Jasmine Nikki Paredes

2015, 2016, Poetry

I will lose him during the apocalypse

when the ground gives, right after
our neighbor’s dog tells me
to wake up and clear my browser cache.
Yesterday they found a megamouth shark
washed ashore, dead. Maybe now
we should get out of bed and worry
about the high rises, how the quake
will devour us, will devour everything
that loves us back.

When the apocalypse happens,
I’m afraid we will be on different trains
going opposite ways. As the car tumbles
down the platform, pressing steel
to flesh to bone, I will remember
how the night before, I fell
asleep as he sat in the other room,
listening to the hum of his laptop.
I go to bed every night with a dread,
and he says it is all in my head,
and another day—

During the apocalypse a fault line
shall halve our avenue.
The underwater cables will have nothing
else to broadcast but silence, the kind
that follows the discovery
of a thing long feared.


FEAST

When we lived an hour
from each other, I waited
by an elevated platform

until the train ground
up the tracks like a knife
being sharpened.

Now we have become
woman and man
with the shopping bags,

lamenting the jetlagged
nectarines at the nicer
supermarket. The difference

between our cities is
craving: blueberry
and sweetsop. I am in awe

of the versatile cabbage
and the carrot that has
traveled miles, only to be

peeled naked at midnight.
From our bed I can hear you
eating. I refuse to say sorry

because there is nothing
wrong with asking for
another helping. I mean,

there are so many things
we can do to a roast chicken.
I have stopped counting.

_____________________

Jasmine Nikki “Nikay” C. Paredes was born and raised in Cebu City, Philippines. She received a BFA in Creative Writing from Ateneo de Manila University and an MFA in Poetry from Sarah Lawrence College. She is the author of the chapbook collection WE WILL SEE THE SCATTER(dancing girl press, 2014), which won first prize in the 2015 Maningning Miclat Poetry Competition. She currently teaches Creative Writing in the Ateneo de Manila University.

Antonina Palisano

2015, 2016, Poetry

THE WINTER

Another pit. I forgive my continuing
how I’d pardon insects their sound –
with a sick gut, shrinking. Now
the weird parlance of the sign:
a candle won’t flame, the animals fret.
I find a bird’s wing perfect & detached
in the street. Struggle to eat. But think
of the city’s savvy plantlife, dianthus
& creepers rooting under gray brick.
The way the early sky is flat,
then rising to abrupt substance –
streaming ochre, a third dimension.
The damp heft of hiding soil;
light, hauled to its highest point
in the morning’s muscled relief.
There is a body in a loved shape
beneath this, though all things
seem awful, oblate. Even now
a kettle comes to boil;
even now I try again
to see it.

___________________

Antonina Palisano holds an MFA from Boston University, where she received the 2015 Academy of American Poets Prize. Her work has recently appeared in Washington Square Review, Witch Craft Magazine, Bellevue Literary Review, and other places, including the Best New Poets 2015 anthology edited by Tracy K. Smith. She lives in Boston.

Naima Woods

2015, 2016, Poetry

EULOGY COVENANTS

Pray for the good live flesh. You pray.
Don’t talk about graves anymore. Think of falling.
Remember all of the falling you’ve seen on the new lately,
            their hands up, their bodies made to fail.
You welcome ice cream and cake and cookies.
Know you should go elsewhere to find sweet things.
Sometimes you don’t have the energy, you want easy sugar.
Turn water into lemon tea. You don’t drink these days.
Grow flames in your belly from all that acid.
You wait for the heat to bear witness, that burn in your stomach.
The violence of our erasure feels enormous,
            and you never got told the half of it.
Your fear of the dead feels familial, like an apron wrapped around you.
Pray for the good live flesh. Amen.
Hope that after all this that you remember how to make good love.
Recognize that there is a chance in the poem
            to be more than an undertaker.
Write down every name you’ve ever known.
Hang those names up in your house and hope it’s enough.
You don’t see the value in looking respectable.
Make a whole new list of covenants. Between you and the bodies.
You promise your bellied heat to all of the names that you don’t know,
            that are already gone.
Promise your poems to yourself.
Make a whole new language for praying grief.
Pick up and pick up and stop from falling.
You see every fear, full and waiting. You don’t run.


BURNING AT GOD

I’ve seen fires. They crowned the mountain and that makes them sound holy. How close does a burning mountain make the moon. Can you write a poem about burning these days that isn’t about god. The moon is a god. Does a church wall burn like a mountain. I’ve seen wildfires. Heat rubs and rubs and flames. That’s how mountains go, cooking pine. This poem keeps asking me for question marks but these are not. Can you set a god on fire by burning its floors. No one is afraid of the moon god burning. It’s bloodless, bleached. These are not questions. Look, they burned the floor black. See, they’ve cooked the crosses. Can you write a poem about burning god. Point to the charcoal and say, look.

Somehow the burnings and the murders conflate. My partner asks me what are you thinking about and it’s the computer and its depress. Its little warm bottom heats on my lap and shows me the Charleston news and its depress. I listened to an old radio show where a boy tried to burn a house down and doesn’t—the trucks come too early, the fire barely licks the windows. Is that something different, getting hard from burn, like a power transfer: dust to dick. When the fire keeps him flinting.

The wood is sanctified against. The wood is sanctified and nailed and look at the grain. We are god with the wood. We are not moon god or bible god or man god. We are grown brown and we are grained by our skin’s ash, lotioned again and again. How do they smoke the spirit out of a body. They took the walls and the floor. They took the wood with which we are god and licked its corners. We are not moon. See: how to sift through ashes. See: how they make the street a chimney. We do not wane. The grain needs no house and yet it was a house and yet it is now not. A church echoes. They meant to get the skin’s grain but they only burned wood. They meant to get the god but they couldn’t see it. There is power in fire but not the right kind.

____________________________

Naima Woods is a writer and educator living and working in the countryside of Southern New Mexico. She is currently pursing her MFA at New Mexico State University. Her work can be read in Nepantla, Blackberry: a magazine, Broad, Specter Magazine, Bone Bouquet, Glint Magazine and elsewhere.

Timothy Gomez

2015, 2016, NonFiction

A LIST OF THINGS THINGS I’VE WATCHED DIE

1.

Along the caulking of lime bathroom tiles, one ant carries the body of another ant, scurrying to avoid droplets of sink water.

I cup tsunamis in my palms.

Splash first against my prickly cheeks then against the wall.

Two semi-colons rinsed away into the holes of a sink strainer.

2.

In a looming Catholic church, my siblings embrace me. I remember a game my grandfather and I used to play: we’d each stand six feet from the refrigerator and toss souvenir magnets at its belly. The only way to lose was to miss. Neither of us ever lost.

We’d laugh beside a table with a cheap metal frame around its edges and laminated floral print, riddled with coffee stains.

My grandfather’s mustache still had black in it.

I cry in the church. But not because I miss my grandfather. Instead, because my siblings cry, all circled around my awkward little body.

They talk about camping trips I never attended. Restaurants I never ate in. A Pinto I swore I sat in once. A faint memory of me waving at my father from a car seat, him walking across the greenest grass.

*We got rid of that car before you were born*, my brother says.

Inside a box of cherry wood, a monument to a different family that looks eerily similar to mine.

My father cries. I know to hug him. And so I do.

Perhaps I know this too much.

3.

My first dog is Winkles. The ‘R’ left out on purpose. As my mother puts the Subaru in reverse, retreating finally from the Almadale house, my father approaches.

*I’ll see you soon*, he tells me.

*But where’s Winkles?*, I ask.

4.

In the hallways of our high school, a boy spits on me and calls me a poser. This same boy in middle school Language Arts tapped me on the shoulder and said *Look* with his tongue out. On it, a small tab of paper.

In his house when we were both younger, his younger brother cursed like wildfire and ran along burnt carpet. I never met his parents.

This same boy will see me on the streets of our hometown when we’re both twenty-four.

His hair will be long and he will wear his plaid shirt open with no t-shirt underneath. Torn shorts.

*Dude, you live in New York now, right?*, he’ll say.

*That’s real cool, man.*, he’ll say.

*Yeah, gonna move out to Vegas or Bakersfield or something. Just somewhere.*, he’ll say.

*Clean for six months.*, he’ll say.

*Thanks, man.*, he’ll say and walk up Mayflower towards the hills.

A week later, his friends will raise money on websites for services. I wonder if I should attend but don’t.

His sister explains it all in writing, that tolerance subsides as quickly as hives.

5.

I learn too late that my Uncle was married once.

I wonder if chunks of his liver ever clogged up the shower.

I wonder if he prayed to the collage of images of my grandmother framed behind an urn of her dust.

I wonder who will get his car, a Chrysler with solid metal rims.

I wonder if it’s disrespectful to drink the leftover beer.

I wonder where the birds beneath the towel that chirp incessently will go. Will they recognize the absence of my uncle’s well-groomed beard? Will they shed feathers on newspaper or be let go? Will they remember their instincts? Are these things pre-loaded? Or will they just continue to yell out for seeds served up in Dixie cups?

6.

Under anesthesia, we do not dream.

Countdown from Ten.

Nine

Eight

Sev—

*Okay, we’re back.*

Was anything moved? I hobble to a recliner and watch Judge Judy for forty minutes.

Someone on the radio says, void an afterlife, death would be much like this pause.

We just would never know.

7.

*They just melted in the olive oil in five minutes. That’s it. What a pitiful life.*, I say.

*A delicious one.*, Melanie says.

I don’t respond.

*You must be in a bad place to not be able to handle making an anchovy sauce.*

8.

Fall leaves line the bridge above the boat-sprinkled pond deep inside Central Park. They’re never this color back home. I choose the best one to take home to a girl who wears the thickest black eyeliner I’ve ever seen.

They don’t keep this color, I realize. Brown and broken in the bottom of my bag just a few hours later.

Leaves yellow when their connection from a tree begins to dim in the Autumn months. The leaves need chlorophyll to stay green, but constant exposure to the sun would otherwise bleed them of it, would leave them faded like paper, if not for the trees. The tree replenishes its children.

The yellow is always there though. When the chlorophyll is gone, other already present colors are merely being released. Orange and yellow and red.

When the leaves die, something isn’t taken. Nothing stolen. Instead, something that was always living underneath is revealed.

_________________________________

Timothy Gomez holds an MFA in Writing from Sarah Lawrence College. His work has appeared in Connotation Press, No Tokens, Epiphany, and others. He currently lives in Whittier, CA and teaches at Aspire Ollin University Prep Academy in Huntington Park. He also co-hosts a podcast about friendship and feelings entitled Fairweather and writes at his website timfinite.me.

Mark L. Keats

2015, 2016, Fiction

MALE ADVICE

When my fiancée broke it off, I took it in stride. I thought it would be different after the breakup—I thought that moving back home across the country would help. “A change of scenery,” my mother said. A year later I saw online that she had gotten married to someone I knew casually in high school. She looked happy, so I was happy. Well, not really. But, I’d been prepared for this very moment my entire life. When I was very young, my father used to say these kinds of situations were God’s way of making life interesting, a test of sorts. When I’d asked him how he’d fared so far, he’d said, without hesitation, as if he’d been waiting his whole life for someone to ask, “Straight Cs.” My father had also said that tension was a good thing—that that’s what one of those Greek guys had said a long time ago. “And who’s to argue with the Greeks?” he said. “It’s sometimes good to be itchy,” he continued one afternoon, having spent more time drinking than actually building the promised tree house. I remember that clearly because when he went out to get more wood, he never returned. My mother hadn’t been worried, though. “He’ll be back,” she said a day later. “He used to do this all the time when we first dated. But I stayed the course. You know,” she said. “That was my father’s motto. Stay the course.”

____________________________

Mark L. Keats was adopted from South Korea at the age of three. He earned his MFA in fiction from the University of Maryland. His work has appeared or is forthcoming in Eastern Iowa Review, Foundling Review, Smokelong Quarterly, and many others. Currently, he is a PhD student in English at Texas Tech University.

Jennifer Renee Blevins

2015, 2016, NonFiction

EQUILIBRIUM, OR MY MOTHER WOULD HAVE FELT THE SAME WAY

During this year’s trip to the beach, we took a ferry to the island with the feral ponies because you can’t get there any other way. You’re supposed to stay 100 feet away from the ponies, but my brother and I got closer to take pictures for our father. The lack of restrooms (or any other sign of civilization) on the island made me feel anxious and claustrophobic. My mother would have felt the same way. She died two Januarys ago. We scattered her ashes in the ocean during last year’s trip to the beach.

I helped my father into the water at the point where the sound and the ocean collide, because that’s where he wanted to enter. The sand beneath our feet was viscous and gooey, sucking us down like wet cement. My father didn’t have the strength to overcome the sand, and I didn’t have the strength to hold him upright. He fell slowly, like an imploded building, as the suck and pull burrowed us deeper in the sand.

After my brother and I helped him crawl to shore, we sat him in the green tailgating chair we had brought with us. I walked back into the water at the same spot. I passed the site of our earlier incident and continued out to where the water was deep enough to swim. I swam through alternating pockets of cold and warmth, farther and farther out until my father and brother looked like small feral ponies on the shore.

When I finally turned to swim back to them, I discovered that I had been swimming with the current the entire time. Now I felt the force of two separate currents conspiring to keep me. Even when I exerted all of my energy into my stroke, swimming against them was like running on a treadmill. The water was so deep that I was only able to touch the sand with my feet when I submerged myself to my eyeballs.

As I fought against the currents and gasped for air, I thought of Edna Pontellier walking naked and alone into the ocean, and I decided that the end of The Awakening is not nearly as romantic as I had first believed when I read it as a 19-year-old college student on dry land. Drowning is unsexy and demoralizing, lonely and silent.

Right before my mother stopped breathing, my father and I saw a wild white and gray cat scampering across the surface of the snow through the window of our hospice room. Then the nurse told us that it was over, that I had just lost the one person who knew me before I was one person.

I submerged to my eyes, activated every muscle, and rooted my feet into the sand. I started walking toward my family, using the strength in my legs and torso to propel myself through the cement-like sand and resist the pull of the water. When I needed air, I popped my head above the surface and drew greedy, desperate breaths, like a hanged man freed from a noose.

When I finally reached my father’s side, I collapsed on a beach towel. My brother and father said they could tell I was in trouble out there, but they didn’t know how to help me. I told them there was nothing they could have done.

_____________________________

Jennifer Renee Blevins holds a BA in English and Theatre and an MA in English from Wake Forest University. She is currently a third year student in the MFA Creative Non-Fiction Writing and PhD Literature programs at the University of South Carolina, where she is also managing editor (reviews) of Modernism/modernity, the official journal of the Modernist Studies Association. She is working on her first book, Persistent Leak: My Father’s Gastric Bypass and the Deepwater Horizon Oil Spill, which juxtaposes the concurrent disasters of the 2010 oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico and her father’s catastrophic gastric bypass experience.

WINTER XVIII

2015, 2016
Point Reyes National Seashore, California, USA by WIng-Chi Poo

Tule Elks standing in heavy fog at Point Reyes National Seashore, California, USA by Wing-Chi Poon

POETRY

M.J. Arlett
Ryan Bender-Murphy
Melissa Crowe

Laura Creste
Sean Thomas Dougherty

Ruth Foley
Jeff Handy
Luisa A. Igloria
Kimberly Lambright
Nadra Mabrouk
Amy Marengo
Antonina Palisano
Jasmine Nikki C. Parades
Sara Ryan
Danielle Susi
John Allen Taylor
Alexandra van de Kamp
Emily Paige Wilson
Dylan Weir
Naima Woods
Sharla Yates

FICTION

Anna Laird Barto
Mark L. Keats

Blake Kimzey

NONFICTION

Jennifer Renee Blevins
Timothy Gomez
Stacey Kahn

 Cover Image: Three male Tule Elks standing in heavy fog at Point Reyes National Seashore, California, USA by Wing-Chi Poon

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Ruth Foley

2015, 2016, Poetry

ROUNDS

The invisible tattoo his fingers inked
                around my wrist, how long it lingered,
                                the way I wish it held his scent.

The ache in my chest is a stone—no
                jut, no angle, just weight. Weight,
                                curve and expansion.

The hours I wait are round, even if
                my clock no longer is.

I have started writing this upside-down
                and need to turn it around if you
                                 are meant to read it.

His mouth isn’t round, but I think
                of it so. My hip would round under
                                  his hand.

The way we circumnavigate—first around
                 each other, then away and back.

Buttons, his thumb working them.

Fists, the completion of the movement.
                 There’s a reason it’s called
                                  a roundhouse.

Zeros, of course, if you write them
                  the way I do.

Singing, layered and wheeling, voices
                  that never manage to meet up,
                                   the pull of the oar through water
                  and out to the air, gently, merrily.

Ice cream before it melts, the coins
                  that might purchase it.

The spiderweb that hung in front
                   of the kitchen window. The spider
                                    in the center. I’d like to say they both
                   survived the storm, drops of rain
                                    taking everything. It was already
                   too late for the unidentifiable
                                    bundle.

His ring spinning on the table,
                   its surface: all edges, no corners.

Birds at the sea, ballooning and
                   splitting above the shoaling
                                     forage fish. The billow of the school.

The truth might be round, or curling
                   over itself like a whitecap or a roller.
                                     Sometimes there is no choice but
                   to duck under and hope.

Not a child’s galaxy of stars, but
                    our actual stars—everything that
                                     orbits us or is orbited, some orbits.

My back at the edge of the bed.
                      Even the shaking feels round.

Tires against the pavement or retracting
                       into the belly of a plane. The plane’s
                                       belly. Mine.

The arc of earth that separates us.

Emptiness is round, I think. I am built
                       of hollows.

The lake, its edges, the well-fed
                       fish, the snail. The spaces in between
                                        the sand, the surface of the pail, the lenses
                       of the sunglasses balanced on my head,
                                        my head, which would press round
                       to his palm. It would.


VOLUNTARY

           After Claire Bateman

The hand that pushes the shovel,
the shoulder moving the arm.
Praise the lift and sweep, praise
the love of clearing the second car
and the sleeping man who doesn’t
know yet. Praise the passing
of salt, praise the stamp of boots,
the brush against the dust
that chalks my long wool coat.
I praise the lifting of my face
to a struggling sun, praise again
the stretch of back.

                                         This morning
everyone I love could be asleep,
given over to whatever brings them
home. This morning, I am thinking
of the ones who do not choose
to think of me, the hand that will
not lift to my jaw or trace
the streak of sun across my cheek.
Praise my own fingers and the tuck
of hair behind my ear. Praise
the solitude and uneven footing.
Praise the stubborn heart,
the way I will its beating,
praise the almost inevitable breath.

______________________

Ruth Foley lives in Massachusetts, where she teaches English for Wheaton College. Her work appears in numerous web and print journals, including Antiphon, The Bellingham Review, and Sou’wester. She is the author of two chapbooks, Dear Turquoise (dancing girl press) and Creature Feature (ELJ Publications), and serves as Managing Editor for Cider Press Review.

 

Luisa A. Igloria

2015, 2016, Poetry

SALT CRAVING

I dreamt of lines of fish drying, their bodies
scaled and butterflied and left to leather in the sun,
the coast and fishermen’s nets gritty backdrop

to water’s insistent reruns. You were somewhere
on the beach, your body covered with sand, your face
shielded from the heat by a newspaper. Drowsing

or asleep, you didn’t move; you lay as if dead.
I dug little holes and watched for sand fiddlers.
I looked for whelks, brittle shells, and bits

of broken glass. Before mid-afternoon, you rose
like an idol, ran into the sea to rinse off
the crust of what had hardened and clung.


CASIDA OF THE SNOW

In the white sift from low-
slung branches, I saw pages
before the shadows of wings
wrote their script.

What is your intention?
I asked, walking into the heart
of the cold to bring my one
wish as offering.

Somewhere I heard the sound
of an ax splitting wood,
the soft weight of two halves
falling equally to the ground.

_____________________________

Luisa A. Igloria is the winner of the 2015 Resurgence Prize (UK), the world’s first major award for ecopoetry, selected by former UK poet laureate Sir Andrew Motion, Alice Oswald, and Jo Shapcott. She is the author of Bright as Mirrors Left in the Grass (Kudzu House Press eChapbook selection for Spring 2015), Ode to the Heart Smaller than a Pencil Eraser (selected by Mark Doty for the 2014 May Swenson Prize, Utah State University Press), Night Willow (Phoenicia Publishing, Montreal, 2014), The Saints of Streets (University of Santo Tomas Publishing House, 2013), Juan Luna’s Revolver (2009 Ernest Sandeen Prize, University of Notre Dame Press), and nine other books. She teaches on the faculty of the MFA Creative Writing Program at Old Dominion University, which she directed from 2009-2015.

Stacey Kahn

2015, 2016, NonFiction

SLIVER

When we are five and eight years old, then six and nine and so on, people ask us if we’re twins. My brother bristles at the suggestion every single year because after all, he’s three years older and the only boy, which means that he enjoys a spotlight that follows him around like a shadow, that keeps him company in a way that I just don’t get. I’m the youngest and one of two girls, but the other girl looks more like our dad’s side of the family—small, with hips that only venture slightly past her waist—while I grow to be an echo of my mom’s side, short, curvy, and contained. The ways in which I don’t look like my sister mimic the ways I’m nothing like my brother, a boy who gets in with the popular crowd and always has friends, a boy who sits down to tests as if he’s writing a good friend a letter: calmly, naturally, knowingly, with grades that reflect his effortless way. I am quiet and dreamy, and nothing I do is effortless; I spend my adolescence pulling oversized shirts over the swell of my hips; I temper uncoolness with bouts of defiance. I seek out other dreamy weirdoes who make their homes on the sidelines, where we admire people like my brother from a comfortable distance because they have a certain grace that eludes us.

When we are fifteen and eighteen years old, the distance grows and my brother goes to college. My sister is in college at this time, too, and I face a particularly difficult year all by myself. My parents are there but I am still a teenager and keep my problems close to me, because my heart speaks a language I’m convinced my parents don’t. Instead, I spend nights in my room letting my sadness spill out until a knock sounds at the door or my name is called from downstairs. That’s when I gather it all back inside of me, quickly, like a person caught with a myriad of items they’ve been trying so hard to hide, and I go about my days a little bit heavier from the words I collect but keep to myself.

College finally reaches me, too, though, and it’s in college when I learn that writing buoys me, that this is how I stop from sinking into sidewalks, that this is where all the words should go. It’s not a perfect method, but it’s the only one I’ve found, and I write to peel the skin off things and bite into them with purpose.

When we are twenty and twenty-three years old, our only uncle dies. I’m not home for the funeral, not home for the unveiling the following year, but this death buries a part of me with it. My mother once called my uncle and me the “loveable black sheep of the family,” but death turns him into a black hole, and now that connection and all the talking I thought I’d do with him after college goes with the rest of the nothingness. I see my father cry for the first time in my life, I see what siblings are supposed to look like, and it has nothing to do with resemblance. I stop writing for a while.

And then when we are twenty-one and twenty-four, twenty-two and twenty-five and so on, I see my brother less and less. There is the exception of family birthdays and yearly holidays, and some times in between, but those barely count and our encounters feel rehearsed. He will start saying we should all hang out more, but his words are just words and their meanings are wrapped presents with nothing inside. In time, when we are whatever age—it doesn’t matter—he moves home to New York and contents himself with a nine-to-five suit job; I quit the three jobs I’m working to act upon a delayed dream of moving to California, then live there with my cousins. My biggest regret from college is that I didn’t go out west earlier; I learn at Thanksgiving that his was not joining a frat.

Writing eventually comes back to me. I write about my parents, my uncle, New York, the boy who broke my heart and who I’m afraid broke it for good. At some point I realize I never write about my brother, at some point I realize I’ve left the sidelines of his playing field and found my own. Because I don’t see him often, I don’t speak of him often either; friends who have known me my whole life have met him if not once, then never. They say to me, I forget you have a brother. Sometimes I forget, too.

                                                                                *

When we are eighteen and twenty-one years old, I follow my brother to college. My first year there is the final year for both of us—the year that he graduates, the year that I find that my identity is not tangled in our genes. But this process is not an easy one for me. My mom and I start speaking often; I never cry, but she senses the emptiness in my voice and asks my brother to fill me back up again. His solution is to fill me with alcohol, to drop it off and then leave. I ask for something girly—watermelon vodka—and share it with people I know are not my friends. These not-friends are like most of the people at the school; boys in dirty sports caps and girls in pristine pearls, both with popped collars and a starchiness that could break them. But no one here allows themselves to break, because cracking is bad form and I am in the worst of form when I finally decide to leave, when I discover that my brother and I have absolutely nothing in common and I go to another school.

But before I put my escape into motion, my brother and I sit across from each other in a dining hall on some indistinguishable night. Clinks and clanks of plates seep into our silence. I notice his freckles, which are just like mine—like whispers, easy to miss if you aren’t paying attention—and push around some mashed potatoes with my fork. Finally he says, “How are you doing?” and I shrug, so he shrugs, too, and then continues eating. After awhile, he checks his watch and says, “Things will get better,” then gets up to put his tray away and leaves. Maybe he didn’t know what to say; maybe he didn’t want to say what he meant; maybe I should have said more. But I would never know because I would never ask, and the words of this conversation, like all the ones that came after, hung loose and incomplete.

                                                                                *

I should mention again that there is a sister, but she finds her way occasionally into my writing for a reason I can’t explain. She is the oldest, but it never feels that way to me because she’s stormy and her moods are like sandpaper scraping against herself and everyone else. She takes small things to be serious and serious things to be small, and when we’re together, her words flood me like an ocean and I provide “yeses” and “nos” like ornaments, like archipelagos that the ocean just envelops. Often, I feel like the older sister, trying to dispense advice and mitigate crises that are only small annoyances to most people. At some point, I make friends with someone four years older than my sister and find myself confiding my secrets in this new girl, asking for advice, acting the way I think I should with my own family but somehow can’t. One day, over wine, I tell this friend, You’re the big sister I never had, and it’s almost like I’ve made my real sister disappear, and then I disappear for an instance, too. This is when I realize that we siblings have all disappeared from each other, because the three of us have taken our differences and built fences over the years, fences we stand behind and don’t try to look over, don’t try to dismantle.

                                                                                *

When I am twenty years old, I fall in love for the first time, I meet the boy who eventually breaks my heart and makes his way into my writing. His departure marks a pattern I fall into for years, a pattern where I think all men are wrong for me and I keep them at arms length, despite wanting to be touched, despite wanting to fold my fingers into the spaces of a larger hand. For a little while, it’s okay to cling on to friends, to form an alliance with the ones who’ve also been hurt and self-quarantined. But eventually, they all start re-attaching themselves to other people, and it feels like I’m talking to them from across a large, expansive room. This starts to happen at the same time I begin talking more and more with my mother, which reinforces and solidifies me and lessens the sting of being alone. She is my blueprint; short with wavy brown hair, calm but careful. She tells me all the time, God matched them as he made them, and though I don’t believe in god, I believe in what she tells me, and am comforted by that.

When my cousins in California unexpectedly lose their mom, I’m struck by the fact that I’ll lose my own mom some day, too; I’m robbed of the ruse that people you love are immortal, and I start feeling like I’m fifteen years old again, my sister and brother off and away somewhere I can’t see them, myself a young girl wielding a sadness too large for her. What happens when my parents, when half of the people who’ve known me forever, are no longer here? And what if forever never happens with somebody else, someone who’s supposed to put forever in a ring around my finger? Where will my siblings be if forever falls apart, if forever’s just a word that I repel?


If god really matched them as he made them, I wonder if the same is true of siblings, and then I worry that I have no matches at all. Because how can I find anyone else when I can’t even recognize the people who are myself, and myself them? How can we find each other if we are so unable to see one another? I let my siblings stay gone, though, I let the fences remain and watch them stack up because I don’t know how to go about dismantling them, and it’s easier to stay on the side that I built. I’m afraid that I will be the only one left standing there, though, wishing I could see over the fences that I myself erected but never tried to take down.

                                                                                *

When we are twelve and fifteen years old, I catch my brother on a night he’s feeling particularly like a teenager, a night that feels like a gasp or a stretched out sigh you’re caught in the middle of, that goes on until you run out of voice or breath. He sees me dawdling outside his door, pretending I have some business precisely in that spot, and for once, he calls me in instead of ordering me away and tells me to sit down on his bed. He has math books spread out on his comforter, pages beyond my understanding, things that always feel impossible when you haven’t learned them yet. I suddenly don’t know what to say, but it doesn’t matter because he says, “Do you know what this is?” pointing to the CD player behind him, pointing as if it is the music itself. When I say no, he explains how this band, Nirvana, is important, and we listen to the same song twice. I won’t know for years why this band is “important,” but for now, the fact that he says it’s so is enough. By the end of the night we are both repeating the line, Grandma, take me home, Grandma, take me home, and we get lost in the lyrics that for some reason make us laugh. Right now it seems unreasonable that I will ever substitute my siblings for anything else—for writing, for friends—because right now we are laughing at nothing at all, the type of laughing that buoys you and makes you light. Our laughter lifts me up like a balloon so for just a moment I’m above and not behind the fences we’ve only just begun to build around ourselves. If I had stayed there hovering above, if I had stopped laughing and looked down, maybe I would’ve seen the world behind my not-twin’s fence, and maybe it would’ve looked exactly like mine.

_______________________________

Stacey Kahn is a writer and arts educator currently working at the Brooklyn Museum. She has an MFA in nonfiction creative writing from Sarah Lawrence College and an EdM from the Arts in Education program at the Harvard Graduate School of Education. She’s the co-host and co-creator of the NYC based reading series Big Words, Etc. and is currently working on a collection of essays about the forgotten borough she grew up in.