Perpetual Summer

As a kid growing up on the asphalt of Los Angeles, I treasured any chance to play outside. My schoolyard was concrete. My various apartment buildings had courtyards with potted plants if we were lucky, or underground parking garages if we weren’t. At my best friend’s house, I was always the one begging the other kids to go play in the backyard. Sometimes, using wooden weapons and old movie props, we would act out the video games they were so reluctant to leave indoors.

Soon after school ended each year, I would pack my backpack and my Barney suitcase. With my mom and my two older siblings, I would board a Greyhound bus and watch the country fly by. Driving through the night, it took about three days to get from Los Angeles to Spartanburg, South Carolina, where we would spend the next three months.

Those summers seemed perpetual. Each morning I would wake up and go outside. My grandparents’ house was on the corner where two winding country roads met. Behind the house at the end of the gravel driveway was Grandpa’s shop, where he played pool in one room and did his work as a machinist in the other. Much of the yard was taken up by an enormous garden where Grandpa grew okra, cucumbers, squash, peppers, cabbage, watermelon, and tomatoes. Beyond the garden were two houses, one with a deck and a pool, the other with chickens in wire cages in the yard. There, two of my mom’s sisters lived with their families. Woods, which seemed impassable to me at the time but were really just a screen to separate us from the neighbors, surrounded the yard and the three houses. I spent most of my time barefoot in the grass of that huge yard, playing with my little cousin. We rode bikes, bounced on the trampoline, and, of course, acted out our favorite video games.

Nanny

All of this was overseen by my mom and her stepmom, who I called Nanny. They would sit on the porch swing by the shop, its benchlike seat in constant motion as they gossiped about the neighbors, who were almost all related to us. Sometimes, darkness didn’t come until 9 p.m. The adults would gather as evening drew down. Grandpa would sometimes light a fire in a big metal barrel by the shop, and we would all sit around it. Other nights we would go into the living room with its blue walls and bright lights. Nanny would watch TV and teach me how to do jigsaw puzzles. I remember the image of her decisively tapping down each puzzle piece into its proper place with a fingernail. She was a pro at puzzles, and she would often glue them, frame them, and hang them on the walls of the house.

As a baby, Nanny had tumors in her ears. Surgery left her able to hear, but her speech was impacted for the rest of her life. She spoke in her own particular language, which those closest to her had no trouble understanding. “I love you” would come out as “Ah huv oo,” sometimes with a little hand motion to make sure her meaning was clear. Everyone got nicknames that she could pronounce—except me, because before I was born, she helped choose a name for me that she would be able to say. When I was talking to her and got really stumped, she would holler for my mom or grandpa, who would stick their head in the room and translate her language for me.

When I was ten, my family moved to South Carolina for a single year. Across the street from the big yard with the three houses, a doublewide trailer was available. I was concerned with little beyond starting a new school, making friends, and spending as much time outside as possible. I found a special place in the yard behind the trailer, a hidden spot beneath a tall tree with low branches. There, I could feel magic emanating from the earth. It was just enough wilderness for me, the city kid. I built up screens of fallen branches for privacy, and I tied up an old tire to make my own swing. I took my favorite books up into the tree and spent hours nestled in the branches, reading. I burrowed into my books about magic and lady knights, and I entrenched myself in the multitudes of worlds they encompassed. I began writing my own stories about werewolves and kids and cities and magic.

That was the year I started to become aware of things in the adult world that were grim and serious. Being on the east coast, I was in school when the planes crashed in New York on 9/11. The teacher turned on the news in the classroom, but I had no idea what it meant. I felt no real shock or worry until I saw how my mom reacted. After that, the world seemed to take on a darkness. Fear and anger permeated the air. Around the same time, a neighbor and relative was shot and killed in a hunting accident. I answered the phone when Nanny called to tell my mom, and I had no trouble understanding her frantic words: “Let me talk to your mom, now! It’s important!” The timeless, idyllic summer became a fearful, unfamiliar winter.

*     *     *

When I asked my mom what she remembered about the year we lived in South Carolina when I was 10, her answer was easy: “Drugs.” She started spending more and more time with Aunt Suzi, who lived in one of the houses beyond the garden. Suzi was a drug addict. She spent $62,000 in eight months on drugs, embezzling money to support her habit. She and her husband, Stacey, lost their cars. The bank began to foreclose on their beautiful house with the pool where we kids made so many memories.

When Suzi woke up in the morning, her first priority was getting high. She would begin calling people immediately, dozens of calls, and then she would wait with bated breath for someone to return her call. Once she made an arrangement, someone, usually Stacey, would go out and buy the drugs and bring them back to her. Suzi was only ok when she sank into a stupor. I remember her crackly laugh, her manic movements, her obsessive twisting of her long, curly red hair. I remember her slurred speech, her heavy-lidded eyes, and her frightening thinness. She took any pill she could get, did cocaine and crack, and smoked weed as a last resort.

Suzi nearly collided head-on with a police car that year. Her three-year-old grandson, Christian, was in the car, and so was a bottle of pills Suzi wasn’t supposed to have. My mom picked up Christian, and Suzi went to jail. Having downed the entire bottle of pills before being arrested, Suzi was still incoherent the next morning when she was bailed out and needed a ride home.

That year, tension suffused the yard. Nanny and Grandpa didn’t talk to Suzi and her family, though they lived within shouting distance of each other. Playing with Christian in the muddy driveway, I saw Grandpa walking across the yard, shaking his head as if he were somehow disappointed in me spending time with my little cousin. I didn’t know why. At the time, I knew nothing about Suzi’s problems. I only knew that she was being shunned by most of the family—but not my mom.

I’d always known my mom had problems, though I didn’t understand the extent of them. She has dealt with mental illness her entire life. At ten, I was at a loss for what to do when she became emotional. Her crying, yelling, and threats to harm herself were frightening even though I knew that she would eventually calm down, return to a level state, and apologize. What I didn’t know then was that she was heavily involved with drugs, mostly prescription pills, and her addictive tendencies were becoming worse. When I became an adult, she confessed to me that, under Suzi’s urging, she even tried crack once—and thankfully didn’t like it at all.

Mom had a falling out with Nanny, which cemented our decision to return to California. I don’t recall saying goodbye to anyone. I just remember settling into the backseat, ready for the long, familiar drive across the country. We made a U-turn at the corner of the two winding country roads, and I watched Nanny and Grandpa’s house, with its familiar shop and garden, disappear around a curve in the road. By the time I heard Nanny’s voice again, three years later, I had already begun to develop my own relationship with prescription pills.

*     *     *

Addiction runs in my mom’s family. Tales of her childhood are riddled with Grandpa’s violent alcoholism and her mother Alice’s unrepentant abuse of pills. She describes physical fights between them so horrid they’re hard for me to picture. There’s a dissonance to the memories she recalls. Sometimes, they’re reminiscent of the ideal outdoor summers I enjoyed as a kid: sun shining, plants growing, hordes of cousins always available to play. Others are harder, meaner memories: when she was eight, Alice abandoned her and two of her sisters at a truck stop far from home. (They were rescued within a few hours by more stable family members.) The common themes of mental illness and addiction occur over and over.

As an adult, I visited South Carolina a few times. After not visiting for almost a decade, I saw Nanny just a few months before she died. She and Grandpa had moved across the yard into Suzi’s old house. Grandpa maintained the pool and deck, and Nanny cooked as she had always done. She mentioned a doctor appointment, but I didn’t realize how serious her situation was. We sat and talked in the living room, surrounded by Nanny’s glued and framed jigsaw puzzles displayed on the walls. When I left, she said, “Come back in one year, not eight,” holding up one then eight fingers to make sure I understood.

After Nanny died later that year, two years passed before my mom and I returned to South Carolina. It was strange to me to be there but to not be staying on the corner near Nanny and Grandpa’s house. I could visit, but without Nanny there, it was like some alternate world. Without hearing Nanny’s voice in my ears, those summer days faded away into memory, lost beneath the doped up person I had turned out to be.

Suzi and Me (with my little sibling)

We stayed with Suzi and her family in their new house. Suzi had been injured in a car accident a couple of years before. Her right leg had been amputated below the knee. For the most part, she remained in her bed or wheelchair (except for one wild adventure she took me on which involved driving with her left foot to go pick up drugs). That last visit was a hurricane of pills, booze, and terrible weed. I’ll never forget my cousin Jodi rolling us all up a “hog leg” joint to smoke together, or my mom dissolving on the floor with laughter as Suzi insisted on Stacey holding the joint up for her to smoke. Days were spent procuring drugs; nights were spent ingesting them. In a brief moment alone, Suzi smiled at me from behind her faded red curls, jittery, and told me, “Oh, I’m bitter. I’m just so bitter.” After that visit, I didn’t have a chance to see Suzi again before she died five years later, on my birthday.

*     *     *

I know the desperation of an addict. I know what it’s like to chase the unattainable high, the golden sweet spot of bliss that takes me right back to those endless summer days spent with the grass under my feet and the huge blue sky open above me. I’ll never again feel how I felt at ten, climbing up into the broad branches of a tree. I’ll never again feel how I felt at twelve, the first time I swallowed a narcotic pill.

I’m proud to say it has been ten years since my mom stopped her use of heavy prescription drugs. These days, we talk a lot about those old summers, trying to recapture the rush of boarding the Greyhound, the joy of seeing our family, the calm of being surrounded by nature. Returning to the green, sunlit South Carolina of my childhood is an impossible dream. It could never be the same without Nanny’s unique voice calling across the yard, without Suzi’s wild laugh filling the corners of a darkened room. Now, they are alive only in our memories of those perpetual summers, impossible to recapture, impossible to forget.

 

Adrien Sdao writes young adult fiction and works in a children’s bookstore in Los Angeles. They are an MFA candidate at Antioch University, Los Angeles, and they are the lead editor for the Young Adult genre at Lunch Ticket. They live in North Hollywood with their cat, Shelly.

 

Wulf & Eadwacer

Gabo Finalist Winter/Spring 2019

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 


 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 


 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 


 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 


 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 


 

 

 

 

 

 


 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 


 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Translator’s Note:

We know the Old English poem “Wulf ond Eadwacer” due only to its survival in the Exeter Codex, the largest existing anthology of Anglo-Saxon poetry, which dates back to the 10th century. Since no original manuscript for the poem exists, the date of its composition, its provenance, and even the identity of its composer are all unknown.

Even within the poem itself, ambiguities abound: the identity of the speaker is unknown, while the relationship of the speaker to both Eadwacer and Wulf, the poem’s setting, and its narrative content are all subject to conflicting interpretations. The prevailing interpretation of the poem’s narrative is as a love triangle in which the unnamed speaker (who is represented as “&” in my translation) is separated from her lover, Wulf, by threat of violence from Eadwacer, who is commonly viewed as either her husband and/or captor. It is also ambiguous in this interpretation if the “cub” to which the speaker refers is her and Wulf’s lovechild or her and Eadwacer’s legitimate son. However, the poem has also been interpreted as a riddle, a ballad, a wen charm, an elegy, and a beast fable. As Peter S. Baker notes in “The Ambiguity of Wulf and Eadwacer,” half of the poem’s nineteen lines “pose lexical, syntactical, or interpretive problems.” [1]

But the challenge of interpreting the poem is only part of what makes “Wulf ond Eadwacer” an anomaly. The poem is also formally radical, both for its departures from Anglo-Saxon prosody, and for its inclusion of elements like repetition, and refrain, which were uncommon in Old English poetry. For this, and other reasons, some scholars even believe that this compellingly mysterious lyric poem might itself be a translation from the Old Norse [2] .

As the act of translation cannot be divorced from interpretation, the highly enigmatic nature of “Wulf ond Eadwacer” would seem to begird the translator, to restrict the approaches, the strategies, and the outcomes available to her. Indeed, it seems sensible to decide what a thing is and what kind of effect it should have on the reader before translating it. But the reader should not have to pay for the translator’s convenience, and perhaps the least faithful translation of this enigmatic, polyvalent anomaly of an Old English poem that might have been born Scandinavian in the first place would be to present it in the absence of its complexity, to pin the poem down to a singular, definitive interpretation, to lock it into a linear narrative that it never loved.

The translation at hand aims to release the poem back into its radical complexity—to restore the lacunae, the indeterminacy, and the strangeness that makes the Anglo Saxon version of “Wulf ond Eadwacer” so haunting. Wulf & Eadwacer uses fragments of the original Old English both to re-acquaint the reader with her etymological roots and to make her a bit of a stranger in her own language. Code-switching between Old English and Modern English, Wulf & Eadwacer embraces the proto-feminist, disjunctive voice of the original poem so that its enigmatic nature and plurality can fully be explored for the first time.

 

[1] Baker, Peter S. “The ambiguity of ‘Wulf and Eadwacer.’” Studies in Philology, Vol. 78, No. 5, Texts and Studies, 1981. “Eight Anglo-Saxon Studies.” University of North Carolina Press.

[2] Danielli, Sonja. “Wulf, Min Wulf: An Eclectic Analysis of Wolf-Man.” Neophilologus, Vol. 91, Spring 2007: 505-524.

 

M.L. Martin is a prize-winning poet and translator whose experimental translations of Old English can be found in ANMLY (f.k.a. Drunken Boat), Arkansas International, Brooklyn Rail In Translation, The Literary Review, and Waxwing. Her poetry has appeared in Denver Quarterly, DIAGRAM, EVENT: poetry & prose, The Fiddlehead, The Massachusetts Review, PRISM international, and many other Canadian and American literary journals. She is the recipient of the Theresa A. Wilhoit Fellowship, the Bread Loaf Translators’ Fellowship, and the Inprint Verlaine Prize in Poetry. She currently lives in Tulsa, Oklahoma, where she is a Tulsa Artist Fellow. Find more of her work at www.M-L-martin.com.

An Anonymous pre-10th c. Anglo-Saxon Feminist

What we know of the poet who composed the Anglo-Saxon text commonly referred to as “Wulf ond Eadwacer” is very limited. Though unnamed in the poem, we can discern from the feminine inflection on the words “rēotugu” and “sēoce” that the speaker is a woman. It is possible, though perhaps implausible, that the poet is male, but even so, because the poem describes and laments a forbidding set of circumstances foisted onto the female speaker by a patriarchal Anglo-Saxon culture, the poet—who may have been Scandinavian or Anglo-Saxon and lived some time before the 10th c.—was undoubtedly a feminist, an outsider, and a radical poet, who mixed forms from both Anglo-Saxon and Scandinavian, subverting the literary conventions of each language culture in sophisticated and surprising ways.

Litdish: Sherri Cornett, Artist, Art Curator, Activist

Sherri Cornett’s German immigrant and pioneer roots are set deep into the homesteads around the small south Texas town of Cuero, where both of her parents grew up, met, and married. By the time she settled in Billings, Montana, in 1993, she had lived in eleven cities and, in some of those, several homes. Out of this came an enjoyment of discovering new places and taking on adventures—hiking, mountain and rock climbing, traveling, skiing, sailing, scuba diving—and a propensity for saying “yes” to interesting, but hitherto unknown or unconsidered opportunities. In her art world, this led her to rewarding projects, such as co-directing “Woman + Body” in South Korea and directing “Half the Sky: Intersection in Social Practice Art” in China.

Influenced by degrees in political science and art, as well as her advocacy, activism, and campaign work around issues of women’s rights, human rights, environment, and education, her art and curatorial practices engage the psyche and soul of viewers She encourages them to ask questions of themselves and the world and build relationships around the search for answers. Underneath all of this is her passion for community building. Her work has exhibited in China, Korea, California, Chicago, Michigan, New York, Idaho, and Montana. www.sherricornett.com

10 Questions for Sherri Cornett:

1. In your opinion, how can art impact or influence social justice?

Books, articles, and essays have been written on this topic, but, from my experience as a curator, artist, and a past UN representative for the Women’s Caucus for Art, I have seen how art transcends language and cultural barriers. It provides an entry point to dialogue around social justice issues. The art attracts the eye, brings people closer, and can then encourage viewers to ask questions: Why this theme? Why this media? Why this depiction? Integral to most activist-themed art is an accompanying statement, which may answer some of these questions and can also elicit more questions. The goal is often to present viewers with a new angle for consideration, to encourage viewers to absorb another layer of understanding, to question their own knowledge and leave room for perhaps an initially uncomfortable recognition that previously held opinions might be wrong or incomplete or unhelpful.

Facilitating "In Conversation with the Artists" during Social Justice: It Happens to One, It Happens to All exhibition

The art is the starting point for the dialogue that occurs in front of the works, within the gallery, between viewers, within curator-facilitated community conversations, during field trips by student groups, through sharing of personal stories by the artists and those who interact with the works. All of these experiences ripple out from the venue as viewers discuss what they have experienced. I have seen new alliances form, actions created, opinions shared with policy makers, and policy makers themselves interact with the art.

2. What’s the most recent thing you’ve created or curated?

I am currently working with ForFreedoms.org and their project to organize activations in all fifty states between September first and the mid-term elections on November 6, 2018, with the goal to engender socially-engaged, art-based civil discourse around issues of freedom. This idea comes from the Four Freedoms speech by Franklin D. Roosevelt in 1941, during which he spoke about the freedom of speech, the freedom of worship, the freedom from want, and the freedom from fear.

The activations in Billings, Montana, where I live, will focus on Native American lives and include other underrepresented and under-recognized members of our community. A Native American Race Relations and Healing Series community conversation will be started by Northern Cheyenne Chief Judge John Robinson and Jeanine Pease, who among many important education related projects, founded Little Bighorn College on the Crow Reservation.

Events on the campus of Montana State University Billings will include a community conversation with international students, students from the Women and Gender Studies program and others—again, focused on freedom. Throughout these events, yard signs will be created that depict individuals’ perspectives on freedom. These will be installed on the MSU Billings campus. Other entities in Billings, including the Western Heritage Center, are tying in their programming to this project.

3. What or who inspires you most in your art?

Photo by Christine Giancola

My first degree was in political science, which informed my various activist and advocacy work. All along, my creative side was visualizing and manifesting 3D works and some photography and video. While in art school, I discovered the Women’s Caucus for Art, a non-profit focused on activist art since 1972. I crashed one of WCA’s meetings while visiting NYC years ago, learned about their international effort with the United Nations and immediately saw a way to connect these sides of myself by using art to create community and dialogue around social and environmental issues. Within a year, I was co-directing a feminist exhibition in South Korea, followed by one in northern China. The connections and conversations within these projects fed my soul and inspired me to do more such work.

4. How does your day job inform your art?

I am lucky to be able to say that my day job is curating and, too-infrequently, making art.

5. What advice would you give to emerging artists?

I recently read Elizabeth Gilbert’s book Big Magic, in which she advises creatives to think of their work as a vocation, but not necessarily a way to support themselves. Creating art may be an imperative for us—we must get these ideas out of our head and into the world—but there is no imperative for the world to compensate us for those ideas. We must have thick skin and create even though it comes with much rejection. The satisfaction of making something, creating something, facilitating something is in itself an end goal. If it comes out of a deep, genuine place in our soul, we will continue to be motivated. Outside acceptance is secondary.

I see the spirits of younger and/or newer artists, writers, musicians, and performers crushed by the unmet expectations that, if they create something, someone will want it. It is unfortunate that our country’s culture and policies, unlike those of some other countries, does not more broadly and financially support creative professions. But that shouldn’t stop us from creating. We just have to work harder, have more discipline, and create our own communities and collectives in which to encourage each other.

Develop fortitude—rejection is frequent—and professionalism. At least half of being a professional artist is the business of art—maintaining a website, social media presence, learning how to write about your work and your message, perhaps through a blog and self-promotion.

6. What is the most important thing(s) you want to get across in your art?

As I say on my website, I agree with those who believe that we must continue to investigate and discuss the grand narratives used to explain the world and that each of us should reformulate our questions and seek new answers as we learn and grow. My work is often a physical manifestation of these questions and answers. I develop exhibitions, projects, art and correlating events that engage the psyche of viewers and participants to the point where they, too, become moved to question, to consider, and to act.

7. What are your interests outside of the art world?

"Points of Many Connections" dome (collaboration with Sandra Mueller) and interactive events with Chinese during Half the Sky: Intersections of Social Practice Art

Photo by Christine Giancola

My passion for community building and being in community extends outside the art world. Beyond that, I seek out adventures and peace in the mountains and waters, here in Montana and during travel.

8. What is your process like when starting a new project?

When I am presented with a new idea—through reading, through a conversation, through an observation—my brain often immediately begins to play with how it fits into my current Weltanschauung, my worldview. And, if it is intriguing, how I can best share it with others, through physical art, through a conversation, through an essay, through an event or an exhibition. I capture any related thoughts or research in my journals and sketchbooks—some may have little connection, but I keep them together until enough have been collected that a pattern starts to appear. I often think of those artists whose ideas seem to come forth fully-formed as Athena from the head of Zeus. My process is far from that. It’s more of a messy collection of ideas and materials and then, in far-too-rare moments of quiet mindedness, a way to bring them all together develops. Even then, during the compiling and building, there is much experimentation, rethinking, taking apart and reforming, stepping back to get as systematic, as overarching a view as possible, listening to how my spirit responds and then going back in to edit.

9. What art exhibition should we all go see?

There are so many exhibitions coming out in response to the world tumult now. Just plug in the words, activist, exhibition, art, and social justice, and see what comes up in your area.

10. If you could ask yourself any question, what would it be and what would the answer be? 

Hmmm. How could I make my life, my work, even more fulfilling?

I know that striving for balance in one’s life is a key component of the answer to that question. With a creative and curious mind, balance is a constant challenge. My mind is easily distracted by some observation that sends me down rabbit holes of thought and research, and thus, that part of my brain gets privileged at the cost of quiet and peace and simply being. If I am in the mountains or sitting beside a creek, this comes more easily. My seemingly never-ending quest is how to create that peace in my daily life.

 

Kristina Ortiz is an elementary school teacher and MFA candidate at Antioch University Los Angeles where she is the associate managing editor and web team manager for the literary journal Lunch Ticket. She lives in Ventura County, California, with her fiancé, golden retriever Bella, and cat Lara.

Northside Newcomer

39.7768° N, 105.0382° W

The clouded sky and thunder have been threatening to start something for a little over an hour when Justin and I begin our walk with our dog, Corky. Occasional afternoon storms rarely last very long anyway. We cross the street to say hello to our neighbor, Lynn, and her dog, Shadow. Then head north on Winona Court. No two house or cottages are exactly alike, even the ones sold from Sears catalogs. Paint is chipping off the sides of a tiny wooden cottage tucked behind a large pine tree. The house next door has a fresh coat of light gray around the window frames. Across the street, a child’s swing hangs from a tree in front of a brick bungalow. Corky forces us to stop, and I notice a woman staring into the sky behind the gate of her door checking to see if anything will become of the roars. Minutes later, rain delicately hits the trees on the parkway and wind chimes begin to slowly turn. Corky pulls me closer to the tree shading himself from the light drizzle, and we’re greeted by a series of lawn gnomes and trinkets in the yard of an old two-story Victorian.

39.7392° N, 104.9903° W

I moved into Justin’s house in North Denver a little over a year ago after almost a year of dating, a few months after we visited all of my granddad’s old residences in Cuba, and a week after we drove home from Los Angeles, where I had attended my first residency at Antioch University. He became my partner as opposed to just my boyfriend, and I began to navigate the unfamiliar territory of permanence.

Redlining in Denver 1938 Source: HOLC via Mapping Inequality

In my thirteen years in Denver, I’ve learned about Colorado’s past through Facing History and Ourselves— the nonprofit that helps teachers engage students in social issues of the past and present and participate in society. Through their seminars and events, I learned about the murder of hundreds of Cheyenne and Arapaho Indians, mostly women and children, by U.S. soldiers in 1864’s Sand Creek Massacre. I learned about the city’s first riot in 1880 on Wazee Street where an anti-Chinese mob destroyed homes and businesses in the area once known as Chinatown. I learned about the Granada Relocation Center better-known as a Japanese concentration camp. I learned about Keyes vs School District No. 1, the 1973 court case that was the first outside of the South to rule that schools were segregated. I learned about many atrocities erased from white memories like mine. These pieces of history became close enough for classroom lessons and conversations but far enough away for me to not connect them to or question the neighborhood I lived in. My activism was tied to my students, to fellow teachers, to people I saw as my community, to issues that connected all of humanity, but were not tied to my immediate geography.

Before I moved in with Justin, college friends, my hometown St. Louis friends, friends of friends, and my boyfriends’ friends—my scattered outside-of-school community—visited me. I hosted visitors to Denver in various apartments, houses, and condos as I hopped from Washington Park to Capitol Hill to Cherry Creek to Governors Park to Golden Triangle, always anxious to try something new or show them something I knew they’d like. I visited places—rented places, friends’ places, boyfriends’ places, weekend trip places, parents’ places, siblings’ places, places I’d love to buy if only teachers made more money, if only I was ready to be more permanent. I’ve heard there’s buzz around the new development in Port Macquarie, Australia. Sovereign Hills looks set to become a popular community.

39.7768° N, 105.0382° W

It stopped raining by the time we reached the end of Winona, where it dead-ends into Berkeley Park. On the westside of the park, across Sheridan Boulevard, sits Lakeside Amusement Park, which, I learned, is one of the country’s oldest amusement parks. Every time I see Lakeside, I think of the students I taught a decade ago at the internship-based school in North Denver, who were frequent patrons and employees of the park.

When Justin and I first started going on walks in the neighborhood, he would tell me about the historic homes in the area he discovered from a book he bought, The North Side Story, written by Phil Goldstein. Many of the homes in the area have been there since the first developers came to Berkeley in 1885, or shortly after, like our home. Walking in-and-out of streets helped me map out our neighborhood. With each walk, I’d mark places and stories either present or before my time. And with each passing, depictions became more defined, till we’d reach a street with a fenced-in lot of dirt, marking something that wasn’t there anymore.

Clouds still hover above the lake in Berkeley Park. We cross the street and enter the park looking for the perfect spot to watch the sun fall behind the Rocky Mountains. We pass white and Latinx teen couples perched under trees, on benches, and on the playground swings. We pass white and Latinx families pushing strollers and walking dogs and pass an African American man instructing his daughter on how to cast her rod into the lake. Lights from Lakeside’s 150 foot-tall “Tower of Jewels” flash with purple mountains and the pink and orange ombré sky behind it, all reflecting in the lake surrounded by tall grass and lily pads. We hear faint laughs and conversations from park patrons and laughs and screams from rickety roller coaster riders, though periodically their sound is interrupted by growling semi-trucks shifting gears on I-70. Long gone are the beach, bathhouse, pier, and diving board that made Berkeley Lake a popular place decades before the city made way for connecting people via freeway.

We leave the park and head away from Lakeside toward Tennyson Street. We round a corner and pass a Keep It Moving Moving and Delivery truck parked in an alley—the new Northside mantra I thought I left behind. In the alley across the way, chairs, a table, a tv, various bits of wood, and other things I can’t see piled high in a truck slowly passing trash cans from each of the houses, as the driver surveys what he can salvage from things residents discarded. Trucks line the streets. Some old and some new. Most with logos from painting companies or construction companies plastered to their doors. A new one has dozens of two-by-fours packed tightly on top of each other resting in its bed. An old one, manufactured before I was born, has a white hood, a blue body, and a red bed (parts that once belonged to others) with “For Hire” and a number blurred by green spray paint on its door. I hear the piercing sound of a saw as we get closer to Tennyson Street.

Daily view on Tennyson Street

On Tennyson Street, mostly white moms, dads, and/or nannies push strollers past boutiques, barber shops, breweries, and bookstores. As we wait to cross the street, a bulldozer swivels, then hammers into dirt removing the last of the Victorian. Men in hard hats shout directions. Wrenches turn. The bulldozer beeps indicating it’s backing up, and then starts crushing rocks like the thunder before. The dance of developers colonizing, “Gracefully rising out of Berkeley’s revitalized neighborhood,” as one new development with $1,825 studio apartments claims. Next door, staple guns shoot into boards and roofs. I hear the faint sound of music intermittently interrupted by the staple gun. We walk under scaffolding to the intersection. Across the street, another home I don’t remember has been torn down. We cross the street as patio patrons begin happy hour. The fifteen-dollar cocktails at the new tree-themed bar are certainly not made for someone with my budget. And the latest tops and jeans at the various boutiques we pass on Tennyson Street are not affordable to me. Nor is a single item from the vegan, gluten-free restaurant’s menu. This is not to say that I don’t enjoy visiting all the latest hot spots—I got used to living outside my means, where credit cards become the means to enjoy the various places that pop up—but I can’t pretend that all these latest trends were meant for everyone.

39.7561° N, 104.9272° W / 39.7847° N, 104.9593° W / 39.7543° N, 104.9798° W

Recently, Kyla, a former creative writing student of mine, who is now a sophomore in college, told me about her family’s new home in Park Hill, the east side of Denver, close to where her father grew up. She told me it’s gotten a lot whiter than she remembers as a kid. I asked her how she felt about the influx of white people. She said, “It’s disappointing to me because it feels like there’s less of a place for us.” Place: the space where you belong. “It’s like there isn’t just one community for black people. We don’t have a space or neighborhood that’s just our own, so you feel less concrete in where you belong.” When I asked Kyla how white people coming in makes it hard for her to feel like she belongs, she said, “Because then it feels like everything is catered to them and any new stores or restaurants are made with them in mind.”

Before I took the year off from teaching, on the way home from school, I often got off I-70 and drove through an industrial park to avoid a few miles of standing still in bumper-to-bumper traffic. I drove over abandoned train tracks with abandoned red, rusted boxcars peppered with purple and green and black bubbled graffiti tags in a maze of factory buildings only the Waze GPS application could lead me through. Then, I’d turn left back onto I-70 and back into the standstill. The air was thick and the marijuana and dog food smell from the grow houses and Purina plant assaulted my nose. Come on! I thought as I waited impatiently for any kind of movement. I looked around at the small brown and orange brick houses of the Elyria-Swansea neighborhood below the highway.

It’s easy to miss the predominantly Latinx community with the factory wall surrounding it. That is, it’s easy to forget if you don’t live there, don’t know anything about the neighborhood aside from the boarded homes, the abandoned trains, and the weed and dog food smell. As traffic starts to steadily move, orange lights flash dates of 70’s closure for expansion into the Elyria-Swansea neighborhood. New highway lanes and new Light Rail tracks for people to travel to and from, pushing the people of Elyria-Swansea out and away. Making way for the revamped billion-dollar stock show complex with commercial space, condos, and an apartment complex. Newly paved streets on old red lines.

I looked to the left and saw buildings cut into the mountains as the sun set. For purple mountains majesties. Every time I see a beautiful Colorado sunset, Ray Charles starts singing in my head. Dozens of cranes were littered among the buildings ready to poke and prod and rip through the Mile High sky. God mend thine every flaw / confirm thy soul in self-control / Thy liberty in law! Each crane raised means rising rents, rising poverty.

Traffic makes us sit in place and see what’s being done to Denver. Once I was free from the stand-still, I’d return home to turn-of-the-century Victorians and bulldozed bungalows making way for three-story duplexes. Boards on windows silence homes until they’re erased and something new and “up-and-coming” takes their place.

Four months after I moved in with Justin, Ink Coffee Shop in Five Points, the historic African American neighborhood north of the city, made national news for displaying a sign that read, “Happily gentrifying the neighborhood since 2014” on one side and “Nothing says gentrification like being able to order a cortado.” Longtime neighborhood residents and the NAACP organized a protest even though some (perhaps people unfamiliar with the Blair-Caldwell Library and the neighborhood’s history) did not understand their resentment. When I heard this, I thought not just of past and present students and their families from Five Points. I thought of our neighborhood, Berkeley, and the one next to it, Sunnyside; I thought of my home on the Northside.

39.7768° N, 105.0382° W

Corky barks at a parent who startled him by swiftly cutting in front of us to pick up his kids from the nearby elementary school. Families wait to cross the street holding hands as a truck carrying a forklift passes by. We head down Stuart Street, one block east of Tennyson. A tiny, brick bungalow hangs onto time between two massive, three-story, newly-built, modern mixed-material duplexes. “Up homes,” I like to call the tiny ones after the Disney Pixar film. I’m proud of them for holding out, but know they’ll be destroyed in no time. The other ones I called, “Swedish prisons,” because they reminded me of a prison I saw in a Swedish film in college. Nice for a prison. Justin called them “Ikea homes” because they all come with the same cheap prefabricated parts out of a box, instructions and all. Minimal pieces, minimal instructions, minimal aesthetic investment. We settled on “Ikea prisons.” Fitting that the grass on a newly built duplex is Astroturf. I’m not sure how new it is just by looking at it, as it looks just likes ones built days ago, but this one looks a little more lived in than others with the tiny trikes and toys in the yard. It’s easy to forget people live inside when the frequency of their arrival hasn’t given enough time for the animosity to subside.

We wander past a series of multiple duplexes tightly packed on lots built for one. Then another Up house and another new house still wrapped in plastic—not ready to be opened to its new family. The brick around the porch pillars is being glued on—part of the facade. A singer croons in Spanish on a radio within while someone sings to the tunes, finishing up the house for dwellers who more than likely will not be Spanish speakers—they are rapidly diminishing in this area as quickly as their Northside homes are demolished. As we head back to Winona, I wonder how houses like mine have withstood the test of time. Were each of the previous owners careful not to sell to developers? I like to think that it’s because they were made to last. These new homes made from cheap materials can only weather the Colorado weather for so long until developers deem them ready to be demolished. In reality, I know if we were to go, these old brick bones would never last.

39.7778° N, 105.0119° W

Justin and I decided to go to La Raza Park in Sunnyside to check out the home of the Chicanx Movement in Denver where Rodolfo “Corky” Gonzales and the Crusade for Justice would meet and organize. I type “La Raza Park” into my GPS, but nothing comes up. So, I pull up a Denverite article and learn it’s designated name is Columbus Park. I plug it in and read the article aloud on our short two-and-a-half-mile drive. I learn they adopted the legendary home of the Aztecs, Aztlán, to motivate the Chicanx community to organize and take back the land of their indigenous ancestors. Aztlán, the home of all Chicanx people past and present. La Raza Park was part of Aztlán.

Plaza de la Raza

The small, one block park between Osage Street and Navajo Street is lined with brick bungalows, tutor homes, and trees. We walk toward the “Plaza de la Raza,” in the center of the park. “Built in 1989,” a plaque on the structure reads, “This kiosko (pyramid structure) is dedicated to all people of Denver’s Northside past, present, and future in honor of their continued fight for peace, justice, and equality. ¡Viva La Raza!” We walk up a couple stairs to the stage of the structure. Inside two-tiers of murals, two for each side, tell their story. A landmark solidifying their place, their struggle for justice. A memorial to the movement, to memory. Under their story, I read more of the article. I learn about the “splash-ins” organized to ensure pools in Mexican-American areas of Denver are run by people in the community. “Where’s the pool?” We look around. A playground, a basketball court, flower beds, benches, trees. I read more learning that police frequently harassed park patrons, which eventually led to a riot. A couple years later the pool was closed, filled in, erased from the park. As much as I want to hear their story through the mural, I don’t feel right standing center in their space. I feel like a tourist who overstayed her welcome.

We decide to check out the neighborhood. Bungalows, one-story Victorians, similar to Berkeley but with industrial buildings in the mix and fewer newly built boxes and slot homes complexes, roof balcony and all. Justin suggests we go in a newly built duplex open house and pretend we’re from St. Louis to see what they say about the neighborhood.

A young, good-looking, blond hair, blue-eyed, white realtor greets us. We give him our made-up spiel. Justin asks him about the neighborhood. “Okay Sunnyside…How long have you been here?” A month. He tells us that I-25 was the deciding factor: “the tracks, he calls them. “You did not go west of 25 ten years ago. Shot, killed, no bueno.” Then he tells us that five to ten years ago a developer started buying up all the land, building restaurants and homes, selling the land to other developers and then buying land in Sunnyside. He assures us that although prices were rising in Sunnyside, it has streets that “need some updating.He tells us that while it has a different kind of crowd,” it will look the same as LoHi in a few years. In addition, a Light Rail stop will be completed shortly. “What’s unique about this neighborhood,” he says as we are four blocks north of La Raza Park, is that one of the developers is building a 360 unit apartment building and 44 townhomes (he did not clarify if any of the housing will be affordable) with 20,000 to 30,000 square feet of retail space including “restaurants, coffee shops, fitness spots just a couple blocks away, which, again, is why the 3 bedroom, 3 bath, 2,552-square-foot duplex has an $800,000 price tag.

Justin asks the realtor if he is part of a big development company. He tells us which and how they specialize in “mid-century, architecturally pleasing, cool and different homes that sell, he tells us, “at the same price as larger homes but are significantly smaller but feel bigger.” I ask how you adapt to the community culturally. By “you” I meant how developers adapt, but, of course, since we are at an open house, he thought I meant anyone like me. He tells me that each neighborhood has its own cultural vibe and names a series of neighborhoods mentioning they each have their own restaurants, coffee shops, and parks. I reframe the question, explaining we are from a historic and diverse neighborhood and ask what they do to preserve the neighborhood. The realtor says that there are lots of historic districts around and many historic homes are preserved, but “little blocks of architectural nothing are the first to go.He walks us over to the front room and points to various homes on the block, designating which will stay and which will go. “And everyone thinks it’s so terrible,” he says. “But people only say that because they notice it now and won’t notice anything once they aren’t as new and blend in more in ten years.” He mentions people are freaking out about it, and I ask him what he means by freaking out. “Well, you just hear people talking about gentrification and all of these bad things, he says. What they don’t see is that these were dilapidated houses with gang activity, needles on the street, people getting shot. So, you weren’t over here in the first place.” Developers came in and “cleaned it up. He said you will always have some people who hate the change, but “most people, for the most part, like it.”

But, I don’t like the change. Ten years ago, I never stepped on any needles. I never noticed the need for modern, luxury homes. Back then, I visited my students at internships in the area. I watched a student present his short film at a quirky, community theater called The Bug. I visited another student at her cousin’s dietitian clinic on Federal Boulevard. I listened as my student told me about cruising down Federal, which I told her sounded a lot more fun than hanging out at the mall like I did when I was her age, and listened while her cousin passionately told me about educating Mexican-American women like herself. I visited another student at her internship at a small, sign-making business, which is still around now and down the street from the recently opened, hipster hangout restaurant chain, Illegal Pete’s. Back then, still relatively new to Denver, my student helped me appreciate the Northside community.

View from open house balcony in Sunnyside

The guy isn’t a pushy or aggressive realtor. The entire time he’s been calm. His tone: passionate, educational. I keep replaying, what he said about the condition of the neighborhood. “So, you weren’t over here in the first place.” He doesn’t even pause to think I could be offended by what he said, nor does he pause to question if we belong with the “cleaned up or “dilapidatedversions of the area. What he sees, a white couple in their thirties, is all he needs. I go back to the car with a clear understanding of how the Northside tour guides cater their newcomer experiences.

Plaza de la Raza is still confined to exist in the place named after Columbus, the colonizer who displaced and murdered many indigenous people. The article mentioned how several efforts to have the name officially changed have been met with resistance from the Italian American community who dominated the area before it became predominantly Mexican-American. Even recent efforts to name it “Columbus Park / La Raza Park” failed. The Italian Americans and the Mexican-Americans wanted the culture of their neighborhood to be represented in their space. Perhaps because the Italian Americans chose to have colonization represent their community versus “La Raza” or “the people” like the Mexican-Americans, they felt they had to stick to dominating versus integrating as they did with other aspects of the neighborhood. But what happens when there’s no one left to remember? No one left to solidify legacies before the next ones pour the concrete?

I am a newcomer seeking permanence. But the way things are going should not be permanent. Some of the new homes claim to be sustainable. Perhaps we can push for sustainability to include inclusivity, to sustain affordability, sustain the history, sustain the culture and community deeply rooted in our place.

39.7768° N, 105.0382° W

Permanency is a matter of perspective. It’s hard to not be new when everything is always new. But this is a feeling unique to newcomers. The ones here long before are forever mourning, in purgatory, stuck in spaces in between, spaces that once were theirs, spaces of uncertainty.

On Winona, a Broncos flag and a Steelers flag hang from the same home. A Wisconsin flag hangs across the street. Many of us here are transplants. Some arrived here days ago and some decades. We migrated here from places all over for various reasons. Each of us has a story. Yet, it’s hard to settle when I find so much unsettling. Gentrification means replacement, displacement. Erasure comes at a cost many newcomers don’t question. But I am welcome here. We, Justin and I, are welcome here in the new Northside built on the bones of Little Italy, the bones of Aztlán, the bones of all who have lived in this community. I’m slowly learning my neighborhood’s history. But I need to keep digging. Before it’s buried so deep it becomes extinct and preserved only in books like Chinatown and Japantown, like the victims of the Sand Creek Massacre, and the victims of La Raza Park police brutality—more guilt white folks reluctant to burden when we, white folks, are the burden—where time, not effort, allows us to forgive ourselves.

Barrie Jean Borich in her essay, “Autogeographies,” said, “When writers reckon with the harmonies and disharmonies of their physical, emotional, and theoretical locations they often find new ways to render their life stories.” Maybe I’ll read this reckoning and commitment at a First Friday Open Mic on Tennyson Street. But I’m not sure anyone will listen. We’ll see. But then again, I’m not the one they need to listen to. I’m a white woman with immigrant and colonizer roots who also needs to listen. Maybe without hammers hitting, when staple guns stop, when trucks and bulldozers are all shut off, maybe if we’re all quiet enough, we’ll hear the soil’s whispers.

 

Kate Carmody is a writer, teacher, and activist. At Lunch Ticket, she is a blogger and a member of the community outreach team. She is currently working on her MFA at Antioch University in Los Angeles and lives in Denver, Colorado.

Jerrell Gibbs, The bird whisperer, 2018, Oil on Canvas, 40" x 30"

Spotlight: Hiding in Plain Sight

Hydration

Twenty years ago, in a storefront on Avenue D in New York’s Alphabet City, I visited my first psychic. She was sturdy, middle-aged and wore a silk turban. I was tipsy off of the millennium drink du jour – a “cosmo.” Tarot cards with worn edges flipped into neat clusters and rows in front of me.

“There is a dark cloud over your head in New York City. You must go to California. You will find happiness there. Creativity and love, too—” She looked me in the eyes with such intensity, her pupils vibrated.

“But what will happen if I stay here?” At the time, the mere thought of abandoning New York reeked of personal failure.

“You will die alone in a studio apartment in Manhattan. In poverty.”

Source: Wikipedia, Storefront psychic fortuneteller in Boston

Her words jolted me sober. Nothing could’ve been more frightening at the time. A recent college grad, I was broke and had recently come out as gay. And while the act had been liberating, I was miserable in New York, constantly overwhelmed by the city’s teeming streets and the subway cars that screeched so loudly, my ears rang for hours afterwards.

The following day, I called my big sister in Berkeley and asked to crash for a few weeks. I stayed four years, in a closet-sized bungalow my friends lovingly called the “Shack in the Back.” Throughout my time there, I was unsure if I was happy, though I knew I was definitely not unhappy. Love didn’t find me, either. I was just grateful not be dead in a studio apartment.

I’m not your typical psychic follower. I believe climate change is real and vaccines are safe. I hold a graduate degree in epidemiology. Yet, one year ago, despite this deep belief in science and an adherence to logic and fact in every other facet of my life, I found myself shopping for crystals at an LA store called, “Spellbound Sky.” Young hipster women packed the shop, preparing for a once-in-a-lifetime solar eclipse. And though I scoffed at them, I plucked a white quartz from a black, velvet-lined basket and plopped my credit card down on the counter. The night before the eclipse, I set the crystal in the northwest corner of a different older sister’s guest bedroom. I had just turned 40 and was deep in debt. No longer afraid of dying alone in a studio apartment, I was now dying to live on my own. The day after I purchased the crystal, I PayPaled a few hundred bucks to my psychic, after which he texted me to let me know it was done: Crystal remotely charged from Brooklyn, abundance to follow in LA.

Source: Yelp, Adrienne D. “Rose Quartz”

It’s been more than a year since the eclipse. I’m happy to report living in my own one-bedroom apartment, all debts paid. I credit my psychic and his otherworldly powers for my success. My sister in LA says it’s ‘cause I got a job.

Hugh and I met in 2011 through a third sister, who raved about a reading she’d observed at a “mommy-wine” party. He’d read a guest’s cards and said her husband was cheating and using drugs. Afterwards, the woman purportedly confronted her husband, verifying Hugh’s insights. The woman divorced. I was sold.

We talk often, sometimes weekly. Over the years, Hugh has gotten so many unknowable details right. He knew when a beloved former boss would email asking me to come work for her in Atlanta. I declined, not wanting to abandon California. He also predicted a petty crime or similar inconvenience on a vacation to Mexico. I spent the entire trip not wanting to walk alone, gripped with anxiety that I’d be mugged. My friends were annoyed because I forced them to take taxis even if our destination was only a few blocks away. When I arrived at the airport for my return flight, I chastised both him for his inaccurate reading and myself for allowing it to spoil my vacation. Then at the ticket counter, the agent asked for my temporary visa. After combing my bags in front of her for an hour, I gave up and paid a small fine.

Source: Hugh

It should be noted that Hugh has also been way off. For example, I was supposed to have a best-selling book by now. However, he had told me to write a memoir, while I insisted on a novel. And two years ago, when one of my sisters reported a lump in her breast, he said it was only a scare and she would be fine. The cancer was Stage IV, requiring two major surgeries. Not without a fight she recovered. I forgave him.

Recently, I decided I should see a licensed professional, a therapist instead of a psychic. At my first appointment, he was running behind and kept me waiting for thirty minutes. After I shared my life story, he said smugly, “Sounds like you’re in a holding pattern. Not a lot has changed for you over the past twenty years.” He then listed my red flags: too many moves and job changes, too few long-term relationships. At the end of our session, he wouldn’t even accept PayPal, so I forked over all the cash in my wallet, twice the amount Hugh charged for a phone session.

On the drive home, I felt hollowed out. Ashamed. I took to my bed and cried. The shrink had proven my hypothesis: I was a failure.

The following week, Hugh called me promptly at the time of our scheduled appointment. “This is going to be a good money year,” he said right away. “Health is good, too. Keep working with that mentor on your book, he’s giving you the input you need to make it a success.” His last words were, “Remember to hydrate.”

It was 104 degrees in LA that day.

I PayPaled him. Then I filled my water bottle.

 

Tom Pyun is an essayist and novelist living in Los Angeles. He was a fellow with Vermont Studio Center, Gemini Ink, Tin House, and VONA. His work has appeared in the Rumpus, Blue Mesa Review, Eleven Eleven, and Reed and has been nominated for a Pushcart Prize and a Best of the Net award. He holds degrees from Vassar and Columbia and is an MFA candidate at Antioch.

À La Carte: Damage [trigger warning]

[fiction]

4

My babysitter is an old bat. Old and mean. She makes me drink water standing by the kitchen table. She won’t let me sit down. After I drink, she pushes me back outside to play. She won’t let me in until lunch at eleven.

I play with the other kids in the yard. There’s another girl whose name is also Beth. And there’s a boy. He has long hair and thick dark eyebrows like a grown-up. I like him because even though he’s pale, he’s nice to me. We make a game out of jumping over the dog doo that’s turning white in the grass. We run, jump, and never land on the dog doo. Some of it’s sticky and some of it’s hard if you poke it with a stick.

“You two are gross,” Beth says. She tells him, “You shouldn’t let her make you gross.”

I don’t know what time it is, but I have to pee. I knock on the door, and call to be let in. Then I whine. Then I cry. When I can’t hold it anymore, when I let go where I stand, the babysitter yells at me, then makes me sit in the corner with my wet underwear on my head. She makes me wear a diaper the rest of the day.

Her children still live at home. Both of them are also old. The girl child, she’s growing a baby in her belly, even though she’s not married. You don’t ask questions about it. I like to watch her chewing her breakfast. She chews on one side only, her jaw sticking out, popping as she chews. I try to chew crooked like her.

The man child lives in the basement. He walks around the yard wearing just a tiny swimsuit, and his belly moves like Jell-O.

After lunch, I hide in my babysitter’s coat closet. It’s hot in here, crowded with smelly coats. It’s also dark, and I focus my eyes on the thin line of light coming in beneath the door. I stare at it a long time, until my eyes are dry. Cigarette smoke clouds the light. I’m sweating, watching cigarette smoke coming in beneath the door. The man child is home. He’s smoking, looking for me, but he won’t call for me. His mother is taking a nap. He won’t risk waking her. All I can do is wait, pressed in between the coats, my feet hidden in adult-sized snow boots.

 

5

The man child grabs me by my arm, drags me down to his bedroom in the basement. He doesn’t turn on the light. There are high windows, dirty, smoky. Dirty clothes thrown on the carpet. The other children are there, too, the boy and Beth. Both of them look at the carpet.

He gives us a choice. We can do what he says, or else we’ll get a licking. I don’t want to get a licking. Only naughty children get spanked.

His Jell-O belly comes closer. Too close. I don’t even know the words for the things he shows me, for the things I do. He makes me do things to him. He makes me do things to the other children. When he’s done, he cleans himself up with a dirty sock.

I always find new places to hide in my babysitter’s house. The closets, the bathrooms, even the garage, even in the cold. No matter where I go, the man child always finds me.

 

6

My babysitter renames me. I used to go by Beth, but she says I’m to be called Liz or Eliza.

“My granddaughter is ‘Beth,’ and I won’t have my own kith and kin sharing a name with a nigger child.”

These are all the new names I’ve learned today: Liz, Eliza, Nigger.

“Choose. Now. And hurry up, before I get angry.”

 

7

A lady from the school visits the house to talk to my mom. They’re worried because the babysitter sent me to school in a diaper.

“Your seven-year-old should be potty trained,” the lady tells my mom.

“What do you mean?” My mom says. “Of course she’s potty trained.”

“Why was she in a diaper?” The lady asks.

“Why was she what?”

When the lady has gone, my mom asks me if it’s true. When I tell her yes, she doesn’t believe me. She checks my butt, and finds it covered in diaper rash. I tell her other things, everything, about the man child, about the things he makes me do. She looks angry and sad and scared and tired.

“You shouldn’t make up stories,” she tells me. “It’s the same as lying.”

After that, I don’t have to go to the babysitter’s anymore. My life before quickly blurs—the house, the babysitter, the girl child, the man child, the other Beth, even the boy. They become like something I saw on T.V., something I shouldn’t have seen, and now I can just forget.

 

12

A friend from school, Mary, invites me to a slumber party. Bonfire, hayride, hot apple cider. We T.P. the house down the street, then stay up late talking, conversation that turns serious fast. She tells me her parents are divorced too, that she seldom sees her father, that he raped her when she was eight. We bond over our similar damage.

 

13

In eighth grade, after one of our classmates gives birth to her second baby, Mary and I start the V Club. We even have a hand sign, which is just a peace sign, and we flash it at each other to pledge allegiance to our purity. I wonder whether this is a lie.

Gloria is our first member. She sits in front of me in history class. Gloria is raised by her single father, a man I don’t trust. She’s a slumpy girl, one who won’t look you in the eyes when you talk to her, and she stares at her feet in the showers in gym class.

Gloria starts dating a guy who doesn’t go to our school. In fact, I don’t think he goes to school at all. I meet him at a football game. He has a bowl cut and a beer belly and an old letterman jacket that the leather is cracking on. He buys hot chocolate for all of Gloria’s friends.

Soon, Gloria stops returning the V sign when we flash it at her. She starts biting her nails, chews them away to nothing. She no longer talks to us, or anyone else in school. She’s always been quiet, easy to overlook, but she’s somehow transparent now, folding silently into herself. I am able to miss her, even when she is sitting in the desk in front of me in class. Within a few weeks, she stops attending school altogether. She disappears so gradually that I don’t notice her gone, not at first, until all at once one day I remember she used to be there.

 

15

Rainy day at summer camp, and we two lock ourselves into the van to play Truth or Dare. I choose Truth, like a wimp. He asks if I’ve ever given a blowjob, and I say no. I don’t think it’s a lie, because “given” implies consent.

When he chooses, I dare him to suck my toes. I’m a sandal-wearer. I bathe maybe once a week at summer camp. I like to splash in the puddles on the dirt paths. Even so, he does it, and from then on, I will forever keep my feet clean, the callouses scrubbed away, my toenails painted, because he sucks my toes and, oh, I like it. I like it.

 

16

My friend and I play Penis in choir class. It goes like this: I say ‘penis,’ and then my friend says ‘penis’ louder, and then I say ‘penis’ louder, and we keep going like that until we get caught. We don’t ever get caught, because we’re altos and stand in the back row, and because we’re playing while everyone else is singing. Also, our choir director is too busy mooning over Alexia, the red-headed soprano in the first row, to bother with much of anything else. He and Alexia are dating. It’s supposed to be a secret, but this is a school of only five hundred students, and just about everyone has seen them at the mall holding hands.

“It’s so gross,” my friend says, and I nod along. “I mean, he has buck teeth and wears gay vests,” she says.

I don’t tell her that part of me signed up for voice lessons with him after school because I imagined being the student who got seduced, like in a movie, I could be the student whose talents had gone unrecognized until now. A few weeks later, we find a heart drawn on one of the music stands, with “Alexia + Mr. Henley” written inside. It’s drawn in pencil. You can only see it against the black lacquer of the music stand if the light hits the graphite just so. I wonder if she calls him Mr. Henley when they’re alone together. I can’t even imagine what his first name is.

 

18

On more than one occasion, my roommate wakes me up in the middle of the night to ask if I’m okay.

“Whatthefuck does it look like?” I say. “I was sleeping fine.”

“No you weren’t. You were screaming.”

 

22

I set up a dating profile. My name is now Loves2Laff.

The profile reveals just enough. My age, my hobbies, that I work as a chef. A picture of me in makeup and a sunhat and a tight tee shirt. These men see through the picture, the name, into the damage inside me. It draws them to me like flies to garbage.

They ask for my measurements. They ask for a full-body picture of me. They ask if I shave my pubic hair. They ask me to shave. They ask what I like to drink. They ask my dating history. They ask how many sexual partners. They ask me how tall. They ask my panty size. None of them ask my name.

They tell me they want to take me to the hot tubs. They tell me they want to eat my cooking. They tell me they want to take me for drinks. They tell me I remind them of someone. They tell me they want to eat my pussy. They tell me what trucks they drive. They tell me they love my lips, I have nice lips, my lips are big and soft and firm and snug. They tell me they want my number. They tell me they want to take me out. They tell me they want to lick my ass. They tell me I will love it. They tell me my picture looks sad, that they can make me smile for real. They tell me I look familiar. They ask my cup size; they tell me they’ve always wanted to date a D. They tell me they’ve never dated a black girl. They tell me about med school, about fireman training, about working construction, about their grad programs. They tell me I look nice, I look fun, I look sexy, I look cute, I look shy, I look like a daddy’s girl, I look light. And when I give them my number, they don’t call, and when I ask them why, they don’t message me, and when I ask again they block me or they say I’m pushy, they say Bitch, what’s your damage? They say they want a girl who is whiter or darker or taller or thinner or thicker, who wears more makeup, who wears less makeup, who knows how to have a good time, who has a better education, a better job, who drives a better car, who shares their interests, who has a daddy, who dresses better, who can hold a conversation, who can hold their gaze, who can hold herself together.

 

23

First date with the fireman. I want to date him because of his muscles, and because he wears nerd glasses, and because he tells me online that firemen work hard and play harder. I’ve never been a party girl, but I want to try. I pay for dinner, to see if he’ll let me, but also, I don’t like to feel like I owe anyone anything.

Even so, I find myself in a park with him in the dark. He sprawls out on the grass, pulls me on top of him. He’s kissing me drunkenly. He’s not a bad kisser. His hands go down my body, and I think he’s feeling me up, but then I hear he’s unzipping his pants. I’m drunk too, but not drunk enough to be okay. He stops kissing me, pushes my head down. I get to his belly before I come back up, but he pushes my head down again.

I can do this. I can know how to have a good time.

Second date with the fireman, and in his truck on the way home from the movie, he tells me his friend is also dating a black girl. His friend says black girls will let you do anal, you just got to throw it up there, ha ha. Dummy that I am, I’m not sure why he’s telling me this.

Back at my apartment, after he drinks all my wine coolers, he gets my clothes off quick. He flips me over and goes for it.

“That kind of hurts,” I say, but he keeps fumbling, keeps trying. “I mean I don’t like it.”

“You’re hella blunt,” he says, but he stops, goes back to plain old vanilla. And I should have told him to get out, not to let the door hit him in the ass, but instead I let him finish because I never was good at thinking quickly.

 

24

I move in with my boyfriend after we’ve been dating for six months. I cook him butter burgers. I bake him hand pies. I clean his apartment. I wash his laundry. I want to keep this one.

He’s invited to a friend’s house, and I’m not invited to go with him. I don’t want him to go. I don’t know why, but it feels important that he not go. When he goes anyway, I am wrecked. On my way to the bathroom, to dry my face, I bang the wall with my fist. The drywall is damaged. He doesn’t leave me alone again for a while, until he can’t stand it anymore, until he leaves me alone for good.

 

26

I meet a good man. I tell him nothing for fear I will tell him everything. It seems to work. He thinks I’m normal, whole. He finds me attractive. He says he only wants to know me, because knowing is loving. He tries so hard to make me feel good, his head buried between my legs. We lie in bed in the morning, our bodies so close. I’m not attracted to him. I remind myself that he’s a good man. I tell my body to shut up its cravings; the mind wins this time. He’s the kind of man I would want my son to be. I manage to seem whole long enough that he marries me. I take his name, shedding my own like dead skin.

I give nothing, have nothing to give. I am nothing. My insides have been scooped out, have been buried, rotten, in someone else’s yard. What little of me is left I’ve shoved down deep, hoping to hold onto it, terrified of it being discovered.

But my husband is smart. He intuits the pieces of me I’ve shoved down deepest. He asks me about myself, and when I’m evasive, he asks, “Why so secret?” He only wants to know me.

“You’re inscrutable,” he says. “Unknowable.”

I hate him for making me remember that I’m insufficient. I hate him for not knowing me, for not guessing.

After our son is born, a change takes my husband like a cold front. Practically over night. It’s subtle: he leaves piles of folded clothes on the floor; he cooks all the meat from the freezer, then lets it spoil in the fridge; he makes a full pot of coffee and only drinks a cup; he turns the air conditioner down to sixty-five without telling me. To compensate, he buys me sweaters, three sizes too big. He buys five gallons of orange juice and leaves them to ferment in the fridge. He moves us to a bigger house, a bigger yard, a bigger city, more space to lose each other in. He plants a garden that takes up the entire yard, then lets it go to seed and weeds, green and glossy and so thick the grass underneath dies.

I tell him all this: he doesn’t take care of himself, he doesn’t take care of me, he doesn’t take care of the house, the yard’s a mess, he won’t pick up after himself, he doesn’t appreciate all I do around here, he puts too much into work and not enough into this marriage, he doesn’t know how hard I work. He paws at me constantly, wants my body, demands my body, as if he could dig into me, as if he could unearth me.

Our two-year-old son latches onto the chaos. He upends a box of Cheerios onto the kitchen floor. He pulls the pots and pans from the cupboard, moves around the house clanking them against each other. He fills the dog’s bowl until it’s spilling over. He empties the silverware drawer, a cymbal crash on the floor. He does this all quickly, with more speed than I would have thought such a tiny body capable of. When I catch him, he’s reaching for the drawer that houses the kitchen knives.

I’m seven months pregnant with our daughter, and my belly is so big it looks like I’m lugging a boulder in front of me. My husband cowers from the excess. I hate him for making me feel like I’m too much. He comes home later and later, he’s sullen when he’s home, a presence that feels like an absence. Our daughter is born in one of those absences, and she fills the void with her howls. She screams my heart out, all of the words I’ve kept inside for decades come pouring out of her in that eerie music that predates language.

As I suspected, my husband won’t take her raw emotions. He won’t wake in the middle of the night to comfort her, he barely wants to hold her. He comes home even later from work. Then, one night, he doesn’t come home at all.

The next time I see him in person, we sign divorce papers.

I slip back into my old name, and with it, all the violence, the anger, the humiliation, the damage it has endured. My name is a garbage bag, tied around my head. If I am to ever breathe again, I must begin the slow work of ripping it wide open.

 

Jeni McFarland holds an MFA in fiction from the University of Houston, where she served as a fiction editor for Gulf Coastmagazine. She is a 2016 Kimbilio Fellow, with an essay appearing in The Beiging of America(2Leaf Press), and fiction in Crack the Spine, Forge, and Spry, which nominated her for the storySouth Million Writers Award. She was a finalist for the 2015 Gertrude Stein Award in Fiction from the Doctor T. J. Eckleberg Review. She lives in the San Francisco Bay Area with her husband and many cats. Follow her on Twitter @jeni_mcfarland

Food Justice: A Menu

Breakfast Club           

A farm-fresh egg.

I had a story published recently about the first time my husband fried me over-medium, farm-fresh eggs for breakfast. They were velvety, oozing, and accompanied by buttered sourdough toast.

The eggs were a revelation to my palate. I ate a lot of canned, frozen, boxed, bagged, fake, cheap, and subsidized food growing up. Those items were what we could afford on a single mother’s income in Milwaukee. My breakfast frequently consisted of white toast or frozen waffles with imitation maple syrup.

I used to be ashamed that I was poor. Once, a school friend who lived in Brookfield, an affluent Milwaukee suburb, was supposed to pick me up for a weekend field trip. She called from her cell phone, an unheard of luxury for a 15-year-old at that time, saying she couldn’t find my house. I didn’t hear the sound of any cars on the other line, no blurred rushing of semi-trucks on the overpass. Later, I learned her parents had not wanted her to drive to my neighborhood. My step-dad drove me instead, and I ate a toaster pastry from its foil wrapper on the way.

Beer Break/Cigarette Chaser

My mom got pregnant when she was 19, working and partying in Boulder, Colorado. She moved home to give birth to me in Milwaukee, working a full-time job with a second part-time job on the weekends to support us. The south side of Milwaukee was and is predominantly Catholic; my mom turning up pregnant with no husband was frowned upon. I lived with her in the attic of a house on 32nd and Oklahoma until I was six years old. My two aunts and grandparents also lived in that little house, and we ate gigantic amounts of French toast together on weekend mornings.

Both of my maternal grandparents were heavy smokers. To this day, the smell of Pall Malls reminds me of my grandma’s limpid turquoise eyes and puckered mouth—sometimes angry, sometimes just smoking. The smell of Camels shrinks me to age 4, being tossed in the air and kissed on the cheek by my Grandpa, his rough, scruffy cheeks emanating nicotine and motor oil. My grandmother died at the age of 46 from lung cancer. Then, we moved out of the house on 32nd Street and tried to make it on our own. Less than four years later, my grandpa died at the age of 52 from esophageal cancer. We were left in a precarious financial situation, and my mother lost both her parents before she was 30.

It was not easy.

My mom, working full time in healthcare and catering gigs on the weekends, also returned to college when I was six. She finished her undergraduate degree in four years—a veritable superhero. But her course load and work schedule meant I was a latchkey kid and had a lot of teenaged babysitters on weekends. I remember taking malty sips of Miller High Life when I was little with some of those babysitters, unbeknownst to my mother. Those fizzy drams gave me a taste of Milwaukee and the grainy flavor of a beer I still eschew.

No Free Lunch

After the house on 32nd Street, we lived in the upper unit of a duplex within walking distance of my tiny Catholic elementary school. Here, my mother diligently fed us healthy, high-protein, low-calorie meals that didn’t cost much. Lemon pepper chicken, low-sodium canned soup, frozen broccoli, eaten at our battered, tiny oak kitchen table. So many, many supermarket-special chicken breasts. By the time I was 11, I couldn’t eat another bite of lemon-pepper chicken. This may be because I associate the dish with my mother’s ear-splitting screams, which she emitted every time a cockroach skittered across the kitchen sink backsplash in that rental place, an apartment my mom and I kept spotless—the downstairs landlord refused to have it treated for the pests. It was our first-ever time living on our own. My mother’s trauma and my own fear of those sprinting bugs, and the stigmatized poverty they represented, stuck with me. When I was in my early 20s and it came time to decide whether I wanted to pursue my magazine editorial dreams, I shrank from moving to Manhattan, or any denser urban area than my college town, Madison. Too many roaches.

Since I went to private school, I did not receive free lunch through a public school program. Instead, I ate the simple bag lunches my mother packed: turkey sandwiches, applesauce, celery with peanut butter and raisins, and the occasional baggie of Cheetos. I grew up in the Dairy State, full of world-class creameries and award-winning cheese, but for me, manufactured cheese powder tastes like home.

Cheetos were like a surprise dessert in my lunches.

After-School Snacks

Before the lessons got too expensive and I grew bored of the classes, I took gymnastics. This extra energy expenditure required that I eat a healthy, hearty snack every day. I slurped down Campbell’s Tomato Garden every weekday afternoon for three years—a soup I can no longer eat after this overconsumption. In 2009, I entered the workforce as the economy struggled to rebound. One of the few full-time “jobs” available was helping to run an elementary after-school program as an AmeriCorps volunteer in Madison. All of the students in the after-school program qualified for free lunch. Most came from single-parent households.

One day, a substitute offered to put together the daily snack for the children. She came back into the classroom from the community center kitchen brandishing a two-liter bottle of Pepsi and a gigantic bag of potato chips. The boys cheered. I remembered my mom’s commitment to making sure I ate somewhat-healthy soup rather than junk before gymnastics.

“Hell no!” I said, my outcry more inappropriate than the snack.

The kids stared wide-eyed at me.

“Ooooh!” they shouted. “Ms. Erica swore.”

I took the substitute aside and explained that the students should have grapes with string cheese for snack. Too late—the ten-year-old boys seized the Pepsi bottle and helped themselves, their Styrofoam cups sloshing over. The chips won that day.

Ruined Appetite

I struggled—and still do—with my weight, having been a skinny child and an athlete in high school and a curvy adult woman now. I didn’t fill out till college, with its requisite beer and pizza diet. When I recently read Harmony Cox’s essay on Narratively, “My Life As A Public Health Crisis,” her words hit home. Cox, who works as a food access advocate in Columbus, Ohio, describes herself as an overweight person, one who eats healthily and works out, but who didn’t have access to lots of produce growing up. She recounts a conversation with a colleague who stated that everyone in the neighborhood was fat, and that all the kids ate fast food.

“It’s like nobody loves them,” the colleague said.

Sugary breakfast cereals and other foods are frowned upon by food justice advocates.

Cox defended her neighborhood and her family and friends’ difficulties accessing healthy food in the past. She articulated in the essay that what angers her is that she and her poverty-line family and friends “didn’t have anything to be ashamed of. We weren’t the ones who made fresh food a luxury and junk food an easily obtained comfort.”

“Conversations about food access are so often tinged with judgment about personal responsibility and time management, as if every poor fat person is spending their time napping and eating Twinkies when they could be preparing quinoa from scratch,” Cox writes.

I felt, and sometimes still feel, immense shame and guilt when I eat junk food, like I’m submitting to my basest, most poverty-stricken urges. But after reading Cox’s essay and reflecting on my failed snack discipline in the AmeriCorps after-school program, I realized that, despite not knowing my biological dad or my full genetic identity, growing up with a single mom in Milwaukee, amidst the struggles and happiness, the bounced checks and the boxed macaroni and cheese, is my identity. The fake-frosting taste of Zebra Cakes and the salty tang of Spaghettios make up my background as much as the heaps of organic greens I eat now.

Supper Time

My monthly AmeriCorps stipends were so pitiful that my friend secured us a gig selling artisanal bratwursts at the Dane County Farmers’ Market. My AmeriCorps budget left little room for dining out and the work hours allowed scant time for cooking my own meals, so I subsisted on free brats, grab-and-go sandwiches and the snacks the kids ate each day. The bratwurst gig was my entrée into Madison’s foodie scene. It opened my eyes to food movements—organic, local, Slow—I knew existed but never thought I would eat. Too expensive.

I started dating the man I would later marry. He admitted sheepishly that he would probably become an organic mushroom farmer—he was born into the business. I was intrigued but not convinced. I’d never eaten mushrooms that were not on pizza. I liked all vegetables by that point, and I tried eating raw mushrooms like I would eat chips. I could see the appeal. This apparently impressed him, as did my enthusiasm for sticking my bare hand into a pile of steaming compost at his family farm. We moved in together.

That winter, we went to Costa Rica for a tropical horticulture class, where I learned more about the worldwide power of produce—papayas and coffee, bananas and Highland onions. The first salaried job offer I received after my AmeriCorps experience was as a food rights reporter, specifically to emphasize the wholesome benefits of raw milk and expose the insidious effects of sewage sludge. The organization’s efforts didn’t last, but my belief in food access did.

Even Milwaukee, my complicated and beloved hometown, which is notorious for its housing discrimination and the resulting racial segregation, as depicted in Matt Desmond’s Evicted, has worked to bridge its food access gap. Natural foods grocery stores are the norm for each sector of the city now, rather than a unique, far-flung destination smelling of couscous and nutritional yeast. Now, the Milwaukee restaurant industry burgeons with farm-to-table options.

Too Full for Dessert

I am white and have been the recipient of plenty of privilege—private primary and secondary educations, albeit subsidized with grants, scholarships, and work-study requirements; a college degree from a flagship state university; and upper-middle-class friends who include me in their activities and look out for me when I have trouble paying for fancy dinners.

I don’t know what it’s like to be evicted from an apartment for inability to pay rent, like Desmond’s Evicted subjects.

But I do know what it’s like to watch flames leap across the hood of my mother’s perpetually overheating station wagon, eviscerating the engine—a guarantee we would stick close to home that summer. A guarantee that our closest spot to buy an affordable meal was the frozen custard stand down the block.

I try to eat mostly plant-based now.

I remember my mother sighing heavily over her checkbook in the dingy fluorescent light at the nearest Pick n’ Save. Let’s hope to hell that check clears. My year in AmeriCorps, the card machine at the food co-op where I’d become a member declined my debit card. My face was so hot I could feel beads of sweat start to run down my cheeks, a precursor for tears. I put a few boxed organic items back, leaving only fresh produce to pay for, to save my checking account, which was fed up with being overdrawn.

As an author, I’m trying to write an authentic experience. One that includes the tough times—canned food and worn-out shoes—but also includes the brighter times—eating for the first time at a Michelin star restaurant because I worked there and got a huge discount, and choosing organic over conventional for most produce. As Cox wrote, food justice is about “growing appetites for the food that keeps people happy and healthy…It’s the long game, not the quick fix.”

Over the days I’ve drafted this essay, I’ve eaten healthfully—brown rice and black beans with fresh greens, sparkling water—and indulgently—a hot dog, Miller Lite. But both those meals make up me.

I feel free. I am full.

 

E.P. Floyd is lead editor of flash prose, an interviewer, a blogger, and an assistant blog editor for Lunch Ticket, and an MFA candidate in fiction at Antioch University Los Angeles. Her writing is published or forthcoming in Lunch Ticket, Litbreak MagazineReservoir, and BusinessWeek. She is at work on a novel and short story collection, and lives in rural Wisconsin. Find her online at epfloyd.com.

Spotlight: ache & therapy session 1

ache

  1. when you came here, you were a shadow on the wall of the episcopalian church on the water, fourteen hours away. you had your mother’s face and father’s eyes. limbs that bent into edges and straw, skinny red lines frowning across your left wrist. a hunger you couldn’t name yet rustled beneath your ribs.
  2. you met the first man in a lightning storm of your own design. you were possessed by the liquor, big blanks of time stretched out in the backs of your eyes, one wrong turn and a flashing light away from a felony. he watched you skin your knees and poured rum-coke down your waiting throat, threw you on the bed when he thought you were gone enough.
  3. imagine a montage: grime, holes-in-the-wall. the sparkle of eyeshadow and lipstick and blow. imagine saying no and him, not stopping. imagine saying yes because it sounds better on your tongue. imagine saying nothing because it doesn’t make a difference.
  4. there are bruises, blue-black bloomings. there are nails in your throat, red-eyed, white-crust nose. a ringing in your ears that only stops when his hands press tight ‘round your neck. you imagine what it would be like to break as his fingers find your thighs.
  5. one night, you are sitting on the balcony with the man you think you love. the beer is crawling down. his hands are sliding across your body. you remember the church on the water, how your parents are still in love where your freckles meet the corners of your eyes. you feel no growing in your stomach, pushing its way toward your mouth. you let the drink pass your lips, his breath touch your neck, swallow it back down.

 


 

therapy session 1

i have forgotten gentle. say
gentle. i have forgotten hips
not marred by barbed wire
teeth, blue-black
bruises shaped like lips
and knuckles. say
tender. what is sex
but a split
lip? what is fuck if not hair ripped
from scalp, fingers curled in cold
noose around neck? say slow. i can’t
remember a time without whip-
lash, a leash made
of leather and slur. slowly.
i am nothing
but a gap
between my thighs, stripped
every night, bleeding
out each morning.

 

Charlotte Covey is from St. Mary’s County, Maryland. She currently lives in St. Louis, and she earned her MFA in poetry in spring 2018. She has poetry published or forthcoming in journals such as The Normal School, Salamander Review, CALYX Journal, The Minnesota Review, and The Monarch Review, among others. In 2015, she was nominated for an AWP Intro Journal Award. She is co-editor-in-chief of Milk Journal and managing editor of WomenArts Quarterly Journal.

 

Spotlight: ache / therapy session 1

ache

  1. when you came here, you were a shadow on the wall of the episcopalian church on the water, fourteen hours away. you had your mother’s face and father’s eyes. limbs that bent into edges and straw, skinny red lines frowning across your left wrist. a hunger you couldn’t name yet rustled beneath your ribs.
  2. you met the first man in a lightning storm of your own design. you were possessed by the liquor, big blanks of time stretched out in the backs of your eyes, one wrong turn and a flashing light away from a felony. he watched you skin your knees and poured rum-coke down your waiting throat, threw you on the bed when he thought you were gone enough.
  3. imagine a montage: grime, holes-in-the-wall. the sparkle of eyeshadow and lipstick and blow. imagine saying no and him, not stopping. imagine saying yes because it sounds better on your tongue. imagine saying nothing because it doesn’t make a difference.
  4. there are bruises, blue-black bloomings. there are nails in your throat, red-eyed, white-crust nose. a ringing in your ears that only stops when his hands press tight ‘round your neck. you imagine what it would be like to break as his fingers find your thighs.
  5. one night, you are sitting on the balcony with the man you think you love. the beer is crawling down. his hands are sliding across your body. you remember the church on the water, how your parents are still in love where your freckles meet the corners of your eyes. you feel no growing in your stomach, pushing its way toward your mouth. you let the drink pass your lips, his breath touch your neck, swallow it back down.

 


 

therapy session 1

i have forgotten gentle. say
gentle. i have forgotten hips
not marred by barbed wire
teeth, blue-black
bruises shaped like lips
and knuckles. say
tender. what is sex
but a split
lip? what is fuck if not hair ripped
from scalp, fingers curled in cold
noose around neck? say slow. i can’t
remember a time without whip-
lash, a leash made
of leather and slur. slowly.
i am nothing
but a gap
between my thighs, stripped
every night, bleeding
out each morning.

 

Charlotte Covey is from St. Mary’s County, Maryland. She currently lives in St. Louis, and she earned her MFA in poetry in spring 2018. She has poetry published or forthcoming in journals such as The Normal School, Salamander Review, CALYX Journal, The Minnesota Review, and The Monarch Review, among others. In 2015, she was nominated for an AWP Intro Journal Award. She is co-editor-in-chief of Milk Journal and managing editor of WomenArts Quarterly Journal.