Crushed Stars and Losing Dogs: Review of Mitski’s Puberty 2

Fall 2016, Uncategorized

by Tricia Wise

Puberty 2 is the latest album from Mitski. Photo courtesy of the artist. 

Puberty 2 is the latest album from Mitski. Photo courtesy of the artist. 

Though just shy of 26 years old, Mitski is already an artist who effortlessly manages to blur the line between force and fragility. Here is an extensive release of existential and outsider themes that evoke both utter despair and raw power, along with inevitable feelings of growth, command, and maturity. Mitski already realizes and fluently expresses emotional knowledge through her lyrics, which varyingly speak directly to the girl on a drunk walk home alone, the girl listening to records on her bedroom floor after a bad breakup, and the girl who is just trying to be the best she can be and still feels inadequate. Speaking to the anxieties, both modern and timeless, of the teen and young-twenties girl, Mitski unwaveringly roots for the underdog; pretty much any situation you can imagine feeling like you are definitely gunna die, Mitski has probably already sung about it.

I pulled up her recent album Puberty 2 released June 17th) on Spotify as I rode home from a friend’s apartment around midnight. I was a couple of songs in when I reached my own dimly lit apartment, but decided to ride around a little more to complete the album (as if I hadn’t already heard it a million times). Puberty 2 is the type of album where you really just have to listen to it all the way through, maybe two—or three—or twelve times in one sitting.

The first song I heard that got me hooked on this wonderful Brooklyn-based artist wasFirst Love/Late Spring,” which I have tried and failed countless times to learn on guitar. This was from her previous album, Bury Me at Makeout Creek (2014). It was Tuesday afternoon in October of last year; I was lying on my bed after a long day of classes, procrastinating making my way up the hill to the library to write my capstone papers. The lyrics were so striking and hit me so hard, I had to immediately listen to it three more times.

In the words of Lester Bangs, “music—you know, true music, not just rock’ n’ roll—chooses you.” Mitski’s is the kind of music that makes these words ring true for me. I knew of a few friends who mentioned Bury Me at Makeout Creek in the past, but it wasn’t until that day when I stumbled upon this dark and emotional album that I finally got what they were all talking about. And I think there’s something to be said for Bangs’ statement—music is this all-encompassing powerful shit that can just encapsulate your entire soul whether you’re at an open mic night, a stadium concert, or alone, lying on your bed listening to your third generation green iPod Nano (do not judge me). No matter the setting, Mitski’s songs are just this kind of all-encompassing and captivating music—the kind that seems to choose you.

Mitski does not hold hesitate to immerse herself in her own emotions and sadness, which in itself is remarkable in a time when female artists are often expected to show indifference or relentless power towards relationships—and yet, Mitski still manages to make music that is undoubtedly empowering. Anyone (but actually probably just millennials) can relate to her honest and overtly relatable lyrics. (Check out  “Class of 2013”).

Although Bury Me at Makeout Creek has a far more dejected feel than her recent release, Puberty 2 surrenders to these dark themes, but challenges their melancholy through the strength of its own self-aware sadness. In this album, Mitski seems to “put on her white button-down” and face everything head-on.

The album opens with “Happy,” which articulates an accurate view of the “Netflix and chill” culture and those ramifications. Two other songs off the album, “A Loving Feeling” and “Once More to See You,” have a similar vibe—however, “A Loving Feeling” is a much more ironically upbeat number.

“I Bet on Losing Dogs” and “Thursday Girl” are two of my favorite songs on the album, despite being two of its slowest. Both definitely have a dark feel with nice, heavy melodies that are perfect for listening to at 3 a.m. or even while going for a jog.

“My Body’s Made of Crushed Little Stars” brings up a similar apprehension toward adulthood as in “Class of 2013,” but with more of a classic punk vibe (I am here for that distortion). In this song she talks about not being able to pay rent, yet “wanting to see the world” and trying to “ace an interview”—all things manypost-college graduates are currently experiencing.

“Your Best American Girl” was the first single from the album, and definitely one of the best. Watching the video makes it even more relatable and, like, ugh. It also seems like she’s making fun of (generally, white) music festival culture (so American) and makes out with her own hand—even though the video seems quirky and a bit tongue-in-cheek, there is still a lot of depth within the video itself. To be real, this song speaks to me on so many levels…the “I do, I finally do” in the last verse always gives me chills.

In “A Burning Hill,” the final song of the album, she describes herself as “a forest fire” (quite different from the Dead Kennedys song). With an atmospheric timbre appropriate for a finale, the most powerful lyric in the song may be: “I stand in a valley watching it and you are not there at all.” Honorable mentions go to “Fireworks” and “Dan the Dancer.”

She may not have “hit it big” just yet, but Mitski undoubtedly deserves to become (as I predict she will) one of the most influential musicians of our generation, and surely already is for countless budding musicians (myself inclu
ded)—which makes it kinda hard to write an unbiased review, and to stop to watch her live performances on
YouTube while writing this. Ultimately, Mitski’s music is the kind that is so powerfully personal and so emotionally raw that I cannot help but be reminded of that quote at the end of Almost Famous (Cameron Crowe, 2000), when William asks Russell what he loves about music, and he responds as Led Zeppelin’s “Tangerine” plays in the background:, “To begin with, everything.”

Mitski will be performing at the Paradise Rock Club in Boston on November 1st. Photo courtesy of the artist. 

Mitski will be performing at the Paradise Rock Club in Boston on November 1st. Photo courtesy of the artist. 

Tricia Wise is a recent graduate of Clark University and an aspiring writer (and possibly makeup artist). To read more of her work, visit her blog at  


Mountain Treks

Fall 2016, Uncategorized

Alexandra Mason graduated from Ithaca College, New York, in 2014 with Bachelor of Fine Arts degree in Photography.  She is currently making her way around South America through different volunteer positions and home stays on Couchsurfing, Workaway, and Wwoof Latin America.  She is continuously gaining new perspectives and learning about life, language, culture, money management, and letting go of the material.

We Buried a Cat Today

Fall 2016, Uncategorized

Elizabeth Trach

We buried a cat today.

Cat mummy / G. DAGLI ORTI / De Agostini Picture Library / Universal Images Group / Rights Managed / For Education Use Only

Cat mummy / G. DAGLI ORTI / De Agostini Picture Library / Universal Images Group / Rights Managed / For Education Use Only

We brought him home from the neighbor’s yard, where we found him stiff and cold, paws unnaturally curled and raised as if to fend something off. His teeth were bared a bit, but his eyes were closed.

A snow shovel wasn’t bier enough for what was so recently a purring, warm thing, so I brought up from the basement a cloth,

a green curtain that I had sewed long ago and which had once hung in the dining room of the Red House, where we fed babies with plastic spoons and marked time with small colored candles in cakes.

Now that’s buried too, wrapped around the cat whose body suddenly made sense again as we rolled him over and he looked like he was sleeping.

“He doesn’t look scared any more,” said the boy as we tucked in his friend and carried his body to the hill behind the fence,

stirring up papery orange leaves as we went.

We scooped fistfuls of light, silty soil over the bundle, and I felt how soft the dust was, falling through my fingertips,

while the girl whittled a stick with gritted teeth, scraping away the bark in short, sharp strokes.

She would not let me touch her.

As the boy and his father gathered stones to mark the spot, she broke the silence with a snap and plunged the stick into the earth above the grave

and walked away

past the silent beehive, so lately humming with purpose and now empty, a Roanoke of wax and honey abandoned and left for us to interpret as we will

We buried the cat at dusk,

and as I closed the gate behind me my eyes were already adjusting to the dark.

Elizabeth Trach is a writer and editor living in Newburyport, MA. She earned her M.A. in Creative Writing at the University of Massachusetts, Boston. She also sings in a band, grows almost all her own food, and occasionally even cooks it. You can catch up on all her adventures in extreme gardening at


Photo credit: Cat mummy. Photography. Britannica ImageQuest. Encyclopædia Britannica, Inc., 25 May 2016. Accessed 17 Oct 2016.

Waltzing with Red Wine

Fall 2016, Uncategorized

Melissa Mason

Italy, Latium Region, Tomb of Lioness // G. DAGLI ORTI / De Agostini Picture Library / Universal Images Group / Rights Managed / For Education Use Only

Italy, Latium Region, Tomb of Lioness // G. DAGLI ORTI / De Agostini Picture Library / Universal Images Group / Rights Managed / For Education Use Only

I remember how it was before he left. The sun was shining a brilliant gold, the way that it does in late afternoon on a day somewhere between summer and autumn. The sky was a light shade of blue with those big fluffy clouds that change shape the longer you looked at them, the kind that when they traveled over the sun you could see its rays glimmering through.  We were lying perpendicular to one another underneath a tree whose leafy shadow covered our bodies with a funny speckled pattern. There was a gentle breeze dancing through the treetops and whispering over our bodies. I remember the grass not only being a vibrant green but also soft, not the feeling of being freshly mowed, but more as if it had been mowed two days before. The breeze was telling jokes to the grass, causing the blades to bend over in silent laughter and tickle my bare feet.  My head was resting on his chest and I could hear his slow breathing and beating heart, I couldn’t help but smile whenever there was an irregularity in that beating. The only sound apart from the dancing leaves was the crisp, quick rustle as we turned the pages of our books. We didn’t speak much that day, the majority of our communication was through the quiet smiles we shared and the way his free hand stroked my arm. It wasn’t that we were angry with each other, or that we had nothing to say to one another, it was that we didn’t need to say anything to know what the other was thinking. I closed my eyes and inhaled through my nose as he brought his hand away from his mouth and let the smoke twist up and weave its way through the gentle breeze. He smiled as the last of it escaped his lips; he knew how much I loved the smell.

That was the first time we danced. He stood up abruptly and pulled me to my feet with him. The air had a thick amber glow as the sun inched closer to the horizon. He grabbed my hand and spun me, then pulled me close. We didn’t know the steps to any fancy ballroom dance so he made up his own silly waltz, holding me tight, making sure I never got left behind. He dipped me and I laughed, a full laugh, the kind that makes your whole body shake, the contagious kind that makes anyone within earshot laugh with you. I felt light, like that feeling you get after two glasses of red wine. In fact that’s how I felt, I felt like red wine. I was filled to the brim with warmth and delight. I could feel my cheeks burning, becoming a color that matched the way I felt as the veil of night fell over our made-up waltz. He went to dip me again, but this time I fell, pulling him with me and we both laughed, our faces taken up entirely by the idiotic grins we wore. We lay back down, nuzzling against each other as the stars sparked into existence. He pointed out his favorite constellations; he even dedicated one of the stars to me, the brightest one at the corner of his favorite. We fell asleep in that spot, with the crescent moon promising she would protect us through the night. That was the last time we danced.  

Melissa Mason is a senior English major at UMass Amherst with a specialization in Creative Writing. She plans to enter the world of publishing as an editor but her ultimate goal is to be a fantasy novelist. 

Photo credit: Italy, Latium Region, Tarquinia (Vt), Etruscan Necropolises, Tomb of Lioness, 6th century fresco with couple of dancers, she wears a transparent vest, he’s naked with an olpe of wine, premise of an orgiastic dance. Photopgraphy. Britannica ImageQuest. Encyclopædia Britannica, Inc., 25 May 2016. Accessed 17 Oct 2016.


The Magician

Fall 2016, Uncategorized

Moeko Noda

Top hat, magic trick, tap and money purse on black background / Tom Kelley Archive / Retrofile RF / Getty Images / Universal Images Group / Rights Managed / For Education Use Only

Top hat, magic trick, tap and money purse on black background / Tom Kelley Archive / Retrofile RF / Getty Images / Universal Images Group / Rights Managed / For Education Use Only

The asphalt on the street radiated heat, causing beads of sweat to collect on the Magician’s forehead. It was a summer day in central Tokyo. The sweat dripped onto the flags he was pulling out from his mouth. He stood behind a portable table set up on the street. He had been there for an hour, entertaining audiences that came and went, as he kept pulling out flags one after the other.

Once, he had wanted to be an athleter. He remembered the summer of the first Tokyo Olympics a generation before. It was similarly sweltering. Each afternoon the Magician would run to his neighbor’s house, which was the only home with a television, with a small gang of boys. They kicked off their sandals as they hurried to the television, already surrounded by men cheering and women gossiping. He huddled up to sneak through the adults to the front. With knees tightly pressed together, the Magician looked up into the screen where the female volleyball team ran and hit, ran and hit. Though the court must have been boiling with heat, the rough pixels of the television screen did not betray the sweat and the grind of the players, only their steady receives and attacks. Yes, the Magician remembered now: he wanted to be a volleyball player, not a baseball player. The lean female figures in the screen attracted him in ways that were still unknown to him, the stretch of their arms and the bow of their bodies reaching for a spike magical and dazzling. In that Olympic games the Japanese female volleyball team smashed opponents, winning the finals against the Soviet Union after a grueling game as the nation cheered in front of their respective communal TVs. The team was nicknamed the “Witches of the Orient.”

But did I really want to be a volleyball player? The Magician thought again, as he slipped his hands beneath the table to feel the pigeon that he would soon produce and then make disappear. Sure enough, she was there, safely blinded in a black box that confined her beneath the table. Volleyball, he remembered, became a girl’s sport after the gold medal of the Olympics. TV series and comic series featuring starry-eyed girls playing volleyball attracted girls nationwide, creating a huge surge in the popularity of the sport. But the Magician was never a part of it. Throughout elementary school he remained silent about his attraction, secretly dreaming of volleyball but never actually playing it. Baseball was the sport that he played in the open fields after school. 

Baseball was a fine sport, but the Magician never wanted to be a professional like all the other boys. Once in high school, he quit his team and spent most of his time at the library. Sitting alone in the rustic room where dust flew with each touch of a book, the Magician read Dostoyevsky and Stendhal; Mishima and Soseki; he drank them down. He lost his childhood tan from playing baseball, but sunburnt the left side of his face by sitting in the same seat in the library every day. He wasn’t sure what he wanted to be in the future; his only vision was to have a solitary and literary life. So when the time came to go to college, he went where he got in. Magic, the Magician thought as he pulled out the pigeon from the box through his hat on the desk, was nowhere in his life back then. The closest he got to magic was Gabriel Garcia Marquez.

But he did like to watch the college volleyball team. It  was far from the Olympic team that had captured the eyes of the nation; many of the girls were round, healthy, and happy, and none of the stoic sportsmanship that ruled the court that summer was present in the old, sweaty college gym. Laughter bounced on the walls whenever the girls took a break. The Magician, now a tall, lean young man, liked to read on the stands while the team practiced. The toss of the ball, the yells of the girls, their sweats that the television screen never captured, all amidst the philosophical musings of Virginia Woolf, consumed him. Inhaling the stale air of the gym, he felt that he was in two worlds at once: the carnal reality of his childhood dreams and the spiritual realm of the philosophers. Skipping classes, he sat quietly in the back of the empty stands, reading away as the hours ticked by. A slight change occurred to this daily routine when the Magician’s eyes caught a particular girl in the court. She was the tallest and visibly more serious about the game than the other girls who were there for fun. The arch of her body was like a long, lean bow, and the ball her arm hit pierced the empty spot of the opponent’s court with a straight trajectory. The Magician fell in love. The balance between the two worlds shifted; his gaze would lift off the pages and fall on her. They dated for a while, but the girl dumped him after a few months for not paying enough attention to their relationship.  He stopped going to the gym.

The Magician fell into deep despair. In his small apartment, he lay down on his futon and wondered about life. He had never known despair like this; none of the masterpieces of literature had taught him how the wounds of love hurt. After two weeks of solitude, he woke up. He decided that books never taught him anything: only hard-earned experience can. He even felt grateful for his girlfriend, for teaching him this truth.The Magician started to work part time jobs. On Mondays he tended bar; on Tuesdays he built houses in the rapidly expanding suburbs; on Fridays he organized rows of fish at the Tsukiji market. The rest of the week he filled in with one-time gigs.

Out of the myriad jobs that he tried, he most liked being a magician’s assistant. The job came to him unexpectedly, one day, on his way home from another one of his part-time jobs. He spotted a handwritten ad on a utility pole that said, “Looking for assistant to magician. Will teach how to do basic magic.”

When he rang up the number on the ad the next day, an old man answered. The man spoke softly and modestly, and the Magician, who had expected something like a pigeon popping up through the phone, checked the number on the note on the desk. But he was talking to the right man. Hearing that the Magician was interested in the assistant position, the old man’s voice brightened: “You are the first one to call!” he said, “I had almost lost hope. I am making an overseas trip to India next month, and I urgently need someone to work in my place while I am gone.”

The training process was much more arduous than the Magician had anticipated. The Master, who preferred to be called Master Ismail, taught him how to handle cards and control the audience’s attention, step by step, in his old apartment that was cluttered with elephant statues. He was a good teacher; he never got irritated by his pupil’s mistakes, and went over the same tricks again and again until the student perfected it. Except for his weird fascination with India, the Magician liked his master very much and trusted in his skills. Sometimes he was tempted to point out that Ismail is an Islamic name rather than Hindu; but out of love and respect, he never did, and sent his master out having surely mastered the basic magic tricks that he were to perform while the master spent six months traveling “forgotten magical tribes” in India.

Now the Magician had truly become a magician. He worked at the  birthday parties of wealthy children, did tricks in the toy sections of department stores, and sometimes performed on the streets to advertise his work. Most of his audiences were children under the age of twelve; they beheld the cards that flew and the pigeons that disappeared in pure wonder, giggling and screaming with joy. As the Magician became more accustomed to his work, he realized he had graduated college. He only noticed this when, receiving an offer to perform at a wedd
ing, he saw that the date conflicted with his graduation ceremony. He didn’t mind too much; the only person from college that he ever really talked to was his volleyball-playing ex-girlfriend, and he did not care to meet her again. He accepted the offer and added a rabbit vanishing trick during the wedding ceremony as a personal celebration of his graduation.  

Months came and passed. Master Ismail never came back; the Magician assumed that he had extended his stay in India, possibly having found his retirement destination in one of the magical tribes. The Magician was not in a hurry to hand back his position anyways. He had become a full-time magician upon graduation, expanding his network of customers. He met many people during his work; he congratulated arrivals of newborns, celebrated the coming-of-age of twenty year olds, and pulled out from his hat smiling photos of the deceased. One of the most surprising encounters during this time was with his ex-girlfriend from college. The Magician was asked to perform at a birthday party of a five-year-old boy for a hefty pay, and when he arrived at the doorsteps of a large western style house, she opened the door. The Magician recognized her right away: the quiet smile, the lean build of her body, the seriousness at the edge of her mouth. She did not recognize him, however, and invited him in with welcoming ease. The husband was not present for his son’s birthday party, but had made sure that the house was handsomely decorated by professional party planners, an uncommon practice. The air of restrained passion that she carried with her in college was gone, her eyes now tinged with fatigue. But the Magician was a professional; he was never to speak about personal matters with his client. As he steadily performed his routine, the Magician’s ex-girlfriend watched his tricks with a curious smile, paying more attention to her son’s reactions rather than the show. After he received the pay and left the house, the Magician never saw her again. Such was the way it was with most customers. People came and went, leaving behind traces of memories, a hint of laughter, a sparkle of the eye, but never a permanent connection – except for one serious eyed girl, who eagerly asked to be the Magician’s assistant one  summer day, soon after the encounter with his ex-girlfriend. She later became his wife.

Years came and passed. Not much changed for the Magician; he performed his tricks in professional solemnity, visited birthday parties, and celebrated marriages. The venue today was on the street. As the drumroll from the CD speaker rolled, the pigeon vanished under the desk, successfully concluding his finale. The drumroll finished with a dramatic thud. The children, after a beat, clapped in wide-eyed wonder.

Moeko Noda is a senior in Swarthmore College, where she studies Comparative Literature. She is from Tokyo, Japan. 

Photo credit: Top hat, magic trick, tap and money purse on black background. Photography. Britannica ImageQuest. Encyclopædia Britannica, Inc., 25 May 2016. Accessed 17 Oct 2016.

Out of Iraq

Fall 2016, Uncategorized

Adam Maarij

Suicide Bomber Kills Five In Baghdad / Muhannad Fala'ah / Getty Images News / Getty Images / Universal Images Group / Rights Managed / For Education Use Only

Suicide Bomber Kills Five In Baghdad / Muhannad Fala’ah / Getty Images News / Getty Images / Universal Images Group / Rights Managed / For Education Use Only

Though it may be difficult to believe, being born and raised in a war zone had its advantages.

It gives top-notch war material to write about, confirms that nothing is worse than a slow internet connection, and makes an exceptionally adept Call Of Duty player, dodging drone strikes as if I’ve done it for most of my life. In addition of being around Lady Death (occasionally having her over for a cup of tea) I also get to   impress people with my tales of traveling through one of the Middle East’s many conflicts to get to the USA. They seem to admire me, as if I was the one who booked the plane ride, as if I was the one who took a bullet through his thighs, the one to see friends blownto pieces. Still, sometimes it’s nice to get credit for the horrible things I never gone through. I was only seven when I left Iraq, it didn’t matter to me.

Iraq to Jordan wasn’t much of an upgrade. I mean sure, no more exploding human beings or  free bullets for everybody, but I daresay I would prefer that over to what I had to deal with over the 4 years I was there. I’m half serious, but that statement does have some truth in it. In Jordan, racism was the norm, and brawling was never an even fight, much less a fair one. It also wasn’t nearly as beautiful as my Baghdad. The yellow skies and meager stars were not bright enough to light the streets like ours. Trees were scarce as gold, and even though the heat melted the tarmac, warm people were even harder to find. I was mocked by the kids because I spoke a different dialect.  My tanned skin stood out as well.  At some point, ten kids lined up, fighting each other  for the right to fight me. At the age of nine I became so popular my parents took me out of school. My response was making my own little gang of several other minorities. We walked around with an arrogant swagger, until other gangs pulled out sticks or knives–that’s when we ran like hell.

There was more than enough food to eat with the family and friends, and we had a stable income with a decent apartment. It was relatively safe, if albeit a bit stagnant; each day was much like the one before that, except for that occasional adventure of course.

Here is the thing: Back in Iraq, people were terrified of dying; I found that funny, since in essence, they were terrified of entering heaven with the help of people who wanted to enter heaven by killing them. The countless soap operas that intensified death and betrayal, kidnapping and ransom, corruption and human greed, did not help. Neither did the news, which primarily focused on broadcasting children with missing limbs and bloody clothes, or images of the mother, holding the bloody and ragged body of her child as her screeches played in the background. I found those channels more efficient than the terrorists themselves. They were doing the job of a terrorist, spreading terror and hopelessness–but only better, and on a world scale. People–including my parents–became paranoid. They looked for someone or something to blame for what’s wrong with this world. But since it’s wrong to blame a person, they went for blaming an entire race.

As grim as that sounds, It reminds us just how precious life is. Funny how you need to see heads flying until you realize that. YOLO; You only live once. We didn’t need a song to remind us of that, since we never knew when a bullet or shell would end it. But here, in Jordan, there was none of that. Their laughs were genuine, as were their smiles, but it wasn’t full. It was missing something, and I didn’t know what. At some point, I started missing Lady Death. She taught me that life is beautiful, and I appreciated each fleeting moment of it.

I was full of joy when I left Jordan, much more than when I left Iraq. The ride, though, was agonizing. We spent hours past midnight waiting for the airplane that may or may not come. The storm outside didn’t seem to care though, its winds bellowing as if it had nothing better to do. There was little to no sleep, as we constantly had to move around the airport alongside other immigrants, all of us scurrying around like a bunch of chickens without their heads.The coldness of the airports didn’t  help either. It seeped through my puffy coat, rendering a moment of comfort scarce in the four-day journey, more so for my anxious parents. The broken sleep rendered my memories vague and colorless, yet I’m almost certain that each airport we reached loathed us, as if the rest of the world was not enough.

We had reached Boston, Massachusetts, in the middle of its strongest storms during the end of 2008. It was as if the world was entirely covered in storm, from one edge to another. It was my first time witnessing the sight of snow and its chilling touch. It both terrified and exhilarated me. It felt like a present from God, his white snow a blessing. I enjoyed the snow at first. There was more than enough snow for me to swim and drown pleasantly in; an amount that only seemed to increase with each gust of wind full of an endless amount of snow flakes. The movies made snow seem so glamorous, pure, and majestic, yet they didn’t seem to mention how it melted on your cheeks and made you cold, or how it soaked into your clothes and made you even colder, or how it filled the sidewalks and forced you to walk on the streets, where the pure white snow become a contorted mess of black and brown that splattered on you with each passing car. It didn’t take long for me to start to hate it as much as it hated me.

I watched it stretch from a taxi window on my mother’s lap. It extended endlessly, covering everything in white from the Boston airport to the apartment that was rented for us in Worcester– the less desirable but cheaper city next to Boston. The landlord received us after the taxi dropped us off, leading us into an apartment that’s door had frozen solid. The door had to be forced open with a shoulder.The apartment had three rooms, a bathroom, a kitchen, and two living rooms, all equally frozen solid. Sleeping outside, the snow being my blanket, might have made me warmer.  Except for the Kentucky Chicken and a gallon of milk in the refrigerator ( the American diet) the apartment was desolate. After laying down the mats, I and my two brothers slept in the first room, my parents in the second, leaving the third vacant. We would receive food, furniture, toys, appliances, heating, and hot water after the snowstorm calmed, three days later.

Adam Maarij was born in Iraq and immigrated to America at the age of eight. He attends South High school in Worcester, Massachusetts, and enjoys soccer, running, reading, writing, and procrastinating.

Photo credit: Suicide Bomber Kills Five In Baghdad. Photographer. Britannica ImageQuest. Encyclopædia Britannica, Inc., 25 May 2016. Accessed 17 Oct 2016.



Little Lights

Fall 2016, Uncategorized

Melissa Mason

Flowers under blue light / ANDREW LAMBERT PHOTOGRAPHY / SCIENCE PHOTO LIBRARY / Universal Images Group / Rights Managed / For Education Use Only

Flowers under blue light / ANDREW LAMBERT PHOTOGRAPHY / SCIENCE PHOTO LIBRARY / Universal Images Group / Rights Managed / For Education Use Only

Nobody knows that I come here at night, every night; nobody even cares enough to notice. I sneak out of my uncle’s cabin before he is even asleep, while he is still sitting like a fat drooling dog in front of the TV drinking his tenth beer. He doesn’t care about me, he barely even knows my name, but he loves my mother and would do anything for her. Uncle Earl adopted me every summer for the past three years while Mother went on “work trips,” which is code for her going on tropical cruises and getting shitfaced with boys who are closer to my age than hers. This summer though she didn’t come back to get me. She sent a text to Earl telling him about her “new young love, we are moving to Greece, tell Amy to study hard.” That was it. No I love you, no goodbyes, just study hard. Fat lot of good that did. Earl forgot to register me for school this year. He messed up his leg a few years ago working construction, and since then he’s been living off disability claiming that his leg never healed right. He sits day in and day out in front of his static-y TV in his tiny three-roomed cabin in the middle of the woods.

Most people my age find the woods  a terrible and forsaken place. I think it’s magical–the soft carpet of the emerald moss that curls around my bare toes as I bound away from Earl’s place, the sweet rainbow leaves that blow all about in the wind and tickle my face

I found this place at the beginning of my third summer dumped at Earl’s. That first day was the only day he was sober, just to impress his sister. As soon as she left he chugged five beers and retreated to his chair, forever imprinted with his walrus butt.

When I was sure that he was good and drunk, I went exploring. I was traveling along a path in the woods when I tripped on a root, got caught in indigo vines and crashed into a clearing, smacking my head on the ground. I have no idea how long I was unconscious for, but when I finally awoke, little cobalt lights darted into the trees. I untangled myself from the vines and gasped. How had I never seen this part of the woods before? The leaves on all of the trees surrounding the clearing were a brilliant red, a velvety red sort of like that of blooming roses, but warmer. The tall grass, which was softer than the moss and logically should not have even existed in this shaded space, reached a shade of green to rival a jade stone, the same kind that was on the ring Dad was buried with. All openings in the trees were obscured by the indigo vines I was caught in.

I lie in the middle of this field now, as I have every night since the day I found it. I lay here and I watch the cobalt lights flitter about. Because they are not just lights, they are creatures. They float through the air and live in the red trees. They dance in the grass to the sound of the stars. They have grown accustomed to my presence; in fact I think they have begun to look forward to my visits. They look like fairies but they are not, they may not even be alive. I thought they were until the day three of them floated straight through my stomach. I didn’t even feel them, I just watched them enter from my front and leave out the back. As I lie here they swarm in and around me. One has placed herself on the tip of my nose. She is eerily beautiful. My little lights, that’s what I call them, and they respond to it so they must like it. They have accepted me and care for me and provide me with warmth even on the coldest of nights. Maybe one day I will be able to join them, flitting about without a care in the world, becoming a little cobalt light myself. Until that day comes I will continue to sit here and watch them.

Melissa Mason is a senior English major at UMass Amherst with a specialization in Creative Writing. She plans to enter the world of publishing as an editor but her ultimate goal is to be a fantasy novelist. 

Photo credit: Flowers under blue light. Photograph. Britannica ImageQuest. Encyclopædia Britannica, Inc., 25 May 2016. Accessed 17 Oct 2016.

Pimping a Butterfly

Fall 2016, Uncategorized

Tazwar Ferdous


“Hip-hop has always been about bragging and boasting,” Eminem once told 60 Minutes and he was partly right. Mainstream hip-hop music has always had a reputation for the genre’s recurring themes of money, drugs, and women, evoking for those outside the community what may now be a stereotypical image of conceited rappers boasting about gold chains and the bevies of prostitutes in their narcotic-filled Ferraris. Many artists, however, employ hip-hop as a tool for protest and spreading awareness. Kendrick Lamar is one of them.

Born and raised in Compton, California, Lamar endured the struggles of living with gang tensions, poverty, drug dealings, poor education, and a bizarre environment throughout his adolescence. To Pimp a Butterfly, an album he released in 2015, compassionately addresses this amongst other issues. One song, “Alright,” revolves around the power of determination and optimism in the face of the much publicized police shootings of the past few years.

“Blacker the Berry” is a bitter reflection on self-hatred in the African American community. The album brings awareness to issues of racial discrimination, certainly, but also to the fact that, often, these communities are in their own conflict of hatred and violence in the form of gang tension and crime. Drawing on his own experiences of growing up in the midst of two infamous rival gangs, the Crips and Bloods, Lamar created more vivid imagery of this bellicose environment in his earlier song, “m.A.Ad city.” With lines like, “Pakistan on every porch, we adapt to crime. Pack a van with four guns at a time” and  “‘AK’s, AR’s ‘Ay y’all duck’. That’s what momma said when we was eating the free lunch.”

The most personal song in the album is undoubtedly “u,” in which Lamar scrutinizes his insecurities and the plagues of reaching fame, even calling himself a “failure.” He despises himself for abandoning his family in Compton after attaining fame and fortune, and regrets his decision to refrain from suicide. This song has a significant place in the album, exposing Kendrick Lamar as an icon and inspiration who is vulnerable enough to reveal his insecurities and personal problems.

As a meaningful contrast  to “u”, “i” is a jubilant song of contentment and self-love. With radiant instrumentation and the catchy “I love myself” hook, Lamar shelters his listeners from the negativity of his community, and instead emphasizes the importance of self-love and gratitude. Taking a welcome break from the self-loathing and social issues which pervade throughout the album, “i” is Lamar’s offer of optimism through hip-hop, as he uses the song to encourage a unified sense of strength, pride, and self-respect among the African American community.

“Mortal Man” is the final song on To Pimp a Butterfly, a lasting remark from Lamar where he questions the loyalty of his fans and affirms his responsibility in leading and influencing the youth. After exhorting his community to persevere in the midst of discrimination and self-hatred, Lamar feels that he is not only an artist, but an iconic leader. Throughout his hooks, he affirms his responsibility in prolonging the legacy of influential icons such as Nelson Mandela when he says, “The ghost of Mandela, hope my flows they propel it,” and later acknowledges himself as a flawed leader when he says, “As I lead this army, make room for mistakes and depression.”  Though Lamar seems to accept his role in the public eye and in  the African American community, he is still apprehensive about making mistakes, knowing  he is only a “mortal man,” showing us another angle of his insecurity when he asks his audience,  “When shit hit the fan, is you still a fan?”

To Pimp a Butterfly will continue to have  a lasting impact on hip-hop music and society as an example of how hip-hop as a platform can be utilized for far more than just entertainment. Its ripples are already being felt, and since its release we have seen more of the social action side of hip-hop . J. Cole, another very prominent and mainstream hip-hop artist, was recently featured in a song called “Jermaine’s Interlude,” where he refers to the issue of police brutality. In July, West Coast rap artists Snoop Dogg and The Game led a peaceful march protesting police brutality. Both artists were once member of rival gangs.

It’s too early to say whether Kendrick will become a figure comparable to Martin Luther King Jr., but there is no doubt that he is, like them, bringing attention social and motivating people to persevere–except Kendrick is doing it with some funky hip-hop beats. 


Tazwar Ferdous is a junior at Hopkinton (Massachsetts) High School and has been writing as a hobby for a few years. He is currently interning at The Worcester Journal.



Adaptations of Childhood: What We Can Learn from Harry Potter and The Little Prince

Fall 2016, Uncategorized

Sasha Kohan

Images created with prisma by Sasha Kohan. 

Images created with prisma by Sasha Kohan. 

In my home growing up, summer meant reading. More the indoor, imaginative types than rough-and-tumble summer camp kids, my siblings and I reveled in our library’s summer reading program, and savored those blissful months of seemingly infinite time to read.

Now, as a graduate perpetually attempting to stay caught up with the excess of pop culture news and trends that invade my social media, I find reading for reading’s sake is a slow-paced and almost impossible luxury. Now, however, as my first post-collegiate summer draws to an end and the years of True Adulthood loom ever more closely, I was recently brought back to those elementary and middle school summers, in ways both parallel and disparate, with two of the latest and most significant commodifications of literature of my childhood. First, there was Harry Potter and the Cursed Child, a two-part (confusing way of saying ‘four act’) play written by Jack Thorne based on J.K. Rowling’s universe and story (supposedly), which came out in the tradition of those golden midnight release parties of yore on July 31 of this year, a holy day for any true Potter fan who knows it to be the birthday of both Ms. Rowling and Harry himself. Then Mark Osborne’s feature-length animated take on Antoine de Saint-Exupéry’s 1943 novella The Little Prince premiered on Netflix after being rejected by Paramount for unknown reasons just a week before its scheduled release in spring.

I don’t think it’s a stretch to say that both The Little Prince and the Harry Potter series are among the most significant and timeless works of children’s literature written thus far, along with others like Lewis Carroll’s Alice books and C.S. Lewis’s Chronicles of Narnia—both of which, in case you haven’t seen, have already received (and, as has been recently announced, will continue to receive) their 21st century commercial cinema treatment—which is why I find the coincidental timing of these two releases almost as eerily enchanting as when Toy Story 3 came out dangerously close to my own high school graduation and hometown goodbye. I think it’s also safe to say that, although there are certainly merits and weaknesses to both Cursed Child and Little Prince, what their side-by-side premieres illustrate most glaringly is that there is a right way to handle such beloved material—with a true sense of the original’s spirit and values, a deep respect for the characters and their creator, and the creative sense and imagination to invent something wholly new while preserving the integrity of its source material—and there’s a wrong way.

Other Potterheads may disagree, but I have to say that Cursed Child does it wrong. I’m not even one of those anti-revisionist fans who spew bitter canon-only comments about Pottermore and the seemingly boundless lengths the film industry will go to ensure the immortality of the franchise (in fact, while I’m not convinced of the necessity of five of these prequel films, I’m quite looking forward to seeing Eddie Redmayne as Newt Scamander in the upcoming November release of Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them)—no, I was fully prepared to give Cursed Child all the chances in the world. Having read positive reviews of the West End production in London and (internally) cheering when Noma Dumezweni was cast as Adult Hermione, I went to Nonesuch Books straight after work on August 1 and paid full price for my hardcover copy of the rehearsal script.

The summertime connection with the series was always especially felt, for although reading any Potter book by a fire in the middle of a snowstorm is sure to evoke the Hogwarts coziness from the first two films, one can never quite erase the seasonal association with the book release parties, Harry’s birthday, and the fact that summer was always the worst time for Harry. His isolation among the Dursleys paralleled our own as we immersed ourselves in his world and looked forward to getting to his school year, which was always rich enough to fill the empty space of summer vacation. Indeed, I recall one summer between fourth and fifth grade when I read almost nothing but Prisoner of Azkaban, starting and finishing and starting over until I’d read it cover to cover a total of—I believe—36 times. Cursed Child hardly ranks that high on any scale of engagement, but it was a sort of pleasant surprise when I actually lay in bed reading late into the night as I had not done in years, smiling at some of the surprises that came up. (Albus as Slytherin! Hermione as Minister of Magic! Scorpius as sweet and completely benign!) Those were the moments that almost made me feel like a fourth grader, eating up the magic universe for the first time again.

Unfortunately, those moments were few and far between. Before I even attempt to address the myriad plot failures and character mutilations, the physical act of reading the script is jarring in itself. Even for someone who’s read a fair share of scripts and screenplays in her life, the scene changes happen what feels like entirely too fast for the most part, with blackouts and elaborate set changes on nearly every other page. Though I tried to assure myself with each jolting transition that it’s probably better if you see it onstage, I have sincere doubts about the efficacy of whatever stage tricks and technical effects they’re using to create the magic described in the somewhat poorly-written stage directions. Has Jack Thorne ever read a play before? I was forced to ask myself at times. Has Jack Thorne ever read a Harry Potter book, even? Based on his characterization of Ron alone, I’m inclined to say no. I would hope that any Potter fan would be capable of portraying Ron as more than the flat caricature of comic relief he apparently grows up to be, and able to paint Harry’s feelings toward fatherhood with significantly more nuance. Cursed Child was obviously not written by Rowling’s pen and, providing almost nothing but dialogue, the play glaringly lacks the distinct narration of the novels. The lines in between conversations were full of descriptions and details in Rowling’s own voice which were just as much a part of the reading experience as the intricate plotlines and complex characters.

Speaking of plotlines…ah, where to begin? To be honest, I’m not even sure I should. I initially allowed myself to be entertained by the absolutely labyrinthine mess of the plot Thorne concocted (from what I now confidently assume were photocopied pages of the back cover summaries), but the more I read reviews comparing the whole script to bad fan fiction, the more I can’t help but surrender to the plain and simple truth that not every fan theory deserves to be brought to life. (Unsurprisingly, comparisons have already been drawn to the infamous “My Immortal” fanfiction from 2006-2007—if you haven’t heard of it, it is imperative that you read a few lines, any lines, or at least read the Wikipedia article about it.) Yes, sure, I appreciated the bones thrown to the Malfoy/Hermione shippers and the Bellatrix/Voldemort shippers, and yes, the idea of an alternate world where Hermione is a fugitive warrior queen and Cedric is a Death Eater is undeniably intriguing, but this sentence alone captures only what I estimate to be around 7% of the totally unnecessary and indiscriminate events that occur in the course of this four-act play.

The Little Prince, by comparison, is an enormous success. Running at 108 minutes with an all-star cast of voice actors, Osborne’s vision of the little boy who lived on a planet hardly bigger than himself uses the skeleton of Saint-Exupéry’s story and manages to build it into a completely new narrative. This is clearly what Cursed Child attempts or overconfidently thinks it is doing, but this new version of The Little Prince is remarkable for how harmoniously it seems to create a contemporary fable while also capturing the soul of the original book. Adaptation is a tricky thing, for both adaptors and observers; many film scholars don’t even really consider it worth studying, because how can you truly compare one medium to another? It’s apples and oranges, most of the time. In this case, though, the differences are not quite so vast; more like oranges and nectarines.

As with Cursed Child, or any adaptation, The Little Prince takes some liberties with its source material, adding the entirely new characters of The Little Girl (voiced by Mackenzie Foy) and The Mother (Rachel McAdams), who exist in a busy, modern world not unlike our own; obsessed with progress and productivity, training from an unreasonably young age to prepare for adulthood, studying all the answers test-makers want to hear, forsaking play for work, even on summer vacation. Just as in the book, there’s an emphasis on the “strangeness of adults” that feels more relevant and more heartbreaking than ever. The film swings heavily at helicopter parenting, standardized testing, and the educational application process that seems to be starting earlier and earlier, encouraging the pursuit of extremes to the disadvantage of anything in between.

Most of these details are not in Saint-Exupéry’s 1943 book, but it is exactly the kind of society for which the wisdom of his Little Prince was an antidote. “What is essential is invisible to the eye” remains one of the book’s most famous through lines and main themes, and comes up both directly in the film’s presentation of the aviator’s story and discreetly in the beginning, as we see a row of intimidating posters in the bleak hallway of an elite academy: “What will you be when you grow up? Essential.”

The movie is playful and clever in all the ways the Prince would want it to be—even Osborne’s decision to use both the Pixar-like computer animation for The Little Girl’s world and stop-motion animation for her vision of the Little Prince’s adventures demonstrates this—because why not? These are the kind of creative choices that make the movie feel so novel while carrying on what was at the heart of the classic little French tale, giving us all its sweeping philosophical suggestions and simplicity.

Striking, too, is how seamlessly Osborne fits his film into the theoretical canon of the original book. When The Little Girl befriends the aviator (Jeff Bridges) and begins saving the pages and illustrations he sends to tell the story of The Little Prince (which, in another wonderful detail, appear to be in their original French), we know that what she is collecting will become the book from which her own story originates, the one the world grew to know and love enough to want to see this very movie. Even with a few forgivable lines thrown in for pure comic effect and perhaps one too many extraneous endings, Osborne’s version of The Little Prince is undoubtedly one of the finer examples of an adaptation that lovingly respects its source and provides a modern retelling of the wisdom of children to enchant another generation.

Ultimately achieving what the Harry Potter books and others like them did and still do, the film creates a space of pure escapism that still, somehow, feels like it is about you and your world—because, really, this is what all great children’s literature does. As we transition through seasons and slowly grow into adults, these stories and these characters continue to remind us not to forget how it felt when everything around us seemed like magic and all the magic seemed to be real.

Sasha Kohan is a recent graduate of Clark University and hopes to pursue a career in pop culture writing. To read more of her work, visit her website at

Night Fishing:

Fall 2016, Uncategorized


What’s in the Art: A look at Picasso

Maria Reidy


I used to see works by Pablo  Picasso as an incomprehensible jumble of shapes, swirls of colors, with  maybe a face somewhere in the picture. “Night Fishing at Antibes” changed my perception of the artist, because there’s way more to the jumble of shapes than I first thought.

The painting has elements from the cubist period and of course an emphasis on geometric figures, with aspects of surrealism and primitiveness in it as well. But it’s an unusual painting for a Picasso. It’s rare to find one of his paintings with both a landscape and figures in it, and the only other painting like it is Guernica. The swirl of colors, the figures meant to be seen, the sense of foreboding, the sense of death, make this painting resonate with me. It has a story to tell.


Figure 1″ Night Fishing at Antibes” (Picasso 1939)


In the center of the painting the fisherman has a fishing line tied to his foot, looking for fish. Another fisherman holds a spear in his hand, a hand that is the most realistically drawn part of the picture. He is poised, captured just before he drives the spear into a fish. Above them is the moon, and to the right of the fisherman are two lights to help them find fish. The fishermen seem to be fused together, with one head strong and actively pursuing the fish, while the other seems anxious and passive, waiting with a fishing line at his foot, a fish just about passing him. The two different fishermen could be a representation of how Picasso felt about himself, or was meant to resonate with the viewer.

Two women stand on the shore. The one licking an ice cream cone and with the bicycle is presumably Picasso’s mistress, with her phallic head and enhanced body features that bear resemblance to his lover of the time. Next to her is a woman with her arms outstretched, seemingly calling to the fisherman. This would be Picasso’s wife, Olga, because of the figures likeness of the real life Olga. In the left corner of the painting is a purple mass with two towers, the Chateau Grimaldi in Antibes, France.

This painting was completed in August of 1939, with World War 2 just on the horizon. Picasso was in Antibes at the time and Europe was filled with uncertainty and fear. This painting also came two years after the Spanish Civil war, and the depiction of Guernica. But this is a different kind of war painting. The spear has not yet plunged into the fish, and although the spear is on the brink of the final blow, there’s still a small amount of hope that the fish will be pardoned. The women stand on an an unsteady jetty, the moon seems to be hurtling toward the beach, and the city of Antibes resembles ruins. There is no blood, guts or horror. Picasso doesn’t need to show the viewer a soldier; the quiet uneasiness hints of a world at the brink of chaos.

But the spear hasn’t claimed the life of the fish. The hand gripping the spear is strong and certain in its task. This captured moment of hesitation perhaps reflects the tension the world was feeling as events in Nazi Germany unfold.

Of course, the personal significance  of this painting is for  the painter is his alone to know. But the feelings of tension and uncertainty are relevant, no matter the time period. This painting speaks to me because there’s more too it than just night fishing. For me, this piece in particular, unique to Picasso’s style, speaks volumes about the world at such an uncertain time in human history. In today’s news and in individual lives there always lies aspects of uncertainty, of apprehension, and a fear of what is to come. But amidst the colors and the figures and the landscape, there is the hand gripping the spear that threatens death but . A hand that is real and familiar. A hand that holds creates two radically different possibilities for death or a small sliver of hope.


This is not just “a Picasso.” This is a testament to our own lives, and what lays ahead.


To the Woman at Food Fair Who Screamed at Her Child

Fall 2016, Uncategorized

Sarah Diamond Burroway


SUPERMARKET, 1960s. - A New York City supermarket / The Granger Collection / Universal Images Group / Rights Managed / For Education Use Only

SUPERMARKET, 1960s. – A New York City supermarket / The Granger Collection / Universal Images Group / Rights Managed / For Education Use Only

To the woman at Food Fair who screamed at her child last Tuesday somewhere between the boxed cereal and the bread aisle:

She heard you.

You didn’t have to call her a little bitch, wrenching her arm behind her, sending hot rivers of tears down her dirty cheeks, washing away stains from a day spent sitting in straight rows, eyes forward, feet on the floor inside a dark classroom by the cafeteria where her federal free lunch of half a cheese sandwich, green peas, canned peaches and lukewarm two-percent milk is served five days a week promptly at 11:20 a.m.

No “Would you like some inspiration with that?”

No creativity on the side.

Only children. Holding square, plastic trays, marching to tables; tended like baby chicks in a pen. Teachers hover and cluck “Hurry and eat.”  “Drink your milk.” No talking!”

She is barely five. And, she is hungry. She has questions.

“Where do crackers come from?” and

“Do fish sticks really live in the river?”

She needs answers. And hugs. And time to play with you and talk about ideas and places and things that would fill her mind instead of the worry and sorrow that creeps in when she is left to herself with no one to show her how to be a kid.

Children have a short shelf life. Before you can blink, it’s expired, and she’ll be all dented and past-date, just like you. What happened to “new and improved?” Where’s the happy? Look in aisle five, or maybe next to produce.

To the woman at Food Fair who screamed at her child last Tuesday evening: I know it’s hard to be poor and to feel like there’s nothing you can do about it. But you can do something about this living, breathing, smart girl who is hungry. For your attention. And to feel your arms swoop her from the floor and into the cart, even though she’s too big to ride in the buggy.

A girl who hangs on every word you say. Who wants to play and be loved. Who doesn’t understand why she can’t have a gumball from the machine in the lobby.

AndWhy does it make you so mad when I ask, mommy? Yes, I heard you, mommy, please don’t yell. I’m sorry, mommy. My arm.  Mommy, I promise I won’t cry…                                            

If you just stop.

Sarah Diamond Burroway is a Kentucky writer. Her essays and poetry are included in the 2015 and 2016 Women of Appalachia Project. Sarah’s plays and monologues produced in New York, California, West Virginia, Ohio and Kentucky. She is pursuing her Master of Fine Art in Writing at the Bluegrass Writers Studio at Eastern Kentucky University.

Photo credit: SUPERMARKET, 1960s. – A New York City supermarket.. Fine Art. Britannica ImageQuest. Encyclopædia Britannica, Inc., 25 May 2016. Accessed 17 Oct 2016.

Next Stop, Agony Road

Fall 2016, Uncategorized

Isaac Nemetz

New York subway / Peter Carroll / All Canada Photo / Universal Images Group Rights Managed / For Education Use Only

New York subway / Peter Carroll / All Canada Photo / Universal Images Group Rights Managed / For Education Use Only

It was a cold, dry night this past January. I was listening to music on the subway platform and fighting to stave off sleep. I adjusted the buds to fit snugly in my ear canals and pressed the volume button on my phone through my jeans. A plump, grey rat scurried across the tracks, scavenging for morsels of food and fighting to survive the winter. I squinted at the scuttling sewer-dweller and empathized with the rat, wondering if he, too, just wanted to get home at such a late hour. A decrepit pillar, stained brownish-yellow through millions of interactions with dirty New Yorkers, propped up my weary body. It was two in the morning.  

I’d spent the evening in Manhattan with my brother. We watched a jazz band in the park as the last glimpses of the pale, winter sun faded behind the skyscrapers. We braved the cold, gloomy night, trying a new restaurant downtown and enjoying a few beers at a comedy club. I lingered late into the evening watching baseball at his apartment. Now I just wanted to get home, to get off my feet, and sleep.

I left my post on the pole to peer down the tunnel. A white glow, growing brighter, spread down the tile wall of the tunnel. I exhaled. The subway emerged through the black archway from a tunnel of immense, haunting depth into the station. The train was a snake, uncoiling itself gradually until you could see the full extent of its massive body.

The subway had bright, fluorescent, white lights and powder blue benches. The walls were made of the cold, silver steel which composed so much of the city. A seated man with sharp whiskers, paint-stained jeans and scuffed brown boots laid his head on an aggressive advertisement. His eyes were closed and his barrel chest heaved up and down with his breath. A young couple with clasped hands communicated with glances, not words. They massaged each other affectionately to stay awake. The car was silent. When I removed my earbuds, my ears rang in response to the quiet.

I advanced one train car every time the train stopped. I’d boarded at the middle of the train, but the station I needed to get off at lined up with the train’s last car. Walking between cars while the train is moving could’ve earned me a ticket, so at every stop I waited at the back door of the train car, hopped onto the platform when the train stopped, and walked into the next car before the train left the station.

After three stops I reached an empty car. I walked to the end and sat by the door, tapping my foot to the beat of my music. Vacant subway cars made me anxious. Silence is fleeting in New York City, and the peace of an empty subway car always feels temporary, like disruption is inevitable. I felt I was lounging beneath a greying sky on a summer day. I was enjoying the heat, but I knew the sky would open up any minute. Looking through the scratchiti-stained window to my right, I was relieved to see one woman sitting at the end of the next car.

When I entered the next car, I was surprised to see the woman was not alone. A man wearing khaki pants and a hoodie, which veiled his face, lay on the floor at her feet. His arms and legs were splayed like a starfish. The woman’s face was also obscured by the hood of her jacket, and the two of them were still when I entered the car. It’s common practice for subway riders to look your way when you step into a car late at night. Either the mysterious figures didn’t know I was there, or they were pretending not to.

Fear and suspicion pushed the drowsiness from my body. I plastered my back against a door at the foot of end of the car I walked in through, making sure to stay as far away from the mysterious figures as possible. I kept my eyes trained on the other passengers. For someone who had never been mugged, I was immediately suspicious and defensive. I was taught that the city is a dangerous place, perhaps more dangerous than it really is. But I knew I wanted nothing to do with these people. Those still subway riders could’ve been violent criminals feigning sleep, trying to lure me closer and preparing to pounce.    

Who passes out on the floor of the subway? I thought. These people were reckless. They got too drunk and too high and couldn’t make it home. If these people were a danger to themselves, I reasoned they could have harmed me when they woke from their inebriated slumber. I never considered that the subway may’ve been the only place these passengers could sleep.

I focused on my perceived danger and the strangers kept dozing. I pushed myself harder and harder into the subway door, as if I could camouflage into the train wall. The passengers were impossibly flat and still, like pancake batter sizzling on a griddle. Even the harshest jolts and ear-splitting screeches emitted from the train didn’t phase them. During normal, sober sleep, people stir. They adjust themselves during the constant struggle to satisfy the weary body. So I decided the strangers were either too wasted for me to wake them up or dead. I’d read news stories where citizens stumble across corpses on the subway. Bodies are found in the tracks, or on empty cars late at night, and even sitting upright on crowded train during the day. Hoping I had better luck than the New Yorkers in the papers, I tiptoed down the car to investigate.

When I walked to the end of the car, I saw the man on the floor was frozen. The woman’s body bounced slightly with the rhythm of the train. I reached the man first and I leaned over his sprawled body to take a look at his face.

I have never seen someone die from suffocation, but I thought the man was dying from a lack of oxygen. His head was tilted back. His chin pointed up slightly and the top of his skull rested on the subway floor. The skin and fat on his face and neck bunched up towards the center of his face, resembling rolls of fat on a stomach. His chin was maroon and the color only grew darker and more purple towards the top of his skull, where blood was pooling. I could barely make out the thin slits which were once his eyes. It was hard to imagine this swollen, bloody pulp of a face contorting into a recognizable human expression ever again.

I didn’t need to look at the girl. Her face was still veiled to me, but I couldn’t look anymore.  

Heroin, I thought.

I looked up at the electronic graphic to see how far I was from home. I was two stops away, which roughly equates to five minutes. Gnawing at my fingernails, I knew what I was going to do. It was not what I should do and I hated myself for the decision already. If I pulled the emergency break at the next stop and demanded that the train stop and help come immediately, it would mean I had to get out at the next stop and make the hour-long walk home at two-thirty in the morning. I chose to wait until my stop to get help. I chose to avoid an inconvenience instead of trying to save a life.

It won’t make a difference, I’ve waited so long already, I told myself. Every minute made a difference. I was selfish. I was a murderer.

I sat down at the o
ther end of the car and tried not to think about the passengers who were in need of help. I couldn’t honestly tell myself they’d be fine. I closed my eyes and tried to relax, but I kept imagining swelling pools of dark, red blood filling the subway car. The blood in the car was
my blood and I couldn’t move. A man and a woman looked at me lying on the ground and watched the life leave me. They whispered to each other that I could wait for help to arrive. They said I was reckless so I probably deserved to die. When I opened my eyes, my face was wet with tears. It was my stop.

I leapt off the train, but kept my arm in the doorway to prevent it from closing. A subway worker, donning the token dark blue cap and blue button down shirt, walked down the platform in my direction.  I yelled to him.

“You need to get help, now,” I said. “Two people… I think they overdosed on heroin. They’re not breathing. In this car. Please get help.”

The worker met my frantic eyes with indifference. “Sure thing,” he said.

Brushing past me, he walked into the car as the doors closed. He looked at the splayed man and the motionless girl for a moment. Then he walked to the opposite end of the car, as far away from the helpless passengers as possible, and sat down. He rotated his body ninety degrees, using the end of the bench to support his back, put his feet up, and faced away from the passengers. He tipped his cap over his eyes. I watched the train roll away.


Photo credit: New York subway – New York City. Photo. Britannica ImageQuest. Encyclopædia Britannica, Inc., 25 May 2016. Accessed 17 Oct 2016.

A Letter from the Past

Fall 2016, Uncategorized

Maria Reidy

I was dusting a bookshelf when, with my usual grace, I managed to knock to the ground an old book that nobody had opened for years. The book crashed to the floor and out slipped a letter, yellow and musty, the handwriting an elegant looping cursive. The letter itself was brief, just a few lines. It was dated m May 18, 1914 and addressed to no one in particular. It was signed by Mrs. Warren R. Gilman, a well-to-do woman living on Oxford Street in Worcester, Massachusetts. The letter was a recommendation for my great-grandmother, Mary Kett.

Mary was an Irish immigrant who had left her home and family  with just $10 in her pocket, arriving in the United States in 1907. She was hired by Mrs. Gilman to clean her house as a “second girl,” Whose primary job was laundry, as well as cleaning and cooking. Mary worked for Mrs. gilman for three years, and the recommendation letter notes that Mary, whose neatness, honesty, and cooking were all praised, was leaving the service of Mrs. Gilman to return to Ireland.

Mary never returned to Ireland. In fact, she never saw her family there again. Ana a year after leaving service, she married my great-grandfather.

Was  Mary lying so that she could get out of an undesirable job with a good recommendation? Or could she have actually been planning on going to Ireland but instead met my great grandfather?  

We’ll never really know. One of the challenges historians face when interpreting documents is lack of context. The meaning of documents is left for historians to determine, and many historical mysteries remain unsolved.

We often have so little to work on when  trying to recreate the past. Today, there is a plethora of facts and information about everyone. Nothing is private. In our age of social media, it seems just about everything is available on that screen. Mary didn’t have social media, of course, and one cannot check her Facebook page or tweets to discover where life took her in the years following.  But she did have what many of us yearn for in an age with an abundance of information: she had privacy.  It’s frustrating to me that we will never know the full story behind this  letter. How many other letters like this were lost to time? These small mysteries shaped the lives of our ancestors, possibly playing a role in shaping who we are today.

Recently, I drove through the  downtown area of Worcester that is full of old houses that have seen better days. The house of her former employer is old and white, with an attic jutting out towards the street that appears to be meant for the servants. Perhaps Mary lived and slept there. The house and the street have fallen victim to the negligence of time, and the glamour and prestige they had once has faded. I wonder if Mary could have ever guessed her descendant would again come back to the house following her little paper trail. Will my great granddaughter find some old e-mails of mine, perhaps catching me in my own 100-year-old lie?

Maria Reidy is a Senior at Doherty Memorial High School in Worcester, Massachusetts. She is captain of the varsity crew team, a member of National Honors Society, and a really bad driver.

The letter from Mrs. Warren R. Gilman