Because Where I Am Folded
There I Am a Lie
We take our theme from Rilke’s “I Am Much Too Alone in This World, Yet Not Alone,” a poem very much about love and loneliness and the struggle of understanding what we really want. Is is freedom? Or love? Or something else entirely? Much like Rilke, the featured writers and artists in this issue grapple with the complications of desire and the earnest fears of both existing alone and existing with others. Let us unfold and unbend now to find out what is enough, and not yet enough. Enjoy.
in the morning
In the morning I play with words.
I scrape sentences off the hardwood floor and pick long phrases out of the drain along
with my hair. They start off soft as to not wake you, but then they gain volume and lose
sense of time as the coffee boils over next to the empty wine glasses from last night.
Good morning good morning I repeat (in my head). The intonation of the letters—the g
and the m—they roll off my tongue past my lips become whole. They begin to take
shape, take form like my naked body as the shower runs cold kissing goose bumps onto
my pores.Let the water cleanse these stuttered phrases, let them collect in the bottom of
the drain after they’ve parted from my caffeinated veins.
I try to remember how your voice hit mine in the darkness (or if that even matters now
in the light). Until you wake. Quickly, sweep the tender tone of my voice under the rug.
Hide it away even though a few pieces will remain, underneath the sheets you stir within
Toss. Turn. Your words begin to form.
Good morning (I think). Good morning.
draw the curtains and let the sunlight dance on my arm
the sight of books
stacked upon books
sends a certain feeling up my spine
that punctures the skin
covering my shoulder
as it escapes
and soon my spine will resemble theirs
in the most inviting fashion
so that feeling of guilt
that often resides
on the platform below my ear
better watch out
because a thick stack of pages eyes me
neatly bound into six books
two by Sartre
one by Miller
one by Hunter
and two by Buk
corners strewn about
but undoubtedly unified
will extinguish the beast
and lick their satisfied fingers
and for dessert
I recommend the apple pie
with a strong cup of coffee
and a cigarette
lit by a waitress
wearing crimson lipstick
Sestina for Xanax
So the other night she was at this club right? Literally
the tackiest place, some MTV shit, but the dudes were honestly
lining up to buy her drinks so she thought like whatever
she’ll take the free drinks and luckily she had already taken a Xanax
so she could bear, for like five minutes, the fact that legit
everywhere she went somebody was trying to be her boyfriend;
anyway so finally she had to tell the dudes she has a boyfriend
just so she could get them off her ass because she literally
was suffocating, kid you not the dudes were legitimately
attacking her as if she was an ice cold Evian in a sea of honest
to god lukewarm Arrowhead sluts; obviously she needed another Xanax
so she called for a cab home, it was like fifty bucks but whatever
it was worth it to escape that shit hole and save herself from what ever
drugs those dudes were trying to slip her just to be her boyfriend
for the night; but this is where it really gets fucked—her Xanax?
was gone. Actually empty. Like there were literally
zero left. She was on the verge of a panic attack but honestly
she wasn’t even surprised, her bitch of a roommate has legit
been stealing them like she’s that fat swiss kid who has legit
won a ticket to Willy Wonka’s Chocolate World or whatever,
you know, the poor one who lives with his grandpa? Anyway, honestly
the bitch says she “needs” them because she has “family” issues and her boyfriend
“killed” himself but like it’s not her fault the bitch is literally
so depressing and now she has to get her doctor to prescribe her more Xanax,
but can you even comprehend how hard it is to get Xanax
from her better-suited-elsewhere hundred-year-old doctor who legit
has nothing better to do than to ask her literally
a million questions about why she needs which ever
drug she’s asking him for? He too must want to be her boyfriend
because why else would that saggy geriatric pretend to doubt her honesty
like what does he not find believable when she says “honestly?
it feels like an earthquake where the roof is caving in and Xanax
is the desk I need to hide under” (she thinks that’s what the bitch said when her bf
went and killed himself) and if he really doesn’t buy that he either legit
wants her body or he’s shitting his Depends, but seriously whatever
they might as well be Huggies at his level of incompetence so she’ll literally
change doctors because honestly the shit is the raft or wooden door or whatever
and it’s like the Titanic legit post-ice burg every time the bitch cries over her boyfriend
who is literally six feet under but, if he were alive, would also require a Xanax.
she said we needed experience
She said we needed experience
with getting fucked having boys kiss us
(and then forget our names)
with getting drunk
letting peach schnapps and cherry rum lick our throats on the way down
(and then on the way back up)
with getting high
holding a blunt to our lips and watching the smoke dance
(and then our vision haze)
She said we needed experience
so I let him forget my name
after the taste of him and the liquor left my lips
like the smoke
still buried in my clothes that I can wear
now with experience.
In the small hours of the morning,
Smelling of latex and freshly washed sheets
You hold my hand;
We march through the streets,
To the sun rising each morning,
Falling each night,
Pushing everything away
But the whisper of breath
Our scars embroider—
One on top of another,
As we capitalize on the pinpricks
Of sleep-worn feet;
Chardonnay love notes
Blossom and burst
In the flicker of a dying streetlamp.
My hips start carving their way into your mattress
As i count the moments
Between your heartbeats,
Inhaling the lingering smell of
Bergamot and black tea
Oh yes, the midnight bonfires
We hold in the snow;
You promise to hold me
When the shaking comes
And when my eyes drop off.
So I fold myself into your side
And pray that the moment
will never come
We’re living in a space of transition
you and I.
But this is no secret.
Your body knows it
just as your mind comprehends it.
The two of us are living
in an agreed state of blurred comprehension.
Does this frantically charged late night conclusion alleviate any of
the theoretical and philosophical pain you intended to conjure up
when you decided to sit down behind the keys with the hope of
further understanding the reason why you feel the incessant need to
figure out if all of this contains any actual meaning whatsoever?
It most certainly does, if I may interject.
Which one are you?
I’m not exactly sure. One of us is the mind and one of us is the body.
Or perhaps, we’re both the same—coexisting in a world of mutual
I seem to be obsessed with the unanswerable.
Where will it take me?
the cartographer’s wife
approaches me like the sound of Coltrane’s trumpet
swirling madly in a suburban typhoon.
the heels of her shoes
clack with impenetrable smoothness.
the utterance of a goddess
cloaked in human flesh.
the real talent lies within her
because morality need not present her with a case
a familiar nod
and nothing else.
for she knows the true meaning
Carrie Ruth Moore
Before the next death in the family would bring us together, I would think of your slender hands tickling some unknown melody across the nape of my neck.
They were the same hands that yanked my carry-on from my grasp and tossed it into the back of your brand-new sedan. The same ones that flipped off the security guard who came over to tell you that you’d been parked out front for too long. The same ones that squeezed my shoulder affectionately as you said “How’ya doing Ny?” and climbed into the driver’s seat to take us away from Hartsfield-Jackson.
Those hands tapped your steering wheel impatiently as you maneuvered us through late-night airport traffic, and I remembered sliding them into mittens when you were smaller, back when the both of us had to ride the bus together before parting ways for the elementary and high schools that were right next to each other in our neighborhood. I remembered their sticky palms against my arm as we walked, our mother’s warnings to watch over you ringing through my ears: Take care of Nora, Naomi.
“I thought you’d be in earlier,” you said, shaking your head. Your afro zigzagged away from your scalp, bouncing with each movement. It was the same tawny brown as our father’s. “I came straight here after the concert was over because I thought you’d be in already.”
“I had a delay during my layover.” I paused. “How was it?”
“Fine. Standard charity event. We just played some of the concertos from the gala last spring.”
Your expression became annoyed as you tugged at your pantyhose, and I remembered the invitation appearing in my mailbox. I’d decided that flying out to Georgia from California was just too inconvenient in between my lectures and John and all of the talk about why the two of us still weren’t pregnant.
“That sounds nice,” I said instead.
You jerked the wheel to avoid hitting a car merging into our lane. The bass in the backseat rocked forward in its case.
“God. How can you see anything?” I asked. Your bass almost blocked the entire back window.
“I can see fine. And I just bought this car. It’s a step up. Believe me.”
“With your inheritance money?”
“Did you spend your inheritance money on this car?”
“Yeah.” You fiddled with the air-conditioning knob, and when you continued, your voice was strained. “It was actually Mom’s idea.”
“She got tired of watching me try to shove my bass in that little Honda every day.” You took your eyes off the road and fixed them on me. “She got what I was going through. Call it musician’s instinct.”
I remember blinking and staring out of the car. Clouds of frost encased the corners of the window, framing the highway in a series of moving photographs. You’d sounded like one of the students who came barging into my office, trying to argue about the grade they’d received on a paper or midterm: dismissive and confident in your own false opinion.
“How’s Dad?” I asked.
“He’s fine.” Your voice grew tight. “I can’t stand visiting that old folks home he locked himself up in. All the hallways smell like piss. And he almost never drops by the house. Can’t stand to look at the place.”
“I don’t know how you can stand it. I’m dreading just spending a couple of days in that old house.”
You said nothing, a contrast to the usual sass you’d grown up spouting. One time I busted your lip for daring to talk back to our mother, and she just pretended she didn’t see. Her head had just twitched slightly, shaking off the distraction, and she went back to scribbling down notes in her music journal and singing aloud to herself over your cries. In the end, I was the one who had to ice your lip and get the bandages from the first aid kit under the bathroom sink.
We spent the rest of the drive in silence until we pulled up to the tiny ranch-style house where we’d grown up. Months earlier, that house had been filled with a few of our relatives and friends all dressed in black, but mostly people we didn’t know. Funny people. People who got our mother, who could tell stories about the way her voice could calm down a barroom brawl or the way her hips could turn out even the tawdriest dress. It was quiet and empty now, and as you lugged your bass up the stairs alone, I imagined you doing so every day since mom died.
“You hungry?” you asked as we entered. “I’ve got some cobbler on the counter.”
“You sure? It’s peach.”
“I’m sure. But I’ll take coffee if you have some.”
“I don’t keep coffee. And anyway, it’s past midnight.”
“It’s habit, I guess. All those months finishing up my last book.”
You set down your bass in a corner of the living room where our mother used to keep her piano. I remember thinking about how that bass seemed to own you, how your teensy frame barely seemed able to carry it. I never thought that when you were playing —no, then your fluid hands practically coddled that beast of an instrument— but there in our living room, your legs stuck out bare and skeletal from under your concert dress.
Everything seemed to dwarf you: the couch that used to fit the four of us comfortably, the oversized television set I’d bought for our parents last Christmas, the one that sat untouched on far side of the living room. Then, there was our mother’s large bookcase that stretched from the floor to the ceiling, stacked with books on music theory she’d bought and then abandoned, folders and folders of music she’d memorized, and, on the top shelf, a row of black notebooks.
“I’m working on something else,” I said, but you didn’t even look up from where you were cutting yourself a slice of cobbler. “A new book. I’m really interested in black families during the late-twentieth century.”
You looked up then and blinked politely. That’s when I noticed the earrings dangling from your earlobes: gold spirals that looped counter-clockwise to form a pair of metal suns.
“She left you those?”
“No. Technically, they were in the jewelry box that was supposed to go to you.” The knife you held thudded sharply against the cobbler dish.
“And you took them.”
“Please. They’re not even your style.”
You spooned out your cobbler and set it on a saucer before popping it in the microwave. I remember watching you with your twiggy legs and big hair and grown-up waist. You punched in the cooking time, and I thought about your fingers playing on my arms, my neck, any part of me your infantile hands could reach. Naomi, Naomi, see you in the morn-ing. The song you sang every night before our mother and I tucked you into bed. Now those fingers jammed buttons, deliberate and devoid of any childish grace.
“You were talking about your book,” you said.
“Yes. Like I said, it’s on family.” I looked at you then, and your eyes were only vaguely interested.
“That’s why I asked if I could come, actually. I need primary sources.”
“What, you want to get some books from Emory or something?”
“No. I want mom’s diaries.”
You looked up then. The timer on the microwave went off.
“She left them to me.”
“They’re not in the will. I already checked.”
You bit your lip and looked at the bookshelf, at the volumes and volumes of black notebooks. It was the same face you made when you were distressed that you couldn’t get what you wanted, when I didn’t let you follow me around after school or roam through my collection of jazz CDs.
“I’ll think about it,” you said.
I didn’t mention that I didn’t need your permission. I could have packed the diaries away in my suitcase while you were at rehearsal or photocopied them at the office store just a few blocks away. But I was tired, and I just wanted to remember you bringing me drinks in the summer or threatening to beat up the boys who laughed at me for getting my period in gym class or even being sorely disappointed when I didn’t make you the maid of honor at my wedding, even though, by then, we hadn’t spoken in nearly two years.
“I’m tired,” you said, though you’d barely had two spoonfuls of that cobbler.
“I’ll see you in the morning, then.”
As I picked up my suitcase to walk to my old room, I thought of what it meant for us to be two women born from the same mother, what it meant for us to end up here together now, still unreconciled to each other. You hiccupped as I passed you, and I paused in the doorway, the little instinct I had left tugging.
I am done shrinking
I am done shrinking.
I am done trying to uncover bones,
fit myself into boxes and find clothes that hide the spots where my body flows.
I’ve come to realize that perfection is not pintsized.
I am beginning to grow.
Kristen Chen is a senior majoring in Neuroscience and minoring in Fine Arts painting. She is hoping to pursue a career in medicine.
Nicolette Daskalakis is a senior studying Film & Television Production at the USC School of Cinematic Arts. She is a vegetarian and self-proclaimed francophile with an extensive hat collection and fetish for patterned wallpaper. Her writing—fueled by copious amounts of dark chocolate and Icelandic ambient music—has most recently appeared in the Sacramento News and Review.
Claire Dougherty is a junior studying Creative Writing and Communication Design. She’s from Stockton, CA.
Katherine Eaton is a double major in fine arts and International Relations here at USC. She has been creating art since she took her first art class in 8th grade in her home town of Vancouver, Canada. Her favorite art mediums are oil pastel, charcoal, and pencil. Her favorite things to draw are portraits and scenic landscapes.
Carrie Ruth Moore is a young writer at the University of Southern California. Now in her junior year, she studies Creative Writing and African American Studies. She hopes to develop “Notes” into a longer piece.
Eliza Newman is a sophomore creative writing major at USC. She is also a news editor of the school’s online newspaper, Neon Tommy. When she is not reading or writing, Eliza enjoys baking, yoga, photography, and exploring the vintage shops of her native Los Angeles.
Saralynn Vargas is currently an architecture student with a deep love for creating things, especially art. Her style ranges from ethereal romantic paintings to graphic black, colorful pop art and white pen work-she just likes to dabble in her favorite genres and experiment! Please visit her on http://www.appledoodles.tumblr.com for more.
Cliff Weber is Creative Writing major and Los Angeles native. He has self-published three books and four chapbooks, all of which can be purchased on lulu.com and in select bookstores, including Skylight Books on Vermont. His work has appeared in Adbusters, Out of Our, Beatdom, Bartleby Snopes, and Burningword, among others.
The work represented here is the intellectual property of each individual author and is not subject to replication or use without permission.
© Kristen Chen 2014. © Nicolette Daskalakis. © Claire Dougherty. © Katherine Eaton. © Carrie Moore. © Eliza Newman 2014. 2014. © Saralynn Varg 2014. © Cliff Weber 2014.