A Romantic Reawakening

Summer 2016, Uncategorized

by Kelcy Williams

Reawakened, a great read for lovers of mythology, love triangles, Egyptian princes and adventure, is the first novel in the Reawakened series by Colleen Houck. The protagonist, Lily Young, is a seventeen-year-old living in New York City. During spring break she goes to her favorite museum, the Metropolitan Museum of Art, and comes across the mummy exhibit. What she doesn’t expect is for the Egyptian prince Amon to awaken, handsome and shirtless, and inform her that he needs to borrow her life force until he can find his brothers. Lily, being raised in the present day, where shirtless men wearing skirts are not  the norm, thinks he is crazy and has a plan to feed him and then return him  to whatever mental institution she believes he has escaped from.  Through a magical twist, she finds herself in Egypt on a quest to find his brothers, the personification of the moon and the god of the stars, so that they can defeat the evil shape-shifting god Seth and save humankind before time runs out. Quite a yarn.

I’ve found Colleen Houck is a captivating writer whose books I cannot put the book down, and she does not disappoint with Reawakened. She starts the book wonderfully, describing the basic genealogy of ancient Egyptian mythology which, unbeknownst to the reader, is the foundation of the whole story. Indeed, the tale of Amon and Lily’s demonstrates the author’s extensive knowledge of Egypt and Egyptian mythology, and she weaves together these myths into a fascinating narrative.

Houck uses inner dialogue and diction to add depth to the protagonist Lily, and to bring out the personalities of other supporting characters in this novel. For example, she uses interesting dialogue in the line “I flashed my membership card,” as an exciting way to show the reader that Lily loves museums and visits this one often, instead of saying that Lily goes to the museum every Monday and Wednesday and stays until closing. Houck has also mastered the art of diction. This novel features a lot of adventure, and Houck captures it all with her colorful words. This book made me talk at the pages like I would a movie, pleading for Lily to not touch that rock, or to watch out for booby traps; for her to listen Amon, when he tells her to wait inside. She allows the reader to not just read words on a page but to live them out through the characters.

One of my favorite quotes from Lily is in the beginning of the novel when she says, “Though in my heart I longed for some chaos and adventure, the truth was that I very much depended on order to function.” This is a great quote, because it is ironic and foreshadows the impending chaos and journey she will soon partake on. If she thinks she needs order to function now, then she will so be proven wrong when she is thrown into a heart-stopping adventure. Lily  develops into a stronger character able to handle the new challenges that life throws at her.

If I have any criticism of the book, it is that the first part of the story escalates too quickly. Lily meets a strange man in the museum and thinks he is mentally ill, but then three chapters later she wants to kiss him. This introduction of romance into this novel seems rushed and awkward. From that point on, however, as the story begins to really unfold, both the romance and plot is set at the perfect pace. If you enjoyed the novels in her Tiger’s Curse series, then it may take a while to stop picturing her other heartthrobs, Ren and Kishan, in place of Amon and his brothers, but believe me, Amon’s features and mannerisms are definitely swoon-worthy. It’s a great read. Be careful when you read it, because the second book is not out yet and you may very well fall off of the cliff you’ll be hanging from.

Editor’s note: The second novel in this series, Recreated, will be published this summer.

Kelcy Williams of Maryland studies Mechanical Engineering and Professional Writing at Worcester Polytechnic Institute, Worcester, Massachusetts,  to be a Mechanical Engineering major, soon to have a Journalism minor. She loves books and  Korean barbecue.

My Enemies

Summer 2016, Uncategorized

by Adam Maarij

My enemies don’t scare me
I have walls that keep them at bay
The spikes
The cannons
And the river that surrounds me keep them wary and away,


And even if they poison my waters
Or the air I breath
Or the food I eat
my body has become immune
And maybe a bit too strong
Enemies are less dangerous than friends
Because friends have the key to your castle
your walls are worthless
Your mines will be harmless, and the cannons silent

How can I lock out dangerous friends, when I have given them a key?


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: JERUSALEM: ROMANS, 63 B.C. – Roman soldiers under the command of Pompey the Great assault the northern wall of Jerusalem with a battering ram while Jewish defenders resist from the battlements, 63 B.C. Line engraving from a 17th century edition of Josephus’ ‘Works.’. Fine Art. Encyclopedia Britannica ImageQuest. Web. 8 Jun 2016.


Netflix and Chill

Summer 2016, Uncategorized

by Kelcy Williams

“Netflix and chill” is a short expression with a surprisingly long history. The phrase came into being when Netflix allowed users to binge-watch several episodes of a show or even an entire series in one sitting instead of waiting two weeks for that episode of Golden Girls you ordered in the mail. (Yes, movies used to come in the mail.)

In 2007, The words “Netflix” and “chilling” were used to describe what someone might do during that evening instead of homework; over the years, however, this meaning became skewed. Around 2013, this saying began to develop a slight sexual connotation. For example, if you were to say “Do you want to come over to watch Netflix and just chill? ;),” this might mean you are going to watch a movie and relax; however, if you are talking to a potential date these words, along with the winking emoticon, could mean something quite different.

By 2014, the phrase had become a code word for hooking up. A college student might receive a text reading, “This guy started talking to me but I know he only wants to Netflix and chill.”

This indicates how the phrase evolved into a euphemism for sex. The use of “Netflix and chill” as another name for sex was reinforced by the appearance in late 2014 of “Netflix and chill starter pack” the meme which includes a pair of socks, sweatpants, a shirt and a condom.

At first, this phrase was mostly used by teens and college-aged students, but as it became more popular, social media platforms such as Instagram, Vine, and Facebook began to spread the idiom, and even celebrities began to post using the sexual charged meaning of the expression. The phrase has now spread so much that there is even a song by the music artist B.o.B called “Netflix and Chill,” that was released last August.

This publicity evidently hasn’t hurt sales/viewership of Netflix, which now has more than 80 million subscribers.  The phrase has earned a moment of fame in the teen lexicon.

There are many different reactions to the new meaning of Netflix and chill. Some, like Tsering Dolma, a college sophomore at Worcester Polytechnic Institute in Worcester, Massachusetts, are strongly opposed to this usage of the phrase and feel shocked and disappointed.  “This is upsetting,” Dolma said. “I want to use that phrase when I am hanging out with my friends, but I don’t want them to get the wrong idea.” She also thinks that using the phrase could be embarrassing if one  wasn’t aware of the new meaning, which could make life a little more difficult for people whose second language is English.

Others like Keith Verdini, also a sophomore at WPI, have a more neutral opinion. He thinks that people should be more specific to avoid misunderstandings.  Verdini believes,  “If you say anything about Netflix now, it automatically seems like it is ‘Netflix and chill’. So say watch a movie if you’re asking someone.”

Verdini said that word choice is important. “When you say Netflix, ‘and chill’ is automatically added in your mind. If you say chill, then it’s fine, but it’s the word ‘Netflix’ that brings it up.” Lastly, there are some people like Devlin O’Conner, another sophomore at WPI, who agrees that use of the phrase can occasionally cause communication problems. It doesn’t help that ‘Netflix and chill’ can be used “more playfully” as opposed to the more serious slang phrases “hang out” and “hook up.”

Kelcy Williams of Maryland studies Mechanical Engineering and Professional Writing at Worcester Polytechnic Institute, Worcester, Massachusetts,  to be a Mechanical Engineering major, soon to have a Journalism minor. She loves books and  Korean barbecue.

Photo credit: Wikimedia Commons / By Cs104group15 – Own work, CC BY-SA 4.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=45557304

Mecha: When Human and Machine Are One

Summer 2016, Uncategorized

by Michel Sabbagh

Gundam statue in Odaiba, Japan

Gundam statue in Odaiba, Japan

In the early 2000s, following the international success of Japanese anime and manga (Pokemon, Dragonball), video games (Legend of Zelda, Super Mario), and film (Spirited Away, Ringu), the Japanese government realized that, despite the economic setbacks of the time, the country’s cultural influence had expanded greatly. Thus, the creation of “Cool Japan,” an expression of its emergent status as a cultural superpower, and for the next dozen years, the Japanese government boosted cultural exports from these creative industries, including one of its oldest and most influential anime genres: mecha.

The origins of Japanese mecha (an abbreviation of mechanical) can be traced to the end of World War II and the dropping of the atomic bomb. During Japan’s Occupation and post-Occupation years (1945-early 60s), an explosion of artistic creativity occurred in the manga industry, possibly aided by the medium’s exclusion from U.S. Occupation censorship policies. One artist, Mitsuteru Yokoyama, took advantage of this loophole to craft one of the most influential mangas of all time.

Yokoyama had been motivated to become a cartoonist after reading Osamu Tezuka’s Mighty Atom (Astro Boy, 1952), the story of an android who fights crime with mechanical powers yet was capable of displaying human emotions, essentially acting as an interface between man and machine.

Yokoyama took a different approach, drawing heavily from his childhood encounters with war, technology and film. The result was Tetsujin 28-go (Iron Man No. 28, 1956), a parable about technology’s dangers and benefits. It tells the story of Shotaro Kaneda, a boy detective who fights criminals by operating his robot by remote control. Their adventures were depicted in fast-paced, action-filled panels.

Tetsujin 28-go: the series that begot the Japanese mecha genre.

Tetsujin 28-go: the series that begot the Japanese mecha genre.

Much of Tetsujin 28-go’s appeal comes from the strong bond between boy and robot, enhanced by the robot’s benign and knight-like design, which suggests it is an avatar of unstoppable justice. Tetsujin 28-go was the first instance of a Japanese cartoon based on the idea of a giant humanoid robot controlled by a human being, with the former acting as a tool for the latter to realize his fullest potential. This was, perhaps,  a metaphor for a resurgent Japan, reawakening like a giant from the rubble of WWII.

If Yokoyama established a link between man and machine with Tetsujin 28-go, then Go Nagai forged that link into a union. One day, while waiting to cross a street, Nagai contemplated the backed-up traffic and mused about how the drivers were wishing for some way to get past the other cars. This inspired a novel idea: what if the car suddenly transformed into a robot that a person could ride and control like a regular vehicle? Nagai’s concept — a pilot sharing the body of a robot — made the man-machine bond both figurative and literal. The resulting manga, Mazinger Z (Tranzor Z, 1972) would prove to be the next big evolution in the mecha genre.

Mazinger Z: man and machine as one dynamic entity.

Mazinger Z: man and machine as one dynamic entity.

Mazinger Z is abouti Kabuto, an orphan who stumbles upon a giant robot in his grandfather’s secret lab. The robot’s name evokes the image of a majin (demon god) with its similar-sounding syllables (‘Ma’ meaning ‘demon’ and ‘Jin’ meaning ‘god’), suggesting  it is both a machine built by humans for protection as well as an ancient, unfathomable being.

Mazinger’s appearance was striking for its time: a brightly colored mechanical juggernaut ornamented with a mixture of military equipment and samurai armor. Its design resembled the sleek new roadways, bullet trains and skyscrapers being built in Japan during the 1970s. A small hovercraft docked on the robot’s head housed Koji, who acted as its ‘brain’. This established Mazinger as an extension of the pilot’s abilities and will, symbolizing a powerful symbiosis between man and machine.

Splintering of the genre

Before this busy decade ended, Nagai’s work was surpassed by yet another development in the genre. Created by Yoshiyuki Tomino, Mobile Suit Gundam represented a shift in both tone and scope. In place of isolated weekly episodes, Gundam presented a continuously developing story with a more ambiguous sense of morality and the effects of war on the people who fought. Instead of humans using machines to fight off evil aliens, Gundam had humans fighting humans, with both sides having their own ideological motivations. This new approach led to the splintering of the mecha genre into two subgenres: Super Robot and Real Robot.

Whereas Super Robot stories focus on near-godlike mechs in fantastical scenarios, the Real Robot emphasizes drama, human characterization, a realistic civil-war-in-space backdrop, and plausible mech creations that required adjustments and repairs. This could lead to moments when the protagonist might actually lose a battle if the machine was not properly operated and maintained. This is in sharp contrast to Super Robot works, which depict mechs as near-invincible entities that only seem to sustain damage when needed to drive the plot.

Characteristics of Japanese mecha

Unlike clunky, lumbering Western mechs, Japanese mechs were anthropomorphic and highly mobile entities. They espoused recognizable classes of people — snipers, soldiers, knights, etc. — including symbols of Japanese culture such as the samurai.

Motion was equally important. Like the samurai sword, the mobility of Japanese mechs was managed by the user within, whose own bodily control and prowess determined the mech’s amplified analogues of human action. This granted the mechs a striking agility as the humans inside the mechs became empowered. The Japanese mecha philosophy promotes the idea of having people work alongside humanoid machines, a desire associated with Japan’s long religious history and culture.

Much like the Western superhero genre, with characters like Superman inspired by Judeo-Christian ideals of an anthropomorphized God, the Japanese mecha is influenced by East Asian religion. Both the Shinto concept of revering natural phenomena as kami (gods) and the worshipping of carved images of Buddha in Japan suggest the protean notion of inner energy that can cause a mechanical form to show human traits. This is the Japanese mech’s most distinctive characteristic: it is the tool through which its pilot expresses their power and will to overcome by bonding with the machine. This union imbues the mech with what might be called a soul.

Coming to the West

Shogo: Mobile Armor Division offers an example of a Western “first-person shooter” game that captures the thrilling essence of Japanese mecha works like Patlabor and Venus Wars, combining speedy mechs with the fast-paced gameplay of Doom. Released in 1998 by Monolith Productions, Shogo puts players in the shoes of Sanjuro Makabe, a wise-cracking commander in the United Corporate Authority, who is emotionally recovering from an accident that killed his brother Toshiro and childhood friends Kura and Baku.

Audiovisual presentation

Shogo: an amalgamation of epic mecha anime and high-octane FPS gameplay.

Shogo: an amalgamation of epic mecha anime and high-octane FPS gameplay.

From the outset, Shogo displays many of the characteristics of anime. On booting the game, the player is treated to an anime-style movie sequence, accompanied by a Japanese pop song whose lyrics embody typical anime themes of courage, perseverance and optimism.

The audiovisual design is equally noteworthy. The large, bright eyes of the characters, grandiose explosions and in-game mock advertisements are characteristic of the anime aesthetic, as are the cheesy one-liners, hand-wringing angst and cocky humor of the dialog. This is especially apparent in Sanjuro’s conversations with allies like Kura:
Kura: “Watch my ass!”
Sanjuro: “My pleasure.”
Kura: “You say the sweetest things!”

In addition to its audiovisual design, Shogo displays strong mecha anime influences in its narrative, which is appropriately chaotic, conspiratorial and convoluted. The plot contains many sudden twists and turns that leave Sanjuro questioning his alliances and objectives.

The tone of Shogo leans heavily towards Gundam and Real Robo. The UCA, CMC, and Fallen all have their own legitimate reasons to fight one another. The Fallen, in particular, become less antagonistic in the eyes of the player through a late-game revelation that unveils the Fallen’s raison d’etre: to front the interests of a superbeing known as Cothineal. This underground creature is the secret source of kato, and is trying to regain freedoms accidentally stolen from it by the colonizing conglomerates.

Further complications arise from Sanjuro’s commanding officer who gradually becomes irrational in his attempts to eliminate the Fallen. This places Sanjuro in a dilemma he must deal with near the end of the game when given the ability to choose one of two paths: either bring Gabriel to justice, or help him seek a truce with the UCA to put a peaceful end to the conflict.

All of these audiovisual and narrative elements serve to imbue Shogo with a distinct mecha anime ‘feel’ that balances drama and playfulness, a feat made all the more impressive by the game’s Western origin. But Shogo’s real appeal and biggest nod to the mecha genre lies in the four Mobile Combat Armor (MCA) suits that players can choose from and pilot throughout their adventure.

Mech design

The MCAs in Shogo: Mobile Armor Division reflect the aforementioned Japanese philosophy of suggesting combat classes, such as the Akuma’s ‘scout’ look and the Predator’s ‘assault’ design, and display a mix of Real and Super Robot elements. On one hand, the MCAs reflect their industrial origin through the name of their manufacturing firm (e.g. Andra Biomechanics) and classification numbers (e.g. Mark VII). On the other hand, two of the MCAs bear Super Robot-style names that refer to malicious supernatural beings: Akuma means ‘evil spirit’ in Japanese, and Ordog is Hungarian for ‘devil’.

Becoming the pilot/machine

By transplanting one of Japanese pop culture’s most iconic media forms to the quintessentially Western first-person shooter genre, Shogo gives the player the opportunity to experience firsthand the chaotic action and drama typical of mecha anime, and live out their own power fantasies by ‘becoming’ the pilot/machine.

The genre of mecha, the blending of man and machine, shows no signs of slowing down. With Shogo the genre has made the leap from east to west. It will be intriguing to see what developments  await us in the narrative of the coupling of the human and the non-human.


Michel Sabbagh studies Interactive Media & Game Development at Worcester Polytechnic Institute, Worcester, Massachusetts.

Photo credits:

1. http://www.sakura-hostel.co.jp/blog/Odaiba_Gundam_20090823%20big%20best.jpg

2. http://mazinger.wikia.com/wiki/Mazinger_Z_(TV_Mecha)

3. http://pinktentacle.com/2010/10/tetsujin-28-manga-covers-1956-1966/

4. http://www.pcgamer.com/reinstall-shogo-mobile-armor-division/

The Idea of Home

Summer 2016, Uncategorized

by Jacob Allen


Edward Hopper. “House by the Railroad.”

In its barest form, a house is little more than a chasm—a shell enveloping an empty center. It seems, though, that when humans take up dwelling in a house their most private selves begin to reverberate off of the walls of the enclosure, leaving, the traces and remnants, both physical and psychological, of life. These traces, as they seep into the walls and as they give texture to empty space, may change a house into a home.

The door that closes and completes the home creates a sort of polarity: The first side of this polarity is the prison: the home may lock in, keep, and hold. The second, and the one most discussed here, is the virgin: the home is able to lock out and remain unpolluted. For nineteenth-century art critic John Ruskin, this virgin image emerges most lucidly amidst talk of the “Angel in the House.” Here, Ruskin paints the home’s virginal qualities as its most cardinal:

This is the true nature of home—it is the place of Peace; the shelter, not only from all injury, but from all terror, doubt, and division. In so far is it As not this, It is not home; so far as the anxieties of the outer life penetrate into it, and the inconsistently-minded, unknown, unloved, or hostile society of the outer world is allowed by either husband or wife to cross the threshold, it ceases to be home (Ruskin 1615).

Ruskin’s definition of home is here one free from all contagion and externality. What must be asked in this case, is what Ruskin believes inhabits the home if it is not anything from the “hostile society of the outer world.” What can grow in these circumstances? How can any home be free, completely, from these germs? It could be that the “true home” does not exist in this world according to Ruskin’s perceptions. Ruskin’s enforcement of this chastity and his close association of it with the home help him enforce the normative behavior modeled by the Angel in the House. While the Angel may subtly follow a woman everywhere, more subtly reminding her that she is enclosed, Ruskin illustrates this point blatantly:  “Wherever a true wife comes, this home is always round her. The stars only may be over her head; the glowworm in the night-cold grass may be the only fire at her foot; but home is yet wherever she is” (1615).

On the one hand, this constant force field allows a woman to walk the earth protected. She is always within a home, and, according to Ruskin, as a home is no longer such once contaminated by outside forces, the “true wife” must be incorruptible. Even when she is outside, home extends around her and makes her impervious to external forces. She is always internalized. This internalization doubly binds the woman to a “purity” that is only ascribed to her from outside sources; she becomes a prisoner—invoking the other side of the home polarity.

Some years after Ruskin’s outline, a woman emerges, taking up battle with the Angel whose power still looms. Virginia Woolf recognizes the defensive, virgin-like agency of the Angel, noting her utmost quality was that of chastity: “Her purity was supposed to be her chief beauty – her blushes, her great grace” (“Professions” 2273). Purity was the ultimate value of the Angel and the blush of shame and humiliation it seems was the central tool in the maintenance of this quality. What Virginia Woolf fails to realize is that this purity-upholding quality of the Angel had rooted itself so deeply in her that she was unable to properly kill the Angel, an accomplishment she assigns herself. It seems Woolf was only able to rip off a wing; she claims, when speaking about two great struggles in her professional life that “the first – killing the Angel in the House – I think I solved. She died. But the second, telling the truth about my own experiences as a body, I do not think I solved” (“Professions” 2275).

When we look into this matter of truth and bodies, however, we find Woolf precariously ignorant of the Angel’s presence. Watch as she begins to discuss a matter of such psychological primacy that she must shift her narrative out of the “I” that makes up the rest of the section, to a “she” that emerges only in this important paragraph. She then further distances herself from this urgent truth by separating out the imagination of the “she” into an “it”:

It had sought the pools, the depths, the dark places where the largest fish slumber. And then there was a smash. There was an explosion. There was foam and confusion. The imagination had dashed itself against something hard. . . she had thought of something, something about the body, about the passions which it was unfitting for her as a woman to say” (“Professions” 2275).

Woolf had found herself clambering towards the ultimate hole—the very nexus of ambiguity. Yet she was locked out of the secret room. She found something impassible there. She was restrained by humiliation. She could not ruin her own purity. She had attempted to penetrate into the utmost depths of self and truth but had been stopped in the muddy underwater by a concrete figure; perhaps it was the murk of the deep water that caused her to swim back towards the surface, unaware that the hard thing which barred her way looked, beneath its barnacles, like a winged creature.

We find in this the beginning of the tragic reality of the Angel in the House: though it locks the woman in the house, so too does it lock her out of this house. Woolf had killed half the Angel and, in doing so, had established her publicity—her intellectual repute keeps her in the public eye to this day, but half of her domain, the dark, underwater throne was still guarded by the Angel. Purity is the Angel’s chief beauty, and it was this chastity that barred Virginia Woolf from completion of the perfect descent into truth. That is the hardness against which she battered. We find that the home must encapsulate the woman at all times in order to secure her virginity—she must be free from contaminants, as Ruskin sees it. Yet she must be denied full access to the estate. She cannot wander freely, and Woolf saw this, yet somehow failed to recognize it as part of the Angel’s function. Meaning, she had recognized that the Angel performed the prison function, but the more dangerous virgin remained unseen. She knew the Angel locked her in, but she did not know that it was the same creature locking her out.

Woolf appropriately addressed this problem under the title of “A Room of One’s Own” where she explained that, for most women contemporary to her time and previous, “to have a room of her own, let alone a quiet room or a sound-proof room, was out of the question” (“Room” 2271). We see here that, though home was the woman’s domain, and she was arbiter of it, her constant surveillance within it was a must. Neither man nor Angel trusted her there. She cannot be touched by the outside world, but this the forces that be were willing to concede so long as they might keep her from being contaminated by something else—something worse. The Angel let herself be half-killed so that Woolf did not discover the more dangerous truth, a truth which the Angel herself, standing behind Vir
ginia, illuminates in a whisper: “Never let anybody guess that you have a mind of your own. Above all, be pure” (“Professions” 2274). Here we have stumbled upon a great secret of the virgin: If a woman must be selfless—or mindless—to be pure, then we must conclude that impurity arises from the self. Ruskin’s pure home must be protected from the outside world, but so too must it be protected from the inside world. There is dirt, we find, inside of Woolf, but the Angel has wrapped her concrete figure so thickly around Woolf’s own room—her own privacy—that she is unable to ever truly know what grows in this central-most soil.

Knowing this, we must turn to other sources to discern the contents of the secret and innermost room. What happens in the depth Woolf was banished from? Ralph Waldo Emerson, in the comforts of his own private room provides us with an answer that Ruskin seems to hint at. In his essay “Nature,” Emerson highlights the fact that, “a man needs to retire as much from his chamber as from society. I am not solitary whilst I read and write, though nobody is with me” (2). Who is this “nobody” that interrupts Emerson’s writing? Could it be the “chamber” itself, or perhaps the writer himself—a fractured piece of his personality?

Emerson provides only one further piece of information in his sudden disclosure  of this unseen watcher: “if a man would be alone, let him look at the stars. The rays that come from those heavenly worlds, will separate between him and vulgar things” (2). What Emerson has unwittingly established in this statement is that the reason he was not alone in his chamber was because of a vulgarity—Emerson also paints this vulgarity as in some way connected to his being. The stars “separate between him and vulgar things.” This separation between him and vulgarity was, we must remember, a manner of achieving solitude. The vulgarity that is somehow connected to him keeps him from being alone in the chamber. It seems, by this logic, that the chamber must defend, harbor or connect the vulgar “nobody” with Emerson—as it is only under the light of the stars that the separation can be completed. The home, or more specifically the private chamber, for Emerson is protector, if not creator, of the vulgarity. Is this the very same room that Woolf was locked out of? Is this vulgarity the same “biggest fish” she sought in her dive?

The Angel, in her submerged, statuesque purity seems to, with her skin, encapsulate a center of pure filth: a chastity belt built in the shape of a woman. Emerson agrees with the Angel in that his own imagination, his mind, and his private room all attract vulgarity, just what the Angel is attempting to stifle as she warns Woolf against the dangers of one’s own mind and personality.

Finally, if we are to attempt a closer look at this odd horror that the Angel was summoned to protect against, that Emerson must bathe in starlight to exorcise—we may find a clue in Woolf’s seemingly tangential conclusion in “A Room of One’s Own.” Woolf begins to, as she discusses the value of woman having a room of her own, muse on the subject of androgyny. When this mental androgyny is attained, she explains, “the mind is fully fertilized and uses all its faculties” (“Room” 1025). This cryptic statement, and its parent concept of mental androgyny, may be the explanation for the Angel’s vigorous restriction of the self as a means of maintaining chastity. It may also give us the face of the vulgar “nobody” who kept Emerson company when he was alone—the presence of this character in Emerson’s private room may also serve to show that Woolf’s musing was no tangent.

Jacob Allen is a recent English graduate from the University of Maine at Augusta. He resides in central Maine as a builder, piano player, and amateur astrologer.

Photo credit: EDWARD HOPPER. – ‘House by the Railroad’. Oil on canvas, 1925.. Fine Art. Encyclopædia Britannica ImageQuest. Web. 8 Jun 2016. http://quest.eb.com/search/140_1647272/1/140_1647272/cite

The Eternal Fractal

Summer 2016, Uncategorized

by Moeko Noda

Fractal geometry showing Mandelbrot / setPASIEKA / SCIENCE PHOTO LIBRARY / Universal Images Group

Fractal geometry showing Mandelbrot / setPASIEKA / SCIENCE PHOTO LIBRARY / Universal Images Group

Some of the greatest literary works have in common a narrative structure of an interwoven set of fractals, according to a recent study carried out at the Institute of Nuclear Physics of the Polish Academy of Sciences. This news was taken up by science blogs, news sites, major newspapers such as the Guardian, and after a while by the online site of a literary magazine, thus reaching its way to me, a literature major who rarely reads science articles.

Ever since French Mathematician Benoît Mandelbrot introduced the idea to the world back in the 1960s, people have found this self-similar structure and pattern everywhere. In literature, in paintings, in the stock market, in vegetables, even in our heart beats, the infinitely complex patterns of a fractal reveal themselves, making it difficult for us to unsee them. Fractal is the rhythm that govern us all.

The term fractal was coined from the Latin adjective fractus, whose corresponding verb, frangere, means to break. It is a fitting word, for a fractal is an object that at first glance may seem broken, but on closer inspection reveals its distinctive “self-similarity”–no matter how the image is magnified or shrunk, one sees the same pattern. An often-used example of a fractal in nature, not coincidentally where the original search for fractals began, is the coastline of Britain. The island has a jagged coastline that, when its map is magnified, still shows a similar pattern of broken up lines that resembles the original coastline. Mandelbrot saw this pattern of co-existing roughness and simplicity everywhere in nature, and he set out to find a rule that governs it. His idea of encapsulating the order arising out of seemingly irregular patterns eventually culminated in his book, The Fractal Geometry of Nature. Clouds are not spheres,” he said, “mountains are not cones, coastlines are not circles, and bark is not smooth, nor does lightning travel in a straight line.”

The appeal of a fractal lies not only in its mathematical innovation, but also in its beauty. The visualized form of the Mandelbrot set is considered a work of art, and an online search for “fractal art” will give a result of fractal images one after another, so mesmerizing in their complexity that the word “trippy” is suggested by Google autocomplete.

Fractals are not only artworks in themselves. Their patterns are also found in works of art which at first sight do not bear much similarity to these Google search images. The American painter Jackson Pollock’s paintings are one of these examples. In 2002, researchers Richard P. Taylor, Adam P. Micolich, and David Jonas published a paper titled “The Construction of Jackson Pollock’s Fractal Drip Paintings,” in which they statistically investigated the fractal features of his paintings. It’s not surprising that researchers found a similarity between Pollock’s dripped paintings and objects in nature, considering that critics often describe his painting “organic,” suggesting something akin to objects in nature found in these works. By running a statistical analysis of the self-similarity of Pollock’s works, the researchers found in them a pattern similar to a fractal.

The researchers fascinatingly suggest that it is human nature to “feel” fractals, that “the enduring popularity of Pollock’s Fractal Expressionism is based on an instinctive appreciation for Nature’s fractals shared by Pollock and his audience.”

A recent study of fractals in literature reached a similar conclusion. By analyzing the sentence length variation of more than 100 works of literature from around the world, researchers have found that “an overwhelming majority” of these works are written in “selfsimilar, cascade-like alternation” of various sentence lengths, creating fractal-like patterns similar to those of musical compositions or brain waves. What is more, they found that works in the genre of “stream of consciousness” show themselves to be multifractal, that is, a composed of a set of fractals irreducibly woven together. This result suggests that our thoughts cascade out in fractal patterns, which some authors, like Pollock has with his brushes, have managed to capture with their outstanding command of language.

Indeed, there is a literary genre called “fractal poetry” that is taught in a creative writing course at Colby-Sawyer College in New Hampshire. According to its syllabus, the course aims to teach how to appropriate fractals into poems by iterating certain linguistic elements within a poem or across a set of poems. Theater can also be fractal; the Japanese traditional theater of Noh is structured to reveal self-similarity in a Jo-Ha-Kyu pattern, Jo being the slow introduction, Ha being the acceleration, and Kyu being a fast close. This three-fold pattern is ideally found at all levels of the play such as line, dance move, scene, and the overall plot. Speaking of Asian culture, Mandelbrot was a fan of Hokusai’s paintings, which have fractal-like structures; Hokusai’s famous painting of a wave with Mount Fuji at the back took part in Mandelbrot’s 2010 TED talk  as one of the visual representations of a fractal in art.

Might fractals be the underlying principle of the universe? The infinitely intricate patterns of a fractal have always existed in the world, long before Benoît Mandelbrot “flipped on the switch” for the rest of us to see. Is the universe a completely determined structure with no uncertainty, infinitely complex but entirely settled, by the pattern of fractals? Well, I don’t know. But what at least seems clear is that the pattern of the fractal lurks beneath the complex phenomena in our everyday lives, its laws governing the breathtaking sceneries of nature, its rhythm reverberating within us and in so much that we create.

Moeko Noda is a rising senior at Swarthmore College in Pennsylvania, where she is studying comparative literature. This is her first published piece.

Photo credit: Fractal geometry showing Mandelbrot set. Photograph. Encyclopædia Britannica ImageQuest. Web. 15 Jun 2016.

Farming over the Abyss

Summer 2016, Uncategorized

by Mark Frank

Breughel, 'Landscape With the Fall of Icarus'/The Granger Collection/Universal Images Group/Rights Managed

Breughel, ‘Landscape With the Fall of Icarus’/The Granger Collection/Universal Images Group/Rights Managed

In the December of my eighteenth year, my best friend and confidant, partner in poetry, art, and sometimes romance, committed suicide. I heard about it during Christmas vacation at my grandma’s house in eastern Kansas. Though the two of us had often talked of suicide, her action took me by surprise. The entire trajectory of my life was changed, the way an earthquake can change a river’s course. Nothing was the same —there were no remnants of “same” to return to. The strongest feeling was not sadness, it was nothingness; the feeling that I was nowhere, left stranded above an abyss.

Her kind and beautiful soul ignited the love of literature and poetry and music in my own. I have spent the intervening years searching, collecting the pieces that were broken and scattered when she left. I lost faith and interest in tangible life, and turned to the things that we had shared: I tried to find life and solace in books and music, though they are sometime fickle friends. These sounds and shapes came and went, and I learned to live in pages torn from borrowed volumes and words suspended in air. In every new book, every poem, every album I listened to, I tried to find a trace of her. Sometimes I did, and I cherished that. The Ninth Wave by Kate Bush. The poetry of Rimbaud and Allen Ginsberg. The 4AD record label. The Surrealists. There were two things I looked for: the honesty to confront and discuss the idea of suicide directly and the courage to break through the everyday, the anchors to this life, to pull them up and cut loose.

I learned to appreciate life through reverberations, still feeling her presence in a way that could not be verbalized, that resonated somewhere out beyond language. Colors became tones, and the change of seasons was always accompanied by an encompassing music that only I could hear. A few days after she died, she appeared to me clearly. I was lying in bed, and she came into the room. She was angry, asking why I did not keep my promise to join her. At first I did try to join her. I felt it was my obligation to end my own life, but I failed for various reasons. Finally, without really thinking about it, I quit trying and just let life be. But, there is always that voice that calls from over the edge. It is a familiar voice, nearly every day. Not usually 24 hours a day—if it were, it might be something that could be tuned out or ignored. No, it comes unexpectedly, at the most unlikely times. It always feels the same, like the floor has dropped out from under me, the constant sea of sound stripped away.

It is not a matter of being one step away from the abyss, nor of being on the edge, but of being suspended over it, with no visible means of support. I realized I needed to dedicate myself to something connected to life. I couldn’t express it like that at the time, but I think that is why I chose to go into education and teaching. I found that the classroom was a living organism, the chance to interact with and maybe even change other lives. I have always liked people but was too shy to really connect. Becoming a teacher helped me (forced me?) to overcome that. And then, becoming a farmer.

It started when I was teaching in Japan, we had a garden at my college. The students would collect food scraps from the cafeteria and make compost. Our first season, we had a meter high mound of compost. One day, we were turning it together. A student placed her hand on the top. “It’s warm, it’s hot,” she said, “like it’s alive!” We took turns touching it, picking up handfuls.  We all felt for the first time the power of composting, of fermentation, of life returning. Feeling the compost inspired us all, and galvanized our will to create the best garden possible. From these early experiences, my own love and respect for farming was born, and it became my inspiration to start a farm here in America. Much like the classroom before, I sensed that the garden was a place of life and learning and positivity.

There is a scientific basis for this feeling as well. The soil microbe mycobacterium vaccae has been shown to cause immune cells to release chemicals known as cytokines. These in turn stimulate nerves which cause neurons to release serotonin, high levels of which are connected to general feelings of well-being, while a deficiency is often connected to depression. I don’t mean to suggest that going out and getting your hands dirty can take the place of therapy or medication. I don’t want to trivialize anyone’s experience or reality. No, the kind of farming I am talking about is not a cure, but a recognition, a way forward, or at least sideways. Like everything in life, it is another scenic road to nowhere, but here, in the dirt, on the ground, under an enormous sky.  Seeing life pass through death and in that death provide for another life has given me some degree of solace and balance.

The simple process of growing a cabbage from tiny seed to giant head, taking it to market,and passing it on to a customer–that is a tremendous feat.

Suicidal thoughts reduce the imagination, limit choices, tie off the story in a knot. Farming is exactly the opposite: every day is an opening up, an unpredictable now, improvisational and wild. I have found companionship in the soil among the worms and microbes and roots and pillbugs. You may fail, but the dirt, the ants, the weeds, the critters, they all will be waiting for you again tomorrow, no matter how badly you mess up today.

I no longer see apparitions of my dead friend, but I hear her and feel her everywhere around the farm. At times when I go to sleep I hear her talking to me, whispering, a beautiful litany of poetry I could never write myself. The edges of the words leave me stranded, looking right and left, aware only that I will never have the ability to keep up. But there are also iridescent afternoons with muddy knees and hands elbow deep in mulch. Farming is not so much about the production of life as it is about life’s cycle. The farmer is not the creator of life, but the witness to its continual passing and returning. Time spent with soil and compost somehow can anchor us in this uncertain, floating world.

Mark Frank was born and raised in eastern Kansas. After completing an M.A. Arts degree in American Literature at Missouri State University, he moved to rural Japan, where he taught. There he also studied traditional agriculture, fermentation, and sake brewing.A few years ago, he moved back to Missouri, where he operates a no-till organic farm specializing in Japanese vegetables and fermented foods.


Photo creit: BRUEGEL: FALL OF ICARUS. – ‘Landscape With the Fall of Icarus.’ Oil on canvas, c1555, by Pieter Bruegel the Elder.. Fine Art. Encyclopædia Britannica ImageQuest. Web. 10 Jun 2016. http://quest.eb.com/search/140_1666209/1/140_1666209/cite


Telling Cancer Where to Go

Summer 2016, Uncategorized

by Sloane M. Perron

Linda Brossi Murphy of Boylston, Massachusetts, is a cancer survivor. Throughout her cheekily titled book, Fuck Off, Cancer, Murphy shares candid details about her diagnosis, her changing body, losing her hair, maintaining a healthy sex life during chemo, and the importance of an occasional glass of wine.

Murphy’s story begins four years ago during what she describes as a “mid-afternoon romp” with her husband, David, during which she discovered a lump in her breast. The lump was originally diagnosed as being hormonally induced, but when it persisted she was referred to to UMass Memorial Hospital in Worcester.

On Halloween, Murphy got the bad news that, yes, she had cancer.

The good news, however, was that her cancer was rated “ light to medium” by the doctor, and was  treatable. It was an aggressive form of breast cancer, however, and  Murphy wound up receiving five different forms of chemotherapy over a year and a half.

Despite her naturally positive outlook, the treatments took a heavy toll on her body. “Cancer does not make you sick,” Murphy said, “Cancer treatments make you sick.”

After a couple of weeks of chemotherapy, Murphy’s hair began falling  out in clumps, along with her eyelashes and eyebrows. She  texted pictures of the hairballs to family and friends and asked for help  naming the hairballs. They came up with Tom and Jerry, Rooster, Timmy and Tommy, and Cheech and Chong.

“I am against shaving your head,” she said. “Any hairs that want to stay, can.” Eventually, Murphy bought three wigs that allowed her to become a blonde, a redhead, or a brunette, according to her whim. Her husband never knew what his wife was going to look like, she chuckled. She began to see the importance of wigs to people going through chemotherapy, and some of the proceeds from sales of her book will be donated to wig salons to purchase wigs (and wine, of course–may as well make the most of the situation) for their clients.

Murphy was touched by the outpouring of support she received from loved ones, “My family was awesome,” she said. “I have a great group of family and friends.” She developed the idea of “chemo parties,” where different family members and friends would drive her to Mass General Hospital in Boston for her treatments, spend the day with her in the hospital, and then enjoy time in Boston together. Murphy always brought cookies for all of the nurses. The staff became a second family to her, she said.

Throughout the course of her recovery, Murphy documented and photographed almost every aspect of the experience, from initially discovering the lump to her last day of treatment and being able to ring the bell at the radiation department of Mass General, a tradition that signaled the end of one’s radiation treatment.

    Murphy’s goal in writing “F Off Cancer” was to remove the stigma and fear that commonly surrounds cancer. She’s grateful, she says, for good health insurance, a strong support system, and a reliable car to get her back and forth to Boston. If her diagnosis with cancer means that a poor, single mother waitressing tables with no insurance does not get it, then Murphy would not change anything about her ordeal with cancer. In her mind, the death of a child, chronic pain, and ALS are all much worse than the experience she had.

    Her family brought the same playful spirit to the experience. Murphy recalled waking up one night and saying to her husband, “We have the best life ever.” He responded, “You are aware that you are going through cancer, right?”

A lot of such humor, as well as introspection and raw emotion are all to be found in in Murphy’s book. And she hopes that telling cancer to “f*** off” she can inspire others to face the obstacles they must overcome in their own lives with humor–and perhaps a glass of wine.

Linda Brossie Mupry / photo by sloane perron

Linda Brossie Mupry / photo by sloane perron


Sloane M. Perron is agraduate of Anna Maria College in Paxton, Massachusetts She enjoys writing in all forms and has a passion for telling the stories of others.



College, the Movies, and the Misery

Summer 2016, Uncategorized

by Sasha Kohan

Picasso, Woman Reading

Picasso, Woman Reading

As a film student who’s also an English major and deeply narcissistic in all the usual ways, one of my biggest and most sincere questions coming out of my undergraduate education is: why are there not more movies centered on college-aged protagonists?

I realize this is basically asking “Why aren’t there more stories about me?” but, seriously, there is no shortage of (wonderful, predictable, cheesy, reassuring, warm, fuzzy, upsetting, relatable) high school stories and, lately, just as many on that later-twenty-something part of life when you really should have your shit together but need all your adult friends and siblings to show you the light and guide you into a happy medium of staying true to yourself while also becoming a somewhat respectable member of society. That part I’m totally prepared for, thanks to movies like I Love You, Man (John Hamburg, 2009), 27 Dresses (Anne Fletcher, 2008), Frances Ha (Noah Baumbach, 2013), and the more recent Obvious Child (Gillian Robespierre, 2014) and Trainwreck (Judd Apatow, 2015). Even some of the latest films with plots revolving entirely around their collegiate settings, like Liberal Arts (Josh Radnor, 2012) and Admission (Paul Weitz, 2013), tell stories from the perspective of the adults on campus who, of course, have some growing up of their own to do. Both of these coming-of-age variations dominate the realistic fiction segment of Hollywood’s unrealistic vision of what goes down in modern America–which is why I’m somewhat baffled that the crucial, exploratory time between ages 19-22 is largely underrepresented in mainstream cinema.

Maybe it’s because, to the young people who go to the movies but don’t go to college, or to the adults who are now too far removed from the American education system to understand the nuances of the contemporary angst it brings, watching a bunch of privileged kids be confused and dramatic while walking around the most boring-looking set possible isn’t a particularly alluring cinematic experience. (And honestly, I can get behind that on the level of the aesthetics alone.) It’s common knowledge that universities keep students living in a bubble of safe spaces and like-minded folks for four years, a period which can be not only illuminating in many ways but also potentially damaging. Maybe the college age is often skipped over in film because, just as the bubble keeps us students largely oblivious to the way things work outside our ivory towers, it also keeps those outside the bubble at a distance, forcing them to squint and make their best guess as to how those inside interact with one another.

The best illustration of college life I’ve witnessed onscreen thus far is easily Noah Baumbach’s Mistress America (2015), a delightful comedy on the nature of storytelling made exponentially funnier when you can understand with a visceral empathy the aggravation of sitting through a class where that one person cannot seem to help responding with completely unnecessary aggression to everything anyone says; or the agony of seeing that guy you like walking with another gal and consoling yourself by sitting alone in the campus bistro at night with a tray of forlorn fries (or pizzeritas, or late-night mac-and-cheese grilled cheese) in front of you to soak up your misery.

Though classics like Rudy (David Anspaugh, 1993), Legally Blonde (Robert Luketic, 2001), Good Will Hunting (Gus Van Sant 1997), and A Beautiful Mind (Ron Howard, 2001) ought not to be forgotten here, it seems that the university narrative has shifted considerably in the last decade and, as amazing as those movies are, they’re undeniably sensational, telling the most remarkable stories about the most unlikely heroes and touched up with that optimistic Hollywood gloss. Pitch Perfect (Jason Moore, 2012) is probably the best example of a recent movie that hits the right notes (sorry) as far as establishing a recognizable and even resonant, ordinary university setting, and then turning certain elements of that setting up to 100 for that dramatic, satirical effect, finishing off with a nice clean Disney Channel Original Movie feeling.

I find this apparent lack of unsensational college and/or typical college-age-centered stories in film noteworthy because (again, based on my own Googling and pragmatic conclusions) there very well may be no narrative more inherently dynamic, no life more determinedly dramatic and peppered with normal and bizarre supporting characters that also happens to be a microcosm of the capitalist, American-dream-seeking, Hollywood-ready system of elite education than that of the 19-22 year old college student. This may be partially because there is likely no other demographic more convinced that they are the star of their world’s film than this college student, particularly now. (I’m not even going to begin getting into the “Gen X versus Millennials versus Gen Z” discussion, but I don’t think I need to remind anyone how ardently the Baby Boomers have labelled us ‘the selfie generation’ among a number of other equally patronizing and aggravating media-safe slurs highlighting our exponentially increasing youthful narcissism.) In a way, even the most ordinary college encounters are experienced with a heightened sense of importance–even the most average students are living the most sensational lives. Melodrama is the norm, and every ordinary moment simply builds on the comedy and tragedy of it all.

I’m also aware of the role privilege and choice play in this phenomenon–of course, not every high school graduate will go to college, and not every 19-22 year old will have graduated high school. In this light, I suppose it makes sense for filmmakers to focus on the more universal experiences of high school and what happens a decade later (according to The Atlantic, the number of high school graduates who then immediately enroll in college has been slowly dropping over the years, falling to 66% in 2013). Okay, so, sure, if you want to get technical about fair representation in the movies, then go ahead and skip that part of life when you decide whether or not to pursue higher education in search of financial success and personal fulfillment–but, I ask you, when has Hollywood ever cared about fair representation before? I’ll tell you when: never. This is certainly not meant to defend the decades on decades in which the film industry has relentlessly focused on white heteronormative narratives rather than including and normalizing those of the many (many) gay, lesbian, trans, genderqueer, black, Asian, southeast Asian, Hispanic, disabled, elderly, and otherwise Other lives that also comprise our nation’s best stories (if not our movies or politics), or that baby steps toward progress aren’t being taken (I heard Dear White People (Justin Simien, 2014) was good!), but simply to point out that even the most average college student’s story is pretty much a pack of mini cupcake mix ready to be thrown into the Easy-Bake Oven of Hollywood’s top-secret three-act formula. In fact, with the number of parallels between the systems of elite education and the film industry, I’m fairly shocked this demographic and their (our) stories haven’t been seriously capitalized upon already.

But maybe it isn’t as unforgivable as all that. Because I, like John Cusack’s character in High Fidelity (Stephen Frears, 2000), tend to take refuge in my pop culture obsessions to escape the anguish of modern life and romance, I often think of his characterâ
€™s essential line: “What came first, the music or the misery?” The same logic applies to movies–do we watch movies because we are miserable, or are we miserable because we keep watching movies? Hard to say, but I’m inclined to believe a lifetime of cinematic consumption must contribute in some significant way to a later life of seemingly unstoppable disappointment. When you grow up preparing for your time at Cape Elizabeth High School with Napoleon Dynamite (Jared Hess, 2004) and Mean Girls (Mark Waters, 2004) in mind, such disappointment is inevitable, as I’m sure it will be in a few years once I’ve been a lonely Type-A bridesmaid 27 times and do not, in fact, find the love of my life in a cute and snarky journalist who happens to write wedding announcements on the side.

Was it better, then, to go through these last four years with no real (or unreal) idea of what to expect? With no clue how to instigate a respectful yet casual conversation with professors? With no idea how on earth college students spend all their time in libraries while taking only four classes? Without knowing how many times I would change my mind about who I am and what to do, only to end up agreeing to disagree with me and my many selves? Maybe we should thank Hollywood for providing us with all the uncertainty and anxiety that makes college students such fascinating characters and potential protagonists, by virtue of denying us any other unrealistic expectations (on top of the ones we’re already frantically trying to manage).

But this character and this narrative are remarkable, too, for the fact that this student may not always feel she is the star of her movie. College in America in 2016 is a magical place where one glorious moment might make you feel like The Chosen One and the next makes you wonder if this is what Luna Lovegood’s life is like when she’s not with Harry; if all the instants when the spotlight seemed to hit you were really just proving to all the real stars what a quirky supporting character you’ve been, and how your funny little side plot has really just functioned as a way to work some interesting details into the main storyline.

Maybe the real, uncut, unedited college student is simply too dynamic to work as an effective protagonist. Maybe things change altogether too often for a coherent narrative to be shaped around those four years where the plot points and characters and sets and music montages are so densely packed that each passing semester feels like a lifetime ago–and yet I can’t help feeling like these are exactly the reasons why university students are such ideal subjects. Minor goals and motivations shift and turn until the greater desires reveal themselves under the rubble of whatever’s leftover each time you change your mind. People who were once important move to the periphery, just as you move to the periphery of people you were once important to. Everyone changes as often as trends, and even if we wanted to truly move forward and step away from who we used to be and all the things that made us that way, we all still study in the same library, walk the same stairwells, use the same bathrooms, go to the same bars and check the same mailroom. The past variations of ourselves bounce around campus like ghosts in the subjective memories of all the people we scrutinized and who scrutinized us, who saw us change, who either respected us or didn’t. Maybe real college in the movies wouldn’t be so great after all–not like I would know or anything, but maybe the real story doesn’t start until the ghosts are only in our heads and not physically surrounding us at every corner–and maybe it still won’t be a real story yet, but it might be a better one, at least.

Sasha Kohan is a graduate of Clark University, Worcester, Massachusetts. To read more of her work on music and movies, visit her website.  

Photo credit: Picasso, Woman Reading 1939. Fine Art. Encyclopædia Britannica ImageQuest. Web. 9 Jun 2016.


Summer 2016, Uncategorized

by Andrea Gregory

Alone 1994 Daniel Nevins, 1963, American

Alone 1994 Daniel Nevins, 1963, American

Every night I watch my father get shot in the head by foreign terrorists on a hijacked plane. I’m in therapy for it.

All of a sudden no one is invincible. My parents are just people. And my dad is one of those people who flies all over the world for business. I’m scared, and I’m not allowed to watch the news anymore.

I make my mother check on him. I expect her to scream when she sees his head has been blown off. But she doesn’t scream. She looks over at him. She assures me he’s sleeping and not dead. It was just a dream. She wants me to go back to bed. She falls back asleep with me standing there. It happens almost every night.

I’m the worst speller at school. We are tested every week, and I’ve started cheating. I write the words out on a small piece of paper and keep it in my desk. Evidence of my wrongdoing. There’s talk of holding me back, what with the spelling and all the school I’ve missed. We went to Germany for a few months. I missed a lot of spelling tests.

I have more books than friends. During recess, I hide in the coat closet and read. No one notices I’m not outside playing. You would think I would be a better speller because of all the reading I do, but no. I like the Sweet Valley Twins books. They’re about twin sisters. I have a brother, but he’s younger and always has a runny nose. If I had a sister, everything would be different.

Do I have to go through things alone? We read a poem in school about how no man is an island. Am I an island?


I get caught. Not cheating on my spelling tests but reading in the coat closet. My teacher’s name is Norma. I think she thinks it’s cool to go by her first name. The problem is Norma really isn’t a cool name. She takes my book away and tells me to go play.

Everyone is teasing Julia outside. Someone calls her ugly. Someone calls her gross. She doesn’t brush her hair or teeth. I know this because we had a sleepover once and she came with no brushes. But everyone knows this because it’s obvious by just looking at her. She might actually have cooties. Now, she has to wear glasses.

One of the boys pulls them off her face. He holds them above her head and laughs as she tries to jump for them. Everyone laughs. No one is an island? Julia is an island right now. I yell out for them to stop. The boy throws her glasses on the ground and everyone walks away to play foursquare on the other side of the playground. I pick up Julia’s glasses and hand them to her. She’s crying. She says this happens to her all the time. It’s worse on the bus, she says.

I know all about the bus. They call me animal because they think I’m not human or something. I think when people tell you something long enough, you start to believe it even if you don’t want to.

I’ll show them animal. I bite Kristen on the arm. I bite down as hard as I can, leaning over the back of my seat as she tries to pull away. Everyone thinks it’s funny until she screams. I leave a hole in her shirt. I’m sure there are bite marks on her skin. But no blood. I never tasted blood. She says I’m going to pay for this.

Greg lives two doors down from me. He goes to a different school and rides a different bus, but we’re the same age. When our parents get together, we play in his finished basement. It has an old black and white television set that’s always on, but no one is ever watching it.

We color a lot. Greg’s mom lets us tape our drawings on the walls, and she doesn’t even take them down when I leave. Our pictures feel permanent.

Greg’s father is sick. We don’t know what that really means. The adults don’t either yet. Greg says he doesn’t want to talk about it. Then he says they still go fishing all the time, more now than ever. I ask Greg if he’s going to cry because he looks like it. He tells me no and calls me stupid. Then he stares at me, and I can’t tell what he’s thinking. He dares me to kiss him on the lips. We count to three and kiss for a fraction of a second.

I know what it’s like to feel like you’re flying. There’s a bike trail that the older kids made. Or maybe the older kids before them made it. It’s been there forever. It starts with a really steep hill. You go down it and get a ton of speed. Then you just have to steer. All the neighborhood kids line up. We take turns, cheering each other on. It’s a wild ride.

I’ve done it a million times, but this time I lose control going around the second bend. I fall off my bike and land in poison ivy. My knee is scraped. I think I’m crying because it hurts, but I’m embarrassed. The kids laugh at first, but then leave their bikes to see if I’m okay. Greg isn’t here. His dad’s in the hospital. I get up and run home, abandoning my bike in the bed of poison ivy.

My mother asks what’s wrong, and I just hold on to her as tight as I can. My dad’s at work somewhere. My mom says all I need is a Band-Aid, and she lets go of me too soon. I never want to ride my bike again. But she tells me that’s not how it works. She says everyone falls off bikes. I tell her the other kids don’t. She says they will. What matters is getting back up.

I wait until the other kids all get called in at dusk before I go get my bike. I don’t get back on. Not right now. Not this time. I walk it home with one hand on the handlebars and one hand on the banana seat.

Tonight I will dream about my father getting shot.

I have another spelling test tomorrow. I make another cheat sheet. I will get another 100 on it, and everything will look like it’s okay.


Andrea Gregory is a recent graduate of the MFA program at the University of Massachusetts in Boston. She is currently working on a memoir about living with multiple sclerosis. This is her first published piece of creative nonfiction.

Photo credit:  Alone. Fine Art. Encyclopædia Britannica ImageQuest. Web. 9 Jun 2016.


Summer 2016, Uncategorized

by Jason Elford

Annie Owen / Robert Harding World Imagery / Universal Images Group/ Rights Managed

Annie Owen / Robert Harding World Imagery / Universal Images Group/ Rights Managed

A weight of worldly anxiety settled in last night
our insides chilly,
he proselytized fear
declared his presence.
We cracked, crumbling foundations
    language shattered
outside, inside
two and one entangled
a battle without violence
    riding astraddle of moment shadow dueling
swiftly silent,
immersed in the other
we breathed
two and one fragmented
with a breath, feeling
a weight lifted
labels disintegrated
and language gauged freely.

Jason Elford writes short fiction, poems, and novels. His work has appeared in The Machinery and STOPGap. He lives in Calgary, Alberta.

Photo credit: Budhhist prayer flags fluttering in the wind, Darjeeling, West Bengal, India, Asia . Photography. Encyclopædia Britannica ImageQuest. Web. 9 Jun 2016. http://quest.eb.com/search/151_2565855/1/151_2565855/cite


The Road Back: A Story of Healing

Summer 2016, Uncategorized

by Victoriahope McAuliffe



Victoriahope McAuliffe

Victoriahope McAuliffe

When I was 17 I made the decision to go ahead with a surgery that would hopefully control what I had lived with since I was four years old. I suffered from intractable Epilepsy, and typically had 200 seizures a day. I would fall down on the floor, crawl, scream, and end up injuring myself in all sorts of ways. I remember constantly having to bandage my knees because they were always cut up and bloodied. Most kids have scraped knees from sports or running around outside, mine were from constant seizures.

This surgery, a right frontal partial lobectomy, would hopefully remove the source of my seizures and change my life in unimaginable ways. Little did I know how many ways my life would be changed.

My surgery took place during my senior year of high school, in December. I had left school in October because my seizure activity had become so frequent that I was missing classes, so I was isolated for most of the time leading up to the operation. I remember being so excited that my seizures would stop, that I didn’t have time to think about being afraid. How could I be afraid? My whole life was going to be different, this was going to change EVERYTHING! As the day approached I began to feel scared and nervous as the enormity of what I would soon undergo hit me. I admitted to one of my friends I was scared, and he just said, “I know you are. You have been. You just didn’t know it.”

My surgery went perfectly, but I was exhausted and overwhelmed in the days following. I hadn’t realized just how much help and support I would need in the days and weeks that followed. I had to learn to walk again. I couldn’t shower alone for  two weeks, and I couldn’t walk by myself for three weeks. It was hard for me to accept the help of others, because I had no idea I was going to need it. In essence, while the operation was successful and ended the seizures,  it  also left me with a brain injury, which caused an entirely new set of problems.

By some miracle, I was able to graduate with the 2010 Senior class at Doherty High School in Worcester, Massachusetts, and that fall I started school at Quinsigamond Community College. I soon found that I was tired all the time, and I needed to take naps everyday when I got home from school. The hardest thing for me was that I now struggled to read and comprehend information. I had always been a strong reader, and my slowed reading and processing speeds made reading a monumental undertaking. Still, I was able to finish my Associates Degree in Early Childhood Education in May of 2014, and I transferred to Worcester State University the following September.

Transitioning to Worcester State from QCC as a student with a brain injury was challenging, and disheartening at first. I had to navigate a new campus, meet new friends, understand how the dynamics of the school worked, and of course become familiar with the Disability Services Office. Adjusting to a new school is stressful for any student. Imagine trying to do it without  the part of your brain that controls emotion regulation, impulse control, inhibition, organization, executive functioning, and rational thought. Everyday difficulties were magnified into huge obstacles.

It didn’t help when the Disability Services office gave me a handbook titled, Transitioning From High School to College. Evidently my community college didn’t count. I stayed away from the office for two semesters after that, and when I had to return to use my accommodations for a mathematics course, I had a totally different experience and found the director amazingly helpful.

I get hurt and offended when people try to “help” me by dumbing things down, by diluting information so that I can absorb it. I am an intelligent individual, and I have met many people with cognitive and processing disabilities who have intelligence levels that far exceed those of the people who often try to help us.

What I need as someone with a brain injury and processing impairment is to be listened to. I want to be respected and heard as an individual with hopes, dreams, and goals. I am not just a statistic you write in your books to say that you graduated so many students with learning differences- I am a person and some days I struggle.

Some daysI struggle. I feel such extreme fatigue and exhaustion, I have to fight with myself just to get out of bed. Yet everyday I get up, and I show up, because I need to be there for myself. We live in a world where people like me can be overlooked, and it’s easier to do that when you seem healthy on the outside. That is the trouble with invisible illnesses– others cannot see them, but those who suffer from them feel their strength at full force. It is isolating, and often a heavy burden to carry.

My brain injury is a healing wound you cannot see. I am learning to live with that reality, this new me. Despite these challenges, I’ve managed to keep my GPA above a 3.0, and I’ve started working part time. Healing takes time, and someday I will reach the place where I want to be. And until then, I’ll keep my sights on graduating next May–which is not bad for a girl they said would never graduate high school.


Victoriahope McAuliffe is a student at Worcester State University, Worcester, Massachusetts. She enjoys singing, hiking, yoga, and writing, and her goal in life is to inspire others to keep fighting. She blogs at  www.chronicbrainborrower.blogspot.com and can also be reached at instagram@wildheartedwanderer.


The Hotelier’s Upcoming Goodness

Spring 2016, Uncategorized

by Tom Matthews

The Hotelier, taken by Kylie Shaffer

The Hotelier, taken by Kylie Shaffer




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Think back to the moment you first experienced love. Can you remember what it was? A hug? A kiss? A formation of friendship? The feeling of a parent’s protection?

These memories are often from a young age. We recall these memories fondly at a time before our existence in the world changed—before there were expectations of us.

Years later, love can feel devoid from our lives. Over time there has been growth and learning. And sometimes this growth and learning has forced us out of love.

How do you get back to that love?

The Hotelier is working that out, and is doing so on Goodness, the band’s upcoming album set for release this May.

The album features thirteen tracks, with some almost lasting seven minutes long. But every second feels precisely accounted for—time is a very important part of this album and even remains a theme throughout its entirety.

For it is the harnessing of time that gives way to the freedom to love.

Time is constantly pulling us away from experiencing love—work and useless time-consuming stimulation demand our attention and distract us from connecting with those in our present—it is only through our own efforts that we can cease the reign of time in our lives in order for us to truly experience love and the goodness of the world.

In “Opening Mail For My Grandmother,” lead singer and bassist Christian Holden cherishes time left with a loved one that is slowly fading, singing, “I’m coming for you. Your beautiful brightness, perpetually new. So old in your body, the youth’s in your mood. They’re keeping your space there they’re dying for you. We’ll sing your good graces when they come for you but until that day’s here I’m coming for you.”

Holden’s detail rich lyrics reveal a perspicacity for recognizing moments where love is fleeting.

On “Soft Animal” he sings to a fawn doe minutes before it is hunted down, “Make me feel alive. Make me believe that I don’t have to die. Fawn, doe, light snow. Spots on brown of white make me believe that there’s a God sometimes.” In this captivating chorus we hear Holden searching for the capacity to live freely—a desire sparked by a young wild animal.

A life lived freely is often glamorized as some grand transcendent experience, but the reality is much less sumptuous. Instead, it is the ability to know what is truly good for oneself, and the ability to make independent decisions that are pertinent to this well-being. And sometimes this involves making decisions that are not easy. Decisions where someone will be hurt. Love demands transparent wholeness.

Holden laments “If it’s you undone, then I can’t sit with you. And it’s you undone and I can’t sit in your sun,” on “Sun”—an explosive theatrical display of the band’s tight musicianship.

A life lived freely requires rationalizing what you want from what is best for you.

“In this young night’s sky there are pinhole lights. Find the shape of a harp and an arrowhead. Do I hear your tunes or acknowledge wounds that I got from rubbing elbows with a sharpened edge? But if I choose this too does it count as my move? I can’t drop my history just to become new. Now I’m swimming through the nothingness and the absolute, but I couldn’t ask this of you,” sings Holden on “Two Deliverances.”

People live their lives in search of meaning. We collectively agree on one’s meaning and significance based upon their accomplishments. And because of this irrational measurement certain people rise up, while others fall to the wayside and are forgotten, barely making a ripple in the current of time. But at the end of the day we all sleep under the same moon, and rise under the same sun. And as Holden points out on “Goodness pt. 2”, “Withered down to our basic components we are naked, at rest, and alone.”

Goodness is a carefully constructed, thought-provoking album. An album that forced me to think about my literal action of listening to it. Why do I consume art? To feel. To gain a clearer conception of the world around me. I feel I have gained one after listening to Goodness. And while I don’t think all art must exist to intellectually stimulate, I find it to be the art I return to. And Goodness will be an album I return to for years.

So, the next time you are wondering where the goodness is in the world, look around you. It’s everywhere. It’s in the moon. It’s in the sun. It’s in the people around you. And just like the old lullaby goes:

“I see the moon, the moon sees me

shining through the leaves of the old oak tree

Oh, let the light that shines on me

shine on the one I love.” 

Watch the NSFW Goodness album trailer below:


Pre-order Goodness from Tiny Engines here

Contributing Editor Tom Matthews is a Senior at Clark University where he majors in English, specializing in Creative Writing and Journalism. Visit his website at writtenbytom.org

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Staying Up with Sleepovers

Spring 2016, Uncategorized

by Sasha Kohan

                        Sleepovers is marina khananayev, hannah corbin, and jacob folsom-fraster. photography by sasha kohan.

                        Sleepovers is marina khananayev, hannah corbin, and jacob folsom-fraster. photography by sasha kohan.

From the moment you walk into their apartment, you begin to understand more about who Sleepovers is and where the band’s sound comes from. Plants pepper the place—dead and alive, on the floor and on the walls—and the coat rack in the corner has transformed into a plush kind of tree on its own, stacked at least fifteen coats deep. The art on the walls looks like the type that could be in a gallery—or maybe one of them just made it the other day. Maybe it was one of their friends.

Made up of housemates Marina Khananayev and Hannah Corbin, along with the recent addition of drummer Jacob Folsom-Fraster, Sleepovers began in a Worcester, Massachusetts bedroom, and that’s exactly how they sound. Even when screaming about dumping your boyfriend, there’s an authentic intimacy in both singers’ voices which conjures the soft quiet that must have made them want to scream. In the same way that they somehow create warm melodies out of bleak subject matter, one of the most striking elements of Sleepovers is how the band is able to uniquely capture the feeling of feeling alone and yet deliver this feeling to us with reassurance. The close friendship between the lead vocalists is particularly palpable in songs like “I Wanna Start a Band” and “Hot Dog Song,” but is also felt, even in their solo songs.

With just two EPs on Bandcamp and a couple of local performances under their belt, the group has already managed to win over an impressively devoted following of listeners. When I first saw them in December, it was just Marina and Hannah playing “Whiskey Song” to a stunned and silent audience in their own living room; then the full trio of Sleepovers was booked as the opening act at Clark University for New York project Eskimaux and opened their set with the same song—this time with a full floor of standing fans singing along to every word, with lines like “Don’t have a crush on you” “I like getting high” and “I’m not anybody’s rock” among perhaps the loudest in the repertoire of audience favorites, it’s easy to see why Sleepovers is quickly becoming one of the most popular local bands in the city of Worcester. Known to friends and fans for their unassuming honesty, uncomplicated language, and utterly endearing onstage dynamic, the band and their music already has a reputation for treading the line between heartwarming and heartbreaking, often invoking both at the same time.

As an early fan of Sleepovers, I was thrilled I had the chance to talk with them personally about their project and methods of making music. Though our interview was a first for both parties involved and (at least, my) nerves were bouncing off the walls, the carpeted floor of Hannah’s bedroom began to feel familiar as our conversation floated on and away from Hollywood Street, beyond Worcester and back to other bedrooms—for, as Sleepovers reminds us, there is perhaps no better place to think about first times and new things than on the carpeted floor of your best friend’s bedroom.

Interview Highlights

On songwriting

So you write most of your songs in here?
Hannah and Marina: Mhm.

Do you write most of your songs together?
M: Not most of them, but a few of them we’ve written together.

Do you like working together better or is it easier by yourselves?
H: I don’t know, ’cause there’s some stuff that I’m like ‘I don’t know what to do, I need help with this’ and then some stuff that I’m like, ‘Oh, I wrote this’ like it just happened, I didn’t need help, it just came out.

Yeah, so do you guys ask each other for help, or like if you’re writing songs together, how does that happen?
M: I think it usually happens like one of us says, you know, ‘I wrote this guitar part’ and then you’ll start singing something, or the other way around, or something like that, and then we’ll just sit there and—I don’t know, trade off singing lines. We also just sing a lot of shit and then we’ll be like, ‘Oh write that one down.’
H: Yeah. Yeah we’ll just like sing a bunch of lines, like random things, then write it down later and decide later what’s good to keep.

On the addition of Jacob

How did you come into the Sleepovers project?
Jacob: Well, a kid put a drum set in my basement, so then a bunch of bands started practicing there. So then, I don’t know, when [Hannah and Marina] would practice I would just come down and play the drums for fun. I don’t really play the drums, I kinda just started messing around ’cause there’s a drum set in my basement.

That’s really cool. And you played for them we you opened at the last PEC show?
J: Yeah, ’cause I don’t know, you guys were thinking you wanted drums and I already knew all the songs, so…

It was a really good effect, people loved it. The drums added a lot.
H: We practiced so much for that show [laughs]. ‘Cause [Jacob] had just started playing with us that week before. You were like, ‘Me? Really?’ [laughs] ‘Are you kidding?’
J: I’m like, the worst choice.
H: I feel like you are the best choice though, because I feel like we’re all the same level of instrumentation at this point, where we’re all kind of figuring it out together, so it’s cool to like—I don’t know, I feel like I’d be intimidated if there was someone who was like, mad good at drums, like shreds. I’d be scared to play.

On their show in February

What was it like opening for Eskimaux? I heard they were one of your favorite bands.
H: Yeah, we saw them a few months ago. On my birthday, actually. We went to go see Girlpool and they were opening.

I just started listening to Girlpool and remember thinking they reminded me a lot of Sleepovers.
H: Definitely, yeah. I like Eskimaux way more now after opening for them, just ’cause she was so nice.
M: And also at first when I was listening to their music, I was like, ‘Oh, you know’ but I listen to it all the time now, like ‘This is really good songwriting.’
H: Also just knowing someone in a band—okay, we don’t know her that well, but like meeting her and talking to her—we texted each other—just makes the music so much more enjoyable. I don’t know. For me, at least.

Did you guys get to talk to her after?
H: They had to leave right after the show, but we chatted for a bit.
M: It was nice. She told us about her first show ever, and it was like this really hilarious story about some bubble tea place and she couldn’t see anything because— [laughs]
H: Because she scratched her cornea.
M: It’s not funny. [laughs]
H: Yeah it was really nice, and she was so supportive, and just meeting someone who’s like, famous, and having them tell you they like you—
M: It was really cool.
H: I freaked out a little bit. I also had a flash of like, ‘I’m gunna quit school. All I’m gunna play is music from now on.’

On actually starting a band

So what was the moment you decided to start a band? Like, when do you decide to do something when you’ve only been thinking about it?
M: I don’t know if we ever decided.
H: I wrote a song—
M: Yeah, [Hannah] wrote a song—
H: And I liked it—which had never happened before.
M: Was it the cat song?
H: No, it was “Philly.”
M: Yeah, you wrote “Philly” and I was like ‘damn, this is really good!’
H: Then I was like, ‘we should start a band’ and you were like ‘eh’ and I was like ‘please.’ And [Marina] was the one who didn’t want to start a band, and then Jacob was like, ‘all these people are playing at my house.’
M: Oh yeah, they had this like Sunday music festival thing at their house during the day, and Hannah was like ‘let’s
do it! Let’s perform there!’ and I was like, I don’t think we’re ready. We had “I Wanna Start a Band” and “Philly” and those were the only songs we’d ever written. We wrote them like two days before the show and then we were like, ‘shit, what do we do?’ Oh! And I had just bought that bass, too. I bought a bass from our other friend—

So you didn’t play bass before?
M+H: No. No no no.
M: Well, it’s kinda similar to guitar, so it wasn’t too difficult.

Yeah, I think about that too, like ‘I can definitely learn bass, probably.’
M: Yeah, it’s just a little harder to push down. [laughs]
H: But anyway, we played at it and we messed up a lot, but I mean, people came up to us afterward and said, like, ‘great job!’ and it just felt good. It just felt—I think both of us realized ‘damn, this feels good.’

On Sleepovers’ sound, name, and aesthetic

To me, it’s so clear what you are, just based on what your music sounds like and what your house looks like, and it’s so interesting that you manage to get that into your music. As someone who’s trying to write songs and failing miserably, I’m curious as to how you make songs that sound like you?
H: I’ve been trying to write songs for a really long time and I wrote a song that I like for the first time this year. I’ve also written a bunch of songs we never play because I’m not in love with them, but I just needed to like, get shit out so I just wrote it. But it’s like a keep-away.

Save for later.
H: Yeah. Or for never. [Laughs] Or just to like, have expelled from you. I kinda appreciate you saying that though, because I don’t really know, like–I have a hard time describing our band to, like, relatives and friends from home that ask, ‘What’s your music like?’ Like, eh, I don’t know.

I also feel that, because I’ve also been asked to describe your music and I’m like, ‘Uh, it’s kinda—uh, it’s soft I guess, but it’s like rock, uh, I don’t know.’
H: I just hate the word ‘indie’ and being like, ‘it’s indie.’ Because that doesn’t say anything about what it sounds like, it’s just like, ‘independent’? Okay, like we don’t have a record label? So what does that—that’s so many artists! What a stupid term.
J: [Sleepovers’ music] makes you feel happy and sad at the same time.
M: Yeah, you said that to me once.

To me, it feels exactly like a sleepover. It reminds me of sleepovers in like, fourth grade, and it’s so specific but for some reason all the details are right just in the way it sounds and the words you choose and, I don’t know, the vibe you give out. It’s all very cohesive.
H: That’s awesome. It’s funny you say that because that name just isn’t—like it wasn’t intentional at all. We were so frustrated trying to pick a name.
J: There were like, six different names.
H: Yeah, there were so many different names, and like, I liked one and Marina liked the other, and we were just sitting in here—
M: Every day we’d text each other being like, ‘what about this? What about this name?’
H: Like I’d walk down the street and see a package with like, ‘mermaid’ on it and be like, “Mermaid should be our band name.’
M: [Laughs] When did you see a package—
H: I don’t know! It was just like you’d see something and you’d be like, ‘this should be our band name.’ But we were sitting in here, in these exact same spots one night, and we had just finished writing a song and we were feeling loopy, and Marina was just like, ‘Sleepovers’ and I was like, ‘cool, that’s our name.’ It was like—boom. And we haven’t talked about it since. [Laughs]
M: We didn’t even deliberate or anything, like ‘Should that be it?’ We were just like, Sleepovers. Done. Don’t wanna think about it anymore.

What are your musical backgrounds like?
M: I’ve been singing in choir all my life, pretty much, and I took piano lessons for a while. My family’s pretty musical, I’d say, it’s not a huge thing about them, but just singing all the time I guess, just any chance I could get. I was in a Renaissance singing group in high school where we dressed up in Renaissance clothes and sang around the community. [Laughs]
J: What?
M: You have to watch the videos. It was awesome. You know, haters gonna hate but it was so much fun. We’d go to like, old folks’ homes and sing for them.

They loved it, I bet.
M: They loved it! We looked like nerds, but whatever. [Hannah’s] been in a band before.
H: I was in a band but I was like a novelty. I was in the band to be the only girl in that band, you know what I mean?

Like a token girl?
H: Kind of. I also have a really hard time singing in front of people and I didn’t do it until this year. Like, at all. So this is a pretty new thing. I didn’t sing before this, really, but I’ve played guitar since I was 13. But only like—not real, like initial ‘I’m learning how to read music and play chords,’ I was like ‘teach me this Green Day song!’ [Laughs] I just wanted to learn songs that I liked.

And what about [Jacob]?
J: I feel like I’ve always been surrounded by music but I was never that serious about playing it, like I took piano lessons in third grade—

Right, because everyone does.
J: [Laughs] Yeah, and like I took guitar lessons in middle school, memorized some songs, still know ‘em and don’t know anything else. But my dad is a sound engineer, so until I was in third grade, he was on tour most of the time, so we would go visit him and I would go to shows. And my parents’ group of friends are like, all these musicians that were playing in Boston in the late 80s and 90s, like this band Morphine.
H: I know Morphine!
J: You know Morphine? Yeah, they’re like my family friends. [Laughs] I don’t know, at family gatherings there was always music, just—music everywhere in my house.
H: I have one thing to add, just ’cause it’s one of the coolest things I’ve ever done: when I was in high school, I was in an all-female rap group that would only play at parties at the end of the night called Red Lips Big Hips. I just wanna let you guys know that ’cause it’s the best name I’ll ever come up with.

On their best song

I’m interested in what you guys think is your best song, just because someone behind me at your show—right when you started playing a song—was like, ‘This is the best song they’ve ever written’ and I’m interested to hear what you guys think it was.
M: Ooh, we have to guess? Hmm, I don’t know.
H: Wait, do you wanna know something kinda funny?

H: At our last show, our roommate was there and afterwards, she was like, ‘The guy behind me just kept being like, ‘The blonde one’s really hot’ [laughs].
M: [Laughs] I was so pained and proud at the same time. But our best song…I feel like the songs we write together, in the moment, are our favorites to play.
H: Also, every time Marina—we’ll send each other things that we’re working on by ourselves, and every time Marina sends me a song, I’m like, ‘this is my favorite one you’ve ever written.
M: [Laughs] That’s how I feel about yours!
H: Every time she sends me a new one. I hope that sentiment doesn’t like, lose its value cos every time I’m like, ‘ah, this is the best one.’ But I do really—I love your songs.
M: Aw, thanks.
H: I don’t play anything on “Hot Dog Song” but I think it’s my favorite one to play because it’s just so fun.

It is! It sounds a lot like First Aid Kit to me, just in terms of
the vocals.

M: Oh, yeah, I do see that.
H: Also, I hated playing “Philly” because I was just so over it until we added the yelling part.
M: Yeah, I think the most fun to play, for me, is “Hot Dog Song.” At this moment in time. [pause] What about you, Jacob?
H: Yeah, what’s our best song, Jacob?
J: Well, fun to play is different from the best. I think some of the best songs are the ones where I do the least. [Laughs] But um, hmm…

Or, what’s your favorite?
J: I don’t know, “Too Nice Outside”? That’s always been my favorite. That song gives me the chills.
M: Oh, wait, I actually retract my answer for most fun to play personally—it’s “Dark Thoughts” because I get to play the xylophone.

I love that song, it’s one of my favorites. Honestly, it’s a tie between that one and “Neighbors” for my fave on the new release.
H: Really? I never wanna play “Neighbors”!

I really liked it!
H: Shit! Thanks!

Was that real?
H: Yeah, I was here alone one night and our next-door neighbors were having a really loud, sad breakup, and I was playing music already and just like, ‘these are two chords and here are some words…’ [Laughs]

Yeah, I really like that one. The one that the audience member behind me said was your best was “I Wanna Start a Band,” which I also think is tip-top.
M: I think that’s the first song I’ve written that I’ve ever showed anyone. And then we finished it together.
H: We did finish it together.
M: The last verse and then the yelling part.
J: That’s the anthem.

The yelling is really good. And it sounded really good with the drums too.
M: The drum really changes the game.

It does. It was a game changer.
H: The thing too is like—keeping rhythm, we didn’t worry about it when it was just the two of us ’cause we’d just be like ‘this part’s fast, this part’s slow’ but then Jacob came in and we were like, fuck. [Laughs] “I Wanna Start a Band” was so hard to learn ’cause there were so many changes.

Yeah, I love when songs go through tempo changes though. My personal favorite of yours would have to be—I just have “Whiskey Song” stuck in my head all the time. Like, since I first heard it.
H: Written on this floor.
M: That was the first song we wrote together.
H: Marina spilled whiskey all over my floor—look, there’s a stain right there.

Oh my god, the stain!
H: The stain! And then we wrote that song together.




Sleepovers will be performing at The Shop in Worcester on April 22. To hear and purchase the music from the “rough cuts” and “voicememo demos” EPs, visit their page on Bandcamp. 

Sasha Kohan is a graduating senior at Clark University studying English and film. To read more of her work on music and movies, visit her website. 




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Days in Pink and Sometimes Nights

Spring 2016, Uncategorized

by Sasha Kohan


The last handful of nature essays toppled on their sides as the fat hardcover encyclopedia of insects that had been acting as a bookend was swiftly grabbed and tucked away. Julian liked the nature section. It was small and squashed between science and travel, and even though he knew nothing about particles or marshlands or Buenos Ares or bumblebees, he liked to read the names of books in his journey down the alphabet, and think of things he’d never thought of before. Words like “quantum” and “archdruid” and “invertebrate” filled his head, empty and meaningless and curious sounds. Metaphysics, he thought, stopping to look at a metaphysics book. I’ve never considered metaphysics before, and I may never again. And he continued down the row.

  Photography by Sasha Kohan

  Photography by Sasha Kohan

 Nothing was quite as satisfying for Julian as a calm day at the bookstore, when he could leisurely push carts across the carpeted floor without clumsily meandering through clusters of lost husbands, trinket-finding seeking kids and book club mothers. He could hide for a while in each section, and flip through the books to see what font they used. (Dante, Baskerville—Garamond was his favorite. He even saw Cochin once.) There was a special kind of calm on Mondays, after the frantic herd of weekend shoppers completed all their spending goals, asking for books that didn’t exist and refusing sales pitches for discount cards. Sunday night was weary and relieved, while Monday morning was quiet and still. No one wanted to disrupt it first.


Entertainment was a disaster. Television, music bios, screenwriting, dance—they were all a mad jumble along the wall perpendicular to art (which had been systematically destroyed long ago—there was no hope). Julian often tried to find time in his shifts to sneak away to the music and arts corner of the store—at the far end, by the scant collection of CDs and pop vinyls—in vain attempts to alphabetize, but it was no use. (He nearly finished the section once, and was dismayed to find it in ruins again two days later.) Truly artistic people surely won’t care, he tried to convince himself, compensating for his own small failures. They’ll appreciate the long journey to finding just what they want. They probably prefer things not to be organized. He still tried, nonetheless.

 “Um, excuse me?”

 Julian turned away from the dishearteningly disorganized shelves to a girl with freckles, dimples, and glasses. She was shorter than him, and there was a cynicism in her eyes and maturity in the way her hair fell around her frame. He coughed.

 “Yes, can I help you find something?” Julian asked. He hoped he sounded uninterested.

 “Yeah, I’m looking for maps. Like road maps.” She kept buttoning and unbuttoning the left sleeve of her green flannel. Her fingernails were painted green.

 “Okay, those are actually at the other end of the store by science, um…” Julian hated walking the length of the floor with customers, but he saw no other reasonable option. “Just—come with me.” He never knew whether to lead or walk beside people, but for the sake of avoiding small talk, he chose to lead, and took a brisk pace down the aisle.

 “I need something for the Southwest, in particular.” Julian was at once disappointed and nervously excited to see that she was taking especially long strides to keep up with him.

 “Yep, everything we’ve got will be down here,” he said. He stared straight ahead as they marched past psychology and science fiction, health, relationships and fantasy, but he could see her looking expectantly at his profile. Now feeling obliged to keep some sort of conversation alive, he added, “What are you doing in the Southwest?” He could see Quentin behind the café counter, stolidly ringing someone up for a mocha frappuccino. His long fingers always managed to look elegant, even punching $3.29 into the register.

 “I don’t know yet,” the girl said. She smiled bashfully. “I’m hoping I’ll figure it out on the drive.”


 Plastic knives snapped. Straw wrappers crinkled. The blender whirred. Smells of coffee and cream and caramel flavoring bled from the confines of the café counter. They swept around the sore feet of customers posed casually at little round black tables by the home and garden magazines, filling the air with dusty bits of dark chocolate, raspberries, and cinnamon. Julian pushed a black wire cart towards the microwave where Quentin always put the go-backs, wondering whether he would miss this someday. A slice of blueberry pie had just finished heating up, and the terrible whining alarm beeped loudly amid the nearby chatter of impatient tutors and students, parents, associates, and the rustle of a New York Times from the hands of an old man in the corner. Julian stopped and heard the collection of sounds, then spotted a small stack of magazines lying on the counter. He felt his phone vibrate in the front pocket of his apron, but ignored it. As he picked up the assortment, Quentin came wandering out of heavy metal double doors that led to the kitchen. He had recently dyed the front of his bleach blonde head a vibrant magenta, accentuating his blue eyes and the ring through his eyebrow, and causing Julian to do a double take almost every time he saw him. The microwave stopped beeping.

 “Hey,” said Julian, placing the magazines in the cart one at a time in order to catch all the sections. Golf, regional, technology, games. Golf, regional, technology, games. Golf, regional, technology, games. He thought it several times while Quentin unhurriedly extracted the slice of pie and moved it onto a cool plate.

 “Hey,” said Quentin. He never said much.

 “How is it over here today?” Despite the café and the bookstore being in the same building—indeed, part of the same chain—making the trip behind the counter always felt like an exotic field trip for Julian.

 “Not bad.” Quentin gracefully sprayed a puff of whipped cream over the pie and brought it to the pick-up side. “Blueberry pie with cream?” he asked the general area indifferently. An old woman with white sneakers claimed it, after a few moments of uncertainty. Julian wheeled his cart back onto the open floor. Turning around to instinctively check that he hadn’t forgotten anything, he saw Quentin looking absently after him. They briefly saw each other and then both looked away.


 It was overcast and crowded. It was a bad day.

 After spending nearly a half hour with one woman who fervently wanted an original copy of Edith Wharton’s first book on interior design (it was impossible), Julian was desperate for his lunch break. The flow of irritable or otherwise unremarkable customers had been nonstop since eleven, and he found it a bit exhausting to be so completely unappreciated sometimes. A microwavable meal with lukewarm water always made the day a little better, though.

 In the break room, Skip was already immersed in a new mystery book, waiting for his leftover Chinese to cool down. He didn’t look up as Julian crossed the scuffed tiled floor to reach his ramen noodles. Skip read more than anyone else in the store—teen fiction, biographies, military history, bestsellers, cult classics—nothing was outside his realm of interest, and he had a suggestion for everyone. Julian stood by the microwave as the timer went down, absentmindedly taking out his phone. Three new messages from Clare. The door opened again, and Julian quickly put his phone back as Quentin came through. He nodded at Julian, then briskly went to the fridge.

 “Your hair looks really cool, by the way,” said Julian, realizing he had never actually said anything about it despite the frequency with
which he noticed it. Quentin’s smooth blank face was buried in the refrigerator light, but when he surfaced he was smiling. The microwave went off. Julian reached in for his Tupperware of noodles, but quickly withdrew. It was too hot.


 It was nearly time to close, but the graphic novel section was still full with the usual crowd of pale, skinny, manga-reading kids with dyed hair and black outfits who looked rather like anime characters themselves. Julian didn’t mind that they sat in the store and read manga all day because the books were too expensive to buy, but he dreaded the end of the night when he would have to crawl through their small haunts, picking up the abandoned volumes and finding space for them in the tightly-packed shelves. He went out back to grab his cigarettes and tell Pete he’d be taking his last break.

 Outside, the air was cool and almost smelled of October. Julian dug through his pockets for a lighter, wondering how long it would be until the true October smell washed over the sky.

 “Hey, I know you.”

 Julian looked up. He almost didn’t recognize the freckled, dimpled, bespectacled girl who stood before him once again. She was smiling. He coughed.

 “Oh—yeah—Southwest girl! Road maps. Right?” She nodded happily. Julian took another drag, and hoped he looked cool. “So when’s the big trip?”

 “Tomorrow, actually,” she said. He might have imagined it, but it seemed like her smile started to fade.

 “No kidding,” he said. “Lucky you.” He exhaled and watched the smoke float off.


 The day was winding down, and the children’s books were everywhere. Julian was hardly surprised to see that Carla, the curvy brunette who wore her hair down, was taking her time picking them up. She was always looking for an excuse not to be on register.

 “Can you believe shit like this?” she asked, flicking her brown eyes up at him. “Sometimes I just can’t believe shit like this. Like, pick up after your fucking kids, this isn’t a goddamn daycare.” Carla had a monotone, husky kind of voice, ideal for complaining and passing on gossip in low tones (which she often did, between the far-left territories of Westerns and romance). Julian knelt to pick up a stray Elmo behind her.

 “When are you done?” he asked, tucking the plush red puppet back on the shelf with Big Bird and Grover.

 “Fucking forever ago,” said Carla. She threw a copy of Goodnight Moon onto a pile of baby bathtub books with excessive aggression. “I was supposed to be out at eight, but fucking Pete always takes fucking forever to count the registers. I actually had plans on a Saturday night, believe it or not.”

 Julian looked around, past the neon pink activity section for girls and out to the main doors. There were no clocks in the entire store, and without a cell phone to risk getting caught looking at, one had no choice but to gauge the time of day based on what little natural light came through the front windows. Julian estimated it to be around nine o’clock.

 “Hey, aren’t you leaving soon too? Like for real?” Carla looked up from her place sitting crisscross on a rug shaped like a frog’s face. “When’s your last day?”

 Julian was shuffling towards a woman who looked vaguely lost by the new fiction display. “Monday,” he said, turning back for an instant.


 The store had been closed for thirty-six minutes when Julian finally finished vacuuming and cleaning the bathrooms. He was scheduled to open tomorrow, and so went through each closing ceremony with a bittersweet tenderness because he knew it would be the last time. This is the last time I’ll spray this eco-friendly surface cleaner on this bathroom mirror, he thought, spraying the eco-friendly surface cleaner onto the bathroom mirror, wiping it away with sad satisfaction. He looked at his fresh, lemon-scented reflection. His shaggy black hair would surely be cut before the journey back to school, and the dozen or so freckles around his nose would fade with the summertime. He switched the lights off and wheeled the mop bucket through the staff entrance to the kitchen.

 Spending the last twenty-four minutes of his shift wandering through the rows of fiction, Julian absentmindedly pushed books back and forth, straightening the titles and front-facing the ones he liked best. The tired alternative-pop music rang through the empty space above the shelves and in between them.

 “Wasting time?” Quentin appeared from behind the Dickens and Dostoevsky.

 Julian laughed. “There’s not much else to do,” he said, front-facing a Junot Díaz book. Quentin stuck his thumbs in his back pockets.

 “Word on the street is, you’re outta town soon,” he said, looking at the floor. “Are you coming back for Christmas?”

 Julian had untied his black apron and started the big move across the store and towards the break room. Quentin followed suit. “I’m not sure yet,” said Julian. “Will you still be around?”

 “Hell no,” said Quentin, rolling his eyes. “If I’m still here at Christmas, kill me.”

 He laughed a little bit, and Julian did too. Another pop song came on. A microwave went off. A new and tired life started somewhere as the sun went down, but neither of them noticed anything except the smell of the books, and the sound of each other’s sneakers hitting the thin blue carpet.


Sasha Kohan is a graduating senior at Clark University studying English and film. To read more of her work, visit her website.

Orange Berlin

Spring 2016, Uncategorized

by Emma R. Collins   


Berlin Street scene at the corner of Moll- strasse and Hans-Beimler-Strasse / Volkmar Thie / akg-images / Universal Images Group  

Berlin Street scene at the corner of Moll- strasse and Hans-Beimler-Strasse / Volkmar Thie / akg-images / Universal Images Group  

She has blue eyes, the same blue that waits outside my window on a clear, cold day. She rides a red bike, red like her lips when they curl up, full of open-mouthed smiles. She laughs at things I don’t understand. I love her. But I’m afraid.

I called her when I had nothing left, hoping maybe she could spirit me away. A dark place. A lonely place. She was the only one my throbbing head could think of sitting on the bathroom floor. She would make everything alright again. And I was so happy when she told me, “Come on!” …because she didn’t understand, and I couldn’t stomach telling her. So I went.

Now I live where the street lights at night turn the windows orange. Feeble light. She’s a rush of color and sound that can overwhelm a simple person with simple problems. And my problems must still be simple, because she drowns me locked up behind dirty old orange windows.

It was so like her. Not to ask. Just do. I called her when they threw me out of the house in disgrace and she smelt me like blood in the water. It was a new adventure. A new chance. New life. And now I’m here, in this place, in this country, and the lights down below change: a bloody red, a sweet green, a dirty orange.

Only three weeks have gone by. The light bulb in my desk lamp is blown out. I was wrong. I’m an invader here. I sit in the twilight and resent my useless lamp. Inside my room it’s quiet and dark, a cold womb. I like it there. She can’t stand things that are stagnant. She drags me out prematurely. I’m only an infant here. I wish she would just hold me and tell me it would be okay.

My Beth.

Tell me it’ll all be okay.


A door slams somewhere below us. The muffled sounds of people living other lives filter up between floorboards I haven’t swept yet. I want to read. Because I can’t possibly do anything else. But I need to be near her. Something flamenco comes from small, orange speakers flecked with flour. The kitchen is warm and the windows fog with a breath of gourmet.

“Dellie, watch. Watch!”

I look up to see Beth tip her head back, open-mouthed and smiling, as she tosses her hand-kneaded dough into the air. She laughs and catches it again, punching a small hole. She starts singing as she drops the dough onto the countertop. She has a Barcelona accent to her Spanish.


“I wish we had a brick oven,” Beth groans with a breathy sigh. “Did I ever tell you about the time I made one with Max and Sean?” Her hips sway as she smooths the dough. “I got the mortar all over my brand new jeans. I was so mad!”

“Mmm,” I said. My book sits limply in my lap. The kitchen smells of tomato sauce. She made it by hand. It simmered all morning while I slept. My open-mouthed world is never shy about starting the day without me.

“Have you ever tried to make something like that?” she asks me.

I raise my eyebrows. “I made um, a bridge once.”

“Really?” Her eyes are so big and blue.

“Just a little one,” I murmur. “For a project. About physics. It was just um, wood. Those popsicle stick things.” It never occurred to me that while I was babysitting and cleaning houses, trying to pass a high school physics class…I could have been making brick ovens.

“There’s just something about working with stone, you know? It really makes you start to appreciate those old buildings and how beautiful they are. How much time and work goes into something like that. Makes you wish they still built things that way.”

“Mmm.” I’m pretty sure they did, but instead I look down at my book. The flamenco  music sways. Something hitches in my stomach and I bite down on a sore lip. I cough once, and look at her. She’s slicing pepperoni, a mound of fresh mozzarella at her elbow. And I think, maybe. Now? “…Beth?”

There’s a heavy whump. followed the grunt of a too-big door grinding over an old wooden floor I haven’t swept yet. I catch myself as the door to their flat, our flat, shakes and shudders open.

Kaminey!” a warm voice exclaims.Someone needs to fix this!” In through the sliver of space that has been pushed open comes the small body of tiny Indian girl with dusky brown skin all wrapped up in jeans and a heavy leather jacket.

Beth doesn’t hear me when I ask her name, so she answers the Hindi explicative with a few phrases of her own. There’s a brief exchange, mild banter. I feel ten thousand miles away.

“It’s getting a lot better!” Rajani smiles, switching to English for what I know is my sake and mine alone.

Beth laughs, pretty and open-mouthed. “I bought this old Hindi dictionary. It probably sounds very formal.”

Rajani laughs in return. “Very university!” The tiny Indian girl pushes back against the too-big front door and mutters under her breath. Once the door is closed again and she’s locked everything she throws me a smile and tosses her book bag onto one of the many-colored chairs that surround their, our kitchen table.

“What are you reading?” Rajani asks.

I feel a warm embarrassment flush my face. “Oh, um…” I look at the cover of my book as if I’d never seen it before. “Rising.”

“Who wrote it?”

I shrug. “Um, David Tanner?”

“Didn’t he write that stupid series about that spy guy? Raji, taste this. I got it from the Metzger right around the corner.” Beth hands off a slice of fresh pepperoni and mozzarella. I sink a little lower into my pillow and blanket while Rajani sucks playfully at Beth’s finger tips to taste the morsel. “I’m so happy I’m not a vegetarian anymore,” she sighs, satiated.

“Good, right?” Beth smiles, proud of herself.

“Yeah, he did,” I say, but quietly. I try not to be heard. I like David Tanner, and Ryan Crow, the black-listed CIA spy with a vendetta and the death of his wife to avenge. “He’s written a lot of stuff…”

“When does Harris get back?” Rajani wonders aloud.

“He has lab until four,” Beth informs her politely. “But Gunter should be back soon. I think he just went out for some groceries. Hey, do you guys want to go to the Rot Nacht Truppe  tonight? They’re doing this really cool interpretation
of Hamlet in the contemporary with modern dance and tango.”

I sit up suddenly. “Tonight?” But she doesn’t hear me, or she forgot, because she’s spreading the warm tomato sauce she made by hand over the dough and I’m just a passing thought.

Ja, sounds like fun.” Rajani spoke German fluently. She had been living in Berlin for three years, studying medicine. She’s going to be a neurosurgeon. She loves beer and wurst. I like Rajani. She’s kind, but she’s aware. I think she knows what I never say, but she never says it either.

“Dellie, you want to go?” Beth asks, again.

I swallow as if I had never spoken. “What?”

“Rot Nacht Truppe. Wanna go? Harris probably will, and Gunter.”

“I don’t think Gunter’s into that,” Rajani yawns.

“Daw, he’d like it,” Beth assures her. “It’s totally his thing.”

“I don’t really like them,” I admit, watching to see if her eyes come to me then.

“Aw, really?” And yes, they do, as if I’ve dropped some shocking revelation. “Why not?”

I stare at her. “They’re…intense.” They scared me.

“But that’s the point!” she cries.

“I think I’ll stay in.” She doesn’t remember at all. She doesn’t remember our dinner plans or the fact that I have been trying to get her to look at me, look at me, for more than fleeting second. Can’t you see it? Can’t you see it in me? But it’s not really worth mentioning now. I’d have had better luck catching the wind.

“You always stay in.”

“I’ll go,” Rajani says.

“See? Raji loves me!”

I feel very, very small.

They laugh and smile and eat fresh pepperoni from their finger tips and the hitch in my stomach makes me nauseous. I get up without them noticing and pad down the hall, dirt on my socks. I close the bathroom door behind me and turn on the faucet. The tap. I can’t remember the German word. I kneel in front of the toilet and feel my throat tighten. I’m grateful, for the first time, for a loud flamenco.


Beth went out. I don’t know where. Rajani went back to the university library to work on her paper. I come out of my room to find the pizza cold on the countertop. I want to eat, but my mouth is heavy with ash. The flat is dim. The skies are grey. There’s no color in the windows.

I try a bite, but it’s too sweet. Instead, I wash the dishes because I need to start pulling my weight and I try to think of words I should have known.

Faucet. Wasserhahn.

Water. Wasser,

Soap. Seife.

Clean. Sauber.

I am clean. Ich bin sauber.

Something hot opens my thumb and I gasp to see a plume of red born under the grey water. I snatch my hand back and the wound stings, blood running pink down my arm. I spot the knife at the bottom and wonder why I hadn’t seen it before. My stomach tightens with that familiar twitch and I run to the bathroom to find a bandaid.

There’s blood down my arm and in my sleeve, on the broken tile that’s tinged with age and down the side of the Wasserhahn, and I don’t know how to call for help in a country where my phone doesn’t work. I don’t have the money to buy one that does. I don’t know why I’m crying while I drain the blood with cold water, stinging my flesh. The cut is small, insignificant, but my heart hammers.

I hold my hand as if to make a plea with mein Gott, but when I find myself on my knees again, wrapped up in clumsy gauze with little more than a paper cut, I realize the tears are not for me. Not, at least, all of me. My stomach is taut like a drum and I look at the toilet but I close my eyes. I think of Beth. I’m scared she’ll find me here. But I want her to. I need her to.

Still, I’m scared of what she’ll say.

A heavy fist hits the door and I jump. A bored, firm demand to get the hell out, probably. I don’t know. I don’t know anything.

“S-sorry,” I call out. I fumble to mop up the red mess. The heavy fist hits again, and again, and I finally have to surrender. I’m still clutching the water-logged tissue dyed pink with my absent-minded stupidity when I open the door.

“Aw, Dellie!” Harris beams. He smells like sweat and damp wool. “Thought it was the Kraut. Sorry about that. Alright there?” He gives a nod to my hand. I hide it behind my back.

“Yeah, yeah.”

“Cut yourself?” He frowns. His hair is wet, a dark brown. He has a band of freckles across his large nose.

“I’m fine.”

“Yeah…alright. Well, I have to piss, so…” He grins.

“Right, yeah, sorry.” I duck away, hot and cold. Harris has the kind of face that makes you think you know him, or you’ve seen him somewhere before. I have. I’ve seen his face, or one like it, I should say, in the dim strobing light of a club, dazed and confused with an alcoholic kiss. I have a hard time looking at Harris, thinking about another face, in another country, whose grin isn’t as cheeky or sweet.

Harris says something else to me. Maybe it’s kind. I don’t know. I don’t really care either, because I’m trying to avoid him and thinking of the things he reminds me of. I just hope there isn’t any blood left. I wish my head was the same.

Rot, she had said. Red..

I go to my bedroom, a tiny room that feels more forgotten than home. But it’s safe. I close my door, forget my bulb is blown, and pull the rough-hewn blanket to my chin.


Beth came home while I slept.

She’s gone again in the morning, no note. Rajani says she may have gone for a run. She may as well have flown to the moon. The kitchen smells of something fresh-baked, a pastry I can’t pronounce. Rajani leaves with Harris to study and, as always, I remain.

After a while, when my tea has gone cold, I decide I’ll read. My room is dark. I try to turn on my lamp. Nothing changes. I stand there for a moment, and in that moment, with a throb in my thumb and a hollow in my stomach, I don’t think of her.

I don’t think o
f when I called her, asking if I could stay.

I don’t think of the moment I walked away from that place where no one would have me, pretending she was all I’d ever need.

I don’t think of making that choice on a cold day in November, when I had already been so alone.

I don’t think of what I want, what I want so badly being her, all of her, every bit all for me. I want my future. Our future. All of us. I want an impossible future.

But I don’t think of any of those things, standing in the grey dim of an early-winter morning. Instead, I think of one thing. One very, simple thing.

A light bulb.

I fix my bandage in the bathroom. I don’t vomit this time. It must be passing now, into the next phase of my slow evolution. I almost smile. Almost. There is a dim scent of something musky hanging in the air. I breathe deep, recognizing Beth, the scent she always wears after a night of dancing, her long hair flying around her waist, flying around her shoulders, bare and a lovely pale. Her scent.

When I open my eyes my thumb is still sore. I tighten the bandaid and brush my hair while she settles into the fibers of my clothes. My stomach is calm. It’s quiet in the flat. Even the lives that go on beneath the floors I should sweep later seem to be hushed. For a very fragile moment, something lifts and I feel light.

I leave the bathroom with clean socks, and I remind myself to sweep the floors. I don’t make it past the kitchen though, because the too-big front door whumps  and drags open before I can escape.


But the frame that fills the threshold is tall, too tall, and big, with pale hair. She is small and dark, like a forgetting dream. This is a little more abrupt. A wakeup call, harsh and upfront.

His name is Gunter, and he is the only one among us born here. I see him on the off-hour, when nothing else in the universe seems to be happening. He comes and goes and it’s almost as if the flat is haunted. I might have seen him once in only his boxers, when he thought no one else was home and they still had to remind each other I lived here. He has a strange voice, as if cold glass could move.

I can’t recall in that moment if he speaks English or not. I gawk for a second, because he’s standing between me and my light bulb. But he seems to regard me as someone would a piece of furniture, maybe misplaced a few inches.

He comes in, closes the door, moves past me, and puts a cloth bag on the table. I hesitate for a second because I feel compelled to say something. The flat is quiet in the mornings. But this quiet is uncomfortable and very, very pregnant.


“There is ginger ale and crackers in the bag,” he tells me.

My thumb throbs. “What?”

Gunter gestures to the cloth bag. “For your stomach.”


He puts his keys on the table filled with notebooks on law and medicine and literature studies and futures.

“Um, thank you.”

He picks up a stack of mail to file through and I think that’s it. Quiet returns. There’s frost on the windows, white and fragile. Beth’s scent is still on my shoulders. I feel my stomach tighten because standing there in the presence of our formidable ghost, I suddenly decide that tonight I’ll tell her. I’ll tell her everything.

Lost in my own head, I don’t touch the bag as I walk by the table. I’m too busy constructing the fragile glass of what I will say to her when she finally comes sweeping in through the heavy front door. It takes a moment for me to pull on my old pair of hiking boots but eventually I remember how to tie a knot and straighten up to reached for the spare key.

“You should see a doctor,” Gunter says as I struggle to pull open the door, breaking my silent conversation.

“What?” Beth, where was Beth? “I don’t…”

“Go see a doctor, Dell,” he tells me. He sits down at the table with his mail in-hand and his eyes won’t let go.

“I don’t need a doctor,” I scoff, panicked.

He shrugs, but this time, his attention is firm.

“I don’t,” I insist. Maybe a little too loudly.

Gunter shakes his head. “You should go.” He stares at me with his dark, dark eyes.


Why, why anything, just why? This asshole. How could he ask me why…I don’t know why! Am I about to cry? My head hurts. My stomach is tight. All of the sudden the strength I thought I had rushes out of me. I’m so swollen under my too-big sweatshirt, and no one even bothered to ask. He just knows. But Beth didn’t even notice.

Why?” I snap now, edgy, sharp as ice because his silence has gone on far too long and Beth should be home soon. I hope. I can almost hear the snap-snappidy-snap of her boots trotting down the long, dirty hall outside. And my heart is in my head and I imagine her coming through the doorway and she’s smiling at me, her mouth open-wide and honest and simple.

“Hi, Dellie,” she’ll say to me, singing, wrapping me up in a hug. “Missed you last night. What did you want to tell me?”


But maybe I won’t have to say anything. Maybe, she’ll just know to love me, even with my mistakes. And we’ll be happy. Can’t we be happy?

“Go for your health,” Gunter is telling me, snapping me back to where I stand in the warped and scratched threshold of the too-big door.

“I am healthy.” I insist. I glare at him, challenging him, daring him to say what we both know has grown beyond silence now.

“Then for the baby’s,” he says. And as simple as that, he walks away from me. But I don’t have time to react, because I hear someone turning a key in the door and I’m not ready for her.


Emma R. Collins of Ashby, Massachusetts, studies English and Psychology at the College of the Holy Cross in Worcester, Massachusetts, and hopes to become a literary editor.

Photo credit: Berlin / Moll-/ Hans-Beimler-Str./ Photo. Photograph. Encyclopædia Britannica ImageQuest. Web. 14 Mar 2016. http://quest.eb.com/search/109_155594/1/109_155594/cite

Kites Under the Sun

Spring 2016, Uncategorized

by Adam Maarij

Wikimedia Commons

Wikimedia Commons

Ask me what I most remember about my birthplace, Baghdad, and I’d answer ‘’yellow.’’ I’m not sure whether my memories are fuzzy or I’m just mistaking dreams for reality, but the more I think about it, the more my hometown resembles a painting made of warm dust particles. This includes the yellow dusty brick walls of my house, the cracks of our concrete sidewalk, and the edges of Main Street, after which it just becomes a blur–yellow and dusty and devoid of any serene breeze. There was a field of brown dirt with clumps of withered grass and malnourished trees–eerie yet bewitching scenery. My parents though, say otherwise. They tell me that on the other side of the street were just more brick buildings. I am still reluctant to believe that the field did not exist, even though I was only five years old at the time.  It honestly shocks me, how many memories and tender emotions my five year old self kindly retained for me. Fake or not, most of my memories are simple fragments, such as me sprinting for my life from two other, much bigger kids, intent on beating me, while I laughed, my face red, relishing the exquisite pleasure of living on the edge.

Smart phones? Plasma TV? PS4? Ha! The very act of owning even a PS1 was a luxury not many could afford, much less a computer. Our main toys were our kites, which we made and flew with pride. The kites were typically crafted from sticks found on the streets and whatever material we could scratch up, all hitched to a thread that threatened to snap with each gust of wind. We all had our favorites. My older brother, Sarmad, a child blessed by the sun, had a red kite, while that of my oldest brother, Aseel, the smart child of the family, was black, white, green, and red patches poorly stitched together. Even though our kites were equally horrible, they did not fail to cause rivalry and arguments as to which was best. My father–a veteran at his craft– unsurprisingly surpassed us all with an eloquent blue, red, and white kite, perfectly symmetrical and devoid of any wrinkles (unlike his face). I wasn’t even in the running, since my favorite kind of kite amounted to one that was able to glide for a few fleeting moments without disintegrating.

We would gaze at them, adoring the kites’ refined dances over and over, never getting tired of its swaying to the left and to the right, up and down, and when the rare exhilarating breeze that would cool our lungs of the tepid air stuck within came, we would savor it.

The sun beamed brightly at us, unyielding. We would do better without you, thank you very much. I could not help but stare into it, to contest it, to see which one of us would surrender first and blink in shame. It was a battle that I always lost, of course. I hated losing, and I still do.

The rest of my precious memories are a scattered and disordered mess. What I do remember though, will probably stick with me for the rest of my life. My mother always reminds of the time she bought a bag as tall as I was full of small fish, and how we devoured them faster than the flames could roast them! Or that time when the power went out–and it often did–and my brothers and I went onto the balcony and let loose countless paper airplanes and watched them plunge for three or so floors, and then slept outside.

Sometimes at night we lay on the cool ground and gazed at the sky. With no sun and with very few lights, the stars and the moon were a pure, unforgettable white. I would smile and laugh for no apparent reason, and I felt blessed by the night and its glimmering stars. How magnificent they all were! They twinkled vividly and frantically as if they were oblivious to the shroud of the foolish, ghastly night.


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.


Crying at Work

Spring 2016, Uncategorized
Heraclitus (The Crying Philosoher) / By Johannes Moreelse (after 1602–1634)/Wikimedia Commons

Heraclitus (The Crying Philosoher) / By Johannes Moreelse (after 1602–1634)/Wikimedia Commons

by Joseph Benavidez

The first time I cried as a journalist was driving home after covering a frigid winter event. A month before, a 46-year-old man had gone missing, and his girlfriend, family, and friends were holding a candlelight vigil to draw attention to the case, which had gone cold. The vigil was held on the second floor of a tiny church, and the girlfriend and his sister spoke about the good qualities the man had and how much they missed him.

Being in that church was disconnecting  for me. Mentally, I knew a man was missing and probably dead, but emotionally I felt nothing for the man or his family. I interviewed the girlfriend, taking her quotes before effortlessly moving onto the sister and then another attendee. During the moment of silence, I took photos of the small crowd praying. I did my job and left the church happy and proud of myself. I felt like a real journalist and not a college student playing pretend.

But on the drive home it hit me. This guy was dead and no one was ever going to say goodbye to him. In rural Massachusetts, a body can stay hidden in the woods for decades. Without warning, I found myself overwhelmed by a crushing wave of sadness.

Winter on Route 2 means ice, darkness and, if you don’t pay attention, accidents. Everyone who grew up along the highway has a story of teens dying in a car crash; and here I was, alone, crying fat, ugly tears. I forced myself to pull over and rolled down the window to let the cold chill my face. It wasn’t enough and I ended up calling my best friend.

We talked for almost an hour before I calmed down and felt it was safe to drive home.

*       *      *

To tell the truth, this wasn’t the only time I cried at work. When you’re the primary reporter for an area, you cover everything–fires, natural disasters, deaths, and fundraisers for community members suffering terminal illnesses.

One Tuesday at 6 p.m. a barn caught on fire in Phillipston, the middle of nowhere. I had finished writing my articles for the day and was preparing to head home when the scanner in the newsroom announced the Phillipston Fire Department was requesting backup.

Phillipston is farm country. With fewer than 2,000 residents, it seems there are more cows than people. My editor asked if I would drive out and take a photo. Something for the front page that would grab attention at the newsstand.

I drove the 12 miles to where firefighters from three towns were battling the blaze. The homeowners were not present, but their 27-year-old daughter, who had called 9-1-1, was there.

Before leaving the office, my editor had coached me on how to approach people in such situations

“Be kind,” she’d said. “Ask if it’s okay to take photos. I like to ask if they want some water or something to drink.”

With that advice in mind, I approached the daughter, asked if she needed something to drink, joking that I was finally over 21 so I could legally buy her some vodka.

She laughed. I counted that as a victory. “I don’t know how it started,” she continued, “but the rabbits were still in their cages. I’d just delivered 24 piglets today and now…now they’re gone.”

I couldn’t walk away–these were amazing quotes and my article was going to be 100 times better if I could just get her to cry.

“Did you name them?” It slipped out before I could think about it.

“No, not yet.” She smiled weakly, and I knew she wasn’t going to answer any more questions.

The journalist walks a tight line between asking appropriate questions and being an asshole. I hope I never crossed that line, but I do think I might have picked at people’s wounds a little too soon.

*     *     *

Another time work gave me emotional whiplash was when Jeremiah Oliver’s body was discovered. The Oliver case gained nationwide notoriety, culminating in the fall of 2014 when the head of the Massachusetts Department of Children and Families resigned in disgrace.

Five-year-old Jeremiah lived with his brother, sister, mother, and his mother’s boyfriend in Fitchburg. His biological father, Jose Oliver, had been arrested on drug possession years earlier and the courts had awarded his mother full custody, marking the family as a case for state check-ins.

In October of 2013, Jeremiah disappeared. A month later, his mother finally reported him missing when a school counselor informed police that she hadn’t seen Jeremiah in a while.

When the word got out that Jeremiah had been missing for over a month before police were notified, news vans raced to Fitchburg to report on the little boy who had been forgotten. Articles and editorials flooded the newspapers. Search parties with cadaver dogs from Connecticut met almost weekly. Churches held prayer vigils. Jeremiah’s biological father was arrested for drug possession again. Anything remotely related to the case made front pages on all the papers.

Fast forward to April 20,14. A suitcase with a boy’s lifeless body inside is found off the highway not far from Jeremiah’s hometown. At the time I was vacationing in Los Angeles. My best friend saw the news and texted me.

I immediately went to the hotel lobby to watch a blonde newscaster on the large-screen TV relay details of the find. It wasn’t confirmed for another week, but everyone knew that Jeremiah had been found.The first story I had ever written as a reporter had come to a close–Jeremiah had been shoved into a suitcase and thrown on the ground as if he was a piece of garbage.

I sat in the lobby stupefied, remembering something one of Jeremiah’s neighbors said when I had interviewed her during the initial search.

“I’ve lived here over six years and I’ve never said hello to him,” she said that snowy morning. “If I couldn’t help him when he was alive, I’ll help him now.”

I couldn’t help Jeremiah when he was alive and now that he was dead, I asked myself, “Did I help him or did I profit from his death?”

I still don’t have an answer for that. I was gleeful when my article and photographs about the search landed on the front page of the paper, buying copies for my mom, my sister, myself, three friends and a former boss, smiling widely when I delivered them.

Some days I feel guilty over that pride, other days I don’t.

I quit being a journalist after two years. Too many heartbreaks, too many late nights. Still, it’s probably the only career where crying at work is a sign of job well done, and I’m not ashamed of those tears.


Joseph Benavidez is an editor for Buck Off Magazine, proud cat daddy and was a sexy Captain America for Halloween. He enjoys taking photos, sleeping until noon, and reading flash fiction. A graduate of Salem State University, he has left journalism and e
mbarked upon a literary career.


Mirror, Mirror

Spring 2016, Uncategorized

by Zulezzat Fatima


Joan Slatkin / Omni-Photo Communications, Inc. / Universal Images Group

Joan Slatkin / Omni-Photo Communications, Inc. / Universal Images Group

She rules over this cold, unforgiving fortress with its dark, dark chambers. And her heart lies in the darkest of them all–the forbidden one, The Master Chamber. She’s already halfway there before she realizes where her feet are carrying her. She doesn’t need to raise her hand to the big, grey latch; the door opens automatically. And the shadows on either side of the huge door bow to their Queen as she enters. Her eyes however, seek only The Mirror.

                                                 *     *     *         

Through the fogged surface of the barred window, a beautiful girl of eighteen can be seen celebrating her legality very liberally. She’s almost completely drunk when a handsome stranger turns up and asks her for a dance.

In the welcoming warmth of a café, the young couple sits with steaming mugs of coffee before them. He’s charming and she’s all smiles.

The ocean licks the sand at their feet as they stroll down the beach hand in hand.

She’s laid on his chest, head against his throat as his hand on her breast as they fall asleep together.

He leaves for two weeks. An “official tour.” She misses him, so she calls him, but more often than not he’s too busy to reply. And when he does, he’s short, almost rude. And then he stops picking up the phone altogether.

When he returns home, she drives to his house early in the morning. A young blond informs her that he’s out. She returns home in a daze and spends the next few days trying to come out of it. When she does, she wishes she hadn’t, because the reality is too suffocating to bear. So she sets off for a bar, for the remedy of alcohol. It dulls the memories.

The moment she enters the bar, her eyes fall on him, sitting with his arm around the waist of an expensive-looking brunette, his thumb stroking intimate circles onto the skin exposed by her tight top.

She backs out of the place without a drink. Goes home to pick up the broken pieces of her heart and try to sellotape them together. She fails.                                                                                                                                                                           

*     *     *

And so she built a fortress, albeit one with cracked walls. She looks into the damaged mirror. She thought they were meant to be, but reality begs to differ.

The glass falls to the floor, shattering into smithereens.


Zulezzat Fatima lives in Lahore, Pakistan, and attends Lahore Grammar School. She enjoys reading, debating, and creative writing.

Photo credit: CRACKED MIRROR.. Photography. Encyclopædia Britannica ImageQuest. Web. 10 Mar 2016.

Where Are You From?

Spring 2016, Uncategorized
Steve Gorton and Karl Shone/ Dorling Kindersley / Universal Images Group

Steve Gorton and Karl Shone/ Dorling Kindersley / Universal Images Group

by Amanda Bigler


Five minutes after flying into Chicago O’Hare airport, I briefly watched Fox News on the television. Having spent the past three months in the region of Lorraine in France, and having resided in the United Kingdom since 2012, I had forgotten (or perhaps shut out) how blunt American media and politics have become. Donald Trump’s face popped up in between segments on Muslim fear. Car and food commercials chattered in between talking heads and propaganda. The shunning of Syrian refugees and scrutiny of President Obama’s religion were broken up by Taco Bell Crunchwrap! Live Mas! and Ford F-150, Built Ford Tough! At that point in time, I could understand the perceptions that other countries have of Americans: perpetual capitalism and consumption sprinkled with bias. I felt an embarrassment about my nationality that lurks beneath the surface every day, influenced by my encounters in both France and England.




The East Midlands is a rural region in England, which causes foreigners to stand out more than they would in, say, London. When walking through the crowded market square, I would often put a lilt into my words to mimic the local accents. If I didn’t cover up my hard Kansas accent, I would always be asked the inevitable question “Where are you from?” When answering “Kansas,” half of the time the inquisitor would reply “like Texas?” and I would not correct them. In the States, Kansas and Texas are two highly different entities (never confuse Kansas City and Texas barbecue). The Breadbasket of America is quite different from the state where “everything’s bigger, y’all,” but in the United Kingdom, I don’t have to be nit-picky; they both consist of fields, cattle, rural pride, and cowboy hats.




The question that always surprised me, however, and one that I was asked multiple times, was “Are you Canadian?” At first I believed it was because my speech had been affected by living in England for some months, but one day a stranger let slip the true reason. After replying that I was, in fact, American, he explained, “Oh, okay. I just didn’t want to insult you if you were Canadian.” The opinion of my Americanness and that it could possibly be insulting to someone else, in essence, insulted me.




Two months after this incident, I was detained at Heathrow Airport and eventually deported. I had a valid entry visa and was continuing my Masters degree at Loughborough University, but I had not purchased a return ticket, and it didn’t help that my jet-lag made my answers slightly unintelligible over the eleven-hour interrogation and overnight detainment. I was surprised that the loudest thought in my head was But I’m American. I’m not from some third world country. I have money. I’m spending money here. The entitlement I felt echoes the media mentality I had lambasted in Chicago.




Sitting in the overnight detention barracks, I was surrounded by women of various ethnic origins. Though through appearances I believed I could assimilate easier into British culture (being a native English-speaking white girl), I understood then that my subconscious entitlement no longer existed. This revelation made me ashamed of my own notions and lost in my sense of identity.




I have since moved to Metz, France, with my French fiancé as I finish my Ph.D. remotely. France is a country I had fallen in love with as a teenager, and I was anxious to return. Leaving the rain and the mushy peas of England, a part of me was relieved to experience change. I soon realized the devices I had been relying on in England to blend in could not be used in France. I cannot alter my accent, as the pronunciation of certain words still escape me. I cannot hear the difference, for example, between “rougir” (blush) and “rugir” (roar). I sometimes have a difficult time expressing myself, and I fear that my personality is lost in translation.




Unlike the Brits, the French people I have encountered have been direct when pointing out my American accent. When I studied in Paris in 2007, I was spit on for having George Bush as a president. This time around, I am often asked questions about politics, though so far sans bodily fluids (“Donald Trump, really? It isn’t a joke to you?”). I am also asked about implied American issues with French cuisine (“Can you eat paté? Snails? Foie gras?” etc.) I reply with a smile, as I had in England, because I believe these perceptions are ingrained in each person’s mind, just as my own American stereotypes presented themselves at Heathrow.




It is quite difficult to be a non-European Union citizen residing in both the United Kingdom and France. There is a constant stream of never-ending documentation that distances me from the citizens. In England, I obtained three separate visas, one of which was cancelled when I was deported. I finally received my residence permit, but each time I return to the country it is with trepidation and a pit in my stomach. My name has now been flagged and I am always rigorously questioned at the border, even with my permit and visa in hand. Over the past four years there has been an increase in the practice of detaining law-abiding immigrants to boost immigration restriction statistics. Similarly in France, I am required to obtain a full medical physical, radiological scan, and bloodwork to reside as a “visiteur de long sejour” (long-stay visitor). Even the title of my visa in question seems alienating. I am PACSed with my partner, and therefore am given the right to remain in France. The word “visiteur” has a short-lived connotation, and reminds me that I do not belong.




Coming back to the ever-looming question “Where are you from?” I do not know how to reply. I have not lived in America for nearly four years now, and even when I did, I felt that I did not truly fit in. I am technically a resident of the United Kingdom, yet I feel uncomfortable entering the country. I reside in France, but am considered a visitor.




What I do know is that through these experiences my personal identity has been muddled and, perhaps, expanded. The negative and often trying experiences have, in their own way, solidified my connection with each country. Though I might not belong in any of the three countries, they are all a part of me. Assimilation or, in the case of the United States, acceptance must be worth the struggle, or I would not have the passion to continue to do so.  When I am in England, I find myself missing the wide open Kansas skies that stretch for miles and the bittersweet smell of French boulangeries in the morning. In France, I wish I could have a chat with the bright-eyed Loughborough market vendor or hop into a car with the windows down driving for hours on K-10.




The next time I am in America, I will turn off the media diatribe. The American perception of America should be cultivated through oneself, as the authority lies within each American to determine his or her own culture. As for myself, I will lie in a field of wheat listening to the crickets chirp, feeling the roll of thick, warm wind on my face, and dream about cheerful strangers that call me “duck” and the peacefully lazy current of la Moselle.







Amanda Bigler grew up in Altamont, Kansas. She studied literature with a creative writing emphasis from the University of Kansas and completed her MA in Literature at  Loughborough University (U.K.)  in 2013. She is finishing her doctorate at Loughborough University in the Department of English and Drama. Represented by Ravenswood Publishing, she had her first novel, The Takers, published in 2015. She currently resides in France with her partner.

Photo credit: Blue gold-printed cover of a US passport. P
hotography. Encyclopædia Britannica ImageQuest. Web. 10 Mar 2016. http://quest.eb.com/search/118_846071/1/118_846071/cite


John Palaeologus: Meme of the Ancients

Spring 2016, Uncategorized

by Andrew Montiveo

John Palaeologus / Wikimedia Commons

John Palaeologus / Wikimedia Commons

In the 55 years he walked this earth, John Palaeologus left behind no great monument, no work of scholarship, and–despite three marriages–no children. Instead, he left behind his image, and that was enough for him to be remembered by. That image was to give John a long and colorful afterlife, one that traversed the boundaries of time, space, and media. More importantly, his image was destined to be the ancestor to the most pervasive and perplexing of modern phenomena–the meme.

John was the eighty-sixth ruler of Byzantium, the medieval heart of Orthodox Christendom.1 He ascended the throne in 1425, becoming the eighth member of the House Palaiologos to rule the Byzantine Empire. Thirteen years after his ascent, he journeyed to Italy to meet with Pope Eugenius IV and try to end nearly four centuries of schism.

During this visit, John encountered Antonio di Pisanello, an artist in the service of Niccolò III, marquis of Ferrara. The marquis commissioned Pisanello to design a medallion that would commemorate John’s visit to the city.2 The emperor’s profile would be on the obverse side; a scene of him on horseback would be on the reverse.

The first examples appeared less than a year later. By then, the Byzantine and Roman delegations signed a ceremonial union of churches. However, neither the union nor its signatories had much time left on this earth: Eugenius died in 1447, and John in ‘48. Byzantium fell to the Turks five years later, ending the symbolic reunification of Christendom. John, his sole achievement undone, seemed destined to be forgotten.

And yet he wasn’t. John–or at least his likeness, his mîmêma–survived. Orders for Pisanello’s medallion continued until the artist’s death in 1455. The papacy, enamored with the design, went so far as to have its own artist, Antonio di Filarete, reproduce Pisanello’s medallion en masse.3 By the 1460s, John’s likeness could be seen on frescoes, tapestries, ceramics, busts, doorways, and even funerary monuments.

John’s image was taking on a life of its own. The subject may have been dead, but his mîmêma was thriving across different media. It appeared that John’s epilogue was to last much longer than anyone imagined.

The portraiture of Pisanello and Filarete only touched upon the value of John’s image. He was not just some opulently attired monarch: He was, to Italians of the time, a glimpse to a distant epoch. Even in the fifteenth century, Byzantine society held a reputation as a curator of Greco-Roman antiquity, an antiquity that Italians of the Renaissance were obsessed with reviving.

To the philosopher, John was a link to Socrates, Plato, and Aristotle. To the theologian, John was a living glimpse to the era of Christ and the Apostles. To the artist, John, exotically attired, was a work of art in himself. For everyone, John’s image was a graspable, illustrated vestige of a time, perhaps a place, lost to the ages. He was, in a sense, the embodiment of nostalgia.

Where Pisanello and Filarete replicated John’s likeness, later artists took liberty with the emperor’s image. Benozzo Gozzoli cast John as one of the three Biblical Magi on a tapestry for Cosimo de’ Medici. Piero della Francesca cast the emperor in the role of Constantine the Great. Hans Holbein the Elder placed John in the seat of Pontius Pilate, sentencing the Christian messiah to his grim fate. The mîmêma was becoming the meme.

John Palaeologus as Pontius Pialte / Wikimedia Commons

John Palaeologus as Pontius Pialte / Wikimedia Commons

The following decades saw John be everyone and everywhere. He became Theseus, mythical hero; Lycurgus, Spartan lawgiver; Averroes, Iberian mathematician; and even Mehmed II, Turkish sultan and conqueror of Byzantium. He was at the scene of Jesus Christ’s resurrection in Emmaus, Saint Catherine’s martyrdom in Alexandria, and Maxentius’s demise outside Rome.4 He was everything: a pagan, a Christian, a Muslim, a reference, an allegory. He was whatever the artist needed him to be.

John VII Paleologos by Benozzo Gozzoli, detail of the back wall of the Cappella dei Magi in the Palazzo Medici Riccardi, Florence, Italy /Alinari Archives / Universal Images Group

John VII Paleologos by Benozzo Gozzoli, detail of the back wall of the Cappella dei Magi in the Palazzo Medici Riccardi, Florence, Italy /Alinari Archives / Universal Images Group

Time, so often an enemy, worked to his image’s benefit. The more time passed, the more malleable John’s image became–though at the expense of context. The man behind the image was forgotten as the ages progressed. John’s sole twentieth century cameo, asreported by Alessandra Pedersoli of Engramma Magazine, was as a nameless “Oriental Prince” on a Scottish liquor bottle, dated 1970.

Then came the Digital Age, with its countless blogs and wikis, restoring that long-absent context. John was no longer relegated to being some random “Oriental Prince” on a liquor set; but rather, he resumed his role as John Palaeologus, distant heir to Augustus and penultimate emperor of Byzantium.

History has seen so many figures resort to desperate, sometimes catastrophic, measures in the hopes of being remembered: the building of monoliths, the founding of cities, or the conquest of nations. Sometimes it works. Sometimes it doesn’t.

Other times, an image is all it takes.

Andrew Montiveo is a writer  based in Los Angeles. He graduated from the University of California, Irvine, with a degree in film and media studies (and a minor in history) in 2012. He co-founded 4-Pistons Media, a small production company, in 2013.


Photo credit: Gozzoli, Benozzo, Benozzo di Lese, known as. Fine Art. Encyclopædia Britannica ImageQuest. Web. 10 Mar 2016. http://quest.eb.com/search/153_2391596/1/153_2391596/cite



Spring 2016, Uncategorized
SISYPHUS. - Drawing by Sir Edward Burne-Jones (1833-1898 / The Granger Collection / Universal Images Group

SISYPHUS. – Drawing by Sir Edward Burne-Jones (1833-1898 / The Granger Collection / Universal Images Group

by Mohamed Elmaola

This massive stone,
Leaves my palms dried like palm leaves.
So calloused and jagged.

My heels seek inertia.
Gasping for secure dirt like a javelin toss.
Leg fibers long for lasting fortitude.

My back aches.
Pain pulsates as I plead like a preacher.
Ammonia and iron droplets glaze my torso.

I thought I had charm.
I thought I was king.
I thought I could chain fate.

O my ego!
How I once held you like a firstborn,
And now deny you like a bastard.

Yet despite the stone Death, himself, destined to descend.
It is not the weight, alone, that summons the most sweat.
But the moment before it falls which fuels my feeble fingers.

She is that moment,
Between sheer strength
And irrevocable devastation.

She is that moment,
That requires each knuckled muscle.
Each stressed vessel.

She is that moment,
In which I am eternally devoted,
In which I am eternally doubtful.

She is that moment,
That preludes a sorrowful symphony.
That warns my eventual mourning.

She is that moment,
That painfully liberates me.
For it is only when I fail that I am free.

She is that moment,
That binds me to the push of an inching boulder,
A stone Death, himself, destined to descend!

She is that moment,
That unconquerable moment,
That I pray I feel before I fall.

Mohamed Elmaola studies psychology and entrepreneurship at Clark University, Worcester, Massachusetts. He is interested in education reform, and he runs an organization called the Worcester Soccer House that offers free soccer clinics and classes in life skills to youth.

Photo credit: MYTHOLOGY: SISYPHUS. – Drawing by Sir Edward Burne-Jones (1833-1898).. Fine Art. Encyclopædia Britannica ImageQuest. Web. 10 Mar 2016. http://quest.eb.com/search/140_1639275/1/140_1639275/cite

Awkward Reunion

Spring 2016, Uncategorized

by Mort Mather

I feel the bus slow down and check my watch for the millionth time—midnight, the time it is due in Jacob Lake. The bus is dark; the few other passengers are probably asleep. I pick up my bag with the clothes I’ll wear for the next couple of months and move to the front. It’s dark everywhere except for the headlights—no house lights, no cars or trucks, just the road. Then the headlights pick up a building with a gas pump out front, and then the sign on the building: “Jacob Lake Trading Post.” I see the Jeep, the same Jeep Dad drove away in when I was thirteen, never to come east again, he said. He gets out and comes toward me as the bus pulls away.

“You’ve grown quite a bit,” he says as he takes my bag.

“Yep. I guess.” What else should I say? So have you? You look good? How are you doing? We get in the Jeep, and he congratulates me on graduating from high school and asks how my trip has been. I tell him about the plane ride to Chicago and the bus to Flagstaff and spending the day walking around Flagstaff until it was time to board the bus to Salt Lake City. It all seems pretty boring. He tells me it will take about an hour on this dirt road before we come to the turnoff for the fire-lookout tower he mans in the summer. There’s a cabin at the base of the tower, he says, where we’ll live until the first snow.

We don’t really have much to say. It’s awkward. I could tell him how I changed my name by registering for high school as “O. Charles” instead of “Orville” and how the teachers at roll call read my name as “O. Charles” and how the kids from school called me “O.C.” and the kids who didn’t know me from before called me “Charlie,” but I don’t. Maybe I did it because I was mad at him for leaving and didn’t want to have his name anymore. I don’t know. He might have asked me why and I didn’t really have an answer.

What I want most is to get my parents back together. I’d never written anything like that in letters, but I thought about it a lot. I’m pretty sure Mom would come west if he asked her, and I’ll be going into the Army in a couple of months, so I wouldn’t be any bother.

“I think Mom still loves you.” I hadn’t intended to say that so soon, maybe not at all, but he wasn’t saying anything. He still didn’t say anything and then:

“Well, son, you’ll meet your brother and sister when they get up in the morning, and Georgette, their mother, is waiting up for us.”

A brother and a sister? The headlights bounce along the road ahead and reflect off the trees close by both sides. The letters I’d gotten over the past five years—not that many but still…a brother and a sister?

“Does Grandma know?”

“No. No one back east knows. You can spread the word or not, as you wish.”

As I wish? Grandma doesn’t even know? How did this happen? Who is Georgette?

“You have another wife?”

“Yes. I married Georgette in Reno after I divorced your mother.”

So much for getting my parents back together. I guess Dad’s passion for painting western landscapes was not the only reason he left my mother and me to never come east again, he’d said. He also left to be with someone he worked with in New York and when he drove away from our farm five years ago he headed straight for the train station to pick her up before turning west.

So here I am, a couple of thousand miles from home, riding through the night making small talk with a father who walked out on me, about to meet a step-mother I never knew I had, as well as their children, who are also news to me, my half-brother who is three and my half-sister who is eighteen months.

Mort Mather has been writing for more than 40 years. His weekly column appears in three Maine newspapers, and he has written for Mother Earth News and other national magazines. He is the author of  “Gardening for Independence” and his fiction is included in the anthology On (Writing) Families. As a Featured Writer, he is open to discussing the art and business of writing with other contributors to the Journal. His website is http://www.mortmather.com. This excerpt is from his book, “A Stone’s Throw.”

Photo credit: E.Schiele, Doppelbildnis Benesch. Fine Art. Encyclopædia Britannica ImageQuest. Web. 10 Mar 2016. http://quest.eb.com/search/109_145842/1/109_145842/cite

Schiele, Egon 1890-1918. 'Doppelbildnis Benesch,' Linz, Lentos Kunstmuseum /akg-images / Universal Images Group

Schiele, Egon 1890-1918. ‘Doppelbildnis Benesch,’ Linz, Lentos Kunstmuseum /akg-images / Universal Images Group

Lost in the Woods

Spring 2016, Uncategorized
Michael P. Gadomski / Photo Researchers / Universal Images Group

Michael P. Gadomski / Photo Researchers / Universal Images Group

by Mark Bruno


I had these two friends once. Back when I was living in Revere going to Immaculate Conception Elementary School, Dan and Nick and I were inseparable. We hung out every day; playing video games, playing baseball and basketball and football in the park down the street from the school. We played Manhunt and Off the Wall. We were out until the sun went down. But the thing we loved most was going on adventures into the woods by Dan’s house. It was in those woods that everything changed.

When I think about it today, those woods were so small. If you stood at one end, you could see right on through to the other side. It was almost impossible to get lost in there. But lose ourselves we did. We thought it was the coolest place. It was away from the busyness of the shopping plaza in the square. The sound of the cars whizzing by on Main Street disappeared in there. But the biggest reason we loved those woods was because it was the perfect spot to build forts and climb rocks. It was our own little world that we filled with imagination and adventure.

I remember one time in particular when our parents actually let us camp overnight in there. Since it was a stone’s throw away from Dan’s house, they felt safe enough to let us do it–after weeks of begging that is. “Ah, what the hell?” my dad said. “I remember doing things like this with my friends back when I was your age.”

We had a clearing in the middle of the woods that we had been working on for almost a month. Loose twigs, rocks, empty soda cans and candy wrappers were tossed aside. We climbed high into trees and cut down these big branches and stuck them into the ground. With rope, we tied the pieces together, creating a makeshift hut. To provide walls and a roof, we brought a big blue tarp from Dan’s garage and draped it over the branch frame. For twelve year olds, we were pretty handy. That hot July night listening to the Red Sox game on the radio and telling ghost stories underneath the stars will forever be one of the best nights of my life.

That summer had come and gone and with that passing came a harsh fall. Getting back into the swing of school was brutal. The workload was significantly heavier than the years previous. Homework that used to take fifteen minutes suddenly turned into an hour-long affair. I missed my favorite after-school cartoons because I was too busy focusing on social studies and science. The sun was falling very early and darkness at four o’ clock became the routine. Dan, Nick, and I had also noticed that our classmates were very different. Something happened to them over that summer and we weren’t sure what it was. Ashley was taller and wore makeup and the boys started paying attention to her. Joe had little bumps all over his face and his voice sounded like my dad’s. Chris stopped arguing about who the best superhero was and started arguing about who the cutest girl was. Everything was different.

“Did you guys see Melissa and John holding hands during recess today?” Dan asked to Nick and me, as he bit into his Snickers bar.

“What was up with that? It’s like they…like each other or something,” Nick replied in a mix of disgust and disbelief.

But for the next few weeks, we began getting used to everyone’s strange, new behavior. It was still weird, but at least a little less unexpected. Everyone was changing except us. We were the constant. And there was comfort in this.

One blisteringly cold Saturday afternoon, we decided to head into our woods. “You guys,” Dan said to us, as we reached the dirt path entrance of the woods. “We’re going to have a lot of fun today. I’ve got a little surprise.” Nick and I weren’t sure what Dan had up his sleeve, but we were excited to find out. We went to our tarp-and-branch fort to see what it was he had in store.

“OK, guys. Check this out,” Dan said, as he reached into his jacket pocket. He pulled out three cigarettes and a little book of hotel matches. “Swiped them off of my dad’s bureau this morning.” My jaw dropped to the cold hard dirt.

“Oh man!” Nick shouted with the excitement of Christmas morning.

I said nothing.

“I can’t believe you got away with it!”

I said nothing.

“Here, you take this one. And here’s the matches. I think you just slide it across this part right here,” Dan said to Nick, pointing to the rough patch of the matchbook.

Still, I said nothing.

“What’s wrong, Mark?” they finally asked me after what felt like an eternity had passed. I didn’t really know what to say. I was shocked. I had so much to say and I wanted so bad to find the words for it but I just couldn’t.

“You look like you’re going to faint, dude.”

I needed a minute. I needed to know that I was still on Earth. That I was still me and that I was still in my woods. I walked a few steps away from them as they fumbled with their matches and cigarettes. As I paced nervously around, I looked at the ground with new eyes. The woods were so damn dirty. The trash that we had cleared, those wrappers and cans, I started to really look at them. The pile of cans we tossed to the side had Budweiser and Coors written on them. Those wrappers I assumed were all candy actually said Trojan and Skoal Chewing Tobacco. Those woods were a dump. A wasteland of rebellion and angst and reckless abandon. It wasn’t some magic forest filled with adventure.

I looked around to the parts of the woods where we would play. I could see memories of us, playing like a movie reel from my mind, jumping from one rock to the next. We were throwing a rope over a tall branch, swinging from it with the wind blowing our hair and hitting our teeth. Those images, those memories of us, they were fading away. I remember standing there and watching those fun times desert me, leaving me alone and cold. The wind whipped my face and I turned back towards my friends.

“Are you going to try one?” Dan asked me.

I paused for what felt like ten minutes. I finally opened my mouth, unsure of what was going to come out.

“I’m going back.”

Dan and Nick stood there, cigarettes hanging on their lips with little streams of smoke dancing up into their faces. They didn’t say anything. And I left the woods, not looking back.      

This was the moment when I discovered that things eventually change, that people change. I don’t talk to Dan or Nick anymore and that hurts. Because they weren’t just childhood friends. They were a time and a place. They were a feeling that I will spend my whole life trying to feel again. I won’t ever forget what I lost in the woods that day.

Mark Bruno is a graduate of Salem State University, Salem, Massachusetts, with a degree in English. He lives in Ipswich, Massachusetts, where he also works at Ebsco Publishing. He is working on t
he script of a graphic novel.

Photo credit: Forest. Photography. Encyclopædia Britannica ImageQuest. Web. 10 Mar 2016.

David’s Gardens

Spring 2016, Uncategorized

Gogh, Vincent van; 1853-1890. “Blooming garden with path”, Arles, 19 July 1888.

by Orrin Konheim

One of my favorite childhood memories growing up in Arlington, Virginia was spending weekends at my grandparents’ house in the nearby town of McLean. My grandparents’ one-acre property was a rugged play-land of sorts. The property was surrounded by a forest to run around in that has since been stripped of its enchantment (and for that matter, most of its trees) by development. I only had an aesthetic appreciation back then for the way the trees were arranged in lines and how various ditches were built on the property without knowing that my grandfather, David, was devoted to growing trees and plants.

David and his wife moved to the United States in 1978 to reconnect with his daughter, my mother, and to help her raise me and my sister. He was in his early 60’s at the time, an immigrant many times over and a veteran of two wars. Because he had so many other languages in his head from all his past lives — Farsi, Arabic, Hebrew, and German — and he had come to the US so late in life, picking up English wasn’t easy for him. I spoke Hebrew as a toddler, but my entrance into kindergarten marked the beginning of a language barrier between us. I had to learn English and Spanish (we had a Nicaraguan nanny) and Hebrew went out the door.

As a result, I remember my grandfather today more through his actions than words. As someone who had been through his share of hardships, he could be difficult. He could be strict and got particularly grouchy at any deviations from his routine. Sometimes that grouchiness would be aimed at a little kid like me when I would do something like interrupt him during the news or “Wheel of Fortune.”

At the same time, he possessed a great capacity for joy, and there were simple little things that made him more joyful than I had seen in any man his age. He loved to listen to a pop tune on the radio (especially strange since he knew no English) and sing along.  He relished pouring salt on his dinner, even though it was against his doctor’s wishes. One summer, he was my biggest fan when I conquered my fears (and my grandmother’s safety objections) by diving off a neighbor’s upper deck into the canal below.

I slowly came to appreciate, however, that my grandfather’s greatest sense of joy was of a quieter kind. He had briefly worked as a dishwasher in a restaurant when he immigrated to Virginia, but for most of his last 25 years he was retired, and he knew how to  make himself useful, occupied, and happy, even when there was nothing for him to do but enjoy retirement. He would take to his daily tasks with a steady joy and purpose.

He enjoyed going for walks, reading books in his native language, fishing, and playing cards, but the centerpiece of his routine was the garden. It always bought a smile to his face.

Our lives overlapped for twenty years when my grandfather peacefully succumbed to a stroke in 2003 after several close calls. It wasn’t until a couple years after his passing that I discovered some old photo albums and saw pictures of a strapping young man in a military uniform that I began to really learn who he was.

My grandfather was born into a life of hardship in Mashhad, Iran as part of a Jewish community in strife. His family immigrated to Afghanistan for three years when he was eight years old, and he had to learn the Koran. But he was a Jew at heart and when he was 16 he set off for a land that would eventually become Israel. He was thrown in prison by the British government for illegal immigration and went through two wars, but he survived to help found Israel where my mom and her two siblings were born.

It was in Israel that he first tasted freedom and developed his love for agriculture.

Israel is known as “the land of milk and money,” a biblical reference to the agricultural abundance of the land. My grandfather’s love of agriculture was, therefore, part of a larger tradition, and after Israel’s independence, new immigrants were granted land by the government.

“He never studied,” recalls my Aunt Yardena. “But he knew what seeds to put and how to put the seeds. He knew what care he needed and whatever he planted, it was absolutely in abundance.”

My grandfather grew a garden wherever he went. He even had a rooftop garden over  a cramped apartment in Frankfurt, Germany, before emigrating to the United States.

When I was ten, my grandparents moved to the Florida Keys, and one of his first orders of business was rebuilding his garden. He didn’t have as much land, but he turned what would have been a bed of pebbles on a canal-side property into a garden of pineapple trees, banana trees and more.  

“Whatever [he] planted, if it was food or a fruit tree, it would grow,” recalls my Aunt Yardena. “And it could be in the hardest soil….He would just succeed in doing so.”

Nearly ten years after his death, his legacy lives on. His daughter Yardena maintains his garden in Florida, and my mom grows flowers in the summertime and brings them inside the winter.

“I find it very therapeutic,” says my mom. “It’s like raising children. It gives life.”

I find that I, too, enjoy watering my mom’s plants. It brings me a sense of steadiness and peace.


Orrin Konheim is a Virginia-based freelance writer, journalist in the Washington and Richmond markets, and public relations professional with interests in movies, television, the Olympics and local history. He blogs at http://sophomorecritic.blogspot.com. As a Featured Writer, he is willing to correspond with writers seeking advice on matters related to writing and publishing. Contact him at Okonheim@comcast.net.

Photo credit: V.van Gogh, Blooming garden with path. Photo. Encyclopædia Britannica ImageQuest. Web. 10 Mar 2016.

Blue: a Fragment

Spring 2016, Uncategorized
Lapis lazuli from Siberia / The Natural History Museum, London / Universal Images Group

Lapis lazuli from Siberia / The Natural History Museum, London / Universal Images Group

by Victoria Loehle



It should be little more than a label for certain frequencies of light. To her, it is also a color reminiscent of bruises and depression and marrow-freezing cold. To them, it is a name.

Her skin is the color of a body of water beneath a cloudless summer sky mere moments before sunrise, but they call her Blue. Their skin is pinkish and pale and sometimes almost tan enough to look bronze, but she never thinks of them as White. Instead, she thinks of them as sort of small-brained and stubborn because, no matter how many times she reminds them of her name, they always fail to call her Ray.

They stare at her, too, always through eyes that are a bit more than curious yet a bit less than cruel, because she braids strings of shark teeth into her hair and wears a manta tail around her neck like a scarf—just like her mother and both of her grandmothers and all six of her aunts. She loves those shark teeth—memories, good and bad and beautiful and sad alike, bound together with sinews borrowed from some of her great white-bellied allies—and she is too proud of that hard-earned manta tail to ever give it up.

“I wish they would stop,” she grumbles, as Mara places a gnarled grey finger beneath her chin and lifts her gaze away from her sand-dusted toes.

“No,” Mara states, her voice as firm as her deep silver eyes. Her wrinkled face quivers with close to a century of repressed pain and grudging acceptance—she used to wish and pray and dream about things, too, but she knows better now. “That wish is a waste of breath. They do not know how to change.”

“But we do,” Ray whispers.

Mara narrows her eyes—a glare as sharp as a harpoon.

“We just… choose not to…”

Mara folds her sun-freckled arms across her drooping chest. “And you disapprove.”

Not a question.


“You are too young to understand,” Mara growls, stabbing her carven whale-bone cane into a warping plank of boardwalk wood and struggling to rise from their sagging, meet-up-here bench. She steadies herself on her time-withered legs then faces their Ocean—a world of water and wonders born long before Her overpopulated shores of sand and stone, now beckoning to Her most audacious landlings from beneath a mask of glimmering indigo and orange waves and a crown of sinking scarlet sun…

Ray wants more than anything to return to Her—Then Mara recaptures her attention, and she obliges herself to remain seated and listen:

“You look at one of them, and you see another living being—something beautiful and intelligent, something to be valued and, at the very least, respected, something much like you. You notice subtle differences between us and them, of course, but you are too naïve to think of any of those as flaws. You thus fail to judge them.

“They look at you, and they see Blue—something strange, something to be frightened of and, at the very least, evaded, something not at all like them. Yet you wonder why they judge you, why they stare… To them, you are flawed. To them, you will never be good enough to be their equal; no matter what you do with your life, to them, you will always be a lesser being.”


Mara closes her eyes, breathing in a warm, salty breeze from their Ocean.

“Why do they see Blue?”

“Because they choose to see nothing else, and they do not know how to change.”

Victoria Loehle is from Morganville, New Jersey, and studies electrical and computer engineering and management engineering at Worcester Polytechnic Institute, Worcester, Massachusetts. She has co-written two plays and a forthcoming science fiction novel.

Photo credit:  Lapis lazuli from Siberia. Photography. Encyclopædia Britannica ImageQuest. Web. 10 Mar 2016.


Two Poems

Spring 2016, Uncategorized

by Sophie-Louise Hyde

Editor’s Note: These verbatim poems were crafted in response to witness testimonies following the riots across England in 2011, which began after a young man was shot and killed by police officers in Tottenham, London. These pieces focus, specifically, on the experiences of individuals in Birmingham, England.

AUGUST 10: Members of the local community lay flowers where three people were killed after being struck by a vehicle in the Winson Green area on August 10, 2011 in Birmingham, England. Police have launched a murder inquiry following this. The three people were struck by a car after reportedly trying to protect shops from rioting and looting in Dudley Road.


August 10th 2011             


Street steps to face tramlines beneath
Birmingham New Street.

Shut down because of fire, and
loads of smoke at the station–

not riot related.

At the scene of a cannabis farm that
the police have found, but it’s
more like a ‘plant’. People are
getting silly now. My heart
goes out to

                      the families
in Winson Green, not out of
sympathy but out of respect
for saving our country.
Tariq Jahan deserves an OBE, or
he should receive

                                   a knighthood.
‘Tariq Jahan: A Very Brave Man’
is trending in the UK as the Asian
communities weigh up
how to react to those who
killed them.

Candles mark the spot. Loads of
police, and the media for three Muslims
who were looking after their own
community; human nature
leading to-–

Murder. A very brave man
has sadly lost his son.
This is not human nature, but
the work of mere animals; to
commit a hit-and-run away! A

lit vigil marks the spot and
emotions run high, as
police are given extra time
to quiz the 32-year-old man accused of
murdering three men in

An inquest is due to be opened tomorrow.



On Monday Night


Smethwick, on Monday Night. Where a Sikh thanks @wmpolice
for the retweet about ‘the UK’s first ornate temple’
being under threat at 12.45am,
following a peace rally in Winson Green.
Social media online, the spirit of people,
virtual or after is amazing. Digital
communities form lines across
t-shirts with it.
Videos going viral promoting a total mixture
of races, religious protests and marches,
of Blacks, of Asians, and Whites
on Monday night.

Smethwick, on Monday night.
The Guru Nanak Gurdwara stands, and spirits sing.

Sophie-Louise Hyde is a PhD candidate at Loughborough University, U.K. studying the techniques of verbatim in poetry in order to create a new body of work that demonstrates practice as research. Her other interests include experimental poetry and collaboration across art forms. She is also the founder of online creative writing and publishing platform. The Student Wordsmith.

Photo credit: Three Killed In Hit And Run During Birmingham Riot. Photography. Encyclopædia Britannica ImageQuest. Web. 10 Mar 2016. http://quest.eb.com/search/115_3872217/1/115_3872217/cite


My Youth

Spring 2016, Uncategorized

“My Youth,” by Irvi Stefo. Pastel and Colored Pencil .

Irvi Stefo

Artist’s Statement: Blind love and blind adolescence. These are the themes tackled by MY YOUTH, a depiction of the enigmatic and often daunting exploration of a young person’s sexuality. Love is a thing of nature, a feeling that is indescribable, yet so easy to fall into. True love is unconditional. It is blind to society’s perception of normality and sees no bounds.

Irvi Stefo is a graduate of Bancroft School in Worcester, Massachusetts, and will be attending the Rhode Island School of Design in Providence, Rhode Island, to study graphic design and illustration. He plans a career in magazines where he can indulge his interests in pop culture and modern ideas.


Spring 2016, Uncategorized

[soundcloud url=”https://api.soundcloud.com/tracks/230038519″ params=”visual=true&show_artwork=true&callback=YUI.Env.JSONP.yui_3_17_2_1_1452537947602_40915&wmode=opaque” width=”100%” height=”400″ iframe=”true” /]

A song by Olivia Frances



by songwriters Olivia Frances and George Irwin


The sun sets
A breeze blows by
Grass sways
Rivers run dry
bloom in the spring
But my love…
My love is evergreen

The moon moves
From day to night
Stars burn
Out in time
This universe changes constantly
But my love…
My love is evergreen

Minutes pass by
Months turn to memories
And years and years and years and years and years become eternity, so easily
Feelings change
Colors fade

Becomes old age
But I still have you here with me
Cause my love…

My love is evergreen

Listen to “Evergreen” as sung by Olivia Frances here: https://soundcloud.com/oliviafrancesmusic/evergreen

Cincinnati native Olivia Frances is a 19-year-old singer-songwriter and musician with a sunny disposition. She is a freshman at Clark University, Worcester, Massachusetts. This song is from the album Evergreen, the follow-up to her 2013 debut album, Back To Happiness. For more information, go to www.oliviafrancesmusic.com.


Home page photo credit: Jim Corwin / Photo Researchers / Universal Images Group / Evergreen trees. Photography. Encyclopædia Britannica ImageQuest. Web. 10 Mar 2016. http://quest.eb.com/search/139_1919150/1/139_1919150/cite


My Projects

Spring 2016, Uncategorized


by Rachel Ravelli




My Projects

My overcrowded black on block on blended tans
sterile hospitalized crystalloid hallucinogens
lead wanderers of my fragmented projects away
in the back of an ambulance I say hello to them,
they nod lightly, greeting me with the same indifference
as the kittens I abandoned because mom and I
were running low on food and they were eating my dinner
I spoon-fed them with empathy, transparent
as translucent drugs in my soul dry uncultivated soil
where sore feet of Spanish Harlem and Ghana tie
into snow and summer salt holding out their palms
saying, thank you Lord Jesus, for bread and for wine
I cannot touch but feel each day in my native projects
where children stalk written streets after midnight,
pearly white eyeballs thick in blood-shining lines
blossom out of their stay-put matter and hair,
the long thick dark hair I use to carefully weave every silhouette
I have loved-–
the dusty roads of my projects,
the winding steps of my projects,
the graffiti marking the retaliation and creation of my projects,
I am a soft sound chasing their midnight, a passerby
in sullen stories of how Danielle failed French,
moved to New York City to do hair
and to escape Donny, her father who sold women for cars
and smoked dope with his son Josiah who punched Izzy
in the humid elementary school cafeteria stale grilled cheese
for stealing his birthday watch and calling him a faggot;
Izzy shuddered, snorted, and shoved him onto the wet napkin floor,
and Principal Ganem who stormed through grabbed them both
with his oversized hairy hands gold in rings,
grappled them until they caved into small green wobbly seats,
pocket-framed their startled brown eyes,
pulled the walkie-talkie out of his black work pants
and slammed it so hard on the chipped wooden table
they both cried in unison, holding hands
as Principal Ganem screamed in silencing
acceleration that they’d work at McDonald’s,
become degenerates like their lifeless off-the-boat parents;
I sat hands neatly folded lips pursed measuring
the exact minutes, velocity, days, kilometers, volume
knowing I’m so bad at math
because Ms. Capanelli never stays after school
because after school was the time to be followed
by two hooded men 2.8 miles through snow
back to my projects
my disheveled
you-don’t-need-no-goddamn school bus
projects, who laughed
as I became more nervous
as they asked why
I’m so scared
as I reply that I am not scared, I am not scared
but please go away I can’t take it anymore
I have real homework to finish,
my mom is making me read The Grapes of Wrath
because she thinks elementary school literature is too immature
but I don’t trust a word she says
because last night she bought furniture she can’t afford
that doesn’t fit into my project’s apartment shrinking away
from dirt, mice, and dust catching on fire in her hair
as she bites her nails till they bleed screaming,
“Don’t let them take me!”
and I know there’s no one there because grandma told me
she makes up stories in her head sometimes,
but The Grapes of Wrath is a story
like my projects the dustbowl my dying kittens the loose screws
in the doorways of my schools and my poetry
are all stories that may be real or something I made up
one day, lying in my projects
cold on a moldy boulder in my projects
in December waiting and waiting forever in my projects
for snow to melt over all of us.

Rachel Ravelli is a fourth year student at the University of Massachusetts Amherst, studying English and Psychology. She writes for the Massachusetts Daily Collegian and has been featured in multiple publications, including Quick Brown Fox and Caesura.

Political Animals

Uncategorized, Winter 2015-16

by Noah Keates

Listen to this populist politician sticking it to the rich: “[T]hough they abuse their wealth in every possible method, they cannot, with the utmost efforts, exhaust it.  While for us there is poverty at home, debts abroad; our present circumstance is bad, our prospects much worse.”

No, it’s not Bernie Sanders. It’s Lucius Sergius Catiline campaigning in the Roman consular election of 63 B.C.

Cicero denounces Catline. Cicero denounces Catline.

In politics, the more things change, the more they stay the same. Those running for office are always looking for what they think are weaknesses in their opponents, and that’s why we hear so much about Hillary Clinton’s e-mails, Donald Trump’s casino dealings, and so on. It was just the same in ancient Rome, right down to the sex scandal. Catiline himself was accused of an unholy dalliance with one of the Vestal Virgins.

But it’s also true that today’s politicians could learn a thing or two from the ancients.

For a start, there was far less passive-aggressive hypocrisy.  In place of the snide pot shots we hear nowadays, such as Donald Trump criticizing Carly Fiorina’s facial appearance, we had Cicero, the great Roman orator, informing Catiline that he was “the root and seed of all evil” and that he intended to “rid the world of the disease of a man that he was.”  Maybe this unadulterated directness would be healthy for our 2016 election; a taste of Roman-style banter would certainly spice up the current race.

Certain contenders have already warmed to the idea of resorting to Roman rhetoric, notably Ted Cruz who stood before the Senate recently and delivered nearly word-for-word one of Cicero’s most famous speeches against his rival Catiline, with slight pronoun modifications to instead attack our current president.

Will quoting of the great Roman orators improve the discourse of our current political arena? I doubt it. The great leaders of the Roman republic, such as Sulla, Cicero, and Caesar, felt a freedom to confidently speak their minds on all matters of the state.  Political leaders led their followers through audacious and inspiring speeches that came from the heart.

Our modern-day candidates pale by comparison. Today it is the parties that mold the candidates, with each presidential contender desperately attempting to be perceived as the ideal Democrat or Republican.  Perhaps in this respect Donald Trump has channeled at least some of the positive influences of Roman politicians simply in his boldness to say whatever he wants, however off the mark these comments tend to be.

This epidemic of modern politicians losing their personal identity to assume the identity of their party connects fairly directly to the problems plaguing our government today.  It is certainly difficult to find national pride behind men and women who struggle to even piece together their own personal points of view. Where Rome was able to construct the greatest empire in history on the shoulders of individualistic men striving to pursue their own agenda, the success of the U.S. falls to 435 representatives, 100 senators, and one president each trying to navigate his or her way into the good graces of the party—not to mention the lobbyists.  While a multi-continental empire may not be a healthy end goal for our nation, a bit of Roman directness and audacity from our politicians would certainly be a welcome change.

Noah Keates is a senior at Bancroft School, Worcester, Massachusetts.  His interests are history and politics, especially concerning Europe, and he hopes to study political science in college.

Photo credit: ROMAN SENATE: CATILINE. – Cicero denounces Catiline (c108-62 B.C.) in the Senate. Line engraving, 19th century.. Fine Art. Encyclopædia Britannica ImageQuest. Web. 6 Jan 2016. http://quest.eb.com/search/140_1676740/1/140_1676740/cite

Journal Offers $1,000 Prize

Uncategorized, Winter 2015-16

The Worcester Journal announces the establishment of the Not Man Apart Award for writing published in the Journal concerning the relationship between our planet and humankind. The prize of $1,000 will be awarded from time to time to a Worcester Journal author who, in the opinion of the editors, has produced memorable and insightful writing on this subject.

The purpose of the award is to encourage the young writers for whom the Journal was created to consider the natural environment–our approach to, use of, and duty toward it, how we are both connected to and separated from the natural world,  and what we should take from it and what return. Writers may approach the subject through journalism, fiction, creative nonfiction, poetry, photography, or art.

The phrase “not man apart” is taken from the poem “The Answer” by Robinson Jeffers. The poem is a consideration of how an understanding of the organic wholeness of nature can be a comfort and a strength in an imperfect world. We seek from submissions the passion and authenticity of the poem, not imitations of it.

We are deeply grateful to the continuing generosity of the Judy and Tony King Foundation.


Dad’s Haircut

Uncategorized, Winter 2015-16

by Joshua Lampert

Hulton Archive / Archive Photos / Getty Images / Universal Images Group

Hulton Archive / Archive Photos / Getty Images / Universal Images Group


Sundown. I’m wearing a short-sleeved shirt, and the October breeze whips the bare skin of my arms, I’m playing with a friend on on the patio of his house. Mom’s outside in her car, honking the horn. I’m eight years old, and I just keep playing. Soon, the clanking knocks on the door and doorbell chimes interrupt our game. “Donna’s salon in thirty minutes,” she says. “We’ll be there in forty if we’re lucky with this traffic.

 We arrive without my once asking, “Are we there yet?” It’s late.  The autumn crescent moon and the luminescent lettering of the salon’s name above the overhead awning are the only diminutive sources of light that struggle to illuminate theblack sky. The stained-glass door pushes opens right to left onto a warm-colored hair salon, and my eyes inevitably wander towards the only occupied chair.

 To my surprise, I recognize my father’s Pierce Brosnan type hair. Letting go of mom’s hand, I eagerly swerve through the chairs in the waiting area and run to my father, who stares into the mirror, patiently awaiting a haircut. I immediately wipe the “good to see you” kiss off my forehead and I scoot my way onto the neighboring seat. My eight-year-old torso sinks into the soft cushion of the pitch-black barber chair. Mom rifles through her pocket book for a pack of tissues. She fumbles with the packet until it opens. She keeps the tissues on her lap, resting on her cross-folded legs.

 Donna the hairdresser reaches into her drawer, grabbing the buzzers instead of scissors. A mistake? Quiet, pinned against my chair, I watch my father swallow his saliva and grip the cold, metal handles of the chair. Donna purposefully  plugs the clippers into the outlet and turns them on. They inch toward my father’s head. My jaw has dropped. I crack a smile. I have never seen my father with any other hairstyle, never mind a buzz cut. I begin to laugh; my mom cries. 

 When I was eight years old, my mother and I went to the salon. We watched as Donna shaved my father’s head and his Pierce Brosnan hair fell to the floor. I had no idea that I was witnessing the beginning of my dad’s journey into a ten-year battle with cancer.

1Joshua Lampert is a senior at Bancroft School., Worcester, Massachusetts, and plans to attend Suffolk University, Boston, Massachusetts, in the fall.

Photo credit: Barber Shop. Encyclopædia Britannica ImageQuest. Web. 4 Jan 2016. http://quest.eb.com/search/115_2835844/1/115_2835844/cite

Dublin Diary

Uncategorized, Winter 2015-16

by Jason Boulay

Dublin has successfully woven a thread connecting her turbulent past with the celebration of her present. Modernization has transformed this once strife-torn city into a vibrant metropolis rivaling the romance of Paris and the spectacle of Rome. A cosmopolitan city alive with prosperity, an inviting warmth, and a rich tradition, she openly embraces her darkest hours in addition to her  poise and beauty. An increase in tourism has contributed to the economic boost Ireland has enjoyed over the past decade. Dubliners have welcomed the influx of new visitors, sharing with their guests Dublin’s unique culture, trendy shops, and above all, Irish charm.

Statue of James Joyce, Dublin, County Dublin, Ireland,/ Roy Rainford / Robert Harding World Imagery / Universal Images Group

Statue of James Joyce, Dublin, County Dublin, Ireland,/ Roy Rainford / Robert Harding World Imagery / Universal Images Group

I visited this spectacular city during St. Patrick’s Day week, 2012. Dublin was as welcoming as she was secretive; her famous landmarks were both filled with beauty and cloaked in tragedy. It was humbling to walk the same streets, and patronize the same pubs, as some of literature’s greatest voices. Although Ireland’s capital city offers many wonderful experiences, the most rewarding for me are those that combine the beauty of modern Dublin, her literary contributions, and her troubling past.


“And this is where Joseph Plunkett and Grace Gifford said their wedding vows,” the teen-aged tour guide informs us. He offers this information begrudgingly, as if he were saying, “Welcome to McDonalds, may I take your order please?”  

Joseph Plunkett / Wikimedia Commons

Joseph Plunkett / Wikimedia Commons

              Plunkett's cell / Jason Boulay

              Plunkett’s cell / Jason Boulay

If the novelty of the Irish brogue and its cadences had passed, I very well may have felt insulted at paying nearly ten Euros (about $11) per ticket to tour Dublin’s infamous prison, Kilmainham Gaol.  

Our group takes turns peering into Plunkett’s seven-foot by nine-foot jail cell through a small hole in the doors.  The iron door is chipped and pocked, and its heavy sliding lock has been frozen in place by decades of neglect.

We are on the ground floor of the three-tiered prison. Iron spiral staircases are located on both sides of the cellblock. They allow for quick access to all levels, while also adding a touch of architectural beauty. The dome shaped ceiling amplifies our voices, just as it once echoed the cries of the inmates.  

As we walk along a cold, dimly lit corridor, the lights flicker. The walls are a faded granite-grey and made of individual stones cobbled tightly together. We pass through a small doorway and out into the damp March air.

Place of execution for Plunkett and other leaders of the Easter Rising / Jason Bouolay

Place of execution for Plunkett and other leaders of the Easter Rising / Jason Bouolay

The setting sun creates pink tones and warm orange hues that shimmer against the dreary clouds. The sun dips below the mountainous crescent shaped wall that surrounds us. From a distance, the wall appears to be a single slab of stone. As we get closer, the eroding contours of each block, welded together by the passing of time, become clearly visible.

The guide speaks up again. “Within seven hours of the joyful marriage ceremony Joseph Plunkett was executed by firing squad for his part in the Easter Rising of 1916,” he said. “He died right here.” He points down at the densely packed earth.

He continues: “He was one of fourteen political prisoners executed for their participation in the rebellion. The first, executed in the wee morning hours of May 3, 1916. The last, in the late afternoon of May 12, 1916.” He still seems to be  contemptuous of his work.

The place where these fourteen men looked up to the cloudy Irish sky for the last time, exhaling their final breaths for Ireland’s independence, is marked with a small black cross. An aged bronze plaque lists their names and dates of execution.


Joseph Plunkett was once a ranking member of the Irish Republican Brotherhood, a group considered terrorists by the authorities.

Now, Irish citizens, and tourists alike pass through Joseph Plunkett Train Station during their daily travels through Waterford City, an hour south of Dublin.

The train’s window frames the picturesque emerald landscape as the locomotive chugs up dew-kissed hillsides and down lush country slopes. Flocks of white sheep graze. They show little interest in the large train that shakes the earth below their hooves. They are simply content with the limitless supply of damp grass that God has bestowed upon the Irish countryside.  


I walk along the streets that frame the Liffey. The moonlight glistens off her tranquil waters. Lovers walk hand in hand admiring her beauty, as they must have since time immemorial.

Temple Bar, Dublin, County Dublin, Republic of Ireland (Eire), Europe/Sergio Pitamitz / Robert Harding World Imagery / Universal Images Group

Temple Bar, Dublin, County Dublin, Republic of Ireland (Eire), Europe/Sergio Pitamitz / Robert Harding World Imagery / Universal Images Group

I turn down a cobble-stoned road and into the Temple Bar District. The narrow sidewalks, full of tourists snapping pictures, are alive with accents and languages from around the globe. Aromas of food and drinkt fill the night air as the crowds pack the restaurants and pubs. Street performers play traditional Irish music as onlookers celebrate the Irish night with laughter and dance.


Reportedly, the Duke public house was a favorite of  Oscar Wilde and James Joyce. Its facade s a work of art. Gold accents stand in contrast against its black exterior walls and matching awning. Lush plants crowd the flower-boxes outside the second-story windows. Their leaves, stems, and flowers spill over, hanging down just enough to partially cover the sign’s gilded lettering that reads, THE DUKE.

Walking through the narrow door and into the large barroom, I’m ushered into an era long since passed. Rich mahogany covers the walls, ceiling, benches, and bar. Supple leather wraps the stools and fireplace chairs. Legendary Irish Playwright  George Bernard Shaw is said to have once danced on these floors.

In the far corner, across from the empty stage, a couple sits in a dark bot lost in conversation. The six round-top tables lined against the windows are filled with small groups of strangers. After several rounds of ale, and perhaps a few whiskeys, the strangers will become one large group of friends.  I pull out a bar stool and settle into its soft, well-worn leather cushion. Seated next to me is a stocky gentleman whose feet, far from touching the floor, dangle in the open space between the bar and the hardwoods.  He adjusts his gray houndstooth Paddy cap and motions for me to lean in. He tells me an animated tale in a heavy Irish accent, of which I understand less than half. I listen politely, laugh, and order a pint of Guinness.

The bartender pulls a pint glass from the mahogany shelf and slides it under the black tap. He slowly pulls the tap handle, allowing the dark Irish stout to pour—only stopping the flow briefly to let the foam settle. Placing a silver pouring spoon over the mouth of the glass, he once again pulls the handle. The thick Guinness hits the spoon, smoothly running off until the liquid is level with the rim. After letting it sit for a moment to develop a head, he slides the pint across the bar. With a slight nod,I take a sip, silently toasting to Oscar Wilde’s loyal Swallow and the lead heart that would not melt.

Jason Boulay is an Army veteran who served in Afghanistan from 2002-2003 as a military police officer, attached to the 82nd Airborne Division. He is a senior at Bryant University, in Smithfield, Rhode Island, RI, double majoring in political science and communication, and minoring in management.

Photo credits: Statue of James Joyce, Dublin, County Dublin, Ireland, Eire. Photography. Encyclopædia Britannica ImageQuest. Web. 6 Jan 2016. 

Temple Bar, Dublin, County Dublin, Republic of Ireland (Eire), Europe. Photography. Encyclopædia Britannica ImageQuest. Web. 6 Jan 2016. 

Of a Man Drinking Wine

Uncategorized, Winter 2015-16

by Thomas Matthews


Young Man Drinking ,Bartolome Esteban Murillo (Attributed) National Gallery, London

Young Man Drinking ,Bartolome Esteban Murillo (Attributed) National Gallery, London

He drank wine all night of the 6th, and kept thinking of her: freckled flesh, her lovely black dress, a combination stronger than any wine he ever drank. He thought of her smell and became lightheaded.

Drinking straight from the bottle like the winos do, he heard her laugh and the hairs on his arms stood up as a chill went spiraling down his back. He shook his body in an attempt to rid himself of these intruding thoughts. He took a swig. He remembered the nights she drank wine, always red, and he heard a saxophone’s cry come creeping through his open window like a gust of wind from the street below. He remembered the nights they danced together in a close embrace. He got up and grabbed a box of matches, lit a candle on his desk, watched the flame dance for a moment and, as the wax slowly melted, emitting no scent, finished his bottle of wine.

“Don’t leave it lit,” a voice called out.

He licked his thumb and put it to the wick, suffocating the flame, walked over to his rickety bed, climbed inside, and slept alone.

Contributing Editor, Thomas Matthews, is a Senior at Clark University where he majors in English, specializing in Creative Writing and Journalism. 

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Photo credit: Young Man Drinking. Fine Art. Encyclopædia Britannica ImageQuest. Web. 4 Jan 2016. http://quest.eb.com/search/107_3351221/1/107_3351221/cite

Lost and Found and Lost

Uncategorized, Winter 2015-16

by Akriti Sharma

Boxer puppy. Andrew J. Martinez / Photo Researchers / Universal Images Group

Boxer puppy. Andrew J. Martinez / Photo Researchers / Universal Images Group

My brother and I were beside ourselves with excitement when the local dog kennel called to say our Boxer puppy was ready for his new home.  Eager and impatient, we pleaded with our parents that they take us with them to go pick him up. My younger brother, Karan, was ready almost instantly, loading the car with toys and the dog basket we’d gotten to make sure everything was perfect for our puppy’s arrival.

My mother drove us through the narrow, winding streets of Kathmandu, expertly avoiding the countless motorbikes that wended their way through the traffic and the children and stray dogs that came running onto the street without warning. My brother sat beside me and went over the names he had in mind, not quite sure which one he liked best. Rex? Bruno? Or the staple name for a dog in Nepal, no matter what breed: Kaleh. He crossed off names from an imaginary list on his palm. “This is hard,” he said, “I want his name to be unique.” When we finally got our puppy twenty minutes later, Karan took one good look at our new family member and settled with the oh- so- original name for a Boxer puppy, ‘Tyson’.

Tyson was the youngest member of our family of 13, counting my parents, me, my brother, our four-year-old German Shepherd, Lucky, five fish, and two turtles.  My parents claimed that our house was one lizard away from a zoo.

Tyson was a brat, cheerfully indulging in the pastimes of eating, chewing, sleeping, and pooping whenever and wherever he felt the need. He bullied Lucky terribly, but Lucky did nothing about it. Tyson never sat on the ground, always preferring the softness of Lucky’s tail. When Lucky tried to get some sleep, Tyson would paw at him and yelp until he woke up.

One day, Tyson went missing. We roamed the streets calling out his name, over and over again, into the dead of night. For a week, we searched in vain. I posted flyers around our neighborhood, offering a reward to anyone who found our beloved pup. A month passed. My brother sat by his window at night, calling his name, straining to hear a response. He’d  asleep with his cheek pressed up against the cold window pane.

One Sunday morning, my mother got a phone call from a young child with an American accent. In one breathless sentence he explained that he had seen our flyer at the local bakery and noticed that the dog was peculiarly identical to the new boxer pup his gardener had “adopted.”  In a couple of minutes his mother took the phone from him and apologized for her son’s impatience. My mother spoke to her for a good fifteen minutes before she hung up.  She had a broad smile on her face as she turned to me. “Go get your brother,” she said, “and let’s bring his darling back home.”

Amazingly, the address was only seven houses away from our house. I passed it everyday on my way to school. My brother had stood before it countless times crying out Tyson’s name.

I rang the doorbell and was greeted by a middle-aged woman and a young boy, not much older than my brother, clinging to her waist. He pushed past his mother. “My mom asked me to get croissants this morning and I went with grandma but then I saw the picture of your dog and I knew it was him so I told grandma we had to come home quick and then”–he paused, drew in a deep breath–“I came running home and I forgot to get mom’s croissants! I called you because if anything happened to my dogs, Layla and Rose, I’d be very, very sad,”

The mother explained how their live-in-gardener had brought home an adorable puppy six weeks ago. He said that he was going to resell him. He was becoming too much of a hassle because of all his eating, chewing, pooping and relentless yelping. She turned to my mother. “I knew something was a bit off about that, he didn’t even have an answer when I asked him which kennel he got the pup from.”

In their garden were two beautiful female dogs, a Golden Retriever and a cream Labrador. Posed perfectly between them, sitting on both of their tails, was our brat.  He was bigger, but looked the same. He perked up when he saw us and stared for a while, inching towards us. My brother could barely contain himself. He ran and simultaneously flung himself onto Tyson, who, in quick response, somehow managed to do the same. The other two dogs began barking, creating quite a ruckus.

My parents told me when I was younger that if you are determined to find something you really want, you’re bound to get it. At that point, it didn’t matter if it was my brother’s cries and prayers that got us our puppy back or just the kind-heartedness of another curious child, because our family was finally complete again. All thirteen members of our little zoo.


About a year later, I was in the kitchen pretending to help my mother as she fussed over dinner. She asked me to call my brother in, but I found the front lawn deserted. I stared at the wide open gate and got the sick feeling that something was wrong.  I heard my brother scream, followed by a high-pitched howling.  I found them both two blocks from my house in the middle of the street.  The dimming yellow light emitted by the dying streetlight revealed a bloody body pulling into itself as it convulsed in pain. Our neighbors were on the street now, pushing to get a closer look.

I don’t know how I managed to pick up an injured dog and a crying brother, and walk home, but I did it somehow.  

Tyson was paralyzed. About a month later, we put him  to sleep.

Akriti Sharma is a senior at Clark University, Worcester, Massachusetts, majoring in Economics. She grew up in Kathmandu, Nepal, and has been volunteering many years. She loves books and dogs, and she greatly misses her two German Shepherds back home.


Photo credit: Boxer puppy. Photography. Encyclopædia Britannica ImageQuest. Web. 16 Dec 2015. http://quest.eb.com/search/139_1914154/1/139_1914154/cite


A Brutal Kind of Leaving

Uncategorized, Winter 2015-16





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by Lana Bella



tufts of wool,

red signals amid blue whims

of careless fingers,

she is a moving trajectory

holding on to my hand,

on the roads I’ve walked many miles

staring into men’s eyes,

bemused at their sadness,


PICASSO: LES DESMOISELLES. - Pablo Picasso: Study for Demoiselles d'Avignon. Watercolor, 1907. The Granger Collection / Universal Images Group

PICASSO: LES DESMOISELLES. – Pablo Picasso: Study for Demoiselles d’Avignon. Watercolor, 1907. The Granger Collection / Universal Images Group

her hands, 

holding the tea cup now,

avoiding the lipstick trail splaying 

to disappointment,

her lips, 

careful to sift through

the loose tea leaves and tepid water,

giving pause where

the weight of sighs is chained

to the bottom like anchors,


clicks of joints announce

her clumsy push from the table,

I turn back,

fastening still to the length of her city,

but it seems I am looking 

to a distant place 

where all past recedes to,


old souls float near each other

as if asleep, pale, dark faces,

all beautifully shaped,

exploded like dandelion plumes in wind,

and yet,

I am no longer welcome there,

for the woman I love most is wearing all

the bodies I left behind–

Lana Bella has published in many literary journals and has a chapbook forthcoming from Crisis Chronicles Press. She divides her time between the USA and the coastal town of Nha Trang, Vietnam. As a Featured Writer, she is willing to correspond with poets seeking advice on matters related to writing and publishing. She may be reached at lana.bella@rocketmail.com.


Photo credit: PICASSO: LES DESMOISELLES. – Pablo Picasso: Study for Demoiselles d’Avignon. Watercolor, 1907.. Fine Art. Encyclopædia Britannica ImageQuest. Web. 16 Dec 2015.  http://quest.eb.com/search/140_1646718/1/140_1646718/cite

Thrity Umrigar’s The Weight of Heaven

Uncategorized, Winter 2015-16

by Sahar Jaafar Al-Keshwan

Frank and Ellie, Indian immigrants to America, are shattered when they lose their child to a sudden illness. They return to India, where they believe that they will find healing and consolation.  However, they have great difficulty surviving in and re-assimilating into the culture of India. In America, theysuffered discrimination, but in India they are faced with a culture shock that makes them question their own identities. Thrity Umrigar’s novel The Weight of Heaven (HarperCollins, 2009), delves into the complicated world of people who feel like immigrants in their own country.

When Frank gets a job managing a factory, he thinks that he will help improve the villagers’ lives. But he is challenged by, and eventually comes to hate, the culture of the town. The Indians around him, meanwhile, dream of America as the land of promises and opportunities. Frank knows that America is not what they imagine, but he is helpless convincing them otherwise. As a result, Frank “finds himself floundering in a country that seems increasingly foreign to him.” He feels that he has more in common with the American soldiers in Iraq, who also think that they are coming to another country to save its culture and life, but who end up with a “contempt and hatred for a culture they had come to save but was destroying them.”

Ellie also suffers from a clash with Indian culture. She volunteers as a therapist for women “trapped in a cycle of violence,” hoping that she can improve their lives. She had envisioned a bright and exotic life in India, while the truth was that the Indians suffered and struggled to earn their bread. “What could she ask these women to do?” wonders Ellie. “Go to the gym to combat depression? Take Prozac when they could barely afford wheat for their bread?” Ellie thinks that her experience in America could help the Indian villagers in her home country, but the Indians do not appreciate her purpose and dream of going to America, as it represents India’s “suitor” for them.

One reviewer, Sandip Roy, says, “Umrigar does not provide pat answers. Instead, to her great credit, she presents India, not as some passive, helpless victim, but as its own agent, smiling at its rich American suitors and manipulating them at the same time.”

The reader might consider the theme of this novel to be the cultural and psychological clash between two cultures. However, Umrigar also implies that, like Frank and Elie, Americans invade other countries under the guise of offering assistance. Indeed, this happens to Frank and Ellie, who are both victims of American colonialism. They emigrate to America to seek a better life, then return after their son dies to recover and heal, but again they fail. Their loss of their son could represent the loss of their identities, which they can find neither in America nor in India.

Umrigar also successfully shows the conflict suffered by Asian Americans when they return home. They are haunted by their culture and their memories of their home countries, but they are also haunted by their newly adopted culture in America.


Sahar Jaafar teaches English in Baghdad and is pursuing a Ph.D. in American Literature.



Keep Listening

Uncategorized, Winter 2015-16

by Mohamed Ali Elmaola


Motorway toll booths. TRL LTD./SCIENCE PHOTO LIBRARY / Universal Images Group

Motorway toll booths. TRL LTD./SCIENCE PHOTO LIBRARY / Universal Images Group

I know you know the routine too.
The glass shield mechanically regresses to its hidden holster.

You give me your price.
I silently complain.

I pay you regardless.
I pay you for your pleasure-less act of passive passage.

No smiles where there is no joy,
No words when there is no time,
No eyes when there is no person.

I grunt as I lunge forward.
You sigh as you take it in.
I give.
You press.

Our hands meet.
And the enchanted exchange has ended.

There lies no love
In your purely constant and repetitive business.

you transiently turn,
To the next customer,
My begging, soulless successor,
That awaits his turn at the toll booth.

Mohamed Ali Elmaola is a sophomore studying Psychology at Clark University, Worcester, Mass. He is also the owner and co-founder of the Worcester Soccer House, a program that offers free soccer clinics to young people.

Photo credit: Motorway toll boothsEncyclopædia Britannica ImageQuest. Web. 14 Dec 2015.

What the World Could Be

Uncategorized, Winter 2015-16

by Kayla Zenk






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Masks Created by Tomea Fiorenzo, Italy, Cortina d'Ampezzo (Belluno), Private collection/Mondadori Electa / Learning Pictures / Universal Images Group

Masks Created by Tomea Fiorenzo, Italy, Cortina d’Ampezzo (Belluno), Private collection/Mondadori Electa / Learning Pictures / Universal Images Group

What if

we could all


our insecurities.

                 What are you hiding from?


There is love to be.


 Are like a blockade.

Take them down.

Or will we ever


that point.


        Will it ever be?

 Or have we forgotten

 what is most important,

what it is

we are here for.


              I’m trying

         to show you.

Kayla Zenk is an English major at the College of the Holy Cross, Worcester, Mass.

Photo credit: Masks Created by Tomea Fiorenzo. Fine Art. Encyclopædia Britannica ImageQuest. Web. 16 Dec 2015. http://quest.eb.com/search/135_1589003/1/135_1589003/cite