that cinnamon perfection.
In the basement I am told
I must read them stories
That have teeth big enough to gnaw on God,
About how scenery will be seen,
How fish will be fished,
How gardens will be gardened.
All will be satisfied.
I dropped a seed into pot a week ago.
It didn’t spring yesterday.
Instead I’ll probably find a baby
Growing in between the sidewalk cracks 
The place where bodies crush bone to skin.
Blueberries molding
Under my mother’s refrigerator.
The fields the farmers used to walk
Their market horses through
Weren’t mowed yesterday.
For a moment the sun would blind them
As they crossed that distant yellow haze,
That dust suspended in gas.
They could watch the grass crystalize as
The sun tried to kill the moon.
I long to see that ratty hair thick with sun,
Clouds on backs,
Boots sloshing with gold.
Now their unfinished chapels
Entomb the wants of things
That were once alive.
I can’t tell the difference
Between cold tiles and cold foreheads.
Amidst crooked night voices,
Junk food television,
And picture tube slumbers
I dreamt of us cooking shrimp tempura
As we argued over something I couldn’t see.
You swelled and reddened,
Tongs raking apart the hot pink commas
Until you hauled the wok over your head
Like Goliath and threatened
To pour it down your body.
My knees, my face melted into the floor.
Steaming oil cascaded down my neck,
Bubbling summer exploring my back,
Crawling in a searing, gelatinous wake.
I feel no pain.
Your kitchen body waits there
Until the wallpaper turns to sun,
Then I wake.
The feeling of the empty house
When you return to retrieve something.
Was it waiting for you with bated breath?
Did it miss you?
Calliope, I have met the American people They’re pretty standoffish.
I’ve learned that my handshake
Will never be strong enough
And that there is too much sky 
The world must end somewhere.
The GPS god on my dashboard
Tells me to run with highway packs of beasts
That roam and scavenge as one great machine,
Raking their claws through the earth.
Moon hammers off the hood,
Shoots diamonds into my eyes,
Traps me in a lightbulb of rumpled red leather.
Yellow foam froths at the mouth
Of the upholstery’s wound.
From behind, a thousand bloodshot eyes blink open,
And red spider legs ascend
The cobwebs of forest,
Scissoring them into diamonds.
From ahead, gold lanterns
Sway with gob-eyed goldfish.
They kiss at plastic rest-stops.
Wild men with their thick beards swarming with sun
Stop at gas stations and squeeze out
The dark spit-up beside me, and
A moment suspended between us is forgotten.
Soon it will be blown apart by bildungsromans
Swept off the butt of a flatbed truck
And all that’s blazing and embedded with teeth marks.
I do not care that you are someone who believes
The sun is a golden carriage
And that the moon is an extinct tusk
Dangling over a pounding fire
Or a spotlight loud
Upon millions of pale, upturned faces.
You show me the wet piles of clouds where
Ribboned veins palpitate in bodies in planes
Beating over our heads like red hooves.
You want your heart to be warmed sometimes,
Don’t you? you remind me.
How these little words ring.
You show me how terraces
And sun-butchered landscapes bleed white
From the wide pores of the earth.
Its sweaty legs spreadIn all its ravenous impulses.
No secrets yielded.
You leave a yellowed trench of a bed in the mothy dark
Where just yesterday the topmost layer of the sheets
Had grown with the unnaturalness of pointillism blood.
Maggots have been feasting their way
Like sunken teeth through the molding mound,
Cloaked in a gangrenous white,
The last of which I killed breaking glass bottles.
You had to call the poison-skinned exterminators
In vans who promised you your home would become a tomb.
Since then these breaths of mine endanger the ability to kiss,
To feign slumber while your shirt exposes
The outline of your ribcage when you lean over,
To grasp with filthy fingers and dusty hands around my throat.
This must be what life is.
A sun drying out like an apricot.
Between the crumbling hours
White dinner plates are now clean shaven.
Dusty fan blades remind me of the planet’s panicked whirr,
Remind me of buoyancy
And abyssopelagic breathlessness,
Of bodies circulating a great wrist.
I’ve never caught my childhood friend’s father naked.
I’ve never had seafood finer than hair.
I’ve never argued with those skittish horsegirls on the street
Whose skin is made of trash and spoiled milk
Which I guess you could call trash.
When I walk past tired homes
People hide in dark windows.
In always-yellow cafes I expect people to comment
On the uncomfortablenesss
That all whicker chairs possess.
Instead they comment
That their creamer looks “bombly.”
Above I wonder why one light bulb is lit differently.
One must have droppedFrom the ceiling one night
The released fist of God
And smashed against the cafe floor,
Just glassy cocaine to be snorted,
Whether anyone was there or not.
Maybe: when a light falls
And no one’s there to hear it,
Does it make a sound?
They drag their knuckles
Through pools of milk
As they try to counteract
The fade of their enamel,
Their nostrils to hot steam,
Shoulder blades to cool metal jaws.
Somewhere
A man in front of a fire chuckles,
His front to heat, his back to cold.
If the fire could cavort
And in a breath take the field,
The shrieking trees,
Sending the wildlife out,
Would I remember in the morning?
Caffeine, sweat, and corrosion
Weaken me. 
II.
We are in the same sleep, you and I.
When I ask you, Please,
Would you hold my soul, gaunt and wrinkled,
As you might your purse
While my blood goes curiously about my body?
You oblige.
When Calliope tells me the moon is not in tonight
 Would you like to schedule an appointment?
Would you like an Email alert when it returns? 
You point to the circle of jeweled orphans
It has left behind.
O, give me Atlas’ swarthy–armed constellations,
His sweltering vaults of peppermint comets
That are hurtling towards me crowned!
With malfunctioning fingers I wrap
Round your hair those burning burls of curlicues,
Those messy neurons and droplets of chains,
That polyphonic network
Made of tinseled buds
Made of reverberating rungs
Made of unbreakable knots of fingers,
Skin as hungry as mouths,
Tireless clenching,
Busy work, busy-work, busywork.
People garden signs that tell me
No homes for the homeless
No roads for the roadless
No gods for the godless
While my unemployed wheelbarrow
Slumps in the corner
Growing a stubble of rust.
I pour out its dirtwater, a mosquito brothel,
That swirls tightly, suctioned into a thin black hole,
Reduced to strands of liquid.
I think the scientists call it spaghettification.
All things considered,
They are just massive graves.
The scientists have not found
Which god is us.
They have not seen
The swaddled moon-faces that suckle
From little fat drops of milky sky,
That are caught in the bleach-white snow
Like mammoths awaiting ablation.
It is so bright!
So bright.
Too bright.
They have not seen the hermits,
Refugees from the engine,
With granular spectacles and nebulous bodies of hair
Who watch the world as though they are lighthouses in the desert.
The tarlike oceans too still to be alive,
And docks humming, floating in bluelanternfloodlight,
Suspending wind-up kayakers,
And fishermen who dangle their treats
And await in gossamer beds
Like dark spiders of the water,
And birds white as candles
Who buckle themselves up and dive in streaks,
Who are small enough to nest in eyes.
The dead Nevada sky where
Cartwheeling sparrows spit out dust,
And every man with his dog, gun, and truck
May be scraping plump bodies off of highway strips,
And deadbeat beatniks and tan vigilantes,
And tongues slick with fire fuel
That makes an escape down chins,
And the sun an asterisk teething
On chipped mountains,
And the stupid calm of earthsky folded in half,
And the rictus of yellow skulls burning into the body
Which our automobiles gore and slash,
And sunflowers loud and rupturing,
Palms yanking wide apart
To grasp at the fleeting light,
Already stiffening with night dew,
And sunburned freshslapped faces
That shrivel and crumple
Into a pinpoint
Like a television screen.
The thick people draped
Over fire escapes like rags,
Hot bellies skyward,
Eyes dripping like oiled vegetables,
And dirty artists’ tormented in nirvana,
And snakeskin plastic bags uprooting trees
Into hot air balloons,
And the overbite of the forsaken sun smudge
That lifts grimy and untouchable,
And high offices bare and bright beside
Wooden libraries suspended in dust,
And smoking manholes on the vomiting Vegas sidewalks
Swinging with the incarnation of the soup of jazz,
And jaws that crank open with bleak bonegrindings,
Catching coindrops on their cigarette ash tongues,
Bits of sun crawling from their lips
In cities of asphalt and glass and what have you.
All the little golden teeth
Fall the same. 
O, how I’d like to sleep now!
 To lie with you in early Denverdesert mornings
Where the vitreous world clears like a Polaroid picture.
Only sleep has crusted together my eyelashes
So they are the tiny twisted wings of sparrows.
Beneath them my eyes are turning to salt.
Sun cracked and is spilling all over the place.
My arms drip with yolk that is
Gurgling up from a ground made of crackers.
That may I rest in the dark rhombi of train windows soon
Where grainy films jitter past each other 
Two heads nodding on the street.
The world pulls itself forwards
To each steamy purgatory
On its knees, tender flesh aching.
The receding howls and wails of whistles 
The way things ring when you strike them,
Notes that surely will never fade.
It is not so in the pain of life,
Rather in the pain of our routine days.
How many kneecaps will bruise  
Until my body loves me?
But how joyous, you say to me.
What else should it be but illustrious?
Perhaps mornings made of crows
That lift together the same way heads turn together
To meet an open door,
And leaves hugging themselves to death and
Curling up like cinnamon cigarettes,
And swampy ghost forests by New England highways,
And fraying ghost faces behind counters,
Heads condemned to eternal dragging,
And neighbors just for show
With bones of yarn and
Photos of warm houses to share
Between fingernails of sleepy pretty pink,
And all those dozing buggy roses,
And places where rain comes like a dial tone
Spangle in your eye.
Such things,
Such hard cries of the sheltered.
When will you call for me?
Callouses are entombing my feet now
Under which the enigmatic engine gallops
In obedient pulses.
This white paint of bird shit
Plays connectthedots on my windshield.
Wipers fall like axes.
Somewhere those last gobs
Must have been so holy.
I pass children’s rainshine rubber boots,
Stroller families strung together
Swaying through parks like plush caravans,
And babies strapped into those strange cloth lungs.
How it might be to be unfurled into a cottony mist,
To be hushed and folded into a void.
Love is a language to which I am growing deaf.
Now I hear with my fingers,
Guiding the horns of the knobbed,
Thin-skinned steering wheel
As light deflates with a hiss.
Now I see with the brightness of street steel
And the weak strands of headlights,
Like a miner’s helmet through the tunnels of night.
Machines glide head-to-tail
As though they are floating fish masses
Fanged with light and
Sliding from or
Propelled by
Something I cannot see.
O, tell Calliope I wish not to awaken
In those long gray aisles
As if we migrate on a death march
Just to fill the time,
Golden beams of our slithering automobiles
Touching at one of those ruddy specks
Of ticking tollbooths,
At some gilded destination.
 
Amelia Van Donsel is a seventeen-year-old Waltham High School senior of Waltham, Massachusetts whose work has been displayed at the U.S. Department of Education, published in American High School Poets Just Poetry National Poetry Quarterly as a national winning entry, The Best Teen Writing of 2015 and 2016, as well in an anthology and numerous magazines. As an English tutor and the editor-in-chief of her school’s literary magazine, she has been recognized by the Scholastic Art and Writing Awards with multiple national gold medals and regional awards. 
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The Marshmallow

 

PURE is this sweet, and pure confection

Powdery, spongy untainted white

Blissful bundle, and now finger’d fare,

Ah, this tasty marshmallow square.

Thou know’st that this cannot last

A form reformed by fingers without a past;

How this heat changes you

And swelling, insides oozing goo;

And this, alas! chang’d through and through.

O dark unsightly, unwelcome crust,

Coating caked, white, no more.

This marshmallow harm’d and, I am changed

Our skin scarred, jutting bones rearranged.

Crying uncontroll’d, as I bear witness

And the creepy black brown crust of this.

Now burnt, scathed and impure,

Misshapen sweetness now obscur’d,

And life and death and pain endur’d

Cruel cancer, hast tumors multiforme

Glioblastoma, mass surgery deformed?

Wherein could this marshmallow be,

Except in this molten middle that comes from thee?

Now finish’d, consum’d, no more blacken’d crust

Not pure sweet, but bittersweet, chalky remains and dust.

Memories of her without tumors last;

Just good and bad, now chang’d, time pass’d,

Sweet tastes of life, pure and innocent, burnt and beautiful.

 

Halsey Lilac Hutchinson was born in June 1999 on a cold, windy evening as the fog crept across the Golden Gate bridge along the corridors of California Street.  Soothing her mother’s cries, the room smelled of lilacs, delivered by the hour from a fearful father to whom women still seemed to be a mystery. Now at the age of sixteen, Halsey is a junior at the acclaimed San Francisco University High School, known for its unique interdisciplinary approach to art, history and music. She spends weekends at SF Botanical gardens finding creative inspiration among the vibrant purple hydrangeas and never misses her annual trips to Pacific Grove to observe the colorful orange and black monarch butterflies in the shimmering eucalyptus trees.

Art by: Sterling Butler

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A Vicious Culture

In Nairobi, we let in the lions and take up fear—

and now the river welcomes the lunge

and cut and danger and spilling.

 

You need to learn how quickly the distance vanishes

between the men and the lions. I am the ticket buyer; “Lion,

give me two pounds of human carcass.” Hesitate—

 

death awaits. On the sidelines, a woman drinks bloody sangria,

suddenly her eyes stumble open, her limbs compressed to fractions

by the beasts in a pool of red meat, the stitches of her bones untangled.

 

Somewhere, the lion sees the tremble and chases.

Somewhere, the handsome man mourns the name

of his lover and the sky wears grey a shade darker

than the hair of the clapping audience. We watch the lions attack

the fighters, pouncing upon a hungry crowd, twisting their spines,

stroking the desert terrain awaiting their next targets.

 

You cannot go; you need to remain abstinent from violence,

sweep the remnants of lost martyrs, forgive the lion who swallowed

your sister’s fiancé, as he cried out “They have made lions’ meat of me.”

 

We stood silent as small children with smaller hands

offered water from the curve of their palms and

a new peace swept through the lions, their tongues parched.

 

You need to learn how quickly the lions

hunted those human beasts in Nairobi,

how the lions gulped the water, drop by drop.

By Lisa Zou

Lisa Zou is a Mesa Community College Student in Chandler, AZ. She is the winner of the Mount Mercy Creative Writing Contest and has been published in the National Poetry Quarterly, the Paha Review, and Canvas. She enjoys reading short stories in her free time.

Artwork by Yiting Ruan

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Curiosity Killed the Coroner

On stage, NELLIE, a dead woman in her early twenties, is lying on an examination table covered, all except for her face, by a white sheet. The sheet acts as a dress, not coming off when she sits up, which she will do in the play. There is a table about 5-10 feet away that mirrors hers. It is empty and the light over it is off. NELLIE is made up to look very dead and cold. She does not appear mutilated; just embalmed. The man standing over her- CALVIN- is a coroner in his early fifties. He looks tired and bored. He is holding a clipboard. Next to him is a tray on wheels that holds his clean dissection tools. There is a spotlight focused on him the whole time. It partially shines on NELLIE and when she is “alive”, she gets her own spotlight. CALVIN’s light does not turn off until the end. CALVIN is looking at the clipboard, walking over to the examination table. He squints his eyes at the name on the clipboard, thinking he recognizes it.

CALVIN
Ellie?

CALVIN looks up at the corpse, scared. He lifts up the sheet, sees the woman, and looks back at the clipboard, relaxing at her face and the name it says.

CALVIN (CONT)
Oh, no. Nellie.

He starts paraphrasing what’s written on the page on his clipboard, shaking his head at what it says. He is reading from behind the table.

CALVIN
Nellie. Hm. (beat) Died from a heroin overdose at only twenty-three. Parties, drugs, sex; you probably thought you had everything. Too bad you died so young.

He leans in to start the autopsy while saying this. NELLIE’s eyes pop open. She sits up on the table as her light turns on, almost as if she has been pretending to be asleep and listening to CALVIN without his knowing. She is energetic and happy. She looks at CALVIN and starts talking while she adjusts to hang her feet off the side of the examination table. As soon as she sits up and starts talking, CALVIN jumps back, stumbling over his tray and letting out a yelp, startled by her charisma and the fact that she’s talking. He raises an eyebrow and his eyes widen when she addresses him by name.

NELLIE
Oh, it’s been loads of fun, Doctor Calvin. (Sitting up) It sucks that you didn’t take the chance to party when you were young. You’re right: the drugs and the sex are awesome. And with crazy friends, it’s even better.

She says this with an almost sly smile. He looks at her, incredulous, and is unable to say anything. NELLIE waits for a response and, when CALVIN is finally able to talk (after 5-10 seconds of silence), he stutters.

CALVIN
Uh- But you’re-

NELLIE smiles, laughing at CALVIN.

NELLIE
Yeah, I know. I’m dead.

CALVIN
(Stuttering) How-?

NELLIE cuts him off. She pretends not to understand what he’s talking about.

NELLIE
How did die? Ha. Let’s just say the heroin was free and leave it at that.

CALVIN
Wha-? No, I mean how are you talking?

She rolls her eyes, speaking as if she’s stating the obvious.

NELLIE
It’s your imagination, Calvin. No living friends, remember? When people get too lonely, they create imaginary friends.

He is confused at first, then offended. He stands up straight again, adjusting to the situation.

CALVIN
Wha- Hey! I have friends!

NELLIE
You do now.

She smiles, laughing at him as he realizes that what she’s saying is true. He looks away, growing more depressed at the realization.

CALVIN
Aside from you, I mean.

NELLIE
I don’t recall any.

CALVIN
Well, I have…

He pauses to think.

CALVIN (CONT)
Oh. I guess you’re right.

NELLIE laughs again. He looks back at her, narrowing his eyes.

CALVIN (CONT)
Well, what about your friends?

NELLIE
What about them?

Crosses around the table to down-stage right.

CALVIN
It’s just that you were saying how great your life was. Why did you give it all up just for some free heroin?

NELLIE
I don’t know. I got crazy. I had a good time! You can’t live your whole life without risk; risk promises excitement.

CALVIN looks at her skeptically.

CALVIN
Don’t be so sure.

NELLIE
Why do you say?

CALVIN does a sort of body scan and looks at his coroner’s report.

CALVIN
Well, it says here you were 23. That’s a pretty young age to die. I’ve avoided high risk practically all my life and my clock’s still tickin’ at 52 years old.

She stands up and walks towards him, stage right. He walks away, stage left.

NELLIE
Okay, sure. So you’re still alive. But it’s not worth it.

NELLIE gets up and approaches CALVIN. He tries to walk behind the table upstage right, but she blocks him. He tries instead to walk downstage but she grabs him.

CALVIN
What do you mean?

NELLIE puts her arm around him, but he rejects it, trying to move away from her. She takes control by moving closer to him and keeping him in place.

NELLIE
Oh, please. I bet you never have any fun. Your life is so boring that you actually had to imagine a friend for some entertainment.

CALVIN
My life is not boring.

NELLIE
Oh? What kinds of things do you do for enjoyment, then?

CALVIN smirks and looks at NELLIE’s torso.

CALVIN
You don’t want to know.

NELLIE shrugs.

NELLIE
I’m curious. Tell me anyways.

CALVIN
If you’re sure…

NELLIE looks at him expectantly.

CALVIN (CONT)
(Slightly ashamed) Alright. Sometimes I reorganize peoples’ organs in order of importance.

NELLIE’s eyes go really wide and she leans back a little bit in shock. She steps back.

NELLIE
You do what?

CALVIN
I told you you didn’t want to know. It’s relaxing, though.

CALVIN goes to the front of the table.

CALVIN
(Reassuringly) And I put them back afterwards. Plus, you’re the corpse in the situation, so I’m pretty normal compared to you.

NELLIE gets defensive, leaning forward.

NELLIE
Hey, you’re talking to me.

CALVIN
(Darkly) Touché.

Angry and pointing a stern finger at CALVIN.

NELLIE
(Approaching CALVIN)You’re fucking weird, man. You need to get a life.

CALVIN
You think it’s so great to live like you did?

NELLIE
Yes!

CALVIN
But it ends so fast!

NELLIE
So? At least I had fun!

CALVIN looks slightly annoyed.

CALVIN
Even if it were better to take the kind of risks you did, what would I do for fun? I’m an old man for god’s sake.

NELLIE sits on the end of the table.

NELLIE
(Laughing) Well, I guess it can be a bit hard to have fun if you’re just hanging around… (looks at him weird) and cutting up… dead people all day, especially since it looks like you’ll be joining them yourself pretty soon.

She smiles at her joke. CALVIN glares at her.

CALVIN
Watch it.

NELLIE
Oh, I don’t know. Don’t just focus on work all the time. It’s depressing lurking around a big pile of bodies 24/7. It’s going to get to you. Hell, it already has! You’re talking to a dead drug-addict. Go out and meet living people. Have fun. Form real relationships with functioning life forms.

She spots the wedding ring he still wears and motions to it with her hand. She becomes more encouraging and hopeful.

NELLIE (CONT)
Oh, or take your wife to dinner or go on a date with her or something.

CALVIN sits on the end of the table with NELLIE, twisting his ring around. He talks quieter.

CALVIN
I can’t do that.

NELLIE
Sure you can. It would be healthy to go out with your family.

CALVIN
Do you have any other suggestions?

NELLIE
If it’s because you’re not on good terms, this could be a chance to make it better. Maybe you’re at work too often or-

CALVIN
(Sparsely) They’re dead.

NELLIE slouches a little more.

NELLIE
(Sadly) Oh.

CALVIN
Three weeks ago. (beat) My two daughters were with my wife, Ellie… (beat)They were on a plane to visit her parents on the West coast. They’re big on holidays. I had to stay for work; it’s always a bit busier around Halloween.

NELLIE cautiously scoots closer to CALVIN and lays a hand on his shoulder.

NELLIE
I’m sorry. I didn’t know.

CALVIN
It’s fine. You’re probably the part of my imagination I kept that detail from.

NELLIE
Yeah…

CALVIN
So, any other recommendations on how a lonely old guy can have fun?

CALVIN gets up and crosses to stage left. He chuckles a little, trying to use humor to cover up his pain. It’s awkward for a few moments.NELLIE is grateful for the change of topic. She responds as if their conversation hasn’t just happened.

NELLIE
(Excitedly) Well, you could try meeting new people. (beat) Go to parties! Maybe you can find a girlfriend or-

CALVIN
You want me to replace my wife? And then die from overdosing with some skank, right? That’s how I’m supposed enjoy life? By screwing it up? I’ve seen tons of people like you, dead and alive. You’re all the same. You’re given a good life and then you waste it. You don’t appreciate the people you have, or you just don’t get close to anyone. My family isn’t something I can replace. Maybe you had disposable friends- an expendable life- but…

She cuts him off.

NELLIE
(Defensively) Hey, I enjoyed my life.

CALVIN
Did you?

NELLIE
Yes, I did!

CALVIN
Well… don’t you miss it?

CALVIN turns away while she’s talking, not wanting to listen to her criticize the way he lives.

NELLIE
That’s the whole point! I lived a life that I could miss. I don’t miss my beating heart; I miss the way I lived while it was still beating. At least my life was worth something to me.

CALVIN snaps his head at her and glares, resenting what she has just said.

CALVIN
What is that supposed to mean?

NELLIE
You don’t have any meaningful relationships anymore, you don’t know anyone, nobody knows you, you haven’t done anything with your life other than dissect people… You’re worthless without your family. There’s no point in living now that they’re gone.

CALVIN
(Quietly angry) Shut up.

NELLIE (CONT)
You don’t make a difference to anyone anymore.

CALVIN
Stop it!

NELLIE
It’s not worth living! You’re better off dead! It’s not worth living!

CALVIN yells at NELLIE, shoving her. As he slams his fist down and yells, NELLIE passes out again, going back to her dead state. He checks her pulse.

CALVIN
You’re wrong!

CALVIN is shaking from anger by this point, but now he’s alone in a silent room with a corpse, where he has time to contemplate what NELLIE has said. He backs away slowly from the table and talks to the audience.

CALVIN
(Slowly) It’s not worth living. (Beat)

CALVIN backs towards the other table, running into it and sitting down. He takes his ring off.

CALVIN
It’s not worth living.

He lays down on the table. Nellie’s light turns off at the same time the light over the table CALVIN is now laying on turns on. Lights out.

END OF PLAY

 

By Hannah Phillips

 

Art by Greg Ballenger

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The Bear

He noticed that the salmon took a moment
to breathe a sigh of relief when he tore them from the water
(am I god? he asked)
and thought he heard a wheeze of joy
from the snap of bones between his teeth.

The bear has prophetic dreams on nights
that are so hot that
he cannot swallow water. He sees a beer can
bent in half like a man shot in the stomach. The bear
becomes a vegetarian; he wakes in the morning to find
feathers stuck and bent between his claws.

There has been a question swinging in his ears like frayed rope.
He moves towards a nursery that pools
beneath the rocks a mile downstream. The bear reminds
himself to pray and thanks his mother and father for allowing
death a place to sleep at the dinner table.

 

By Sofia Haines

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

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Experiments with Caryl Pagel

Emily Cameron: In your book, Experiments I Should Like Tried at My Own Death, there’s a lot of discussion about spirits and connecting to the spirit/spiritual world. A lot of people consider this a pseudoscience; do you believe it is science or pseudoscience?

Caryl Pagel: I’ll separate my answer into two different things that I think: One is that I don’t believe in cliché ideas of ghosts or apparitions. I don’t not believe in them either, it’s just that I would not testify to any of that. But, I do believe that anything can be approached using scientific method. People still call things like psychology pseudoscience. A lot of these ideas and the people I talk about and researched in the book, like William James, were kind of on the forefront of psychological practice. So, yes, I do believe that it’s science, and I believe you can use science to approach things that aren’t measurable or possible to even know about. In the same way that scientists can study dream activity, and we might not ever have any solutions, we can study the idea of what happens to the soul after death. Those might be impossible things to ever figure out, but I think that they can still be approached using the same techniques of questioning and measuring and gathering evidence. It’s proof one way, proof the other way.

EC:  How did you become interested in the subjects of clairvoyance and clairaudience, like the ones in your book?

CP: I was always interested in that kind of thing, but I became obsessed with it when I encountered a group of texts which were these scientific journals from the late 1800s. They were the proceedings for the Society for Psychical Research, which was this group of scientists who gathered all of these stories about clairvoyance and telepathic activity and apparitions, and all this sort of unknown phenomena. Their goal was not to say, “This exists” or “This doesn’t exist,” but to just gather all the stories from the people that they could and try to figure out if there were patterns, and which testimonies seemed to be familiar to other testimonies. They were trying to collect evidence. And so I read these journals, these scientific texts, and I became really interested in these ideas. I became interested in them as this subject matter that is unknown, and the stories and people’s accounts are what were interesting to me. It’s a great party trick to ask people if they’ve ever seen a ghost, or even asking people about things like coincidence, or if they’ve ever had a near death experience. People have great stories about that. It was the content that drew me in, but it was the form, the act of storytelling around it, that kept me there.

EC: In your book, you have the “Botched Bestiary” poems, which are similar to accrual poems; do you think this form of hybrid literature disrespects or defaces the original work(s) like some people do? Do you think it adds more to the original(s)?

CP: I don’t know if I have a general opinion on that. I know for me, with those particular pieces, they came from a place where I was doing a lot of research on writing about animals and animal artwork. There are a lot of artists who are interested in the animal body and the human body, and the human as a machine or hybrid bodies with medical technology, and people living longer. There’s so much nowadays, that our bodies are changing in response to our environment, and a lot of that comes across in the visual art that I was looking at, at the time. I was thinking of some of these ideas that the artists were using, like collage, and a goat’s head stuck on a collage like Rauschenberg does, or different shapes on imagined animal bodies. Even things such as taxidermy where it’s half one creature, half another creature. This has always been in our imaginations. That’s where I started to write like that. I started thinking of the text as a body, and something that could be manipulated and rearranged and sort of refocused. So I think that there is a certain manipulation, or botching, or re-stitching something together. I also think of it things like heart transplants; these things in which we are taking pieces, not just in the art world, but also in the physical world. There’s hybridity to our contemporary lives in some way. These are the ideas that were swirling in my mind when I started to take parts of texts. That’s why the quotes are still in there, because I wanted it to be obvious. I thought of those quotes as a surgeon leaving a scar of where the surgery was done. In terms of general erasure projects and collage projects, sometimes you can abuse the original text by doing projects like that. Just like you can originally write a really bad poem on your own, you can also ruin other people’s things. There’s a million ways for it to go wrong, but there’s also a million ways for it to go right. A lot of my book was thinking of writing as an experiment.

EC:  Could you break down what the editing process at Rescue Press is like, and describe how it might be different from other presses?

CP:  I don’t know exactly how other presses work, but for us we basically collaborate with each author on the terms of their own piece. So, with the novella, Penny, n., we got the manuscript, and I read through it and made notes, I would call the author and we would have these long conversations about certain scenes or certain sentences, which was fun. We’d talk about these characters as if they were really alive, and we’d wonder, “What would Penny really do in this scene?” or we would ask, “Is that the right word?” It was a lot of conversations and dialogues, and some of the suggestions I made ended up in the final piece and some of them didn’t, depending on what the author felt like was right for the work. To contrast that with our newer novella, which is called Last Word, this piece came to us very polished and the author had spent a long time with it over the course of time. So, I didn’t have as many edits on that and he didn’t have as many edits on his own work either because he had already done all of that work and had a lot of other readers. It just depends on the project and what the author is up for, which means for some of them we go back and forth on all these different drafts and some of them we don’t do that much with. We think of editing as a service we can offer to people, which a lot of middle level presses or even other small presses don’t do anymore. They just publish your book. They don’t read it a bunch of times or help you edit it at all. And a lot of the bigger publishing houses will edit it without consulting the author, and they’ll just say, “You have to make these changes.” We try to offer ourselves to the authors and say, “What can we help you with?” or “What do you want to do with this?” It is very much a collaboration.

Ana Garcia: You must receive many manuscripts from authors who want to be published. What is the voice you want to give to them? What are you particularly looking for when you consider work for publication?

CP: It depends on a bunch of different things. It depends on what genre I’m reading, so in poetry sometimes I –at least, lately- am prone to writings that are more adventurous, wild or strange. In fiction, lately I am in a mood for traditional things. What I’m looking for on a manuscript changes depending on what I am interested in at the time, but also really strong writing, regardless of genre or style, can tell me the intention behind it and keeps me interested while reading it. When Rescue Press started, I was interested in hybrid genres, which I still am, but that was one of the reasons why we started, like one of our books To Be Human Is to Be a Conversation, is a piece that is part memoir and part poetry, there are photographs and questions, so it is a documentary text that is very interesting. I’m interested when people are mixing mediums and playing around.

AG:  What is the most challenging part of editing an author’s piece? Are there any aspects in particular that you get tired of?

CP: That is one of the qualities I look for before I accept something. We publish about 5 books every year, which is kind of a lot for a small press, but also it’s not that many books. When I decide we are going to publish something, one of the things I think about is “Is this a book that I want to read one hundred times?” Because that is the editing process: you read it over and over again, and you collaborate with the author. In the process, sometimes your life changes or sometimes you’re reordering everything, or cutting huge parts or encouraging people to write more into it, so there are many things that can happen. Some manuscripts don’t need much work at all, but I pick things I know I won’t get tired of, which is hard because there’s a lot of good work out there and it’s quality writing, but I know I can’t read it a hundred times. However, this helps me to read out what I want to publish, too.

AG: Does the writing change a lot when it falls into the editors hands?

CP: It depends a lot on the book project, so some of them we’ve done massive amounts of work in collaboration with the author, and some of them we’ve changed one word. A lot of it depends on how much the author is willing to work with us and hear our opinion. So I would say that it is very different for different books.

AG: Rescue Press varies a lot on the aesthetics they choose for their books. What do you take into account in a book to choose how it should look like?

CP: One of the things that we do, but not all small presses do, is that we really try to make a physical object that fits the content, the style of the work and the author’s vision of it. That’s why all of our books look really different, a lot of small presses will use the same size, the same type of pattern for their covers, but we work very closely in collaboration with the author. Sometimes they’ll say: “I just envisioned sort of a big book for mine,” so we’ll try to make them interesting, trying to use the content to suggest other artistic representations for it, while keeping the author’s vision of it at all times.

AG:  After reading so many manuscripts, do you think they have influenced/inspired your own writing?

CP: Definitely yes! I don’t know if I could say how, though. I think just the more you read, the more influence you get. The work that I publish, that I read, influences me a lot. I just read Frankenstein for the first time, and I thought: “Wow, this book is awesome!” So all you read starts layering in your head, and there’s more like available sort of models that you can do.

AG: Now that you went to the publishing companies as a writer and not as an editor, how did this experience make you feel? Do you think that your experience as an editor prepared you for the editing process?

CP: It did. I knew what to expect and the editors for my book were great. Factory Hollow Press is the press that put out my book, and they are the amazing in every single aspect. It was such a gift to work with them, and I felt so honored that they wanted to publish my book. My editor, Emily Petit, spent so much time with my work, and gave me a million bizarre ideas for the cover. She was very patient for editing, and gave me great advice in reordering the poems. So yes, being an editor prepared me, but I was still very lucky with the people I worked with.

AG: What made you decide you wanted to become an editor? What do you enjoy the most about your work?

CP: I enjoy reading all of that work. Basically I just have been a huge reader since I was a little kid and I’ve always been a writer, too. I could not get enough reading while I was growing up. I read every single book in my house, and visited the library very often. That’s still what I do, I mean, part of my job is to read which is what I love to do. Even more than writing.

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Spring

[box]
I whisper at the growing spring,
where she was talking to a garden dog
and were she was seen wearing a blue hat,
when butterflies cried,
and one by one,
fell to the ground.

No joy is in this high western skies,
where the glowing blue moon went,
leaving us in darkness,
frozen.

Here,
as the morning sun sparkles upon I,
who never more thought of time,
thoughts flood my mind,
of the moments when I was restrained
by the unbeatable fact of death.

Funny,
how the summer noon star fast grows-up
as love flies in a little girl’s heart
like twirling music
that lives in the silent rain.
The rain that falls lightly on the blue hat;
that lays beside the owner
of the garden dog
in this whispering spring.

By: Eleonora Beran-Jahn
[/box]

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