Perfect Theory

It was once the untold stories of relatives
in foxholes covered with gray hair,
and of course values, responsibility
the past and that outer space
filled with blizzards and blindness.

Now we dream perfect theories
born from the void of winter nights,
the city lights reflecting off the snow
while the flowers of time travel
blink in and out of bloom.

In the end we will drink our coffee
outside, and discuss architecture
with an unholy lust for balconies.

M. N. O’Brien received his B.A. from Roanoke College, where he was awarded the Charles C. Wise Poetry Award. In addition to poetry, he enjoys writing plays, and short stories while zigzagging across the U.S. He also enjoys whiskey and feels awkward writing about himself in the third person. His work has most recently appeared in The Rusty Nail, Drunk Monkeys, and The Camel Saloon.

Posted in Poetry | Tagged | Leave a comment

Final Frontier

More regular than clocks
or leaping into canyons
for salvation and flying saucers,
are elephants and their trunks.
But there is a place in the world
for dictionaries and outlandish
fairy tales bemoaning
the grand experience of universes
parallel and paramount,
smaller satellites
and their respective orbits,
evolving and elongating,
lost in demands for love,
into the canyons of beliefs and faith
cannonballing into the hulls
of spaceships.

Rewind the eyes, because
I’m beginning to believe
the words of ventriloquists
almost childlike in their reaction,
to reorganize with the bells
and whistles of sounds
yet to be explained.

A life of rotating magnets,
goats, pigs, scorpions,
fish, bears and belts,
too recognizable, and the signals
lost in the radio sky
like a bird unknowingly giving birth
produces the arches of galactic arms
reaching into inspired minds.
In return, we get
pewter rockets and die-cast astronauts
ready to depart.

M. N. O’Brien received his B.A. from Roanoke College, where he was awarded the Charles C. Wise Poetry Award. In addition to poetry, he enjoys writing plays, and short stories while zigzagging across the U.S. He also enjoys whiskey and feels awkward writing about himself in the third person. His work has most recently appeared in The Rusty Nail, Drunk Monkeys, and The Camel Saloon.

Posted in Poetry | Tagged | Leave a comment

The Butterfly Bush

It might be the greatest mystery of nature–
how so many of the same can gather in one place,
clamped onto a branch like clothing to a line,
flapping their wings like towels in the breeze.

Robert Del Mauro loves to write short stories and poetry. Currently living in New Jersey, he is excited to move to New Hampshire to pursue his interest in writing at Dartmouth College.

Posted in Poetry | Tagged | Leave a comment

Dnalsi

The woman sat down at the kitchen table and stared blankly at her baked potato. It was a curry potato—her own invention. She was very proud of this. Potatoes are cheap, but flavourless, curry is cheap, but flavourful, so why not combine them? However, she was not thinking about such things now. Actually, she was spelling the word ‘potato’ backwards in her head. And it came to her quite naturally: otatop. Day by day, this backwards-spelling skill of hers had been getting better and better. She was honing it. She had to. What ten years ago may have been considered an eccentric party trick, was now going to be the norm, the law—the legal way to speak, so to speak.

*

The island was small. As an independent nation, it was younger than America. The local cuisine was not dissimilar to the nearby mainland countries (lots of fish, potatoes, and cheese). The language, English, was already quite mainstream. To outsiders, there was nothing special about this rocky island. It was boring, barely even worth the short sail across the channel. This did not sit well with those who ran the boring island. The government, an idealistic group of well-educated people (some of the only graduates from universities abroad who came back to the island as non-retirees), were desperate to turn the island into a unique travel destination. They implemented drastic measures. Cars were banned. Non-organic food was banned. Folk dancing classes were added to the primary school curriculum. But nothing seemed to work. Citizens were even asked to write in suggestions (most asked only for the opening of a ‘big casino’). But, nothing sounded appealing.

After seven years of tireless reinvention, yet another travel blogger posted a disheartening review of the island as a “boring” backpacking destination. The title read: X island is a backwards* place. Upon reading this, the editor of the local newspaper, who was also the minister of cultural affairs, shoved a spoonful of cold cottage cheese into his mouth to quell his sorrows. (Earlier in his career, he had successfully promoted cottage cheese as the ‘national breakfast dish’.) He tried not to let little things like blog posts get to him, but he was a sensitive man, and he loved his tiny island country. “‘Backwards’! Why ‘backwards’? We’re the descendants of Vikings for God’s sake!” he complained to his wife at the dinner table. She shrugged her shoulders. Her husband’s philosophical rants had become too predictable for her to care, and it was rabbit mating season – she had no time to think about cultural promotion. “Wouldn’t it be cool if we could talk backwards? Like robots?” their son exclaimed, causing his father to nearly choke to death on his pickled herring. The next morning, the new campaign was brought before the board of cultural promotions. And the rest is yrotsih!

*

Oh no, it’s not as if people didn’t have time to prepare. There had been plenty—five years! It was a massive undertaking for the government. Free ‘backwards-talk’ training centres were opened, self-study books were passed out, mandatory exams were held, and even tax-cuts were given to individuals with high reading and verbal scores. All for the sake of gninehtgnerts eht lanoitan ytitnedi—strengthening the national identity! Everyone was going to be speaking like that tomorrow, on the television, in the streets, in cafes, and in the courts. Meaning ‘I will eat the potato,’ (spelt I lliw tae eht otatop) would sound like ‘Ai lih-wuh teh et oh-taw-top.‘ The woman didn’t really know what to think about the whole movement, most islanders didn’t. Of course, in the beginning our curry-potato-inventor found it odd, just as most people did. We will sound Russian! Her friends would joke. But now, employment was up since all this “backwards-talk” had created lots of jobs. People needed to learn it, so teachers were trained to teach it, and then textbooks were published to promote it. Backwards-talk, or simply Klat, needed to be enforced, so a linguistic police force was quickly assembled to monitor all public communication (written and spoken). It was through this force that the woman’s son found a job. She had no stnialpmoc.

The woman sliced her potato into quarters, checking that the yrruc had been thoroughly absorbed before taking a bite. Looking out the kitchen window, she could see that the sea was stormy. “Perfect weather for something warm and starchy,” she thought.

*To preserve any feeling of irony, the author has intentionally left this grammatical error as is.

An impulsive daydreamer, Arthur Thompson has been imagining short stories from a very young age. However, it is only until now that he has thought to write anything down. Originally from Los Angeles, Arthur has lived in China, and currently resides in London, where he has just completed his undergraduate degree in Chinese and Linguistics. He is an avid photographer and learner of languages. His vices include coffee, books, and chocolate mints. Follow him on Twitter: @lookingtowrite.

Posted in Fiction | Tagged | Leave a comment

My Curious Collection

I come from a family of collectors. My dad collects everything from coins to paper cups – all neatly organized in archival sleeves and boxes. My grandmother collects long necklaces and empty perfume bottles, all haphazardly tossed into dishes and bowls. For a long time, I thought I didn’t get the collector’s gene. I saw collecting as a form of insanity that permeated my entire family except for me. I didn’t understand why they cluttered their homes with dead and broken things. However, now I know I’ve definitely got the collector’s gene, because I relentlessly collect stories with the same fervor that my dad polishes his old Greek coins. I jolt out of bed, sweating to reach for my legal pad and scribble down some little anxiety or dream. My hands are always searching for a pen or a keyboard or even a CVS receipt to write on. As I’ve grown older, time seems to be flying faster and faster – memories quickly slipping through my fingers fiber by fiber. In order to collect these memories, I have to write it all down. My white bed sheets are strewn with legal pads and deep blue pen marks. I often wake up with paper cuts on my shins and squiggly ballpoint scribbles on my thighs. I have years of scraps saved by now, and have grown very attached to them. My collection isn’t organized in archival sleeves, or even tossed into china dishes. I write on my hands, I write on the insoles of my shoes. In the sole of my pointe shoes, I scrawled the word “bunky.” There is an old man who wears loafers instead of ballet shoes to my advanced ballet class and, thus, can’t point his feet. He has a faded tattoo that spells “bunky” on one of his arms. I write about him because I want to learn how to feel the music like he does, and to stay on my feet even when I can’t touch my toes. I put some of my collection on display, like my rant on why being called an “exotic beauty” is not a compliment, and allow it to be criticized, complimented, and debated. This allowed me to connect with a postman from Sweden who was of half-Jewish and half-Moroccan descent and shared my experience of feeling like an outsider – much like my dad connected with an 80-year-old Japanese woman over obsessive coin collecting. Collections have a way of bringing unexpected people into one’s life – my collection connects me to my family, the ostracized, and the wistful. But other parts of my collection I like to keep off display, like when I scrawled down how my grandfather’s bony fingers felt before he died – how the Plasticine colors of Crayola crayons would be eternally wedged underneath his short fingernails. He wrote children’s books and always had a crayon nearby. Now, even though he’s gone, I can still hold his hand, I have immortalized him through words and made him untouchable. Today, I realize that collections are not dead and broken – they are very much alive, and waiting to be fixed. My dad imagines the person who might have used that coin thousands of years ago, my grandmother keeps her broken baubles so that on occasion, she can polish the rust off of those long strings of silver and see the young German socialite she once was in the mirror. I can spin my collection into wild stories and poems. I don’t put my collection in archival sleeves, but I keep some of my stories wrapped up in tightly in Saran wrap in the cool corners of my brain so that I can unwrap them and smile when the sky’s too grey or the sun hangs too low. My collection is not dead and it is not clutter. My collection helps me preserve and remember my past, and it allows me to bring some of these memories back to life through stories.

Erica Barry is a 17-year-old girl who likes to talk to strangers, whose purse is always wide open, spilling out pens and paper as she wanders around Washington D.C.

Posted in Creative Non-fiction | Tagged | Leave a comment

There Is No Country for Half-Japanese, Half-Irish/French/German/Portuguese/Swiss Girls

Last Thursday, my school hosted a set of workshops for Martin Luther King Day. I helped to run a workshop called “A Conversation about Being Multiracial.”  My mom is from Tokyo, Japan, and my dad is from Newport, Rhode Island. A few other multiracial students and I sat in front of an audience and talked about our experiences – such as code-switching, answering the question “Where are you from?” and how language sometimes plays a complex role in shaping our identities.

This group of multiracial students was supposed to be a support network for me as a multiracial student myself. The irony is that until this workshop, I didn’t think that I needed to be supported at all.

Previously, I hadn’t thought of my cross-cultural identity as something painful or needing support. Half-Japanese, half-Irish/French/German/Portuguese/Swiss girls are not subject to any particular racism or prejudice…perhaps because historically there have not been very many of us. In any event, I never thought of my ethnicity as being a hardship. On the contrary, I even took pride in it – I was a cultural chameleon who could deftly switch environments and blend into different cultures due to my relatively ethnically neutral appearance. Unlike my dad, I didn’t tower over everyone in Shinjuku. Unlike my mom, I wasn’t classified as “asiatique” in Paris. I didn’t feel like an outsider in either of these environments – and since I love to travel, I thought that this was great.

However, the discussion last Thursday prompted me to reflect on what it was really like being this human amalgamation of different cultures and histories. I concluded that although I hadn’t ever felt like an “outsider,” I will never fully experience what it’s like to be an “insider.” My mixed identity has forced me to navigate the world in a different way and “learn” to do a lot of things that other people don’t have to learn.

I have learned to smile and nod politely as my mom and her Japanese family laugh and share stories in Japanese. I can understand many of the words she speaks, but feel isolated by the tangible sense of kinship between my mother and the Japanese side of my family – a shared history, culture and understanding woven into each word they speak.

I have learned to talk about the Red Sox, eat clam chowder, and attempt to blend into the sea of greying blond hair, baseball caps, and hazel eyes at The Lobster Pot in Newport, Rhode Island.

I have learned to say that I am “from Japan” – even though I have only visited Japan twice in my life. People often ask me “Where are you from?” – cashiers, waiters, random people on the subway. I used to stubbornly answer, “Washington, D.C.” because that’s where I was born, or “California” because that’s where I grew up. But those answers would always provoke: “No! Where are you really from?”

I have learned that being called an “exotic beauty” is not a compliment. It’s synonymous to being called an “exotic” dog breed.

I have learned how to answer the questions “Do you celebrate Christmas?”/”Are you a Buddhist?” (yes, no).

I have learned to bubble in “other” on standardized tests.

I have learned that I don’t really look like anyone in my family. I have learned to take the question “Are you adopted?” with a grain of salt. I have learned how to ignore the awkwardness when people assume that I am my American dad’s young wife (since there is no possible way that I could be his biological child, this is the next “logical” assumption).

Lastly, I have learned that there is no country for half-Japanese, half-Irish/French/German/Portuguese/Swiss girls on this Earth. We don’t have a special language in which there are special words for “always being Pocahontas at costume parties,” and “the orange color our dark hair turns in the sunlight” – thus I am always slightly lost in translation. We don’t have special holidays where we eat green tea ice cream and watch the Red Sox – thus I will always be the Japanese girl at the Christmas Eve church service and the gaijin (foreigner) at the hina-matsuri. We don’t have a slew of authors sharing our heritage, who write about creepy old men calling us “geishas,” the disappointment on our friends’ faces when they learn that no, we don’t know how to make sushi. And because of this, I will forever and always be a wanderer.

Erica Barry is a 17-year-old girl who likes to talk to strangers, whose purse is always wide open, spilling out pens and paper as she wanders around Washington D.C.

Posted in Creative Non-fiction | Tagged | 1 Comment

Sneaker Love

1

Anne was 11. It was math class; pre-algebra was unpleasant but she sat next to Henry so it was good. Leaning low over her worksheet, Anne was conscious every moment of the blond boy to her left. She felt the rubber side of her Converse sneaker touch the rubber side of his Converse sneaker. He must feel it too. Anne thought she might never breathe again.

2

Anne still dreamed of Henry every night. Sometimes he was still a child, just the way he was when she had last seen him. Sometimes he was an adult, as she imagined he would be. But always in her dreams, if he was young, so was she. If he was grown, she was too. Anne and Henry were together, if only for an hour or two in her mind.

3

One night Henry came to Anne’s dream. He was young again. He scuffed his sneakers in the small stones of the rocky beach as they watched the moonlight seep into the cracks of the water like warm butter. I love meeting you in my sleep, he said. I don’t ever want to wake up. She said, We were meant to be together. But it never happened. He said, It’s happening in this place. It’s happening now. Her shoe touched his shoe and they stood in silence.

4

Anne woke up suddenly.  Truffles had jumped on the bed, landing his furry 9 lbs on her stomach. She was annoyed to be awake. Anne pushed the cat away. She reached out and touched her husband Bill on the shoulder. When he stirred, she withdrew her hand. I wonder who he dreams about, thought Anne. I wonder if she knows.

Catherine Weiss is a poet and author living in Northampton, MA, with a cat, a dog, and a human male. She has been published in such places as port.man.teau, Linguistic Erosion, Drunk Monkeys, Melancholy Hyperbole, and Red River Review. Her website is http://www.catherineweiss.com.

Posted in Fiction | Tagged | Leave a comment