Heartland Fever by Isha Fazili

 

I wanted to be a white girl

from pre-school to sixth-grade

from classroom to playground

in Rolla, Missouri

where the white girls 

sat taller, swung higher,

their skin smooth, bright,

clean. 

 

I wanted the long blonde braids

that dripped down backs

like honey.

I wanted the soft cream skin

that wrapped around bones

without shame.

 

I wanted to be a white girl

like the ones I knew,

who went to Sunday services,

danced at the same studios,

ate at the same barbeques,

whose mothers ran school fundraisers

whose fathers went fishing on long weekends.

 

I wanted to be a white girl

but could never look like one.

The bleaching, prodding, plucking

did not make the hair on my face blend

like peach fuzz

into my cheeks.

The locker-room lotion, serum, sunscreen

did not make my brown legs shine

like ivory ribbons in the sun.

 

I wanted to be a white girl

but my mom had visa interviews

missed fundraisers,

and my dad watched cricket

having no patience for fishing.

We went to prayer on Friday,

not Sunday.

 

I wanted to be a white girl

because I believed white

was the only kind of girl to be.

I hated the valley of my body,

became used to hiding

its river of colored tenderness

until I took the train here and

it all spilled out of me,

as slow and sweet as melting toffee.

 

Now I live in the deepness of my skin

smooth, bright, clean,

and my dark glows

like the city streets after warm rain.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

that is not the right word for what you are trying to say  by  Coco Fitterman

 

the body God gave me is too small

I was on Twitter DM last night

talking to C

who said he felt amazing

Lately

I feel ok

I only prayed to God once

asked Him to make me taller

to go to the party

to go to the cool party

from my bedroom it is

12:20 in new york on a friday

and you know the rest

mothers of America   

i see you molding clay

because clay is a

universal

female

medium

A concomitance

working with the hands

welcome to the pull

welcome to the pool

welcome to the thing

that never fucking dies

once T drank ten beers

after track practice

then he raped A

T is a texture

A is centering

A is still centering

A is aligned

in perfect arabesque

there was something else

i was going to say

but then I turned 20

in public I put on

my art world for you

for all of you

when I was 19

i am still 19

            in my heart

            in my soul

you are my best friend

i am only as strong as my weakest

            pill

            poem

            promise

i am hurt

in the way

a ballerina

gets hurt

Stigma Kills by Oriana Barone

  Aunt Louisa’s small, red brick home resides on a five hundred foot cliff overlooking the Mediterranean Sea in the small seaside town of Monte di Procida in southern Italy. As a child, I would step out onto her blazing hot, red-tiled balcony, which tickled the bottom of my feet as I tiptoed to the shaded right side to see the breathtaking view. Looking directly straight out from the balcony, I could see jewel-blue water that glistened from the rays of the Mediterranean sun; I could hear seagulls screeching, the waves splashing against the jet-black sea rocks and children giggling on the beach of Acqua Morta, which translates to “The Sea of the Dead”. Looking down from the balcony, I could see the cobblestone stairs that led to Aunt Louisa’s vineyard, which flourished down the verdant cliff in her backyard.

Here is where my 18-year-old cousin Ciro plunged to his death. Ciro, who was eight years older than me, would always take me to pick juicy purple grapes in Aunt Louisa’s vineyard. One time in particular, before we headed down the stairs, Aunt Louisa poked her head and fragile, thin shoulders through the tinted green glass door. She opened her chocolate-colored eyes wide and said, in a stern tone, “Do NOT go past the blue gate!”

I trusted Ciro as he firmly held my tiny hands while we walked down the fifty steps, covered in dirt and broken tree branches, to reach the thriving vineyard. I looked up at Ciro, as he ran his fingers through his amber locks. They glistened in the sun like gold. The corners of his Bambi eyes crinkled as he smiled at me. He had emerald green eyes, with Mediterranean Sea blue creeping around the edges. We arrived at the vineyard, and, in the distance, I could see the eroded sky-blue gate Aunt Louisa ordered us not to pass. The gate, covered in spongy green moss and faded orange rust, blocked the entrance to the edge of the cliff. I remember Ciro tell me, in a soft voice, “Ana, come grab my hand. I don’t want you near the gate.”

            Ciro spent most of his youth working to achieve perfection by studying hour upon hour to obtain and maintain a 4.0 average. Ciro was a remarkably ambitious and determined teenager, but he was also a perfectionist who suffered when he performed poorly. His ambition and determination allowed him to gain admission into a prestigious college in Italy — Bocconi University. When Ciro received his acceptance, he was not relieved; instead, he felt, even more, the pressure to prove to the town that he was worthy of a prestigious college education. After his acceptance, he had told Aunt Louisa, “Everyone is going to laugh in the face of my acceptance if I don’t get a job with a high salary.”

The town of Monte di Procida has just over 300 residents; therefore, everybody knows each other. Consequently, everybody knows every detail about each other’s life. Word spread quickly; everyone was amazed about Ciro’s acceptance into Bocconi. I remember there was a day, shortly after his acceptance, when we walked down the narrow street where Rosaria, his neighbor, was outside watering her daffodils by her red-orange stoop. She placed her melon-pink watering can on the stoop and threw her dark brown fishtail braid behind her bony shoulders. She ran to Ciro, pursed her lips, and powerfully kissed his freckled cheek.

“Congratulazioni, Ciro! You are going to have the best time in Milan! These are going to be the best three years of your life,” she excitedly said.

Ciro hated to be the center of attention. His cheeks flushed, he awkwardly giggled, and softly responded, “Grazie, Rosaria.”

Bocconi is in the metropolitan city of Milan, a five-hour train ride from Monte di Procida. Milan is the fashion capital of Italy, but unlike Monte di Procida, it is unwelcoming and grey. Unlike the slow-paced culture of southern Italy, Milan is fast-paced. The residents are always on the go, rushing to work in the streets, which makes it quite impersonal. Bocconi, in particular, is full of high-achieving and talented students that were all at the top of their classes in high school; Ciro was a small fish in a big sea of gifted students. He moved into his single bedroom dorm on the fourteenth floor. The dorm room, surrounded by plain white walls, had a slight sheen from the sunlight the small squared window that faced a courtyard provided. Perhaps the sharp contrast of the plain white walls in his room to his colorful past led to his gradual depression. Regardless, Ciro began his undergraduate experience with high hopes for his future endeavors. “I can’t wait to have a fresh start,” he had exclaimed to Aunt Louisa when he first entered the dorm.

I video-chatted with Ciro after he had finished his midterms, and I curiously asked, “Ciro, how is Milan?” He sat at his desk while the plain white walls crept in the background and nearly matched the pale shade of his face. Now that I reflect on my time video-chatting with Ciro, I realize that he seemed so lost as he stared into space. He was drowning in his inescapable thoughts, screaming for help on the inside while trying to find a piece of his broken puzzle. He resembled a skeleton; his face was whiter than bone, and his collarbone protruded from his skin. I could see the weight he was carrying on his bony shoulders as they began to tremble. In a toneless voice that matched his colorless skin, he softly said, “I am going to go take a nap. I’ll see you soon, Ana.”

Eight years after Ciro’s death, I asked Aunt Louisa to recall Ciro’s time at Bocconi and the conversations she had had with him. While at Bocconi, Ciro had experienced feelings of sadness and loss of interest in academia. He received a D on his first mathematics exam. He had called his mom, Aunt Louisa, and cried into the phone, “I am not good enough. What is happening to me?” Ciro sat alone every night in his small dorm room and called Aunt Louisa.

“You don’t understand how badly I want to jump out the window right now,” he had said in a quavering voice one night.

Aunt Louisa let out a sigh and responded, “Ciro, this is just a phase; it is normal to feel this way. You are experiencing something new.”

Ciro replied, in a trembling voice that struggled to form words, “It is not normal to feel this way. Please don’t tell anyone how I am feeling.”

When Ciro came home after the end of the semester to celebrate Christmas, I sat with him on the black leather couch in Aunt Louisa’s small living room. To the left of us was the Christmas tree, enveloped with gleaming gold lights. The sweet smell of fresh tomato salsa and minty basil sauntered into the room from the kitchen down the hall. Rosaria, Ciro’s neighbor, was wearing a black knitted sweater, and her mousy brown hair was tied up in a messy bun. As she walked down the narrow hallway to the right of the couch, Ciro forced a smile, hoping to hide his depressed state. He appeared to dread the questions and remarks that others would make. He viewed others’ comments more as judgments than expressions of concern or care.

Louisa looked wide-eyed at Ciro and took a step back. She shouted, “Ciro, I barely recognized you!”

Ciro looked like a walking corpse; he was extremely skinny, and his cheekbones protruded from his snow-white face. He had purple rings under his emerald green eyes that no longer gleamed as they did before he left for Milan; Ciro looked empty.

Rosaria asked, “I heard you decided to take some time off of school. How come?” Chiro’s freckled cheeks turned tomato red, and his eyes brimmed with tears.

“He is lazy; he doesn’t want to put up with the stress of school,” Aunt Louisa yelled from the kitchen.

Later that evening, Ciro came out from his room wearing a puffy black North Face jacket and a grey beanie. “I am going to go for a walk,” he told his mother.

“Be back in thirty minutes! The spaghetti will be ready then,” Aunt Louisa replied.

“Okay, Mom. I love you,” Ciro exclaimed before slamming the front wooden door shut.

Twenty minutes after Ciro slammed the front door shut, the phone rang in the kitchen; it was the police department. Aunt Louisa picked up the phone and frantically asked, “Is Ciro okay?” Rosaria and I were sitting on the black leather couch when we heard Aunt Louisa yell in confusion, “What? That can’t be Ciro. We are having dinner in ten minutes, and he said he would be here! He just went for a walk.” Then we heard Aunt Louisa scream in agony. Rosaria and I ran down the end of the narrow hall to reach the kitchen, and when we turned to the right, we saw Aunt Louisa laying stomach down, her fists clenched, as she punched the wooden floor. Her heart-rending sobs echoed throughout the empty hallways of her red brick home. Rosaria tightly wrapped her arms around Aunt Louisa’s trembling shoulders, and frantically yelled, “Louisa, che successo? Louisa, what happened?” That night, Ciro passed the blue gate and jumped to his death from the edge of the cliff in his backyard. In one second, he was there, and in the next second, he was gone. I was ten years old at the time.

The stigma of mental illness became apparent to me when I had a conversation in a salon in Naples, eight years after Ciro’s death. I sat in a bright, red leather barber chair while my hairdresser, Tilda, straightened a thick strand of my golden hair. She looked at me with her deep-set brown eyes through the squared mirror, and curiously asked, “What do you plan to study in New York?”

I answered, “I am going to be studying psychology.”

She immediately stopped straightening my hair, slightly opened her mouth and stared at me wide-eyed. She crossed her skinny arms, looked transfixed, and asked, “Aren’t you scared to work with i pazzi?” Pazzi, in English, translates to lunatics.

 In a calm tone, I answered, “No, I am not afraid to work with what you call crazy people because I know that these people, like Ciro, are not crazy — just sick. Depression is a flaw in chemistry, not in character.”

 

Main Street by Bea Palmer

 

They decided to take away my favorite pizza place in order to make room for new apartment buildings. When I was a child, I’d cry until my mom removed all the green stuff from on top of the cheese. Now that I’m older, dried Italian herbs on top of the cheese still make me uncomfortable.

Light splinters through the trees that line the freeway when we drive fast. Even when I shut my eyes I can feel the nauseating strobe light, warmth then no warmth, in time smaller than seconds. When I put the blinder down, a shimmery handicapped permit flutters from the ceiling onto my lap. It belongs to my 9 year old cousin who died in February because she had a heart defect, and now it belongs to her mom, Tracy, who pretends to limp out of the car when we pull up to Target or the movies, all of us laughing. When I tell people that my 9 year old cousin died, sometimes I omit the fact that she was sick. I don’t know why death by sickness seems to hold less weight than death by kidnapping or car accident. I want everyone I tell to feel her death the way I do.

Pieces of Easter-colored card stock pile on the counter, they tell Mackenzie to Get Well Soon. But half of her heart was missing, it wasn’t like she had pneumonia. When I sleep in her room now I imagine her small, bloated body next to me, her flushed arms that felt like fuzzy peaches, even when she lay at the front of the room at the wake. I touched her arms then, and her cheeks, and her dress. I don’t feel sad until I open her dresser and see all her shirts and shoes. In this moment I don’t feel sad that Mackenzie died, I feel sad about how small the clothes are. I take fists full of fabric, sliding the coat hangers together, and I press my face into the gentleness of glittery words on blue and purple shirts. I can smell when there was a person in these clothes.

I don’t tell strangers about my cousin’s death even though I could. Yesterday, a woman named Debby sat in the chair next to me while we were getting pedicures done. In this moment, I don’t think about pizza, or the boy who doesn’t like me back, or Mackenzie. I think about Debby as she tells me about her big date tonight. Her hair is yellow like a duck and she wears two thick swipes of eyeliner beneath her lower eyelashes, and she has a Long Island accent because she grew up on Conklin and Staple Street. Her date’s name is Barry, and she met him on AfroRomance, a dating website for Black people, Puerto Rican people, and Debby, who is a white lady. She made oatmeal raisin cookies for Barry because he mentioned in their text conversation that he loves oatmeal raisin cookies, and she offers me an oatmeal raisin cookie and I eat it, and it’s one of the best cookies I’ve had. She tells me about her ex, Tony, who was a bodybuilder and a piece of shit. She shows me a photo of Tony, his wet, brown skin contouring each engorged muscle and vein. Debby and I exchange information so that she can send me recipes; she’s working on a cookbook but hasn’t thought of a title yet.

When I leave the nail salon, I think about how equally strange humans are, the separate ways we spend our time. The pizza place is down the street and if I go now, it could be my last time. If I don’t go now, the last time I went could be my last time. I don’t go because I’m not hungry and I don’t think I care enough. Sometimes I notice things that are there but soon won’t be. I already knew my parents were getting older, but I just realized that so are my kindergarten teachers, and my neighbors, and my dogs who I met as puppies. I became attached to Cassie the same way I did with my stuffed animal pig, Balsamic. Balsamic had mangy, too-loved fur, a palimpsest of baby pink or lavender, and he smelled like something warm. He sat in bed like a piece of toast. Cassie was funny and smelled warm too, but instead of Balsamic’s rug-like quality, her hair was glossy and dark blonde. My hair was uneven and looked like it had never been conditioned, despite the fact that I went out of my way to condition twice each time she showered, hoping it would fall from the towel onto my neck like ribbon, the way Cassie’s could. I wasn’t pretty, and neither was Cassie, but I was uglier. The two of us had art class together, and one day, I asked Cassie who her best friend was. She said that it was Giulia, and then she said sorry. I said I know, and cried when I walked to the bathroom.

I came home from school and went to my bedroom. I saw Balsamic’s blameless smile and hated him. I took scissors from my pencil bag and softly snipped the legs off of his body. His stuffing mushroomed out of the slits and gathered on the floor. Once I had him fully dismembered, I lifted an ear to my mouth and put it right in. Chewing took too long, so I swallowed harshly. Piece by piece, I ate his cleanly sectioned carcass, then, I cried. I’m sorry I’m sorry I’m sorry, I said.

and indeed she ‘falls’ and indeed they cannot ‘bear’ it

 

                                                                        Coco Fitterman

 

 

there are things

you can’t buy online

but when you dream

you can find them

in other people

sometimes

i dream about a castle

six white horses

what was that poem

about horses in the ocean

something about AIDS

 

i hate AIDS

i miss my gay uncle

eastern european grandeur

  1. petersburg’s version

of The Cock on a friday

i forgot what this party is called

i left my phone

in a place

where older dykes cruise

i shook Eileen’s hand

i don’t care about anything

 

i can’t afford

the new iPhone

i have to look at your pics

on a smaller screen

tears smudge my cursive

reading Lorca

in the Hamptons

at my married friend’s lake house

basking in

the softness of day

that comes with wealth

the friend who used

to let me fuck her in college

on top like a boy

domesticity suits her

what’s that ashbery line

about truth

it passes on, whether you leave it

       in   or    out,       out

or      in

there are things

you can’t get from a poem

even if it is very beautiful

i’m not so jaded

i truly feel moved

there is a well

in chelsea market

sometimes

    when I’m seeing shows

i visit it

  look into its dark waters

yesterday I saw some paintings

        i felt    nothing

maybe paintings should

paint themselves one    half – – word    at a time

 

when the camera pans

      a painting of water

      a fluidity of motion

 

you sent me a screenshot

of your see-saw map

           should’ve been a dick pic

 

 

 

Art

 

that           concussed champion

 

 

sounds   like a guy

 

Crushed Peanuts – Caroline Steudle

Crushed Peanuts

Caroline Steudle

I’m sitting cross-legged on my bed eating peanut butter from the jar and thinking about the time Jamie and Sam and I tried to make Chinese dough balls, the kind like Jamie’s family always makes for the New Year. That was the summer after we graduated high school, the summer the three of us worked together at that math-and-science summer camp. It was hosted by a local boarding school, and it was the most popular summer camp among all the middle school nerds of lower Alabama who would rather spend three weeks watching high school teachers perform mediocre science experiments than eating s’mores or telling ghost stories.

It was Sam’s idea for the three of us to be counselors – he needed extra cash for next year, he reminded us, when he’d be at Vandy. It was always Vandy, never the full word, and he dragged out the ‘a’ nice and long so we’d all have time to reflect on how impressive he was for going there. He talked about college as if he was the only one going – or, really, as if he was the only one going anywhere of any value. He was going to Vaaandy to study mechanical engineering, something that I, with my undecided major and state school prospects, couldn’t possibly compete with.

My spoon scrapes the side of the peanut butter jar and I wonder if I made the decisions I did just because of people like him, to prove some kind of point about what I was – what I am – capable of. It all just felt like a contest, and my friendship with Sam has always been dangerously competitive. Even once we were at different colleges, even now that we’ve graduated. We kept in touch because he always liked to boost his ego, and his old high school best friend was the perfect foil for his new successful self. He never said it, but every time during undergrad, when he’d call to catch up and graciously remind me that there was nothing wrong with choosing a state school, every time he pretended to regard my studies on the same plane as his, he was really just implying, with every word, that I was never going to make it out of Alabama. Would I have come to the city if not for that?

It was Sam’s idea, too, to make those dough balls. The camp lasted six weeks, and we had to spend all six of them living in the same dingy dorms that the middle schoolers were so thrilled to occupy. The school was technically a public school, state funded, so all parts of the campus were varying levels of dilapidated. The furniture was falling apart, wardrobes missing hinges and desk shelves slanted at precarious angles. We had to share communal bathrooms with hordes of messy 13-year-olds who had very obviously never had to clean up after themselves. And, as Sam lamented far too often, there was no real kitchen anywhere in any of the dorms. Instead, each hall was equipped with a toaster oven, a hot plate, and a microwave.

I think the same competitive streak that has pushed me out too far into the world is what caused Sam to insist we attempt to cook. He said, “Man, I wish I could cook here,” and I said, “Yeah, but you can’t.” He heard my simple, factual statement as a challenge.

Next thing I knew, I was standing alone, surrounded by overstuffed shelves lined with products plastered with big-eyed cartoon characters speaking in a language I couldn’t understand. The Asian market was dingy and crowded and, according to Sam, the only place where we’d find whatever special flour that the dough ball recipe required. I waited for him and Jamie to return with the flour, trying to draw as little attention to myself as possible, though everything about my appearance – namely, my glaring whiteness – screamed, “I don’t belong here!”

On the way back to campus, I sat in the backseat, unable to contribute in any way to the argument happening in front of me.

“Powdered sugar,” Jamie insisted. “That’s how we always made them at my house.”

“No,” Sam argued. “My aunt topped them with crushed-up peanuts. Mixed with a little sugar – there’s nothing better than that.”

“We didn’t get any peanuts,” Jamie feebly countered, but she’s always been a people-pleaser, and she knew as well as I did that it didn’t matter how many times her family had made the dough balls growing up, not when Sam’s aunt had made them the one time he visited her in Malaysia. He had the bottom of a jar of peanuts that he’d been snacking on in his dorm – just the perfect amount for what we needed, he told us. What we didn’t have was powdered sugar.

Since it was the aspect of the recipe that required the least effort, knowledge, or cooking skill, the task of crushing the peanuts was delegated to me. While Jamie and Sam boiled and simmered, kneaded and rolled, I put peanuts and sugar into the cheapest food processor we could find at the Walgreens down the road and pressed the button. I hated that this was all they assumed I was capable of. I hated that they were right.

Jamie was part of the problem, too, you know. That summer, when Sam and I had just graduated, she still had a year of high school left. She wanted to feel like she was on equal ground with the two of us, but that was always overshadowed by her need for everyone to get along. Sam, for his part, treated her and me as if we were equally below him. Still, her strategy of doing whatever she could to placate the two of us did little more than make her the perpetual mediator for Sam and me. By the end of it, she was the only one who really knew how much we hated each other – something we weren’t willing to admit, even to ourselves.

Now, I haven’t talked to her in… has it been months? We were never really close, individually; she existed in the context of my relationship with Sam. She was much more sincere than he when insisting how lucky I was to have so many options, more time to decide what I’d spend my life doing. Not like her, pressured into the medical field by expectant parents and a highly successful older sister. She was incapable of condescension but instead showered me with an exaggerated reverence that made me feel a lot better about myself than I liked to admit. I wanted to give her something to actually be impressed with. Every supportive comment only made me feel more like a fraud.

She was the one who carefully suggested I be in charge of the peanuts. “I know you don’t love cooking, and, you know, Sam and I are a lot more familiar with the recipe and everything, so maybe it might, I don’t know, be a little bit better if you, uh, just grind up the peanuts?” She had a tendency to ask her statements. She was always looking for an answer from somebody else, some confirmation or refusal.

I felt a steady, vibrating pressure under my thumb as I did my one menial task. The blades ripped through the peanuts in the processor with a satisfying, drawn-out crunch that made it impossible to hear Sam explain how the real name of this dish was Dongzhi tang yuan, also known as glutinous rice balls or Chinese New Year dough balls – as if he hadn’t just looked it up on his phone, as if I couldn’t have done that on my own or Jamie didn’t already know. The tension within the processor was slowly relieved as the peanuts were crushed into smaller and smaller pieces. It was almost therapeutic, a mixture of violent and soothing that I hadn’t realized I was craving. I didn’t want to stop. But finally, the blades were spinning with so little resistance from the peanuts that I knew they had to be a fine enough powder. I reluctantly removed my thumb from the button and opened the lid.

Of course, I’d fucked it up.

Did you know that peanut butter is made by putting peanuts in a food processor and pressing the button for just barely longer than the time it takes to crush the peanuts into powder?

That’s all that was in the food processor: crunchy peanut butter.

Is it the peanut butter that brought up this memory? No, I think it was the failure: failure to realize that all the time I spent aiming for success was actually setting me up to appear successful. Failure to figure out what it is that I actually wanted, besides something that would impress the small people from my small hometown. I’m still not sure what I do want. I know it’s not this, somebody else’s idea of a good life. I am sitting on my bed eating peanut butter from the jar, avoiding confronting the truth that I will soon have to leave this apartment and begin a life and a job that will never feel like mine. But people like Sam and Jamie sound impressed when they call. Sometimes, I can convince myself they actually are.

That night, they finished making the dough balls. They were white and round, unexpectedly chewy. They stuck to my teeth and weren’t nearly as sweet as I expected. I wondered if they would have been better with crushed-up peanuts. I probably wouldn’t have liked them anyway.