By Rebecca Brill
Image: “25 Years,” by Ezra Scott-Henning, 2016.
Summer evenings when no one is home, I make a point of eating pungent things. Sprawled on my bed, I eat stinky cheese, garlicky crackers, spicy mustard, and anchovies off a paper plate. I drink wine out of a plastic cup.
Image: “Untitled,” by Sara Wallace-Lee, 2016.
Emma Raddatz: How did you begin writing ‘leprosy,’ ‘lust,’ and ‘live’?
Rachel Godfrey: ‘lust,’ the one about the boy, Ivan, I started writing in December because I had sex with him at the end of September, and I tried to erase that that happened. So I started writing ‘lust’ slowly. It was very easy to write because the way I write is I, first, write out all my thoughts in a stream in my journal and then I turn it into something that’s fitting. ‘leprosy,’ I just wrote, it was a weird Saturday night, I was in the ST lab, and I didn’t want to do my work, that’s when I wrote that one. The last one, ‘live,’ I wrote like two days before I submitted it, I don’t know where it came from.
By Cornelia Channing
British author Helen Macdonald’s 2015 release H Is For Hawk takes a genre-defying leap into the mind of a woman unhinged as she copes with the unexpected death of her father. Part field guide and part elegy, the memoir follows the grief-stricken author on her quest to tame a Northern Goshawk, a large and notoriously bad-tempered hunting bird. The book is a parable of loss but also of reckoning, of the things that we do to heal ourselves. Macdonald, who harnessed a lifelong fascination for birds of prey, throws herself into the deep end when she adopts a wild 10 week old hawk. She turns off her phone. She falls off the map. Her relationship with the bird, Mabel, is fraught and intimate, forcing her to grapple with her grief, to give it shape.
By Danielle Cohen
There was nothing lean about it, because it was earth-shattering,
the way she tipped
her torso back, opened
her palm welcoming
all the energy of the universe and letting
it pulse through the feathers of her red dress,
(which leaned with her spine as it
curved into a backwards C, or a sideways U, depending
on how you look at it),
it was rich with color with rhythm with soul,
it was rich with zealous with sultry with bold,
it made everyone forget about the trumpets,
the trumpets with their shiny brass, and
the midnight hands that moved up and down those
polished buttons, but the trumpets,
those didn’t even matter because she,
she was the melody, the beat, and the lyrics, and her
pointed pumps held up the one leg,
the one leg she leaned back on as her outstretched arm kept
her balance, so she didn’t crash into the bar
that separated me from her,
and I watched from behind those six inches of wood,
over a motley set of
martini glasses, and
I leaned forward onto that bar
to watch her, and
the men leaned back on their chairs
to watch her, and
the martini glasses leaned back towards mouths,
their clear contents onto
desperate tongues, and
the whole room leaned
into the present and
tilted with her.
Emma Raddatz: How did you begin writing “Misplaced Anger”?
Jack Reibstein: I started from a prompt, an assignment for one of those master classes they have in the Shapiro Writing Center every semester. The prompt was to write a story, and the main character had to be ourselves 20 years from now. And we had to commit a crime. And my crime was public indecency. When I turned the piece in, a lot of people were like, “Oh, you didn’t really do the prompt. It all happens in his head!” I don’t know, I wrote out this entire other story where me, 20 years from now, gets drunk and pees in public and gets arrested for it. It just didn’t really—it was sort of interesting and definitely entertaining—but it didn’t really resonate, and I couldn’t really see myself actually doing that. Like I do do that sometimes, but I’m definitely not going to be doing that 20 years from now. Then again, I don’t know that I’m going to be a widow 20 years from now. I really hope that I’m not a widow 20 years from now.
By Jack Reibstein
Image: Bartolomeo Vanzetti and Nicola Sacco (Dedham courthouse, 1923)
As a certified dead person, I can say with the utmost certainty that there is no triumph in agony. When the electric current traveled through my body and arrived at my brain, it boosted it like jumper cables would an engine, unlocking its full processing power before crashing it completely. I scanned through eternity like a panoramic photo while my scalp fried in that Charlestown jailhouse. I listened to it all at once: the thousands protesting on the Boston Common at the moment of my execution, the bombs detonating at United States embassies across the world in the days to come, the six shots that sent two innocent men to their death on a warm April night in 1921, and even a needle scratching a vinyl imprint of the 1970s Joan Baez + Ennio Morricone pop tribute, “Here’s to You (Nicola and Bart).” All of this within a fraction of a second.
In that song, Baez cantillates over a crestfallen church-organ:
By Rachel Godfrey
Image: “Arthropod,” by Sara Wallace-Lee, 2016.
your skin begins to fade and you cannot feel pain
it is ugly
but i was told that the afterlife would be beautiful
being drained of my color seemed
a death so magical
it would break my own heart
i think of this:
denzel doing malcolm doing a conk
i think of
watching him praise and sway in the name of the white beauty lord
i think of
knowing that burn all too well
chewing the skin off my lip and playing it tough
my kinks burning from the chemicals of the [ironically named] relaxer
i think of
not thinking of
the dead flesh left behind
lies in lye
my skin was fading
and i could not feel pain
no barbed tongues
scraping their tips past my ears
with sinful whispers of “good/bad hair”
i thought i saw light in a burdenful darkness
my skin was fading
and i could not feel pain
why did it hurt so much to die this way
By Jack Reibstein
“Well, it didn’t just get up and walk away,” his parents told him as a boy. But he knew better. Sometimes they did. Sometimes things just left.
That night, after all the scraps were scraped into the disposal, and all the coats were claimed at the bannister, he stared into the black nothingness above his bed and struggled to quantify all the time in his life he’d devoted to searching for things he’d never find. Legos, socks, homework, laundry cards, keys, pens… They served him one moment, and left him the next. When he was younger, he would clench his teeth and ball his fists when these things disappeared. He could feel them poking and prodding his patience, a phantom pain from a misplaced wallet burning in his pocket, the laughter of a pair of forgotten tickets echoing in his ears.
He never felt this frustration around people. A person cannot be lost. They are too large, in both a physical and impactful sense. Only things vanish. People do not.
Liz Cettina: How did you start writing “Impact Zone”?
Will Bellamy: The plane crash in the story happened in my neighborhood in Brooklyn. I remember walking with a friend a couple years ago, and he pointed out that on one specific intersection, the buildings on three corners were all made up of pretty old-looking architecture while the building on the remaining corner was brand new. And he said it was set up this way because of some plane crash that happened back in the 60s, when two planes collided in midair and one crashed into this exact corners. So I had that in the back of my head for a couple of years and I would think about it every time I would pass by the intersection. Gradually, I started doing more research on it, first because I wanted to simply know more about it and eventually because I wanted to write a historical fiction piece centered around the crash. I’m in Cliff Chase’s Merging Forms class this semester, and our first assignment was to write a piece from three different perspectives, so originally I wrote a piece on the event with three different sections. Then, as I started editing more, I thought that the piece was incomplete with just three, and so did Cliff, so I just expanded it out and made it into seven, then cut it down to what it is now, which from what I remember is five.
Image: “Architectural Peace,” by Grace Milk, 2015.
Liz Cettina: How did you begin writing “primer”?
Rick Hong Manayan: I started writing “primer” because I’m in Advanced Poetry Workshop. We get a bunch of assignments and later compile work from them into a chapbook at the end of the semester. The assignment for one week was about color. We were instructed to go the Pantone website, pick a color, pick different shades of that color, and write prose poems for each of those shades. So I chose white. I was fascinated by the fact that white, in order to be anything other than white, has to have color added to it. All these various shades of white are actually not white at all. I was interested in the racial and political implications of what that meant. All the colors had these weird names like, “Bone White,” “Brilliant White,” “Whisper White.” And I was just like, “What would it be like if I was a white person whispering? I began writing these prose poems about whiteness and the little and big ways that whiteness infiltrates everything. Then when I was coming up with the title for this project I was like, “Hm, white paint, white paint, primer. Because primer is the base coat for everything.” I really like (hate) the idea that you put white under everything, like white paint gets set down before any color gets set down. I was like, “Wow, that’s kind of fucked. Why did we normalize putting white on everything?” So that’s where a lot of the poems come from. The poems are about who started what, why people like Christopher Columbus are so “important,” who comes into being, who gets counted historically.