#1: silence

on a late june evening, the seven of us were lying on the pier with our legs dangling over the edge. i was at the end of the row, and as we giggled and squirmed i wondered if i’d fall into the lake. when i stretched them far enough my toes could skim the surface of the water. the lake mirrored the sky’s brilliant blue-gold fire, and the hills across from us were outlined in pink. for a few precious minutes silence descended upon our group. that brief moment seemed to expand to infinity; the entire universe was before us, deep and contemplative and enormous, and it gleamed with the sun’s last light.

déjà vu

There are people everywhere.

Crowds of pedestrians surround you and spill out into the street. They’re all dressed fashionably, either vividly colorful or blatantly monochromatic, and they seem to hurry from one destination to another. You try not to feel dowdy in your jeans and sneakers as a woman with dark red lips and towering high heels glides past you with the grace of a dancer. Stop being so self-conscious, you tell yourself. You should be used to this by now.

You’d dreamed of escaping to the city for ages. Mom had fed you countless horror stories about the Big Bad City (“A college freshman got pushed onto the subway tracks, you know! And another girl got stabbed in the neck in broad daylight!”) to try to dissuade you, but you didn’t take her cautionary tales seriously. Millions of people lived in the city, you’d reasoned, and why couldn’t you do the same?

Now that you’ve wandered onto an unfamiliar street, however, homesickness starts to creep in. Dimly, you remember a surreal summer evening, at the edge of dusk, when you and Penny had stood in the center of an empty road and felt day-old heat against your bare feet. (Penny had still been your best friend back then. Hooking her arm into yours, her eyes faded from blue and pink to purple to black as she watched the sky fall asleep. Your heart thrilled when she turned towards you and smiled. You had never loved anyone more.)

It’s impossible to go barefoot in the city, though. There seem to be teeth everywhere. Shards of glass line the gutter, and sharp pieces of metal glint in warning. Odors rise from mysterious brown puddles while piles of trash clutter the sidewalks. The thought of walking through all of that without wearing shoes makes you want to vomit.

“Watch where you’re standing!” someone shouts, elbowing past you. Jostled out of your reverie, you keep moving, blood pounding in your ears as you stare ahead and take care not to step on anything too revolting. Cigarette smoke curls high in the air and almost looks beautiful in the sunlight, but the stench reminds you of shriveled black lungs.

Despite the noxious fumes and the waste and the dirtiness, however, you love the city. You love the energy that thrums off the crowd with the regularity of a beating heart. You love how streets weave in and out of each other, how you can walk from the library to the market to the gardens in less than ten minutes and take the train for any distances greater than that. The city’s so different from home, where everything had felt languid and drowsy. Even after a year, you still marvel at the novelty.

Penny would have loved it here, too. You try not to think about her nowadays. You left home to move past your grief, after all. But the city constantly reminds you of her. You can imagine her sitting on the roof of your apartment at the crack of dawn, waiting for the city to wake up and come alive. She’s dancing effortlessly through swarms of people, her hums and laughter ringing above the noise. She’s leaning against you on the subway ride home from campus, breaking the general quiet with stories until it’s time to get off –

Penny’s not here.

Like the city, Penny could never stay still. She’d first disappeared from the school you both attended, moving on to university two years ahead of everyone else. Less than six months later, she vanished a second and final time on a plane that flew into the ocean.

You’d felt so lost at the time. Why did she leave home – without you? How could she leave you behind and not look back? And how could the world swallow her so cruelly? You fled to the city when home, the place the two of you had explored since you were four, became too unbearable to stay.

You still miss her like a phantom limb, but the sadness is briefer now. She’s finally stopped haunting your dreams; you feel relief and a twinge of guilt when you wake up without tears drying against your cheeks. Maybe I can keep going without her, you dare to think that morning, and you feel a little less hollow.

Sometimes, though, you try to catch pieces of her from faces gleaming in the crowd. You see someone with her eyes, or her laughter, or her birthmark just above the jaw. It’s silly and impossible to find her, of course, but you do it anyway. You only give yourself a few seconds at a time – you’re not allowed to stop, to stare, to search.

Today, you lock eyes with her.

Your stomach does a flip. She’s standing on the other side of the crosswalk, waiting for the signal to change. You blink once, twice. She’s still there, and her gaze, appraising and familiar, is on you. You recognize the quirk of the lips, the sharp chin, and the dark eyes set against high cheekbones.

It can’t be Penny. She fell into the Atlantic years ago. But this lookalike crosses the street with the same confident step, her arms bare and her hands resting comfortably in the pockets of her track pants. Her hair’s pulled back into a russet-colored knot at the base of her neck, rather than cut into the straight, short bob you remember Penny wearing. The two of you continue to watch each other over the din of the crowd, her eyes never leaving yours as she draws near. She’s already breaking the rules you’d set for yourself when you first came to the city. No staring! you think frantically, but you can’t tear your eyes away.

The two of you are only a few feet away now. Now that you’re closer, you realize with a pang of bitter disappointment that the doppelganger’s eyes are green, not the warm brown you remember. Her cheeks are smooth and devoid of any birthmarks.

She’s really just a lookalike after all. You almost laugh. Leave it to the city to find Penny’s ghost.

Just as you glance away and pass her, she stops and seizes your arm. You jerk to a halt.
“Are you who I think you are?” she asks desperately. Your mouth opens, closes. “I’ve missed you,” she continues in a rush, stealing the words from your mouth. Her eyes shine. You swear they look brown at that moment.

“Penny.”

Your voice cracks on the second syllable. You can’t believe she’s actually there, standing with you in the middle of the sidewalk.

“Let’s talk,” she says, taking your hand. Everyone else seems to melt away. When she tentatively offers you the same smile from years ago, you can’t help but hope that this isn’t a dream after all.

joanna

You walk down a gently sloping hill towards a field. The sun turns dusty, waist-high grass into gold. Joanna’s singing is unpolished and lovely, leading you forward as if she’s taken you by the arm. Her songs are full of strings. You can’t separate harp from harpist – her voice swings and creaks, studded with notes plucked by deft fingers. Somewhere in the distance, an orchestra swells like the tide.

When you’d first heard her you were startled by how childlike Joanna had sounded, but you know better now. She may sing sweetly, and animals may populate her songs, but her voice belies her wisdom.

One moment you watch a bird fly across a breathy sky – the next, an angel flaps its wings. The universe looms, and you suddenly face the staggering weight of the stars. All the while, Joanna’s harp sings; her voice scratches out high notes.

She offers you one story, a second, a fifth. Hens and horses and lions flicker in and out, half-hidden in the grass and entranced by the light. You could never resist her poetry.

You let her lift you out of your loss and offer you hers in solidarity. Her verses struggle to contain the chaos of life and light and allusion within them, and the music expands to fill the gaping hole between your bones.

Each story bleeds into the next like water. The river she conjures runs against time’s gradient while Joanna’s voice surges and cracks with raw emotion. Ursula splashes her way into the night sky. Ocean waves yawn for a moment, and you glimpse the beautiful remains of a sunken city. You imagine sprawling buildings and solid stone ramparts, marble columns that withstood sea currents and bridges that held fast no matter how much they swung and creaked underwater.

Joanna’s music rings in your ears. It’s steeped in sunshine from above the water’s surface, but you know, deep down, that its light is meant to swallow grief.

Closing your eyes, you remember walking towards a field of dusty gold. As words fail you, a harp sings and creaks and pulls you close, wrapping you with warmth.

~
(more…)

nath

sometimes i am overwhelmed by
how wonderful you are and how
lucky i am to be your friend. it
is hard to pinpoint my favorite
thing about you – i love everything
your laugh your words your passion
your ability to make me feel
we are the only people in the world
existing noisily as i float deeply in love,
words caught in my throat.
bittersweetness nips lightly at our
mouths. when you smile something
warm flutters inside me like a tiny bird.
maybe one day we’ll visit sweden
to talar svenska but for now i’m
glad we’ve gone to coffeehouse
inks lake and the blanton together,
and if a flower bloomed every time i
was happily reminded of you a meadow
would flood all the halls and classrooms at
LASA: petals tumbling out of windows,
buzzing bees washed gold beneath the sun.

minna

your constant honesty and kindness,
along with your ability to remain sweetly
composed in the face of chaos, is even more
amazing than a boy with wings plummeting
from the sky. i love all the little things you say
and write and do, just as i love the intricate
details of a favorite painting or the subtle way
trees turn gold in the morning.

at 8 AM lilac seeped into the sky,
and we chased each other downhill to the lake.
as we swam and rode foam-crested waves,
i wondered which shone brighter: the sun as it
glinted off the cool green water’s surface, or you
as you grinned and shouted with glee
over the roar of the wind.

a past life

take time to touch
the ticking thoughts

our years flew by,
drowned in tears and reflected
in a bowl of ginger tea masochism

a camaraderie claimed
to be everlasting
fell apart like delicate gossamer
at the hands of the clock.

we aimed for the moon
and became shooting stars,
but there was no forever
on which we could land.

coping mechanism

Miranda is twelve and angry with the world. So when she leans over the battered music stand and aligns her lips with Annie’s ear, she’s not sure how to continue.

“Guess what,” she breathes. She’s never done this before, and she’s afraid of sounding insincere.

“What?” Annie replies, grinning as she leans unsuspectingly towards her. (Suddenly Miranda feels dizzy and lightheaded. How does she move forward?) 

I love you. A straightforward confession, but an ambiguous one as well. The love of sisters and blood ties, the love of best friends forever, the love of strangers who seek passion and acceptance. Tie a blindfold over her eyes and have her point to one (maybe to two, maybe pick all three and more). Everything is so complicated and messy. Miranda wishes that they could all turn into flowers and photosynthesize together. Then she wouldn’t have to do this.

I might move soon. The keyword here is ‘might.’ That implies an off-chance that Miranda might not move and switch schools, that she’ll stay until the end. That provides hope, and Miranda knows that Annie would cling on to that and ignore everything else. So there’s no need to say that yet, no, not until ‘might’ solidifies into ‘will.’

But the words Grandma died last week (the very last thing she wants to say) are the ones that slip from Miranda’s mouth. It’s an ugly truth, and the effect is immediate. Annie’s eyes widen first with disbelief, then with a rotten mixture of shock and grief.

“…What?”

Miranda realizes how horrible it must sound to have a mismatched chord slammed against the keys in the middle of a nocturne. She backpedals accordingly. “April fools,” she whispers with a forced smile. Today is the first day of the month, and she doesn’t want the person she loves most to cry. There had been a funeral, but all Miranda can remember are rain (there is always rain, soft and grey and sad) and flowers, still fresh and bright yellow against the dark earth. There were no tears, and there will be no tears. Within a numb Miranda float well-hidden secrets and quiet restraint. I’m an awful friend, she thinks. How lovely it would be if everything remained static.
For her, the death of an angel is the biggest April Fools lie of all.