Imitation

Why do we return
the sounds
of other creatures:
hoot back to an owl, yip
with the coyotes;
as though they ask
for our vote, and we
reciprocate
without knowing
what we’ve said?
If an owl calls,
does our imitation offend,
or is our worth measured by
our equivalence in mice?

John Hicks is an emerging poet who has been published or accepted for publication by I-70 Review, First Literary Review – East, Glint Literary Journal, Midnight Circus, Sky Island Journal, and others. In 2016 he completed an MFA in Creative Writing at the University of Nebraska Omaha.

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Films About Ghosts

“If dreams are like movies, then memories are films about ghosts.”—Adam Duritz

Skin flakes fell. Blood baked on the hot asphalt. The salty, metallic stench of sweat wafted in the summer air as the zombie shambled, chasing the frazzled sheriff down the street jammed with abandoned cars.

Another episode of The Walking Dead—standard viewing for me and my dad on Sunday nights. We indulged in the morbid series religiously, as if we needed another reminder of mortality.

In front of our TV, medical monitor cords spread across the carpet like vines on a forest floor. The monitor’s beeping competed with the volume of the zombie action on screen. I reached for the remote resting next to the pill bottles on Dad’s TV tray. He was sitting on the edge of his home hospital bed in this sick bay that had been our living room before he was diagnosed with cancer.

Dad watched giddily as the sheriff fled into the forest away from the zombie. He bounced up with delight on the squeaky bed when the end credits rolled.

“Man, that was a good one. Cathartic,” he said.

“How so?”

“It’s nice to see someone get away in a bad situation. That doesn’t happen very often in horror,” Dad said. A sly grin lifted the bags under his eyes.

I reveled for a moment in the warmth and relief of his smile. It was always soothing to see him without pain.

Now felt like as good a time as any to invite Dad to the fall horror convention I was eagerly awaiting—Days of the Dead in nearby Noblesville, Indiana. It’s the kind of unassuming little place with a quiet town square that a horror director would love to flood with zombies.

“I was actually reading about that in the paper,” Dad said. “There’s a film showing there that I want you to see.”

“Cool, what movie?”

“You’ll see,” he said. Another mischievous smile made my 58-year-old father seem like a little boy.

Movies energized my dad the same way they invigorate me. His eyes lit up when the chance of going to the theater came around, even more so after he was diagnosed with cancer. He wasn’t completely confined to his bed, but he certainly needed rest—and the depression from his sickness and inability to work undoubtedly played a part in grounding him in that room. But moviegoing was something he always looked forward to—and an escape he definitely needed at this time. Fortunately, during this difficult period, my work involved reviewing movies for the local weekly newspaper, NUVO, which the editors told me meant “new voice.” Dad would offer to help me find that voice when I sat on his hospital bed after work with my computer and a small stack of film screeners in my lap.

I was curious about the film he wanted me to see that weekend. He never steered me wrong when it came to movie recommendations. As we left the house for the horror convention, my mother lovingly shook her head, bemused by her two boys’ thirst for thrills and chills.

On the way to the convention center hotel, Dad’s pale face grew flush with joy as he shared his love of horror films.

“I’ll never forget seeing The Exorcist with your mom. I stayed up that whole night talking about it—not because I was scared, of course,” he said, his dry lips cracking into a wry smile. “I was just struck by how it mirrored the mood of the time. It really captured the loss of innocence, the vulnerability of youth. I know it sounds silly, but if you think about it, the little girl possessed by the demon in that movie wasn’t terribly different from the kids sent to Vietnam. She was helpless like them. Dark forces were just thrust upon her.”

This connection between the film’s otherworldly story and real-world issues enchanted me like magic. Dad added a dimension to the character, brought her into his world and made this horror icon a vulnerable Vietnam-era youth like him. She wasn’t a mere invention anymore, but a funhouse mirror of reality.

“It’s therapeutic when you deal with your fears through fantasy. Like Mary Poppins said, ‘A spoonful of sugar helps the medicine go down,'” Dad said with a bashful chuckle. “Horror movies kind of…exorcise the fears that are hurting us.”

Hell, I wished the priest in The Exorcist would come drive out the fear and sickness hurting my dad.

That kind of collision between reality and fantasy soon appeared before our eyes. As Dad and I pulled up to the hotel, we saw a line of creatures down the block—zombies, vampires, werewolves, razor-fingered dream stalkers, you name it, all of them out to celebrate the cathartic power of horror. When I took my eyes off the crowd, I saw Dad smiling from ear to ear. I wished he always felt this good, this comfortable.

Walking up to the hotel felt like being in a horror movie, with the soft, purple light of dusk behind us in the small town bustling with grisly creatures. We waded through the grim sea, our noses tingled by the smell of fur, rubber and corn syrup, which stained several attendees’ gory get-ups.

Dad led us through the hotel lobby, walking quickly in front of me, which felt a bit strange. I was growing used to him getting winded and falling behind when we would go anywhere, often removing the breathing tube from his nose out of discomfort and embarrassment. A few people seemed to recognize him as we walked by, darting the “Where-do-I-know-you-from?” look that is so common at horror conventions.

“Here it is. I can’t wait for you to see this.” Dad’s voice squeaked with an edge of adolescent exuberance.

We stopped at a screening room just as a panel discussion with the cast was ending. We took our seats as the audience applauded, and soon the lights went down, the film began, and ominous ’80s synth-pop pulsated through the room. The film: I Was a Zombie for the F.B.I.

The opening credit sequence alone made Dad seem right at home, reminding him of a more innocent era of horror films. You could sense the actors having fun, like mischievous big brothers, their tongues poking through their cheeks. Dad giggled, like he would at children on Halloween, sitting back more comfortably in his seat than he did in his rickety hospital bed. The film washed over him like a warm blanket.

I Was a Zombie for the F.B.I. tells of a quiet little town much like the one we were visiting. It’s invaded by aliens who recruit two thieves to help them steal and poison the local soda supply in order to zombify the population of Pleasantville.

As I watched the little black-and-white B movie crinkle and crack on the screen, I found myself regretting how often I took moviegoing with Dad for granted. I thought about the warmth of his burly arms—which were reduced to sticks by chemo—and his love of cinema radiating through my seat; the way he nudged me with surprise snacks during the slow parts of a movie; the way we would often go to a coffee shop afterwards and almost knock our cups over while excitedly talking about films.

My brain suddenly snapped back into the zombie flick, and I jumped up in my chair to find my daydream colliding with the dreamworld on screen. My dad was suddenly in the movie.

Thirty years younger and dressed in old-fashioned detective garb, he was one of the titular F.B.I. agents, speaking urgently about the alien threat. His dialogue seeped through my ears like a zombie’s moans; I couldn’t make out a word of it in my mystified state. Did that poisoned zombie soda leak out of the screen and into my brain? Was I dreaming?

When I turned to Dad, he was already looking at me, smiling.

“Pinch me, Dad. This is crazy,” I whispered. “It’s freaking me out. That guy looks just like you.”

“It is me,” he said, barely containing his signature sly grin.

“Why didn’t you tell me you were in a horror movie?” I asked, almost yelling.

“I wanted to surprise you at the right time.”

He never failed to surprise me. Even when he was shrunken by sickness, my dad seemed larger than life, especially up on the big screen. He will always be that way, immortalized in celluloid—and in places I cannot see.

This is a reprint of work originally published in The Polk Street Review.

Sam Watermeier has been a film critic since practically before he was born. His mother went into labor with him in a movie theater during the conclusion of The Godfather Part III. Sam started writing professionally in 2009 for NUVO Newsweekly, contributing movie reviews as well as profiles of filmmakers and previews of Indianapolis film festivals. He also serves as a contributing writer for Midwest Film Journal and THiNK Magazine.

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Foreplay

It’s the underwear section, once again.
Boxers, trunks, and briefs crave
for my attention, trapped in shiny boxes waiting
to be used and abused by the perennial
scent of male body parts: a chemistry of
cock odor and crotch sweat.
My imagined porn-star self is thinking
about you now in a room, giving you
the usual treatment, the veritable eye of
the hunter meditating on the
fuckability of your body’s language
astute for the exotic Mandingo
in me peppering the room with incantations,
four-letter words you want to hear
over and over again, as our bedsheets
salivate with elevator music
from the seventies. The dude at the cash
register said he prefers trunks, too,
looking at me like he’s ready to punch
his number into my mobile.
The slut in me wanted his number bad.
But the angels of monogamy were hovering
over me, and sanctioned me to think
on a straight path, because our future
shouldn’t be sidetracked by hot,
anonymous sideburns ready for a few moments
of licking. Soon, I am accelerating
the streets with music tapping fingers on
the steering wheel, sweating with
images of your hands at home, and fresh
memories of the dude’s hands after
following me to a basement bathroom, where
we undressed the afternoon into
a brief affair, of something eager as desperation
sealed by mutual consent. The face is
not an illusion of ejaculations, but a semiotics of now,
into immediate gratifications. There’s
nothing subjective or relative about
hunger and need, that’s why Eve summons
the bitch in her, and reaches out
for the fruit. She doesn’t have the self-control
of God, or the mind of myth-makers
obsessed in civilizing the logic of animals in our senses
with doctrines, religions, or notions of fidelity.

Michael Caylo-Baradi’s work has appeared in The Galway Review, The Common, Eclectica, Bombus Press, Eastlit, elimae, Eunoia Review, FORTH, Horn & Ivory, Ink Sweat & Tears, In the Name of the Voice, Local Nomad, MiPOesias, New Pages, Otoliths, Prick of the Spindle, and elsewhere. He is an alumnus of The Writers’ Institute at The Graduate Center (CUNY).

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Fever

Finally, the music is out, to promulgate the verdicts
of redemption. And so, it’s imperative to

undress ourselves now, from dark matters that
relegate us to mere humans, trapped in the

dress codes of civilization. The mystery of
satiation hinges on a history of territorial lines, of

the neck curving for a hunter’s dilemma, or
the spine smoldering with possibilities

through perfect arcs waiting for the loneliness
of tongues. For once, we are creatures

exiled from the artifice of language, adept in
fetishizing preludes into dream-time,

whirling far into the depths of alcoholic consumption.
Notice how we fog the windows,

as though we’re bound for a new season of hunger
crammed between midnight and the

glimmer of sweat before the inevitability of
evaporations. And notice how the lullaby is burning us

into a fervor, chasing nights and mirrors
for endless spectacles bursting within ourselves.

Michael Caylo-Baradi’s work has appeared in The Galway Review, The Common, Eclectica, Bombus Press, Eastlit, elimae, Eunoia Review, FORTH, Horn & Ivory, Ink Sweat & Tears, In the Name of the Voice, Local Nomad, MiPOesias, New Pages, Otoliths, Prick of the Spindle, and elsewhere. He is an alumnus of The Writers’ Institute at The Graduate Center (CUNY).

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Ballad for a Possible Monogamy

Join me now in habits conditioned to celebrate
the face in mirrors. I need a break
from solitary selfies. I need your
flawless eyebrows to over-manage mine,
or castigate their imperfections
with the edicts of style, the calculations of
plucking, and other obsessions with the
architecture of curves. I need
the feel of another jawline against
my jawline, striking a pose together
in the midnights and mornings
of my bed, calibrating an amalgamation
of two distinct ways of looking into
the algorithms of mobile photography.
Perhaps you can mollify the solitude
of moons in my night-shots, or banish
them with contagious optimism
sanctioned by ways of smiling with
your eyes, lips, or fingers
announcing a treaty of peace to the
energies of negativity and
despondency. Let us map hints of
nirvana on bathroom mirrors,
and upload giggles for our twins there,
a private party of facial gestures,
or tongues stretched out to taste the
abyss beyond the hollow of
our vocal chords. Let us be permutations
of the ancients and the
contemporary, a duet of Ken and
Athena, Barbie and Apollo,
or Apollo and Ken, astute for the
mythical alignment of thighs,
and the best angles of submission.
I promise to waltz with your
EDM body language, tango with your LOLs,
and archive weekends into an eternal
scroll of Instagrams. Perhaps we’ll nickname
each other glitter-pussies, or
Mandingo-daddies lost in a labyrinth
of weights at the gym, crooning for bulk in
our headphones, for the scent
of fresh sweat. Today, the architecture of
deltoids must be christened with the usual routines,
the way we might lick away hints of afflictions
into the night, and ignore the familiar shape of moons.

Michael Caylo-Baradi’s work has appeared in The Galway Review, The Common, Eclectica, Bombus Press, Eastlit, elimae, Eunoia Review, FORTH, Horn & Ivory, Ink Sweat & Tears, In the Name of the Voice, Local Nomad, MiPOesias, New Pages, Otoliths, Prick of the Spindle, and elsewhere. He is an alumnus of The Writers’ Institute at The Graduate Center (CUNY).

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The Drowned One

Wetness touches my fingertips. He calls to me, my drowned lover, and I to him. He came to me once, the mer-king, took me into his palace and we lived happily, but I was a woman with an immortal soul and he was not. Han, my beloved, had a fatal leukemia. We met in the hospital; I was his nurse, and though forbidden to date, we could not resist the connection that swept us up like a wave. We often spent our precious days walking around the Han River in Korea because his doctor never allowed him to go far away from the hospital.

Han died in the bathtub at twenty-five. He dove into the water often in life. His connection to it was profound, and I believe he found a way to breathe in the water so he could be released to the spirit world. His body, in too much pain, and his heart and soul knew what to do to create that union. Han died alone, but he gave me his joy for the sea.

I developed a strange obsession with water and my fingertips. A friend referred me to Mrs. Chao, a mystic mendicant who taught me a powerful visualization technique. Mrs. Chao, my sea witch, and I met on the Korean island of Jeju to begin our work as soul friends in the forest. She called it “being engaged with the spiritual plane.” The larger souls of the deceased in the spirit world, she explained, connect to the little souls stuck inside our bodies. Back in Seoul, Mrs. Chao insisted I honor my family’s ancestors and ghosts, those who came before us in human form and who have gone on to the spiritual one. She explained that spirits from that other dimension come back to our human place to communicate and help us develop our spiritual lives.

“Pay attention, my dear,” her voice echoed, “when you see the reflection of yourself in the water. Then mourn for him. During the water ritual, you will feel the mer-king and your drowned immortal soul. He could not turn into foam because of his connection to you, so you will need to find him within the flow of water.”

I use her technique now, my eyes and mind and heart on my faucet at home in Hanover, New Hampshire. In America, I look past the faucet deep into the sea. Reflecting on Han never stops, even here. He keeps coming to me through the water.

“Yes, yes. I feel your vibration in me, Han Tan-Gang. Come with me now.”

I name him Han Tan-Gang. Han means one, Tan-Gang means sorrow river. So Han has become One Sorrow River in my life, the man whom I walked with beside the Han River. I place my hand on the faucet to bring the water out, about a month after meeting Mrs. Chao.

“You came at just the right time,” the sea witch had said, nodding her head. “Your immortal soul is drowned with Han’s spirit, who died in despair. It is not love that tastes like sweet candy, but your obsession that tempts you more than ever.” She paused, in thought. “People say the Little Mermaid died in despair, but she didn’t. She died for something greater.” Her laugh was full of sympathy. “The Little Mermaid died with her virtue and became a daughter of the air. Your mer-king killed himself because he could not possess your soul. He left you no hope but mourning. Human beings don’t wonder at the immortal soul that exists deep inside their minds. I want you to discover the answer through the meditation.”

“Alright, alright,” I had said. I had not told her what I’d felt, but Mrs. Chao seemed to know everything. “I hope I can let it happen.”

I have bathed with the memory of Han about this time every Saturday, right before the sun sets. I need to go into the water today, right now. I have urges when I’m down under it, funny urges. My body wants to float while my mind wants to float away from what presses at it so hard.

Han’s mother, his father’s concubine, also had leukemia. A concubine is sort of like the American idea of a mistress. She is not a wife but substitutes for something a wife cannot fulfill—it is a sleazy tradition. Han’s father’s legal wife could not have sons, and so he placed a secret woman into the background of his life. Han knew he was the product of a concubine and a dishonorable man, and that he was going to die—my drowned man, Han Tan-Gang.

I come to this water ritual, the bath, because I need to see, perhaps not Han but at least myself. I can’t be as cerebral and logical and unfeeling as these Westerners. They value the rational mind process too much. I speak to myself:

“I miss you, Han. Talk to me. Let’s have a little vision and learning tonight.”

I have shared my visions with no one I know except Mrs. Chao. I could talk to my female Asian friend who lives down the street from me, but she is busy. Westerners do not believe humans have these visionary capacities. If someone reveals this other dimension of human life, of the spirits speaking to and through us, they cruelly call him or her crazy.

A voice cuts through my worry. “Stop thinking. Most Westerners are too busy thinking. Just see me.”

Han speaks to me, but I don’t see anything yet. The bath water fills up nicely. I unbutton my blouse and see a flashback from this time-reality of when Han was in the hospital, severely sick with leukemia. During the time I became his nurse and we secretly courted each other, I learned a great deal from him. “You see,” he had said, “fire never embraces anything in the world; it just burns things up. Well, if you get too close to it, it will burn things up. Fire mercilessly comes to claim what it wants to get. While enlightening, it can be devastating to the human body. Our bodies are not quite evolved enough yet to make adjustments to overwhelming fire.”

I remember his gentle, resonant voice. The vibration of it sent waves down my body and into my vagina. “Love is fire, part of the fire. You know we have it, Seungyeon, and I’m helping you know by acknowledging that. There are various kinds of love in each soul. My soul is burning fast and is in deep love with this life. As I burn, I spend my love on you; that is good. You will find a way to manage yours whether I’m here or not.”

In another reality, Han has lain on fine, white, beach sand and begs me to return to his palace and put a dagger straight into his heart. Blouse, panties, slacks, and hose are stacked in neat little piles. My feet go in the water. I think and reject thinking all at the same time. I think the only solution is to go into the water and find this vision of me and Han, a holographic lens into our past and present. How do I find this view? I do not know. But the knowledge comes to me that we are in two different dimensions: me on Earth and Han in Heaven.

He is not like the Little Mermaid, I tell myself with bitterness. My fairy tale would never be the Little Mermaid. Yet I can hear the sea witch’s humming. Han and I never had any trouble recognizing the story we’d been given while he was living or knowing that its contents were quite real. What do I care if most people don’t believe it or hear our story like I do? The typical American doesn’t want to read this story. The typical American would not recognize it as another layer of reality.

I splash water so hard. I feel like I am drowning, but not my soul. The mer-king’s body changes into sea foam and I hear the church bell ring. I have never felt guilty for his suicide because I knew his time was near its end. I ease my body into the bathtub. A transparent stream of water rushes in and with it, Han. I can see him, just his face. I watch my hands move. I place my fingertips inside the water running from the faucet.

Every Saturday evening for an hour or less, I am in this water ritual, I am in the land of my shadows. “It is Saturday after work,” I tell myself. The fatigue from the day’s work made me forget to eat. “Just bathe,” Han echoes from a place I do not yet see. I like taking a bath in America very much. In Hanover, the tub is so deep. I didn’t know what the Americans meant when they conversed about these old-fashioned, deep tubs with clawed feet, but I know I like those old-fashioned, deep tubs with clawed feet. I like to feel like I’m drowning.

The warm, cozy, blue-green water embraces all the skin I have. It is like melting into my obsession. Han’s presence and the tender placement of my body under the surface are a perfect combination. I feel love and care within it, in the given space of this American bathtub. I don’t feel scared, because the faucet constantly makes a knocking tune. It is a beating rhythm, maybe something wrong with a pipe, that gives me a mild throbbing, a pushing force of sound. It happens in unison with a gushing stream from the faucet. I hear lapping now. I don’t know what it is, but it makes me smile and feel less lonely.

I turn the faucet off, feeling marvelously delirious and happy. The dripping water plays a pleasant sound, like the enchanted church bells, and I smile and move my hand to my lips to feel the edges of my mouth curl upward. I fill both hands with water and spill it over my face. Eyes reopen as the water drops and I do nothing else for a while but watch it come down. The water dives into the tub, and I take notice. Where does this energy come from? Little water drop, you have a lot of force to go down so strong into the water. I get so into the experience that my body warms and I am absorbed by my memories.

I love my small reunion with the blue water. The reveries alone are enough to make me return each Saturday at the same time. The sea witch was right; it is just me and the water. There is no disturbance. It is what my Korean ancestors called “discovering the way of enjoying.” My youngest aunt on my mother’s side told us the secrets of the Tao. In that bath, I have complete solitude and know it creates an opportunity for me to leave ego behind and connect with the immortal soul inside my body. To love that soul, like my mer-king, is to be resplendent. Han did not follow principles; he chased what it meant to be noble.

Water drops become tears rolling down my cheeks. I can taste the saltiness as I shake my head to get them off my face. Angrily, I shout, “What is it, soul, that you want to tell me?” I splash the water and weep. The answer I receive: “I am shadowed by the beloved one. The one you were with, the one that loved you back, the one that became foam and flew to the air.” My soul is shadowed by the one who drowned himself in Korea in the true expression of water love on a real day, in real time.

It was a Saturday in 1995. Water…he wanted me to go back to the water for this reunion. Han made me experience his longing for water throughout our courtship. I did not understand it fully, until the end of his story and life. He was trying to teach me that we humans are prophetic and that premonitions, when we know how to interpret our powers, are guideposts or guardian angels.

“Listen to my story,” he would say, cuddling me as he taught me about life on earth compared to life in heaven. “It was raining outside when I was born. At 5, I learned to dive into the water. The energy and symbolism of diving, of water, has always been part of my life, preparing me. Going in and out, I feel complete. Our lives are connected to our deaths. No matter our species, our beings, our consciousnesses, my non-soul and your immortal soul, call them what you like, are part of the process of selecting what we are about and what we do in this life. My soul leads me to the water and into diving, teaches me to use my body within the water. My diving has been a practice ground for how to use water in my life and death.”

Han’s true self was the mer-king. He never thought of becoming like me, of letting my feelings rule his life. When I abandoned him to return to the human world, he found a way to breathe in the water, to use it to release his spirit. He chose to be himself.

I talk to myself more tonight. Listening to him, to me through him, is getting so hard, I again spit salty tears. It was him who walked away from me. Depressed sounds come out of my mouth. I scream, “I do not want to process this mourning and sadness!” Han speaks, “You can never get away from water’s true nature. Sometimes it violently flows and harms humans, but it ultimately flourishes because it belongs to your human realm, to your soul.”

Do you hear the sound of Han River? I snap my head back and look around to see who or what is talking. Or maybe I snap my head just to snap out of it. The message is so clear. Han continues, “Water unites with the ground, just as buried humans do after they die. As long as we respect its wetness, its nature, the water comes and goes within us calmly. I am like the character of both water and fire.”

He laughs. “Han River loves what it is!”

His laugh is like pouring water. “There is pleasure in the stillness of the pouring, in the place where I am now. My palace is the death-plane, my dear, but it is a place like this. In death as in life, stillness is. Drinking water through my nose and throat was like the fire of love. It was hot and hotter, but so temporary. So is the life we live until what humans call death. That life is nothing much after all.”

The mer-king continues, “I don’t have an immortal soul like you, but I do not need one when I have you. You call me back on Saturdays, and I know you miss me because Saturdays are when you used to draw my bath.”

My foot merges with the surface of the water. The ripple pulsates outward. I sit up and watch the circles and I see us as a hallucination. We are over there, in the circles. I see us like I’m watching television or looking out the window or anywhere. I’m on the transcendental plane that the sea witch and the mer-king have opened for me. Staring over the surface, I stop observing and slip into the movie playing before my eyes.

I go deeper into the water. Han says, “Feel the breeze. I am within you.” The water warms my surrender. The word tenderness comes out of my mouth. It’s on my face. I touch it, and I smile. From heaven, he talks to me now, “We were always meant for each other.” For a moment, I hold my breath and close my eyes, feeling the water.

My immortal soul is now with you, my dearest. The ghost of Han goes back to his river to become the sea foam of sorrow. Tears roll down my cheek. We are united.

Seungyeon Lee is an Assistant Professor of Psychology at the University of Arkansas at Monticello (UAM). Her teaching areas are developmental and educational psychology at both undergraduate and postgraduate levels. Her area of interest is the study of film and fairy tales from a postcolonial point of view.

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Enochlophobia

SALVATION ARMY. Mariah Carey’s “All I Want For Christmas.”
Doing The Most Good. I’ll say. A man deposits some coins into the red bucket.
Tall. Carrying a white plastic bag—why? Never mind. The velvet elves flounce
and shake their handbells to the beat. Doing some odd little jig. The volunteers,
that is. They’re clad in these crazy costumes. Not the usual military regalia.
Oh how I love Christmas. It always gets so bizarre. I mean, magical.
Look at all the happy kids pointing and tugging their parents’ hands.
It’s a bona fide Disneyland right here in Midtown. Those life-sized Mickeys
always scared me half to death. Something about the garish grin, the
oversized paws enveloping you in their grasp. Another one. A boy, now,
clutching a wad of oversized bills. Shoppers glide past. A smile breaks
across my lips. Mariah is still singing of babies and mistletoe. Wow,
that sounds so wrong out of context. What is context? The fields outside a window.
All those years unfurling behind you like the roads you do and do not take.
Julia, where are you? Mariah is still singing of babies and mistletoe,
but it’s getting harder and harder to hear. People are descending upon
the Christmas tree. Move, move. Why won’t they move? A vulgar wave
unleashed across my flesh. Too many bodies. Breathe. Some lady’s purse is
pressed into my back into my ribs and hair okay oh god I’m suffocating okay
okay. Look upward. No, not upward. Not at the graying faithless sky. Not ahead.
Not at the foreign nape of a neck that taunts me with its pale white sheen.
I heard that you can never see your hands in a nightmare or a dream.
Oh, let this be a dream. But no. There they are ten fingers. Cold and desperate
on my hips. Be still, rebellious heart! Be still, the dove’s wings beating
inside my chest. Close your eyes. Close your eyes and count to ten.
When you open them, the wide open orchards of your childhood will stretch
past these trenches muddy with terror and into the interminable stream of tomorrow—

Emily Yin is a freshman studying applied math at Princeton University. Her writing has been recognized by the UK Poetry Society and the Alliance for Young Artists & Writers. Read her work in Indiana Review Online, TRACK//FOUR, and Rust + Moth, among others.

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