Deception of Memory, 10 x 16 Mixed Media, 2018

Spotlight: The Curious Mind

I really like to poke people’s brains. From business, to family and friends, and even love
[especially love], the core foundation of all things boil down psychology, and the workings of
the brain. I think the human mind is a bizarre and peculiar place […]

À La Carte: Saudades

I miss the jungle’s morning breath. I shall never grasp

I used to bathe in lush vines, the Peace that shelters those

and soak that sing with one set of Words.

Spotlight: The Examination

Funny that you ask.
It feels like billions of nerve cells arranged in patterns to coordinate thought, emotion, behavior, movement, and sensation.
An egg frying in a frying pan.

Litdish: Hilary Rubin Teeman, Executive Editor

The bar is often whether I can put it down. I don’t mean put it down for an hour while I deal with something else, but, “Is this book in my head? Am I thinking about how it’s going to end? Do I want to go back to reading it to the exclusion of other things?” If the answer to these questions is “Yes!” it means the novel has hooked me, that I am feeling an authentic connection to it, that I can see myself working on it and championing it.

Untitled, 2018, Acrylic and Ink on Paper, 18” x 30”

Spotlight: Abstract Painting

I am compelled by a clumsy and imperfect nature of painting, especially with a relationship to a more perfect, cold language of drawing. The precise and angular nature of many of the forms I work with lend themselves to a technical vernacular […]

Á La Carte: Safe

He reached over my legs to turn the heater up, then slowly brought his hand back, hovering above my knees. The tattoos on his four knuckles shown towards my mother and me. The words spelled F E A R. I looked away quickly. My mother fingered the door handle.

Spotlight: The Circus

The last time I went to the circus
was also the first day
a boy fingered me behind
the stacks of old smelling innertubes
at the pool on the corner of Thirty-second.

À La Carte: Deportation Fears

follow me, like my shadow
under blinking streetlights
when I walk home at twilight
listening to “Immigration Man,” with my earbuds,
afraid for our people, their lives,

Litdish: Adrian Ernesto Cepeda, Poet; Amy Shimshon-Santo, Poet; and Mireya S. Vela, Author

Three successful Los Angeles-based writers have found a path toward community through shared passions and mutual respect. Poets Adrian Ernesto Cepeda and Amy Shimshon-Santo, along with nonfiction writer Mireya S. Vela, form a tightly bonded trio, challenging racial and cultural biases in their writing and beyond. […]

Spotlight: Chemo-Brain / Motel 6

Chemo-Brain

Your eyes go suddenly vacant,
mouth slack,
expression anxious.
You search,
search for a word,
a train of thought,
a reason you have opened
the refrigerator door.

You rub your face,
run your hand through your hair,
lean against a cabinet,
resort to a favorite ploy—
going through the alphabet.

Your head is a pinball machine,
thoughts trickling through synapses.
Each lights up with recognition,
but the ball bounces on
erratically until it finds
the small blinking hole
where it fits.

Oh, of course, you mumble,
a wave of relief passing
across your face.
I wanted the milk.

 


 

Motel 6

Behind every window a life
dispersed
out of gear
broken into here and there
a nebulous somewhere lurking
in the unformed future.

For now, walls rented,
space possessed with time
ticking down.

Underfoot the cracked tile
revealing daily tread.
On beds the dangling threads
of worn bedspreads.

Pictures that escape into garish
gardens, landscapes
cactus bleak to forest lush.

A place to be
when nothing else suffices,
with no need to delight,
surprise, no reason
to be remembered.

 

Sharon Scholl is a retired professor of humanities and world cultures who convenes A Gathering of Poets critique group and is an associate of the Atlantic Center for the Arts. She has written two chapbooks, Summer’s Child and Eat Space. Her poems have appeared in Sin Frontera and Gyroscope Review.

Writers Read: On Earth We’re Briefly Gorgeous by Ocean Vuong

That we are in the hands of a master storyteller who writes with a poet’s precision about fractious themes is clear. With a seer’s intuition, [Vuong] guides us into uncomfortable terrains of migration and displacement, violence and love, trauma and loss, poverty and addiction, the body and identity, queerness and masculinity.

Tania Shvayuk, The Moonlight garden, 2018, Oil on Canvas, 54x40cm

Spotlight: Mom I’m Not a Transvestite, I Do Art

I’m very interested in the inner worlds of other people—that’s the main reason why impressionistic portraiture is the basis of my artwork. I deny the stereotypes of appearance and gender and paint boys with makeup and earrings […]

Spotlight: The Nopalera Speaks

[fiction] the grandma would cut nopales from her backyard nopalera. a tower of pencas. the long blade biting its way through the stem. but it was infected. white pimples growing on its shell. when i would pop them. they would release a wave of purple. staining the smooth penca with sin […]

Litdish: Ashaki Jackson, Poet

There is no lifestyle; there are rules that you set for yourself. Be reasonable with those expectations and know who is setting them. Keep reviewing those expectations, especially the ones you’ve set for yourself, to make sure they are realistic and not harmful […]

À La Carte: The Properties of Mercury

[creative nonfiction] Nothing ostentatious, nothing reminiscent of the young man who, after a weekend of clubbing, raved about the bodies of the men he met. “They had bodies of death,” he laughed, never realizing the irony of foreshadowing. No amount of make-up could cover the Kaposi’s, that’s what we called them then, on his nose. It bloomed with the deep purple and distinct outline of an O’Keefe flower […]

Spotlight: Aleph Friedman Killed

[fiction] The messenger arrives early in the morning. He hands Rachel an envelope. Inside the envelope is a letter printed on lengths of tape and pasted on a form. In the letter, there are three words. Aleph Friedman Killed.

À La Carte: To guide my son to sleep

I shut his blue eyes,
my hand still enough

to keep each iris closed.
I have learned both

to tie a curtain and silence […]

Spotlight: Golden Years

Because nursing homes were for gringos,
my grandfather spent his last years
on the couch, idle, silent, drooling
as he watched novelas, old episodes
of Cops, and—as hour after hour passed— […]

À La Carte: Waning Gibbous

1
Google: How early do girls masturbate?
in her eighth year / maybe earlier / low tides birthed: a lotus / splitting legs / to conch shell murmurs / she
swirls / her lotus / chews mattress / her lotus / bends pillow / her lotus / rubs its cheek / against raggedy
Anne / repetition sharpens / her lotus / petal / into blade / petal tears / knitted crotch / crotch spills / cotton
/ spills / from mute dolly / yet / no cotton / will enter girl / enter lotus / tampons are phallic / kabardaar

Spotlight: 85%

[fiction]

On any given day, I spend about 85% of my energy trying to not look crazy. Which is why it’s really pissing me the fuck off that Emma is spending about 0% of her energy not listening to the really simple thing I asked her to do: stay on her half of the desk.

Right now, she’s trying to whisper something in my ear but I have no clue what she’s saying because all I can think about is the wet sound of her gum. How I can hear her saliva swirling in that area near the back of her jaw. How she smells like she hasn’t showered in a few days. How that isn’t me being an asshole because I know she could shower if she wanted to because she’s rich. How many dead skin cells are stacked like plates on top of her unclean forearm. How every time she moves, hundreds of thousands of them flake off, infecting the air. About a million of them every day, to be more exact. I Googled it.

She stops talking just long enough to swallow the spit I could hear pooling in her mouth. I wonder how much skin she just swallowed. The inner cheek kind. I read somewhere that people who wear lipstick swallow about 4 pounds of the stuff in their lifetimes. And people only sometimes wear lipstick, while they always wear their mouths. So, I can only imagine how many pounds of skin people swallow in a lifetime. What the chunks of our ingested flesh would look like all piled together.

I try to pull myself out of this loop. I make myself wonder if pandas are any closer to not being extinct and if I’d be able to tell a naked mole rat and a hairless cat apart if I saw them in real life and about the logistics of old people sex. But it doesn’t matter. I’m in so deep, our teacher could shove his laser pointer right up his ass and I doubt I’d notice.

Emma’s getting closer and I can feel her hot breath on my ear, which sounds really turn-on-y when actually it’s disgusting. She just ate carrots and hummus. I saw her do it, but even if I hadn’t, holy shit can I smell it. And I know I’m being irrational, but I swear to Jesus Christ that I can feel soft particles of carrot hitting my cheek.

I jerk away a lot faster than I mean to. I think I also gag. It hits me first that that was not a normal person thing to do.

The hurt look in Emma’s eyes annoys me until I remind myself that she is an actual person with actual person feelings. And then it hits me that it was also definitely a rude thing to do and that maybe I should feel bad.

“Uh, you good?” she asks.

“Yeah,” I say. Except I’m holding my breath to keep her invasive particles away from my insides, so it comes out in a squeak.

She hesitates, looking down at my contorted position. “You sure?”

You sure. You sure. You sure. You sure. You sure. You sure. My brain’s playing her words on a loop so it takes a while to respond. “Oh, yeah. I’m just—I had a chill.”

I can tell she doesn’t believe me. But I think she wants to so she just says, “Oh. Okay. I get those, too. They’re weird, huh?”

“So weird.” Still squeaking. Then the thoughts are pushing in and I can practically see it. My pencil tearing through her skin. I’m squeezing my eyes shut, squeezing that thought away because I don’t want to do that, I would never do that.

It all feels loud and I need to scratch to clear the static, but that’s also not a normal person thing to do, so I don’t. I don’t and I don’t and I don’t and I don’t and I don’t but then I’m practically twitching I need to so badly.

“I think I need to pee,” I say.

“Okay.”

“I’m gonna, yeah, I’m gonna go do that.” I fall on the floor trying to get out of my desk and then I’m just staring at my hands on the carpet—so dirty it’s stiff—and fucking hell everyone’s looking at me. Which, you know, makes sense considering the fact that I look like I’m out of my damn mind. Like I’m a full-on crazy person.

Except I don’t just look like a full-on crazy person, I am a full-on crazy person because my mouth is moving before I can stop it and I kind of scream. “I’m sorry, it’s just that I really have to pee.”

There’s a beat of silence. I make weirdly intense eye contact with Carl, which, to be clear, is the first time we’ve really looked at each other since the day he decided he was done being my best friend. There’s pity in his expression. For me, I realize. Well, fuck you, Carl. Fuck you right up your own dick. See how you like that, you dumb

Mr. Kautz interrupts my train of thought. “Bathroom pass is right over there.” He’s pointing at his desk. It’s in the front of the room, multiple feet away from me, which might as well be miles at this stage of my meltdown.

“Yeah. Cool, cool, cool, cool, cool, cool.” Which is at least four too many cools to be actually cool. And maybe I should be mad at myself, which I am at least a little because I’d told myself today would be a day without An Incident, but mostly I’m mad at Emma. I had it under control and I would’ve been fine if she’d just stayed over there or anywhere that wasn’t right next to me. Also, I’m mad at Carl. Fuck Carl.

Like he can read my mind, like he knows I’m thinking about how much I’d love to just deck him, Carl says, “Rosa, do you need help?”

And then, because I’m an expert at making things worse and apparently this is my life now and also I think I hate myself, I get up and sprint out of the room.

*     *     *

If 16% of my body weight is skin, and I am 145 pounds, then 23.2 pounds of me is skin. 23.3 pounds of me is soft, malleable flesh; 23.4, 23.5, 23.6 pounds of me builds up and up and up on top of me, and might one day swallow me whole. 23.7 pounds of me is always growing, always shifting at a much faster rate than the rest of me and I just want it off. Off. Off. Off. Off. Off. Off.

*     *     *

Halfway home, I realize I forgot my backpack. I debate turning around, but decide that I don’t care about anything right now that isn’t me sitting on the couch and watching a trashy movie on Netflix.

I’m doing just that, snacking and thinking about T-Pain and why his name sounds like it could also be a mildly successful energy drink when my sister walks in. Mia’s zoned into her headphones and doesn’t notice me until she finishes locking the door.

She does this choked scream thing. “Christ. What’re you doing here?”

I gesture at the TV. “Watching a movie, obviously.”

“Not what I meant.” She yanks off her headphones in an indignant way I might take seriously if she wasn’t half my height and wearing a Chewbacca shirt that asked R U FUR REAL? “Why aren’t you at school?”

“Why do people ask that? It’s stupid; you already know the answer. No one wants to be at school.” I burrow further into my nest of blankets, exposing nothing but my face and my hand right above my bag of Reese’s Pieces for snacking convenience.

“And isn’t it funny,” I add, “how people who ask that also always have somewhere they need to be that they’re not. Like why aren’t you at work, huh? Don’t answer that. I already know, which is why I didn’t ask. Unlike you.”

“I’m not at work because my shift changed to Tuesday, but, whatever, that doesn’t matter.” She puts down her purse and sits next to me, pulling a blanket over her head so we match. “How many times?” She’s talking about the movie.

“Today? The fourth.”

“Hmm. Okay, I’ll just sit here if that’s cool with you. But can I at least have some Reese’s Pieces?”

“Nope.”

She takes some anyway.

Usually, I could just ignore that she did that, push it from my mind. But, right now, all I’m thinking about is how it’s probably been hours since she washed her hands. All that oil built up on her palm over the day, rubbed against the inside of the bag. It feels like my brain’s on fire. “You realize I can’t eat the rest of these now, right?”

“Oh, it’s a bad day then. But,” she grabs the bag from my hand. “Good for me, I guess.”

“Don’t be an ass.” I’m kidding but I’m also kind of not. As if seeing me underneath ten comforters didn’t already let her know it was a bad day. I look at her again and decide to say something shitty, “And do you ever go outside anymore? You look even paler than usual.”

I know it bothers her that she somehow came out significantly less brown than the rest of our family and that people mistake her for white all the time. Whatever, she shouldn’t be a dick if she doesn’t want me to be one.

She ignores that last part and waves the Reese’s in my face. “This is called helping. Exposure therapy, right? That one doctor was saying something about that I remember, about surprising you with it. That was exciting.”

“You also remember that we fired him, right?”

“Oh, hell yeah.” A few seconds of nothing except the sound of her wet chewing, which is enough to make me stifle a gag. “You see Carl today?” she asks.

I throw the comforter off me. “Just, ugh, just shut the fuck up. Yes, I fucking saw him, of course I did. Jesus.”

“Ooo. Touchy.”

“I will strangle you.”

“Your hands are too tiny. You have baby hands.”

“Mia. Either stop talking or leave. I’m being serious.”

She groans. “Fine.” And moves around on the couch just to make some extra noise before settling down.

*     *     *

There are a few key differences between me and the stereotypically average person. One is that my brain circuitry function is abnormal, which basically just means my brain is bad at communicating with itself. But another is that most people think they’re invincible. They get on planes, confident they won’t die. One in a million dies on planes, which is statistically small enough that I guess I understand why people think it’ll never happen to them. They drive cars like they’ll make it to their destination: 3,287 deaths a day. Statistically high enough that they’re just being ignorant. Choking: 3,000 a year. Guns: about 86 a day. Elevators: 26 a year. It really goes on and on. People die from all kinds of shit every day. Thousands of them. Hundreds of thousands of them. Google told me 151,600, but I think it’s higher. Don’t ask me why, I just know these things.

Like how I’ve always known I wasn’t invincible. I remember being five and crying for hours because I thought a tsunami would drown me in my sleep even though I’ve always lived in Arizona, which doesn’t even touch the ocean. Or when I was twelve and I thought I’d get leukemia before I made it to high school. Or two days ago, when I refused to get into my sister’s car to go to the grocery store. I can’t explain it, but somehow I knew that if I got in that car, it would be the last thing I ever did.

If anything, I feel like I’m destined to die too soon. Not necessarily when I’m young, but definitely before anything happens that makes my life worth living. Which is worse than sad. It’s a fucking nightmare.

*     *     *

“You’re going to last the full day this time, right?” My dad’s arm starts to go around my shoulders before he thinks better of it. There’s a moment of awkwardness where he figures out what to do with his arm.

I don’t say anything. I want him to worm in his own self-consciousness for a second. It’s not that I don’t appreciate the whole act he has going on right now. The one where he pretends he actually cares about me getting better for any reason other than he hates doing things for me that aren’t the very bare minimum. It’s tiring for both of us and just wholly unnecessary.

He grabs a pre-packaged Uncrustable that was sitting on the counter and holds it out to me, his ill-fitting polo stretching over his torso. “I know yesterday was supposed to be your first day back, but I say we scratch that, huh? We can pretend it never even happened.”

I take the Uncrustable. “Thanks.” Except I say it in a way that makes sure he knows I am very not thankful and, if anything, just want him to shut up and leave me alone, which is usually what he’s best at.

“Bet you five bucks she comes back before twelve.” Mia’s eating cereal, Cap’n Crunch because, as she told me one time, she doesn’t believe in cavities.

“Bet you ten bucks Mia never learns to make actual good jokes.”

Eyes unmoving from the back of the cereal box, Mia says, “Oooo. Really got me there. Felt it so deep. Oh no. What will I ever do now?”

“Hey, stop.” He looks at us in the least convincing rendition of Dad Pretends To Be A Disciplinarian. “Rosa, listen, you just have to be strong, okay? And remember that giving up is not an option.”

Mia looks at me and mimes gagging. We both know he’s spewing bullshit. Bullshit he was too lazy to even look up, because if he had he would know that whatever he’s saying right now doesn’t relate in any way, to any part of my life, at all.

My dad is still talking. Unfortunately. “Today’s your fresh start. Just,” he makes a disgusting slurping sound, “forget the rest. Okay?”

I think Mia knows I’m about to explode because she’s shaking her head at me. She’s right, I know it. I just gotta let him talk until he’s done. I look at him and nod.

Then he opens his mouth again. “That’s my big girl.”

I literally think the letters El OH EL then say, “God, you’re so patronizing. I’m mentally ill, not five. Not that you’d care enough to look up the difference.”

His eyes widen and I would laugh at his discomfort if I was one of those people who did things like that. Instead, I take his silence as an opportunity to leave.

*     *     *

Talking to therapists involves a lot of calculated moves on my part. For example, I have to decide which aspects of my life we’re going to focus on. Because, here’s the deal, I can’t go in there and do the whole thing. It would be physically impossible. One time I heard someone describe OCD as the party bag of mental disorders because you get a little of everything. And I guess I would agree with that except I would say less a party bag because at least with that I’d get a thing of bubbles or something. And no one’s ever given me bubbles for my OCD, although I wish someone would.

If anything, it’s like someone just came up to me and handed me a piping hot mug containing the collective piss of every human on earth. The worst part about that being that I know they probably heated it up in a microwave, because no one’s going to bother boiling piss in a kettle just to pour it into a mug. That’s way too much effort for the given product. And there’s just something so much infinitely worse about piss that was heated through exposure to electromagnetic radiation than piss that was just heated by a flame. Anyway, point being that my mug of mental problems and traumatic experiences can only feasibly be addressed one savory sip at a time. So, I get to create a hierarchy of problems from immediate to abandonment issues, which I think could safely stew for a few more years.

*     *     *

Carl’s sitting on the corner that connects our two streets. When we were nine I remember pushing him off that exact curb and into the cracked street. I’d thought it was absolutely hilarious. Carl had not. In fact, he’d cried.

He looks now how he looked then. Exactly how you would imagine a Carl looks but a little like a limited time only, special edition remix of a person and a guinea. Which I guess is my nice way of saying he looks like a grown ass human fucked a rodent.

There’s something in the way he’s resting his arms on his knees that makes it look like he’s waiting for something. When I get close enough, I see my backpack on the dirt next to him and I realize I’m the thing he’s waiting for.

I walk up to him and say, “Delightful.”

He looks up, squinting into the sun. “By delightful, you mean not delightful.”

“Oh, he really does know me. Almost like we were friends or something. Interesting, isn’t it?”

He shakes his head and looks at his hands. “Dude, I just wanted to bring you your backpack. You don’t need to go there right now.”

“Well, I didn’t ask you to do that.”

“Okay, does it matter? I’m doing a nice thing.”

“I’m not gonna say thank you.”

He stands up, cleaning off the back of his jeans with his hands. “Didn’t ask for it. You could just take the backpack.”

I look at it. It’s not that I think he did anything to it. It’s that I don’t know where it was, what it touched. I want to pick it up. Or, I think I want to. If anything, just because I own it and I know if I leave it here someone will take it. But I can’t. I’m staring at it and trying to tell my legs I want them to move and wondering why on a day that doesn’t feel too bad, I can’t just pick up a stupid bag.

“Okay, fine, or don’t take it. But, just know if you’re doing some weird punishing thing to try to get at me or whatever, that I don’t care.” Carl moves to leave.

And I don’t care either so I don’t know why I say, “It’s not that.” Maybe it’s that I hate people misunderstanding my germ thing for a rude thing more than I hate Carl.

He stops. “Alright, so what is it then?”

“The, uh, the dirt. Also the not knowing. Like where it was. You know?” Except maybe I do care because suddenly I’m filled by how much I want him to know.

“No,” he says. “I don’t know.” Then he’s staring at me in that way he did right before he told me he was in love with me when we were twelve. I’d thought I was in love with him too. Turned out we were both super gay and just really confused at the time. But, still, I think that says something about our friendship. Or, at least, I used to think it did.

He runs a hand through his hair. “I don’t get it at all. Really, I don’t. And, the thing is, it’s a lot. So much, all the time. I don’t know how to deal with it, and I know you don’t either because you look like a fucking mess. Really, you look like shit. But it’s not like you’d let me help even if I wanted to. Which I did, I do, I think. I’m just lost here.”

I take a second to respond so I don’t lose it and realize I’m still holding that Uncrustable. I’ve squished it into a blob.

I take a deep breath. “I can totally see how you think what you just said is nice. But you realize that however hard this is for you, it’s a million times harder for me, right? Like, what, you had to deal with a few hours of it at most? But you could have taken a break whenever. I don’t get breaks. I don’t get to peace out whenever it gets too hard. And I don’t get to leave and never answer their calls and ignore them in the hallways and pretend like they never existed even though they needed me, even though I knew they needed me but would just never say it.”

The look on his face shifts. “That is not what happened.”

“Then what happened?”

He’s kind of yelling at this point. “You! You, just—you were treating me like shit. And how the fuck was I supposed to respond to that? I would come over, I would do all the friend things you’re supposed to do, and you would just yell at me. Everything I did was wrong.”

“Maybe you shouldn’t do things because you’re supposed to do them. That’s not friendship. That’s obligation.”

“Well, maybe that’s what you were becoming.”

We’re in each other’s faces.

“Fuck you.”

“Fuck you too.”

“I hate you.”

“Okay, well, I think I hate you too.”

“Sounds like we’re even then.”

“Yeah, sounds like it.”

I respond by turning in the opposite direction of the school and starting to walk away.

“You’re really just going to leave your backpack here?”

I turn around for a second, just long enough to chuck the Uncrustable somewhere in his general direction.

“Oh, how mature,” he yells at my back.

I flip him off without looking.

*     *     *

Raul’s has smelled the same for as long as I can remember. Dirt, from the desert sand that’s moistened into black gunk stuck between the tiles. Buttery popcorn, because Raul is always whipping up some Act II in the microwave. Sour metal, from the ICEE machine that’s more broken than not. And a distinctly old smell, which I don’t know how to describe except for that it definitely doesn’t smell new.

The only thing about this place that’s from this century is the bell Raul set to the tune of “My Hips Don’t Lie” by Shakira in the summer of me and Carl’s freshman year of high school. It rings as I enter the store.

“My main man,” I say because Raul is the only one in there and he is, indeed, my main man.

Raul barely looks up from the mini TV he’s got set up behind the counter. “Rosa, mija.”

I lean over to take a look, careful to keep my arms of the actual counter surface, because germs. “Huh, Chile’s up by two.”

He sets his Act II to the side because he has common human decency and knows it’s hard for me to watch people eat. “I know, the sick sons of bitches with their fancy wine and their fancy Neruda. Well, they can go to hell, I’ll tell you that much. Directly. No stops for them.”

“Harsh.”

He shrugs. “The way the cookie crumbles.”

He’s zoned back into the game so I head into the aisles to grab my snack. I’m halfway down the chip section when I hear him yell, “Gooooooooooooooooooool!” Followed by what sounds like a bunch of popcorn kernels hitting the floor and an, “Ay, carajo.”

It reminds me of three years ago. During the world cup, Carl and I had come here almost every day to watch soccer. That was during the time we were systematically making our way through every flavor of paletas. I would bite into the cold ice and be done with it in seconds. Carl was more of an appreciator of the process, and by the time he was finally done, his hand was always covered in the sticky juice. We had equally thought the other person was being disgusting.

I stand there for a while, wrestling between the warm nostalgia of the memory and how much I wish Carl had been born into a universe where he didn’t have an asshole so that all his shit would just compile inside his own body until he exploded. The anger wins. Really, I’m pissed that after ignoring me for weeks, he would wait on a curb just to fight with me. That’s just so fucking typical.

I grab my usual Reese’s Pieces before heading back to the front. Raul looks at my snack choices. “Just the Pieces?”

“Yeah.” I pull out the dollar I swung back to the house to grab. “What? Do you wanna give me some carrots or something? Because, look, I’ve thought about this and I figure my heart health’s already so fucked that I might as well not even bother trying to salvage it.”

He shakes his head. “I have no idea why a sixteen-year-old is thinking about heart health. But, don’t you want Skittles?”

I freeze. “Why would I want that?”

“Uh, okay, I feel like I just stumbled onto something I didn’t want to stumble onto. It’s just, never mind. I am not getting involved here.”

“Did he tell you something?”

“No, nothing.” Raul scans the Reese’s. “That’ll be a dollar.”

I hold out the dollar. “Seriously. Tell me. What did he say?”

He takes the dollar. “Really, he didn’t say anything.”

“So he did something?”

“Christ, you’re like a dog with a bone.”

“Worse, some would say.”

He groans. “Fine. He just bought some Pieces the other day. That’s all.”

“Yesterday?”

He sits back down on his stool. “Yeah.”

“After school?”

Props his feet up on the counter. “Yeah.”

“How many backpacks did he have with him?”

“Oh, two. It was weird.”

“Huh.”

Turns the volume up on the TV. “Satisfied?”

“Hardly.” I watch soccer with him for a bit. “Hey, actually, can I have the Skittles? I’ll

pay you back tomorrow.”

Raul gets up to make some fresh Act II. “Just take it.”

*     *     *

My mom told me once that we have to be careful about the narratives we tell ourselves about ourselves. Which sounds like something a pretentious asshole would say, but I guess that’s what she was. Anyway, she probably just meant that people shouldn’t get stuck in the way they think they are or should be. I think I agree with that, although I’m pretty unsure about how I would really implement that nugget of wisdom into my life.

Like, sometimes I have a day that’s not too bad and I think that I might not have OCD. That maybe I was making it up this whole time just to be a bad person. Those thoughts are usually followed by hours and hours researching symptoms on the internet. At about hour three, I always realize that if I didn’t have OCD I would’ve stopped at minute ten. Neither the realization that I’m not a liar nor the realization that I still have OCD is ever comforting.

*     *     *

I let myself in with the key Carl’s mom keeps underneath a ceramic frog. He’s in his room, skipping school to sulk and watch Law & Order: SVU just like I knew he would be.

I walk right in.

I say, “You were there on the curb to make up.”

In a bored voice, he responds, “No I wasn’t.”

“Yes, you were.”

I toss the Skittles into his lap. “I went to Raul’s.”

He looks at the Skittles and then back at me. “And?”

“Well either you bought the Reese’s because you decided I was right and that using your EpiPen would be an exciting adventure, or it was a peace offering. Considering your fear of needles, I’m assuming it was the latter.”

“I’m not afraid of needles.”

“Yes, you are.”

He looks back at the Skittles and I wait. After a few really miserable seconds, he scoots over and pats the space on his bed next to me. “I want you to know I’m still mad at you.”

I hesitate, thoughts of skin particles and germs starting to press in. I try to cut it off, tell myself I won’t die, but I know I’m lying. I sit anyway. “Okay. I’m still mad at you too.”

“Like, you were being a really huge dick.”

“And you were being insensitive.”

“I know.”

We watch an episode of SVU. I spend the whole time trying to not think about the fact that his dead skin cells are nestled in-between every fiber of the blanket we’re sitting on. The kind of not thinking about it where I’m really just thinking about it. Which is why I almost miss it when Carl says, “By the way, I don’t hate you.”

“Obviously.” I pull my knees to my chest and squeeze. I don’t realize the words are going to come out until they do. “But what if I hate me?”

“Because of your OCD?”

“I don’t know, I’m thinking it might be a one-way causal relationship, as in the OCD causes hatred. Or maybe it’s outside of the whole thing.” I rest my chin on the tops of my knees. “Either way, I find my existence unsettling and a little gross.”

“I mean, how much?”

“How much what?”

“Time do you spend hating yourself?”

“Hm. I don’t know. 85%? Maybe?”

He shrugs. “We can work on that.”

Nico Oré-Girón is a junior studying literary arts at Brown University. He is an aspiring comedian and writer, as well as a fuzzy sock enthusiast. He grew up forty minutes from the Mexican border in Tucson, AZ, but can currently be found in the freezing state of Rhode Island or on Twitter and Instagram at @noshownico.

Kerrie Smith, Vapours 5, 2018, Acrylic/Aluminum panel, 16x12"

Spotlight: Patterns in Nature

My current endeavor is to capture our changing planet. Consequently, my artwork examines patterns in our environment—urban and industrial as well as natural. I’m interested in the changing intersection between place in city or nature. As an artist, I feel a responsibility to address these changes and the environmental impacts they have had […]

Ilaria Ortensi, Untitled.Windows, 2014, Inkjet Color Print, 44x72

Spotlight: Windows

I often work in series creating bodies of work that highlights certain interests such as architecture, space, and scale. I like to investigate the way in which spaces are constructed and how the environment shapes the times we inhabit—influencing our identities, senses, and emotions […]

À La Carte: dialogue and invitations & Cultivation

dialogue and invitations

If y’all have babies I hope they have his hair.

You have a lot of potential.

You’re so well spoken.

silence
ignored

I have a job this summer cleaning my house, if you’re interested.

money tossed on the counter.
no eye contact

You’re going to be fly … what does that mean?

The Middle Passage was the journey captured Africans took to the Americas.
Only 3 of us knew that out of 75.
1 of the ‘us’ was the professor.
All of ‘us’ were brown.

I don’t usually date brown skin girls, but for you I’d make an exception.
You’re one of the good ones, you know.

All lives matter until you speak up
wake up
toss the shackles
guilty victims deserved their fate.
If only they were
Respectful quiet complicit quiet complicit
docile meek forgiving complicit
They’d be alive breathing in cages.


Cultivation

The bus belches up its insides.
Golden brown bodies spill forth,
dressed in denim and cotton, wearing bandanas, towels, hats
to defend against the sun.
They seep into the field like water over parched earth.
And work
tobacco
cucumbers
strawberries
and work.
The work no one wants but machines can’t do.
The work that breaks down the body and wears at the soul.
The work that fuels dreams.
The work that induces nightmares and heat stroke,
dehydration and snake bites.
And work.
Spanish thoughts in southern fields.
Latino/a sweat drenches berries and veggies and
stains dried tobacco leaves.
dirt smudged hands,
tired hands.
Desperate hands pull the sun from the sky.
Perspiration illuminates their brows
coated in dust, kissed by mosquitos.
Drained,
swallowed by the bus again
before they have to raise the moon.

 

Jamica A. Whitaker is a writer and communications strategist based out of Durham, North Carolina. A graduate of Elizabeth City State University and East Carolina University, Jamica has been writing creatively since middle school but recently had the courage to share her writing with the world. Her writing includes poetry, short stories, and personal essays.

Spotlight: Pull Me Out of the Earth and Feed Me to My Madness (after The X-Files)

Look at our bones laid bare      on the metal      or in the grass.
Slides spill like memories across the wall        and while he sees his
favorite legend again     Scully has to hold her science in her chest.
What even is real in 1999?     In 2018 when I turn off cable news

call my grandmother     stuff laundry into a giant sack?    This is my
ritual murder:      the dishes      the doctors     the documentation—
a mountain.     In his fantasy he is always right       knower of truths
snuffing women out        like smoking candle wicks.        Like Scully

I am melting.     I am questioning my findings.     I am breathing.
We endeavor to find the most logical conclusion     this approach
the only way to pass from day         to night.        He is a skeleton
but his bones do not hold us up.       Look at the lights in the sky—

as alive as I am       I began by rotting in a wild field.           Scully
breathes in spores     a lie      falls dark into that underground place
and I have a shovel and will dig up the dirt      to know what cryptic
science brought us here         all these acres of eyes       of silence

some social narcosis         the edges of our vision always pulling in
that flicker of emergency       the truth in me always      acid on skin
a legend of my own      that I remember to believe      because lights
in the sky are not enough to pull me from a promise    ribs out.

 

E. Kristin Anderson is a poet, Starbucks connoisseur, and glitter enthusiast living in Austin, Texas. She is the editor of Come as You Are, an anthology of writing on 90s pop culture and Hysteria: Writing the female body (forthcoming). Kristin’s poetry has been published worldwide in many magazines and she is the author of nine chapbooks of poetry, including A Guide for the Practical Abductee, Pray, Pray, Pray: Poems I wrote to Prince in the middle of the night, Fire in the Sky, 17 seventeen XVII, and Behind, All You’ve Got (forthcoming). Kristin is an assistant poetry editor at The Boiler and an editorial assistant at Sugared Water. Once upon a time she worked nights at The New Yorker.

Autumn Hunt, Suddenly in Paradise, 2015, Oil on Panel, 7.25" x 9.75"

Spotlight: Oh the Places We Will Go

Our world is constantly being reloaded with data, images, opportunities, options for reinterpretation, and fleeting impressions. In a continuously evolving world, the paintings in this series of work act as a snapshot of this maelstrom of information overload and show a scene apparently caught in limbo between reality and a dream. By using the everyday […]

Litdish: Elham Hajesmaeili, Artist

Elham Hajesmaeili

Born in Iran in 1984, Elham Hajesmaeili received a BFA in handicrafts from the Shiraz University in 2006, an MA in art studies from the University of Art, Tehran, Iran in 2010, and an MFA in painting and drawing from the Pennsylvania State University, US in 2017. She has held multiple groups and solo exhibitions in Iran and the United States. Currently, she is a dual-titled PhD student in art education and women studies at the Pennsylvania State University. When Elham arrived in the United States in 2015, she experienced living in a liminal space between Iranian and American cultures and has continued her works based on identity issues. Her works represent an observation of an identity oscillating between two geographical contexts, while sexuality remains the silent power holder.

Ten Questions with artist Elham Hajesmaeili

1. What’s your creative process like? Do you have a set routine (e.g., music playing, time of day, lucky token, etc.)? Is there a difference when you’re starting a new project or continuing one you’ve already started?

Generally, when the pressure of expressing myself can no longer be contained, I create art. I prefer silence when I am starting a new project in order to fully focus. The process of making sculpture is totally different than painting because in sculpture I can touch and feel. Painting is a pure feeling and a controlled art form. However, in sculpture, each material used has a different melody and I have to dance to the music the material plays. For example, when working with clay, there are boundaries, you adapt to the clay’s potential. Usually, I am looking for materials that are connected to the idea that I am trying to convey because every material has a personality. The difference between starting a new project or continuing an old one is that when beginning something new, I feel free and unrestrained because it is a fresh idea and it sets the standard for the rest of the series. However, when I go back to a previous work, I have parameters because the flow has already been established.

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

My most recent project is “About the Body,” which concentrates on the color of human skin—specifically, the curves of the female form. The project is still in progress. I am using a CNC machine to create three-dimensional images, by generating shapes, then stretching canvases on top of the shapes rather than just painting on the ordinary flat surface of the canvas. I attempt to make as many pigments of human skin as I can. The most interesting thing about skin color is the variations and mixtures of red, blue, yellow, and white. It fascinates me because these colors react to one another and produce a color that really has no name. Oftentimes a subject will reveal itself on its own. For example, “Spanked” is a work where the red pigment radiated and reminded me of the tones associated with spanked skin.

Spanked, Acrylic on canvas, 2017

3. Where do you find your inspiration? Are there certain places or people you look to?

My inspiration comes from the places I go, the people I meet, and the politics associated with them. I do not identify with any specific artists or styles. It is difficult to categorize my art because each project differs from the other. I am inspired daily by my surroundings and the general patterns that I grew up seeing around me. Place and time are strong factors that impact my expressive proclivities.

4. Was there a specific artist or piece of art that inspired you to become an artist yourself? When did you discover the artist calling?

I discovered art myself and not through any specific person or influence. Around 10 years ago, in Iran, I remember consulting with an art professional and I asked him to teach me how to make art. I needed proper training in order to be accepted into a school of art. However, his words strongly resonated with me. He said “One cannot train someone to be an artist. If your calling is to be an artist, the artist in you will come out on its own.” And this was exactly how it happened for me. After graduating from the University of Art in Iran and got my MA degree in art studies, I started teaching formal art history at several colleges and universities in Iran. During that period in my life, I was distraught, and I felt displaced. One day I bought some canvas and pigments and my skillset evolved through practice and time. Then one day I opened my eyes, and I was surrounded by about ten paintings—my first series. During its construction, I did not intend for the self-portraits to be a series. In fact, naturally, to me, art was always individualistic, but at that moment, I looked around me, at my space and my immediate surroundings became—without intent—my first series, which came to be titled A Goddess Never Stands Alone.

5. How does your day job inform or affect your art and creative process?

After receiving my MFA at Pennsylvania State University, I am now in the art education PhD program. From the perspective of an aspiring educator, I am interested in how art education and art as a creative process merge.

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

Art is a language, a language in which I can express my thoughts without having to use words. It is the most beautiful form of expression and nothing in this world can take its place. Many ask me what the long necks in my A Goddess Never Stands Alone series means. To me, it is the suppression of my words. The words I never said. Furthermore, for others, I would like for each individual viewer to get out of my art whatever they want to get out of it. I have had several mentions to me that my art makes them feel uncomfortable. I wanted to delve more into why that was. I asked one such person what it was about my work that made them feel discomfort. Her response resonated so strongly with me. She told me that by feeling discomfort, she asked herself why. This led her to confront herself and her deeper feelings about her sexuality and femininity. She learned something quite
profound about herself, as a result of my work; therefore, I felt that my work did what it was intended to do.

7. What advice would you give to any emerging artists?

Pay attention to your creative process and discover new things about yourself along the way. Skill and technique are learned, but creativity is unique to each artist.

8. Which artist(s) should we be paying attention to right now? What are some great works you’ve seen recently?

Any type of art that provokes an emotion within the viewer is worthwhile. For me, Iranian and western art are two distinctive types. I can strongly connect to Iranian art. I would encourage for those interested to begin by studying Shirin Neshat. She has paved the way for feminism in Iranian art. Any Iranian artist and/or activist that can open up conversations regarding the oppression of female expression and sexuality is important. Many movements are going on in Iran right now. For example, “White Wednesdays” where women protest against obligatory Hijab. Kiana Honarmand’s work encompasses many of these elements.

9. What are your interests outside of the creative and artistic world?

Hobbies and interest change based on time and place. For an artist that felt displaced at certain stages in her life, sometimes the mere switching and changes of interests could be labeled a hobby.

10. What question do you wish I’d have asked you, and what would your answer be? Is there any common theme that tends to manifest itself in all of your work?

Whether intentional or not, my Persian roots always surface. There are two essential aspects in my work: female sexuality and cultural identities. Female sexuality is exhibited through skin tonality and material that can produce an heir of sensuality. And traces of my culture can be found through colors, patterns, and architectural ornamentation. Female sexuality and culture are present in all my works; however, one theme will outweigh the other in intensity, this occurs naturally during the art-making process.

 

Sara Voigt is a current MFA candidate at Antioch University Los Angeles where she’s pursuing her masters in creative writing. She also works on the literary journal Lunch Ticket, where she’s working as proof edit manager and managing editor. Originally from Wisconsin, she currently lives and works in the Los Angeles area.

À La Carte: Picnic at the Champ de Mars

[flash]

We had arrived in France two days before, and it was already our third croque monsieur. We bought it at a little Carrefour store, where we also got two cans of Dr. Pepper. Look, Joanne had said, didn’t Melissa say Dr. Pepper was impossible to find in Europe. So we just had to get that beverage we both hated, and a few minutes later we were sitting at the Champ de Mars, feeling so exotic as we took grotesque swigs from the burgundy-colored cans. Joanne chose a spot far away from our tour companions. Just as I was about to sit across from Erin and Tom—the couple we stayed close to because they were the least embarrassing—Joanne noticed what I had noticed three seconds before, namely that Erin, who was wearing a short skirt, sat with her legs crossed in such a way that whoever chose to sit across from her would have an unimpeded view of her panties. They were white lace, and I even got the impression that her bush could be seen through them. Joanne, who always shaved her bush, grabbed my arm and said, Let’s sit over there, where we can see the tower better. I sat with my back to Erin, to avoid trouble.

Next to us, two women talked while their kids kicked a soccer ball. They spoke English with an American accent. Expats. Did they use that word, I wondered, did they think of themselves as that? It would be so wonderful to live here, Joanne said, you could come hang out here every day like it’s nothing at all. The two women would switch from English to French. I caught words like maison, alors, voiture, expressions like ça va and d’accord, the question que c’est que tu veu, directed at one of the kids, the one wearing a blue baseball cap. At one point the soccer ball hit my arm lightly, but I pretended not to notice. Pardon, monsieur, said one of the kids as he picked up the ball and went back to his game. I felt Joanne’s head against my shoulder. Isn’t it beautiful, she said. I think she meant the tower.

At one point I stretched out on the grass, on my side, and my hand fell on a piece of coarse cloth. It was the kid’s blue baseball cap, which had either fallen from his head or been tossed aside. On an impulse, I placed my backpack over it, as if by accident. A few minutes later, when all of us had finished our food, the expats left. There was no indication that the baseball cap was missed, so I put it in my backpack as Joanne took a picture of Erin and Tom—holding hands, looking into each other’s eyes—with their mini Polaroid. We all waited with our heads together for the image to emerge. Oh my God, that is the cutest thing ever, Joanne said. Hey, let me take one of y’all, Erin said. So we stood on the grass, my arm around Joanne’s shoulder and her arm around my waist, the tower in the background. The picture came out alright. Not as cute as Erin and Tom’s, but then, Joanne and I simply weren’t as cute as they were.

As we began to leave, I noticed the expats had come back. They were walking around the place where they had been before, and the owner of the baseball cap was crying, pointing at a spot on the lawn. I told Joanne that she was beautiful and kissed her hard.

Back in the bus, I took out my copy of Hopscotch, which is what I was reading. It would be a crime not to read Hopscotch while in Paris, I had told myself.

I love it, Joanne said.

She was looking at our picture.

Here, she said, you keep it.

Are you sure, I said.

Yeah, Joanne said, you keep it.

I put it inside my copy of Hopscotch, where it has stayed, between the same pages, for the past twelve years. Sometimes I imagine my son or my daughter finding it, long after my death, and wondering who the girl is.

The baseball cap I kept for a couple of years, until one day I cleaned my closet and decided to give it away, along with a skirt, a blouse, and a scarf that Joanne had left behind.

 

A native of Buenos Aires, Jorge Iglesias moved to Houston in 1998, and has lived there ever since. He holds a BA and an MLA from the University of St. Thomas, as well as a PhD from the University of Houston. He has taught at Rice University and at the University of Houston. His work has appeared in Literal Magazine and The Chesterton Review, and he is the author of an introduction to Outlaw: The Collected Works of Miguel Piñero (Arte Público Press, 2010).

Spotlight: Routines in Cell 43

[translated fiction]

(Readable as a loop, beginning with any paragraph)

The rod rings out in the emptiness to remind me of my exile. I inhale the damp air and the invasive scent of my own misery. It was a long time ago that I took my leave of the apathy inherent to incomprehension and fear. Ignorance as to my fate must be agony for those I love, those I long for. Now, everything is just a hazy cloud as I maintain my neural circuits through the exercise of routine.

They’ll come for me tonight or some other night, or maybe months will go by before a droplet of coffee on the list of prisoners will call the guard’s attention to my name. He will, perhaps, remember that I was once famous (ephemerally so, but famous nonetheless) for my incendiary articles against the corrupt regime that has just retaken power. My name is common and it appears frequently in telephone books, like anyone born into the class of serfs. My name, singled out by the coffee’s chromatic union, will reawaken doubts, the precursor to suspicions, and then they’ll come for me that same night, or some other, or maybe days will have gone by and I won’t even remember what I thought today, anesthetized by routine as I am, alienated by incomprehension as I am, paralyzed by fear as I am.

The rod rings out. Screams can be heard at the end of the corridor. One might guess they were from Thomas, the young man from the antipodes caught far from home by the invasion. He’s been refusing to eat these past few days. Now our jailers take their fury out on his body with an obsessive tenacity. They revel in the torture, both his and ours, and each of Thomas’s screams may just be a prelude to another one of his, or Andrés’s, or Raúl’s, or Cosme’s, or my own. My own scream.

It makes no difference what my name is. It makes no difference whether what I’m telling is a universal truth or simply my own. Who knows? I tell what comes to my mind, and one can do nothing but remember one’s own past, near or distant, with a wide variety of nuances and suffering. I attempt to memorize facts and occurrences, making connections between the two, permanently joining them in a kind of infinite mantra, into a helicoidal thread that closes on itself. I attempt it even though I know that most of the vectors I trace will be doomed to failure, that my memory will automatically, repeatedly betray me with spurious associations, with loops of images and signs, with words linked to impossible moments, with daylong, month-long gaps. I have no doubt about that, yet I obstinately persist in my labors, because even the smallest piece of information, even the most insignificant of details could, in some future moment, lead to a chain reaction of memory, a fusion of neural circuits heretofore uncoupled, a supernova of joy.

To organize routines. What’s important now is to organize routines. In order to stop myself becoming desperate, what’s most important now is to organize routines. (Hourly routines, daily routines, weekly routines, nightly routines repeated day after day). Searching within the circular rhythm of routines for some measurement of time and some occupation with which to stave off desperation, and perplexity, and fear of not being, or being no longer, or being someone else. Eight minutes past midnight. Time to close my eyes, count to ten, and begin reciting the verses I learned as a child (Monday), the poetry I composed as an adolescent (Tuesday), the aphorisms passed down to me by my teacher (Wednesday), the songs of my youth (Thursday), the poems of my adulthood (Friday), and the letters I never wrote (Saturday), concluding with the monologues I’ve rehearsed a thousand times (Sunday). Routines I use to attain the formal sophistication of repetition, the anesthesia of advancing in slow motion. Routines to feel the ground beneath my feet, to gradually construct (reconstruct) a dream full of hope and freedom.

The rod rings out. Screams can be heard at the end of the corridor. The screams too are routine. They always sound identical to every other scream coming from the same person. Thomas’s scream. Cosme’s scream. Andrés’s. Mine. What does my scream sound like? Piercing? Ear-splitting? Quaking? Icy? To unleash a different scream for each wound, for each occasion, for each method of torture. A muffled scream for the cattle prod. A piercing scream for the rod. A blind scream for the sleepless nights under the lamp’s gaze, my eyelids forced to stay open. An icy scream for the nights watching snow fall in the immeasurable solitude of the plains. A leopard scream for when they come at my knees, for when they opt for the humiliation of urinating on me, for when they slander my ancestors or mock my loved ones, the ones who are still alive, my people, my kith and kin.

No one has told me (or us, from what I hear) why they brought us here, why they keep us locked up all day, why they sometimes let us out at night to engage in Argentinian style hunting. They came armed and in droves, destroying everything in their wake, instilling a culture of fear and barbarism. Now they control it all, every single thing, with a haughty air in their ways and an ambiguity in their messages. They made of violence their banner and their way of life. No one has told me (or us, from what I don’t hear) what they expect from us, what they want us to tell them, what we’ve done wrong. They never interrogate us. They never say a word to us except to convey their confusing orders, or which are at least confusing to us, as if they’d come out of some strange magma, out of a language we should understand, but only becomes more and more foreign with each passing day, a mixture of soldier’s jargon and obscenities befitting of a brothel.

Maybe they won’t come for me tonight. Yes, it’s best to think like that and not shrivel up like a pangolin armed with its plate-like scales. It’s cold. What these louts save on heating in the passageways they spend on whiskey and pleasure women. Here comes the moralistic murmuring, the mumbling of a failed missionary, of a waning man who takes refuge in iron discipline to maintain himself, this romantic hero buried in excess, this martyr for a vague cause with no followers, Unitarian in his militancy, in a losing position before the battle has even begun. It’s impossible to sleep caged in by these recurring thoughts, denying my external reality, the others’ reality, subsuming oneself in an autumnal retraction of deposits and wrinkles to the point of renouncing one’s senses, lost in a labyrinth of words that come flooding in, that hammer on one’s temples in a waterfall of symbols, that prevent one from getting to sleep (sleep is gotten, gathered, joined together through bits of consciousness: sleep is, therefore, a dreamlike puzzle, a dreamlike, improvised jazz set, a dreamlike cracked mirror that reflects one’s persistent insomnia, that diverts the lightning bolt, that trembles in all its recurrence).

A blind scream for the sleepless nights. Is this the moment? It’s over now, the rod’s diversion, the farcical humiliation, the hyperbolic laughter drowning out the victim’s screams, the wretched object of their abuses. The guards went away leaving behind what’s left of the martyr bleeding in the “reading room.” That’s what they call it, with their poorly disguised irony: the reading room. “This is where we read your thoughts. This is where we listen to whispered stories. This is where we build up the tale of public shame. This is where we strip away the best poetry you have inside you.”

My eyelids, my legs, my arms are heavy, my back is sinking into the mattress, causing my joints to cry out in an anguished desire for rest, but my thoughts, my wretched thoughts, my wretched self, rebelling in its consciousness, won’t stop for even an instant: words galloping over images, sounds over a language from the farthest reaches of my consciousness, images over sounds, shattering in a thousand planes simultaneously, drawing up and vanishing with no respite, tracing a four-dimensional, no, five-dimensional map with chromatic shifts, fades to black, sideways wipes, kaleidoscopic images, intermingling sounds, multilingual messages, and outrageous associations.

To organize routines. What’s important is to organize routines. In order to avoid becoming desperate, what’s most important now is to organize routines. (Hourly routines, daily routines, weekly routines, nightly routines repeated day after day.) Now, at night, counting stars. Real stars (rare here, the clouds dominate the sky for half the year, along with half of the other half) and dreamt ones (white dwarves, brown giants, novas, supernovas, shooting stars). Doing it for as long as it takes to make it across the known galaxies, the familiar constellations, every possible combination. After the stars, with a current sliding along my spine and my temples hammering from the excess, then comes the time to practice the relaxation exercises I learned from my teacher, to envision idealized images of sexual idols, and engage in the most violent kind of self-stimulation.

I try to slowly accumulate dreams, I imagine reiterated landscapes from my childhood, from when we would play amongst the bamboo thickets and be slippery vietcong, crawling through the stalks and stoically enduring the suffocating summer heat. In those days, the map of Vietnam filled up the black-and-white TV screen, and that’s how we learned where the Hoi Lin Mountains were, which have an outrageous amount of snowfall every seven years, along with the rivers surrounding the imperial capital of Hué, where the battles never ended, children running naked as they fled from the napalm, Ho-Chi-Minh Way destroyed; he, the whitebeard who became a model for the grandfather I never had. I reconstruct my nights sleeping in sickly quarters, where everything smelled like stables and ethical misery, where they prohibited us from being ourselves, where they counted us dozens of times each day to see if anyone had run away, as if there were anywhere to run in that massive plain frozen during the winters and sunken in a humid fog during the summers. I remember the years spent at boundless sea, waves stampeding over the bridge, the ship at the mercy of the currents and furious hurricanes. I think about the years I wasted chasing impossible loves, in a repetitive denial of myself, sobbing daily in front of the mirror reflecting an image of progressive degeneration. Every now and again I wake up sweating in the midst of a bout of malaria that I caught in the jungles of Cambodia, where I was searching for a treasure I never found, where I went through hunger, torture, and scarcity that I was only able to endure because of my youth and the strength I’d inherited from my forebears. I thread together sequences which approach in disorderly fashion: landscapes and information, perceptions and subjections, characters and plots, instants pulled from an internal camera that stores away undeveloped photographs, fantastical frames, and never-before-seen compositions combining all kinds of colors and shapes. Then, from the labyrinths of memory, come the cold barrel of the machine gun pressed against my neck, my ears frozen from walking the whole night to cross the border, my toes bleeding from stepping on glass when they came for us, the memory of the first time I spoke in public, pronouncing slogans that would make me blush now, or the afternoon when someone showed me how to gather shrimp from the rocks on a beach during low tide, or the other when I skipped an English class to learn the art of handling a scythe, or that time when a friend of mine named one hundred birds in one breath and I responded with one hundred sea and river fishes, to the delight of the rest of our group, who drank to our health and bet beers on who would win. In my memory I sketch out the passageways I slid along in dreams, which would lead always to an octagonal tower where each wall had a door ready to take me to a different world, which is how I learned about the flora and fauna of different time periods and why certain species survive, seeping through the gap as a door opened so that I could then enter a new, parallel world. In the air I trace dreamt or invented calligrams, ones they taught me in school or ones that I learned over the passage of time, alphabets that mark turning points in my life, a life no longer qualifiable as short. I try to organize my dreams to see if I can sleep, but dreams don’t allow themselves to be organized and classified so easily. They don’t come when you want and you always end up remembering your obsessions and forgetting about them, except the ones that have repeated over and over again since the moment you’ve been conscious of your recollection and organization: the dream about the lighthouse, the dream about the chapel in the dark, the dream about sex opening up into two cavernous bodies, the dream of enucleated eyes, the dream of reclusion, which has come true exactly as you’d dreamt it, and now seems more like a premonition than a dream. Dreams of the rod’s return, ones where screams can be heard, ones where nostalgia takes over me, ones where I take refuge in my routines.

No one has told me (or us, from what I don’t hear) what they expect from us, what they want us to tell them, what we’ve done wrong. They came armed and in droves as if they’d fallen from the sky or risen from the bowels of the earth, using their lethal weapons to devastate everything in their wake. They controlled the communications, transport, and commerce, and quickly began a random campaign of explosive detonations. They toy with the ambiguity in messages and the fear spawned by uncertainty. They never interrogate us. No one explains (nor am I myself capable of explaining) how I can go entire days without sleeping, feverish, consumed by the thousand ideas that attack me and retreat, rotting my insides and fighting to escape their fluid prison out of a desire to become solid, concrete, actualized.

The rod is back. Screams can be heard at the end of the corridor, in the “reading room.” They enjoy bursting open the wet skin. Thomas’s scream. Cosme’s scream. Andrés’s scream. My scream. A leopard scream for when they come at my knees. No one has said why they brought us here. What’s important is to organize routines. No one why they play Argentinian hunting games with us. Maybe they won’t come for me tonight. It’s best to think like that and not curl up like a plated pangolin.

My eyelids, legs, and arms are heavy, my back is digging into the mattress, causing my joints to cry out for a break, but my thoughts, my wretched self, which rebels by being conscious, will not stop for even an instant, with a flood of words over images, images over sounds shattering on a thousand planes simultaneously, tracing a four-, no, five-dimensional map with chromatic shifts, fades-to-black, sideways wipes, kaleidoscopic images, fusing sounds, plurilingual messages, and outrageous associations.

…It is in this emptiness that the rod rings out to remind me of my exile. I inhale the damp air and the acrid stench of my own ethical misery. It was long ago that I escaped from the apathy inherent to incomprehension and fear. The ignorance of my fate must be a torment for those who I love and long for. Everything is just a hazy cloud as I maintain myself through the exercise of routine. They’ll come for me tonight, or some other night.

I try to memorize events and information, linking them together, joining them forever in a kind of infinite mantra, in a helicoidal belt that closes on itself. I attempt it even though I know that the majority of vectors I trace will be doomed to failure, that my memory will automatically, repeatedly fail me with spurious associations, with loops of images and symbols, with words that will combine into impossible moments, with daylong, month-long gaps.

It’s impossible to sleep caged in by these recurring thoughts, denying my external reality, the others’ reality, sinking myself into an autumnal retraction of deposits and wrinkles until I renounce my senses, lost in a labyrinth of words that come flooding in, hammering my temples with a waterfall of symbols, permanently preventing me from falling asleep.

 

 

Rutinas na cela 43

(Pódese ler en bucle, comezando con calquera párrafo)

É no baleiro que resoa o vergallo para me devolver a conciencia do exilio. Respiro o aire húmido e o recendo invasor da miña propia miseria. Hai tempo saín da apatía propia da incompensión e o medo. A ignorancia da miña sorte será tormento para outros aos que quero e xa estraño. Para min xa só é unha nube imprecisa mentres sosteño os meus circuítos co exercicio da rutina.

Virán por min esta noite ou a outra, ou se cadra pasarán meses ata que unha pinga de café caída encol dunha lista de prisioneiros atraia a atención do oficial de garda sobre o meu nome. Recordará, se cadra, que en tempos fun famoso (de modo efémero, mais famoso) polos meus artigos incediarios contra o réxime corrupto que agora vén de retornar ao poder. O meu nome é vulgar e repítese nas listas de teléfono, coma todos aqueles nados de estirpe de servos da gelba. O meu nome, illado pola confluencia cromátic do café, fará acordar dúbidas, antesala das sospeitas, e daquela virán por min esa mesma noite, ou a outra , ou se cadra cando teñan pasado días e non lembre xa o que hoxe penso, anestesiado pola rutina, alienado pola incomprensión, paralizado polo medo.

Resoa o vergallo. Óense berros ao fondo do corredor. Diríase que son de Thomas, ese mozo dos antípodas ao que a invasión colleu lonxe de casa. Tense negado a comer nos últimos días. Agora os carcereiros asáñanse na súa pel con tenacidade obsesiva. Recréanse na tortura, na súa e na nosa, porque cada berro de Thomas pode ser preludio dun berro propio, de Andrés ou de Raúl, de Cosme ou meu. O meu berro.

Que importa como é que eu me chamo, que importa mesmo se o que conto é verdade universal ou só a miña verdade. Quen o sabe? Conto o que me vén ao maxín, e un só lembra o pasado, o pasado próximo e o afastado, con variedade de matices e padecemento. Tento memorizar datas e sucesos, relacionalos entre si, unilos para sempre nunha especie de mantra infinito, nunha fita helicoidal que se pecha sobre si mesma. Inténtoo aínda que sei que a meirande parte dos vectores trazados estarán condenados ao fracaso, que a memoria me traizoará, repetida e mecanicamente, con asociacións espurias, con bucles de imaxes e de signos, con verbas que se asociarán a momentos imposíbeis, con lagos de días ou de meses. Seino, mais testán persisto no empeño, pois o máis mínimo dato, o detalle máis insignificante pode, nun instante futuro, facer acordar unha reacción en cadea, unha fusión de circuítos outrora separados, unha supernova de ledicia.

Ordenar as rutinas. O importante é ordenar as rutinas. Para non desesperar, o máis importante é ordenar as rutinas. (Rutinas horarias, rutinas cotiás, rutinas semanais, rutinas cotinocturnas). Procurar no ritmo circular das rutinas a medida do tempo e a ocupación que me afaste da desesperación, da perplexidade, do terror a non ser ou a deixar de ser, ou a ser outro. Oito minutos pasada a media noite. Tempo de pechar os ollos, de contar ata dez, de comezar o recitado dos versos aprendidos cando neno (luns), dos versos inventados cando mozo (martes), dos aforismos transmitidos polo mestre (mércores), das cancións da mocidade (xoves), dos poemas da idade adulta (venres), das cartas que nunca escribín (sábado), para rematar cos monólogos mil veces ensaiados (domingo). Rutinas para acadar a sofisticación formal do repetitivo, a anestesia dos avances ao ralentí. Rutinas para sentir o chan baixo os pés, para construir (reconstruir) devagar o soño da esperanza da liberdade.

Resoa o vergallo. Óense berros ao fondo do corredor. Os berros son tamén rutina. Soan sempre igual a outros berros do mesmo dono. O berro de Thomas. O berro de Cosme. O de Andrés. O meu berro. Como soa o meu berro? Lacerante? Estentóreo? Trepidante? Xélido? Ensaiar un berro distinto para cada ferida, para cada ocasión, para cada método de tortura. Un berro afogada para a picana. Un berro lacerante para o vergallo. Un berro cego para as noites sen durmir, enfocado pola lámpada, coas pálpebras forzadas e abertas. Un berro xélido para as noites vendo caer a neve na soidade inabarcábel da chaira. Un berro leopardo para cando me paseen de xeonllos, para cando me humillen mexando por riba de min, para cando insulten os meus antepasados ou se mofen dos seres máis queridos, dos vivos, dos meus.

Ninguén me ten dito (ninguén dixo, segundo contan) por que nos trouxeran aquí, por que nos manteñen pechados o día enteiro, por que ás veces nos liberan de noite para organizar cacerías de facón e boleadoras. Chegaran en mesnadas arrasando ao seu paso con todo o que topaban, instaurando a cultura do medo e a barbarie. Agora contrólano todo, absolutamente todo, con aire de suficiencia nas formas e ambigüidade nas mensaxes. Fixeron da violencia a súa bandeira e o seu xeito de vivir. Ninguén me ten dito (ninguén dixo, segundo calan) qué esperan de nós, qué queren que contemos, cál é a nosa falta. Endexamais nos interrogan. Endexamais nos dirixen a palabra se non é para enunciar ordes confusas, ou que, cando menos, nós concibimos coma confusas, como chegadas dun magma estraño, nunha lingua que deberiamos entender mais que de día en día resulta máis allea, unha mestura de argot cuarteleiro e de exabruptos de casa de tolerancia.

Quizais esta noite non veñan por min. Si, será mellor pensar así e non se engurrar coma un pangolín, armado de escamas e de placas. Vai frío. Estes cachimáns aforran en calefacción nas galerías o que eles gastan en whisky e mais en bacantes. Regresa o ruxerruxe moralista, o rumor de misioneiro fracasado, de home minguante que se refuxia nunha férrea disciplina para soster, cal heroe romántico abismado nos excesos, cal mártir dunha causa difusa, negada de adeptos, unitaria na súa militancia, unha posición perdida de antemán. É imposíbel durmir cercado por estes pensamentos recorrentes, negando a realidade exterior, a realidade dos outros, ensumíndose en retracción outonal de depósitos e engurras ata renunciar os sentidos, perdido nun labirinto de verbas que acoden en fervenza, que martelan as tempas en cadoiro de signos, que impiden conciliar o sono (o sono concíliase, xúntase, únese a partir de anacos de conciencia: o sono e xa logo o soño crebacabezas, o soño partitura de jazz improvisada, o soño espello cos rachaduras que reflicte o negado na vixilia, que desvía o lóstrego, que conmove na súa recorrencia).

Un berro cego para as noites sen durmir. Será este o momento? Parou xa a festa do vergallo, a farse das humillacións, as risas esaxeradas que afogaban os berros da vítima, do desgraciado albo de servicias. Retíranse os gardados deixando os despoxos do mártir desangrándose na “sala de lectura”. Chámalle así, con sorna mal disimulada: a sala de lectura. “Aquí lemos os vosos pensamentos, aquí escoitamos historias musitadas, aquí construímos o relato da infamia, aquí espimos a mellor poesía que hai en vós.”

Pésanme as pálpebras, as pernas, os brazos, as costas afúndense no xergón facendo soar as articulacións na procura angustiada de descanso; mais o pensamento, o maldito pensamento, o eu maldito, que se rebela consciente, non se detén nin un só instante, cabalga palabras sobre imaxes, sons sobre verbas chegadas do alén da consciencia, imaxes sobre sons, estoupa en mil planos ao unísono, deseña e esfuma sen acougo, trazando un mapa en catro dimensións, en cinco, con saltos cromáticos, con fundidos en negro, con varridos laterais, con imaxes en calidoscopio, con sons que se fusionan, con mensaxes multilingües, con asociacións inauditas.

Ordenar as rutinas. O importante é ordenar as rutinas. Para non desesperar, o máis importante é ordenar as rutinas. (Rutinas horarias, rutinas cotiás, rutinas semanais, rutinas cotinocturnas.) Agora, pola noite, contar as estrelas. Estrelas verdadeiras (case nunca, aquí, as nubes enseñran do ceo medio ano e a metade do outro medio) e estrelas soñadas (ananas brancas, xigantes marróns, novas, supernovas, estrelas fugaces). Así durante o tempo que leve percorrer as galaxias coñecidas, as constelacións familiares, as combinacións posíbeis. Despois das estrelas, cunha corrente percorrendo o espiñazo e as tempas latexando polos excesos, chega o momento de ensaiar os exercicios de relaxación aprendidos do mestre, as imaxes idealizadas dos ídolos sexuais, a autoestimulación máis violenta.

Xogo a unha lenta acumulación de soños, imaxino as paisaxes reiteradas da nenez, cando xogabamos entre as matas de bambú a ser vietcongs escorregadizos, reptando entre as canas e soportando estoicos a calor abafante do verán. Daquela o mapa de Vietnam enchía a pantalla do aparello de televisor en branco e negro, e alí aprendemos onde ficaban as montañas de Hoi Lin, onde un ano de cada sete cae unha nevarada de escándalo, os ríos que cercan a capital imperial de Hué, a da batalla sen fin, os nenos correndo espidos mentres foxen do napalm, a rota Ho-Chi-Minh, que coa súa barbicha abrancazada pasou a ser modelo do avó que non tiven. Reconstrúo as noites durmindo nunha caserna infecta, onde todo cheiraba a corte e a miseria ética, onde nos prohibían ser nós mesmos, onde nos contaban ducias de veces no día por ver se algún fuxira, coma se houbese a onde fuxir, naquela chaira conxelada no inverno e somerxida no verán nunha néboa tépeda. Lembro os anos pasados no medio do mar inmenso cos vagallóns a cabalgar por riba da ponte de mando, co navío a mercé das correntes e da furia dos furacáns. Penso nos anos que perdín na procura de amores imposíbeis, na reiterada negación do eu ser, no pranto cotián diante do espello que reflectía a imaxe da dexeneración progresiva. Acordo a cada tanto suando no medio dunha crise da malaria que atrapei nas selvas de Camboxa, cando procuraba un tesouro que xamais encontrei, cando pasei fame, tortura e privacións que só a miña idade moza e a forteleza herdada dos antepasados me permitiran soportar. Fío secuencias que se achegan en desorde de datas e paisaxes, de percepción e suxeito, de protagonista e argumento; instantes coma enfoques dunha cámara interna, que acumula fotos sen facer, encadres fantásticos, composicións nunca antes visitadas, combinatorias de cores e de formas. Daquela chegan dos labirintos da memoria, o frío do cano da metralladora encol da caluga, as orellas xeadas camiñando a noite toda para atravesar a fronteira, as dedas sangrando logo de camiñar sobre vidros cando entraran por nós, a lembranza da primeira vez que falei en público repetindo consignas que hoxe farían que arrubiase, aquela tarde na que alguén me ensinou a coller camaróns nas rochas dunha praia en baixamar, ou aquela outra onde mudei unha clase de inglés pola arte de manexar a gadaña, ou naquela na que un meu amigo nomeou de corrido cen paxaros e eu respondín con cen peixes de mar e de río, para ledicia dos demais membros do grupo, que bebían á nosa saúde e apostaban cervexas por ver quen ganaba. Bosquexo na memorias as galerías polas que esvaraba en soños, que sempre ían dar a unha torre octogonal, na que cada parede tiña unha porta que levaba con certeza a un mundo distinto, que foi así como me aprenderan a fauna e a flora das eras diferentes e a razón da persistencia das especies, que se coaran por unha físgoa mentres unha porta se abría para logo entrar noutro mundo paralelo. Trazo no aire caligramas inventados ou soñados, que me ensinaran na escola ou que aprendín no paso do tempo, alfabetos que demarcan xeiras na miña vida, xa non curta. Xogo a ordenar os soños por ver se son quen de durmir, mais os soños non se deixan ordenar e clasificar, non acoden cando queres e sempre rematas por lembrar obsesións e esquecer os soños, agás aqueles que se repiten unha e outra vez dende que es consciente da súa recolección e ordenamento: o soño do faro, o soño da capela ás escuras, o soño do sexo abríndose polos corpos cavernosos, o soño dos ollos enucleados, o soño da reclusión, que agora é tan verdade, tanto como a tiñas soñado, que semella máis unha premonición que un soño. Soños cando regresa o vergallo, cando se escoitan os berros, cando me invade a nostalxia, cando me refuxia nas rutinas.

Ninguén ten dito (ninguén nos dixo, segundo calan) que esperan de nós, que pretenden que lles contemos, cal é a nosa falta. Chegaran en mesnadas como caídos do ceo ou xurdindo das entrañas da terra, arrasando coas súas armas mortíferas todo o que atopaban ao seu paso. Controlaran as comunicacións, os transportes e o comercio, comezando axiña unha campaña de detencións aleatoria. Xogan coa ambigüidade das mensaxes e o medo que xera a incerteza. Endexamais nos interrogan. Ninguén explica (eu non son quen de me explicar) como podo pasar días enteiros sen durmir, con febre, consumido por mil ideas que me asaltan e regresan, que me corroen as entrañas e loitan por escapar do seu cárcere de fluídos, que se queren sólidos, concretas, realizadas…

Regresa o vergallo. Óense berros no fondo do corredor, na “sala de lectura”. Recréanse no estralar sobre a pel mollada. O berro de Thomas. O berro de Cosme. O berro de Andrés. O meu berro. Un berro leopardo para cando me paseen de xeonllos. Ninguén dixo por que nos trouxeran aquí. Resoa o vergallo. Xamais nos interrogan. O importante é ordenar as rutinas. Ninguén por que na noite organizan cacerías de boleadoras e derribo. Quizais esta noite non veñan por min. Será mellor pensar así e non se engurrar coma pangolín en placas.

Pésanme as pálpebras, as pernas, os brazos, as costas afúndense no xergón facendo soar as articulacións na procura do descanso; mais o pensamento, o eu maldito, que se rebela consciente, non se detén nin un só instante, cabalga palabras sobre imaxes, imaxes sobre sons, estoupa en mil planos ao unísono, trazando un mapa en catro dimensións, en cinco, con saltos cromáticos, con fundidos en negro, con varridos laterais, con imaxes en calidoscopio, con sons que se fusionan, con mensaxes plurilingües, con asociacións inauditas.

…É no baleiro onde resoa o vergallo para me devolver a conciencia do exilio. Respiro o aire húmido e o cheiro acre da miña propia miseria ética. Hai tempo que saín da apatía propia da incomprensión e o medo. A ignorancia da miña sorte será tormento para outros aos que quero e xa estraño. Para min é só unha nube imprecisa mentres me sosteño co exercicio da rutina. Virán por min esta noite, ou a outra.

Tento memorizar datas e sucesos, relacionalos entre si, unilos para sempre nunha especie de mantra infinito, nunha cinta helicoidal que se pecha sobre si mesma. Inténtoo aínda que sei que a meirande parte dos vectores trazados estarán condenados ao fracaso, que a memoria me traizoará, repetida e mecanicamente, con asociacións espurias, con bucles de imaxes e de signos, con verbos que se asociarán a momentos imposíbeis, con lagoas de días ou de meses.

É imposíbel durmir cercado por estes pensamentos recorrentes, negando a realidade exterior, a realidade dos outros, ensumíndome en retracción outonal de depósitos e engurras ata renunciar aos sentidos, perdido nun labirinto de verbas que acoden a cachón, que martelan as tempas en cadoiro de signos, que impiden conciliar o soño.

 

Jacob Rogers is a translator of Galician prose and poetry based in Spain. His translations have appeared in Asymptote, PRISM International, Cagibi, Your Impossible Voice, Nashville Review, The Brooklyn Rail InTranslation, and the Portico of Galician Literature, with work forthcoming in Best European Fiction 2019. His translation of Carlos Casares’ novel, His Excellency, came out from Small Stations Press in 2017. More of Xavier Queipo’s work is forthcoming from Copper Nickel in the fall, with an anthology of his stories slated for publication by Small Stations Press in 2021.

Xavier Queipo is a Galician writer based in Brussels, Belgium. He has published nearly twenty books, ranging from fiction to poetry, to children’s literature, as well as essays. He has won several prizes for his novels, including the Spanish Critics Prize in 1991, for The Arctic, and Other Seas, and the Blanco Amor Prize in 2015 for his most recent novel, Os Kowa. His work has been translated into English, Spanish, French, and Portuguese, and he was one of the four collaborators on the 2013 award-winning translation of Ulysses into Galician.

 

 

Izosceles, Retro Discothekka, 2017, Digital Media, 40" x 30"

Spotlight: Pro-Anti

The Icon is an emerging American digital visual artist. With a love for cartoons and fun imagery, Izosceles discovered their adoration for artistic expression at a young age. Their works are colorful in nature; however, some have deeper tones underneath the playful, digestible surface. Growing up on cartoons as a child is what inspires their bold lines […]

Writers Read: Red Clocks by Leni Zumas

When I was thinking back on how to write up this piece on Red Clocks by Leni Zumas, I kept struggling with the words to put down. How can I best write about a fictitious society that criminalized reproductive rights while we in the US are quite literally on the brink of a collapse of these rights? Perhaps that sounds a bit dramatic, but I read this book months ago and it feels like every week there’s another barrage of #MeToo moments or sexual assault allegations or attacks on reproductive rights. In light of everything happening in our political and societal climate, it becomes much more difficult to separate the facts from this all-too-real fiction. And since Zumas first published this book in January of 2018, it’s not hard to see how this book connects with, and comments on, our reality.

Red Clocks is a fiction novel that is set in a present-day America with one major change: abortions are outlawed and any woman even seeking one is criminalized and charged. Zumas creates a terrifying mirror image of our current society as she weaves the stories and lives of four different women together: The Biographer, The Daughter, The Wife, and The Mender. All four of these people have a specific agenda and dilemma they are facing, but they all stem from the basis of this anti-woman society. Roberta Stephens, The Biographer, struggles with difficulties to conceive a child while fighting to get approved for adoption before a new law passes that will require every child to have two married parents. Mattie Quarles, The Daughter, is isolated and terrified to discover she’s a pregnant teen and has nowhere or no one to turn to. Susan Korsmo, The Wife, is torn between trying to keep her family together for the sake of her kids and needing to leave her husband because she isn’t appreciated and feels lost and without identity. Gin Percival, The Mender, is the woman who lives in the woods and secretly provides herbal remedies and help to women.

On the surface, it might not be obvious exactly how and why all these women are struggling and why the roots of their problems stem from the anti-woman rhetoric. However, in a society that criminalizes women’s sexuality and forces a heteronormative family image, it doesn’t leave much room for support between women. They are all trying to make it in this world that is doing everything it can to make things more difficult and dangerous for them.

Not only that, but this society designates each of them to a certain role within their lives. Throughout the novel, the narration only refers to these four women with their roles or nomenclatures. This reinforces the parameters within which each woman can operate or how they’re viewed in the world. But at the same time, we as readers can see the pushback against some of these roles. Roberta, for example, is a working on a biography of Eivør Minervudottir who was a polar explorer, but she’s also a teacher. She’s working on recording Eivør’s history while directly impacting the futures of those students around her. It’s a reminder that no one ever only has one role or one purpose.

The greatest thing that Zumas does throughout this work is to create four compelling dynamics and lives to showcase just how much this affects everyone. Roberta just wants to have a child, but can’t get pregnant because the one

Leni Zumas

thing that would help her—IVF treatments—have also been outlawed since embryos cannot consent to the procedure. Literal embryos—cells—have more power than a full-grown woman in this society. On the other hand, you might see Susan as someone who’s doing completely fine. She has a husband and family and everything seems good on the surface, but her home life is devastating. She fluctuates between wanting to try and save her marriage, though her husband refuses to even consider going to couples therapy and just leaving him. She’s aware of how much society would blame her for the breakdown of her marriage; she’s also terrified that her children would blame her. We as outsiders can see just how sad and over-worked she is without any help or appreciation from her husband.

Mattie and Gin would be the most obvious examples of why this society is bad because they have the most obviously dire situations. Gin is illegally offering help to women who are struggling with their reproductive rights and health. Mattie is completely alone as she struggles with her pregnancy. It’s through Mattie that we really see how much everyone has to lose here because anyone Mattie tells is not only then implicated and could be jailed and convicted, but they could also turn Mattie in.

This society is so desperately trying to paint itself as the “hero for the unborn,” but it’s completely missing the real and devastating impacts on the actual people in the world. It gives a clear and definitive message that women are not as important because they’re the ones suffering in this world. Gin is arrested and tried for her crimes, but there’s not even a single mention of the fact that she’s been supplementing additional help for women in other ways—just like Planned Parenthood. While Gin does have a tonic that could cause an abortion, she’s also the only person to mention that perhaps Roberta might have polycystic ovary syndrome, which might help explain her troubles at getting pregnant. Roberta had to ask her doctor to run a test because the doctor hadn’t even thought to test her before. Roberta even says at one point that “she is submitting her area to all kinds of invasion without understanding a fraction of what’s being done to it” (14). These new laws have become dangerous and blatantly ignore the health of these women for the sake of having a more “natural” or “traditional” family.

Zumas using these four different women to tell the story of this world helps everyone understand the realities and how it truly does affect everyone. These outrageous laws didn’t happen overnight; they started with small steps that eventually spiraled into the harsh criminalization of women seeking reproductive health and rights. It started with anti-abortion messaging and then criminalized it. That led to the upcoming law, Every Child Needs Two, which states that “unmarried persons will be legally prohibited from adopting children” (37). The slow descent of this society and the rights of the people living here show that no woman is going to be safe forever and that hopefully eventually everyone will begin to take notice of these laws. Roberta herself says that people “forgot about [the law] promptly after hearing it, because the law did not apply to her” (165). Having multiple characters and each having a distinct point of view and story to tell, helped us readers to not ignore others for the sake of our protagonist.

Zumas paints a terrifying example of where we might end up if we continue on this path of criminalizing and punishing women and their sexuality. Women are expected to be ready to raise a child the first time they have sex because we have equated the two so closely in our conservative minds. It’s always shocking to me that no one on the conservative side of this issue ever seems to actually try and understand where these women are coming from. I can only hope that the society described in Zumas’s novel doesn’t come to pass because I truly fear that there might not be a way out for us from there.

Zumas, Leni. Red Clocks. New York, Little Brown and Company, 2018.

Sara Voigt is a current MFA candidate at Antioch University Los Angeles where she’s pursuing her masters in creative writing. She also works on the literary journal Lunch Ticket, where she’s working as proof edit manager and managing editor. Originally from Wisconsin, she currently lives and works in the Los Angeles area.