Muse, O Muse, edumacate

me, so I can write a poem:

Maybe those dead gods from across the sea can inspire me.

Set can set me up

With Isis in the back seat, and Osiris in the trunk,

Then I can learn me the arts of erotion.

And with Minerva I can cloak the emotion

In erudition and write like Pound.

Anubis can teach me to write like Plath,

Or maybe Byron in a bad mood.

Old Tlaloc can bathe me in blood, but he’s from Mexico

And all that’s come out of there is One Trillion Years of Aloneitude, or


Maybe Si Wang-mu, Royal Mother of the West, can teach me to create like Li Po,

But he’s a little dry for my taste: only the wind of the immortals and

bones of the Tao.

No meat on him.

Hey, there’s a god who’s worth looking to: Thor.

He can smash stuff…

…Well, maybe he’s not such a poet after all.

Visnu could come to me, and I could be Arjuna,

Or I might end up like his uncles.

Those Hindu gods are poets, but mean.

I think I’ll stay away from them.

Gilgamesh was ⅓ god, but couldn’t stay awake to catch infinity.

Utnapishtim judged him right:

He would probably fall asleep in the middle of inspiring me.

Dead Cthulhu, sleeping in his house at R’yleh,

Now there’s a god worth volumes of poems:

He gets in your head and drains your sanity.

Maybe Dutch Schultz was an aquaintance of his,

But I rather like the order I impose on the universe.

The Bear of old Rus might give me some rhymes,

But I hear he’s in cahoots with a witch.

Lament, O ye masses:

The Gods are dead!

And the Orisises ain’t risin’.

White Picket Fences, Green Trumpets, and Bisexuality

Dreams are dangerous and wild things but, once captured and tamed, powerful insights to who you really are. I had the classic American dream: growing up, finding Prince Charming, getting married and living in a nice house with a white picket fence, two kids, and a dog. As I got older that dream of mine faded away until, one day, it no longer nexisted. The funny thing is, I can pinpoint that day exactly and how it changed my life.

I was a sophomore in high school and, after overcoming the stresses of my freshman year and having made a name for myself, I was quite content with who I was. I wasn’t the popular cheerleader Barbie that everyone adores, but that was OK. I was me, and I was finally beginning to accept that. Years before, elementary through junior high, I was the kind of kid that was constantly insulted and teased. High school had been a new start for me, and I was proud of it. I seemed to ooze confidence myself, and however it happened, it drew others to me that shared my same interests. In other words, I had real friends. It was the most amazing feeling in the world, to have friends, to belong! I was me, really me, and I completely belonged.

Then it happened. I was at band practice, as usual, watching the marching drill from the sidelines. I can’t remember what exactly caught my eye, but the next thing I knew I was totally entranced by the brass section. Maybe it was one of fate’s silvery threads; whatever it was, I was under its spell. Did I just see what I think I saw? Yes, yes I did! It was the weirdest thing: there was a green trumpet. Not gold, not silver, but green!

“Wow!” I thought. “That’s just awesome. I wonder what kind of person actually plays a green trumpet.” And there you have it. The day that changed my life all started with naïve curiosity. What can I say? It was so hot outside that my skin was melting into puddles on the pavement, I was absolutely bored out of my mind, and a green trumpet (and the owner of such) offered a pleasant change of pace in the monotonous tone of my day. I know, it sounds crazy, but from the first moment I saw the midday sun glint off that emerald instrument, fate’s plan had already been set in motion.

From that day forward I made it my goal to talk to this unusual trumpet’s owner; a shy girl with short red hair who, as far as I could tell, went from school to band and then home every day without talking to much of anyone. Surely there was something more, wasn’t there? After all, green trumpets aren’t exactly a dime a dozen. Little by little I made my approach to her.

“Hi, I’m Kaci,” I smiled at her one day. “That’s a cool trumpet. How’d you do it?” Not much of a conversation starter, but then again, I’m not much of a “conversator.” Plus, after weeks of planning, that lame line was the only thing I had actually come up with.

“It was dipped in this colored metal. It’s pretty interesting actually. I don’t see anything like it down here. Oh, by the way, my name’s Amanda.” Amanda! Deities be praised! My trumpet player had a name! Amanda! Great! And… now that I think about it… an accent… hmm…

“Down here?” I asked. “Where are you from?”

“Massachusetts,” she replied, “up near Boston.” (Tweet! The drum majors blew the whistle to call us back to attention.) “Hey, I gotta go, drill is fixin’ to start. Talk to ya later?”

“Sure,” I answered, grinning ear to ear. “I’ll write you a letter. See ya!” So, I met a new person. What’s so big about that? Why was I so happy? I meet new people all the time. And what was with that “I’ll write you” thing, did that sound as stupid as I think it sounded? It’s just a new friend, gosh Kaci, get over it. But this person was different, I could feel it right down to my bones.

Just from that first short conversation I knew that Amanda and I were going to be great friends. I don’t know why, just something about her “clicked” with me. She made me feel alive like nobody else did. And, keeping with my promise, I did write her. That’s where our friendship really took off. We started writing each other back and forth, two to three notes a day, and with every word that was written I could feel us getting closer and closer. We had the funniest debates at lunch that carried over into our letters. “Yankees” versus “good ol’ country boys,” Mass. versus Texas, “y’all” versus “you all,” and even taking opposite sides in the Presidential election. And, in all of the stupid things we discussed, we told each other secrets that we had never uttered before to a single soul.

It got to where writing just wasn’t enough. I mean, we’d take pages and pages up and still have more to say. So, we started to call each other and talk on the phone for hours. Either the phone would ring the minute I got inside from the bus, or I’d rush to the phone as soon as I got in the door. And if anybody thought our notes were random, our phone conversations were even worse. I remember the most unusual, and the longest, conversation that we ever had started off talking about Interview with the Vampire and ended up with us debating Catholicism. It was kind of creepy because it seemed as if all I could do was think about her. I even went to sleep at night and dreamt about her. I had never had anyone that I could talk to like this before.

Anyway, after months of getting to know each other, Amanda started to tease me, always inquiring about whether or not I was gay. It came out of nowhere, and didn’t bother me at first because she was always joking, but when she kept pestering me with the topic I started to wonder. I’d say certain things and she would just jump in and ask me about my dating preference; it was the oddest thing. One of my friends would do a stupid thing and I would say something like “but we still love you” and she would pipe up with “are you sure you aren’t gay?” I’d ask myself why she was so adamant about this subject, but I couldn’t find any reason for it, so I just blew it off. A little while later I found the answer I was looking for.

A week before Christmas break I could tell that something was weighing on her mind. She had become really snappy and more reserved than usual. It got me worried so I tried to talk to her, but every time I tried she shied away from me. I had no clue what was going on with my friend, and it was really bothering me. All of a sudden she started to get really “chummy” with everyone but me. From my point of view it seemed like she was avoiding me in particular and it really upset me. Another one of my friends, Layla, found me crying one day after lunch and asked me what was going on. I told her that I was worried about Amanda and confused because she wasn’t telling me a thing and I knew something was wrong.

“Babe,” she said to me—and I’ll never forget this—“she didn’t tell you? I thought you were like her best friend.”

“Tell me what?” I asked.

“It’s not a big deal or anything, but she’s told a few people that she’s, well, you know, bi. Maybe she was just afraid to tell you because she thought you would see her differently or something.” Bi? As in bisexual? Wait, back that up a minute, explain. I didn’t get it. What was the big problem? True, I was kind of shocked inside, but it really wasn’t a huge issue. This was the big secret she was hiding from me? This was the reason she wouldn’t look me in the eye? Didn’t she know that I was going to be her friend no matter what?

After Layla’s “confession” to me, I started to look at things differently, life differently. I had always thought that, well, bisexuality/homosexuality was an understood “taboo,” so to speak. But… Amanda? That was different; she was different. I had to think about this and piece some things together now. That’s when I started to take a good look at my life and myself.

Almost immediately I began thinking about me, and who “me” really was. I spent hours in my room after school picking my thoughts and feelings apart until I felt like I finally understood myself. And, when I thought about love, I thought that love should have no boundaries, not even gender. So, I looked deeper and deeper into my heart and found that I loved. I loved Amanda, deeply and passionately; I truly loved her. That’s all there was to it. So many different doorways she had opened up for me, so many lessons she had taught me, it was totally logical that I loved her. With many conversations and “discussions” between her and me, I came to some important conclusions about my life.

First of all, I learned that “wrong” is not always wrong for all people. Some people’s “wrong” is sometimes someone else’s “right.” True, you just can’t run out and kill somebody and say it’s right, but some people’s outlooks on dating preferences are bound to differ. And some people might think that the other people’s dating lives are wrong. It’s what that individual believes in their heart that makes his or her own moral code on the matter.

Second, maybe this whole bisexual thing wasn’t as bad as I first thought. Come to think of it, how can you ever be expected to find your true soul mate if barriers of gender stand in the way? There is an old Native American legend that when the world was created two souls lived in every body so that nobody would be lonely. And then one day a huge earthquake shook the land and the two souls were separated into different bodies. Now every lifetime the souls search the corners of the earth looking for each other so that they may be whole again. Now, what if those two souls got separated into bodies of the same gender? Should they still be kept apart and doomed to search for their other half for thousands of centuries more? I don’t think so.

In fact, that brings me to the third big conclusion I came to about my life: I was, and in fact am, bi. Once again it seemed to be the only rational explanation for everything that I felt. So, to end the awkwardness in the whole situation I came clean to Amanda, and we eventually started dating. It seemed that it was uncomfortable for a lot of my friends, our friends, at first, especially when they had never thought that a sweet innocent girl of my nature “swung that way.” But, I can honestly say that it really wasn’t the least bit uncomfortable for me. It was as natural as breathing and writing and talking and walking. For the first time in a very long while, I actually felt whole.

I guess that you can safely say that my whole outlook on my life in general changed. I saw things in a whole new light. I began to question the world around me. For so long my life had been filled with childlike hopes, dreams, and fairy tales. Now it consisted of emotions, ideas, and, yes, even heartbreak. Before, I would have longed to go back to those days of childhood, days of sweet ignorant innocence. But I now realized that children were not always innocent, and that reality was not always cruel. I used to sit back and watch the world go by, crying from my safe perch far away from reality. I used to wonder what happened to all the fairies and knights and unicorns that made everything all better. I used to wonder what happened to me and why life had to be so complicated. But now I knew. Life changes, people grow up, and sometimes you have to make your own fairies and knights and unicorns to make the world better. I learned that things aren’t always what they appear to be, and sometimes you have to dig a little deeper to find the real truth. But I think the most important lesson that I learned was that your dreams don’t always have to stay the same.

No longer was I content with sitting on the side, waiting for my prince to come and whisk me off to that classic suburban palace; maybe that prince of mine would be a princess, and maybe I didn’t have to wait. Maybe I could just take that extra step out into the world and look for what I want. And then maybe, after finding that, I could just go out and take it.

That dream of mine, this new twist, is powerful, and it does say something about me. I’d like to believe it says that I’m not afraid of being different; after all, just how boring would the world be if we were all alike? I believe that I have finally found who I am. True, my dreams have changed, but that’s OK, change is good. It’s still my dream; it’s still me. The best thing is that now I know who “me” is: an intelligent, bisexual girl with a little bit of a wild side, who stands up for what she believes and goes after what she wants. I’ve learned that white picket fences are always a good start, but sometimes you have to see the sun shine off that green trumpet to be able to look at your dreams from another perspective and truly understand yourself.

I Almost Married Opportunity

Opportunity, so beautiful,

Appeared to me one day.

I viewed and contemplated her

But turned the other way.


So Opportunity left me,

Searched across the land.

And in a nicer place

She found a better man.


Now joy is he and great success,

With Opportunity by his side.

While sitting, I, in cardboard house,

Have nothing left to try.


If Opportunity returned to me,

I’m sure of what I’d do.

I’d likely turn my back again,

And off she’d run with you.

The Other Side of Lee


Weaving across the floor,

Slipping out of reach

Elusive, cunning,

A fox outfoxing, hip with hot hips,

She sizzles and twists


C’mon baeeee-by! C’mon baby please!

C’mon baby, c’mon baby dance with me!

C’mon c’mon c’mon c’mon c’mon!

C’mon baby dance with me!



She: slip, slide, slither, glide.

He: groove and prance and strut.

They sidestep into each other.



You see there’s this chick…

She can’t be caught…

You see there’s this chick…

Dances with any cat…

This chick dances and hypnotizes…

Now, you see this chick…

The Sidewinder…

You close your eyes…

She’s gone…

Weaving back across the smoky room.

Holy War

Holy Land, holy war,

and the Saturday morning prayer


with pops of bullets.

Each “Amen” is punctuated by a firm “crack.”


Holy Land, holy war,

and the scent of baking Shabbat

bread as it twists into the acrid odor of blood—

only a block away.


The taste of peace fills my mouth, bulging my cheeks

in all of its addictive,


saccharine flavor.

Then there is the taste of revenge.

Like water, it is flavorless… ordorless.

It boils, scalding my mouth—

leaving my taste buds buzzing

and the pink flesh of my inner cheek



Holy hopes, holy war,

and the feel of my father’s fingers,

coarse and worn,

wrinkled like his thick camouflage suit.

I know the valleys of his hands like I know the rough creases

of his uniform.

Here I’ve leaned my head,

innumerable times.


He’s been gone so long.

All that I remember are his hands.

In our final moment together, his left hand held a gun

and his right the skullcap of his youth.

He held it fast on his head as he placed an army hat

atop his kippah.

Then he tucked the Torah into his gun sack

for Friday night readings in the trenches of a war.


This work received a Gold Award in The Scholastic Art & Writing Awards of 2002.

A Bunch of Nonsense

I am a super hero!
I am the lingerie loving,
Plum dancing,
Popcorn serving,
Potato eating,
Viggo Aspiring,

I am…

The Last General of the forgotten creed,
The laughing Grand Mage of forgetfulness,
The Ranger of the play grounds,
The Arch Duke of the melancholy collaborators,
The Poet who talks to little hairy fat naked Fay…

say to me,
shall be knighted,
shall propose,
   He shall kiss the earth and be blessed,
 He shall cry when his children are born,
            He shall
rise and be recognized…

But in my mind I see,
curling up in the covers,
I make breakfast,
   &nbsp      And I’ll wake you with
the smell of fresh orange juice.
I move your hair from your eyes,
a half daze till our children come barreling in…

Because I say happiness is a long winded poem,
being read by an overconfident, Lord
of the
maniac, with a little too much time on his hands… And
a whole lot of nonsense to share
with the world…


An Essay Written as a Letter

Hey, Marijke,

I don’t feel like writing this down in an actual letter, and I probably won’t be able to talk to you till at least much later, but I do need to say something to somebody right now.

I witnessed the death of a man, today. His name was Daniel. He was painting the house next to us. He was on the top couple rungs of the ladder when it folded under him. It was a cheap ladder. Corroded aluminum.

I am right in the line of sight on the back porch of our house; I hear the ladder starting to collapse, and see him hit the ground. At first I call out to him. He doesn’t respond. I guess I should have called 911 then. I don’t. I run over to him.

He’s barely conscious. I ask him if he is OK, and he can’t form any words. He’s moving around his left arm, as if searching for something on the ground. I remember that he has glasses, and then see them lying five feet away on the grass. I put them on him. One of the legs of the glasses had snapped off, so they don’t go on straight.

I get my mom. When she gets there, she asks him what is his name. “Daniel,” he wheezes out. She asks him what day it is, but his eyes glaze over, and he loses consciousness. She goes in and calls 911. When she comes back out, she tells us that they’re on their way. Then she just stands there waiting next to him, and I sit next to him with my hand on his shoulder. He’s convulsing, and he gasps. I can feel his body tensing up under my fingers. I let go. He is foaming at the mouth. We talk to him, saying stuff like, “It’ll be OK, the ambulance is on its way.” and, “Just hold on, Mr. Daniel, hold on, till the ambulance gets here.” He’s still for twenty or thirty seconds at a time, not even breathing, it seems. Then he convulses gently. Each time he convulses, I feel myself sighing in relief, that he hasn’t gone yet. It is more serious than I had thought at first.

He was still alive when the paramedics finally got there. But (the fireman said later) he stopped breathing and his heart stopped beating as they stood over him, checking his pulse. They did CPR on him, right there on Ms. Selma’s lawn, and a few minutes later, they loaded him onto the ambulance.

I say to the fireman, “How is he? Is he alive?”

“Well, his heart and breathing stopped as we where checking him, and they’re trying to bring him back now, on the ambulance.”

“So that’s it, huh?”

“Yeah, that’s it. I mean, they might get him back, but not yet.”

Umm. Yeah. So, I’m a little shook. I went back to painting for a few hours, just because… what else am I going to do? Sit in the house and think about it? No, I just felt like immersing myself in work for a little while. But now I’m taking a lunch break, and it’s all coming back to me.

I was painting our house on the ladder yesterday, about ten feet higher than the one he was on today. That could’ve been me. And can be me, later today. Well, sorta. I have a good ladder. But anything’s possible. This is real life, Marijke. I feel like I’ve just woken up from a dream, and Daniel was my alarm clock. Yeah, I’m shook.


I Didn’t Know

We would sit on the Spanish steps until our lips were swollen and chapped, until our tongues were coated with the taste of cigarettes, until our skin had melted and darkened from the heat of the sun. We would sit there wanting to be older, or at least look older, assuming everyone was staring at us, assuming everyone wanted us. We wanted our lives to advance, but we didn’t know in what direction. We would wait, patiently watching the “baggy-pants boys,” as we called them. They were such a rarity in Italy that when you found one you had to hang on. “The baggy-pants boys” also consisted of leather-, chain-, and spike-wearing punks, tie-dyed hippies, and fifty-year-old drug addicts. They had a designated corner where they would all meet and disturb the peace while policemen hid around corners watching from afar. Every day we went there we would move closer and closer to their corner. We were spiders, and they were insects trapped in our web.

I had never seen Gian Luka there before. I figured he was new, so I let my cigarette dangle from my fingers as if offering something, as if telling him that everything I had was there for the taking. I didn’t think I was enough for him. I didn’t think I was enough for anyone. I liked his deep dimples, messy hair, and “I-don’t-care” attitude. I wanted him. I wanted him to want me. We all had a designated baggy-pants boy that we would watch like a dog begging for food at the dinner table. Our heads cocked, our eyes open, longing. We wanted them, not knowing what we wanted. He asked me if I would help him with something, would I come with him. I said yes, putting one weak foot in front of the other hoping “help” didn’t mean far away, hoping “help” didn’t take place in a bedroom. He led me down the Spanish steps and around the corner. I followed his shadow, not him. I was afraid of him. We stopped at a soiled public bathroom, and he told me to wait there as he kneeled on the stairs below me. He told me to tell him if someone was coming, as he took out a coffee can and began putting the contents of it into plastic bags. “Drugs,” he said. “But not really. I mean this is just herbs and wood an’ shit. But we sell it to the tourists ’cause they think it’s drugs.” He started up the steps and along the way back kept singing a line from a song that went, “Don’t worry, be happy.” But when he sang it with his Italian accent, it sounded more like, “Done wary, be ’appy."

“Let’s go for a walk,” he said, taking me to a back alley where we sat on a doorstep, speaking in two different languages, not understanding one another. Silence prevailed. And then he grabbed me, sticking his tongue down my throat, jamming it between my teeth, folding my tongue like laundry. I could taste the beer as his saliva collided with mine. I didn’t know if I liked it. It was my first kiss. I didn’t know.

He took me farther down the alley and leaned me up against a cold, stone wall; my left leg rapidly shook as he fingered my stomach, as he undid each button on my grey pants quietly, as if what he was doing was a secret, or wrong. My shirt climbed my stomach, and I could feel the stones become part of the small of my back. My left leg shook faster, each time springing my knee forward, and I thought about how I could flee. I planned out each step in my mind as he touched me. I saw my knee spring forward, hitting him in his crotch and running. I saw myself under water, clean and cold, wrapped in a blanket of seaweed. He touched me like I was a popsicle on a hot summer day, and he had to touch every inch of my body before I melted. When he reached the last button, he asked me if I had ever had sex before. “Yes,” I said. I thought if I said yes, it would make it easier to say no. I don’t know what my reasoning was, but I didn’t want him to realize that I wasn’t enough. “Do you want to have sex?” he asked. “No,” I murmured apologetically, then added, “’Cause, I mean, my friends are waiting for me.” As if I had to have an excuse, as if I had to explain why I wasn’t ready. I remember the padded bra I wore. I remember worrying if I had put on enough deodorant. Then I began to worry if I had put on any deodorant at all. He slid his finger along the top of my underwear, the underwear my mom had bought two sizes too big. The underwear lined with black lace and black bows. The underwear I had gotten when I had my first period. He exhaled into my ear, and I could feel my eardrums beat against his breath, wanting to burst free, to escape. He placed his hands on my waist and drew them toward the fly of my pants. I can still see him sliding each button through its hole. In black and white, in slow motion, in disappointment. I wasn’t enough. And I knew it. During my walk home I kept pushing piece after piece of gum into every region of my mouth. I chewed rapidly, trying to get rid of the taste of his juicy tongue and leftover saliva.

My friends screamed and bubbled in excitement, having made our first contact with the baggy-pants boys. I thought I was happy. I hoped I was happy.

“Did you like it?”

“Don’t you think it was a little quick to let him touch you the night you met him?”

“Was it fun?”

“Does he know you’re a virgin?” My friends filled my room with curiosity as we lay on the floor. They didn’t really care what the answer was. They already had their own visions of what had happened.

I lay there, crossing my legs and squeezing my thighs together as if someone was trying to burrow between them. I didn’t want to go back the next day, even though I knew I should, even though I knew I would. I hated the fact that he touched me, I hated myself for letting him touch me. And I hated the fact that I disappointed him, and that I wasn’t enough. I perceived his touching me as a compliment. I never thought someone would want to touch me. I never reckoned someone would, at least not for a long time. I didn’t like the smell of his breath. I didn’t like the temperature of his body, or the texture of his skin. I didn’t like him touching me. I didn’t like him wanting me because I didn’t want myself. I clasped my thighs together and wished they would become stuck like that forever. I still didn’t know what I wanted, but I knew I didn’t want him. I didn’t like my mouth being invaded, my eyes searched or body groped. I didn’t like my breath smelled, my voice heard or my ears whispered to. I didn’t know I wouldn’t like any of it. It was my first kiss, my first touch. I didn’t know what I wanted. I didn’t know.

We went back the next day. And the next day. And during the two weeks after my first kiss, we went there every day. We met his friends. Orso meaning bear, Giallo meaning yellow, Pizello meaning small penis, Diego, Matteo, and Carmello. Orso was roughly 275 pounds. Beady eyes that stalked you behind glasses that pinched the fat on either side of his face, squeezing sweat from his face like pulp from an orange. He would pull me onto his lap and bounce me, the fat jiggling in his legs, like I was sitting amidst a bowl of Jell-O. He would press his goatee upon the back of my neck and rub it up and down, up and down, up and down. His bristly hairs stinging my flesh, the smell of ham on his breath. I didn’t like his hairs on my neck, I didn’t like sitting on his lap or the scent of ham. They called me their doll, but I didn’t mind. It made me feel good that they wanted me. One night as I was lying on the steps, Jean Lucas appeared above me.

“Come on,” he said. “Why are you doing this to me? Let’s go for a walk.”

“No,” I giggled, pretending to be ignorant of the fact that he was serious. His dry hands moved up and down my arms casting flakes off my sunburned skin upon the stone steps.

“Please,” he pleaded, while some of his friends stood behind him watching, telling me to do it, to go with him. I imagined the stones again. I imagined him moving up and down on top of me like the ebb of the ocean. I imagined him being inside me, and I hated myself. I hated myself because I didn’t want to have sex, because I wasn’t ready. How could I let someone else in while I was trying to get out? I knew I was going to have to disappoint him. I stood up delicately, trying to seem as if I were enjoying myself, as if I were having a good time. As if I were still six, and I giggled at the word sex, thinking it was a secret game.

An acquaintance of ours, Lily, came along the next day. She was from Milan and wanted to see Rome. So we brought her to the Spanish steps. He didn’t say hello. He made it clear he didn’t care that I was there. He was shirtless and drunk at three in the afternoon. Beer glistened on his bottom lip like dewdrops on flower petals. He looked Lily up and down and leaned against a wall complimenting her loudly. “Anna—you see this? You should get your belly button pierced like this. And you should get your nose pierced.” I said OK, propping my hand upon my forehead; the sun was beating down on my back. It was beating a migraine into my head. Gian Luca turned his back against me. Lily told us to get together for a picture as Jean Lucas leaned into her. I knew she was preparing me, apologizing for what would follow later in the evening.

He came and sat next to me, smiling, with his eyes rolled up in his head.

“Kiss!” she said. “Anna smile!” So we did. We pressed our lips together, it’s just skin I thought. I didn’t want to kiss him, but I thought that if I could convince him I still wanted him, then maybe he would stay with me. If I could convince him there might be a chance of me letting him in, of my giving myself up to him, maybe I wouldn’t be such a disappointment. I felt like a pimple exploding on a teenager’s face. Being pushed together until my insides ran out and I deflated into a red wound of humility. I kept asking myself, Why won’t I let him fuck me? It’s all nothing but skin made up of organisms and tissue and stuff. It’s nothing but a body. My body. He asked Lily to go on a tour of Rome with him. She said yes, looking at me with an apologetic look on her face, handing me the picture. I knew what that tour would consist of—a bedroom maybe, most likely an alley. He winked at me like we were best buds and he was about to score bigtime. My friends tried to stand in front of me. They tried to prevent me from seeing. But I knew. I ran my tongue along the inside of my mouth and tried to forget the feeling of his teeth on my lower lip and hands clinging to my waist. I heard the English language as it surrounded me, tourists commenting on the Spanish steps, closing in on me, suffocating me. I waited for him to return. I didn’t know why.

He fucked her three times that afternoon. He fucked her earrings from her ears, he told me, as if pointing out what I had missed. The opportunity of a lifetime. He was telling this to me while I smiled, pretending to be listening to another conversation. But no one else was talking. “I gotta go,” he said to his friend. “My girl is waiting for dessert.” He placed his hands on my knees. “Ciao,” he whispered pityingly, extending his neck toward mine with expectations for a kiss; I turned my head and kissed his cheek. I almost said thank you. But he was already gone.

He never got to see my belly button pierced, or a stud in my nose. He never got to see my red, purple, blue, orange, brown, black, or green hair. He never got to see how hard I tried to be enough. I never learned how to say no. I didn’t know I would ever have to. I was thirteen years old. It was my first kiss. I didn’t know I wouldn’t like it. It didn’t know what he would want. I didn’t know, and I still don’t. I continue to lie at night squeezing my thighs together, gazing at the picture of our lips pressed together, taped above my bed, dreaming of days where I may be enough.

This work received a Gold Award in The Scholastic Art & Writing Awards of 2002.


She suspects she has only ever had one true affair with the knife, and all those since have been meagre attempts at regurgitation, petty rivalries born of intention and tainted by the anticlimax of recreation. She sits daily watching the synthetic roses, virulent with red, fluoresce persistently on the porch. Moth-bitten, with broken stems and a hairline crack running the length of the ceramic pot that marks their station on the brick step. She sits observing their activity, disassociates herself from the solemn sermon their blushing heads deliver, ducking in the wind. Waiting for something to happen. She has lost, or perceives she has lost (and looks for death on the horizon because she fears she has lost) the ability to make things occur. How useful youth was in the day-to-day creation of happenings. Now she has displaced the seasons, and the pleasant expanse of nothingness, a featureless backdrop, assimilates itself to her emotionless countenance, as she welcomes the weather.

Her father’s house, in the Polish town. Its healthy walls, its strong bone structure. She found it easily, buried knee-deep in the liquid winter, and enquired of the locals as to whether anyone currently resided there. They regarded her, not more obliging than they were wary, with the heavy, knowing gaze of people carrying the burden of the past—both pervasive and private. Her accent was rusty, the native tongue had long since been liberated—a stray cut loose from its derelict cultural confinement. She spoke in dislocated dialogue; the secure, prosaic language of dinner parties and familial get-togethers. Of pleasantries exchanged between well-wishing strangers. Broken German from an elementary textbook. How she hated the sluggish tongue, the barren vowels that tripped reluctantly from the lips, imprisoned by the teeth. The English language seemed a positive ballad of elegant syllables. She had wished never to hear these sunken verbs again. She had tried to forget it all, but they spoke with a dramatic flourish, demanding that she remember, their tone didactic and intense with purpose. Those primitive villagers, deeply set in their archaic ways, the spit in the palm. Such old gestures seem a blessing on unimaginative bones, bones of gypsy ancestry; wrapped in incense and adorned with elaborate jewellery. She briefly caught the delicate, sickly scent of patchouli and lavender, an odour that seeped from their pores, travelled on the breath and suggested unrelenting hardship and wisdom and infinite strength.

She walked self-consciously, away from them, shielding herself from their accusatory recognition, feeling a pariah, a fugitive. As though wearing the flag of her inheritance on her lapel.

Her father died when she was ten, as did most fathers in the war. Fathers, and men. It was never a thing to be fussed over, death is the most reliable thing about life, everyone knows that. And they had dared to glorify it, morph it into a gross celebration. Stripped it of its austerity and depth. Spoke of souls and eternity. She could not allow for this, and carried the weight of his demise with her for so many years, never daring nor feeling inclined to lay it down. To dismantle it. What else can be born of death but sorrow? What else can be born at all?

She retreats to the stairs and pauses to consider the black telephone crouched on its haunches, ready to pounce. To announce. People don’t much come up to the house, it is miles away from the assaulting imposition of neighbouring cities. She doesn’t receive visitors warmly, and all prospective suitors dispatched by well-wishing relatives invariably retire back to their distant homes after an evening of her company, unsettled and discouraged, for she has created for herself a feminine mystique that cannot be penetrated by mere mortal man. She appears in their perception brisk, evasive, and preoccupied. She concentrates on cultivating a solid, scarlet heart to beat a constant rhythm against the world of the dying. She is keeping death out in the physical sense, assimilating herself to the prospect of solitary eternity and forming no attachments.

Sometimes she feels an inexplicable longing for the anonymity of the city, where such informal tools of misinformation as gossip and hearsay are not so readily employed. She envies them their compartmentalized lives, regimented working hours; those unobtrusive strangers who would submit to anything to avoid confrontation. A positive conglomeration of drifting, nameless particles, condensed within the thriving nebula of the city, where one could get smaller every day and very likely disappear.

But the suffocation. She politely declines, preferring to spend her days in the soft sunlight, arranging the weary roses.

She attempts to sweep away the misguided bugs with a few hesitant gestures of the hand. Soon blue saline solutions will wave a salutation to such foreign guests. Her light fingers graze the frayed edges of their heads; the bloody inks are particularly exciting in the sunlight. When the thought of blood transpires, the dizzying swell of the heart’s diastole and systole rises in her chest, a pressing undulation. So perhaps it comes as no conscious surprise when, upon brandishing the pruning sheers in order to trim the petals of their half-eaten siblings, she clips her finger instead of a stem, loosening a sizeable flap of skin over a current of blood. She resists the urge to suck the wound, but stares at her finger, suddenly regarding it as one does an unfamiliar object; a digit not attached to herself. How exquisite a ruby red the blood appears to be, and how warm against the skin. It is amazing how, upon mutilation, a body part becomes something external to the person to which it belongs, merely a treasured belonging. She stares at the finger for so long that it ceases to be a finger, in the same way as a word fails to register in the consciousness as legitimate when it has been repeatedly vocalised. Perhaps there is a separate self that exists beyond the body of physical composites. She puts down the sheers and rearranges the flowers, marvelling over her secret discovery.

Oh, Father. Now is but a moment passing. When does the future become the present and the present become the past? When do the living become the dying, and the dead become the forgotten? The brutish become the commemorated for the death that cleans the slate? Where does the tongue become the throat, and the voice become the word? The heart cease to be the person, but something bigger altogether?

Complex Fruit

Men are like kiwi

Women are like pineapple

Thus the complexity of fruit