I am a lesbian. I’ve spent years trying to find ways to explain myself that felt true. I went from ‘I’m sexually attracted to women’ (untrue, at the age of eleven, and not at all the point I wanted to make) to ‘I have crushes on girls’ (true, at times, but I am no less a lesbian at times when I don’t have a crush) to ‘I love women’ (not specific enough; I love men as well, and everyone else. Also, by this age, sexual attraction was no longer irrelevant). Recently, I’ve realized that I don’t need to explain myself to anyone, not even myself. No straight person is required to define what it means to be straight. No queer person has ever asked me to explain what it means to be a lesbian. It is not my job to spoon feed my daily life to straight people.
Queerness is too often dictated by mostly derogatory stereotypes. Being queer is always too sexual, or not sexual at all, or a lifestyle, or a choice, or a perversion, or a trend, or a punishment. The one thing all these stereotypes have in common is treating queerness like a spectacle. To me, it is not a spectacle, simply because I have lived it my whole life. I am sexually attracted to women. I have crushes on girls. I love women. These are all true, and they are not anywhere near enough to explain what queerness means to me. Queerness means community. It means love, and hope, and finding a way of life I never knew existed. It means pain, and oppression, and the fear that I will never be able to live safely. But most of all it means truth.
The way the world sees queer people will always affect how I experience my own identity, but that doesn’t mean it defines me. Nothing defines me. Most importantly, I don’t have to be defined. We’re all figuring ourselves out, and I am only seventeen years old. I have time to create and experience love, and desire, and sex, and community. I have my whole life ahead of me, and I hope that when I am older, it will be easier for young people to discover and live their lives.
Pride does not mean we are the same as straight people. Pride does not mean we want to be the same as straight people. It doesn’t mean we want to be treated the same, because we are not the same. It means we want to be free to live our messy, complicated, glorious, honest lives. It means love is love, but it also means so much more. Pride means I am not you, and I don’t want to be. I am a lesbian, and I am proud.
Today’s recommendations are all by queer poets I look up to immensely, and they are about love, safety, community, belonging, fear, and above all, the world we create for ourselves. Keep your minds and hearts open. Happy pride month, everyone!
[Didn’t Sappho say her guts clutched up like this?] by Marilyn Hacker
Marilyn Hacker is an award-winning poet best known for formal poems that mix high culture and colloquial speech. The dazzling variety of verse forms on display in Presentation Piece includes sonnets, sestinas, villanelles, blank verse, and heroic couplets—all forms that Hacker uses in subsequent work. Within a traditional poetics, Hacker couches the urgency of love, desire and alienation in brash, up-to-the minute language, writing from her perspective as a feminist, a lesbian, and someone who has suffered from cancer. (Poetry Foundation)
Home Wrecker by Ocean Vuong
Born in Saigon, poet and editor Ocean Vuong was raised in Hartford, Connecticut, and earned a BA at Brooklyn College (CUNY). In his poems, he often explores transformation, desire, and violent loss. His work has been translated into Hindi, Korean, Russian, and Vietnamese. His honors include fellowships from the Elizabeth George Foundation, Poets House, Kundiman, and the Saltonstall Foundation for the Arts as well as an Academy of American Poets Prize, an American Poetry Review Stanley Kunitz Prize for Younger Poets, a Pushcart Prize, and a Beloit Poetry Journal Chad Walsh Poetry Prize. (Poetry Foundation)
A Litany for Survival by Audre Lorde
A self-described “black, lesbian, mother, warrior, poet,” Audre Lorde dedicated both her life and her creative talent to confronting and addressing injustices of racism, sexism, classism, and homophobia. Her experiences with teaching and pedagogy—as well as her place as a Black, queer woman in white academia—went on to inform her life and work. Indeed, Lorde’s contributions to feminist theory, critical race studies, and queer theory intertwine her personal experiences with broader political aims. (Poetry Foundation)
A Poem for Pulse by Jameson Ftizpatrick
Jameson Fitzpatrick is the author of Pricks in the Tapestry (Birds, LLC, 2020), and the chapbooks Mr. & (Indolent Books, 2018) and Morrisroe: Erasures (89plus/LUMA Publications, 2014). Fitzpatrick teaches at New York University. (Poetry Foundation)
Winter by Timothy Liu
The son of Chinese immigrants, poet Timothy Liu was born in San Jose, California. He earned a BA at Brigham Young University and an MA at the University of Houston. He spent two years as a missionary in Hong Kong, though he no longer practices Mormonism. Liu counts as early mentors Welsh poet Leslie Norris, poet Richard Howard, and writer Gordon Lish. Paying attention to formal constraints such as syllabics, Liu’s poetry explores identity, violence, sexuality, and the power of witness. (Poetry Foundation)
Summering in Wildwood, NJ by Kayleb Rae Candrilli
Kayleb Rae Candrilli is author of Water I Won't Touch (Copper Canyon, 2021), All the Gay Saints (Saturnalia Books, 2020), and What Runs Over (YesYes Books, 2017). They are the recipient of a Whiting Award and of a fellowship from the National Endowment for the Arts. In September 2021, Candrilli was a guest blogger for Harriet. (Poetry Foundation)
Rainbows and More
I was always in love with rainbows. Everywhere I looked, I wanted things to be colourful - like a rainbow. Rainbow pastries, rainbow cakes, rainbow coloured keychains on my bag, rainbow coloured tabs for sections in my maths notebook, you name it. My mom always used to chide me for this habit, for the fact that I didn’t have a colour taste and just put all the colour I could fathom into anything I saw. Immaturity.
But then I grew up. And I also developed an astute sense of colour (our Duchess of Design breathes a sigh of relief). The urge of putting a rainbow into everything went away. And so did my childhood.
During that period, though, the rainbow came to symbolise something else, something more universal, something that spurred what can only be called a paradigm shift in the course of history. I learnt it to also be the pride flag. And I was flummoxed.
Rainbows used to symbolise childlike innocence. But now they symbolised pride, a concept I didn’t understand, and I don’t think I do till this day. It felt confusing to have the same symbol for two different things. Those two meanings couldn’t coexist, could they?
Here’s what I get when I think of the concept of pride. I think of it to be the freedom to love anyone you want to, irrespective of gender or sexuality. It means the ability to freely express your own gender or sexuality. There are no fixed categories one falls into when it comes to gender or sexual orientation - it’s more of a histogram rather than a bar graph (I couldn’t help myself, I’m sorry). And it has taken me a much longer time than I would have liked to get that completely. And I’ll give it to you, pride means so much more than that. It could mean something completely different for you, probably something I haven’t quite understood yet. But I’m learning, or at least trying to learn.
Gay marriage still isn’t legal in most countries in the world, and there’s a long way to go before that is fixed. People around the world haven’t come out to their friends and family about their gender and sexuality in the fear of being judged and ridiculed about it. Looking at the current situation, I have no doubt that it’ll take some time to be fixed. But what appals me is how these issues popped up in the first place.
As children, we never really cared about who people chose as their significant other. But as we grew up, that changed. It started to matter. It started to affect how we saw the things and people around us. And that change, those eyebrows we started to raise and those hushed voices we started to hear when we saw two girls holding hands, is everything pride stands against.
So the two symbols of the rainbow aren’t very different after all. Pride is a representation of freedom for anyone to love whoever they want - men, women, non-binary people, even rainbows.
Happy pride month.
Queer Shipping and Stereotypes
Going on social media and seeing users shipping characters (and real people) on there is a daily phenomenon. People rooting for their favourite people to get together seems harmless, right? Think about all the ships we see online, especially queer ships. The Minecraft YouTubers, Dream and George, who are shipped universally by their fans, are a prime example of this phenomenon. At first glance it all seems innocent. Just people online bonding over their mutual interest in two personalities getting together. However, this all quickly turns extremely problematic for several reasons.
First and foremost, people like the aforementioned YouTubers may not be out as queer to the public, or queer at all. When people write pages and pages of fan-fiction about them with intimate details and obsess over their non-existent relationship, it completely invades their right to privacy. It is extremely harmful to assume that two personalities are queer when they have not stated that they are. Who they like romantically and sexually is only their business and the culture of shipping them could make them extremely uncomfortable.
Someone like Harry Styles is only expressing himself the way he likes to; wearing a dress or wearing a shirt, it shouldn’t matter. The problem doesn’t come with him but with those who speculate about his sexuality and queerness. No one, for example, has the right to obsess over his fictional relationship with his ex-bandmate Louis. Even if Harry was queer, again, it would be none of the internet’s collective business to write explicit fan-fiction about him and ship him with other people. He is a real person who is living a very real life and that’s about all there is to it. Moreover, fetishising relationships between men is an extremely prevalent issue nowadays and I think we all need to realise they aren’t here for anyone to sensationalise.
And for the record, Harry Styles wasn’t revolutionary in breaking gender roles, all he did was a wear a dress; there’s not much he actually put forward to help break gender roles and help the queer community. In fact, several people have worn a dress before him. Billy Porter, a Black actor, for example, wore a dress several times before him the same year itself, and he didn’t get nearly half the people praising him for breaking gender roles. This is a clear example of the selective activism that comes with obsessing over celebrities’ sexual orientations. Because when people aren’t homophobic, they are racist, aren’t they?
The way someone expresses themselves is also not reflective of their sexuality. You can wear a dress, wear makeup, wear jeans, wear shirts, or have any length of hair no matter who you are. Thinking someone is queer because something they are doing isn’t considered typically “masculine” is just fundamentally flawed. It’s just playing into sadly prevalent homophobic steryotypes. In reality, you can wear whatever you like and do what you like regardless of who you are. Someone who is queer and non-binary can express themselves the way they like and still be non-binary. There is really no fixed way to express your gender identity at all.
Coming back to shipping, I feel like it is important to stress that real people cannot queerbait. Only characters produced by them have the chance of doing so. Corporations like Disney, for example, tease at characters being queer and being in relationships. For example, there was a point where the entire internet were shipping Sam and Bucky in Falcon and the Winter Soldier just because producers thought it would make the show more popular by capturing the queer audience. This is also extremely problematic and wrong as queer characters deserve their place in media without having to be shallowly teased at.
Online, usually we see what is supposedly to be extreme support for the queer community with shipping characters and people and breaking gender roles. But the thing we need to realise is that it isn’t “cool” to be queer in real life. When we get off our phones, being queer comes with struggles, discrimination, and insults. Homophobia is a real problem even today, especially today. Queer people’s mental health is severely affected by the hate our society still shows them.
As a society, we should stop shipping two real life people who are not queer in queer relationships because, as mentioned, it has the potential to be really dangerous. We should try being mindful about how much actually the people we follow are doing for the queer community. Sensationalising and fetishising queer relationships is not something that helps the queer community. We should also try to be more mindful about the media we watch and not feel entitled to a real person's sexual orientation.
Because DreamNotFound and Larry will not make things any better for the queer community.
Family: A Revolution
Last year, when writing for the Pride Month spotlight, I ended my article with words that gave me comfort and shook me to my core till today- “Family can be found.” So much has happened since then for most of us, and especially for me. my whole world, as I’m used to it, changed. I left school, a place I’ve been for as long as I can remember, a place that had & still has most of the family I’ve found, and I still have growing pains. So much has changed at home - I see my parents suddenly as human, and as people who don’t have all the answers, and to my very curious, very questioning brain [in the queer way too, yes] this frightens me. I’ve discovered so much about myself, my love languages, my comfort people, how long I can stand on a moving bus and sleep, that I can wake up before the sun is up, and so much more.
The me who wrote the pride month article last year wouldn’t know the person I am now, yet I have never felt her words more than I do today. Over the past few months I have found so much safety in my writing and I’ve realized how much of my family I’ve found because they’ve resonated with it.
I wrote about how Priyanka Paul’s art gave her freedom of expression, and I’ve come to see that mine has been more of a set of wings, along with a comfort blanket I pull everywhere.
Queer people often lose the support and comfort of their families as they come out to the world, when they let everyone know about their identity. Something that helps them come to terms with this new world that is open to them is finding other queer people, often in the same state as them.
This is probably the only time I will make a Sociology reference in one of my works [I hope] but it is important in this case: “Chosen families are nonbiological kinship bonds, whether legally recognized or not, deliberately chosen for the purpose of mutual support and love. The nuclear family unit was historically believed to include a husband, wife, and children.
However, modern definitions of family have become more expansive and may include any configuration of individuals who provide support for one another.”
In conventional families, you don’t get to choose who to love, and especially with blood relations, you’re pretty much stuck with them for life. The phrase “chosen for the purpose of mutual support and love” challenges this. you decide, you decide who to care for and who might choose to care for you, and you decide when to trust them. This eliminates so many toxic dynamics, and essentially changes generational trauma.
From my best friend, to the girls on the bus who will offer to hold my bag for me to the people I text when I’m anxious, my chosen family isn’t something who can be categorized into the conventional labels of mother, sister, or daughter. I’ve seen having big families as something every South Asian person relates to online, and that seems to be something almost impossible to achieve in a queer world that is still developing and changing, and a place where we are all still learning how to find family and who to trust. Unlike conventional families, where we’re told that we can find comfort in our grandparents' arms and love in our parents’, we don’t get those instructions and we don’t see those conventions in our families. Instead, every queer’s chosen family is a network, is a new permutation and combination and is surely something you’ve never seen before, and there is a certain breathlessness that comes with realizing the freedom that gives you.
“Modern definitions of family have become more expansive-” wraps around you like a hug. You aren’t nuclear anymore, you’re more like several sets of vines curling around each other, holding yourselves up. Changing the definition of family changes everything, since family is where we begin learning all we know: language, numbers, emotions, expressions, and most importantly, how to love.
Family is revolutionary.
P.S; the label part does not apply to every single friend who has sent me mom friend memes. I still love you & am not willing to part with that.
thank you to this paper
Bougainvilleas rising high
In my very first article for this column, I introduced you to my mother’s bougainvilleas, dressed in pink and white, glinting of the summer heat that June brought with it. The weather has run tepid again, and even though my life has changed over the course of the past year, I’m glad to say that the bougainvilleas are still thriving, still growing. A symbol not just of a bygone summer, but of the many things I’ve learnt since last June, amidst all the change and transformation I’ve been surrounded by.
The plants sit comfortably in their pots on the balcony, greeting the sun at noon with careful, precise adoration. I’ve watched them wilt and grow, shed and shine, over and over again; cyclic blooming that mirrors the patterns and routines that I’ve become accustomed to. At the end, a bougainvillea is a bougainvillea. Come rain, summer, or cold, it remains rooted where it is, and never fails to flower once the time’s right. To stay what I am unfailingly, and to reach new heights even with the world raining down its sorrows upon me; I find these lessons woven delicately in the veins of its leaves, in the curves of its petals, and in the way its woody stem remains upright.
Each day, I try to be the best I can with the space I have in this world, just like the bougainvilleas that sit solemnly in our balcony, looking onward at the endless expanse of hope and growth that lies ahead. The fact that both I and a plain-potted bougainvillea plant have our own crests and falls, personal and seasonal, makes me feel more connected to the world around me now. It amazes me, shocks me, and delights me in the most pure and ticklish way. Because regardless of what we are, who we are, and where we are, we’re all growing and learning, inching upwards and downwards, hoping to find where we’re truly meant to be.
I find solace in the phrase ‘cyclic blooming’; it emits comfort and hope, and the fact that we’re not always supposed to be on an upward trajectory. Sometimes, we will fall. Our flowers might wilt, and the sun won’t guide us past the horizon. It’s okay to stay dormant, to sit and introspect for a while before you try again when the sun’s out, and the season’s just right.
There is a lot to learn from the world around us and the secrets it holds in its palm for us all to discover. It’s not always good news, like learning that you will droop and yellow sometimes. But there’s always something hopeful lying beyond a rough patch or a few fallen leaves. Someday, there will be a soft pink flower exclaiming its presence in your balcony; perhaps within yourself. Wait for the skies to clear, for the sun to shine, and believe with all that you have inside you. Bloom vividly. Bloom beautifully. Bloom cyclically, and give yourself the time and space to grow into the best bougainvillea plant the world has ever seen.
Coldplay (and the importance of being lame)
Coldplay is undoubtedly one of the least Cool bands I’ve ever come across. They admittedly have little sense of style or swagger. Simply put, they’re lame as hell. And that’s why they’re one of my favourite bands of all time.
CHAPTER 1: To be free like everyone else
A lot of the time, we put the art we consume into categorical boxes, and there’s no better example of that than rock music. Rock’s supposed to be Cool & punk; noisy & nihilistic; angsty & furious; and so on. Don’t get me wrong, I love all those things - those who spoke to me during Revolution Radio’s release would agree - but categorising art like this only creates more problems. The music that falls under these boundaries is considered “authentic”, but music that doesn’t is “unCool” and “too pop.” The result of that? Every mainstream rock song is just grown men yelling for 4-5 minutes straight (as though male rage desperately needed another outlet through which to manifest) because that’s what we consider Cool.
I didn’t think much of that standard until I discovered Coldplay. I’d heard their names since forever, but I never paid attention to them. But when a song of theirs, Arabesque, showed up on a Spotify playlist I was listening to, I had to hear more.
I listened to Fix You, a song about recovering from grief; to Yellow, a song about being in love; to Adventure of a Lifetime, a song about living life to the fullest; to Everyday Life, a song about how we’re not alone. I’d never heard a rock band actually preach hope. With the love, the unity, and the optimism that they encouraged, I figured there’s no way anyone could hate them, right?
Wrong. The second I looked them up, I saw the following comments - “too sad”, “too slow”, “too emotional”, and “the aural equivalent of a chick flick” (in case you needed more evidence that rock music standards are overtly misogynistic). That’s when a sudden realisation hit me:
We think positivity is lame. We think our simple, undramatized emotions, that reflect us at our most unfiltered and authentic, are lame. We think being ourselves is lame.
CHAPTER 2: In a world of fright, how do I get it right?
Here’s a hot take: the world’s not that easy to live in. It’s getting more complicated by the second, and so are we. We’ve started having more feelings, and we’re not able to understand a lot of them. We’re happy, free, confused, and lonely at the same time (wait, wrong artist). We’re understanding how clueless we all are. Amidst all the chaos, we’ve put our complexities under a microscope; specifically, the ones we can never really say are positive: emptiness, tantalism, hopelessness, et cetera. We use language to feel negativity, and art to perpetrate it.
It’s not wrong to be feeling these things, and it’s the exact opposite of wrong to be talking about them. In many ways, art is meant to try to examine those feelings, to provide that respite. But the more we let negativity dominate the narrative, the more we let negativity dominate our own narratives, the more we sideline and devalue “easy” feelings like excitement, safety, and joy, the less we feel truly like ourselves. This culture of putting artistic negativity up on a pedestal hasn’t just made it harder for listeners to experience those simple emotions, it’s proclaimed the artists who talk about them to be lame.
That’s why I find Coldplay to be so refreshing. It’s not their music, it’s not their style, it’s their image, it’s their subject matter. They break that chain of cynicism to make me smile a little bit. They’re lame, and they take pride in it.
CHAPTER 3: I am riding on my rocketship and I’m champion of the world
I haven’t told Ananya this, but there’s a sentence in an article of hers that I can’t stop thinking about: “You don’t always need your heart to be broken to create something beautiful.” That line’s been ringing through my head since I started writing this article.
Art is inherently a human thing. We’ve built it and modified it so that it works for us. We’ve put our most vulnerable stories out there all in the pursuit of creating meaningful art, and we can’t shy away from using it to yell about politics, heartbreak, and nihilism. But we can’t be afraid of using it to feel the simple things we need to feel. Brightness. Hope. Love. Pride. Surprise. Unity. Wonder. This article is about Coldplay, but it’s also about so much more. It’s about letting the world tell you everything might just be fine without any shame. It’s about taking time to let your positive emotions sink in.
It’s about finding your own Coldplay. It can be a band or artist, but it can also be a friend. It can be an Instagram account. It can be a little voice in your head. But ultimately, it’s what empowers you to look beyond the wave of danger, of hatred, of futility, and find even a drop of belief. Belief in yourself, belief in the world, and most importantly, belief in being lame as hell.
This is a playlist full of songs that, in my head, epitomise why Coldplay is so important. I hope that in listening to it, you’ll feel the same things that I felt. I hope you’ll be motivated to withstand the wave.
Stickers have always been my favourite stationery item. For as long as I can remember, I have been obsessed with collecting as many of them as I could.
Every sheet of stickers that I own reminds me of certain memories. Baby-themed blue and pink stickers remind me of the week that my brother was born. Garden themed pastel stickers bring back memories of evenings I spent scrapbooking with some of my closest friends. Looking at colourful animal stickers reminds me of the golden summer afternoons that I spent at summer camp when I was ten years old, surrounded by a sea of art supplies.
In spite of being one of my favourite things in the world, a part of me is absolutely terrified of stickers. The amount of love I have for stickers makes me feel like I have a responsibility to use them perfectly. I can’t accidentally crease them or stick them in the “wrong” place, like two centimetres to the left of the centre of the page instead of the centre of the page. If I do, I feel like I’ve let them (and myself) down.
Through my many interactions with stickers, I have learnt that there is no perfect way to use a sticker. I have also learnt that love, responsibility, and trust are a package deal. Sometimes, you just have to trust that you deserve the responsibility of sticking the stickers that you love wherever feels right to you at that moment.
But you’re going to be wrong. Many times. You’ll end up with creased and faded bird stickers on your bookshelf that can never truly be scrubbed away. You’ll have to make your peace with an embarrassing sticker of your ex-favourite Disney princess that you stuck on your mirror when you were five years old because no matter how hard you try, the sticker just won’t come off. You’ll have to forgive yourself for wasting a beautiful ibis sticker on a collage instead of saving it for your science project.
I still think it’s easier to do all that than stare at a drawer of unused stickers and feel like the biggest coward in the world.
Because even though loving something comes with the responsibility of being courageous enough to express that love, it’s also important to trust that people are doing the best they can to express that love in their current situation. Everyone loves and expresses love in their own unique way. The people who truly care about us try to help us express that love in the best way that we can.
I can’t promise that I’ll suddenly start using stickers without spending twenty minutes overthinking every decision that leads up to that moment. But I can try to look in the drawer filled with stickers and not feel as guilty. Navigating the responsibility that comes with love is by no means an easy task, but it’s definitely one that makes life a million times more fulfilling.
I’m giving myself a smiley-face sticker for effort.
THE WORST THING YOU EVER COULD’VE TOLD ME WAS THE TRUTH.
it was warm and sunny; birds chirping, sun smiling, the picture of a perfect afternoon. our wiry frames were out of place, like storm clouds in a summer sky; like time-travelers on the titanic. you looked me dead in the eye, turning on your side, and said that you didn’t love me. that maybe you never did. you said it like any other indisputable fact, like that the sky is blue (it was, right then) or that grass is green (i felt it, poking under my skin). and you didn’t love me.
i closed my eyes and let the sunlight paint my eyelids orange, chest rising and falling, rising and falling. i focused on the sound of the stream behind us, the bees buzzing loud and low. your words rang in the cavern of my mind. i had felt it for a while, that you were whole without me. the hole in your heart i once inhabited was patched up, filled with something new. concrete was taking the place of me. but maybe that makes you stronger.
do you know what it felt like, knowing you? it was like trying to catch a wave in your hands, like trying to trace your name in the sand. but i’d hold you like water if that was the only way i could. i would’ve lived a life of salt air and rusted bones if it meant the slightest chance of being somebody to you; but you never knew that.
now i hate the beach and summer afternoons, but i don’t think i could ever hate you.
(PREVIOUSLY PUBLISHED IN BIBLIOPUNK LIT)
- LAURA EPPINGER
My stomach gurgles announcing I am ready for dinner, but there’s no eating in the MultiMedia Room. Time to scan for CDs. A Friday night spent at home to save money will feel less lonely if I am ripping albums to keep me company.
I nod at this week’s Newsweek headline, WHAT HE BELIEVES, blazing over an image of the Democratic presidential candidate. We know all about Barack Obama in Milwaukee, we’ve been to his rallies, we already believe.
One rotating book display labeled “Essential Esoteria” stands out in this section filled with news. A book promises: Use tea leaf divination to decode the messages from the universe!
I picture it: the set that came from Target, surely the “Decorate Your Dorm!” sale, but none of my housemates remembers who left it here.
I add it to my stack to check out. Why not? The public library is the only place I can afford to be greedy.
I wipe the dust off the tea set, fuss with the cups and matching teapot, all squat cubes, dark red. The tasseography book describes sacred circles, like motherhood, like time. Apparently I should be performing this with white porcelain so the signs can be read. Instead I peer down at brown leaves against the cup’s inside, also maroon. I cannot make out a thing.
Instructions guide me to turn the upside-down cup three times. The leaves pool in a single corner of the cup, one floral blob releasing amber drops. Strange to see every bit standing in a line. It plops onto my plate without ceremony, one long lump.
Interpretation: I’ve fallen into a faultline and I’ll never crawl out.
The brick of a laptop whirs, making robot noises and heating till I smell toasted plastic. I use the hot laptop to log into Facebook. Mady just shared a picture, so I have to click on the image of a wall graffitied with a Paolo Fiere quote.
Mady is one of the club-joiners, the fund-raisers, the hunger-strikers I fell in with during undergrad. They all moved, as planned, into the Catholic Worker house this summer. Their rent is paid in community service work, at food pantries and clinics. The payment for their labor is shelter and meals.
The Catholic Worker guys share Upworthy posts or GOOD Magazine articles. Meanwhile I am already getting billed, monthly, for this degree we all earned. I cannot pay in garlic bread. Seems to me their life of service is only available to those whose parents paid their tuition.
The water I heated in a sauce pot on the stove sizzles. I’ll try to read from this thing; at least it’s round. I rip open a tea bag and dump the dried bits of leaf into the pot itself.
A tender sip from the sauce pot once it cools, and I swallow an herb or two. I’m trying to fill up on all this hot water, stretch my groceries for another day, maybe all weekend long. The office gig pays just enough for rent and loans, nothing else: No food. No clothes. On weekends with my Catholic Worker crew, I harvest abandoned community garden beds and come home with the spoils. I set up placemats at the soup kitchen then grab a tray to feast.
I know black tea is rich in antioxidants, but it makes me need to pee again already, and I swear this is making me hungrier, not fuller. Drinking from the pot disturbs everything inside and still, I see the tea leaves clump in a straight line down the center.
It cannot be that magic’s not real. I must be too dull to channel it. Maybe if I lived in an artist’s commune or cooperative house packed with optimists …
The whole house buzzes; someone ringing our doorbell from the front steps. Must be one of the freshly-minted Marketing majors I live with, locked out and tipsy. They have pocket money from mommy so on the weekends, they grab takeout and drink. Boy do they drink.
Too much tye-die in the doorframe to be my housemates: It’s Mady, Noah, Christine!
“You won’t believe it,” says Christine, her hair tied in a blue bandana. “The ceiling over the kitchen caved in!”
Their arms are full of brown paper bags; some carrot greens peek out, a long baguette.
“We were about to start dinner. Have you eaten? Can we cook here?” asks Noah. My eyes fix on his knobby knees, his khaki shorts.
I wave them into the house. They know their way to the kitchen.
“Look at this,” Mady says, flipping open her phone to show me a picture. So weird that she can do that, this new camera-phone thing. Always odd when these hippies have fresh tech, but of course they’re still on the family phone plan.
The first picture is of a rotten ceiling, sodden with debris only half-fallen to the floor. The second is of the destruction atop the kitchen linoleum, bits of wood and wallpaper. The flooring must be uneven, for it all pools in a line.
“The whole house is shifting, sinking,” Mady sighs. “Not sure when we’ll even get back in.”
“How much tea were you drinking?” Noah calls from the kitchen, and I remember I’ve left out the weird square teapot, a mug, a plate full of soggy leaves, and a saucepot of steeping tea.
I call back, “Let me clear it and find you the cutting board!”
We plot out who can fit in my twin bed with me, who on the air mattress, Noah on the living room sofa.
Private University only revealed my own disadvantages to me. But the tea leaves just taught me: I wield the power to move the commune to my front doorstep.
I cover the lump of leaves from the red, square cup and whisper to them, “Thank you.” I’ll bury this in the backyard later. For now it’s a reminder that interpretation takes time and I am only getting started.
- DIA BHOJWANI
Stop! Stay. Wait a moment.
Watch the hoi polloi.
Movers and shakers.
The lily white, the liver spotted,
the lovers lingering a moment longer.
I stand at the street corner.
I turn tricks.
I swallow fire.
Not quite a creature of the night -
more a midsummer afternoon’s dream.
The swish of a curtain
when the light moves slow,
goes sticky like honey.
Sit on my stoop
and stone the birds.
Drink from my hands
and watch the sky
give way to endless sky.
I’VE BEEN READING A LOT OF DOROTHY PARKER
- LIV CAMPBELL
Don’t scare the goat, don’t make it mad.
Startle it, and gone is the chance to
Slice it into two bleating halves.
A witch is naught without a lad,
But naught she’ll be if she can’t make a roux.
Don’t scare the goat, don’t make it mad.
There, lady! it is in your path,
Ripe and roughly ready for stew.
Slice it into two bleating halves.
A hush in the air, a day spun sad,
Cry, but hold the axe above you.
Don’t scare the goat, don’t make it mad.
Give it your repulsive wrath,
And a man, like a baby , will mew.
Slice it into two bleating halves.
Dear, where’d he go? That little man?
Oh, he’s wasted away, under your shoe.
Don’t scare the goat, don’t make it mad.
Slice it into two bleating halves.