Vassar Student Review

Vassar Student Review


A reflection on the painting by Eric Fischl


Georgia gets hotter each night.


I dip my toes into the creek

Out back beside his family’s barn.

We walk side-by-side

Not minding the mosquitoes and

The dirt caking around our ankles.


I dwell on his drawl

That manages to sound thicker

Than any boy I have ever spoken to.

He teaches me how to use crickets to tell the temperature.

We sit silently, counting their chirps,

Searching for answers.


I watch him climb the stairs to his attic,

One ladder rung at a time

Checking down to make sure

I am still behind him.

Still following.


He turns on the TV,

A relic that he cherishes—

more than baseball and Lemonheads—

All five channels and endless amounts of static it produces.


“I’ve only listened to a radio.

My momma won’t buy a TV.

She thinks it’ll spoil me.”

He laughs at me and pokes my sides. 


We make forts with our sheets and our bodies and quickly destroy them.

He turns back to the TV, eventually.




He has a long scar—

I notice it as he undresses,

But he only seems to notice the television—

It runs down the back of his thin left thigh.


The shadows of us two in here

Looking bigger and closer

Than we really are,

They are beginning to play tricks on me.


Naked but for my underwear,

I curl into my sleeping bag as

The TV continues to crackle.

But he doesn’t seem to notice.



I start to count the crickets’ chirps,

Curious of the hot Georgia night

Seeping in though his window.

One, two, three, four,,,,


a mouth opens



marscookie and




filling her

mouth open

and closed

for sweetness

and conflicted

crunchy soft


too late to 


but I am

as I look at you

at us

sitting on this


too much

in the mouth

and the mind

to speak



I opened my


to marshmallow

fluff but

instead heard

some words come

out as I looked

at you

at us

I can’t see us

can you?


I feel so lonely

when I go to sleep

I think I 


but despise

my acceptance

of it

that sleep

you love

to sleep,

it is 



I want to 


on this stoop


if I go to bed

my thoughts

will wake up

too clear and defined

I want to 


with my mouth


of marshmallow


next to your

smeared mascara—


You started weeping

it often happens at this

point in the night

or the morning

when the movement

of the day






and we sit here


cigarettes smoked

liquor lost

to the blood

and mind


you started weeping

I realized

it may have been something

I said


I hate


I love

eyes open

I fear my eyes


at myself 

you love 


you are exhausted

from looking

at yourself


whereas I

adore it


I love awakeness 

for the dark

is not—

you love sleep

for the dark


I love for the dark—

You love for the dark—


perhaps we


the same thing:

but we love it differently


the mallowmar

still fills

your mouth

though we 


eating long ago

at least

I think

that’s why

you’re not speaking—


we love 

for fear

of our faces


I love for fear

of waking


with my clear


of thinking

I love for the love

of staying 


to hear you cry and speak

to me of


your love for fear

of cognizance

of wandering thoughts

that lead you alone

in your body

that leave me alone

in mine

you love for the love

of free

rest where there is no 


where there is nothing


what about the chocolate


it crackles when my

mouth tastes it

when my mouth


the thought

it crackles



for us both

to hear


I love for fear

of not loving


I think you do too


though you want 

to drink yourself

into wandering



I want 

to eat myself



to taste, absorb

and feel—


otherwise I get so 

numb sometimes

without the 

crunch of the 


saliva and sticky


in between my 



I cannot make myself 


I love you for fear

that I cannot make myself


you remember to touch

my shoulder

you know that I forget

if I’m real sometimes


you love the freedom

from that touch perhaps 

you love

not being



I think I’ll

put you to bed now

so your staring


into realness

can stop

for a time


you know me

after you sleep

I’ll sit out

on the stoop

for a while


afraid of my bed,

bite a mallow


and throw the rest away

now too 


of the echoes of


of my need to fear


I love for fear of this moment

on the stoop

when I don’t know where 

else to go


I envy your love of 

being lost


do you envy me too?


tomorrow night

maybe you’ll

go to bed with 


who can 

get lost somewhere too


I’ll be on the stoop

too awake

to let someone

lead me to my bed

to anywhere

I’ll be here


my awareness

fearing a fate

of fantasy


I should submit myself

to the morning


Awareness I will fear after

falling into 

the sleep I 


the wandering I 


too much


we love

for fear

of our faces.


sometimes I wish

I could love like

you do

we don’t 


that differently

do we?

When softening earth gives up its icy shell

Before spring buds blot out the soil,

I can count the graves below my window. 

The smooth unmarked stones sink 

further with every passing season

into indifferent dirt.

 Scattered, patternless—so it seems.


My small hands plunged into hollows,

Filled them them up with feathered corpses,

Weightless bundles of bones and matted down.

I learned to winnow life down to its rock

Marker, sixteen of them, to be exact.


A girl I once knew named all her stuffed animals.

Each one in the pile beside her bed

Possessed an identity that could not be forgotten.

In the yard next door, I named the chickens—


Monte Cristo, quiet roster with silver streaks

And an iridescent tail;

Siny, fighting tireless battles with shoes;

Heather, perched on shoulders, beak shoved

Into your hair.


I scorned the neighbor girl’s stuffed animals.

For all her naming and make-believe,

They were not living, breathing beings

Who scratched in the dirt, ate from your palm.

Yet something that never breathed can’t stop;

Only the imaginary lacks an expiration date.


Someone forgot to tell me

Living doesn’t last.


The neighbor girl never screamed at hawks,

Held a peeping chick with a leg split in two.

Never crawled under sheds to unearth

Small, careworn bodies,

Or followed a trail of blood-stained feathers.

Never listened to rattling breath sputter to silence.

Never picked up fragments of egg shell

With a wet, still, body curled up inside,

Dead before it lived.


A year ago

I found the neighbor girl’s stuffed animals

In a box beside her driveway.

I held a plush purple elephant in my hands

And wondered how it felt

To choose what is lost.


Fading evening light gleams through trees,

Glides through fence slats,

And dances on sixteen stones.

In the center of the garden amid the hydrangeas,

I kneel in the dirt, plunge my hands into the earth,

And dig another hole.

Every dermatologist’s office is trying to sell you Botox.

They promise you “healthy, glowing skin!”

and overpriced product packages.

The lady checks you in asking for your name and date of birth

in a voice so quiet you have to press your face to the glass.

Click space click click click

the computer makes that noise.

She tells me to take a seat.

I sit in a plastic chair.

I wonder if there’s a store that sells this same chair to all dermatologists.

I hope so.

Everyone around me is reading the paper and 70 years my senior.

Is good skin only for the dying?

There is a television in front of me

flashing ads for what you should do and buy

and warnings about sun and cancer and smoking

and the models are so attractive

and I sink in my seat a bit.

Maybe if I lived in this waiting room I’d have no scars

and my skin would glow so brilliantly

that people would be afraid to look at me.

I’m taken to a closet sized office where I’ve been waiting for 10 minutes now.

It’s always like that.

Maybe the suspense makes you think you’re getting what you’re paying for.

Looming to my right are four cursive certificates in gold frames

assuring me that I made the right choice in being here.

They are stacked one on top of another

all the frames are slightly different.

They all look like my high school diploma.

Maybe Dr. Rockoff will come in soon to do whatever he’s supposed to.

Maybe he won’t.

Maybe I’ll try to open the door and it’ll be locked and I’ll have to live in this skincare prison cell

surviving off Premium Hand Sanitizer with Aloe and Bacteriostatic .9% Sodium Chloride

as my skin grows indefinitely worse and I die under fluorescent lights.

I can hear him talking to a patient in the other room.

She has really stubborn acne and pimples on her ass.

Someone else is turning 22 today. I think of you

on top of the monkey bars after we saw that movie in Davis.

I dream you come to visit and I make you a G&T

with light pink syrup. I dream you into a murder mystery

where the mystery is who’s dead and every time I

forget that it’s you for long enough you come back

for a while and I can talk to you. Tonight I’m thinking

of your beautiful cat who died five years ago. Someone says

the stages of grief weren’t ever actually meant to be

about anyone other than yourself. In the winter,

every morning triples the impending length of the day,

and I wonder how you would feel about it. In the spring—


I don’t know yet, actually. In the doorway, someone’s cigarette

threatens to ruin my slice of the birthday cake. I used to hate

how food tastes when someone nearby is smoking. But

I used to make an exception for you, and without you,

I keep making it. Would you find that stupid?

I’m not scared of driving on the highway anymore

but I don’t have any reason to go to Natick anymore.

When I am the last one awake, I think of the walk to your house

from Domino’s the night of my eighteenth birthday.

Everyone else had gone home, but we were always meandering,

and you were an eternal night owl, never rushing me to go.

You told me you had always suspected something wrong…

It turned into summer. Longer days. Never mind.


When you tried to cut bread straight from the freezer, ending up

with stitches, I did all your dishes because I wanted to believe

I could help. The truth was, we were older, and I kept

rushing away. But it was nice enough to eat on the porch,

which did not hold the same version of darkness

as that house did. You came to the bookstore, and listened

to my recommendations. You read my writing and said

kind things. I went back to school and it became September,

and after turning 22, you left immediately. But everyone else

just kept turning 22, one after another. I didn’t want it

to be my turn. But we all just kept having to get older



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