Vassar Student Review

Vassar Student Review

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Volume

casa?

home is no body and no place

it’s sometimes the moonlight

or making the train on time

it’s soft blankets on rooftops

and nights that do not end

 

bitter coffee from a place

you’ll only visit once

 

home, casa, is a border

that expands and contracts in non linear,

non sequential waves

 

sometimes hurt is home

sometimes displace is home

sometimes someone you don’t want to be with

is home

on a hammock and the subway

the front seat of a cab

 

on opposite sides of a museum wall

 

home is wanting to remember

and being able to forget

 

unfulfilled goodbyes

and other furniture

inhabiting a place I wish I’d see again

 

my veins,

translucent snakes of clay

like the currents of the river given free rein

shift and pump a substance

that carries stories I wish I could always see

 

of families, of fights, of tears and compromise

 

how many have you forgotten,

how many have forgotten you?

 

it is no longer my birthday

and my parents are still in another country

in a house that is no more, not yet a home

 

a distance I’ve come to terms with

like ants caught in drops of amber

and a trance

seeing lives revolve

at haphazard speeds

 

hanging sorrows like herbs

on a fridge, unknown, untitled

 

picking lemons for your mother now for yourself

 

a decapitated deer dancing in the water

and twenty heartless beats

 

and my body,

like a lover that loves themselves best,

slips away before dawn,

perhaps, but likely not,

with regret

(t)o my holy suffering ancestors

i remember:

 

your sacred martyrdom in poland,

your creased palms in brooklyn,

the cramped yiddish noises

of your small-roomed apartments, where old friends

and distant cousins drifted in and out.

 

we have achieved everything 

you wished for.

 

and still my grandfather,

he died of a heart attack all alone

in the spacious basement 

of a house he could not afford.

 

father, recite the lord’s prayer

the way you learned in elementary school,

your old testament name pressed

between your praying hands.

you don’t know the mourner’s kaddish

and neither do i—

 

at shabbat service

i turn my head in confusion

and shame, unable to join

in the intimate knowledge 

of those who cover their faces

and beat their breasts.

the words remain opaque—

not words but shapes—

the worshippers’ faces

like solemn stones to my unbelieving eyes,

my desiring gaze.

Slumber Party

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,,,,

Stoops

mallowmars

a mouth opens

for

mallow

marscookie and

sticky

stuck

marshmallow

filling her

mouth open

and closed

for sweetness

and conflicted

crunchy soft

 

too late to 

wonder

but I am

as I look at you

at us

sitting on this

stoop

too much

in the mouth

and the mind

to speak

 

and

I opened my

mouth

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 

yearn

but despise

my acceptance

of it

that sleep

you love

to sleep,

it is 

rest

 

I want to 

wander

on this stoop

forever

if I go to bed

my thoughts

will wake up

too clear and defined

I want to 

wander

with my mouth

full

of marshmallow

ponderings

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

slows

to

a

stoop

,

and we sit here

wandering

cigarettes smoked

liquor lost

to the blood

and mind

 

you started weeping

I realized

it may have been something

I said

 

I hate

sleep

I love

eyes open

I fear my eyes

closed 

at myself 

you love 

sleep

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

is—

I love for the dark—

You love for the dark—

 

perhaps we

love

the same thing:

but we love it differently

 

the mallowmar

still fills

your mouth

though we 

stopped

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

alone 

with my clear

thoughts

of thinking

I love for the love

of staying 

awake

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 

obligation

where there is nothing

 

what about the chocolate

coating?

it crackles when my

mouth tastes it

when my mouth

tastes

the thought

it crackles

loud

enough

for us both

to hear

 

I love for fear

of not loving

myself

I think you do too

 

though you want 

to drink yourself

into wandering

sleep

and

I want 

to eat myself

awake

 

to taste, absorb

and feel—

 

otherwise I get so 

numb sometimes

without the 

crunch of the 

cookies

saliva and sticky

mallllow

in between my 

lips—

 

I cannot make myself 

feel

I love you for fear

that I cannot make myself

feel—

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

real

 

I think I’ll

put you to bed now

so your staring

wanders

into realness

can stop

for a time

 

you know me

after you sleep

I’ll sit out

on the stoop

for a while

longer

afraid of my bed,

bite a mallow

mar

and throw the rest away

now too 

afraid

of the echoes of

myself

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 

someone

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

loving 

my awareness

fearing a fate

of fantasy

 

I should submit myself

to the morning

awakeness

Awareness I will fear after

falling into 

the sleep I 

fear

the wandering I 

fear

too much

 

we love

for fear

of our faces.

 

sometimes I wish

I could love like

you do

we don’t 

love

that differently

do we?

Seeing Things

In the daring minutes before daybreak

assembles an unlikely orchestra

patiently awaiting the rustling of toes:

an imperfect metronome

to break night from day

 

An organ player

on the tip of her eyelashes

A violinist strikes the bow

down her cheek

a frightening note

A harpist strumming

her lips, thin

quivering strings

 

And her mouth, exhaling melodies

crumbles slowly into a smile

 

The best prelude of all,

before morning time duties call

follows right after the band goes home

 

The symphony herself, the woman

arises—

 

The accordion that is her ribcage

breathing in sunlight

while the abdomen squishes air

and sleep out of the way

Mute notes out of her bellybutton

 

 

Some mornings

between the echoes of elsewhere

and birdsongs

I don’t always hear

 

her silent, private symphony

I am but a rare witness

to music making

thankful to welcome morning against her tune

panfollicular epilogue

at long last I am

a “Porcelain Ivory” replica 

(makeup shade #1, the palest, 

does it cover the pink, puckered skin to my mother’s liking?)

A Roman plastic surgeon’s hand’s copy of the Greek original 

and I stand at attention in your bathroom, 

Aphrodite, naked but for my context.

 

were I to mount the pile of your clothes and stand stock-still: 

I might be like the women in the museum,

not the honey jar of flesh but the marble, 

illuminated, poised as if to take a step, 

unhindered but for the unbalance of a blemish on my left side. 

 

it’s not as if I’m clay, nor tusk,

despite what it says on the bottle

I am elastic of the block that bore me,

standing in your bathroom,

tolerating bad lighting, insufficient makeup, 

until gravity turns me to marble and I am placed in the museum, 

in the honey jar,

poised as if to take a step. 

the big dipper

i. we plateaued in the middle of the night in oregon. the car was working okay but you were losing steam.

meanwhile the love of my life sat by a riverbed in california.

 

ii. you’re probably reading this by accident

the boy i love is an art piece, a flat weave textile

we keep the light on late and spill wax and my feet hurt and you peel me like a blood orange

this is how the knowing happens.

the i-can-see-you even in the dark

you reach deep down

come up with nothing.

 

iii. this girl in my class has never seen anyone in their underwear.

 

iv. i am my mother’s flesh and blood, i’m witchy california and obsessive and compulsive. i’m unraveling myself on his papaya-printed sheets.

 

iii. if i could tell her what it’s like i’d explain staring at the ceiling for hours on end. your boxers and my handprints. our tiny resistances, the way you set down the mug of tea, the way i can take sips without asking. your exhaustion to my wakefulness, your nails to my back, the way you hold on and then let go.

 

v. there are so many constellations, he said. there are galaxies uncurling while we take catnaps and get high. i said that you’re so beautiful it puts stars in my eyes and oceans in my fingertips. i can’t leave i can’t leave i can’t leave. gone but my hip still hurts.

 

iii. if i could tell her what it’s like i’d let her read the letters and say that he was so sweet it made me disintegrate. that it wore down my viscera.

if i could tell her what it’s like i’d tear everything up and talk about nebulas

let my coffee brew too strong

and then wipe away the acidity. 

unwound

along your heel, my stitches still mark where your shadow clings.

they are raised and ugly things, more scar tissue than thread,

pink: it was the only color I had.

I trace my indelicate attempt at embroidery with fingers still clumsy,

still wondering. I wanted to make art of you, but I mucked it up,

fucked you over. walking will never come like breathing—

but has it ever? have you ever known the ground?

even your shadow floats when we go out, or it would:

I can’t really take you out. you’re so luminescent your shadow glows,

brighter as it grows across the pavement with the hour.

you think an hour is a silly thing. it’s always summer to you,

the days mere moments. time is not your currency:

you cannot spend it, cannot waste it. you let it be.

I think in ticking clocks, but I let you be. I am happy

to trace your nuances with my fingertips, following

a train of thought across your forehead. I marvel:

your skin never used to wrinkle, but you have grown

like a shadow in the evening light; you have known this world

and me, if only in the night. you land at my window as the sun

sets against your back, shining through, lengthening

you, your spine, your shoulders.

I watch your shadow stretch across my bed.

 

in the dimness before dawn, I lie awake

while you sleep, dreamlessly. your scent,

cedar and stardust, imbues the stillness

with the ache of moments passing.

a breeze peeks in my open window,

whispers of the rust of autumn. its cool fingers

pass in greeting through your hair. you stir.

I know we’ve spent the summer. I know

our stores are gone, lost to the ticking

of my watch, my heart. I know.

I pluck your stitches, staccato, unwinding

your scars, resetting our acquaintance

like a clock. when you stand in my window,

the same boy but for your shoulders

knocking against the frame which once

swallowed you whole, when the wind

remembers your name, when the stars

recall the way, your shadow

will remain perched on my windowsill,

warm as a sunbeam’s echo, dull

without your summertime glow.

Daphne

They came over the hill like a parade, skipping and jumping to the rhythmic stamp of their small feet on the earth. Their days were spent flitting in and out of the old wooden cabin at the peak of the hill for meals, showers, an afternoon game of kickball. They were The Lost Boys, drunk on youth and happiness, wrestling each other like cubs and then, in the same breath, tumbling into each other’s arms in peals of laughter. They often picked through the brambles that rolled down the side of the hill to find the tart blackberries and raspberries and stain their mouths and hands with the sweet juices hidden from them like secrets, like tiny wild jewels.

When at last they reached the top of the hill, they heard a soft rustling from the depths of the bushes.

“Holy shit,” one of them said, “a skunk.”

And then they were all there, attentive and silent in the beating sun, a half-moon formation, staring from a safe distance at the animal.

It stood inside a trap: a large, gridded wire cage glinting in the sunlight beneath the shadowy trees.  And inside, the skunk (lured by tasty promises, kept in by the triggered door falling shut, a guillotine of freedom). Its fur was shiny, its glistening nose a large dewdrop in the center of its pointed face, its coal fur only made more alluring by the dash of white down its back. It tottered in stunted circles inside, shuffling round and round, snuffling with its pointed snout, and rocking on its tender paws.

The boys stood together, their sticky skin breathing in the thick air. Tall blades of grass tickled their calves; sleepy mosquitoes drifted in and out of their ears. The earth was soft with the wetness of the summer.

One of the boys crept closer and closer to the skunk, pulled by intrigue, its magnetism, some undefinable attraction to the variations in its shifting body. He stepped slowly, recalling myths from the humid New Hampshire forests accompanied by flashlights and loud voices, thinking of the tomato baths and lingering smells of late night walks down wooded paths.

“Don’t be such a pussy!” said one of the boys from the crowd. He picked up a small rock at his feet and threw it sharply at the trap, but the rock fell short of the cage and the firmament remained. The skunk looked at the rock then fixed its gaze on the boys, silently reproaching, and they looked back, the reflection of distant longing in their eyes.

 

They named the skunk Daphne. After all, beneath her mound of fur, wasn’t there a warm torso, soft curves, a beating heart?

They began to bring her food, nudging soft crusts cut off their peanut butter and jelly sandwiches towards her crate with a stick, pushing cold pieces of pizza between the bars. They watched with pleasure as her pink tongue pushed between her lips, her long eyelashes batting lugubriously at them as she nibbled on morsels stolen from the dining hall.

Some of them shared secrets with her. Jonathan snuck out one morning to show her his damp armpit, where three thin hairs poked out of the surface of his skin. Seth drew portraits of her in a little, black notebook he carried around in the pocket of his cargo shorts. And Adam collected a few of her fallen tufts of fur, blown out of her cage by the wind, and kept them in a tiny jar he wore around his neck. Within days they’d forgotten their usual crushes, the Hannah’s and Samantha’s, their pangs of adolescent longing, all for a single name that pulsed like blood within each of them. Daphne. Daphne. Daphne.

Together, they plotted escape, sitting on each other’s beds during flashlight time, waiting until their counselors were asleep to whisper plans into waiting ears and to listen to the susurrations carried into the un-paned cabin windows imagining that with them they brought the gentle breath of Daphne, their moonlit princess, peacefully asleep among the tangled berries.

 

The night they planned to free Daphne, a gibbous moon hung blithely in the sky. Bathed in the silvery light, sheathed in their pajamas and sweatshirts, they looked like knights. The spangled sky winked down at them from above their heads. They left their cabin in a single file line, closed the creaky door behind them, and then continued down the hill, pushing through the bushes and brambles, stomping their way to the cold, metal cage in which Daphne lay.

They halted uneasily the moment they were close enough to see her. Her fur, once so bright and rippling, was now a dull grey, a muddy white, like dirtied snow. She lay, not on her stomach with her paws folded angelically beneath her chin, but on her back, tiny hands pointing towards the darkness of the night. Their Daphne lay dead in her chamber.

Andrew was the first to cry, a wounded howling that pierced the dusky night. The other boys joined in, moving towards Daphne’s cage, unlatching it, and lifting her body into the freedom of the bright air. They carried her up the hill, howling and whimpering, the tallest of them holding her high above their heads, a sacrifice to the wind, and when they were done climbing the hill she was gone, carried away like a specter or apparition.

And they found that their bodies were suddenly closer to the ground, that they were walking not on two legs, but on four. They found that they could smell in a new way, see in a new way, that black and white fur covered them fully and that everything was bright and that everything was beautiful. They padded away into the pressing darkness, each going in his own direction back down the hill, perhaps to eat a worm or a leaf, or to bury his nose into the wet ground and breath in the ancient scents of the fertile earth.

Keeping Distance

I was too young to know, and I craved a hopeless closeness

that the water-sunken earth couldn’t bestow.

The slanted shade pressed out a depth of hedge, while below,

the endless velvet petals and lamb’s ears I pressed

 

in my palms were a maddening, heartsick test:

holding each one, I could not bear to choose

if I preferred crushing it to a dense, wet bruise

or if prolonging its softness pleased me best.

 

How to shade or blur this skin away,

pull the brush tighter over myself and cover my limbs—

where down hair on my restless legs still held rims

of slanting sun. Twigs snap and clothes fray,

 

a hasty hand slips down the bias of a stone. The cut sings

out and I hum all through myself a flowering pang.

Tears, hotter than blood or air, roll down then hang

on my cheek as I sob over the miserable, silly state of things.

 

I scramble up and out, into hot, unbidden arms from indoors,

but something would not stop seeping deeper in and in—

what I had sought without now burned and blushed within.

That was when I first felt it: the sting of wanting and getting more.

 

So now I do my best to keep my distance, letting the far stay afar,

and desire is tempered: wanting only blurs further inward.

Growing up I’m getting better, though sometimes it’s still hard

to leave a softness alone — but I know we must, graceless handlers that we are.

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