Vassar Student Review

Vassar Student Review

VSR Digital Archive

Summer Ephemera

I didn’t think I would miss it.

The way the sky crumples in the summer

leaving the hawks and butterflies

sprawling for their bedrooms.

The lovely taken out of heat,

the sky one big muscle,

cramping and cramping until we feed it

everyone we know who is remarkable—

the dandelions, my father, new history.

It’s the summer we love our bodies most.

We don’t worry what we are eating,

we stop crossing our fingers.

The cement hot and dreamy,

the birdsong new.

Soil cracked where the blueberry bush died.

It’s the way laughter sounds underwater—

I cannot tell if you are laughing or screaming,

hurting or remembering.

Small daffodils bowing their heads,

white bees tangled in the sycamore,

sun dust like dandruff in her hair—

I forget you are my mother.

It’s the summer our bodies become cyanotype skin

scorching into the under.

This way our stomachs are forever.

A Hospital Neighbor

My dad calls the woman in the room across the way Nancy Reagan.

He says that’s who she looks like, but I don’t know.

My bed doesn’t face her way. I can only imagine her.

I see her window reflected onto mine.

Someone has hung three brightly colored pictures:

lilies, a butterfly, what looks like home.

Nancy Reagan does not speak. She writes “thank you” on her whiteboard.

She films a silent video for her grandchildren. 

One day she falls from her bed and cries and cries and cries.

It is the first time I hear her make a sound.

Her grandchildren are gone. No nurses come to lift her up. 

I would save her if I weren’t connected to wires and tubes,

if my legs were a little stronger, if I could scream.

Every day I move a little more, and her a little less.


We leave the hospital on the same day.

Her EMTs arrive the moment before mine.

She cries again. Her pictures are gone.

I ask my nurse where Nancy is headed. She doesn’t smile.

Home. Hospice. Home again.

The EMTs hoist me away. Nancy stays.

A Day Without Definition

Rain poured out over the glen—

as mist engulfed the green landscape, I wondered what language


the land thinks in. Wild rivers, cradled valleys, aching hillsides—

what are they thinking as they see us here? Does the earth have a word


for the rain? Maybe I am too anthropocentric, maybe the land has a way

of speaking that is far beyond anything human language could express.


What is semantics to an oak tree? Syntax to the grass?

I have been thinking too much about language,


about the words of myself and others. I wish I could experience the world

in true silence—no thoughts, no memory, no me.


Maybe then, I could know the rain like the earth does.

Maybe then, I could look at the bugs in the dirt and wish for nothing more.

Time/ Cut

It is the hour of news and

I want to collage like rachel

maddow to meddle with

Just-pictures/ Just-images so faithlessly

that war becomes meaningless and

I can smear child-stick-glue across

your checks to press clippings of

Vanity and Glamour and Time magazine.

En de Parfum and you laugh with full breath—!


Oh to collage at the printer-parts eating away

in the whirls, their senseless


All is so equally ignored

so easily bored.


—He’s Alive! with the curse of onlookers

with stony black eyes


and they fall away like paper scraps.


In your honor,

from your poem titled “rooms”: I



—and I add three lines: and get an immense urge/ to jump and/

mingle with the sky.

After the Mirage

After the mirage

when color fills the edges

of the world

seeping into

creeping thoughts—

a corrosion of that

which hangs like barnacles through

this seasick waking tide.


After the mirage

move through corners

concerned thoughts

fought on

leftover pages crinkling

through the edges

of fantasy’s border with vibrating static,

a rippling pond.


After the mirage

I’m falling free

tell me to find

tell me I must find time

of total neutrality.


After the mirage

the air is thick

so thick

I breathe water

in pool-bottom silence and sink

back to what you ended

4in me.


After the mirage

my eyes are granitized and

they are also

as shapeless as torn jeans.


After the mirage

it is shame which speaks

what did I conjure?

what do I owe to my soul?

Porch Swing


Do you take honey in your tea? Do you read crime novels?

I want a porch when I’m older, a porch with a swing.

I want to sit on that porch and drink sweet tea and read John Grisham.


I hate when the sun sets, or I like it while it’s happening but not once it’s through.

Breathe a little quieter, honey, for me. It rattles when you inhale, you know,

like a snake. The warning before the bite.


“We need to stop selling guns,” you say, and you take a sip of coffee.

I burn my mouth trying to agree.

I’ll stop making the jokes you don’t like, I’ll stop bleeding out loud.


We need to move to Montana, live on a farm. When the cows get old

we’ll send them to the electric chair.


I buy a new mason jar because I can’t stand the thought of spilling out the pasta sauce.

Don’t worry too hard about me, my sensibilities are too delicate for red sauce.

As if I could handle the mess.


As if you could reach me. As if you could bear the cold.

Does it hurt? Do the needles hurt?

The fire alarm goes off and my hair is still wet,

our breath steams up in front of us on the steps.

I don’t know how to ask what love is supposed to feel like

but I figure you would know.

2019 – 2020 Art Gallery

Volume VI Art Gallery

Why do lovers…

Why do lovers love better
in Paris? Isn’t every city
a city of love when you’re in love?

I’m not. In love.
Instead I’m in Springfield,
in wool socks (in June),
in a Monday, in a malaise,
in the bathroom, yuck,
because I ate dairy.
My petty ailments occupy 
too much space in my body
for it to be in love.

I refuse to wake up early
so anyone can watch my drool
glimmer in the early dawn light. No way.
I wake up early to confirm 
that by three a.m. 
all the couples
all across this love-struck city
have rolled away 
from each other in the 
catastrophe of sleep.
Their bodies are done 
being puzzle pieces,
are just being puzzles again,
as my body has always been.


I see her and she sees me:
Scantily dressed, shivering cold.
Exhausted, terrified.
As Gabriel stood before her, 
now she stands before me—
Her longing eyes looking upward,
Her beautiful fingers pointed upward
to the walls of heavenly Jerusalem.
I stare; my shorts too short, neckline too low.
I fall and let my knees touch the stone floor;
its cold and I can’t help but shake.
The chapel is full of tourists, 
but suddenly I don’t know—
It’s only me and the organ and the virgin.

Rupert in His Element

Rupert in His Element
Thomas Shenefield

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