Lighter

       We walk together to a test center on a Saturday morning. It's chilly and I am not wearing enough. She complains about the same thing. The wind blows my hair every which way and hers just goes straight up. We're not together anymore, but I wish we were. Once in the past we had an intimate relationship, but I try not to think painful thoughts. My friends ask me why I even speak to her after what she did to me. I say we both have learned. I wish she were holding onto me right now. It's comforting to know that someone like her is walking with me, holding onto me for support, for love. It's easy for me to love someone with all my heart. I just question whether or not the other person has the same level of love for me. I wish she were holding onto me for support. If she were, she'd make me feel more important in the world and I'd feel compelled to cherish her. I felt important once.
       The breeze turns into a gale, and neither one of us wants to walk any further until it subsides. We huddle in a corner at an entrance of a random building where the gale has no effect. We are standing close together but not holding each other. She hasn't looked me in the eye since we met at the corner of Broadway and 8th, but even then it was just a glance. She always looks humble and has wonderful hazel eyes. Even though I prefer blue eyes, hazel works well for her. Her skin is milky white. No blemishes from pimples or worn scars from childhood accidents. She has feminine fingers, long and slender with round fingernails not chewed away with bad habit. She doesn't bite her nails like other girls that we both know. She cracks her knuckles, and I wonder how her fingers stay so slender.
       I look away from her emotionless face and at nothing specific down the block. I get a shiver up my back from the gale and I can feel the goose bumps around my deltoids and biceps. I breathe out as the wind whistles by and I breathe in with a shiver. She does the same. She pulls out a Marlboro and looks for matches by randomly touching parts of her body, parts that I once touched. The cigarette is clenched between her full lips, and she makes a vexed look, breathing out with a grunt, not being able to find her matches. I pull out my lighter, but I don't smoke. She bought me the Zippo because I liked the picture—it was a plain and silver metallic. She bought me that lighter so that I could light her cigarette for her. She bought me that lighter because she once loved me. I put the lighter up to her cigarette. Before she puts life into her cigarette, her head is poised downwards and she looks up. She looks up only with her eyes, and it's that captivating puppy look. It only lasts a second, and she starts to enjoy the mild buzz of her cigarette. There isn't the sound of her soft but mildly husky voice saying thank you. Just a weak smile.
       When she speaks, she usually has that calm tone except when she gets into a misunderstanding with one of our friends or with me. Her tone has only changed once on me. I was confused, yet innocent in the end. I've asked before if she could explain what happened, but she can't. She doesn't understand either, so I don't push her to explain. I guess she's the true victim. I turn my head again, shivering from the cold. The wind dies down and we continue our walk. She walks closer to me and takes another drag from her Marlboro. I've always wanted her to stop smoking, but I never made a big deal about it. I want her to want me for support. I want her to grab my arm right now and hold on while the smoke exhaled from her mouth poisons me. We have a block left to walk to our class, but I don't want this to end. We're both tired, and to me this walk is like a dream. It would be a better dream if she could just show she needed my support. Everything in the city around us is quiet and calm. The sky is gray and gives off a serene, perfect feel.
       We wait at the crosswalk for a biker to go by before we cross the street to get to the last block. I take her hand, preparing for the worst, and put our arms in the locking position. Her forearm falls down, resting on the back side of my elbow, putting us in the couple position. Normally I look at the person and give a smile when I do that, but this time I just look at her waiting. At this point I realize that I never tried to get her back into my life. I never asked her to dance at a club, I never locked onto her, I never gave the first hug, and I was the one who always wished for our relationship to continue. We stand there while the “Don't Walk” sign stops blinking and all the cars go by. I look into her eyes and try to read thoughts from them. She just looks. I look and curl my lips inward and bite the skin from the corner. When we have the light to cross, she crosses first, not tugging me to follow like she used to do. She puts her hands in her blue jacket pockets and has her head poised towards the cement. I catch up with her and just walk next to her.

October

Things have begun to turn faster here
in the place where time speeds up.
The changes here are not just in the leaves,
whose green, warm, soft summer became
yellow, orange and red, the sharp colors of
cool, crispy autumn.

The changes here are not just in the air,
though the cold has cleared the sky of summer,
which makes it easier to breathe.

It's not just that the fireflies left
or that the dressed-up children came
or that the brook looks like glass now.

The changes here are in us—they occurred before
we felt them happening.
We grew up or became bitter or learned to love,
and when spring came, we looked back and wondered when in the midst of
October did we fall.

Ariel C.


Don't Let the Man Keep You Down in Chemistry:
Revelations of a Civic-Minded Daughter

       My parents named me January because they thought that as their daughter I should revel in originality. They thought they were terribly clever, naming me after the month I was born in. I don't think it ever once occurred to them that they were sticking me with the least original name in the English language. Jan. It drives them crazy when I introduce myself that way. They want people to call me Arie, as they do.
       They were these profound pseudo-hippies. They thought that the whole hippie movement in general was too commonplace so they decided to do their own thing. They and a small group of friends actually demonstrated against demonstrations. They would have sit-ins in their own houses and do lots of hallucinogenics and write sophomoric post-beat poetry. It was all very mod. They had this brilliant pre-gen X mentality.
       It drives them crazy that their only daughter is so mainstream. I listen to pop music, never shop vintage, and I've never had a boyfriend without a crewcut. They always cringe when my birthday comes around as they grudgingly hand me a gift certificate to the Gap. I love to watch them hopefully anticipate that I'll bring home a cocaine addict or a tortured artist when I tell them I have a new boyfriend, then watch their faces fall when they see another clean-cut lacrosse player at their doorstep.
       My parents insist that I call them by their first names, Summer and Smoke (they changed them after reading Tennessee Williams), so that our household isn't bound by the mainstream, conventional matriarchal and patriarchal dominating terms.
       I think their proudest moment was when I brought home a D in chemistry.
       "It's all right, Arie," Summer said. "It's all right, dear. Just don't let the system get you down, darling. It's harsh and cold. Society doesn't respect ineptitude. You can do as badly as you want to, Arie darling. No one has the right to judge your intelligence by their fucked-up standardized tests. Damn the system. Darling, if I were you, I'd protest that grade. March right up to your teacher and tell him that you think that our educational system places too much value on these damn chemistry experiments. They're probably using you as pawns in their game, letting you test out dangerous chemicals for their own covert purposes. Fucking Agent Orange all over again! It's all about the money, darling! Don't be a pawn! Protest the system!"
       I said, "Mom," and watched her cringe before I continued, "Mom, this stuff is important. I just failed a test 'cause I didn't study. They aren't using us in a grand scheme. We're just kids learning chemistry. Just kids, Mom." After having used "just" before referring to myself and repeatedly calling her "Mom," she was at the end of her rope.
       "All right then, Arie dear," she said. "Be a pansy. Be a fucking sitting duck, letting bureaucratic injustices knock you down right and left. But darling, when the Man kicks you to the floor and won't let you get up, when you've fallen to the depths of a Republican Mentality, laden with prejudices and right-wing soul-crushing ideas, when you've become a pawn in the drawn-out game of Good versus Evil and you side with wrong, and when you become aware that our world is heavy with injustices, don't come running to me to help you protest. 'Cause you had your chance, baby! Go ahead, Arie, play their little game. Be another Stepford student. Please, feel free! Good for you. But never say I didn't warn you! Damn the Man!"
     I protested the grade. I couldn't do anything else. I told my chem teacher I'd had cramps the day of the midterm, and he blushed and let me re-test. I brought my final grade up to a C- and told Summer I'd organized a sit-in.

Alexis G.

 
clear.gif

You live in a shelter
sustained on prayers
and my chopstick legs
You breathe in hair
baked in oranges and the sun
You feel with clown hands
see with red eyes
taste in foreign tongue

You are a heathen heretical hero
my ataxic astronaut
an example to all

Lindsey G.


Black Rain

Black rain fell
After the deafening silence
Were you there?
No you watched from above taking pictures
True bird's eye view
One swoop of air
Crushed the world
Leaving shadows lonely
Separated from the body

Black rain fell
Do you know any more than the one short paragraph in the text books?
Do you know the reality?
It was a silent massacre
A blink of an eye
No sound of agony, no pain
FLASH
dust
Blew away with the wind
No bodies to bury

Black Rain fell
Ask the survivors
Who lives? Who dies?
Whose predilection?
Those who died just died
No fear, just death
But those unfortunate enough to survive
Died over and over again of fear and confusion
That infiltrated their conscious and subconsciousness

Black Rain fell
Do you believe in God?
Zeus' thunderbolt was hurled to the earth
Alien transportation
The world ended, the apocalypse is here
Or the sun just exploded
Fear unverbalized, fear of an unverbalizable phenomenon
Black Rain fell
Black terror, Black nightmare, Black unknown

Black rain fell
It was silent
(the August cicadas died)

Nao T.

 
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The Hajj

I fell in love with the man in the minaret,
cloaked in red and gold,
curling his calls to prayer softly around my ears,
barefoot and clean and hungry for God,
whispering in Arabic
“Come here, come here.”
In a tower above the markets
the clanging sound of ladle against pot
slowly
vanishing
as the merchants selling their wares
prepared to worship.
A hazy cloud of perfume and right foot after
right foot
stepping into God's presence
as we stood high above them,
receiving the sound of their voices in unison,
and lifted a veil,
crying to Allah.

Leora V.


An Animated Discussion

       There was a knock at the gold-paneled door, and the executive, his leather chair facing the back wall of the office, said, “Come in.” She entered the room uncertainly, wearing pink high heels and a pink hair bow, her wings pressed nervously against her sides. “Mickey, is that you?”
       The black chair swiveled, revealing the executive, who was dressed in a bright red three-piece suit. “Daisy? Wow, long time no see!” He laughed uncertainly and his voice hung in the air.
       “Your voice has changed, Mickey,” she said.
       “It's Michael now.”
       She paused. “Your voice has still changed.”
       “Took a lot of work,” he replied with a shrug. “But hey, when this thing started building up—the way I used to talk, I woulda sounded kind of unprofessional at executive meetings, y'know?” He laughed again.
       “But your laugh still sounds the same.”
       “It does?” He waited a moment. “So . . . How's Donald?”
       “We split up,” she said, “a while ago. I have no idea where he is now. You and Minnie?”
       “Well.” He laughed. “Actually, we're in the midst of some problems, too. I've—just filed for divorce.”
       “I'm sorry.”
       “No need to be.”
       The back wall of the office was an immense TV screen, upon which the animated version of Hercules was playing. The two watched it for a moment. “It's…quite a place, here,” Daisy said.
       “Yeah, I've come a long way from Steamboat Willy.” Mickey lifted a remote control and turned off the movie. “So, why're you here, Daisy?”
       “Well—”
       “I mean, this isn't just for auld lang syne, is it?”
       “I was—”
       The intercom buzzed. Mickey pressed a button and the door opened. A small black beetle with gold markings on his wings scuttled in. “We took your complaint to the judge, sir,” he said, “but he wouldn't accept it. He said you cannot legally file for divorce by reason of your spouse's insanity.”
       “I didn't say she was insane, I said she was fucking Goofy!” he yelled, and paused. The beetle waited patiently, apparently used to this sort of outcry. The executive then removed a five-hundred dollar bill from his pocket. “Give him this and see if he changes his mind.” The beetle accepted it greedily and scuttled out of the room. The door closed behind him.
       “Aren't you worried he'll—go off with that?” Daisy asked. “With the money?”
       “No matter. I can afford it.”
       “I suppose it's none of my business, but—”
       “Yeah, she was. I caught them together, in his office. That guy—he thinks he can fuck his way to the top here.” Mickey rolled his eyes and lit a cigarette with a diamond-studded lighter. “It doesn't work like that. The thing with Goofy is his profile. It's too complex, too disproportionate. He just doesn't have the physicality of a corporate symbol. It's as simple as that. I don't know what she sees in him.” He shook his head and stroked his round black ears. “He was just after my job, though, as if he doesn't already get paid enough.”
       “That's—what I've come to talk about, Mickey,” she said.
       “Huh?”
       “I—I've come for my share,” she said, moving a step closer to the silver desk. “The instant everything got big, Mickey, I got dropped like a hot potato. The public knows the names of all those hot new young stars you've got—Simba, Belle, Sebastien, Jasmine, Quasimodo—but who knows MY name? WHO'S HEARD OF DAISY DUCK?” She balled her wings into fists and approached another step. “I am a collector's item, Mickey. I am the past, known only to ancient hermit collectors who never leave their mountain huts. I was there with you from the beginning, Mickey, you, me, Donald, Minnie, Goofy and Pluto, and this is the thanks I get. I deserve more than this!” Her bill snapped together and she paused. “And where's Pluto now?”
       “Well, actually, I don't know.” Mickey laughed again. “We kind of lost touch.”
       “That's just it, Mickey! This enterprise belongs to me and Pluto as much as it belongs to you and Goofy and everyone else! You have no right to be usurping the benefits! I have been forgotten—”
       “Exactly, Daisy. You've been forgotten. We never had any contract, never any legal agreement, and with the way business is going right now, it seems to me that it'd be ridiculous for me to bring in some antiquated character from the days of Walt Disney. You're washed out, Daisy. Just barely colorized. I hate to break it to you, but honey, you are badly drawn.”
       “BADLY DRAWN!” She snatched the remote control off Mickey's desk and turned on the screen-wall, upon which Hercules was still playing. “You want to see badly drawn, take a look at him! Is that his nose or his penis? And is that supposed to be female? You're cheapening, Mickey, and you keep at it because people will still buy it! Am I nuts, or did art have something to do with this originally? WHAT HAPPENED TO MY PLASTIC FIGURINES?”
       There was a moment of silence in the room, and then Mickey stubbed out his cigarette in the blue crystal ashtray. “Then sue me, if you feel that strongly,” he said. “See how far you get. I mean, you know you can't beat us. We can't be beaten anymore. I'm sorry, Daisy, but there's really nothing I can do. And call me Michael.”
       Daisy flushed. “Maybe I will sue! Maybe I'll get a lawyer—”
       “That's a good idea. Why don't you give Dopey a call? I hear he's practicing law nowadays.”
       “That wasn't necessary, Mickey. Why can't we just settle this—nicely?”
       “Nothing's nice anymore, Daisy. We're part of the corporate world.” He laughed. “Honestly? I'd love to, but we don't see eye to eye on this, and there's not much that can happen in terms of a compromise. You'll have to be content with the time you already had in the spotlight and savor it. In the eyes of those hermits in those huts on the mountains, you will live forever, and you're not gonna get much else. You gotta accept that; it's reality, honey, reality.”
       “I don't have to accept that! There's something I can do—”
       “There's nothing you can do, Daisy. That's the way it is. This is real life.” He lit another cigarette and chuckled. “This is real life.”

Gemma C.

 

A Random Page from My Autobiography:
Life Is Nice with Pork-Fried Rice

but the joke's on them because I'm not really gay.
       At that point, I knew I needed a change. First, I quit my job at the cheese factory even though I had no other source of income. But I figured, “Hey, I live in New York City, there must be something for me out there.” I have never been more wrong in my life. One day, though, I was meeting with one of my friends uptown. I hopped in a cab and told the driver where I was going. He did not understand a word I said, and I had to get out and look for another one. It took me two hours to finally get up to Central Park, and it cost me thirty bucks. I was so incredibly pissed off, but then it hit me: there needed to be another way to get around the city besides the inefficient cabs, the terrible buses, and the disgusting subways. Just then I remembered that a lot of relatives from China were moving to New York and needed work. I had a brilliant idea: I decided to start my own rickshaw driving company.
       A month later, everything was set. I had employed forty-six strong, young Chinese men, each with his own rickshaw cart that could comfortably fit a person who was under five and a half feet (the rickshaws were designed for Chinese people). I had decided to charge ten cents for every block traveled, with a customary two-percent tip to the driver. Every rickshaw also had the words “You like go someplace, we take you where you like go!” carved into it. I was so excited with my very own business that I even decided to have my own rickshaw. Everything went perfectly the first day. In twelve hours of work, I alone made twelve dollars along with ninety-six cents from tips. This good fortune was experienced by all of my employees except for Shao-Chaung Chin, who had died running into a garbage truck. Apparently he was going so fast that he ran into the back of the garbage truck and fell in the garbage. He was pulled under the crushing device, and his skull was mashed into won ton soup. It really was a shame, but as my fortune cookie said that day, “Look on the bright side of things.” The passenger was not hurt, so at least we avoided a lawsuit. And from then on, things ran very smoothly, almost as smoothly as my bare feet gliding across

Todd L.


father moon
your blood-drenched horizons
call to me

from my jail cell
i'm overtaken
by a fever like
milk
from the breast of eternity

it calls me

a nun on her way to
chapel
desires my body

it's more than enough to drive me mad
the prospect of such beauty

unrelenting sorrow
crazy heartfelt sweetness
sad

a melancholic tornado of
delirious
python imagery

call the firemen
there is a blaze running rampant
through my senses

all hail father moon
king of the universe
queen of the laboratory

go find him on your rooftop
wet in the evening
dreary as a sailor

go find him in
early morning
streetlight
illuminated
cancerous meager and holy

Alex K.


Pinky

It is illegal to sell cigarettes to minors.
It is illegal to remove one's shoes and clothing in public.
It is illegal to speak to a stranger in a personal manner.
It is forbidden to sit cross-legged on the sidewalk; the penalty is doubled after dark.
Please comport yourself with care amongst personages from whom you are expected to desire to curry favor.
Welcome to our planet; please do not look at the sky.
Please keep track of all seven of your pebbles at all times.
Anyone caught burning medium of exchange will be placed in a fence and spoken to.
Millions have lost their right to give small slips of paper to others for attempting to gain an eighth pebble.
Dental care can be received for free if one dresses properly.
You will be allotted six straws daily.
For your own safety, exchanging or hoarding of these straws will result in execution.
Pinky is the hundred-and-first Dalmatian; Pinky shall have nine pebbles; Pinky lives in perpetual darkness;
Pinky has infinity/0 vision.
There are thirteen cities; every city is always one mile away.
If you should see a button, do not push it.
Anything growing in your orchard must be on its appropriate tree or all your fruit will be burned.
Syrup is good red plums are good cardboard is good lemons are bad.
DO NOT TOUCH THE STENOGRAPHER.
Any action of yours may affect your font or your type-face.
Every five thousand letters is in .22 type-face regardless of modifiers.
There are seven sections in every orchard. There are either nine or twelve rows in each section; the other is the number of columns. There are three boughs on every tree. There are five branches on every bough and eight fruit per branch.
Please state your name and a brief description of each of your pebbles along with the current page in the space provided. (No space has been provided.)
Wear your purple vest every eighth day.
It is taboo to enter the Ladies Room; the men's room is “quarantined,” and spending time within its boundaries may lead to fatal infection.
Everything can be extracted with a longish needle and a silver teaspoon.
Three inches of red-colored string is all that is required to conquer the universe.
Only Pinky can conquer the world.
The stork brought the baby. Seven people have perished in the course of our history. Pinky will bring The Stork.
A band of light surrounds the left nipple of every truly great person.
There are eight inanimate components: a lead pipe, two candle sticks, a mantelpiece, three tables, and a chair.
At times there are also a painting of ship in oil, a window, a door with a brass knob, and a street.
Oranges will bleed. Nothing we can do will prevent this.
Pinky will join us when he has pasted a small, blue paper fish to a green wall. The paste is just weaker than the gravity, and Pinky will thus paste the fish repeatedly, forever.
He/She dips and flows.
He/She turns and bobs.
He/She twists and swerves.
You/They collect and count.
You/They are and be.
When the clock strikes twelve past nine, all ships must be placed back in their boxes and all balloons must return to the harbor
Six men dead allow six more to exist.
It's lucky things decay so fast. In exchange for this gift of rapid entropy, we must sacrifice our barbers to Bobo the bolder.
Next waiter.

Max Bean