Curiouser and Curiouser

Curiouser and Curiouser”  

The “Wonderland” of Dreams in the Context of Carl Jung

Diya Radhakrishna

 

Where would one meet a grinning cat, a despotic playing-card and a caterpillar smoking a hookah, except in the world of dreams? I’ve always thought that Lewis Carroll’s Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland shows nothing but the extent to which dreams can be removed from reality. Carl Jung’s theories caused a shift in my perspective – I began to notice how dreams may in fact reveal hidden truths of real life. Alice’s “Wonderland” may be what Jung refers to as a Big Dream, dreams that are “absolutely foreign to one’s experience of conscious, normal reality in wakeful life” (Collier). This is a dream that is usually memorable (Collier), and it is also referred to as an “archetypal dream” (Hurd).

The concept of the archetype is central to the Jungian idea of Big Dreams. Defining them as “psychic innate dispositions to experience that represent basic human behavior and situations” (“Collective Unconscious”), Jung says of archetypes, “We often meet these themes in the fantasies, dreams, delirious ideas and illusions of persons living nowadays” He notes that they are seen, repeatedly, in popular literature, mythology and art (“Archetypes”). I understand archetypes to be themes and ideas that seem universal to the human experience, represented in the individual context. It is interesting that this concept, when applied to Alice’s “Wonderland”, could create a meaningful and memorable Big Dream.  

             The first archetype I noticed in Wonderland was the Jungian “Persona” of Alice herself, as she appears in her dream. The archetype of Persona is defined as “our conscious presentation of the self” (Adams and Nelson, “Jungian Dream Interpretation”), referring to the social role we believe we are supposed to play. Alice’s social role is, in her young life, defined by her education, the knowledge she has acquired in school, the logic and the social and natural rules and hierarchies she has been taught about. The more I observed Alice’s behavior through the book, the more I could see evidence of her Persona in Wonderland –she tries to project a social image of being knowledgeable and wise, despite often having a limited understanding of many concepts both in the real world, and in Wonderland itself: down the rabbit hole, she speaks of geography with a sense of self-importance, but the reality of her knowledge is that, “Alice had no idea what Latitude was, or Longitude either, but thought they were nice grand words to say.” (Carroll 6) In her need to appear well-informed and erudite, she is hesitant in acquiring true knowledge when she has the chance. This may be seen in her encounter with the Duchess, when she says to herself: “And what an ignorant little girl she’ll think me for asking! No, it’ll never do to ask: perhaps I shall see it written up somewhere.” (Carroll 6) She is constantly applying the social institutions of her own world to Wonderland, eager to identify different members of a court of law, to talk about her school, home and even her cat Dinah.

Wonderland itself is not conducive to the development of Alice’s Persona – where she tries to apply logic, none exists; the limited knowledge she has is inapplicable; the social institutions she understands are proven useless and turned upside down. According to Jungian dream theory, the reason why Wonderland is so bizarre could be because the place itself is Alice’s “Shadow” – the antithesis of her Persona.

The Shadow archetype “refers to that part of the unconscious psyche that is nearest to consciousness, even though it is not completely accepted by it.” (Zweig and Abrams I:4) It could thus refer to one’s hidden fears and desires – something that is, in part, informed by the social context of one’s life. In the introduction to Meeting the Shadow, Zweig and Abrams say that “Many forces play a role in forming our shadow selves, ultimately determining what is permitted expression and what is not. Parents, siblings, teachers, clergy and friends create a complex environment in which we learn what is kind, proper, moral behavior and what is mean-spirited, shameful and sinful.” (Zweig and Abrams Introduction XVII) As the Shadow, this place of Alice’s dreams shows us everything considered unacceptable in the normal world: a woman treating her baby the way the Duchess does, the idea of schooling turned upside down by the Mock Turtle, a court of law as a place of chaos and disarray. Wonderland is the exact opposite of Victorian England, where Alice grows up, in how it is completely chaotic, devoid of the social conventions and rules that must permeate through every aspect of her waking life. She is annoyed when the Duchess declares, “Everything’s got a moral, if only you can find it.” (Carroll 53) – a statement that seems to satirically suggest the social attitude of Alice’s time. Perhaps Alice’s experience of Wonderland shows the yearnings of a young girl caged by the strict social order and moral conventions of Victorian England exploring a secret desire for freedom from these things.

Events in Wonderland mirror those Alice would experience in real-life, and her reaction to them shows fears and thoughts she may not acknowledge when she is awake. An example of this is in how the Duchess tells her, “You don’t know much…and that’s a fact.” (Carroll 49) – words that reflect her own fear of appearing ignorant, that her “knowledgeable” Persona is a farce.

Many children are overwhelmed by how quickly they are changing during adolescence. In Wonderland, Alice finds herself constantly shrinking and growing when she falls down the rabbit hole. When the caterpillar asks her, “What size do you want to be?”, she replies, “Oh, I’m not particular as to size,” going on to state, “only one doesn’t like changing so often, you know.” (Carroll 40-41) This experience and talk with a caterpillar, completely fantastical on a literal level, could reflect, in real life, the pains and fears related to the physical changes of puberty that a girl of Alice’s age would encounter. Adolescence also brings forth questions on life choices. Alice’s talk with the mysterious Cheshire Cat reflects an uncertainty about her purpose and direction – literally, as she asks him, ‘Would you tell me, please, which way I ought to go from here?’ (Carroll 53). Adolescent questions of identity that Alice might have when she is awake are also a part of the Shadow that is Wonderland, seen in her talk with the caterpillar and one of the most famous lines from the book: “Who in the world am I? Ah, that’s the great puzzle!” (Carroll 14) Thus, Alice’s many experiences in Wonderland can be seen through the Jungian lens of the Shadow archetype; they  reflect the unacknowledged fears of a young girl changing physically, emotionally and intellectually as she grows up in the rigid social order of Victorian England.

Alice’s Wonderland also seems to depict other archetypes. The archetype of Anima in males and Animus in females shows “the internalized ideal images of the opposite sex” (Zweig and Abrams I:5) The Animus archetype, in females, is meant to depict the masculine aspects of one’s character and the way this part of us affects the way we live (“Animus”). Alice’s Animus might be represented by the character of the Duchess, who in many ways does not show behavior that is stereotypically feminine in nature. In a society with stringent gender roles, the somewhat violent, aggressive and volatile Duchess could be showing a side of Alice that wants to break free of the norms imposed on her as a girl and act in a primarily “male” way.

 The Divine Child archetype is something that “not only symbolizes your innocence, your sense of vulnerability, and your helplessness, but it represents your aspirations and full potential.” (dreammoods.com) This could be the baby that the Duchess abandons – a baby that “would have made a dreadfully ugly child”, but could become, according to Alice, “rather a handsome pig” (Carroll 52). This pig-child could symbolize Alice’s innocence and imagination, something that is potent and powerful but does not fit into the real world that she’s growing up in. Thus Wonderland, a dream that at first glance has nothing to do with reality, may in fact provide insight into Alice’s subconscious conflicts in the context of the era in which Carroll’s book is set.

                            In interpreting Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland, Jungian psychology seemed to make sense of the fantastical. Encouraged by this, I decided to test Jung’s theories on my own dreams. I realized that like Alice, I have experienced “encounters with mythological creatures and strange, intelligent animals” – one of the indicators of a Big Dream (Hurd). Many of my dreams have left a profound impact on me that has made them markedly memorable, as a Big Dream should be. Graham Collier, in his article, “Dreams – Big and Little”, says:

“Jung regarded the Big Dream as a kind of ‘wakeup call’: as a means of alerting one to psychological imbalances in character development that are working against one’s wellbeing, and are therefore injurious to one’s positive and meaningful psychological growth. He also pointed out that such important dreams were not to be taken literally; could only be understood if ‘read’ symbolically.”

When I “read” Alice’s bizarre Wonderland using Jungian archetypes, it gave me insight into her fears and worries, her personality, in the context of her life. When I did this with my own Big Dreams, many elements of my dreams acted as archetypes and pointed to personal conflicts and weaknesses prevalent in specific situations in my life. For example, just recently I dreamt that I was back in the auditorium of my old high school in Bangalore, India, at an event called SING! – something that happens in my roommates’ school in Queens, New York. As I watched performances by a bizarre mix of Indians and Americans known to me, I was acutely aware that it would soon be my turn to perform. Suddenly, I was stumbling onto the platform with no idea of what the role required of me. I stood there confused and embarrassed as the spotlight shone on me and the audience simply watched from the shadows – the next thing I knew, I was waking up.

             This dream occurred when I was staying with family friends in New Jersey over Thanksgiving Break. They were a conservative South Indian family, and I felt pressurized to play the role of the docile, conforming Indian girl around them. Although I enjoyed spending time with them, I felt as though I had to pretend to be someone I’m not. My failure to “perform” in the dream perhaps, using Jungian archetypes, showed my struggle to execute this uncomfortable social role in real life. The Persona here is the character I am in my dream-play, and like in real life, I am unable to keep up the act. Thus, using Jung’s archetypes helped me make sense not only of a rather strange dream, but also of my own struggles and feelings with respect to the social context I was in.

Another dream that clued me in on a social and emotional aspect of my life was one that recurred every night last summer. I dreamt I was desperately trying to evade a half-seen, silhouetted male figure who wanted to confront and capture me. This threatening man was often armed, faceless and nameless; even when I couldn’t see him, I was aware of his presence. Every dream was set in the stairwell of my apartment building – while I ran up and down, he was constantly one step ahead of me. I usually woke up panting and sweating, just before I was caught. This mysterious, frightening dream made no sense to me until I read about the Jungian Shadow archetype. According to Jung, the Shadow “represents everything that a subject refuses to acknowledge about himself” (Jung 284). This corresponds with my greatest fear, one that I have only recently come to terms with – the fear of making decisions.

I’m afraid of committing to one thing and closing out my options. This dream occurred to me when I had to make the biggest decision of my life: where to go to college. The figure in my dream was a literal, as well as an archetypal, Shadow. It symbolized a choice I was struggling to make: the choice between staying in India for college or coming to New York. I felt threatened by this decision, daunted by its immense consequences, but it was a situation I could not evade – just like the threatening men in my dreams. John A Sanford, in his interview with Patrick Miller, says of one’s reaction to the Shadow in dreams, “You may remember running very fast during the dream… and not remember why. But in the dream, you know.” (Miller). This relates very strongly to my own dream where I ran from this strange figure with a very particular reason in mind in the dreamscape, but with no idea of why I had done so, when I woke up. Jung says about confronting the Shadow, “To become conscious of it involves recognizing the dark aspects of the personality as present and real. This act is the essential condition for any kind of self-knowledge, and it therefore, as a rule, meets with considerable resistance.” (Campbell 145) In real life, I refused to acknowledge that I was struggling with my indecision, and this is seen in how I was constantly running away from my archetypal Shadow in my dream. Facing my fear gave me immense self-confidence; interestingly, after I made the decision to come to New York for university, I have never had this dream again.

I also found it significant that the person I was afraid of in my dream is male. The more I thought about it, the more it made sense that the male figure I was running from but could not escape may have also represented the Animus, the masculine part of my otherwise feminine self-identity. The man in the dream was always overtly aggressive and armed, and even though I often could not see his face, I associated with him a strong image of masculinity. The one time I identified the figure, it was a fictional character – Harvey Specter from the television show Suits – someone whom I have always considered to be a stereotypical example of male egotism, emotional repression and anger. Perhaps confronting my Animus shows a recognition of the fact that I have been repressing a side of me that is aggressive, that is angry and proud. In real life, I have always been afraid to express emotions of anger – both because I like to think of myself as a calm, composed person, and because it was often reinforced, socially, that aggression or pride are not characteristics that a girl should show.

In Meeting the Shadow, Zweig and Abrams say, “For different people, in different families and cultures, what falls into ego and what falls into shadow can vary. For instance, some permit anger or aggression to be expressed; most do not.” (Zweig and Abrams XVII) In my case, the characteristics that fell into Shadow perhaps also fell into the Animus archetype, for I could not, in real life, bring myself to express the “masculine” emotions that I felt, and this fear of showing such a side of myself manifested in my dream. 

I realize now that my archetypes speak of my own fears and decisions as I emerge into adulthood in the twenty-first century, just like how archetypes in Alice’s dream speak of gender and identity in the context of an eleven-year-old girl in Victorian England. However, there is one archetype that has featured in a Big Dream of mine, but that I could not identify in Alice’s: that of the Self. When I was taking my final high school exams, I was under great pressure, from myself and society, to perform to my full potential. At this time, I would often dream of myself walking alongside a lioness. I was very aware during these encounters that I was in the presence of a dangerous beast, but I was not afraid of the animal – in fact, I felt quite at peace by her side. There was a strange sense of unity and calm in this dream that occurred at a time when reality was full of with anxiety and stress. After I read about the presence of the “Self” in dreams, a Jungian concept, the dream made more sense to me. Jung compares the experience of the Self to the “unified duality” (“Self”), like the Taoist symbol of Yin and Yang. It shows two separate parts of one’s identity coming together and has been likened to a half-man half-animal situation (“Self”). Jung says that “The Self appears in dreams, myths and fairy tales as a “superior personality””. I believe that in my strange dream, out of place with reality, I saw my Self symbolized by the image of my human figure walking alongside the lioness with a pervading feeling of peace, both of us aware of, but not threatened by, the other. In Vedic dream interpretation the lioness usually symbolizes strength, power and grace (dreamsnest.com)– all aspects of my personality that I was desperately trying to reach. In how this lioness was beside me, it seemed as though my subconscious mind was showing me a unified picture of the different parts of my personality that I needed in real life. It is also interesting that “According to Jung, the experience of the Self on the empiric plane is similar to a religious revelation” (“Self”): my dream was set multiple times in a Hindu temple.

In both the case of Alice in Wonderland and that of my own dreams, the dream itself seemed removed from reality. Yet, it was pertinent to the experience of reality because it revealed hidden truths about its subjects, Alice and me. I believe that Jung was right to talk about such dreams as “Big Dreams” for they are indeed pervasive, impactful forces. Different elements of the dream world, such as the archetypes of the Persona, Shadow and Animus, seem to form a looking glass that mirrors reality. I believe this goes to show that dreams, if interpreted with care and context, can provide access to meaningful insight into one’s personality; this would be a powerful tool to carry along on a journey of self-discovery. Opening the door to my dream world with a Jungian key has made me, as Alice would say, “Curiouser and curiouser!”

Works Cited

dreamstudies.org/2008/11/14/big-dreams-archetypal-visions/.

  • Jung, Carl. The Archetypes and the Collective Unconscious, Collected Works, Vol. 9, p. 284.
  • Miller, D Patrick. “What The Shadow Knows: An Interview With John A Sanford”. Interview. Meeting the Shadow: The Hidden Power of the Dark Side of Human Nature. TarcherPerigree, 1991.
  • Policoff, Stephen. The Dreamer’s Companion: A Young Person’s Guide To Understanding Dreams and Using Them Creatively. Chicago Review Press, 1997
  • “The Self.” Carl Jung – Archetypes – Self, www.carl-jung.net/self.html.
  • “What is Persona?” Carl Jung – Archetypes – Persona, carl-jung.net/persona.html.
  • Zweig, Connie and Jeremiah Abrams. Introduction: “The Shadow Side of Everyday Life”. Meeting the Shadow: The Hidden Power of the Dark Side of Human Nature. TarcherPerigree, 1991.
  • Zweig, Connie and Jeremiah Abrams. Part I: “What Is The Shadow”: “Introduction”. Meeting the Shadow: The Hidden Power of the Dark Side of Human Nature. TarcherPerigree, 1991.

 

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