by Esther Eriksson von Allmen '19
His name was Mohammad.
But before I knew this, I simply identified him as the shy, brown boy with freshly clipped hair and a plastic Safeway bag in place of a backpack. Keeping his gaze downward, he wavered apprehensively by the doorway of our classroom as we peered curiously from our seats, struggling to catch a glimpse of this new stranger. He wore a thick puffer coat even though we were in the middle of a late- August heat wave.
Mr. Gregal guided the boy to the front of the classroom, gently coaxing him forward with the same tenderness a person would handle a neglected kitten.
“Guys, this is MO…HA…MMAD…,” he said in an exaggerated voice that would likely be deemed offensive nowadays. “…and he’s from Egypt!” His over-enthusiasm made Egypt sound like Disney World. “He’s gonna be with us for the rest of the year, so let’s all be on our best behavior!”
Without saying a word, the boy sat himself down at the desk farthest away from the whiteboard, stretched his arms out onto the table allowing his forehead to sink into the crease of his elbow, and promptly fell asleep. We watched in shock as he dozed for three hours through both math and English. And we watched in amusement as Mr. Gregal struggled to get a handle on the situation. Did this boy understand what school entailed?
Simply put, he was strange from the beginning.
While I was packing up my school bag at the end of the day he approached me with a piece of paper and an ink pen.
“Can I have your telephone number?” he asked in a thick Arabic accent. I felt a twinge of reluctance creep up in my mind, but swept it aside and wrote down my phone number.
Later that night he called me unexpectedly.
“Is this Esther?” he near-shouted from the other side of the line. (He pronounced his Ss like Zs.)
“Uh…yeah this is Esther.” His enthusiasm caused me to grin.
“Oh Esther! Will I see you tomorrow?”
“Eh, yeah. I’ll be at school tomorrow,” I replied, thinking my response rather obvious.
“Okay, well it’s very nice to speak with you, and I’ll see you tomorrow then!” he bubbled and then promptly hung up the phone. The whole thing was bizarre, but I appreciated the refreshingly candid gesture of friendship.
While hanging up my backpack the next morning at school, I overheard a group of girls whispering with each other.
“Oh my God he called you too? That’s so awkward!” said one while laughing hysterically as another recalled the details of their short lived phone call.
“I get he’s trying to be nice, but I think it’s just creepy” complained another. “Mohammad’s like… obsessed with us or something.”
A braver part of me wanted to tap her on the shoulder and point out that had it been any other boy in our class, she probably would have been flattered.
Mohammad called me every few days after school usually just to say hello and occasionally asking about my day. The conversation always ended with him abruptly hanging up the phone while I remained on the other side of the line, smiling to myself. He was different, but certainly not mean. Just different.
The other girls did not feel the same way. As Mohammad continued to call, many felt more and more uneasy until finally they all banded together and approached Mr. Gregal about it.
“He’s making us uncomfortable!” they insisted. As I listened, I felt a stinging urge to say something in his defense. But instead, I watched as Mohommad was pulled from class and ordered by Mr. Gregal to stop calling the girls. He stood with his eyes wide and mouth gaping open, trying to formulate the words and sentences to respond, but to no avail. Had his English been better, he might have been able to adequately defend himself. In a painful silence, I observed as his genuine attempts to be friendly were misconstrued as “inappropriate” and “creepy.”
And from then on he stopped calling.
A couple of weeks later, when a male classmate of mine wore nail polish to school, something not entirely uncommon in my liberal community, Mohommad got himself involved into yet another controversy.
“Why are your nails this way? That’s for girls, no?” he asked, genuinely puzzled.
“Cause I can do whatever the fuck I want, that’s why,” the boy barked back. As other students overheard the conversation, many decided it was their “civic duty” to get involved. In fact, students who usually had no interest in these type of affairs, suddenly seized the opportunity to silence this seemingly intolerant foreigner.
“Dude, just mind your own fucking business,” snapped one student.
“Yeah, let him do what he wants,” said another.
In just a matter of weeks, Mohommad had been ostracized by my community completely. He was the school headache, a mosquito we could not quite slap into silence. Even some of the teachers found him a nuisance. His presence at our school was an intrusion of space to which he was not entitled.
One day, as we were lining up after recess, he tried to ask a classmate where the school office was. Before he could even open his mouth to speak, she covered her ears with her hands:
“Shut up and go away!” she spat harshly.
He tried again to speak, not quite understanding, but she was unrelenting:
“Shut up and go away!” she interrupted again, and she continued to repeat these same words on and on until he finally retired and slouched away.
Things reached a climax when Robert Graves smacked Mohammad across the face during lunch. His offense? He referred to an Asian girl in my class as “oriental.” What Mohammad said was perhaps a bit off-color, but none of my classmates could even try to sympathize with his “otherness.” In uncomfortable silence, I observed as his involuntary ignorance was mistaken for voluntary bigotry.
I live in a community that urges tolerance. We are the ones who march for gender equality, who have bumper stickers that call for coexistence. We hang pride flags above our doors in support of the LGBTQ community, and we puts signs on our front lawns that say, “Hate has no home here.” We are supposed to be the champions of the excluded. And yet, not a single person in my community could be Mohammad’s champion -- not even me. Immersed in the illusion that we are fighting intolerance, we complacently inure ourselves to the ugliness of prejudice. And for what benefit?
Mohammad left school two months before graduation.
by Lydia Danas '20
for someone so talkative, you sure are
she says with a sideways glance, wary of how
i could stay, or i could say, what do you mean i’m
her reply is hesitant: well, i never hear you being
with your friends. she can’t realize, that’s because i’m only
around people like you, that i don’t know, that are more comfortable with
more comfortable with my not forcing conversation, more comfortable with the
of stirring coffee with an old friend, more comfortable with the
of 3 a.m. conversations when both of you don’t really have filters, more comfortable with the
than loud of an acquaintance. but i don’t ever say this, i just stay
instead, like my loud thoughts, insecurities, so your
is not disrupted. but she says: you didn’t seem so
at first, you seemed fun, but
isn’t exiting. i say nothing, playing on my phone, unable to disturb the
that i want gone, the irritating
that seems to plague me. if i could talk about a different type of
i would be more interested, talking about a
beginning of a song, or a calm and
morning sunrise that i took photos of, just anything other than the current
if she gives me time, i will not be
by Isabella Houle '19
I know I’m not visible to you and you’re
just a luminescent dot to me, a
speck of lint on the blanket, dark as a
black hole that I spread
on the ground.
I know I’m not visible to you, but your
brilliance is tattooed to my
eyes, all of your
eccentric shape, the crossed
lines making a pentagonal silhouette.
I know I’m not visible to you,
so it’s understandable you might be
hesitant to listen to me.
I’m just a solitary pair of eyes among
many, unimportant as a fleck-like
star in the Milky Way.
But maybe I could be visible to you,
brilliant and observable like you,
like a pair of blue eyes in
myriads of hazel ones; my
dull browns are always overlooked.
I think I’m not visible to you,
though maybe I could be, I
could shine as powerful as the sun,
brilliant like the streak left
behind by a shooting star.
Am I visible to you?
by Michael Katsock '20
Hooooooonk. Comma slammed on the brake, causing his vehicle to skid to a halt—but it was too late. After an exhausting day of being overused, spliced, and misplaced throughout the workplace, Comma traversed across the highway in an aloof state of mind during rush hour traffic. His eyes focused in on the shattered tail lights and bent bumper of the sporty vehicle in front of him. “Well, this is just great,” he thought to himself, “I hit one of those big shot snobs.” Exploding with rage, Semicolon popped out of his spiffy ride. Seeing the damage, Comma reluctantly stepped out of the vehicle, dodging misplaced and dangling modifiers swerving out of their lanes on the freeway, to meet the intimidating punctuation mark on the side of the road.
“How the hell did you not see me stopping from a mile away!” exclaimed the hot-tempered mark.
“Look man, it’s been a really long day. If we could just exchange insurance information, this will be a lot easier.”
“Easier? Easier? You know what would be easier? If you lowlifes would decide to pay attention and not hit my brand new car!”
“Excuse me,” retorted Comma, “I am a hardworking guy, just like many other of these ‘lowlifes,’ but that must not mean anything to you, Semicolon. All you do is show up a few times an essay and make your money. All for what? You’re all show. A period could do what you do just as well. So before I get really mad, you better just give me your information and I will be on my way—”
With an amplified aggression, Semicolon let Comma have it: “Do you know who I am? THE Semicolon, the grandest of the punctuation marks. Only the educated know how to use me correctly. I separate Independent Clauses and can act as a supercomma when the author overuses you when listing items in a series. Anyone can plop you down left and right, and for what? Boring, ordinary, monotonous Comma. So many uses, who can even keep track anymore? You are so incredibly plain, you only make up a portion of my punctuation mark.”
The wave of slanders directed at Comma caused an eruption in the mighty and essential mark: “How dare you. I am more versatile than you could ever dream of being. I can separate various items from a list, combine two independent clauses with one of my coordinating conjunction friends, or even introduce important phrases. Not to mention I organize names of places, separate nonrestrictive elements, set off nouns of direct address, and heighten the style of a sentence with an ellipsis—How’s that for simple?” Interrupting the madness, a siren whirled and whirled and whirled down Alphabet Lane.
Skkkkrrrrt. The grammar police vehicle slid to a halt when a lone enforcement officer, Period, emerged. “What seems to be the problem here?”
“Well, officer, little Comma here hit my car.”
“Ah, a little accident? Was there any grammatical crime I need to worry about?”
Quickly, before Comma could get a word in, Semicolon responded, “Oh, the only crime here is that Comma thinks he’s the most important punctuation mark out there.”
With a stern look, the officer turned to meet Comma’s diverted eyes, “Is this true?”
“Well, uh, sir,” he started, “Semicolon, here, was disrespecting my hard work, and he boasted of how important a punctuation mark he is.”
The officer addressed them both. “I’ve heard enough. There doesn’t seem to be any misused punctuation, but it does sound to me like a little case of the superiority complex. I have one thing to say to you two. There is only one ‘most important’ punctuation mark, the period. Without me, no organization, no way to express complete thoughts, no sentences. Where would we be without sentences? Now scram, before I lock you both up in the punctuation correction facility.” With mouths wide open, Comma and Semicolon glanced at each other for a split second before darting to their cars and speeding off.
by Sam Rhee '21
Table of Contents
“Come with me where you'll never, never
have to worry about grown up things again.”
-J.M Barrie, Peter Pan
i sang until there were no
more words for me.
so silence fell over my head
like a choking smut of sky
over woods where lives are conducted in
and the eating goes on
but never fullness.
a treading-earth stasis
something, no someone
i haven’t seen in years.
dry thrum of wings
like dirty fingernails
tapping on my shuttered window.
feel the night bleed in.
a whirring clockwork thing
frail and warm as a heart
nest in the palm of your hand.
ready to be buried again
whistling through the late summer.
of a song that goes like:
you grow up
learn to fly
you melt and fall.
when my hair is the
metal color of the stars
pasted on a red sky
light will come down
in a comma from heaven
the same light
i looked for with a plastic
telescope, at age 6
in december, looking
up into the dusty snow, towards
a deeper darkness.
what 75 years, as it said
in my Field Guide to the Night Sky
meant. that first
the tree would brittle
and wear, like an old tooth.
the cocoa would cool.
the lights, like candied fruit
no one wanted, would
go in the trash
with presents that lost their glow.
and smiles in sepia tones.
75 years means
death moves at his own pace
i’ll be left holding those
of the Field Guide to the Night Sky
as the horizons age and are buried
under an undying fleck
when i think of that summer in the mountains (and of you)
i think of the flowers in their dress blues
brandishing their pistils, waiting
for pollen love letters-
flecks of milk and honey
to sweeten the lake greenery.
as the sun sunk
and stretched like taffy.
it was August and the honey bee
was going extinct: it was almost too late
for our selfish hearts to swell and burst
spent petals take to the wind
flying south with the crows.
to die as if on stage
in such gaudy raiment.
splotches of color on our lapels
how reckless we were,
playing at being
by Will Nash '20
I keep my eyes fixed on the lead canoe as we inch forward single-file, five little red canoes bobbing in the middle of the Hudson Bay. The prows rise up and plunge down into the deep troughs of waves coming inland from the Arctic Ocean. In the stern, I feel like the helmsman of a Viking longship, both hands angling my paddle, holding a steady course into unknown waters. The bow comes down with a smash. A mist of saltwater leaps into my face, sparkling in the spotless sun.
Eighteen days have passed since we last saw civilization, but that number holds no significance for us. Canoe tripping has become our only reality, a reality of daily exhaustion and extreme beauty. This morning, we said goodbye to the Harricana, the faithful river that bore us 331 miles over foaming rapids and through dark forests. We turned one last bend labeled on our map as “Last Stand”, and the banks on both sides disappeared, replaced by the waters of the Arctic Ocean, stretching uncountable canoe lengths towards the horizon. We had completed the first part of our trip, but a collective exhale would be premature: the crossing of the Hudson Bay awaited.
As the tide came in this morning, we were forced to tie our canoes to our waists and haul them behind us while we trudged through the knee-high surf for hours. Now, it is early afternoon and the going is easy. Our canoe is propelled by the inexorable current of the bay ebbing away into the ocean. On either side, the sight of open water is intimidating after extended time on a river, but the canoes in front and behind keep me anchored. Far ahead of us, I see little shimmering dark specks protruding out of the water. As each stroke takes us closer, the specks coalesce into solid rocks, littering the raised sandbar that stretches like a highway out into the bay. When the water is too shallow for paddling, our leader Arik gives the signal for us to disembark. We haul our canoes slithering over the last few inches of sandbar until they are completely beached and stand there, surrounded by the odd rock formations while our leaders take scope of the situation.
Crossing the James Bay, the southernmost portion of the Hudson Bay, is always a two-day, sometimes a three-day affair. Because of the complex tidal patterns, the Bay becomes a beach at low tide when all its water flows out into the Arctic. Depending on how fast they move, trips are always trapped by the tide somewhere on the Bay. We knew that we would run aground somewhere as the tide moved out into the ocean; it was just a matter of where and when.
Each of us spreads out along the narrow sandbar in preparation for the eight hours we will have to wait before the tide comes back in and floats our canoes. The mood is that of ambivalence: knowing that an event will happen does not make that event any more pleasurable. I walk the mere twenty feet across the sandbar to the other edge and dip my feet in the water.
“Will, come back over here! We’re going to try something different.” Arik’s voice carries over the sand with a note of urgency.
Gathering us all together, he explains his beautiful, simple plan: we portage our canoes over the sandbar, put in on the other side, and ride the outgoing tide to our campsite, leaving nothing but sand and rock piles in our wake. The ingenuity of the plan dawns on us, and lethargy gives way to action as we hurry to unstrap and unload gear from the canoes. Wanigans—bulky wooden boxes carrying food—are hauled up onto backs, their weight balanced on the canvas strap that rests against the forehead. Rucksacks holding dry bags are shouldered, and canoes are flipped up so that the thwarts rests upon our neck. We scramble up and over the sandbar and load our gear into canoes on the opposite side in fetid green algae that clings to our legs and clothing.
We pile in and lever our paddles against the water simultaneously. The canoe springs forward. We paddle each stroke with a sense of urgency, impelled by the knowledge that any slackening of the pace could mean getting beached again. Mixed with this urgency is a giddy excitement. We’ve cheated the Bay. Paddling never felt so good.
by Brigitte Meyer '19
In the middle of the fern-laced woods, in the center of the log cabin, by the heavy stone fireplace sits a chair. Ordinary dark wood and beige canvas compose the sturdy and broad-backed armchair. Its construction is simple. Slats of pine form the back, and four large boughs constitute the high arms and squat legs. The back cushion has collapsed into sagging rolls of canvas after years of use. Yet it still stands proudly -- my great grandfather’s craftsmanship has not faltered for 110 summers. This is, without a doubt, the most comfortable chair.
When my grandfather was still alive, he had full authority over the chair. In summer, when the mountain air rolling off the lake made the nights chilly, my eighteen family members and I would pack into the chairs surrounding the fire.
My grandfather would stride into the room clutching his newspaper and survey the empty seats. He approached me, a five-year-old ball curled into the cushions, despite the three other empty seats awaiting him in the room. His eyes bored holes into my bowed head as he stood, hands on hips, legs in a wide V. Once I slipped out of the chair, he turned and surveyed the living room, then slowly bent his knees and reclined into the seat.
I hardly ever recall seeing that man smile, but the moment he opened his newspaper in that seat, the wrinkles that sagged downward at the sides of his mouth flipped.
Once my grandfather passed away, my father assumed authority over the chair. Every cold summer night, while the fire crackled, my father sat in the chair rustling his Wall Street Journal with one hand and rumpling his hair with the other. He sat in the chair just as my grandfather did, one leg folded L-shaped over the other, except he did not hold the same commanding authority over the room. I was never afraid to challenge his position. He pretended not to notice me as my seven-year-old arms tugged at his calves in a fierce attempt to dislodge him.
“Daaaad, move!” I pressed my heels into the bottom bar and strained against his leg, but I couldn’t make him budge.
He suppressed a smile and sat in silence.
I kept poking at the bottoms of his feet. Suddenly, he bent over me in feigned anger, releasing the smile he had tried to cover. “You better stop, or I’m going to open up a can of kick-butt!”
I hesitated, poked his leg one more time, and looked up sheepishly. He leapt up from the seat and tickled me, then playfully tossed me into the chair to the left of the fireplace. I sat in the inferior chair for about half a second before hopping back up and attacking my father’s legs once more.
Just a few years after, the sudden stress of a new job meant my father stopped spending most of the summer in the cabin. Soon, the most vicious battles for the chair occurred between my cousin Tierney and me.
One chilly evening, I was curled up in the chair, enjoying a s’more and a crisp library book. Over the rim of my book, I saw Tierney rush into the room and lean on the chair’s wide arms. She swung her dark brown hair so it brushed my blonde strands away from my face. I looked up. “I’m older, and I’m reading. So I get the chair.”
“No you don’t! Plus we’re both nine right now, so you’re not actually older.” She snatched the book from my hands and hid it behind her back with a little smirk. She flung the book backwards and propelled herself forward towards the chair. Her little body contained so much momentum that I had to dodge her by rolling off
the side of the chair under the arm.
Defeated, I crawled back over in front of the fire and started preparing another s’more. She looked enviously at my marshmallow and glanced toward the kitchen where the bag of marshmallows lay open. I saw her eyes flick back and forth from me to the kitchen multiple times as she formulated her plan.
“SEAT CHECK!” she suddenly squealed, smacking the bottom cushion and flashing five fingers for five minutes in my face.
As soon as her foot passed through the doorway, I sprung to my feet and crashed backwards into the seat, gnawing on my barely-toasted marshmallow.
Shortly after, Tierney reentered the room. “Brigitte! It’s only been three minutes!” She tugged at my leg. I poked her fingers away. She tried to lift me out of the chair, but I remained limp as a rag doll. I smiled up at her, and she pouted back.
Finally, as a compromise, I scooted towards the warmth of the fire and patted the space beside me. She reluctantly climbed into the seat and we sat, munching our marshmallows in silence.
Once all the cousins passed age thirteen, our childish squabbles for the seat faded. When one cousin held authority over the chair, nobody challenged them. Some nights, the chair even sat in the corner unoccupied.
One evening, when I was about fifteen, a spark from the fire leapt through the decrepit screen and landed directly on the cushion, searing a tiny hole in the seat. My mother bent over the cushion and scrubbed fervently at the spot where the cinder hit. The cushion disintegrated in her fingers and a tiny pile of ash appeared.
Everyone looked on in horror. Nobody sat in the chair for the next two nights.
As I was lounging in the chair last summer, my younger cousin Parker, who nearly surpasses me in height, joked as he passed the chair on his way to the kitchen. “Remember when we used to literally kill each other over that seat?” I smiled and waved him past dismissively. He feigned a step towards the doorway, but then suddenly whipped around and, in a flourish, swept me out of the chair and onto the floor.
Tears welled up in my eyes cause I had landed too hard on my previously sprained wrist. In hindsight, those tears in part yearned to once again feel that childish naivety where nothing mattered more than sitting in a chair. Grandpa’s chair, the one by the heavy stone fireplace.
by Matthew Bruning '20
Though small, my front porch provides me with a steadying presence that belies its size. An overhang, an Adirondack chair, and a welcome mat form the porch I love. No special view separates my porch from any other; instead, it simply peers down the slope of my front yard onto a quiet suburban street. When I laze away the time in the depths of the chair, all the worries and to-do lists of daily life just melt away. Often, I find myself walking up the stairs to the porch from a tiring workout at the gym nearby, having just enough energy to ease back into the Adirondack chair.
One day, after a workout, I happened to procrastinate especially well and didn’t return to my usual spot until around sunset. I plopped down, removed my headphones, and breathed deeply a few times, with the endorphins releasing and my shaky muscles jittering. Maybe the adrenalin had heightened my senses, but I started to notice that sticky heat characterizing late August. The air felt comforting and enveloping with its humid calm.
From one breath to another, I inhaled the scents of freshly mowed grass and the pine of the Adirondack. Like a witch’s cauldron, grass and pine brewed into a familiar, musty smell reminiscent of my grandmother’s living room. This strange mixture and the rise and fall of my chest lulled me into a dreamy state of awe at the surrounding nature.
The tips of the trees flamed with the sun’s fading light, hazily mixing dark greens and warm oranges together. These last rays of sun, which broke through the wall of oaks, bathed the porch in a cozy glow. I could feel the heat radiate down to my fingers and toes. I became aware of my perspiring palms gripping the smoothed edges of the armrests, of my clenched toes running over the cotton knots of the sock, and of my synthetic shirt sticking to the ridges of the chair.
A squirrel rustled in the magnolia tree to my left, frantically pattering from one branch to another, perhaps questing for a nut never to be found. I thought how strange it was that he was unable to appreciate the serenity of the moment at hand, even as my own eyelids drooped.
The bark of the neighbor’s dog slapped me out of my semi-conscious state. In the seconds I had been in falling into sleep, the scraggly cirrus and fluffy cumulus clouds had warped the oranges of the sky into deep blues and magentas. A bird, outlined in black, flew against this colorful backdrop, wings nearly reaching the extended limbs of the oaks, whose shadows grew by the second.
In front of me, the only sound were the crickets and robins humming and jabbering away. No car rumbled, no footsteps pattered, no wind rustled in the trees. Even the neighbor’s dog had fallen silent. The warmth of seconds before had been ousted by the cool embrace of the quickly-approaching twilight, though the humid air remained.
I realized how stiff I had become and how hungry I was becoming. My dry tongue reminded my brain of the water cooler in the fridge, which was only one opened door and a few steps away.
After one long breath and a heave upwards, I stood, stretched, and plodded inside.