LRR 2014

Letter from the Editor

“The opposite of love is not hate, it’s indifference. The opposite of art is not ugliness, it’s indifference. The opposite of faith is not heresy, it’s indifference. And the opposite of life is not death, it’s indifference.”
–Elie Wiesel

Love or hate the selections in this journal but do not be indifferent to them.

This year, Long River Review followed tradition and divided our 21 undergraduate editors into poetry, fiction, and nonfiction panels. We read hundreds of anonymous University of Connecticut undergraduate and graduate submissions from the Creative Writing Contests and from email entries. We narrowed our choices and then broke with tradition: all 21 editors read all of the top choices. We then discussed – and amicably fought – for hours in person and online, through bitter cold, snow, and several weather-related cancellations. The Design Team similarly pored over the art submissions. If it is contained herein, then most if not all of our staff were willing to fight for it. This year’s issue is therefore a compilation of passion.

The LRR sought and will continue to seek out diverse, socially and politically conscious pieces that question the notions of creative impetus, intimacy, and historical “progress.” Though published in 1970, recent English translations of Syrian writer Zakaryya Tamer’s post-apocalyptic pieces written during a period of coups are eerily reflective of a political era that in part laid the groundwork for the country’s current state of unrest. Despite our best attempts to assign particular themes to these pieces, they (beautifully, thankfully) elude us.

Though we enjoy the thrill of a chase, evasion is not necessarily the goal. Pieces like “2010 Hiding” sweep us into a forceful discussion of social justice through the use of blatant interrogatives and subtle rhythm. Then we have works like “Takers and Leavers” that fall somewhere between scream and whisper. The story does not openly demand that we discuss the various factors that play into the cycle of poverty, yet its narrative plants a seed for such discussion.

We simultaneously hunger for work reflecting the inherent duality of the human condition. This is apparent in Emmanuel Oppong-Yeboah’s “Meditations on Absence.” Its speaker uses form – question marks, spaces, and a blurring between poetry/prose and fiction/nonfiction – to convey the inadequacy of perceiving identity as fully cohesive. The essay “Integral Characteristics of Being Human” and artwork such as “Boundaries” are also prime sources of such dualistic reflection. We purposefully fragmented “Integral” for cohesive and creative effect. The desire to create arises from a need to make sense of what makes us human. Above all the need to create stems from an inner desire to elude death by leaving behind presumably immortal portions of ourselves. We are decaying, but we like to believe that our tangible words and images will remain constant on the printed page. If LRR is a beating human heart then “Integral” is our connective tissue.

We are a small journal, yes, but we have large aspirations: a desire to ultimately go national, to obtain a broader readership in print and online, to be more and more and more in and of our increasingly global community. We admit to the pitfalls of getting too personal and yet we ask you to come close. Closer still. Touch it – the squirming, writhing thing. It is the single most integral human characteristic.

– Krisela Karaja

 


Prize Winners

The Wallace Stevens Poetry Prize

Given by the Hartford Financial Services Group Inc., for the best group of poems by a graduate or undergraduate
Miller Oberman, First Place
Katherine Monica, Second Place Tie
Amber West, Second Place Tie

The Jennie Hackman Memorial Award for Short Fiction

Awarded in memory of Jacob and Jennie Hackman for the best work of short fiction by an undergraduate
Julie Bartoli, First Place
Kyle Piscioniere, Second Place
Amy Martin, Third Place

The Edward R. and Frances Schreiber Collins Literary Prize

Given by David and Emily Collins for the best poem and best prose work by an undergraduate
Katherine Monica, Poetry
Julie Bartoli, Prose

The Aetna Creative Nonfiction Award

Given by the Aetna Chair in Writing to support excellence in undergraduate creative nonfiction
Michael Anthony Jefferson II, Undergraduate First place
Danilo Machado, Undergraduate Second place
Abigail Fagan, Graduate First place Three-way Tie
Erick Piller, Graduate First place Three-way Tie
Kristina Reardon, Graduate First place Three-way Tie

The Aetna Children’s Literature Award

Given by the Aetna Chair in Writing to support excellence in
undergraduate children’s literature

David Smith, Starscape

The Long River Graduate Writing Award

For the best piece of writing in any genre by a graduate student
Kerry Carnahan, Who Intimately Lives with Rain

The Long River Art Award

Rebecca Allen, Photography

Gloriana Gill Art Awards

John Kelleher, Photography
Michael Karpiel, Illustration


Staff

  • Editor in Chief
    Krisela Karaja
  • Managing Editor
    Jerome Daly
  • Poetry Editor
    Thomas Passarelli
  • Poetry Panel
    Jerome Daly
    Bryce de Flamand
    Nyanka Joseph
    Mike Robbins
    Lauren Silverio
  • Fiction Editor
    Hilary Graham
  • Fiction Panel
    Nikki Barnhart
    Laurencia Ciprus
    Michael Gulick
    Allison Pratt
    Céline St. Pierre
    Kalene Wetherell
  • Nonfiction Editor
    Lindsey Pellino
  • Nonfiction Panel
    Julie Bartoli
    Alexandra Hughes
    Krisela Karaja
    Tatiana Smith
    Marissa Stanton
    Jason Wong
    Paul Yumbla
  • Interviews Editor
    Paul Yumbla
  • Blog Editor
    Bryce de Flamand
  • Faculty Advisor
    Darcie Dennigan
  • Print Designers
    Bryce de Flamand
    Alexxis Letizia
    Hannah Lucca
    Amanda Sims
    Haley Taylor
  • Translations Editor
    Céline St. Pierre

Wallace Stevens Poetry Contest, 1st Prize

Miller Oberman

The Wall

Once, drunk, and having just
avoided a fight,
the two walked outside
from the dark dive
smelling thrillingly of sour
beer and sweat and clapping
the blue pool chalk
from their hands, they,
coming to a boarded up
construction site,
made fists, their hair
stuck up stiff with grease
and punched the wall
as hard as they could.

The wall did nothing.
The wall did not respond
or retaliate, except if you
consider its lack of splintering
a kind of taunt.

He thought his knuckle
would be tender forever.
Though the green skin faded,
the bone bruise remained
and finally leached away, unnoticed.
It was ten lifetimes
later, he realized his friend
was gone and his knuckle
was also left lonesome
for that longtime buddy,
pain.

 

 

Wallace Stevens Poetry Contest, 2nd  Prize

Amber West

Artifacts of Our Affection

When I notice mold in my toothbrush mug
I remember the pigeons
roosting in the airshaft:
their toilet, their nest, our bedroom view
dusk and dawn

Monogamous, amorous, pigeons are known for their soft cooing calls

Once I had
three mugs. Gold-trimmed.
Blond carousel ponies
painted on each side. A gift from your parents
our last Christmas. I thanked them
politely, might’ve even cooed

Slaughtered indiscriminately, the passenger pigeon became extinct
in 1914

One shattered in the sink.
I sold another on the sidewalk. The last survives
demoted: bathroom workhorse

Servants and slaves often saw no other meat. Pigeons in your
dreams suggest

You left the photo I gave you
in the emptied dresser:
us against the wind on Golden Gate Bridge

you are taking blame for the actions of others, or may express
a desire to return home

but you took the bread maker,
the banjo engraved with a golden eagle

Once used for carrying messages, pigeons represent
gossip or news. It is thought they may navigate by the sun

I take down the cloth paintings
we bought in India. Pigeon
this message to the moon:

There is no true scientific difference

in the afterglow shuffle,
bedroom to kitchen,

between a pigeon and

your Valentine bathrobe remains
useful –

a dove

releasing
each man it embraces

Wallace Stevens Poetry Contest, 3rd Prize

Katherine Monica

Jean-Michel Basquiat’s Last One-
Artist Show at the Baghoomian Gallery

The passion’s bled out.
I’ve split open all the oranges I possibly could to see
the wet jewels shining like teeth in the sun and I’ve pushed

my fingers into the meat of it and I’ve popped the small
striated pouches; the sweetness is all over my hands and I am
washing it off
without ever having tasted it.

This is how my mother describes my life to me over the phone.
I’m tearing the skin off all the oranges,
flushing the juice down the sink.

For a while I wanted no money and every night
met a girl on my neighbor’s roof to tell her
something inconsequential.

For a while I had a jean jacket with white-ringed sleeves and a sign
saying
’Death To Docility.’
I had her hand
also.

I played clarinet in the hysterical twilight on the corner of Green
and Franklin –
Feel better feel better feel better
I rotted under her pillow and it was dark and warm and I liked it.

There is a sore under my chin from sitting so long
in the smoke of the city while my father loudly changed the page
of his newspaper.
The graffiti on the walls and freight cars are about him.
I wrote it in my sleep sort of.

I am nodding off in someone’s basement.
I like the way this music goes with her hair.
I feel better don’t you feel better –

in the corner of the room do you see him the boy from my 9th grade
science class is sucking cock for coke
for the past 15 years I have felt like a hollow skull with an unhinged
jaw and a
football helmet on

my mother told me of Samson breaking down the temple
I am tearing all the nets off the tennis courts

these two broad brush strokes this orange this blue
are a madman crying in his hands or laughing
you don’t care which

I dreamt of my lifeless body because I didn’t know what else to do
I kissed her because I didn’t know what else to do
she tasted like a black-alley cackle and a figure slouching
towards me and the dripping and a Cheshire cat grin from a
red red face yellow eyes and
i’m standing there equidistance apart from both brick buildings
all the audience are poorly drawn mannequins
only their yellow heads visible oval-shaped and gawking
they eat me alive and i love it
the quick flick of their tongues over my corpse-thin extremities
red face yellow eyes
my art is hanging on the walls it’s as simple as that i am striding in front of the paintings in an armani suit the gallery is full of people the girl i love is smoking outside she won’t come in i’m icarus and she’s the sun i’m icarus and she’s the sun my father my father my mother is so proud i am the yellow skeleton oval-shaped corpse-thin extremities raised overhead in triumph riding my black horse towards death my mother my father are so

 

Jennie Hackman Memorial Award for Short Fiction, 1st Prize

Julie Bartoli

Dinosaur Junior

Sid sits on the overhang outside his bedroom window, watching cars. It’s one of those deadbeat summer days, mid-July and steaming. This week the number one song on the radio talks about driving with the windows rolled down, but Sid has yet to see a car that isn’t sealed shut with the A/C blasting.
From Sid’s window, he can hear everything. His mother singing in the shower. The television playing CNN to an empty sofa. His father yelling at his sister, Gianna, for wearing a sheer skirt.
“I can see your underwear.”
“What color is it?”
“White.”
“Wrong.”
Something crashes to the hardwood floor. Seconds later his bedroom door flies open. Dad stomps in, eyeing Sid’s stained Kinks T-shirt and the jeans that hang from his fourteen-year-old lack of an ass. Sid smiles and gives his father a crooked wave.
“You’re kidding me,” Dad says. “We have to leave in five minutes ago. Get ready.”
He slams Sid’s door hard enough to knock his dream catcher off the wall. Sid jumps. If Dad were in anger management, it’d be a one-step program. Forget the thirty-day chip; a seven-hour chip would be an unprecedented miracle.
Sid turns back to the street, resting his elbows on his knees. Two blue cars pass in a row, followed by a black Buick, followed by a knock on the door. He tenses, thinking it’s Dad the Sequel – twice as pissed, this time with fists. But it’s just Gianna, standing in a loose black dress with both hands on her hips. She looks like a naughty nun.
Sid shifts, tugging a bag of headache inducing Mexican dirt weed from his back pocket. He tosses it to Gianna, and she catches it with one hand.
“Let’s take a walk,” she says.

• • •
Kettle Pond. What used to be a place for catching largemouth bass is now the colloquial smoking spot. Sid packs a tight bowl and brings it to his lips, lighting and puffing. He feels smoke hit his throat and inhales. His thumb plugs and releases the cap to an unsung melody. He lights up again. This time, it stays cherried. Sid elbows Gianna and she takes the bowl with both hands, as if he were handing her a tray of fine china.
She breathes in and holds the smoke in her lungs for a minute. On the exhale she says, “I can’t stand him.”
The bowl makes another rotation. This time Gianna’s buzzing insight is, “He doesn’t give a fuck if we get there on time. He’s just worried everyone else will.”
This continues until it’s kicked. Gianna bangs the bowl against her kneecap. Sid says, “Occam’s Razor.”
Gianna nods as if that makes perfect sense, even though she has no idea what he’s talking about. She almost never knows what Sid’s talking about. He’s a boy of few words, but the ones he chooses are scientific jargon or observations that only make sense in hindsight. He’s like a little Buddha. A weird little Buddha with no friends.
Back at the house the duo make a pit stop in the garage, raiding their stash of eye drops and spray deodorant. They give each other a once-over and decide there’s nothing suspicious on either end, save for the fact that they both giggle at the sound of their own name.
“Sid! Gianna!”
“That’s our cue,” Gianna says, and Sid follows her upstairs.
• • •
Ambrosini family party. Same old bullshit.
It’s little Sarah Ambrosini’s First Communion, making her the fifth member of the Communion of the Week squad. Of course, it’s held at no place but the Italian Club. Rage on.
Dad’s drinking beer with his father and brothers, even though he prefers wine. He claps Uncle Vinny on the shoulder and they laugh, clinking the necks of their bottles. Vincent Junior runs by and Dad ruffles his hair, asks about school, about girls, “You must have to fight ’em off.” Junior forces a laugh and walks away. With that, it’s back to football. It’s always back to football, even though Dad doesn’t even watch football. Sid knows for a fact that he doesn’t have the patience. Five minutes after the kickoff he changes the channel, then looks the final score up online.
Sid thinks his balding father has nothing else to talk about. Thinks he’s a good guy, but lacks the capacity for intimacy. Can’t connect well with others. Sid understands that. But, what he doesn’t understand is his father’s undying need to fit in, to appear normal. To eliminate any inch of personality, any speck of uniqueness. Sid wonders if his father will ever allow himself to really exist. He decides he doesn’t want to think about it.
Sid moves on, searching for his mother. She’s pulling her usual disappearing act. At these gatherings she becomes one with the wallpaper, appearing just in time to kiss everyone goodbye and get a head start to the Acura.
Instead his eyes land on Gianna. She’s the center of it all. Beaming, grinning, carrying babies on her hip as she table-hops between first, second, third and so forth cousins. Sid wonders if it’s real. It seems believable. Seems almost like she’s enjoying this bullshit.
They lock eyes. Gianna smiles, plops baby Anthony into his mother’s lap and joins Sid by the Club entrance.
“We done, yet?”
Sid laughs. If only.
“I feel like I’m on display,” Gianna says. “Everyone keeps giving me the once-over. Do I have toilet paper stuck to my ass?”
Sid shakes his head.
“Then what is it?”
Sid shrugs. He looks at Gianna. She’s looking at their cousin, Amy. Amy is the prettier one. Everyone knows it, especially Gianna. Where Gianna has curves, Amy is thin as a pin with long black hair down her back. She looks like a dancer. Gianna looks like a pizza maker.
“She’s gained some weight, eh?” Gianna says, nodding in Amy’s direction.
Amy sees this. Thinking Gianna is beckoning her, she rushes over. The two embrace, gushing over how lovely the other is. Sid stares with blank eyes. Then he walks away.
• • •
“Is this car feeling shaky?” Dad says.
No one answers. He takes this as an invitation to continue.
“Maybe the tires need to be realigned.”
“Gianna, sweetie,” Mom says, twisting around so she’s facing the backseat. “Can you make it a point not to tell people that your boyfriend is coming over this late at night?”
“But he is coming over. And it’s only eleven.”
“I know. We just don’t want any rumors starting.”
“Like what?”
Say it. Say it. Say you don’t want people to think they’re fucking. C’mon Mom, say it.
“You know.”
“No, I don’t.” Gianna looks embarrassed, humiliated even. Thought that she’d done everything right that night. She was so friendly and she looked so demure and everyone loved her. But it’s always something, isn’t it? Always something. “Enlighten me.”
“It’s family business,” Dad says in a voice that’s quick and gruff, a voice like a warning.
Gianna slides back into her seat, silent. Dad looks into the rearview. Without meaning to, he locks eyes with Sid. The two stare at each other, unwavering, for half a second. Dad turns away first. Sid keeps both eyes on the mirror for the rest of the drive.
• • •
That night Gianna’s boyfriend does stop by. His name is Jeremy and he’s on the football team. Sid doesn’t remember what position he plays; he just knows it isn’t quarterback. Jeremy drives a Honda Civic, the safest thing on four wheels. When he pulls into their driveway, his car windows are shut. He rolls up in front of the garage, and then does a nine thousand point turn so that the car faces the street. As he walks up to the front door, he keeps licking his hand and running it through his hair. When he sees Sid sitting on the overhang, he stops doing this and waves.
“Hey.”
Sid nods in his direction. Jeremy looks like he wants to say something else, then decides against it. Rings the doorbell. Dad answers, all smiles.
“Jeremy, how you doing, son? How’s the season going?”
“Over, Mr. Ambrosini. It’s summer.”
Gianna leads Jeremy into the basement, where they screw to the tune of Late Show with David Letterman. Gianna asks him to hold her arms down and he does. She asks him to slap her and he does. He doesn’t ask why that gets her off, but it does.
Afterward they bathe in the glow of television light. The boyfriend says he loves her. Gianna says she loves him, too. She doesn’t really know if she means that. Doesn’t really know what that means.
Sid watches Gianna walk Jeremy to his car. He has quick, rigid steps. Looks permanently constipated. Sid liked Gianna’s last boyfriend, Ted. He wore safety pins as earrings, drank whisky sours from mason jars and listened to The Dead Kennedys. He was fun. Jeremy, not so much.
Gianna takes her time coming back to the house. The air is thick, humid, and to move through it is like swimming. She watches the trees move against the sky. Lets her hands brush against the soft parts of her thigh. She thinks that may have been the best sex of her life. Lying there like that, passive and pinned down – well, it’s almost like she didn’t have a choice in the matter.
For once, Gianna barely feels guilty.
• • •
Mom asks Sid to watch TV with her, so they sit side-by-side on their new leather couch, watching CSI without really watching. Mom’s thinking about the barrio, about the shithole condominio fechado her family shared when they first moved from Portugal. The way the bathroom stank of merda no matter how many times you cleaned it. Trash on the sidewalk – not normal shit, either. Hypodermic needles and condoms and flat tires. A jungle of water pipes and pipe dreams. When she was younger, she’d collect these things. Hoard them in her closet, ’til Mãe made her trash it all. She cried that day. Big fucking time.
Aqueles que são meus, Mãe . Essas são minhas coisas. Those are my things.
A shift, now to when she first brought Dominick home. The way her sister, Judite, raised her eyebrow at the Eye-talian. The way she hissed, “Boa sorte com isso um, Maria.”
“He’s a good man,” Maria said. “He just had a rough childhood. His father was abusive.”
“That shit doesn’t exactly skip a generation.”
Judite. Married the sweetest cop in the whole damn city. Bought all their furniture from Goodwill. Washed out the smell with Lemon Pledge. Told Maria to, relax, Rica Cadela, we can’t all have granite countertops. This is what we can do. This is all we need.
Without warning, Mom starts to cry. Sid swallows and looks over at her. He feels like he should say something, but can’t think of what’s appropriate. Maybe he should touch her shoulder. Is that weird? He’s never done it before. He doesn’t even know what’s wrong.
“I want to call my sister,” Mom says, wiping snot from under her nose.
Sid stands up, moving toward the phone, but she cuts him off.
“Don’t. It’s late.”
She doesn’t know what she’d say, anyway.
• • •
Gianna and Sid sit under a cone of street lamp light at the edge of their neighbor’s driveway. They pass their second joint, heads flashing like hot slot machines – all noise, light, and fever. Clouds hang overhead, obscuring moonbeams, leaving the street darker than usual. McMansions lit by porch lights. Some are bigger, some smaller, but all fundamentally the same. Gianna snickers.
“I’ll never live in this neighborhood.”
Sid contorts his lips into an O, blowing three perfect smoke rings. “Yes, you will,” he says.
“What?”
He shakes his head. Thinks of Jeremy, the way he looks like their father, walks like their father, talks like their father. Thinks of Gianna earlier, at the party. Faux smiles and butterfly kisses. On a different team, but playing the same game. Stuck. So fucking stuck.
“You know when you look at the sun, you’re not really looking at the sun?” Sid says. “At least, not at that moment.”
“Eh?” Gianna’s too far gone for this shit. Ears ringing. Tongue numb.
“The sun is eight light minutes away, so you’re actually looking at the sun eight minutes ago.” Sid pauses. “Which means that if aliens were looking at us right now, they’d be seeing dinosaurs.”
• • •
Three in the morning but Sid can’t sleep. He’s leaning out his window, smoking a joint. Feels like he’s from another planet.
He looks back at Gianna, dozing peacefully in his bed. She’s nineteen, but still afraid of the dark. Scared of the way things go bump in the night because she can afford to be terrified by such trivialities. They live in a good part of town. High tech alarm system. Nothing can get in, so her mind gets out. The only part of her that’ll ever get out. Stuck.
Sid doesn’t mind her presence, though. Except now he has to sleep on the floor.
He takes another hit and tips his head back, blowing smoke into the gauzy sky. Everything is still, silent, flushed in the dim washed moonlight.
Sid hopes that in the future, when those aliens are looking back on the present, they don’t see his family. If they did, they’d be so confused. Modern technology and ancient people. A shiny house where everyone’s so sad.
He brings the joint to his mouth, using his free hand to wave at the night sky.

 

Jennie Hackman Memorial Award for Short Fiction, 2nd Prize

Jennie Hackman Memorial Award for Short Fiction, 3rd Prize

Amy Martin

The Wonder of Summer

I lived for the summers. Autumn meant school, winter was cold, spring was windy. But I lived for those hot summers. You and I would go down to the local playground, roam our small town, drink lemonade and talk about nothingness. As we got older we drove into the night, finding somewhere new to park each time we went out. My mum would’ve been furious, so we didn’t go every night. Only once a week or so, when we thought we could get away with it. We’d get in the car and drive out softly, so as not to wake her. On these nights we needn’t have bothered – she drank and her slumber was so induced. It would’ve taken more than an elephant wielding a chainsaw to wake her. These nights we felt free. The windows down, we streaked through the empty neighborhood going much faster than we should until we breached the wall of civilization and hit the open road, nothing in front of us but desert and sky. I’d drive for as long as I dared, then pull off the road and park. Sometimes we’d leave the radio on in the car and blast it to the empty world. Sometimes we’d get the drinks out of the trunk, you drank your Coke, and I drank whatever I could get my hands on. We’d always end up on the hood or on the desert floor, staring up at the sky. Sometimes our hands would brush, sometimes we’d be so close I could feel the heat off your body. When that happened, I’m sure you could feel mine because it always made me flush. Some nights we wouldn’t even talk, just look at the stars or drink or listen to the music, either blaring from the car radio, or the music of the deserts soft winds. But most nights we would talk. I remember one night you asked if I believed in God. It was odd because I’d never thought about it before. Growing up with my mum, believing in God just wasn’t a question. You said you’d been doubting him, until that night. You said that if there wasn’t a God, who had created all these stars? And as you said it, you waved your arm at the expansive sky. When you let your hand fall back to the ground, it landed on me. You didn’t remove it. I tried to pretend I didn’t notice.
We’d gone back to my house, you driving because you always drove home, whether I’d had liquor or not. You drove much more reasonably than me, especially after a long calm night. I’d climbed into my bed, and you’d gone to your sleeping mat that we’d put on the floor of my room for the summer. I lay there for the longest time, thinking about my mother and the stars and God – but most of all about you. I often thought about you. Your pale face and green eyes. Your light brown hair and contemplative smile. Tonight I thought about your hand. Your thin, long-fingered hand, which had landed on my leg. Your forearm, and all the places it had lain on me. The way you started tapping and touching me when you’d gotten restless, playing with my jeans and drawing circles with your fingers. The way I hoped you hadn’t noticed my physical reaction to your movements. As I brooded, you came to my bedside and stared down at me. I stared back. You said it was cold on the floor. I stared at you some more. Your face reddened. It was so dark that no one would have been able to see, but I knew. You asked if you could maybe sleep in my bed, just for tonight? I stared for a moment longer, then lifted my sheets for you to scramble under. You whispered thanks and curled up. I stared at the back of your head and sighed. I returned my gaze to the ceiling, past which I imagined I could see stars.
That summer passed too quickly. We were seventeen. During the winter I had a fight with my mother. It was about God. She kicked me out. Not knowing what else to do, I went to you. You lived in a trailer with your dad. He was an alcoholic and unemployed indefinitely. You’d said once he probably didn’t notice when you left all summer, having been immersed in poker, drinking, and whores. Still, I had nowhere else to go. You answered the door, looking slightly mussed. It was unusual for you, so much so that I almost laughed at the sight of you. Your expression stopped me. You asked what I was doing there, on your doorstep of all places. I gestured helplessly at my duffel and tried to find the words. Your eyes widened as you looked from it to me. You asked if I needed someplace to stay. I nodded tightly. You asked for how long, and I looked helplessly at the duffel again. My eyes began to fill with tears. You paused, just for a second. You hesitated as you threw your head over your shoulder. Then you let me in and showed me to your room. It was small, less than half the size of mine, but more than twice as tidy. You grasped my duffel and set it on your bed, then sat and indicated me to do the same. I complied. You told me I could stay as long as I needed to. You told me that your dad would just have to deal with it. You told me, with your eyes averted, that sometimes we might have to get by on a little less food than I was used to. You told me, keeping your eyes away, that you didn’t really have any place for me to sleep except the bed right now. I tilted your chin so you were looking in my eyes and gave the most grateful look I could. I pulled a small bag out of my duffel and handed it to you. It contained $463. My life savings. You tried to give it back, but I refused to take it. You smiled softly and I grinned.
Living those few months with you gave me a new perspective on the world. Once, we drove out to the desert with blankets and hot cocoa in a thermos and sat on the hood, backs against the windshield, sharing sips of heat. We were very close underneath the blanket, sides flush together, arms constantly hitting each other as we passed the nourishing drink between us. You said it was for body heat, the only way to keep us warm. And the night was fucking cold. When we’d returned, you’d said you needed a hot shower. You said shyly that the water bill couldn’t get much higher. You said that trapping the heat in the bathroom we could both get warm faster and share the water heat. I followed you. We both stripped down to our boxers. I tried to keep my eyes from roving over you as you undressed. I failed. You didn’t seem to notice. You turned on the hot water first and stepped in. Soon the room was filled with steam. You let the water run over you, unfreezing for a few moments, and stepped out again, allowing me to access the soothing heat. It felt so good I wanted to stand there and let the fiery droplets pound against my skin forever, but I managed to limit myself to a few moments before stepping out and letting you back in. You only stood there for a few seconds, water making your boxers cling to your skin, before turning off the pump. You handed me a towel and I dried myself thoroughly. Your hair stuck up in funny ways when you fluffed it dry, and this time I did laugh at your lack of composure. You frowned and tried to figure out why, but I was laughing too hard to answer. When I had chuckled myself out, you were standing over the drain wringing out your boxers with the towel around your waist. I swallowed hard, and I’m sure my face flushed a little. Despite having slept in the same bed as you for several weeks, I’d never come close to seeing you naked. You were always fully dressed, whether in pajamas or daily clothes, and so careful about it, that I did my best to follow your example. We went back to your room, and I searched through my duffel for some pajamas. When I’d extricated them from the bag I turned around to see you pulling yours on. Your pale skin was even paler there, and the moonlight streaming through the window shone on you. I turned away quickly, but not before letting out an audible gasp. My heart was beating fast. You asked if I was ok. I was breathing too hard to answer. I heard you move towards me, and I fled to the bathroom. I dropped to the floor and banged my head against the door. There was something wrong with me. You were my best friend. You were a boy. I wasn’t supposed to feel like this because of you.
That night when I got back to your room, you were already in bed. I slid into my side and curled up away from you, as I had every night since I’d first come. I could tell you weren’t asleep by the pace of your breathing, but I tried to ignore you and pretend to fall asleep myself. Eventually I heard your breathing slow and change, and I drifted off soon after. It was New Year’s Eve.
As spring came and went I found myself working at the local pizza parlor. I started saving and as summer came I’d gained enough to afford the rent on a place in town. Your father, who had only noticed my presence a fortnight before and been none too pleased, was happy to see the back of me. The night before I left you tried to hand me something small. My savings. I refused, pushing the bundle back towards you. You tried to hand it back, but I’d walked out the door.
It wasn’t long before you came to visit me. It was summer, you’d said. You’d always spent summers at my place and now it was summer and you didn’t know what to do. I knew what you were trying to say and welcomed you inside. My tiny one-room apartment had a fridge in the corner, a small table, and a mat on the floor that I was using until I saved the money for a bed. I had a hotplate to cook my food, one set of cheap dishes, and a lamp. That, and the contents of my duffel was everything I owned in the world. But you welcomed it. You brought some blankets and a sleeping bag from your place. We settled into summer. Now the only thing keeping us from ourselves was my job. Often I worked at night, but the parlor closed at 10 p.m. for our sleepy town, leaving plenty of time to explore the desert. We went every night that first week you stayed. We had no drinks because I couldn’t steal liquor from my mother and I couldn’t afford anything for some Cokes. I turned off the radio when we arrived. It was just you and me and the stars. Every night we lay on the desert floor, side by side, as we had a thousand times before. We talked. We laughed. We were silent, admiring the sky. On the last night of that week, you put your hand in mine as we lay there, and squeezed. I squeezed back. I looked sideways at your face and saw you smiling. You talked about the world and how you knew you’d never see enough of it. You said you wanted to go to France and Argentina and, laughing, Antarctica. You said that you knew you’d never go there, but that was okay. You said it was okay because even if you never left our one-horse town, you’d come out here and seen the stars. And because you’d seen the stars, you’d seen the world. You said these things and I knew what you meant, even as I watched you speak. You tilted your head to look at me, and you said “I’ll never need the world because I’ll always have had these nights with you.” I stared at your eyes, the way they sparkled sadly as you spoke. I stared at your lips, the way they moved when you said those gentle words. I squeezed the hand you held, and knew that, even if it was against God, I loved you. I stared at you as I pressed my lips to yours, slowly, softly. I closed my eyes as I felt your lips press back. When the kiss ended, I rolled back onto my back and stared up at the sky. I thought there must be a God, because even as he makes my mother hate me for loving you, he made you love me back.

 

The Edward R. and Frances Schreiber Collins Literary Prize for Poetry

Katherine Monica

Jean-Michel Basquiat’s Last One-
Artist Show at the Baghoomian Gallery

The passion’s bled out.
I’ve split open all the oranges I possibly could to see
the wet jewels shining like teeth in the sun and I’ve pushed

my fingers into the meat of it and I’ve popped the small
striated pouches; the sweetness is all over my hands and I am
washing it off
without ever having tasted it.

This is how my mother describes my life to me over the phone.
I’m tearing the skin off all the oranges,
flushing the juice down the sink.

For a while I wanted no money and every night
met a girl on my neighbor’s roof to tell her
something inconsequential.

For a while I had a jean jacket with white-ringed sleeves and a sign
saying
’Death To Docility.’
I had her hand
also.

I played clarinet in the hysterical twilight on the corner of Green
and Franklin –
Feel better feel better feel better
I rotted under her pillow and it was dark and warm and I liked it.

There is a sore under my chin from sitting so long
in the smoke of the city while my father loudly changed the page
of his newspaper.
The graffiti on the walls and freight cars are about him.
I wrote it in my sleep sort of.

I am nodding off in someone’s basement.
I like the way this music goes with her hair.
I feel better don’t you feel better –

in the corner of the room do you see him the boy from my 9th grade
science class is sucking cock for coke
for the past 15 years I have felt like a hollow skull with an unhinged
jaw and a
football helmet on

my mother told me of Samson breaking down the temple
I am tearing all the nets off the tennis courts

these two broad brush strokes this orange this blue
are a madman crying in his hands or laughing
you don’t care which

I dreamt of my lifeless body because I didn’t know what else to do
I kissed her because I didn’t know what else to do
she tasted like a black-alley cackle and a figure slouching
towards me and the dripping and a Cheshire cat grin from a
red red face yellow eyes and
i’m standing there equidistance apart from both brick buildings
all the audience are poorly drawn mannequins
only their yellow heads visible oval-shaped and gawking
they eat me alive and i love it
the quick flick of their tongues over my corpse-thin extremities
red face yellow eyes
my art is hanging on the walls it’s as simple as that i am striding in front of the paintings in an armani suit the gallery is full of people the girl i love is smoking outside she won’t come in i’m icarus and she’s the sun i’m icarus and she’s the sun my father my father my mother is so proud i am the yellow skeleton oval-shaped corpse-thin extremities raised overhead in triumph riding my black horse towards death my mother my father are so

 

The Edward R. and Frances Schreiber Collins Literary Prize for Prose

Julie Bartoli

Takers and Leavers

Annalise roller-skates between car windows, balancing wicker baskets of French fries and thick, greasy burgers. It’s one of those deadbeat Florida days, the air heavy with humidity. Moving feels like swimming. She dabs her forehead with paper napkins.
A thin blonde calls out for more ketchup from the window of her Subaru Hatchback. Someone in a Civic asks for another glass of Coke – no – make that Diet Coke, never mind, Coke will do. More salt. Less salt. I wanted a B.L.T. with no mayo, but this clearly has mayo.
Annalise needs a break.
She rolls off to the slap job shack behind Nostalgiarama, collapsing onto a chewed velour couch and closing her eyes. When she opens them, her forty-year-old boss is standing over her, pressing the back of his hand against her forehead.
“You have a fever,” he says. “Go home.”
“It’s just hot.”
David shakes his head. “Go home.”
So, Annalise trades her roller skates for flip-flops, hops onto her 6-speed and pedals the four miles back to Tangelo Park.
• • •
There are two Orlandos – the one they want you to see and the one they’d prefer if you didn’t. Disney is the fistful of confetti, the casino glitter, the heart of it all. It’s been sucking the magic from surrounding areas since 1971, leaving places like Tangelo Park scrounging for leftover fairy dust.
Annalise has yet to find any. She bikes through the neighbor-hood, ignoring catcalls from boys in basketball shorts. On hot days they gather in packs on front porches, 45s stapled to their palms.
On Udine Ave she hears, “Hey, blanquita!” It’s Carmon, a slick Haitian guy she fucked three lifetimes ago. But time is irrelevant. No one ever lets you forget these things.
Carmon eyes her up and down, taking in her big brown eyes, her shapely legs and her powder pink uniform. It’s a latex, retro styled mini-dress, perfect for everything but bending down. Annalise wears shorts under hers.
“Come by,” Carmon says. “I gotta show you something.”
Annalise snorts, kicks her left foot off the asphalt and finishes her trek to Aviano Avenue, to her mother’s splintered duplex where Christmas lights hang from the shingles even though it’s the middle of June.
Inside, her sister Lynn is making soup. She raises an eyebrow at Annalise.
“What are you doing home?”
Annalise shrugs. “I’m sick.”
“Don’t look sick.”
“Well, I am.”
Annalise turns and runs upstairs, into the room she shares with her two nieces. She climbs into bed, pulling the comforter over her head. She’s shaking.
Her sister’s never had a job – been popping babies out since she turned fifteen, no time to work, just to birth. Still, she thinks she’s entitled to criticize Annalise. It’s total bullshit, all of it. Twenty, still living at home. Make a dollar and it goes to Mom. Wanted a job as Pocahontas at Disney, got one at Nostalgiarama, where you’re at least fifty years behind wherever you’re supposed to be.
• • •
In the morning, Annalise slips out before six. She unlatches the garage and rolls out her bike, walking it to the edge of the driveway before hopping on. It’s her favorite time of day, barely dawn, the sun low and slow in the pumpkin colored sky.    In three hours Tangelo Park will echo with the sounds of bare feet slapping the steaming asphalt. But right now everyone’s asleep. Porches are empty; not a car in sight. Annalise could be the last person on Earth.
When she gets to Nostalgiarama only David is there. He cocks his head as she enters the kitchen, searching for something to eat.
“You’re early.”
Annalise shrugs, shoving a fistful of day-old bread into her mouth. She helps David clean the counters and carry out picnic tables for customers uninterested in the full carhop experience.
They drop the last table in place. David dusts his hands off and looks up, locking eyes with Annalise.
“Thanks for the help.”
“No problem.”
With that, he goes off to open the cash register and Annalise laces up her skates. Go time.
Welcome to another day in peak tourist season. Annalise and her fellow roller girls whip through the parking lot, stopping only to help each other break bills. A man in a CRV tells Annalise that he “isn’t interested in anything on this menu,” and it takes all her energy not to spit in his face. Families of four, all sporting Mickey ears, yell over each other to keep her attention. Annalise forces a smile and nods, scribbling in her notebook. Normal day. Everything moving smooth, twisted, because it’s Florida, but smooth nonetheless. Then a Buick pulls up, and Annalise glides over with her head down.
“Annalise? Is that you?”
Shit. She knows that voice. Swallows hard and looks up. Sure enough, Bridgette Klein is sitting in the passenger seat, wearing a neon bandeau and heart-shaped sunglasses. Also in tow – the quarterback, tight end and head cheerleader from her high school football team.
Annalise sighs for a lifetime.
Bridgette combs a chunk of blonde hair from her eyes. “Didn’t know you worked here, Annalise.”
“Surprise.”
“Cool, cool,” she says in a voice three octaves higher than any normal human being. “Great summer job. Where you going to school?”
Annalise swallows. “I’m not.”
In a breath, the mood shifts. Bridgette shoves her nose into her menu, mumbling about how college isn’t for everyone. The group decides on drinks, but Annalise doesn’t catch what they ask for. Her attention’s stuck on the Virginia Tech tassel hanging from the rearview, has to ask three times before she gets their orders right.
She turns and rolls directly into David. He catches her by the upper arm, eyebrows knotted.
“It’s your fifteen,” he says. “Take a break.”
Annalise nods, skating off. She catnaps in the lunchroom. When she opens her eyes, printouts of college brochures line the floor below her.
• • •
Midnight on a Friday. It’s prime time. From her bedroom window, Annalise watches packs of Tangelo Parkers pass through cone after cone of streetlamp light. Heels click, girls shriek, glass bottles clink in purses and backpacks. Sirens wail in the distance.
Last week, she could have been any one of those girls. Friday nights Mom babysits. This leaves Lynn and Annalise free to porch-hop ’til dawn with glitter coating their bodies and blunts hanging from their lips.
But tonight’s different.
Annalise stands in the bathroom doorway, watching Lynn straighten her hair. Steam rises from her hot iron. When she sees Annalise’s reflection in the mirror, she jumps. When she sees that Annalise is bare faced, sporting boxers and a ratty t-shirt, she jumps again.
“What are you doing? We gotta go.”
“I’m staying in.”
“Carmon’s having a big party. He said he wants you there.”
“He said that?” Annalise perks up, then reminds herself that Lynn has a habit of exaggerating. Or plain lying. She drops her shoulders and rolls her eyes.
“I’m sick.”
“That’s bullshit,” Lynn says, but Annalise is already halfway down the hall, stepping into her room and locking the door behind her.
Her nieces are sound asleep in the top bunk, so she’s careful not to let the bed shake when she climbs in. She sits cross-legged, holding a flashlight over her head, surrounded by the college brochures she found in the break room. Who left them? Maybe David. Maybe he heard her talking to Bridgette.
Whatever. It doesn’t matter. What does matter is that someone, somewhere, thinks Annalise could get into college. And that could be her one-way ticket out of here.
She pours through paperwork for the rest of the night, dividing her options into a pile of Yes Schools or No Schools. All the yeses are in New England. Snow. Trees. Seasons. Annalise falls asleep fantasizing about cable-knit sweaters and hot chocolate.
When she wakes up, it’s five in the morning. Lynn’s bed is squeaking one room over. Annalise puts her pillow over her head, but it does no good. She can still hear her sister moaning, gasping, sliding her feet across the mattress. People forget that walls are paper.
She’s about to go bang on Lynn’s door, be like, you know your children are sleeping like thirty feet away, right? Then Annalise hears Lynn choke out, “Carmon,” and it makes her stop dead in her tracks.
The only thing separating her from her sister, the only reason their fates differed, was because of a condom. Annalise swallows hard. She takes her pile of Yes brochures from the floor and creeps outside, grabs her bike and rolls off, still in her boxers.
• • •
By the time Annalise reaches Nostalgiarama, it’s the early part of morning. Clouds glow red around their edges. The front door is unlocked and sure enough, David’s inside. This time he doesn’t even cock his head. He just sighs.
“It’s your day off, Annalise.”
She takes the pile of brochures from her waistband and drops them onto the counter.
“Did you leave these for me?”
David nods.
“Why?”
“I think it’s worth considering.” He licks his lips and adds, “You’re a smart girl.”
Annalise pops her hip out, crossing her arms over her chest. She’s not sure why she’s doing this. Interrogating him from opposite sides of the kitchen counter. It just feels like it’s what she’s supposed to be doing. In what life does a balding, middle-aged man print a pile of college brochures and drop them next to you while you’re sleeping? And why does he care about her future? She has every right to be suspicious.
David turns his back and unplugs a coffee pot, then reaches into the cabinet overhead. Comes back with two Nostalgiarama souvenir mugs. He fills them each to the brim and hands one to Annalise. She holds the mug in her hands, keeping both eyes on David.
“Look, it was a suggestion. No one’s making you go to college. You could work here for the rest of your life, for all I care.”
Annalise gives him a look like he just punched her in the lip. She reaches out and grabs the brochures, pulling them to her side of the counter.
“How do I apply?”
• • •
August is a month without rest; a month spent working overtime at Nostalgiarama. David helps Annalise open a bank account, and she starts cutting her checks and tips. Half for Mom, half for savings. By the end of the month, she has eight hundred dollars set aside.
David lets Annalise use his computer between shifts. There, she writes her statement of purpose. She researches schools she can afford, fills out applications for financial aid. When September rolls around, Annalise grins at David and says, “I guess we’re doing this.”
“Guess so.”
Nine p.m. – Nostalgiarama is officially closed for the evening. David makes omelettes while Annalise sets napkins and silverware on a picnic table outside. They eat under the bright patio lights.
“What are your top schools?”
“Scranton, Marist, UVM, Quinnipiac and I’m going to try for Columbia, but I won’t get in.”
“You might get in.”
“I won’t get in,” Annalise says through a mouthful of egg, but she’s smiling and David’s smiling and even Nostalgiarama feels new, fresh and ripe with possibility.
Then David leans forward. Under the table he places his hand on her knee. He gives it a hard squeeze and slides higher, rubbing the soft part of her thigh, moving toward the space in between.
“I’m proud of you, Annalise.”
Her smile fades. She sits frozen. David sees her go rigid and snatches his hand away, placing it back on the table like nothing happened.
Annalise waits a moment. Swallows hard on the lump in her throat before jumping up. Mumbles and runs to the break room, David hot on her tail.
“What?” he says. “What?”
But she’s already collecting her things, tossing them into a backpack and jumping on her six speed. David doesn’t move to block the door. He doesn’t even ask her to stop. In fact, he looks more pathetic than ever as he stands with both hands on his temples, watching her shrinking silhouette.
• • •
Carmon answers on the third knock.
“Annalise?” he says, and before he can finish she pushes him back into his own house, up the stairs to his bedroom, onto his twin mattress.
She kisses him hard on the mouth, kisses him with her whole body. Kicks her shorts out from under her uniform, pushes her underwear to the side and does it without any further thought. This is the person she’s supposed to be, the woman she was raised to become. Fuck school. Fuck the future. She’s just a pretty piece of ass from Tangelo Park, and that’s all she’s ever going to be. And what’s wrong with that? What’s so bad about the boys from the block? Look at her sister. Lynn’s happy for the weekdays with her babies, the Friday nights and porch lights. She’s never asked for more than this, so what is Annalise chasing?
She licks her lips and rocks up and down, imagining that this isn’t just her past; it’s her present and her future. And while it’s happening it feels almost right, almost natural. Then they finish, they lay side by side, and the world is no different than it was moments before.
She stares at Carmon’s ceiling. It’s covered in sticky tack. There used to be glow stars, hundreds of them. She remembers jumping on his bed when they were kids, sticking them up there one leap at a time.
“Why’d you come here, Annalise?”
She licks her lips. “Why’d you take the stars down?”
“I asked you first.”
“I don’t care.”
Carmon swallows. He tries resting his hand on Annalise’s stomach, but she swats him away.
“I guess I grew out of them.”
“That,” Annalise says, “is how I feel about this entire fucking state.”
Then she starts to cry.
• • •
Annalise doesn’t formally quit Nostalgiarama; she just never goes back. When her sister asks why, she shrugs and says, “My boss was an asshole.”
“If you quit every job because your boss is an asshole, you’ll never have a job.”
Two weeks later a check arrives in the mail. It’s one thousand dollars, made out to Annalise. She considers giving it to her mother to get Lynn off her back. But at the last second she rides to the bank and dumps the whole thing into her savings. On the way home, Annalise stops at the library.
“How much is it to print?”
“Ten cents a page.”
Annalise hands the librarian two quarters and prints five applications.

 

The Aetna Creative Nonfiction Award, Undergraduate 1st Prize

Michael Anthony Jefferson II

Carry That Weight

I come from a very short line of men named Michael Jefferson who found the need to indulge themselves, or in this case, himself, in some monarchial type of name game. But that’s just my old man, papa Mike, being himself. When I was younger I thought it was pretty cool, you know? Being called the second instead of junior. Junior is pretty lame, like oh that’s my junior, basically saying, that’s the bitch that came after me. But the second is prestigious. It’s like yes; I’m Michael Jefferson the II, hold on as I stroke my philosophical beard. As I got older though, I realized it’s only cool if you’re the second of a long line of so-and-sos. You know, a bunch of somebodies who produced other somebodies, who were destined to be somebody cause their daddy was that somebody who made or did something.
And I’m not saying my old man isn’t a “somebody”, it’s just, here I am, fresh out the womb and already there’s pressure? I’m not even a day old and yet I’m the key component to a legacy that now I just have to make. Now I have to have a son, and his name will be Michael, and his son, and his son, and his son. And we’ll all grow up to be lawyers like Esquire over here, cause that’s what Michaels do. We lawyer up and make mantles for our degrees and say, “son, if you work hard, you too can have these degrees. And a house like this, with a dog and a deck for drinking or for smoking or for guests in the summer time. And a wife like my wife, who works hard and earns well and comes home to you and only you.” And the son will say, “okay dad.” And then we all grow up to marry our moms. What a life.
I don’t want my life molded by my old man, but he’s always got a hand in things. Hell, I remember all through high school I never needed a hall pass. All the security guards knew me, scratch that; knew my dad. And they would stop and shake my hand and ask if I needed anything, if I was lost or needed change for the bus and I’m like “nah, I just gotta take a piss.” And they damn near opened the bathroom door for me. It’s stuff like that that really rankles the shit out of me. From the get-go I have this great public figure who blesses me with his name, and all of a sudden I’m expected to be great.
Don’t get me wrong, I mean, it’s not all bad… I got away with a lot of stuff because of my old man. Like one time I was smoking weed in the park and the truancy cops drove right past saying,
“Oh that’s the lawyer’s kid.” And then they’d go chase down the Hispanic kids by the swing set.
It’s times like that I rejoice having the old man’s name, but after a while people start questioning who you are. I mean, my friends never gave me shit. But I’m sure their parents probably did. You have no idea how many parents felt safe to have me around their daughters, all alone in high school. It’s like they didn’t think I wanted to take her under the bleachers to play doctor or something. It was despicable. I felt emasculated like a fucking lion at the zoo. I mean, here I am, a good-looking kid, ready to make his run for Pride Rock, and you’re telling Nala it’s okay to come over. It’s okay to stay out past one, it’s only Michael; he’s a good kid, haven’t you met his dad? Well I’m not a good kid! I mean, I am, but I don’t want to be. I always wanted to be the guy who got all the girls and could point to like nine chicks in the yearbook and say yeah, I smashed that. You know? ’Cause sooner or later your kid is going to start asking you that kind of stuff. And you don’t want to look like an impotent chump so you start pointing at random women till he’s like “wow, even the lunch lady?” And then you shrug, and say “Sundae Mondays? Yeah… I always got my cherry on top.” And you laugh and he laughs, and then your wife walks in and you tell him not to objectify women. But you still high-five when she walks away. Thanks to those damn parents I’ll never get to say that. And now when my son asks, I’ll just have to point at two girls in my yearbook, because that’s all his poor father could muster.
Maybe you think I’m just whining, but I’m telling you this name is a curse. I can’t even post something on Twitter or Facebook without fear of my father seeing it. He’s always watching, like those Scooby Doo paintings on the wall. One time, he had my uncles and family friends slowly drive past the house while he and my mother were away for a week. And to this day, I’m convinced the basement is wired with cameras. It’s like living amongst eggshells; even the doors make a noise when you open to leave them. My house is a fortress. A modern day fortress with a big-ass German shepherd waiting for you by the stairs. Nobody gets in, nobody gets out… quietly.
But I guess I should be grateful for having a father like mine, at least that’s what he tells my brother and I whenever we have dinner together. He’ll tell us stories of how his father, who gave him his middle name, left my dad and his two brothers and three sisters behind to start a new family in Queens. He talks about how he grew up very poor in the Bronx, being taught by men not much older than himself on how to be a man. I remember one story he’d told me, about how him and his friends would be beaten in elevators by the older kids, and if they cried they’d be beaten even more. He called this a lesson in toughening up. Anyone else might call it traumatizing. And perhaps my father is traumatized; I mean the guy had to cross a major highway to get to elementary school. His best friend died when he was six. My uncle said the kid got scared while crossing and was run over by an 18-wheeler. My old man didn’t see it, but what a way to go.
My grandmother didn’t really give him that stereotypical motherly affection either. While my father is clearly her favorite, his mother was very strict and possibly bitter toward their abandonment by their father. In the mornings she would tell her children things about their half brother like, “Jamaal is eating this morning, are you?” And when things got too wild, my grandmother would break out “Black Jesus” every time her children got out of line. Black Jesus was a belt that she chased my father and his siblings under the bed with. The last man in was a lost soul, while the other two watched and giggled, safely hidden beside the wall.
And while I enjoy stories of my father’s upbringing, I don’t really enjoy being told how lucky I am to have him, or his name. It’s like a damn after school special. After a while, my brother started taking naps on the car rides home just to avoid any potential life lesson or “pearl” our father wanted to bestow. Sometimes the guy just gets too carried away with them too. Like this one time, I had asked him to use a cup instead of drinking from the bottle of soda. We all had to share it and my dad gets heat blisters on his lips during the summer, it’s pretty gross. So I thought the request was a reasonable one. My father, on the other hand, considered it a moment to display his worldly wisdom and snapped by saying,
“You think me and my boys had cups while drinking 40s in the woods?!” Nobody in the room knew how to respond to that, and my father seemed pretty convinced he had just given us another one of his pearls. So I walked away, laughing loudly in the back of my mind.
To be honest though, what really freaks me out is, I think I’m destined to become my old man. I know a lot of people say that and I acknowledge how cliché and lame it is but still, it’s a fucked up way to think. What’s even worse is that part of me embraces it, while the other half dreads the day I too give my children pearls like “you think me and my brother had mismatching plates when we ate dinner?!” It’s frustrating because despite my differences with my father, I still respect the hell out of the guy; the whole damn city of New Haven does.
During the 90s he had this radio show and people from as far as New York would tune in to hear him, “The Rebel,” speak. And when the cops came to shut his show down, my father barricaded himself in, while outside nearly a hundred people gathered at the station, all chanting, “No Rebel, no peace.” The guy can really move a crowd. I remember watching him speak in Hartford one time when I was about thirteen. I don’t remember a word he said but I swear to God when he finished his speech, people didn’t know whether to clap or drop to the floor expecting some assassin’s bullet to fly. The man is that good.
I always wanted to be a powerful speaker like him and when he gave me my chance to do so, I didn’t even think to turn him down. It was my senior year in high school, and the Black community had organized a march for Trayvon Martin. My father was expected to speak, but he had to go on a college visit with my brother. However, instead of turning down the offer, he made me his stand-in. So I went up before a crowd of unfamiliar faces and spewed this speech my father and I had practiced constantly. I even threw in this prophetic, “I’ve been to the mountaintop” sounding tone of voice every now and then just to get the people going. And while the speech went well, I was kind of annoyed I hadn’t gotten the kind of response from the crowd my father would’ve received. When my father speaks, it’s like watching a wave build. But when I spoke it was as though the people expected more. Sure, people complimented me on my speech and my father told me he was proud and all that good stuff, but even I knew dad would have damn near incited a riot.
I want my father to be thankful he gave me his name, not the other way around. I want to build waves and watch the whole fucking world go up in flames of enlightenment from my words, my actions. I want to be better than my father, like Godfather Part II better. The sequel should always be better, if not then what the hell are you making a sequel for? But even as I try to carve my own way through life, the man somehow always comes up. It’s as though not even his shadow leaves me when it’s dark. And in the end all I can say is, my name is Michael, and when I have a son his name will be Michael, and his son, and his son, and his son. And so it goes.

The Aetna Creative Nonfiction Award, Undergraduate 2nd Prize

The Aetna Creative Nonfiction Award, Graduate 1st Prize Three Way Tie

Erick Piller

The House of Love

Yes, I let the coroner into the house of love, and with knife and needle he dissected the dove. Awkwardly, I turned on some harmonious music. Then I placed a pineapple on the countertop. The doorbell rang. “Chop, chop,” said the coroner. The dove, of course, being two days dead, didn’t fly and alight on the pineapple’s crown. She kept her head down. Remember the door? Yes, I let the sadist into the house of love. I let the sadist in. Bad move? The sadist sipped expensive tea, listening to harmonious music. How absurd – coroner and sadist, pineapple and bird. When the doorbell rang again, I let you into the house of love. You might’ve noticed, dear, we killed your dove. Please don’t leave again. Meet my friends, the coroner and the sadist. Put down your butcher’s knife and needle, coroner. Sadist, put down your tea. Shake the lady’s hand. What a pleasure to meet you. What a pleasure to meet you, yes.

 

The Aetna Children’s Literature Award

 

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