2021 LITERARY JOURNAL
TABLE OF CONTENTS
you told me to write a happy poem
i was waiting for you when i sat by the lake
watching as the waves folded in on one another
doubtlessly in love with rocks yet only temporarily
crashing before retreating again into the vast lake
i was waiting for you when i sat in my backyard
gazing at the space between the clouds
awaiting nightfall so the setting sun could sing
me to sleep once more
i was waiting for you when i sat on the couch
staring at my father’s eyes while he stared at my mother
we survived in blistering silence and thirty years of memories
it is easy to see unreciprocated love
i imagined you were in the sky faraway
blowing the water and slowly nudging it towards the rocks
where you saw me sitting infatuated
with how the waves curl and crash
i imagined you were some distant artist
carefully painting purple along the horizon
splattering the stars among the skyline
directing me to the dippers
i imagined you were the breaths my parents
took between vows on their wedding day
nervous breaths from when they meant the three words
i now hear from you every night
Rose Colored Lipstick, watercolor and ink on paper by Celina Watkins.
you swirl hues of blue on my face until it is stained
then tell me since my complexion remains blue i must
be sad. your voice overpowers mine when i argue
it is just the paint. you tell me i am sad so much
i believe it.
the blue stings my face and i try to imagine
you painting me yellow instead. i wonder
if yellow paint would burn or if it would feel
gentle and timid - how your kisses used to feel
before they turned hungry.
i turn sad and realize sad is a guttural feeling
in which gravity tugs more violently at your body.
i don’t know how you painted my organs blue.
each pulse feeds the bulb of blue paint you plagued
maybe you injected blue into my veins or shoved
spoonfuls of it into my mouth when i was sleeping.
in my dreams i created truths behind your falsities
and stared at myself in mirrors and replaced
the little ball of vibrant red flame you stole from my eyes.
Hope Toast, photography by Cameron Gordon
A Smooth golden brown layer covers my body
It is soft yet littered with scars and flaws
What lies beneath it is something that is so precious
It is so delicate and vulnerable that I have allowed no one to see it
That is what makes my skin so scared
It is the closest most will ever be to my being
Touch is such an intimate sense
While your fingertips graze down the side of my shoulder
A rush of hesitation clouds my mind
With each touch you get closer to me
That's what's so scary about touch
Once you reach my skin my protection is gone
Leaving me completely vulnerable to you
When I think of you I think of sunshine,
Bright lights on a stormy night.
Living through the looking glass of life.
Becoming young again.
I Remember what it’s like to be a kid, but this time with a friend.
Waiting for the night to end, looking at the morning with yellow glasses.
I wonder how fast too fast is?
Give me the childhood I alway wanted,
Living what my ten year old self thought my teens years would be like.
Instead of the time that left me haunted.
Thanks for giving me that Disney channel dream that I thought was never for me.
Thanks for giving me that safety of no boundaries and for showing me a little more of life.
I wish I could write these words with oranges and perfume and yellow sun beams,
But it seems I am limited by the reality within this dream.
I see you and am in purple serenity on a weekend morning with bandana styling.
Left wondering how life became so inviting,
Then I realize it’s your power of reviving.
Thank you for this life that is now thriving.
Remember every dead night we went driving? We stole time with the sandman smiling.
Now I’m living in restless weirdness where I relearn what it’s like to exist.
But this time I walk the world with the greatest gift,
The puzzle piece that I never thought to fit.
Each year, when the hot months came round
I always told myself: “THIS one, surely, will last”
June holds so much time within
It is a rare time where wasting an hour is no sin
July, a real far cry, why even think about her?
But June drags on and on, don’t fight
With a warm getting warmer breeze
By July, I know I could cry
It’s proof that time hasn’t halted
The rock still turns in uniform
Still, my shoes are off, my teachers enjoying a bottle of wine older than I am
My face is still nose to rose with a sunflower
And a bee sting just just a pleasant reminder that they are still alive
And I am still free
Come August, though, I know the jig is up
School’s in session, not far behind comes the depression
Just so is the cycle.
Years pass in this manner, I wonder about maturity and being a man
My body’s grown and I can best everyone in a test
But my soul’s as empty as an abandoned tin can
It’s a different galvanization for everyone, I suppose
For my editor, it was losing his brother to cocaine and ill will
For me, it was one too many bruises, a roll of the dice, and some unexpected love
After too many summers wasted, I finally realized the secret to a longer season
See the water as a portal
See a stranger as a friend
See love as immortal
See crisis as a hand to lend
See the story behind every leaf, tear, pond, birth & death
When you write about things, make them beautiful
See our big wet & green rock as a box of rain
Sing songs about the mundane
Intersection, photography by Abbey Hebert
Bulk Island, photography by Cameron Gordon
A LIFE LIVED
As Hope held her small cracked phone in her hands, she had a feeling her conversation wouldn’t lead anywhere. This was the third time today she’d reached out to her grandson, and she was hoping this time he’d at least answer. She put the phone on speaker so she could set it down on the table since her hands couldn’t hold onto it for longer than a few minutes without starting to hurt; her arthritis had been getting worse recently. “Hello?” Hope leaned back in her armchair excitedly.
“Michael, it’s so good to hear your voice!” Hope couldn’t believe that he’d actually picked up, but she was thrilled he had. “I’ve been trying to call all day. I need some help. It shouldn’t take that long, I swear.”
“Gome, this just isn’t a good time. I’m busy.” Hope frowned down at her phone and sighed.
“I’m moving into the nursing home soon. Don’t you want to say goodbye?”
“Sure, but I’ll come with Dad to drop you off. What do you even need?”
Hope shook her head, just to herself, and responded, “Just to wheel me down to the storage unit. I know that dad of yours said he’d pack up some necessities for me. I want to grab my sentimental stuff, so he doesn’t throw it away.”
Michael paused for a moment, long enough that Hope was worried he wasn’t there anymore, before answering, “Sorry, I just can’t.”
“Well, okay, Angel Bear, I’ll see you in a few days. I love you!” Michael hung up the phone without even saying goodbye or that he loved her. Hope frowned but figured that Michael was a busy young man, a senior in high school, and she knew how important his graduation was.
Hope decided to just ask Mimi for help getting down to her unit. Mimi was her day caregiver who’d been with her for about four years now, and tomorrow was her last day. After all the days they’d sat together, cramped into the small trailer, they had become friends, or at least Hope thought so. Mimi wheeled her down the rocky crumbled road to the storage facility directly in front of the small neighborhood filled with trailers Hope found disgusting; although she felt she had no room to talk, hers was the most disgusting of all. Her trailer was barely three hundred square feet with two tiny bedrooms, a small bathroom, and a kitchen-living area. In the past year, she’d spent ninety percent of her time in the kitchen-living area on a hospital bed she’d bought secondhand. She had to be careful when she walked around it because there was a hole in the floor that the owner said he would fix but hadn’t. Mimi and Hope had covered it with a rug, so they didn’t have to look at it, but that hadn’t really helped.
Boat, photography by Cameron Gordon
About a year ago, she’d fallen into the hole and almost broken her leg. Luckily one of the neighbors had heard her scream and came and helped Hope back into bed.
The storage unit was packed full of brown boxes, water-stained, and damaged by the four years they had sat in storage. Inside the storage unit sat the majority of Hope’s belongings, over eighty years of circumstances and mistakes jam-packed into a hundred square feet of grime. She could easily spot a box labeled “Lawsuit” in her own shaky penmanship. Hope remembered how she’d gotten involved with some legal nonsense back in the 1990s. She’d fallen off a bus while trying to exit, and some lawyer had convinced her to sue. She hadn’t gotten any money out of it, but Hope guessed at least testifying in court had been enjoyable.
None of her things meant anything to her only living son even though he lived just a couple hundred yards down the road. Hope acknowledged, just to herself, that mistakes had been made in Brian’s and her relationship. Still, she silently wished to herself he would be interested in any of the few things she had remaining once she died. Walking in, the first thing she noticed was her mother’s hutch, well-worn with age and lack of care. The once beautiful wood was stained and faded, the right side door broken. Just looking at it made her feel disappointed. Hope knew she couldn’t get down here very often to check on her things, but she’d hoped Brian, or at least one of his kids, would have checked to make sure the few remaining family heirlooms were kept safe.
Mimi offered to stay and help her, but Hope knew this was something she needed to process independently. She only had a few days left before moving into Bright Eyes Nursing Home, for good this time. The last time she stayed there, it had only been for a month after a stomach bacteria had caused her to become malnourished. It had been a nice place to stay, and she’d even had a nurse that reminded her of her oldest granddaughter, Tina. Brian had told her they couldn’t afford to continue paying for the storage unit. Hope had tried to ask why her pension and disability checks couldn’t keep covering it, but he had insisted, and she wasn’t going to keep questioning him since he handled all of her money. He’d told her that after putting her Medicare, pension, and disability towards her long-term stay, she’d only have thirty-eight dollars left a month, and that certainly wouldn’t cover the storage unit. She’d convinced herself that Brian always did his best, even if she had her doubts.
Holding onto her Rollator, Hope stood up and grasped the first box. Standing wasn’t always comfortable for Hope, at least not for more than a few minutes at a time. The Rollator had a seat she could rest on, and it was the only reason she’d told Mimi just to head back to the trailer. Hope had grabbed this box because it was haphazardly marked “Photographs” in a scrawl she recognized as belonging to Gerome, the only man who’d stood by her through all of her difficulties of the last fifty years. Although he repeatedly refused to marry her, he always doted on her even when she didn’t feel deserving. Hope remembered the last time she’d asked him to marry her; it had to have been about eight years ago now. They’d been
out to eat at their favorite Applebees talking about their day when she just decided to ask him pointblank. Gerome had explained to her, in his own unique way, that marriage just wasn’t for them, that he wasn’t prepared to deal with any of her medical issues- all the things he’d told her time and time again over the years. Although this was before the health conditions that now led to the nursing home, Hope guessed she understood, although, just to herself, she didn’t actually at all.
She took the pocket knife Mimi loaned her for this task and carefully, although shakily, slit open the box. The first picture on top was of a moment before her life had started to feel out of control. It was a photo of her family, almost sixty-five years ago now, smiling like there was no worry besides the simplicities of the 1950s. It was her, her ten-year-old brother, and the parents Hope so wished she could speak to right about now. She could remember so clearly, even though the photo was yellowed with age and damage, how soon after this photo she had started to show, although she would never confess, not even to the grandchildren she wished she saw more often, about the baby she would never know. Her parents were a Southern Baptist preacher and his devoted wife and knew best. At age fifteen, her parents sent her away to a farm owned by a distant relative, her great aunt Ruby, to give birth to the baby she had never planned.
In the 1950s, although girls got married younger, at least certainly younger than they did now, fifteen was much too young for a wedding. Her parents’ entire life and her father’s career primarily depended on their reputation in their town. Although giving birth had been one of the most traumatic experiences Hope could remember, living with her aunt Ruby had been an educational and entertaining experience. Ruby had taught her some of the best family recipes, including making Hope’s favorite pecan pie. She hadn’t made it for years now as the ingredients were too expensive, and she couldn’t stand for that long to roll out all that dough, but she could still remember the taste. Ruby had never judged young Hope, even when she told her the story of how she’d gotten pregnant. She’d told Hope to just focus on giving birth to a healthy baby for the adoptive parents.
All Hope had wanted was to have some fun with her boyfriend, a good old southern boy who she knew from church. The memory of giving birth to a tiny baby she never even got to hold
in a farmhouse bed was the one thing she could barely tell the truth about, even to herself. Hope didn’t know whether it was a boy or a girl because her mother, strong and dependable, had said it was better this way--better if she just forgot it happened and continued with her life in a small middle-of-nowhere town in Alabama. Cesterfield was a small town. When she’d last lived there, it only had about thirty-five hundred people, and back when she’d grown up there, it had just been incorporated as a town; before that, it was only a village.
Continue on she had, or at least she wanted to believe she had. Hope had left behind that boy and moved on, finding a man. As she tried to push old memories out of her mind, not easy in these days of the mundaneness of her old age, it was clear that wouldn’t be the path her mind would follow. Gerome, ever consistent and organized, had placed the photos in the box by supposed date. Hope remembered when she’d ask him to make sure her photos were preserved. It had been when she’d made the move to her trailer, four or so years ago. She saw the way Brian had haphazardly thrown most of her things together into boxes and trash bags and had asked Gerome to organize her photos. She had to be sure that someone would pack them carefully.
The next one was of her wedding photo, the only wedding she’d ever had although she’d always wanted another with Gerome. As Hope flipped over the picture to see if anything was written on it, her memories came flooding back. She could remember her mother towing her into the doctor’s office and asking for a discrete pregnancy test again. At just seventeen, Hope was pregnant for the second time, but this time her parents were not allowing a farm getaway. Seventeen was marrying age in Cesterfield, and a wedding was arranged in just six weeks. Hope Richards, high school student, became Hope Mulrooney, wife of Davis Mulrooney. In the picture, she could just barely see that under all the fluff of the dress and the rouge of her lipstick, there was just a young girl, still full of life but also full of a growing baby. In only six short months, Hope would give birth to an “early” and active baby boy, John Odis, but they’d just called him Odis, since John was her father.
His baby photo lay right beneath her wedding photo, and as Hope sagged against her walker, she wished so desperately that her oldest son was still alive. But the men in their family always have heart problems. Odis had always been the one most dedicated to his success and had
always been the one to tell her what to do, even if it was unwanted and unappreciated. In times when she struggled either with fiscal irresponsibility or melodrama, although he didn’t always give her time, affection, or love, that son, so unlike his father, would always make sure she was set in some course of action. He would always make sure her phone and lights were paid, but he would rarely visit and never let her spend unsupervised time with his daughter. Because of her own neglect of him and his brothers, she understood why, but it still caused her emotional anguish.
The nursing home had given her space for decorations and six small boxes that Mimi had left sitting next to her walker, so she could begin packing. She couldn’t imagine letting go of any of her photos, especially those of the days before the 1960s. Her memories of those years, while some sharp and poignant, were more generally vague, as so much of the last fifty years cluttered the space in her mind. Sliding all three photos into the plastic bag hanging off of her walker, she continued her rapidly devastating trip down memory lane. The next was another baby photo, this one of her only living son. When Brian had been born, Hope had already begun suspecting Davis was unfaithful, but at that time in Alabama, accusations like that could ruin a woman. To the public eye, Hope had the perfect nuclear family. If she made allegations of infidelity, it would hurt her already fragile reputation and her parents’ strong image in the community.
Furthermore, the shame on both her and Davis’s new woman would have been too much to bear. She had hoped that having another child, especially another boy, would change the way Davis had been disappearing. Presently, at eighty-one, Hope could almost laugh at the idea of Davis Mulrooney being faithful to anybody; it just wasn’t his way. She had been his first wife, but certainly not his last. When she heard he had died, he was married to his fifth wife.
Slipping the photo into the bag, Hope looked back into the box. Her jaw dropped open in amazement; It was a photo, a little polaroid really, of what Hope had hoped would represent a fresh start for her family. She’d figured over the years it would have broken down or disintegrated. The Navy transferred Davis from Alabama to San Diego, and instead of leaving Hope and the kids at home with her parents, he moved them all to a cramped house in Hillcrest, a rapidly-expanding suburb near the base. In the picture, she was smiling, that ever-present smile
Davis expected, holding Brian in her arms while Odis looked up at his daddy from the ground. Davis’s smirk that at the time Hope had wished had just been the way he smiled, looked terrifying to her now. She could hardly remember now whether she was pregnant again before he had left her or not, since he had moved just across the street. She placed it distinctly- three years after they’d moved there, when he’d packed his bags and told her he was moving in with the gal he’d been sleeping with, their catty-corner neighbor Hope had befriended when they’d first moved in.
Hope could hardly believe her eyes when she saw the next photo, Odis and Brian sitting together with a white sheet serving as a background. This photo had been given to Hope by her parents when she’d finally returned home from her “California Experience,” as her mother had referred to it for many years. She’d been told this photo was of her children when they had first been taken into foster care. Although she hated to admit it, her institutionalization had been the end of any chance of a good or at least a healthy relationship with her children. If Odis hadn’t found the paperwork after her mother died, her children might never have known the extent of her mental struggle.
The day Odis had walked in to find her passed out with her head in the oven, had been the beginning of the end of their relationship, even though he was just five years old. She knew then he didn’t fully understand the implications of her actions, but as he grew, so did his understanding and his disdain. Hope remembered trying to cling to everything for so long, but that day, in 1961, when she’d watched Davis walk out of the house to their younger neighbor’s for the last time, she just couldn’t handle it anymore. Brian had been in his crib and Odis at school, and she thought maybe they’d be better off with Davis and that woman, likely his next wife. But Odis had hopped off the bus, seen his mother seemingly asleep on the kitchen floor with her head in the oven, and tried to wake her. But when he couldn’t, he’d run to the widow next door, Mrs. Foster. That neighbor had come to the door and knocked so loud and so long, eventually she just came inside and dragged Hope out. By the time she had regained consciousness, the police had arrived, and so had Davis.
She wasn’t particularly sure what the paperwork said. Still, within a week, she was sitting in a Navy mental hospital, later finding out her children had been placed into emergency foster care. When she discovered this, she also found
out that Davis hadn’t come forward to claim the boys, having requested a navy transfer and a divorce. Hope remembered finally reaching her parents through a telegram to the Midtown police station, where her father worked as a sergeant and a chaplain. They had come to check her out after the mandatory three months, and she was showing yet again, but her mother merely bit back a remark, shook her head, and paid for a slightly bigger train cabin for the trip back.
Hope assumed she knew what the next picture would be, and she was right. It was the baby photo of Willie her mother had insisted on, although Hope had just wanted to pretend like none of this was happening. Her parents were still trying to search the California foster care system for Odis and Brian, all the while insisting Hope get some sort of job or education. She vaguely remembered that after a year of calls and correspondence, her parents had finally been able to convince the court that they had claim to the boys and should be released into their custody.
The next few years of Hope’s life were ones she barely remembered, between the alcohol and the drugs, and she was surprised she’d only landed herself in jail for a year. She’d been trying to find a man who could be a good stepfather for her boys. By this point, or at least the way she remembered it, her children were living full-time with her parents, who had gained custody. The only reason they hadn’t adopted them sooner was because California had no idea they existed or where they were. Hope had met many men in the bars she frequented, although none of them were particularly good ones. The one who had gotten her in trouble with the law, though, was the one she honestly thought would be a good man. Stephen was from up north and had told her he moved to Cesterfield to find a quieter place. He had told her that he needed her to cash a few checks for him, saying that the people at the bank just didn’t like him. She’d done it without thinking, and apparently, and unfortunately, they were forged.
Hope remembered the Christmas when Odis was seven, Brian was six, and Willie was two. She had shown up to her parents’ house unannounced, having just been released, bearing a load of gifts for the kids: bikes, battery-operated cars, and all the sports equipment she could fit in the car. She’d known she couldn’t afford it, but she had no idea that if she purchased it all on credit, sixty days later, the companies would come to her parents’ house and take away all of the presents.
Hope knew that this had been another moment for which Odis had neither forgotten nor forgiven, mostly since she’d done it again just a year later. It hadn’t been a remotely pleasant or healthy time in her life, and Hope could admit that, even if only to herself. She was wholly unsurprised there weren’t many photos from this time.
The following picture in the box was finally one that could make her smile. It had been taken on her fourth or fifth date with Gerome. She wasn’t entirely sure which one, as they all began to run together, but these dates were a lively, bright light in her memory, even now. Her father had been offered two new jobs in a small town about an hour outside New Orleans, Louisiana, named Riverwood. Although to Hope, it didn’t seem small, and he had abruptly moved her mother and her children there. They hadn’t even planned on telling her, but in small-town 1965 Alabama, news of a beloved police officer and minister packing up and leaving traveled fast. When they’d moved, Hope had quickly followed behind, settling herself in New Orleans. Her commute to her job as a civilian computer programmer for the Navy was short, but the distance to her children was longer than she’d liked. She and Gerome had ridden the same bus for a month when he’d asked if he could sit next to her. To Hope, he was then and remained now a handsome man with a heavy New Orleans accent that seemed to wash her body with comfort and appeal every time he said her name. After another two weeks of sitting on the bus talking together, Gerome asked to buy her dinner. On that fourth or fifth date pictured, Gerome had brought his Polaroid camera, asking a waiter to snap a picture of them smiling broadly. She could never have imagined this man, who asked her on a date while riding on the bus, would become the man who’d stayed by her side through everything from taking care of grandkids to helping remind her of things forgotten.
The picture box included so many photos of her first twenty years in Louisiana, and she wasn’t surprised. During the seventies, Hope had honestly tried to do her best to work hard and become the woman she’d always wanted to be, secure in her self-worth. She had known she would never secure the approval of her parents, or Odis at this point, but Brian and Willie still hadn’t known the full extent of why they lived with their grandparents. She tried to reconnect with her family during these years, and Gerome had been her greatest champion. In 1975, Odis graduated high school, about which Hope had been fiercely
proud. She remembered being so excited about being invited, even if it wasn’t his idea. In the photo, Hope could see the smirk on his face, so much like his father’s that it almost hurt to look at, full of mockery and vitriol. But on her own, Hope saw excitement and pride. She recalled that the Hope of 1975 was so ready to see her eldest son succeed, and although she’d watched his adult life from afar, 2020 Hope was thrilled she had been correct.
As Hope sifted through the plethora of photos she’d saved since 1975, a picture of a building caught her eye. It was one of the administrative buildings at Southeastern Louisiana University, and she remembered taking it proudly. When Odis had attended there, although he’d left after a year, she had been so delighted that she enrolled as well. It was part-time, but Hope remembered wondering if maybe it could be a way to further her career. She also hoped it could be a way to reconnect with Odis. Hope had taken the photo right before she’d encountered him on campus for the first time. Odis hadn’t been thrilled about her presence and, for the next year, had disregarded and rebuked her at every turn. After he’d completed his first year, he had received a scholarship to his dream school, the University of Alabama, and she remembered feeling permanently left behind. But then Brian had graduated high school and come to Southeastern as well, and although her connection with Odis was severed, hers with Brian began to grow.
He seemingly needed her for the first time because his loans didn’t cover everything, and Hope was so excited she’d entrusted him with the money with no expectation for repayment. She remembered doing so time and time again as he’d continued through college and graduate school. His education had lasted for twenty years, and he had lived off his student loans quite a bit. She was immensely proud to have had a hand in his education, and when Hope realized she had to stop taking classes to pay for his, she did so without a thought.
These next photos were quite a jump in time, but not that much since Willie had married at eighteen because of his wife’s pregnancy. Hope smiled fondly at the photos of her grandchild, Tina, right after she was born. She was Willie’s f irst child and Hope’s first grandchild, and she was thrilled Willie had proposed she move in for a short time. She looked at the stack of photos rubber-banded together with affection; they were photos she had taken of Tina over the first few years of her life. As Hope began to flip through them, she looked at the back of one with a tiny
mousy-looking Tina holding her arms up in the air towards Hope. On it was written, “Her first time calling me Gome,” and Hope giggled to herself. Sometimes she forgot why all of her grandchildren and great-grandchildren called her Gome.
But as she looked at the picture of Tina, now almost forty with adult children of her own, she remembered so vividly when Willie had laughed at Tina saying, “Go me” while asking Hope if she could go home with her. This was after Hope had moved out of Willie and his wife’s home, and he had sarcastically said maybe Tina should just call her that. It was a fleeting memory that Hope cherished. Her youngest son, her baby boy, the only one who never held any contempt for her, had died in 2005, just a few months after Hurricane Katrina. It had devastated her, and what had hurt the worst is that Tina, although sad, was comfortable with a child of her own and a stepfather she loved more than her actual one.
As she continued digging through the box, Hope was surprised to see Odis’s wedding photos. Although he and his wife, Lynn, had gotten married in an out-of-state wedding to which she wasn’t invited, they’d had a reception after returning home. Hope had been thrilled to be invited and even offered to buy their cake. She’d convinced her mother-in-law to come with her as well. Hope and Imelda had run into each other when she visited Brian and his wife, Alice, who had recently moved to Alabama. She was so surprised Imelda had been kind to her after all those years; it’d been virtually twenty-five years since Hope had last seen her, and she had been thrilled when Imelda had wanted to come down to New Orleans to see her grandson. In the pictures, Odis looked so happy, and Hope knew that even though his marriage hadn’t always been the easiest, Lynn had been one of the most influential people in his life, besides his daughter once she’d been born, and had been the best influence on him.
As Hope reached closer to the bottom of the box, she moved slowly to her storage unit entrance, looked up at the sky, and was shocked to see it was getting dark. Mimi would likely be back soon since she had to leave for the day around six. Hope hadn’t managed to get anything packed, but there were only a few pictures left in the box, so she figured she might as well finish this today. She pulled the last photo out of the box and smiled fondly. It was the one photograph she had of herself with all of her grandchildren and great-grandchildren, Tina, Willie’s daughter, her children Sage and Madison, Michael and Kassie,
Brian’s children; and Abigail, Odis’s daughter. Although she loved the photograph, she had to remind herself it had been taken at a negative point in time for everyone pictured. Odis had just died, leaving his wife and thirteen-year-old daughter as well as the rest of his dysfunctional family in shock. When Hope had shown up at the funeral, she was greeted by a granddaughter she barely knew and a daughter-in-law uninterested in encouraging that relationship. She understood Lynn’s apprehension, since she knew Odis hadn’t always spoken tenderly of her. But Hope remembered hugging her granddaughter, her little Angel Eyes, so-called because of her crystal blue eyes from the very first time they opened, and wishing the hug had held even an ounce of the affection she’d hoped it would. Her granddaughter had hugged her back, of course, but let go quickly before running off to find someone she knew better. Hope frowned to herself. Although this picture was marvelous, it also reminded her of how few genuine relationships she had left with her family.
Hope slowly walked herself back into her unit and sat rifling through the box of both broken memories and photos she held dear. She pulled out a small stack of photos rubber-banded together. As she flipped through them, she was bewildered as she recognized so few of them. As she looked at the handwriting on the back, she saw it was her own, although so shaky that she barely recognized it. As she read the notes and dates on the end, she concluded they were taken at the nursing home where she had stayed, and Tina worked after her brain injury. Hope didn’t remember much from this time, or even really how she’d injured herself. She only remembered arguing with her roommate, Theresa, a younger lady she’d met through her post-retirement job at the airport who’d she’d known was volatile but never violent, and then Hope found herself in the hospital. She’d been told that she had tripped and fallen in the living room where she’d hit her head on a large trunk of Theresa’s. It seemed odd that she’d fallen suddenly, and looking back, she realized that once again, she’d found herself in a relationship with more give than take. Theresa had been untrustworthy from the start but the only person willing to move in with Hope, in her partially-retired state.
When she woke up, her whole family surrounded her. Although she’d seen them six months prior at Odis’s service, it felt like a lifetime. Hope smiled down at the pictures of some of her grandkids sitting around her hospital bed.
As Hope recollected it, this was when Brian and Lynn both became her powers of attorney. At the time, she hadn’t been sure what that meant, but Lynn said that both she and Brian would have them so Lynn would be able to help make decisions too. At the time, Hope knew Lynn would assist Brian in making the right decisions because she worked in some kind of law, although Hope had no idea what kind, and because Lynn would do what she knew Odis would have done. But as Hope reached the last photo in this pile, she saw it was from when she’d moved from the nursing home to her trailer. Lynn and Tina had tried convincing her not to go, but Brian was just so sure it was the best decision for her that he had practically made it himself.
This was also when Lynn had given up her power of attorney, leaving Brian as the person in charge of her money and her future. Lynn had told her that if she was going to live out in the country near Brian, she was giving control over to him entirely. Hope wasn’t sure exactly where all her money went, but she entrusted her only remaining child to do what he thought was best for her because he loved her. She had been telling herself this for the last four years. But since she’d made the recent decision to finally move back to a nursing home, Brian had been pressing about money issues. To Hope, it seemed like he was nervous. She had asked him if he wanted any of her things, but she was reasonably sure he wouldn’t want any of them unless they were worth something more than mere sentimental value. The box of photographs of Hope’s life sat empty on the floor of the seemingly small storage unit which housed the majority of her possessions. At eighty-one, the small hunched-over woman resting on the seat of her Rollator, had spent the day recalling the life she had lived. It hadn’t been effortless, but as she looked at the plastic bag stuffed full of photos, Hope thought half hopelessly to herself, “Has this been what all my life has led to?” She looked around at her surroundings and just outside the storage unit where she could see down the rows of trailers, just spotting Brian’s trailer, fading with age and leaning towards the left. Hope knew if she looked a little further, she could see her own. It was the most insignificant place she had ever lived, including the rooms she’d shared at prior nursing homes. She remembered when she first moved in, Alice and Brian hadn’t even attempted to clean it, and Hope was just thankful Lynn and Tina
had come to visit and made it feel like a home.
As she looked at the photographs telling the story of her life, Hope wished she could have a conversation with her mother, Odis, or even her great aunt Ruby. All of these people whom she’d loved dearly and relied on had died, leaving Hope sitting alone in a storage unit. As she let her mind wander to what her life was and what it could have been, she heard the noise of a loud truck engine outside. Hope pushed herself off the seat of her Rollator and once again gradually moved herself outside. When she looked up, she was surprised to see Brian sitting in the front seat. He climbed out, his considerable size meaning that it took him longer than it might have taken someone else.
“Mom, Michael told me that you were comin’ down here, so I figured I’d come see what you got done.” Brian ambled over towards Hope and then passed by her to look inside the unit, not stopping to even glance at his elderly mother and the photographs she held in her hand. Hope wheeled closer to him and rested a hand against his arm.
“I only really went through some photos; I’m hoping you’ll be able to maybe get them laminated or something so I can hang them up in my new room. I thought maybe Kassie could come down and help me since Mimi’s last day is tomorrow?”
“Mom, didn’t I tell you, Alice moved out, told me that if I couldn’t stop… well, doing something she didn’t like, she was leavin’. And she did, took Kassie and the car and just left. It’s why I had to go buy that truck out there. Me and Michael needed something to drive.”
Hope looked at her middle son astonished, her eyes glistening with tears. “When did this even happen? I know we haven’t talked much about anything but my move for a while, but why didn’t you tell me?”
Brian shook his head and sighed, “Mom, I don’t tell you a lot of things, and this was just one of them. I’ll see if Michael can help you, but really, just one box of photos?”
“Brian, I think we have to talk before I move, maybe tonight over dinner?”
“About what? Michael has something for school tonight, so he’ll need the truck.”
Hope bit her lip and looked up at her son. “At your trailer then. I’ll walk down, or at least I’ll try.”
“Sure, Mom, I’ll order some pizza or something. But what’s so important that we have to talk?”
“I want to talk about my life, maybe show you some pictures.”
Day of the Dead (2), photography by Cameron Gordon
Haunted by You
Trafir stumbled out of bed, her hair knotted and messy, and her eyes red and puffy. It had been another attempt of falling asleep gone wrong; her mind flooded with endless memories, and above all, the never-ending heartache and grief. Lightning crackled outside her tall bedroom window as rain poured down against the shingles of the house. She wiped her wet face in the darkness of her room, sniffling a little as she wondered why she had been given this long, lonely life. With heavy, shuffled footsteps, she took a seat near her bookshelf, sitting on the window ledge as she carefully took a book from one of the shelves. She didn’t need a light to know where to grasp, as her fingers had become all too accustomed to reaching for the tome.
She opened the book, running her fingers across the worn pages, which were full of aged photographs, probably over hundreds of years old. The only thing that seemed to keep them held together was the grief of Trafir’s heart. She smiled as she caressed one of the photos, which showed her next to a curly dark-haired woman, the two of them smiling while eating toast together.
She turned the worn page again, to see another photo of the same curly-haired woman from before, only now wearing a white and gold dress, flowers tousled throughout her hair. She was holding a bouquet, and her expression seemed both nervous and excited all at once. Trafir’s hand covered her mouth as she choked on her own sobs, a few tears cascading down her face and staining the yellowish pages of the photo album.
With shaking hands, she set the book down on her lap and opened a box of matches, grabbing a particularly well-used scented candle as she struck the match on the side of the box. Watching it catch aflame, she couldn’t hold back the tears as she lit the candle, the smell inflaming her nostrils with memories and feelings she had tried so hard to forget after all of this time. Lightning struck again, followed with the clap of thunder that muted her sobbing, her hands covering her face as she blamed herself for so many things.
Memories filled her head of the same woman; her hair rustling in the wind as she laughed with crinkled eyes. The look she would give when she didn’t get her way, her bottom lip pouting outwards. The way she constantly worried if she had too many white hairs showing. The warm caress of her palm against Trafir’s cheek. All of it. Seemingly gone in an instant. It had been so long, and yet nothing had changed.
Her hands trembled as she reached for a pen and opened the photo album to the last page, which showed the curly-haired woman -- now much older -- sleeping peacefully amongst flowers forever. Trafir’s body racked with sobs as she began writing down everything. The way her hand felt. They way her eyes shined. How her hair smelled when it flew in her face on accident. How her laugh sounded when you told her a bad joke. And how she wished she could’ve gotten there sooner when the doctor called. How she wished she could’ve held her hand one last time. Hear her weak words one last time. Just see her one last time.
The candle’s flame flickered as the pen fell from her shaky hands and clattered onto the old wooden floorboards of her home, the album and letter descending after it, falling to the floor as photos spilled everywhere beneath her feet, only reminding her of how much she wished she could turn back time and wake up on that old ship all over again.
Rain poured down, striking the window every now and then as thunder clapped again, shaking the home with its violent racket.
Her head fell into her hands as her soul ached with loss and loneliness. Slowly, she leaned back, wanting to rest for a second, until he eventually laid down, her back hitting the rocks and mud of her yard, beads of water dampening her skin just as her tears had. It was cool, refreshing even, and for once she felt like she could actually sleep. Her eyes closed as the tears ceased, and she even gave a weak smile as she felt herself fall into a deep sleep. She heard a shout for help in the distance, but it wouldn’t matter now. Even the open hatch on her window didn’t bother her anymore, it didn’t matter now as she drew her last breath.
She woke up to a familiar woman in her bedroom, who upon seeing her embraced her tightly, crying into her shoulder despite her smiling face. Trafir finally felt at peace as she hugged the woman tightly back, running a hand through her hair, caressing her face -- doing everything she wished she had done all those years ago. But it didn’t matter now as she took the woman’s hands in her own, for now they had all the time in the world. She kissed the woman gently, a small tear cascading down her face as the woman held her tightly, whispering how much she loved her and giving a weak laugh. “Welcome back, my dear.”
Taking the woman’s hand in her own, she let her take her wherever she wanted, eager to live out another eternity with her love beside her. This had been all she had ever wanted in life. For the first time in centuries, she smiled. A genuine, happy smile. Another day with her, after a century of pain without so much as a goodbye.
HE CUTS HER OPEN
she lies chained to the kitchen table
screams muffled by a slammed fist;
clumps of blood, flesh, placenta drip down
from her navel onto His calloused fingertips.
the guilty party’s red hand flashes her
back to that September night,
a hangover awoken to gunshots firing
into her center, past bruised thighs,
frozen muscles. the grip of His hands squeezing her neck
lingers on, three weeks later in the bathroom stall;
two thin blue lines grow inside her,
blooming ovaries poisoned by white weed killer.
in October she speaks to Him looking
for the boy friend she danced with to Billy Joel in midnight refrigerator light
drunk in a blue button down and levis
rose red cheeks under stubble;
but finds a man stroking His gun, holding a butcher knife
against her womb.
in the morning
Woke up early
with a hungry lump sitting in my stomach.
Made me feel sick and uneasy.
So I got out of bed
still in my pajamas
a shirt and sweatpants.
Put on my shoes for some breakfast.
got some iced coffee
and a breakfast sandwich.
Nothing more than a slab of meat and egg
covered in cheese.
Went back to my room
ate it all rather quickly
just to get the taste over with.
Like I do with so many things.
Now I’m back to where I started
Sick and uneasy.
what you make of it
A teenage girl picked out a coat from the Sears clearance aisle. Made up of a tough, caramel-brown wool, it stretched down to her knees and looked very fashionable with the lapels and brown ivory buttons. It fit her surprisingly well; when she brought her hands down, they found two pockets with ease. They were deep pockets, too.
She took it off and brought it to her mom, who looked it over and approved it. The coat went home with her.
She definitely got her money’s worth. She wore it all the time, it was so fashionable. She even wore it during sweater-in-the-morning, sweat-by-lunch season, and it earned her the nickname of coat-girl.
One morning she was wearing it on the bus to school, and, as she was stepping off, she carelessly brought her right arm down from the handrail and dragged it down the side of it. Suspecting nothing, she began walking towards the entrance of the school, but the teenagers around her started giggling and whispering to each other as if they were in elementary school again. Feeling self-conscious, she crossed her arms and looked down to avoid their gazes, only to catch a glimpse of her arm. A huge, black oil stain had appeared on the right cuff of her coat. She nearly fainted from embarrassment. Immediately, she took it off and stuffed it inside her bag, but it was too late. Word got out that coat-girl had gotten an oil stain on it, of all things. The pity! Such a coat didn’t deserve that impetulant of an owner.
When she got out of school, she knew that she couldn’t ever be seen with the coat again, knowing that the teenagers would make fun of her every day. She had to get rid of it without her mom suspecting, but how would she go about doing so?
She most definitely was not the type to just throw it away, she couldn’t bring herself to just throw it in a dumpster. The best idea she could think of was to donate it to the thrift store and tell her mom she lost it.
And she did. Her mom was extremely upset with her for losing it, but it was worth it. The teasing from the teenagers only lasted a week before everything returned to how it was before the coat. Slowly, the nickname coat-girl was phased out and they began using her real name once again.
A few weeks later, a man walked into the thrift store. He noticed the coat as he was shuffling through the racks. It was a women’s coat, but that didn’t bother him; nobody cared much about that. The only other thing was an oil stain on the right cuff, and that didn’t bother him either. It was a great deal, priced at a dollar, especially since the man was half broke. Why else would he be at the thrift store?
The coat was the only thing he bought, and he left the store with it on.
Now, he was quite fond of collecting shopping bags and knotting them together to make blankets that he would sell to people. Environmentalists were especially interested in them it seemed, as they would buy him out whenever they saw him.
He made his rounds collecting bags at the grocery and Wal-mart. By the end of the day, he learned to walk with his arm turned slightly inward and tucked close to his body, so people wouldn’t see the stain. It was just, you know, he didn’t want people to get the wrong impression of him if they did happen to notice him.
He tossed a coin he’d found in his pocket and started to make his way to his apartment. A block before he got there, a woman with a camera stopped him and asked him whether or not he’d like to sell the idea of his plastic bag blankets to her company for a small sum of money and stock. The man seemed very interested, but he took it with a grain of salt. Why would someone approach him this way seriously?
The woman was serious. When asked how much money she was willing to spare, she replied with a number followed by very many zeroes. Small sum, indeed— more like a small fortune.
The man thought it over, absentmindedly thumbing the coin he’d found earlier. In the end, he accepted the offer. How could he not? This was his chance to change the world for the better.
Immediately, the woman with the camera opened her briefcase, which was filled with hundred dollar bills, gave it to him, had him sign a contract, and was off on her way.
Years later, the man was very rich, and his plastic bag blankets had spread throughout the entire world, and the man was one of the CEOs. Despite all of this, the man never forgot that he was once poor. He still wore the same coat that he got from the thrift store every day, holding his right arm awkwardly askew.
Of course he was questioned about it, and his reply was always the same; “I wear it because it reminds me of my roots— where I started. As long as I never forget what I once was, I’ll never change.”
One day, he got very sick, and as he lay on his deathbed, he still wore his coat. His death day came, and they took his clothes off to dress the body for burial. As per his last will and testament, all his possessions were donated to his local thrift store, and the coat went back to its original place.
Years more later, the coat had acquired a whole new layer of dust. A new man discovered it on the rack sitting there, a cloud of dust puffing off of it. It had been marked down several times and was now on sale for a dollar.
A great deal, the man thought to himself as he shook the coat free of the dust. He didn’t even care that it was a women’s coat or about the oil stain on the cuff. It was a quarter, man; it was a great deal. He walked out of the thrift store with the coat on.
Uptown Sky, photography by Lia Appelman
Now, this man was entirely different from the coat’s previous owners. He had no cares for the feelings of others. He had morals, but for his own good. He was a gambler, a risk-taker, and not quite a criminal; he had no need to steal because he’d inherited his father’s fortune. And that was on the verge of changing, as he had dried it up considerably using it on lottery tickets, booze, and fast-food, and was starting to run low on money.
Speaking of lottery tickets, it was time for the man to go buy some at the local gas station. Hiking up his ripped jeans, he pulled out a tri-fold camouflage wallet from his back pocket and opened it. He counted every single bill in it, a pastime that he enjoyed thoroughly. Even though he didn’t have a lot of it, touching money gave him a sense of authority. That, and he liked to make sure that they were aligned properly so their creases would be the same.
When he arrived at the gas station, he grabbed his three powerball tickets and cut in front of everyone in line as usual, and, usually no one said a word, but this time a woman stepped back in front of him gesturing to the back of the line. Was she really trying to teach him manners? Didn’t she know that he only did things for the benefit of himself? He made his way back to the front, only to be gently pushed back again.
“May I serve the next guest in line please?” The cashier’s voice rang out.
He shoved the woman and walked up in front of everyone for a final time as everyone else stared. Did he care what they thought? Certainly not.
From the ground, the woman stared at the back of the man’s ripped jeans as he pulled the camouflage wallet out of his back pocket. He was most certainly not the friendly type.
Outside the gas station, the man scratched the numbers off one-by-one; he could not believe his luck. He had the million dollar winning ticket. Before long, he was having his picture taken with one of those huge checks.
You would think that after acquiring such a huge amount of money twice, he would learn how to spend it properly, but you would be wrong. The first thing he did was make a run to buy himself some fancy new clothes and jewelry. As soon as he got outside the store, he tossed his old clothes out in the dumpster behind the store. He couldn’t associate himself with filth anymore, so why hang onto them?
The coat laid there in the dumpster, soaking up garbage juices all week until the trash men came to clear it out. As usual, they checked it out just to make sure there wasn’t anything overly expensive they threw out. They never even considered the brown coat squished in the side, oil stain visibly showing, covered in garbage juice. Appalled by the smell of it all, the trash men quickly shut the lid and went on with their job.
It took the man less than a month to spend his new fortune on a luxurious penthouse, a new Cadillac, and, of course, all the exotic food and scotch he could handle. When he started running low again, he resorted to his old tactic of buying lottery tickets, expecting to have the same luck. After all, if he should win it once, it was most certainly possible to win it again.
But he should have known better. Little by little, he was reduced to the bare minimum. It started with the exotic food and scotch, then moved on to takeout and whiskey, and finally fast-food and beer. Soon he was left with ten bucks to his name. Everything he had bought was gone, sold to make money in hopes of winning the lottery again. He finally faced the fact that maybe he wasn’t going to win again.
With some of his remaining money, he bought a single lottery ticket and scratched it, only to be disappointed once again. He had eight dollars left.
He walked down the street to the Burger King and ordered a Whopper with fries and a drink. When he got his food, he sat down and ate it in silence, eating every last bit. He finished, got back up, and walked to the park.
Sitting down on a bench, he pulled out his camouflage wallet to count his money, an old habit of his, only to find a single dollar bill with a solid crease down the center. He closed his wallet and held the bill up in the air, staring at it. For the first time, with the wind blowing around him and the trees rustling and people chattering, the man finally felt connected to the world with this single, crisp bill. He finally felt the realization of everything that could be enjoyed, and realized he had abused it. Abused it and thrown it away. He wanted to be rid of it all, rid of the guilt. And the last evidence he had of this past was this bill.
He closed his eyes and let it slip from his fingers. A sharp rustle of wind picked it up off the ground and it took it away, so that when the man opened his eyes, he couldn’t spot it. A ghost of a smile flickered across his face. He was glad it was gone.
Later, somewhere in the park, a dollar fluttered in a bush, trapped in its leaves but wanting to escape in the wind. A small child giggled from excitement and snatched it out, running to buy an ice cream.
After all, money is money.
Day of the Dead, photography by Cameron Gordon
the little demon boy
There once lived a little demon named Tobias. He wasn’t like most demons. For one he didn’t have sharp teeth and a scary face. He had white perfectly placed squared teeth and his face was covered with smooth brown skin. The only way you could tell he was a demon was from the two-pointed horns on his head, his scarlet red eyes, and the little black wings between his shoulder blades. All the other demons picked on him and never accepted him as their own kind.
One day while Tobias wept under a willow tree, a bigger demon flew over and sat on the branch above him.
Tobias sniffed and wiped his tear streaked face. “Leave me alone."
The big demon smiled down at him mockingly. “Poor little Tobias, do you really want to be one of us?”
Tobias nodded and a feral smile covered the demon’s face. “There’s only one thing you have to do.”
Tobias perked up and his body filled with hope.
The demon pointed his ugly, rotting finger towards a person sitting under a tree. “You see her? If you can kill her, the other foolish demons will see you have no connections with those damned humans.”
Fear wrapped around Tobias and hugged him tightly, but he only nodded and slowly opened his small wings. He hesitantly lifted himself into the air.
The girl sat peaceful under the oak tree humming a soothing tune. She drew a picture so intently; she didn’t notice Tobias drop down in front of her. He palmed a small dagger and raised it above his head. As he started to run forwards, the girl took a deep breath and sneezed. It was so loud; Tobias was frightened and fell to the ground with a yelp.
The girl sniffed and wiped her nose, fixing her crooked glasses. She looked up from her book and her mouth formed a toothy grin. “Well aren’t you a strange kid.”
He quickly hid the dagger in his pocket before she could see it. Standing up, he stuttered out a response. “I... I wanted to see what you were doing.”
The girl grabbed his arm and yanked him against her. He fell beside her and watched as she talked happily about her drawing. Her bronze skin shined under the summer sun, her eyes were like pools of caramel, and her curly hair flew in every which way, but still looked perfect. The thing he liked the most, was the fact that she smelled like warm cookies.
He was so focused on smelling her, that he didn’t notice her staring at him. “Your eyes are so pretty.”
He quickly covered his face and tried to scramble away. But she held his arm with amazing strength. Let me draw you please.”
He looked at her through his fingers. Her eyes were filled with so much passion and excitement, he felt like it would be a crime to say no. So, he nodded and before he had a chance to do anything else, she looked at her watch and jumped up. “Meet me here.”
She raced off and Tobias watched her in confusion. Suddenly there was an energy filled with extreme malice behind him. He was hit in the back and he hissed in pain, warm liquid slid down his back. He fell to the ground and the big demon looked down at him.
He seethed with anger. “You are a disgrace to our kind. You will never be one of us.”
He kicked dirt in Tobias’s face and flew away.
Tobias cried. Being shunned by his kind once again, hurt more than it did the first time. He flew back under the willow tree and that’s where he stayed and healed.
When he woke up, he was surrounded by rotting fruit. He grimaced at the smell and f lew into the sky. Under the oak tree, the girl looked around anxiously. Tobias dropped down to the ground and slowly walked towards her.
Her face lit up when she caught sight of him, and she wiggled against the tree. “I didn’t think you would show up.”
Her genuine joy to see him, made Tobias feel less forlorn. He sat down and sighed. “Let’s get this done with.”
The girl flipped open her book and stared at him. He peered back, but soon the stare started to make him fidget. She nodded and her hand started to fly over the page. Tobias couldn’t see what she was doing, but he didn’t dare move. After a few hours, her hands suddenly stopped, and she looked at the book carefully. Tobias stood up and leaned over the book. The girl’s forehead sweated, and she took deep, long breaths.
Looking at her watch, she quickly closed the book and stood. “Gotta go.”
Tobias was so dumbfounded; he didn’t know what to say before she left. The next day she didn’t show up. He looked around, then stood under the oak tree, but she never came. A whole week he watched from the willow tree and yet he never spotted her. The next week she slowly walked to the oak tree and eased to the ground.
Her arms were thinner, and her face looked pale, but her happy smile was ever present. Tobias had washed in the river and stole some clean clothes, just in case she showed up and he was very proud of himself. He waved at her and walked over. She shivered against the tree, even though the summer air was warm.
She looked up at him and opened her book. “Hi...um I actually don’t know your name.”
Tobias sat down in front of her and tilted his head. “It’s Tobias, yours is?”
She got her pencils out and laughed. “I like that name, mine’s is Iyla. Okay sit down so we can start.”
Tobias raised his eyebrow. “I thought we were done.”
Iyla shook her head and chewed on the end of the pencil, looking at her drawing. “Nope, it’s missing something important.”
She looked between the book and Tobias, adding details.
This went on for months. Summer turned to fall, then winter turned to spring. As he grew older, Iyla grew weaker. Sometimes she would be away for weeks and then come back looking skinnier than before. She would cough so hard; her whole body would shake like a rattle. Despite that, he came to adore her. He didn’t feel lonely when she was around, and she always looked happy to see him. Iyla also never questioned him about anything. He kept his wings hidden, but she never asked about the sharp horns perched on his head.
One day while she was shading something in the book, Iyla hiccuped and scrunched up her face.
One day while she was shading something in the book, Iyla hiccuped and scrunched up her face.
She hiccuped again and Tobias lost it. He laughed so hard he doubled over and his stomach started to ache.
Iyla gasped and jumped up, lifting the book above her head. “I see what was missing!’
Tobias wiped the tears from the corner of his eyes, and he looked at her confused. He hadn’t seen the drawing since she started, and he was curious on how it came out. Iyla swayed to the side and put her hand on the tree to balance herself.
Iyla’s watch started to beat rapidly. “Oh, I’m out of time.”
Her breaths started to get heavier and she gripped her neck. Tobias jumped up and caught her as she fell back. “Hospital.” was all she could gargle out.
Sliding his arms under her thin legs, he flew up and then dashed towards the nearest hospital. Her skin started to turn purple and her chest lifted and dropped like a jackhammer. Tobias’s fear caused him to speed up.
When they finally reached the hospital, he laid her gently beside the entrance and banged on the door hard. “Help, Help!”
When he saw some nurses rush towards him, he flew up and watched as they pulled her inside. Hours flew by and he was getting more and more anxious as each passed. He flew around the building, looking into open windows, trying to f ind her. Tobias almost gave up, then he saw her. Her hair was plastered to the pillow with sweat and her once bronze skin was a dull grey. He stepped on to the windowsill and quietly stepped inside.
The monitor beeped slowly, and her forehead was slick with sweat. Tobias lightly grabbed her small hand and watched her frail body. Out the corner of his eye, he noticed her black drawing book sitting on the table; Iyla never let it go.
He felt a slight pressure around his hand, then her caramel eyes slowly opened. Iyla looked around the room and chuckled morbidly. She yanked the oxygen mask off her face and tossed it at her feet. “Looks like you’ve found out my secret.”
Tobias gripped her hand tighter.
She grunted and sat up. “I won’t be alive much longer.”
It took a second for her words to hit him. “You what!?”
Iyla patted his head. “The doctors don’t know what’s wrong with me. They’ve done test after test and still can’t figure out why I’m gonna die, but we do know, todays the day.”
Tobias shook his hand quickly. “You can’t, why do you have to go?”
Iyla glared at him and f licked his forehead. “You’re not a child anymore! People leave, it’s a part of life.”
He looked at her shocked.
“You don’t need other people to live and I’m not leaving you by choice. You think I want to die?!”
She started to cough and it sounded worse than before. Iyla gripped the blanket and Tobias gave her some tissues. She pressed it against her mouth until the coughing ceased. When she pulled it away, her blood covered the inside.
She shook her head in disgust and laid back down. “Yuck.”
Tobias glanced at the book again and Iyla smiled. “I guess I should show you now.”
Iyla flipped through the pages until she found the one she had been working on for months. She sighed and laid it against her chest and looked up at the ceiling. “This is perfect.”
She slowly turned the book towards him and he was amazed.
A neat portrait of him sat in the middle of the page, but I didn’t look like him at all. His round face was precisely drawn and lightly shaded brown. His black hair fell in waves over his beautiful scarlet eyes, which were no longer filled with sadness but so much joy.
His mouth had been redone so many times but the end result was a carefree, happy smile that covered his face and made him seem brighter. Behind him , splattered around the page was black, yellow, white, blue, and scarlet red. Each color emitted their own feeling..
The thing that surprised him the most, was the foreboding, yet beautiful black wings spread out through the colors. He looked at her wide-eyed and she smiled happily. “I was young not dumb.”
Iyla closed her eyes and took a deep breath, blowing it out shakily. “I make it a point not to draw sad little demons.”
Unshed tears lined his eyes and he pushed the book back towards her.
Iyla shook her head lightly. “Keep it, please.”
The heart monitor started to beep with warning and she grabbed his hand, trembling with fear. “You are no longer alone Tobias, you will always be my friend.”
Iyla lifted up and planted a soft, delicate kiss between his eyebrows. “Be happy for me okay.”
She laid back on the bed and took one last deep breath. A white line danced across the monitor. His heart swelled, then cracked open. He heard footsteps rushing towards him. He slid his hand from her slowly fading warm grip and dashed through the window.
He cried with grief equivalent to a thousand mourners. His eyes were filled with so much tears, he didn’t notice the oak tree appearing in front of his face.
Tobias slammed into it and fell to the ground with a yelp. The book landed open on his face and he stared back at a tombstone. He sat up and ran his fingers over the carved in drawing.
“Here lies, Iyla Divine, the girl who met a little demon boy.”
Still Ist Die Nacht
So seldom is it rage and anger
that brings the dark stillness
There is often passion in rage
Rage can be pure; liberating even
A white-hot fury to cleanse impurities
Certainly this is preferable
to that cold, gnawing hush
How rarely does grief alone
drive a soul to that bitter edge
Grief burns like scalding brine to the brain
But often it brings purposeful pain
Pain is the forgemaster, the smith
Pain is the fiery crucible
Pain and suffering temper the human will
Into a far greater person than ever without
Silent, then, is the dark and emotionless night
It produces no true grief, therefore no true art
It does nothing save degrade the psyche
In our aversion to suffering, we have forgotten
Pain is motion, pain is art
Still, then, is that dead and soulless night
As we bruise, as we bleed, as we burn, we create.
the man who could grow new faces
There was once a man who, whenever he did anything wrong, cut off his face.
When he was twenty-five years old, he worked in a business, some corporation just like all the others. Every day he donned a suit and tie as an attempt to conform and blend with his many bland co-workers. This costume transformed him into a mundane middle-class working man, not the man who had the haunting burden of growing new faces.
As he entered the front doors of the building one day, the sounds of printers, faxes, and other miscellaneous beeps overwhelmed him. Walking through the herd of cubicles, he wondered what mistake he would make this time, yet he found comfort in the fact that it seemed nearly impossible to mess up, as he had done many other times, in such a simple setting.
Trying to go unnoticed, he crept up the stairs, and once he made it to the top, a cool breeze from the open office window forced goosebumps to rise on his body. He accidentally ran into his boss, a woman that he had always found rather dignified. She had an indecipherable quality that reminded him of his mother before she completed suicide when he was a child. Other people deducted that she was demanding and pretentious from the way the bones in her neck stood perfectly straight atop one another, yet the man found her admirable. He knew that he could never demand respect from people because he felt as though he just simply didn’t deserve it.
“Good morning,” she said and grinned at him. He smiled. This duo had always harvested a healthy relationship centered on mutual respect. He never understood why people viewed her so negatively. Many of the men, but sometimes even the women, who sounded as if they had been trained to give this reaction, would whisper to one another, “Why is she being such a bitch today?” and, like a call-and-response, another would answer, “Oh well, you can’t control that time of the month.” And then they would laugh.
The man usually heard these inconsiderate and mocking phrases while on his way to the bathroom, which was a proper destination, for after he heard these things, he felt notably nauseous. He had a good heart. Every day he ignored them, he felt a piece of his heart crack like an egg would if it were dropped; he felt his own heart-yolk drip and drip and drip out of his body until he felt so guilty that, one day, he finally stopped walking.
“That’s really offensive,” he said gently. His eyes darted about like alienated gnats.
The group of men and women released one cacophonous laugh, then one of the men wound his arm back and slingshotted it at the man’s face. His nose dripped bloody-drop by bloody-drop, and he remembered the metallic smell that barged into his nostrils whenever he’d cut off his face.
He picked himself up and walked slowly, for the scent of blood made him light-headed, towards the man who had hit him. As a way of claiming a truce and as an apology for upsetting this man, he tried to create a peace treaty: a hug. His attempt to hug the man failed, and every step he took forward, the man took back. A moment before he could hug the man and apologize for the upset he had caused, the man fell backwards out the open window. It’s hard to write this.
Pedestrians on the sidewalk lowered their heads, and the congregation ran away from the man who could grow new faces. He felt a tingling in his fingertips and dryness in his throat, and he wished he would have been the one down below on the sidewalk, legs bent at right angles, jaw broken, and blood rushing out of his ears. Instead, he grabbed the knife that was always kept in his pockets in case he made mistakes, and he took it securely in his hands and soon began dripping blood like a waterfall. I wish I could tell him to stop.
After he cut off his face, he grew the face of a child.
His walk on the playground was tarnished by his constant worrying. Fear hung above him like a knife dangling from a thin rope and he was aware of the hyper-fragility of that rope - in fact, he believed it should be called a string.
Play-sets and plastic riding-horses tempted him, yet the man was so frightened to enjoy them. If he were to hurt someone, as he assumed he would, he’d have to add yet another face to add onto his kabob of depleted faces.
A boy at the playground grinned up at him. “Do you want to play a game with me?”
The man did not know how to react, or he was never asked this question when he was younger. He spent his time playing card games with his mother, trying to block out the distant voices of distant children. And after he lost his mother, he was left completely alone and wished to be someone – anyone else – who was not.
He hesitated, not quite trusting himself to be careful enough to play a game. Shyly, he asked, “What kind of game?”
When he scratched his arm, his nails did not draw blood, but they did leave white marks. “Okay, I’ll play.”
Half an hour passed, and they were both still running around, tapping each other, then quickly sprint away. The man noticed how the game of tag was quite a contradiction; in the moments where the boy would run away, he felt lonely - or normal because this was how he felt most of the time - but he knew tag was a team sport. He was playing with someone, and he was grateful for this face.
Excitement beat him until he forgot his own strength, and his tap accidentally intensified into a shove that caused the boy to collapse onto the ground. He did not mean it. Once the boy collided with the ground, he started crying and grabbed his knee. The man looked around for the boy’s parents, assuming that the child couldn’t have been there by himself. He saw no one. He knew he had to try to take care of the child’s bleeding knee. Miniature red beads seeped through the broken seam of skin, and the man was reminded of what blood looked like, the red swirl of catastrophe as if everyone had started skinning themselves, adding to the man’s blood-river.
Panicking, the man quickly turned his head to get a panorama view of the playground; what could he use to stop the bleeding? As he looked to his right, an idea formed, and he knew he had to act quickly; he could not let this little boy bleed out like the man who had punched him. Perhaps he could make up for his wrongdoing. It was his accident.
“It’s okay. It’s okay. Let me help you. Calm down, and don’t look.”
The tourniquet was fresh and new and soon to be wrapped around the boy’s leg. The man watched his shaking hands carefully, frightened that he would not tie it tight enough, so frightened, in fact, that he re-tied it twice. He tried so hard to help. The little boy cried even more and began complaining about how he couldn’t feel his leg anymore, so the man looked and gasped when he noticed the inhumane color.
Screams echoed off the playsets as the mother of the child collapsed next to him. “What did you do?” she screamed in between gasps of air. He wondered if his own mother felt this grief every time she watched him cut off his face from the clouds.
The tires of the ambulance shrieked, the sirens sobbed. The last thing the man saw before cutting off his face was a paramedic untying the tourniquet, which was stained with one dot of blood, and preparing to amputate the little boy’s leg.
After he cut off his face, he grew the face of a doctor.
He was now wearing all-white scrubs, as pristine as could be. He’d never spent a day in medical school, so he found it ill-fitting to be a doctor. But he knew how messy and painful it was to cut off his face; therefore he decided he would try to learn the technicalities of medicine and nursing. He wanted to help.
His curious hands and eyes snooped around the room, reading through patient files and picking up heavy needles. As he put back the most recent needle of study, he observed the primary color throughout the room: white. The walls, the sheets, the floors - everything was white. Never had he seen something so clean and organized. He hoped that the hospital room was too clean for even him to mess up.
“Doctor! Doctor!” a hectic voice cried. The voice grew closer, and he heard the sound of wheels hurrying against the tiled floor. A nurse rushed in, rather out of breath, while pushing a stretcher. “We have an attempted suicide here. She cut her wrists, and she’s bleeding terribly. Start the procedure, and I’ll go get more help.” With those quick demands, she turned around and sprinted out the threshold, leaving the man who could grow new faces and the suicide alone.
The man stared at the woman, whose eyes, instead of blinking, stayed half-down and whose breath was so faint he could barely tell she was breathing at first. As he stared at his boss lying motionless on the stretcher, he wondered what drove her to this and why no matter what face he donned, he was reminded that he did not and could not save his mother. He had suspected that his hope, the one of doing something right, would be murdered because he could never do anything right.
After staring at her for a moment, he rushed to grab what he believed he needed. Perhaps he could save this woman who had always reminded him of his mother.
He grabbed the bandages resting on the counter and reached for a tool, which he had assumed was for placing bandages on people in the most sanitary way possible. The instrument bit the gauze, and slowly the man who could grow new faces put them on the attempted-suicide. As he did this, though, he couldn’t control his nerves and his hands slipped. The tool went inside her body, splitting open an artery. Her eyelids opened and did not close, and her breaths were not shaky as they were earlier because they left her body in a final breath of wind. Her blood drenched the stretcher until it resembled a piece of bread dipped in water. He stared at her with saddened eyes and sat on the chair in the hospital room, staring at his fatal mistake.
Instead of cutting off his face, he simply stayed there.
He realized that he escaped constantly rather than allowing himself to feel guilt.
Only when the other nurses rushed in did he decide to do it again. Though he did not want to, for he knew the pain and repetitious nature of it, he believed there were no other outlets; the hurt of guilt simply overwhelmed him, and he did not want to see his boss in pain anymore. Ever since the first time he cut off his face, which was right after he discovered his mother’s body lying in the kitchen at seven years old, he found it difficult to find comfort in doing anything else. He grabbed the knife.
After he cut off his face, he grew the face of his mother.
I’m Still Home
Big easy, smile easy, fall Breesy
Party on, that’s life’s meaning
Musician at every corner
They tip their hat, tourists searching for loose quarters
My city, seen through street lights
6 o’clock news ruined by sick sights
New Orleans always has a special place in my heart
I be dancing through streets where kings once marched
From bounce music, to Sunday Mass
And dreams of catching a Sunday pass
I got Cs for skipping class and tears when I’d bust my ass
But the second line won’t be coming too early
Shoe fits, better grab me a jersey
The Buildings all scrapping the sky
Little boy never saying goodbye
Kubla Khan, no demon lover
A mile for every second between the lightning and the thunder
How much I’d love to be in that number
Used to walk to my corner store before it closed
Getting snacks for the highs, pray to God when it’s low
Big shot and hot fries, we snuck in for them shows
So worried about where you finish, that you forget to start
Katrina taught me not to peek through the dark
It might be hard to sleep when I turn this in
I had to read right off the sheet to confess my sins
Parade season never lasted long enough
This city that I know, for sure that I love
Not sure about my future, but there’s one thing that I know
If I ever leave you, you’d still be my home
Flower, photography by Cameron Gordon
New Orleans has its homes
for the dead.
My god are they beautiful,
magnificent limestone and granite
chambers above the ground
housing the decaying.
all adorned with flowers
both real and stone.
Names etched in memoriam for eternity
till wind or flood wears them down.
Its congesting at first,
the sheer amount of them
among each other
against each other.
But then you realize it’s a neighborhood
with stone grey saints and angels
watching them dutifully
perching themselves to look upon the expanse
as the living pay respects.
Genesis, photography by Lia Appelman
THe nature of partial things
and feel the raindrops
touch your face,
cool and clean your lungs.
What is a deep breath
when you’re underwater?
Bite of the gumdrops
licks your tongue;
it doesn’t touch them,
but feels the sweetness.
What is a half cup of sugar
without its companions of milk and eggs?
Call your dog to your side;
your companion, a friend.
He knows nothing of you but
your smell, your voice, your height,
but without you he is nothing but
a wild dog.
We crave what we can make whole,
because that which is partial
is of our own nature.
Zoning Out, marker and acrylic paint by Michaela Litton
High top sneakers
I used to have some high top sneakers.
You know the higher they are the cooler they are,
Get laced up, playground thug,
You know you’re only noticed for the kicks that you love, huh.
With these shoes they could all run past me,
But at least I look the best, you know my converse be flashy,
Being fast ain’t important if you lookin all busted,
No girl wants a boy looking at her disgusted.
You could be a high top sneaker.
You know the higher you are the cooler you are,
Get laced up, like you a drug,
You know you’re only noticed for the you that they love, huh.
And they still run past you,
Because you’re so into yourself you can’t see past you,
They talkin in your ear and it just seems to pass through,
You can only ever blame your downfall on you.
I used to love my high top sneakers.
But they don’t last forever.
The laces get tattered, the color fades,
I wore em too much now they’re fading away.
Flower Child, digital art by Celina Watkins
Mama played Gospel until the morning turned to night and the preachers started talkin’ instead of
Had me listening in the car under the guise that maybe I would feel something
And if not feel something
Maybe the songs would stay in my head just enough to learn every lyric and wrong note.
Mama loved Gospel so much
Mama played the station out until I was in the backseat sounding like a broken record
And after I was in the front seat sounding like a broken record
And after I was in the front seat too tired to sing it
And after I could no longer relate to the words
Mama played Gospel like it was her religion
Like she was learning a new language and Gospel was it.
We sang every song unconsciously
The words just coming out like vomitーthe rush
Mama is a southern Baptist with a love for cooking and singing
She hit me for every wrong lyric
“You’ve listened to this too much to be wrong. It should be in your heart by now.”
And Mama was always right.
Mama dressed up on Sundays
Hat and all when she wanted to be fancy
Women all lined up gossiping and singing praises that should only have been to God
But it’s a Baptist church nonetheless
Mama sang in the choir when she wasn’t helping with some program
And she dragged me up in there every time with a look that Satan would shake at
Mama sang her heart out though and she expected everyone else to as well.
One day Mama took out some old CDs, barely CDs actually
She wiped and blew the dust out of them and let the car play
Mama played Prince, Luther, and I felt my neck almost break with the speed of the twist
This wasn’t Gospel, but Mama was singing it like a new religion
And that day I sat back looking like a sinner in church.
MAYBE ALL BLACK PEOPLE ARE ANGELS
“Want to know if that same rope that did the lynchings are still tied to that tree that the paper
from my notebook came from, ‘cause I can’t seem to move either. That tree has us
both by the neck and the wing.” - Tank and the Bangs, Trading Wings
I have an idea. Now hear me out.
What if all black people are angels?
I mean it makes so much sense, because so many black bodies have been found wading
in the water, floating on top like Jesus walking across it;
All that to say that our ancestors make up the salt of the Earth and the Sea, so maybe if
we aren’t angels at least we are the world.
But if all black people are angels I mean, wouldn’t it make sense,
Because people love to see us suspended in air,
Lashes on our backs trying to get to our wings,
And putting prices on what is not naturally theirs.
Maybe all black people are angels?
Because the closest I’ve come to hearing an angel sing has been a heartbroken, black
The closest I’ve come to hearing angels sing has been a choir of black people.
I mean, the closest I’ve come to seeing an angel has been a black woman in the summer,
or winter, or fall, or spring.
Okay, you handcuffedkilled- caught me, the closest I’ve come to seeing an angel has
been a black women.
So maybe, just maybe I have a valid point.
I can’t think of a backdrop that black people don’t look good on or in.
And maybe, we are taught to pray so much, because that’s how we keep our wings, our
blackness, our heavenly bodies on Earth.
And who else can be Jesus’ right hand then someone who understands being the under
A people who understand how to take a whipping and still work for those that have
A people who know how to turn the other cheek so fast, that it would give any other
And this is why I believe all black people are angels,
Because what other people can understand centuries of just wanting others to believe in
Centuries of trying to be seen as a woman/man instead of a lowlife…
Maybe black people are angels, because we’ve been blessed with the curse of knowing.
We always say that we want to be like Jesus anyway.
BLM, digital art by Celina Watkins
LET IT BE ME
Let it be me.
Don’t take them, take me.
Prayers to my satin pillowcase, tears pressed into the fabric,
Thoughts creating scenarios that are nothing but tragic.
I wish I could take out my brain and put it in the washing machine.
Cleanse it of all the overthinking and depression caused by this ongoing quarantine.
It’s okay, I’m safe, I’m in my bed.
But that’s probably what Breonna Taylor said,
Or didn’t have to say,
Because why would she assume that she wouldn’t be safe in her house, 3 months before her birthday.
So maybe I am in danger.
Worry turns to fear, fear turns to anger.
Do we not deserve peace?
Year after year battling brutality by police,
Toddlers to elders chanting no justice no peace,
Bullet wounds and battle scars,
PTSD plastered cop cars,
Conditioned to be always ready to fight,
Never stopping to consider that we might…
Not, want to.
I often think about what I would do,
Stuck at a traffic stop, lights flashing red and blue.
You say you see me but can you put yourself in my shoes?
No matter the trauma, no matter the fear,
No matter the impending notion that doom is near,
If my life is the life that this world must take,
To deliver generations for my grandchildrens’ sake
To keep little Black girls young and free like we were,
Not healing from the wound of a racial slur,
So that little Black boys can grow up without pain,
And remain innocent angels like Elijah McClain,
Then make one thing clear,
Gun pressed to my temple, I would have no fear.
I’d say a prayer to the angels that watch me above,
And make sure my family and friends know that they were loved.
So I ask you, can’t you see?
My response is always, let it be me.
Don’t take them, take me.
To Black women this is nothing new.
This is all that we’ve been trained to do.
Like wolves, we protect our pack.
Black men, we’ve always had your back.
I will use my last breath to prevent your obituary.
Take peace in my love, in my arms you’ll find sanctuary.