Tag Archives: student work

Finite Strings of Energy

On Saturday, August 22, 2015, I was driving to Ways To Wellness, the local holistic store where I worked, when a revelation came forth in my mind like the billowing of a wave. “I’m going to shave my head bald today, and I’m not going to tell anyone.” The fear of someone thinking I had cancer, or my head being oddly shaped, had discouraged me from shaving my head. I had been at odds with myself for months. In the beginning hours of the morning, as the trees, cars, and all of life ebbed and flowed around me, I came to the awareness that those reasons were irrelevant.

***

The earliest memory I have of my hair was around the age of four. I was sitting out in the front yard of my childhood home, playing with colorful paper, glue, and scissors. The sunlight tanned my skin, and the grass was warm, soft. A breeze swayed through the yard, and as I did my arts and crafts a questioned formulated in my mind: “Do scissors also cut hair?” The next thing I remember, my mother was walking out the front door to check on me. Before she said a word an excuse came bubbling up out of my little mouth, “The wind blew my hair into the scissors Mommy!” Tendrils of my hair danced across the yard in the wind.

As I grew in height, my hair grew in length. By the age of six my hair reached past my waist, years after my self-made haircut. Every morning and every night, I would stand in the bathroom as my mother would brush and braid my hair. Sometimes I would ask her to do multiple braids, one time as many as eight, all sticking out in random directions on my head. My mother said I looked like an octopus. Most days it would be one long braid, down the back of my head. In elementary school, there was one other girl who had hair as long as mine. One day, the teacher took a tally of who thought who had the longer hair. We both took down our braids, and the teacher measured the length of our hair. I won by two inches.

***

When I arrived at work that Saturday my day moved with routine, but a newfound light had illuminated inside of my heart. As I worked on the window display for summer, I couldn’t help but reflect on what brought me to this moment of confirmation. I had developed a nasty habit of twirling my hair, and it was causing it to thin. I had no intention of continuing this. There aren’t too many times when you can completely remove a habit. Shaving my hair seemed like a viable option. As extreme as it sounds to shave my head because of a bad habit, it wasn’t the only reason that brought me to this decision.

I am aware of the general consensus of what makes a woman “attractive.” Most people would agree that women with long, flowing, thick hair are gorgeous. Many would also be quick to say that women with short hair are “butch.” Some people who are even harsher would say, “a dike.” I chose to cut my hair to say I do not agree with this ideal. This is not to say that women who choose to grow their hair long, and spend time grooming it, are somehow wrong or vain. It is merely preference. I only hope they do it for themselves, because it’s what makes them feel confident. I shaved my head to show that the length of a woman’s hair does not determine her beauty, or her worth.

***

The first time I ever cut a significant amount of my hair was the week before third grade. My mom’s friend, who was a hairdresser, came over to our house. As I sat on the back porch in the summer’s fading heat, she braided my long hair for the last time. Moving up to third grade was a significant moment for me. I was changing teachers, moving to the other side of the school building, and I would be in a whole new class of students. I wanted to embody that change, my growth, the new person I hoped to be. Nineteen inches cut off and donated. I remember shaking out my new haircut, and exclaiming, “Wow! It feels like a log was taken off my head!” There was definitely a weight difference, but I think I was just being dramatic. Full of excitement and joy, I called my new third grade teacher to tell her the news.

As I aged and moved into middle school, it seemed that girl’s hair got a lot of attention. Most of the girls I went to school with had long, straight, blonde, or black hair. I had thick, frizzy, curly, brown hair. To say the least, it wasn’t the only thing the other kids would pick on me for, but it was one of the only things I could change. In seventh grade, I convinced my mom to buy me a hair straightener. Every morning, I began to pull out my curls with scorching heat.

Later that year, I convinced my parents to let me dye my hair black. This grew into me dyeing my hair on my own and changing colors, almost two to three times a month. My parents took a lot of coaxing to allow me to do anything with my hair. My father has always wanted me to have long, natural hair; in the beginning he was the one to hold strong. My mother loved me too much. She understood too well the importance of self-expression to keep me from doing what made me happy. My father ultimately felt the same.

In later years, I found a local hairdresser who could permanently straighten hair, and my mother brought me to get my hair chemically void of all my curls. In hindsight, I now see how troubled my parents were in watching their little girl struggle with such a dislike for her natural hair. The hair they gave her.

***

By the end of the work day, I was almost bursting at the seams wanting to tell anyone, someone, about my big shave. I didn’t tell anyone because I wanted to know that I was doing it only for myself, without the need for any outside confirmation. I did almost spill to my friend and co-worker Kylie, but I caught myself, and only told her that I had a surprise for everyone tomorrow. She guessed I was going to be bringing in some cookies. After work, I went to the grocery store and bought a three-pack of new razors. I had never shaved my hair before. Judging by the thickness and inexperience, I had a feeling I was going to need them all.

I’ve known many women in my life who have struggled with cancer, or a disease that has taken their hair from them. I am well aware of the many women in the world, who I do not know, who have also lost their hair. I shaved my head in honor of them, to support them. My hope was that even if one woman who was insecure because she had lost her hair, saw me walking with a proud shaved head, would feel more comfortable with her baldness.

***

By the time I had reached sophomore year, my hair had become the consistency of hay. It was around three inches, had been cut, styled, bleached, straightened, and dyed more times than I could remember, and it was the cliché, “I don’t even know my natural hair color.” I finally reached a point in my second year of high school where I was comfortable enough with my hair to let it be curly again. It was liberating to let my hair be. It was frustrating as well. Years of straightening had made me very unknowledgeable in how to care and style curly hair, but after a few real haircuts, and tips from hairdressers and my mother, I began to truly love my curls. For the next three years, I only straightened my hair three times and only to be reminded that I preferred my curls.

After I graduated high school, and my hair was finally reaching past my shoulders again, I made the decision to dread it. At this point, I’m sure my scalp was screaming “Enough is enough!” but I know how stubborn I am. I had dreamed about dreads for quite some time. I would admire people with dreadlocks; they seemed to hold an ethereal glow. I was captivated by the beauty of their hair. I spent over three days knotting in my dreads. When I was done, I had thirty-nine dreadlocks.

In the first six months of having dreads, they required more maintenance than my hair ever had: rolling them, washing them, making sure they were dry, keeping them from fusing together, and making positive the products I was using were dread-safe. All the while, hearing horror stories of poor dread maintenance, and getting asked stupid questions like, “Can’t you get bugs in your hair?” “Don’t you have to shave your head if you don’t want them anymore?” “Don’t you miss brushing your hair?” “You can wash dreads?” “Dreads are GROSS and SMELL!”  I also got a lot of compliments and shared great stories with others who also had dreads. When I saw someone else with dreads, it was like we were in a secret club; we understood each other’s journey with dreadlocks.

I kept them for over a year, but I reached a point where I realized it was time for me to let them go. It took over a week, but I was able to brush them out. I cut them all back to around three inches, went through an entire bottle of conditioner, and when I was done, found myself in desperate need of a haircut.

After all of these escapades, I decided to once again let my hair be and just grow. I had gotten my curly hair maintenance down to a science, for the most part. You can’t really brush curly hair, you can only do so when it’s wet, and I only used my fingers. Sometimes, I would go up to three days without brushing my hair, and I would find dreadlocks beginning to form again. I went for two years with no hair alterations beyond a regular haircut. Only once did I get some color put in my hair, a beautiful dark teal called Enchanted Forest.

In the early spring of 2015, the desire to change my hair began to build within me again. I knew this time that it would be something much more extreme. I wanted to shave my head. For around three months, I contemplated the idea. Considered my reasoning, asked people for their opinions, looked at many pictures of short haircuts for girls, and tried to psych myself up to make such a drastic haircut. In May, I finally made a hair appointment. I had decided that even though I wanted to be completely bald, I would start off with going short. If I liked it, I could always go shorter. Thirteen inches cut off and donated. My head was shaved down to number three. I was ecstatic with my very short hair. I got a lot of support from friends and family as well. The truth was I had really wanted to go completely bald, but I was too afraid to. As my hair began to grow out again, I still fought with the idea of wanting to be bald.

***

In many cultures, hair is a representation of power. The Native Americans believe that your strength is held in your hair. Traditionally, they would grow their hair long, out of respect for their mother, their grandmother, and the divine feminine energy that gave birth to all. In the Bible, there is a story about a man named Samson, who had inhuman strength and had made enemies with the Philistines because of it. In his dedication to God, and since the birth from his mother’s womb, a razor had never been used on his head, thus granting him his gift of great strength. Through deceit, he revealed to his lover Delilah the origin of his strength. She had his hair shaved, as he slept, and he was seized by the Philistines. During the Vietnam War, men were deployed into Native American reserves to find the best trackers to be enlisted in the service. With protocol, the Native men’s hair was shaved. Only after, did the military discover that the Native men had lost all their abilities to track. Was it in the belief of their hair granting them power? Or does our hair truly hold, finite energy receptors, allowing us to perceive beyond our physical senses?

My belief is in the latter. I chose to shave my head, to release this power back to the Universe. I shaved my head, to give back to Creator the energy, which I was trying too hard to control. I have found myself at a great turning point in my life recently when I stopped trying to control the current of my energy and my life. I had become too absorbed in what I wasn’t doing, what I wasn’t experiencing, and worse, what I was too afraid to do. Instead, I focus on my intention, my direction, and my motivation. I allow what may come and welcome it. In releasing my power back to Creator I say, “I give you my being, unfastened, yours for the making. I am reborn in your likeness. I manifest through you. I am you. I am.”

On the night of Saturday, August 22, 2015, I went out into my back yard with a pair of hair clippers and cut my hair. The act only shared between me and my higher power. It took me two hours to fully shave my head down to the scalp. What I found at the bottom of my hair bed was empowerment, liberation, and unity with the Divine.

Juna Grier

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Filed under Fall 2016, Nonfiction 2016

An Attempted Explanation

Today is the day we have been anticipating all semester. Every notebook page filled with unintelligible scribbles led us here. All of our ideas and thoughts begging to be shouted to the world. Some thoughts more important, more desperate to be shared, others would rather stay hidden, but need to be said.

Students gather in the small, dimly lit theater. The brightest light already focused on the lone microphone at center stage. It waits there for its first victim. Somehow it wears a smile that seems inviting, but promises something akin to torture. That microphone will feel the pain that radiates through the words of students who will voluntarily share their souls with the world.

“Poetry is meant to be shared.” That’s what Mrs. Hechlik always tells us. I think she means to be encouraging, but it just leaves me with a strangely protective feeling in my gut. I need to protect the words that mean so much. I can’t share my poetry; it would mean I would have to admit to the world that I have real emotions. Those don’t need to be shared; well, some of them don’t. Some people might think I’m overly humble, but no one would understand even if I tried explaining everything. So, why should I expect anyone in this room to understand that when I step on that stage and open my mouth, I am releasing secrets I’ve been keeping from everyone, including myself?

It’s not until I look at the list of brave souls that I remember that I asked to be one of the first. The reason I asked, well, she’s not here. If I don’t constantly remind her of things, she will forget. As much as I want my mom to hear the words I will later spill, I’m glad she’s not here. Having her here would make this that much harder. I would get on stage and see her and watch as she hears the feelings I’ve been bottling up. She would see the tears that will most likely stream down my face, but she wouldn’t believe me, anyway.

My nerves drown out the speakers before me. I flex and relax my hands over and over trying to stop them from shaking. My knees bounce up and down rapidly in anticipation. I really need to have faith that the crowd here understands what I’m about to say. I’ve never said this to anyone for fear that they won’t understand, that I won’t make sense. It’s always been difficult for me to say things, especially the things I should say, but I’ve never had enough faith in myself to be able to explain it correctly.

“Up next we have Courtney Gage and her poem ‘An Attempted Explanation.’”

“Crap,” I mutter to myself before taking a deep, shaky, breath and heading to the stage. My friends in the audience shout words of encouragement as I slowly take my place, not ready for this, but I guess I have to be now.

“Um, Hi. My name is Courtney, and this poem is called ‘An Attempted Explanation.’” Awesome, I already sound like an idiot. There is no way these people are going to believe me now, especially with the way my hands are shaking. I should have just memorized this thing, but I probably would have forgotten it when I got up here. I just have to hope I can get through this without dropping to the floor. I have to hope that my message makes sense, hope that I make sense. I take a deep breath, and force myself to continue.

“Alexithymia, noun; the inability to express one’s feelings.” More like inability to communicate with true dialogue, heck, even not at all. Goodbye primordial right.  My mind goes blank. I have to focus on the page; I’m not really sure if words are coming out of my mouth. I guess it makes sense that I forgot to remind my mom about today. Most of the time, I can’t even answer the simplest of questions.

“Don’t force these questions on me.

The reaction in my brain

Creates a tidal wave of panic causing

The lump in my throat

To block the sound

Of my voice”

I don’t know where to look. The paper in my hand is shaking as if my arm were a tree branch and the paper a leaf. Am I still breathing? I think I might be. It’s like every difficult conversation I can’t have, only instead of talking to one person, I’m talking to fifty. Nothing will change if I can’t stop this fear of saying the wrong thing. Maybe I don’t want change. Maybe I’ve been thinking too critically, to the point of stopping change from occurring. I’ve been stopping myself from ever being able to effectively communicate.

“My brain believes that every word

Must be chosen carefully and specifically

For a better purpose

But the only adjectives I have

Are profanities,

“I” the only noun,

A skip-skipping record in my head.”

I can feel it: I’m crying. That is exactly what I didn’t want to do. I can’t breathe again. I’m shaking so much my voice must sound like I’m talking into a fan. I can’t stop. I have to finish this. I just really have to hope that they can still understand me. I hope that everyone here realizes that the reason that tears are streaming down my face is because I am finally releasing the things that have been weighing on my mind for so long.

“‘Just tell me!’

‘I’m trying!’

But the answers are now gone,

Replaced by the pathetic whimpering

Tears streaming down my face,

The disturbing sniffles

That attempt to draw back in

The slimy evidence of my frustrations.”

Almost done. Just a few more lines and I can go hide in a hole for the rest of the day, or the rest of my life. As I say the final words I feel lighter somehow, almost like I’m floating.

“Thank you.” I quickly step off the stage and to the row my friends are sitting in. I guess, that even though I wasn’t able to say what I needed to the right person, at least I said it. A weight has been lifted off my chest, my breathing now in control. Hopefully, someone out there understands what I’ve said. I feel like someone who was oppressed and unable to speak and who finally got the right to speak up. Everything, and yet nothing, has changed.

The next day the prizes are awarded to participants of the Poetry Slam. I won the top prize: “Most Emotional Poem.” So maybe someone really did understand.


An Attempted Explanation

 

Alexithymia, noun;

The inability to express one’s feelings.

 

“How are you?”

“I don’t know.”

“Why did you do that?”

“I don’t know.”

“How can you be failing?”

“I don’t know!”

“What is wrong with you?”

“I DON’T KNOW! IDON’T KNOW!”

 

I don’t know how to tell you I’m not okay.

I don’t know how to tell you I’m angry with you.

I don’t know how to tell you I’m not as smart as you think I am.

I don’t know how to say what I’m feeling

What I’m thinking.

 

Don’t force these questions on me.

The reaction in my brain

Creates a tidal wave of panic causing

The lump in my throat

To block the sound

Of my voice

 

This laryngitis is brought upon

By serious and debilitating

Bouts of frustration that force

My brain into an unending

Loop of distress

The only thoughts left are those

That continue to choke

Me and spread my paralysis.

 

My brain believes that every word

Must be chosen carefully and specifically

For a better purpose

But the only adjectives I have

Are profanities,

“I” the only noun,

A skip-skipping record in my head.

 

“Just tell me!”

“I’m trying!”

But the answers are now gone,

Replaced by the pathetic whimpering

Tears streaming down my face,

The disturbing sniffles

That attempt to draw back in

The slimy evidence of my frustrations.

 

“Stop Crying.”

I can’t.

I can’t do this.

I can’t tell you.

I’m afraid you won’t like the answer.

I’m afraid you will make this my fault.

I’m afraid you won’t understand.

You never do.

You laugh in my face

And tell me to

“Stop being so Over Dramatic.”

All you ever do is tell me to get over it.

 

I’m tired of trying to

Find the right words,

It’s time to find the wrong ones.

 

“What do you want for dinner?”

“I don’t know.”

 

Courtney Gage

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Filed under Fall 2016, Nonfiction 2016, Poetry 2016

His Life Through My Eyes

The brutally strong wind slapped the sides of his bare face as he took slow strides along the side of the road. I drove past him with water leaking from my eyes while contemplating if I should turn around and give him a ride to whatever destination he was searching for. I didn’t turn around. That was the last day I saw him, the last day I looked into his eyes and the last day I felt sorry for him.

He is a wanderer, a lost soul searching for the future but unable to deal with the past. I always felt like he was given the short stick in life. Now I realize that sure maybe his stick was smaller than others, but he broke and cut it down into nothing. He diminished any hope of a future because of his actions and then proceeded to blame others because of the consequences. This stranger is my brother. The memory of the day I last saw him is as vivid in my mind as if it had happened only moments ago. That moment changed my life in one of the most devastating yet inspirational ways. My brother’s name is Jake and with no intention he has created a spark within me that radiates motivation, success, honesty, and forgiveness. While this might sound selfish, Jake’s failures have motivated my success.

Divorce can really shape the way a person views the world, whether that be in a positive or a negative way. Jake was only five when my mom and his dad divorced. He was seven when my mom remarried my dad, and eight when I came into the picture. Everything in his world was changing, and he didn’t even have the chance to sit back and understand. Much like everything in his life, he sat back and watched as situations unfolded. A brutal match of tug of war was about to begin. It seemed as if Jake’s dad tried to ruin every image of my parents in Jake’s eyes. The bond that had grown between my dad and him was collapsing, as was his image of my mom. Our house began to feel like a prison to Jake. He was so use to doing anything he wanted at his dad’s house that when he was with my mom he forgot that rules existed. As each side of the rope began to pull harder, Jake began to fall apart. He skipped school to drink and smoke, had no respect for adults and constantly moved schools. Eventually he stopped going to school all together. Jake dropped out of high school at the age of seventeen. After that, every ambition was shattered along with every dream he had. Years passed, and Jake stayed the same. Every job he started, he quit. Jake’s drug addictions landed him in both the hospital and jail. The tug of war ceased, his dad let go, and Jake was broken.

Throughout all of Jake’s failures, my mom was there to support him. Anything he needed she would take care of it; anything that he did she would make excuses for him. I didn’t blame her though—he needed both the attention and the support. However, her help soon became crippling. He would never learn from his mistakes if my mom fixed every problem that crossed his path. Around Christmas time, 2013, Jake moved back home at the age of 24. He claimed that he was going to classes to get his GED because he dropped out of high school. My mom told him that he was welcome to stay at our house while trying to make something of himself. As per usual, Jake’s motives were headed in a completely different direction.

He is very manipulative. Jake knows how to make people do what he wants them to do, and that skill doesn’t come without a surplus of lies. Turns out that the real reason he wanted to stay at our house was because he needed a place of residency while he was out on parole. Jake’s history includes drunk driving, selling, buying, and using drugs, and not paying his court fees. One day, his parole officer decided to stop by while I was home alone. The officer was asking all kinds of questions about him and wanting to know where he was. I told the officer the truth: I didn’t know where he was, and he hadn’t been home in weeks. The officer left shortly after. That was where the calm ended; then began the storm. Suddenly Jake came bursting through the back door. My mom asked if I could take my little brother, Alex, upstairs. As I walked up the stairs with Alex, the yelling started. Jake was furious, saying that now his parole officer said he violated his parole because of what I had said. My mom stated that he was lying to everyone and that he used our whole family for his own selfish reasons. They were both screaming at each other when, finally, my mom told him leave. She said he wasn’t welcome back into our house. Just like that, all of the screaming came to a halt. I stood, feet firmly planted on the top steps of the stairs, watching Jake calmly walk towards the door. Before he reached out to pull the door open, he turned around and stared directly at my mom. The last words he spoke to her were, “The next time you see me will be the day I am six feet under.” He then opened the door and walked away. As the door closed, the cold winter breeze surged into the house, making me shiver. My mom then collapsed to the floor with a heart- shattering thud and began weeping. After I helped my mom re-collect herself, I realized that I had basketball practice that day, and I decided that I needed to get my mind off of the scene I just witnessed. While I drove to practice, I passed Jake as he walked alongside the road. I almost turned around to pick him up, but I didn’t. I kept driving because I realized that he needed to help himself. The last image I have of Jake is through my rearview mirror.

I watched Jake turn everything good in his life upside down. His blatant disregard for education only surged me forward. He motivated me to do better in the tasks that I set forth to accomplish. My goal wasn’t to overshadow my success with his failure, but to give my parents something to be proud of. I knew if I at least tried in school that would be a step in the right direction. I didn’t just try, though. I succeeded. Every class I took I aimed for perfection. I did not always see that although I did come close. Throughout high school I kept a steady grade point average of 3.7 while keeping up with sports and volunteering around the community. Jake was always around people who had no more ambition than he did, which only promoted failure. I made sure to surround myself with friends who would help me along the road to success. My friends each had their own reasons behind getting good grades. We all worked together and respected the fact that education was important even if it was for different reasons. Jake didn’t learn from his mistakes; however, I did. I made sure to stay away from the classic high school temptation of partying. He was only interested in the social aspects of high school, but I was the exact opposite. I spend my weeknights studying, and that gave me the opportunity to have fun on Fridays with my friends. However, my idea of fun wasn’t drinking and partying. The taste of alcohol reminded me of Jake. I spent years trying to forget about him, and drinking only replayed old unwanted memories in my mind. Jake is and should be credited for being one of the reasons for my success. I have created my own success, but he was the first reason I had to be a better student, person, and daughter.

Jake indirectly taught me the value of truth. He was, by all means, a compulsive liar. I learned that people, especially myself, respect when others are truthful. I watched as my mom slowly lost hope in every word that he spoke simply because she could not decipher the truth from the lies. I hold honesty very highly when regarding a person’s character. Along with truth, I also value the ability to forgive in a person. He has made many mistakes in his life, just as I have in mine. Mistakes and failure are important in life, but just as important as both of those is the power of forgiveness. I have learned to forgive Jake for all of his actions and choices. I know that to carry the baggage of a grudge or of hatred can become very heavy.

That cold winter day still replays in my head more than two years later. I can hear the screams, see the tears, and feel the pain in my chest every time that memory plays back in my mind. Jake changed everything in my life. He changed the way I feel about success, the value I place on truth and the art of forgiveness. I am not ashamed of him, nor do I look down upon him for the decisions he has made in his past. I do, however, hold him accountable for his actions. I think that he should take responsibility for his actions simply because it is the right thing to do. I love Jake, but I just think that he needs a bit of tough love to truly understand that he is the answer to his own problems. I am a stronger, more motivated, successful, truthful, and forgiving person because of the experiences he has forced upon me. I want Jake to know that he has shaped the person I have become, and because of that, I am grateful. I have always felt as if I could not congratulate myself on my success because the person who inspired me to do better was anything but successful. I realize now that although my actions were, in part, motivated by his mistakes, my success was made from my hard work, my effort and my ambition.

I have buried my feelings about Jake. I locked away thoughts and memories to keep my heart from breaking. I hate him for everything he has put my family through. I hate him for everything he had put himself through. He wasn’t there for me like big brothers are supposed to be for their little sisters. He didn’t protect me from boys like brothers are supposed to. Truth is, Jacob broke my heart before any other boy had the chance to. I hate him because I love him. He left me to fight this battle alone. Jake does care about me, at least not like I care about him. He doesn’t even know who I am, and he doesn’t want to, either. My mind dances through his life. Images of screaming chapped lips, glossy brown eyes and strong fists hitting the wall invade my mind. I have seen his life. I hold on to the images that now are long gone. My eyes betray me as pictures of hot summer days flood in to my mind. Two young siblings playing in the steaming hot sandbox as my dad cuts the grass. The smell of the grass consumes my senses. Jacob gazes up at the sky, smiling. I remember his life even though I am not a part of it anymore. Memories of Jake only haunt me now. I don’t want to remember; I only wish to forget. I want to forget about Jake, just as he has forgotten about me.

Phoebe Fries

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Filed under Fall 2016, Nonfiction 2016

dreaming.

i am thinking of you r.g.

a piano teeth smile

that played the loveliest harmonies.

on days the sun clings to branches

like a needy lover.

clutching the other’s shirt

that rips at the stitching.

 

i am dreaming of you r.g.

each time i hear a song

whistling through the trees.

i wonder if you found an answer

to the question your grandson asked you

a product of a broken home

held together by loose screws,

rusty nails,

and self-doubt.

 

are you still courting the muse?

writing poems for her each night?

do you speak of her caked cheeks

colored rose pink

and white hair?

is she still beautiful?

 

i am praying for you r.g.,

that one day, on an afternoon like this,

the wind will bring me back to you.

 

Thomas Dunn

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Filed under Fall 2016, Poetry 2016

Scenes from a Moving Vehicle: Five Tanka

1

She sings her screw-loose rhythm and blues

in worn out tennis shoes.

with a flame that will set the Midwest ablaze,

I trace the maze of capillaries and veins

back to her arteries.

2

We wait for the moment to pass,

finding beauty in the rain;

softness between steel.

The road bends—her lips curl.

Hands steady. Eyes on tar-marked Asphalt.

3

Turning off the radio she says:

“that even rain has a melody

that forces us to harmonize.”

I laugh. She frowns. I smile.

“this is Nature’s Jazz.”

4

The rain is the sound of serendipity,

accompanied by random percussion;

it’s layers of complexity we can’t think of;

it’s a love we can’t force,

we just have to let happen.

5

Raindrops against the windshield;

an elegance I won’t soon forget.

Rhythmic phrases I will lose in time;

harmonies that will fade with age

but I’ll take memories of you to the dirt.

 

Thomas Dunn

*** A portion of tanka #4 was published on Twitter and Tumblr.****

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Filed under Fall 2016, Poetry 2016

Summer

It’s summer.
Heat swelters outside
Breezes blow through trees
Children play in pools
Drip.
A tear drops onto the floor.
Each tear steals a little of your life.
Trickling down your cheeks, running into your mouth
Dripping onto the floor.
You’re helpless now.
You’re alone
It seems your entire being is sucked out
You’re left drowning in midair.
And it’s summer
At that exact moment, mere feet from you
You stand.
You’re staring at yourself through a portal of memory
And you realize you had it best then
Then it was a summer you could enjoy
And a single tear steals its way down your cheek.
He’s leaving.
He was everything.
And now he’s leaving you
Your daughter stays
But he’s gone now.
And it’s summer
June, July, August.
Months pass, years even and it is summer yet again
Heat beats down on your brow
Sweat mingles with blood
It’s not yours, but it covers you
It’s hers.
The product of your own flesh and blood
Your daughter
She stares up at the sky
A drunken act, and she’s gone
Your tears come now
But they’re worse than before
Now they’re accompanied by screams
Screams at the sky
And it’s summer,
Free, beautiful summer
Now you sit
You’re in the sun
The doctors say it’s only a matter of time now
They say there’s nothing to be done
Except wait
So you do
You call your sister
You talk until your words are gone
Then you cry until your eyes are dry
Then you hang up
And sit there
Staring
And then you stop staring.
Your eyes close
It’s quiet
A breeze brushes your cheek
A bird sings your serenade
The smell of fresh-baked bread tickles your nostrils
And it’s summer.

~Kaleb Yaeger

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Filed under Fall 2015, Poetry Fall 2015

In the Dark Velvet Night

Two emeralds
in this bowl
of stones

kissing
beauty marks
only they know.

Stars,
little gold nails
scratching skin.

Moon,
whites of eyes
and
curling toes.

Heartstrings
will be cut
tomorrow,
but –

silk sheets
feel better
with no clothes.

 

Caleigh Wesmer

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Filed under Fall 2015, Poetry Fall 2015

Shake the Rust

“Okay, I can fix this. I just need help.” The young girl heaved a sigh of relief as she slumped against the front door of her grandparents’ house that she’d just rushed through. Her short blue hair was all scraggled, and her clothes looked much the same. Things had happened very quickly and gone wrong even quicker. She wasn’t sure what she should do, but she knew she had to get back as soon as possible, otherwise.

“Lorelei?!” gasped her mother, rounding the corner. “Where’ve you been?! I thought you came home with Bianca! What happened? Why’re you all banged up?”

It was late, and seeing as she’d been running as fast as she could, Lorelei hadn’t been too quiet when she burst through the door.

“What?” she pointed to herself, “Me? Where’ve I been? Just y’know…” she looked around the room, scraping for a feasible answer, “just riding my bike. Yeah!” she perked up. “Late night bike ride in the country. That sort of thing.”

“Then,” her mother gestured to all of her ragamuffin daughter, “How’d your clothes get all torn and dirty?”

“OH!” Lorelei clapped her hands together, “That! YES!” She hadn’t actually noticed the state of her clothes with all that had happened. “I totally fell into a ditch. But it’s okay, I’m okay!” She waved her hands frantically. “I’m good, no fractures, broken bones, or otherwise.”

She knocked on her head, “Had my helmet on too, so my noggin’s good as well! No worries.”

“Hmm,” her mother mulled over this information, “okay.” Lorelei sighed at this, “But next time, give me a heads up before you go out, okay? You’re usually so good at that.”

“Yeah, well, what can I say?” Lorelei pointed to herself with both hands, “Teenager,” she smirked.

“Okay, well, g’night then,” her mother waved and yawned as she headed to her room.

“See you in the morning.”

Another sigh. “Well, at least that went well,” Lorelei thought. “Could’ve gone worse. Could’ve gone worse. I’ve already had enough worse for one night.”

*     *     *

Lorelei dropped her backpack on the floor by her room’s door. She and her mother had temporarily moved in with her grandparents. At least until the divorce was a done deal. It had taken a while, but her new room had begun to feel a little bit more like home after she had filled the dresser with her clothes, and stacked the few books she had brought from home on the desk near her bed. Neat and organized…and a little cramped. It was the exact opposite of her old room. At least it had a big window, though. She sighed and looked out at the dark night, wondering what to do, knowing what she had to do, not wanting to do what she had to do.

Whether she liked it or not, she had to go back there.

Back to the factory. Back to the fear.

“Oy! Lorelei!”

“GAH!”

The voice came from her bed, startling Lorelei. It was a friend.

“What happened after I left?” Bianca asked, looking confused. “Where’s Wes?”

“Things…happened.”

*     *     *

A few days after they’d moved in, Lorelei decided to take a walk to try and clear her head a bit. She stepped outside, followed the bends of her grandparent’s driveway, and headed out onto the empty country road. The sun shone warm, but the wind was cool. Fall lay on the horizon. She wore her favorite hooded purple sweatshirt covered with tiny silver stars on it while she took her walk to no place in particular. The wind, and the sun, and the quiet helped to clear her recently very busy mind as she trudged on. Eventually, she came across a clearing in the woods off the side of the road, with an old, broken, wooden gate in front. Curious, she headed down the path beyond it. The clearing looked pretty old, and had a rut from car tires that was now covered in grass and leaves. She followed the path for quite some time until it was blocked by a high wall of fallen trees. From the looks of things, the trees seemed to have been cut down, rather than blown over by the wind or fallen down on their own. There were several “Caution” blockades in front of the trees.

“Curiouser and curiouser,” thought Lorelei. “I’d wager somebody doesn’t want somebody to get past this blockade…but why?”

Her curiosity had been piqued. There was no way that this minor setback was going to stop her. She searched around until she found a way around them, through the thick woods. She grabbed ahold of a low-hanging tree branch, and pulled herself up onto the high embankment that formed the sides of the wooded path. Her skin and clothes were scratched as she waded her way through the thick brush. Soon, she rounded the blockade and stepped back out onto the path.

The trail continued winding on and on, and Lorelei soon began wondering whether she should head back or not.

That is, until she saw the factory.

It was old. At least several decades from the look of it.

It was big. Not tall, but large and strange enough that it looked very out of place in the middle of the woods.

It was broken. Part of the roof was caved in where a large old tree had fallen over onto it. Weeds and scrubs covered almost the entirety of the outside. The front doors were busted off their hinges, and darkness was all that could be seen of the interior.

“That…is more than enough exploring for one day,” Lorelei decided as she spun around on her heal and hurried back home.

*     *     *

“Dr. Matthews! Dr. Matthews! Sir, wait!” The young man rushed down the hall, shouting.

“…what is it, Arron?” The old man turned as he kept walking. He furrowed his brow and faced forward again.

“Well, it’s the head of our soon-to-be owners. They’re here. They’d like to see you.”

“See me? More like smile through their teeth while they stab us in the back. How long you think this place will be running after they get their greasy claws into it?”

*     *     *

The next day, Lorelei brought her friends Bianca and Wes to explore the factory further.

“Remind me again, Wes, why’re you here?” Lorelei asked.

“Me? Why’m I here?” Her friend Wes, a thin lanky fellow, snapped his fingers and pointed towards himself. “Me? I am here because: a.) old, abandoned factories are cool and creepy, b.) I didn’t really have anything to do today, and c.) Bianca can’t keep a secret.” He then gestured towards Bianca, who gripped her scarf and snapped:

“Shut up, man!” She punched Wes on the shoulder. He winced even though it didn’t really hurt.

The three friends stood outside the factory in the late afternoon. Had they given this little exploration party a bit more thought, they might’ve headed out earlier in the day, but otherwise they were all set. They’d brought all the necessities for the trip.

The dark innards of the place seemed to seep out of it, all around it. Both warning away and inviting any would-be explorers.

“Okay. Has everybody steeled themselves?” Lorelei asked. “All prepared mentally? No? Cool. Me neither,” she looked at her friends. “Let’s head on in then.”

*     *     *

“Sir, where are you off to, now?” It was days later, and Arron was again hurrying after Dr. Matthews.

“They want this place so bad, eh? They can have it! But I’m gonna keep working ‘til they drag me out of here kicking and screaming!” He pointed at the young man. “Now let me be, Arron!”

“But…wait. What’s that in your pocket? Is that–” Arron reached forward.

Dr. Matthews’ pocket bulged and several small gears and parts of machinery fell from it as he continued his hurried path down the hall. Arron stared, shocked.

“Are you the one who’s been stealing from the company?”

“Preposterous. These are just some parts I made at home. Now go away.” He shooed the young man away. “I’ve important things to take care of.”

*     *     *

The inside of the building wasn’t much nicer than the outside. Pretty much all of the tiled flooring had been cracked, shattered, and uprooted by plant life. Furniture was moldy, cubicles had fallen over, and wires and cables hung down all over the place.

And it was dark. The trio switched their flashlights on.

“Yeah, okay, I know I said I wanted to check this place out, but I’m having second thoughts now,” said Bianca.

Lorelei shrugged. “Okay, but Wes and I’re heading further in. So, see you outside in a bit,” she started to walk ahead.

Bianca looked back over her shoulder at the quickly darkening woods outside. “Hrmph,” she made a pouty face, “Fine. Lead on. But if anything goes badly, I’m blamin’ you, Lore.”

The three carried on through room after room of empty office-like spaces until they found an emergency stairway, tucked away in the corner of a room, partially blocked by a bookcase.

“Oh dang,” Lorelei reached out and touched the cold door, “You guys think we should check it out?”

“We’ve come this far,” Wes said, “Might as well, right?”

It took all three of them to heave the heavy shelving unit out of the way, knocking several dusty tomes to the floor, further kicking up even more dust in the process. Heaving her body into the door, Lorelei barely managed to crack it open, leaving the group to squeeze through the narrow opening. The stairway, unlike the rest of the building, was still in pretty good shape.

“Hey, so, though,” Wes held up his finger. “If this building is only one floor, why did they build a fire exit that goes underground?”

“That…is an excellent question,” Lorelei began, “One to which I do not yet know the answer to.”

“Okay, well I’m definitely heading out now, guys,” Bianca said, jabbing a thumb in the direction they had come from. “For real this time,” she put on a serious face aimed at her friends, in the hope that they’d join her. “Not even kidding. I can do creepy empty office rooms, but mysterious, hidden, shouldn’t-even-be-there-in-the-first-place staircases? Nope. I’m out,” she spun around, and waved back at them, “You two have fun. If it’s cool with you, Lore, I’mma head back to your grandparent’s place.”

“Yeah no, that’s totally fine Bi, we’ll head back in just a bit. Be safe.”

“You guys, too,” Bianca said, looking back as she left.

“Whelp,” Lorelei turned to Wes, “Ready?”

“Oh, most definitely! I’m in my element, girl!”

They took each step cautiously, making sure that their weight could be supported. When they reached the bottom of the staircase, and rounded the bend, there was nothing in the wall where there should’ve (logically?) been a door. So, they headed down the next flight, and the next…and the next. They had gone down at least four flights when they caught sight of the door.

It was large, heavy-duty, and had a numbered lock on it.

“Agh, all this way, and we can’t even get in!” Wes growled with anger.

“Oh, can’t we?” Lorelei pointed to a small piece of paper sticking out of the bottom of the door, with a number sequence written on it. It was (luckily) not pinched entirely beneath the door, so it was easy enough to de-wedge it, and easier still to enter the secret code.

The latch clacked open. Lorelei swung open the door.

She and Wes stepped into the dark, vast, dusty room. Cobwebs populated the area, covering the many boxes, computers, and shelves with bits of machinery on them. They could see a shaft of moonlight streaming down from a crack in the ceiling high above, with part of a tree poking through as well. Lorelei looked at Wes, and nodded her head in the direction she wanted to head. For some reason, she wished to remain as quiet as she could in this room. As she walked on, she almost tripped over something. She bent down. It was an odd-shaped piece of machinery. Moreover, it was an odd-shaped piece of machinery made of several overlapping gold and silver gears that looked like it could be wound up with a key. There was a little tag tied to it, with a little message on it:

To you, my boy. Time to show the world all the great things you can do. Be free. -Dr. Matthews

Lorelei pocketed the strange thing and caught up to Wes a little ways ahead. He had stopped a few feet ahead for some reason. He was just…standing there. Staring. Lorelei waved her hand in front of his eyes, and then looked to where he was looking.

Everything happened in a moment.

There was a robot…and it was staring at them.

They stared back.

It gasped.

They gasped.

There was a sudden cracking sound and the building shook.

The robot looked up and then lunged towards them, and pulled Wes towards it.

The tree fell through the roof.

Lorelei fell backwards, hit her head on the floor, and blacked out.

*     *     *

“LET ME GO!!!” Dr. Matthews screamed, kicking. Two massive men carried him by the arms. “You’ve no right! I’ve done nothing!”

“Sir, I’m going to have to ask you to kindly shut your mouth,” said one of the men. “You steal from the company, you get the boot. The boot, and jail.”

“You blasted fools! All my hard work will be for naught if you don’t free me!”

“You’ve been given plenty of time to clear out, sir. It’s time for you to leave. You brought this on yourself.”

“But he won’t survive without me! You take me away, you’re taking the life of another!”

*     *     *

Lorelei woke with a start, gasped, bolted up, and remembered everything that had happened in a flash. “WES! WES! WHERE ARE YOU?!!” she shouted. Looking around, she was alone. Wes was nowhere to be seen. And neither was the robot. “Nononononononononono. He took him. He took him somewhere. He took him somewhere and I don’t know where and I don’t know what he’s gonna do to him. This is all my fault. This is all my fault. What am I gonna do what am I gonna do?” She could feel the fear and panic burning at the back of her brain, rampant throughout her head. The robot. Wes. The divorce. All her worries and fears. All of it. All at once. “Is this…is this a panic attack?” Her heart began to beat faster and she felt a cold sweat come over her as she sat in the dark in the basement in the factory in the woods. “No. NO. Cal- Calm down. Breathe. Breathe…slowly.” This had happened before. Not too long ago, shortly before the divorce, when things were getting really intense back home. A feeling of absolute terror. Uncontrollable and raging. “But, but I rode it out…before. It’s okay. It’s okay.

“I’m…okay. Breathe.” She did her best to talk herself down. “Breathe in. Out. In. Slowly. Focus on only breathing. Calm. Calm. Steady.”

“Breathe.”

The feeling began to subside. A little bit at a time. “Good. Good. Al- Almost there.” Her mind began to calm.

She let out a long breath, trying to center herself, trying to center her mind again.

She opened her eyes. Shaken.

“I…need help.”

She stood up. Turned around, and raced out of the building, back towards her grandparents’ house.

*     *     *

“You just left Wes there?!” Bianca asked incredulously after Lorelei had finished telling her everything. “How could you?!” She grabbed ahold of Lorelei’s sweatshirt, as tears began to well up in her eyes.

Lorelei slapped her hands away, and looked her distraught friend in the eyes. “You ask me like I wanted to leave him there? It’s not like I had much of a choice, Bi. I…he was gone when I came to, him and the robot. And…,” She averted her eyes, “I started to have a panic attack I think, but I fought it off. I didn’t know what to do. I don’t know what to do. All I know is that I needed help,” she placed a hand on Bianca’s shoulder. “And you’re it.”

Bianca blinked away her tears, “Shouldn’t we, like, call the police or something?”

“Probably. But do you think they’d come rushing over when we tell them that our friend was kidnapped by a robot?”

“Fair point. You going to tell your mom?”

“Yeah. After we get Wes back. We need to get back there as soon as we can, and telling her would just make her try and stop us. So later.”

Bianca looked up at her friend. “I…don’t want to go back in there, especially now. I mean I know I-“

“Hey,” Lorelei pulled her friend into a hug. “I don’t want to either. Out of fear of what might happen, I mean. But right now, how we feel is irrelevant. We have to move past this fear to do what we have to do. This all won’t get better if we do nothing.”

“Mmhm,” Bianca buried her face in Lorelei’s shoulder.

Lorelei let out a long breath.

“Let’s go.”

She grabbed her bag and her friend and headed towards the door. She tromped down the hall noisily.

She grabbed her mom’s car keys.

She threw open the door.

She got in the car, turned the key, hit the gas, peeled out.

Her mom rushed to the door as her daughter drove out onto the street, and into the night.

*     *     *

In a matter of minutes Lorelei and Bianca reached the factory, rushed through the dark and empty rooms, tore down the flights of stairs, and made it to the secret basement room.

“Alright, keep a sharp eye, Bi, they could be anywhere down here.”

“Y’mean, like right there?” Bianca pointed straight ahead, towards the middle of the room. Sitting on the recently fallen tree, under the moonlight crack in the high ceiling, was the robot. He was tall, at least seven feet, and his arms and legs were long, lanky, and thin. There were loose wires hanging off of him in several places, and his boney-looking face had two different sized eyes. He was covered with rust patches. He tilted his head at the girls. They tilted theirs in return. Then Lorelei spoke.

“You!” She growled, angered and pointed at the robot. “WHERE IS HE?!”

The robot cringed and hid behind his arms. “…the…one who was with you? He is in my room, recovering.”

“What did you do to him?!”

“N-nothing. He…his head was hit slightly when the tree fell. He will be fine. I took him in there, but you were gone when I returned a little while later.”

“O-oh. I see. What…who are you? What is all this?”

“I? I am an artificial intelligence unit created by Dr. Matthews. My name is Jericho. This was once a factory that created and designed machines and parts. I was a personal project, constructed in secret. My creator wanted to do more than just design pieces and parts; he sought to create something more, something groundbreaking. But he was unable to gain the approval of those above him. So he began creating me in secret. He gave me emotions, free will, and taught me many things about the world, as well as morals and the like. Then one day, Dr. Matthews was arrested for stealing important machinery from the company…to build me, I presume. The factory was bought up by a larger company, and was left behind, along with myself. I’ve not seen Dr. Matthews since.”

“Why didn’t you leave here?” Bianca asked.

“I cannot. The day Dr. Matthews was planning to present me, he was to give me my final piece of machinery that would allow me to move about freely without the bounds of my recharge station.” There was a long mess of cables trailing from his back along the floor and out to somewhere in the darkness. “And so, I’ve been trapped here for several decades now. Unable to move on. Unable to leave this shell behind.” He gestured all around him.

Lorelei tucked her hand into her pocket as she listened, and it brushed against something cold and metal. She gasped.

“Is this it?! Is this the piece?” She thrust the gear with the tag on it at the robot. He looked at it, picked it up gently with both hands, and read the attached note.

He smiled and looked up at them.

“Thank you. ‘Be free?’ I would like that. I would like that very much.”

“You can be now. Do whatever you feel. You can always move forward.”

~Adam Schultz

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Filed under Fall 2015, Fiction Fall 2015

The Power of a Plastic Card

“Abstract” is defined as existing in thought or as an idea that does not have a physical or concrete existence. One of the most impressive and unique things about humans is the power to conceive abstract things or concepts. Laws, beliefs, and authority are all abstract and depend on the single understanding of a person. This understanding, though, depends on concepts such as culture, nationality, and social ranking, which are themselves abstract. We are born with abstract qualities such as our nationality, which is given to us, but when we grow up, others like religion, education and culture are taught to us. For me living in Africa, laws and rules were concepts more abstract than in other places, because they were not effectively materialized. The poor judicial system did not give laws or official documents as much concrete power as they have in western countries. Laws existed in Africa, but simply on paper. I remember a time when I could buy a collection of movies copied from the Internet for one dollar because, despite the copyright, nobody cared about it. I also remember times when I was a young kid and could buy cigarettes and alcohol without an ID despite the fact that laws restricted the purchase for minors under 18 years. I remember that I was living in a country supposed to be a republic founded on democracy where the president was in power for more than 40 years and where your rights are worth your wealth.

I still remember the day when my father came to my house to give me this piece of plastic. The card was in a cover made of paper and aluminum. On the cover was written in Spanish and English, “We recommend use of this envelope to protect your new card and to prevent wireless communication with it.” A stamp on the cover said “US Department of Homeland Security.” This small card had more numbers and information about me that I didn’t know myself at the time. The shiny green color coming from it was intriguing. So many details on it. I could see my name, nationality, date of birth and many numbers that did not make sense to me. In the back on the left was the head of the Statue of Liberty. This statue often came back to my mind later. Each time I remember the face of the Statue of Liberty on the card, I have these words coming in my ears: “Give me your tired, your poor, your huddled masses yearning to breathe free, the wretched refuse of your teeming shore. Send these, the homeless, tempest-tost to me; I lift my lamp beside the golden door!” This extract of the poem “New Colossus” by Emma Lazarus sounds so true for my life.  On the back of the card, I could barely see with my young eyes of the time that all the 50 states’ flags were there and all American presidents since Washington to Obama.

The first impression that I had was that this greenish card was a resume of me, as if someone could look at it and know most of what I am. Soon after remembering this impression, I recall the work that it took to have this card: all the travels and information that I needed to provide, but also the five long years that it took to have everything done. US government officials asked me for records from all the countries that I lived in. I needed to be crime and disease free. I spent hours being interrogated at the American embassy on my life and what I would do once I got there. After so many years seeking the card, I had even forgotten about it, and I did not realize the importance that this card would later have. This card would soon be my best friend and the most important thing that I ever had.

But it was much later that I really understood the incredible and almost magic power contained in it. A year later, after I received this card and came to the US, I was struggling to get to college. Fortunately my uncle was here and revealed to me the hidden powers contained in this card. The card allowed me to work, but moreover it allowed me to pay for my college. One of the most incredible powers my uncle revealed to me was the power of citizenship. This card will allow me after five years, if I don’t commit any crime or felony, to become an American citizen and change my name which means that this card allows me to have a second chance in life. For someone who lived in Africa like me and never had any social security, I soon realized the power surrounding this object. This insignificant, small, green plastic card did have a power on my life far beyond its physical limits. I now realize what difference it can make, because I encounter people who came to the US without it. Those people have struggled because they couldn’t work legally or have social security and financial aid. They live with a perpetual fear of being deported. I suddenly feel very lucky, but I also realize the power of abstract qualities. The single difference between those who live with the fear of deportation and struggle to make a living was this green card.

Mark Twain said in his book The Innocents Abroad/Roughing It that “Travel is fatal to prejudice, bigotry, and narrow-mindedness, and many of our people need it sorely on these accounts. Broad, wholesome, charitable views of men and things cannot be acquired by vegetating in one little corner of the earth all one’s lifetime.” He was right! I had the chance to travel on four continents and by the age of 19 years, I have been in more than 12 countries. My travels have given me a certitude that we often forget. Most of what we have is due to chance: the chance that we have to be born in a place where opportunities exist, and the chance that we have people who worked and sometimes sacrificed their lives for us to have liberties often believed to be granted and not earned. I realized that I could have been one of the smartest people, but in Africa I would have been nothing. I lived 15 years there and nobody realized that I was able to do something. I did not believe I could do something with my life because the environment was as arid in opportunity for me as the desert is in water. Once I came to the US, in less than a year, I could see myself going to one of the greatest universities in America: the University of Michigan. I still remember how this country took me from a poor young man who didn’t know if he could go to college, and even if he could, he would just have done it as a requirement to the young man who saw himself being able to reach the elite. I am today certain that my success will not have been possible anywhere else.

I am telling you this story for you to understand the extreme chance that you have to be born American citizens, because you will never need to pass by all these steps and tests. You will never have the need to prove that you deserved it as I did. You will always be able to see your future and do as you wish. You were granted something insuring your life in terms of opportunity, security and prestige. It is good to remember every time when you feel angry about what life offers you that you were born with something that others see as a life accomplishment.

~Ali Kahil

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Filed under Fall 2015, Nonfiction Fall 2015

Aqua Vitae: A Practical Recipe

Ponce de Leon sought the Fountain of Youth
upon the Isle of Bimini, but instead
he ran aground in Florida
and founded St. Augustine. Ever since then,
people have flocked south,
as if those waters bubble up from the Everglades,
or perhaps the dank recesses
of a central Floridian swamp – where cypress stand
a stoic watch, arms outstretched
and roots exposed like legs poised to dance
with demons driving men to drink
without fathoming their thirst for an impossible elixir,
or chemicals churning in an I.V. drip.
Such youth is stale. Like a cracker left out of the box.
Yet south they still go, as if word of this fountain
were only now trickling out
to hospitals,
to clinics,
and gated retirement blocks:
promises clutched in gnarled fists,
orthopedic shoes shuffling to a doctor’s didactic chant.
But the aqua vitae they seek
could never be extracted from a marshy bed,
or by metaphorically delving
the depths of an ailing heart.
Instead, distill legend from bitter truth:
And to this essence apply alchemical flame;
close eyes, conjure Caribbean thoughts,
then sprinkle these ashes
upon a moistened tongue.

~Bryan Hall

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Filed under Fall 2015, Poetry Fall 2015