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Empty words sprawled on a page
I’ll use adjectives like ‘sublime’ and ‘mystifying’
Write about the time we’ll lose to old age
To seem like I am trying
Trying? What a funny word that is
Tell me how long do I have to try
For you to tell me where your thoughts live?
Are they in the space between soaring highs
And crashing onto the grave below?
Are they tucked away in the back of your mind
The place you won’t let me go?
Please see I’m trying! But I can’t tell what’s behind
That frowning face of yours
Crashing like sand on shores

- Daniella Pozo ’22
Winter is coming. The bright flare of the red and yellow trees have disappeared into the cold. All signs of the life of summer gave their one last hurrah before succumbing to the frost. The V formations have all left the sky, leaving nothing but a grey haze. The fire is roaring and crackles when I stoke it. There is nothing like the coming of winter.

I need more wood. I step out of my small cottage in the middle of the dense forest, the warmth of home lost to the iciness of the unknown. I meander down the narrow path until the trees on either side begin to thin out. I lay my eyes upon the bustling town in the distance. Smoke is rising from the many chimneys of the many houses. Wood. I begin to walk around the town, asking for firewood. I knock on a door, and when they answer, I tell them I’m an old man who needs to keep a fire alive to keep his sick wife warm. I tell them she’s dying. I tell them she has the plague. I tell them she has a cold. Flu. Unexplainable sickness. It always works. With my new bundle of firewood, I make my way back up the narrow path until the trees begin to thicken, and the sounds of people are gone, and the sounds of nature arrive. I step into the wooden cottage to be greeted by a pile of dull red embers. The warmth is gone, and so is the home. I reignite the fire, and its orange glow fills the cottage. Along with it comes the heat that spreads through the room in waves. The cottage becomes home yet again. I take a look outside and see small white flakes slowly descending the landscape before me. There’s nothing like the coming of winter.

I need more wood. I return to the town and start knocking on the doors again. One bunch. Two bunches. The generosity of the people is unmatched. A white town with white trees and white ground surrounds me as I walk. I knock on the third door. A woman answers. I say to her, “Excuse me madam, but I am in a predicament and need your assistance.” She allows me to continue, “My wife is very ill, and I need some firewood for my cottage in the woods. I want her to be warm in her final moments.” The woman replies, “Oh sir, don’t you worry. I am a registered nurse and can be of assistance to your wife. Come, take me to this cottage of yours.” She begins to walk through the doorway, oblivious to the snow. “I really do not think that will be necessary. She is surely dying, perhaps she has already left us,” I respond. The woman ignores my protests and motions for me to lead the way. We walk into the woods, now all white.

There are still white flakes falling from the sky, now much faster and heavier. I continue to plead with her as the trees begin to thicken, but I have a plan in mind. I will let her into my cottage, where she will promptly discover that I do not have a wife. Not anymore. I will rekindle the fire with her help and proceed to push her into the fire.

The wind begins to pick up and the woman’s hair dances around wildly. When we reach the cottage, I ask for her help to start the fire, to which she agrees. When she enters the cottage, she is not greeted by the warmth or my wife. I pretend that she has gone missing, that maybe she has gone out into the woods to die. The woman responds, “alright then, you start the fire. I’ll go look for your wife. What does she look like?” I hesitate. It had been years since I last saw her. “Grey hair, and a long green overcoat.” The woman sets off into the setting sun, and the trees envelop her as she walks. I have gotten rid of her, but she might return. I light the fire. The cottage becomes home yet again. I continue to stoke the fire as the hours pass, but I do not see the woman. The light outside the window begins to fade away. Filled with guilt, I decide to search for her outside.

I step out of the cottage to find that it is snowing again. It is hard to see, but there are tracks, so I follow them. I am surprised the tracks are easy to see because it has been snowing for almost an hour now. The tracks follow the trail for some time, then they diverge to the right before the trees thin out. I follow the prints into the trees. It is dark now, and I have trouble seeing. As I continue walking, I see movement to the right. A woman with grey hair and a long green overcoat appears in front of me. I hesitate. “You can’t be my wife,” I scream into the wind. “She died five years ago!” The woman raised her hand and swung, connecting with my chest. I am thrown into the snow. I am too weak to get up, and now I am coughing up blood. Through my blurred vision, I see my wife walking away, in which direction I do not know. As I lay there, I feel the cold beginning to seep through my skin into my bones. I’m too cold to shiver. There’s nothing like the coming of winter.
 
- Kian Sahani '20
your eyes make me
want to jump off the bridge
at midnight
into the crisp reflection of
the stars in the pond,
just so i can feel the closest thing
to drowning in starlight.

- Kendall Sommers '22
The market was a dusty patch of open stalls selling stalks of sugarcane, skeins of bright yarn, bits of tin cooking ware, and fly-bothered meats. Merchants shouted and pushed each other with their elbows. Some outstretched their hands like parishioners in front of the holy cross or beggars from the streets, beckoning men and women to come over to their stalls. Their greedy eyes shone in the sunlight like the coins minted from the purest gold, and their voices allured the crowds like the finest gospel. The thought of being pushed around by the swarms of people in the very heart of the town sickened George, and he had no penny left in his pocket to at least try to enjoy the market, but he had to see what had come out of this place. Fifteen years ago, he was sold to Mr. Armfield here. George could barely remember the auction, only that Mr. Armfield offered more money for him than for a boy named Darnell and that his eyes traced the marks left by the rope around his wrists after the trader untied him. But the day he was taken away from his family George remembered clearly. He stored this memory in a tiny box at the bottom of his heart and came back to it from time to time to make sure it didn’t vanish.

George was born on a plantation in Galveston, where the burning sun left cracks in the ground, and the fluffy cotton bolls tickled his cheeks as he was playing hide-and-seek with his sister Mary. His mother was a slave, as was her mother before her, and he knew perfectly well that he was a slave too. But running barefoot across the fields that stretched further than his eyes could see and playing in the mud near the restless river, he felt free and careless as any ten-year-old boy should be. He had never seen his father nor asked his mother what happened to him, afraid that he might have known the answer all along. But George still had his mom, and their owners gave him and Mary some of their children’s old shirts and dresses every Christmas, so he didn’t complain much.

His mother was finishing up her work in the field when the three men came. They looked the boy up and down and nodded quietly. The master slapped George on his broad back and said that he was a fine beast. One of the men took out an envelope and gave it to the master. He peeked inside the envelope and nodded in response. George glanced at Mary and saw her gentle face contort with horror. Another man grabbed the boy by his arm and started dragging him away from his mother. Her scream pierced the air, and George could still hear it miles away from the plantation.

George cherished every memory of that day because it was the last time he saw his family. The middlemen brought him to the market, where Mr. Armfield first laid his eyes on the boy. His new master took him to his plantation in Virginia, where dozens of boys and girls like George were forced to do what their mothers and fathers had prayed they’d never have to. He was harsher than George’s previous master and had never given him anything for Christmas, but as the boy grew older, he realized that he didn’t really need anything. He was born a slave, and that’s how he was to die, and the fleeting feeling of freedom that haunted him in his memories was just a childhood illusion.

But four months ago, Mr. Armfield gathered all his slaves and told them that the South had lost and that he would let them go, at least for the moment. George hadn’t been free since the time he was a little boy running across the cotton fields, and even then, that freedom was just a fantasy. But he missed his mother and Mary very much and longed to find them now that they could be together again. George went back to Galveston, making a stop at the market where he was sold to Mr. Armfield. He couldn’t let go of a feeling that he was running away and would soon be caught, but no one had followed George on his way or tried to capture him. He was a free man, yet he wasn’t sure what that meant.

George arrived at the plantation where he was born and came up to the porch of the house. His master couldn’t recognize him at first but then seemed to recall that he was his finest beast and smiled. He told him that his mother died of typhus, and so did his sister. He said he was very sorry they didn’t survive because they were good workers and that they didn’t suffer much. He wished George all the best, now that he was a free man. George thanked the man and walked away. He didn’t know where to go, nor did he care much, so he stopped near the river where he and Mary used to play sometimes. He looked at the river that streamed down its current and thought that it had everything he’d ever wanted. If freedom was an illusion, the river seemed to make it appear so real. It was its own master and its own slave. It washed away everything and stopped in front of nothing. God created it free and free it would be until the last drop of its water would dry out. But he was a slave to his memory, and there was no thing in the water that could set him free.
 
- Jane Dubrova '20
I cry.
I...cry.
I cry not for myself, the dreams nor nightmares nor hatred nor love through which I comprehend the world.
I cry for the world, the endless expanse of potential that seemed to be shattering, like glass, at my very touch.
So be it.
I once knew a lamb, whose eyes bore infinite thought upon you and whose touch scattered those thoughts like cherry blossoms.
The lamb knew nothing of tragedy or loss, of the lengthy lacerations of time.
The world, however, proved to be an excellent teacher. What once was innocence corrupted
and polluted into the irredeemable, the inconsolable. The world wore that lamb
away until nothing remained but a note.
And thus, I feel nothing. As the delicate columns of the world splinter, and I feel the cracks, sprinting from underneath my palm, I am certain in my void. I am certain, for I know, my world has already been lost.

 - Michael Ferlisi ’22
He knew he had to
and so he fell.
My dearest Lucifer
had gone to hell.

I took it off
His halo bright.
I peeled them off
His feathers white.

That night that night
An Angel died.
That night that night
A father cried.

That night it rained.
It rained all night.
It rained the prettiest,
Bloodiest white.

They came, they saw
the prettiest sight;
They chanted, they praised
God’s grace and might.

“What is this, God,
This beauty strange,
Across the surface
of our home range?”

How could I tell them?
How dare they know?
So I told them,
This is called snow.
So they won’t forget.

It snows each day,
So they won’t forget.
It snows each night,
So I will regret.

My dearest Lucifer
had gone to hell.
I know why,
And I will not tell.

My dearest Lucifer,
I cannot come too.
So I made winter,
Just for you.

 - Will Lu ’20
For a lot of my life, I’ve chosen to be part of the peanut gallery. For me, it’s always been easier to sit on the sideline and crack jokes rather than to participate. On the football field, in class, with my friends, making people laugh at the task at hand rather than overcome it had been my forte. Unless I was fully committed to a class, sport or idea, the comments I made almost certainly outshined my performance. One of my favorite pastimes while lifeguarding this summer was offering kids M&Ms in order to convince them to do a belly flop. During the innumerable times I witnessed kids attempt belly flops, I learned something that has had a profound impact on my life. Countless kids tried, yet not a single one succeeded. There was always a flaw in their form, an arm breaking the surface tension, a weak contact, a last second bail out. I realized that they all suffered from the same problem: a failure to commit. The fear of less than a minute of mild stinging was strong enough to keep these kids from what they value the most: free candy. The sweet milk chocolate goodness and the subtle crunch of that mysterious shell should have, in theory, been able to assuage any fears they may have had, yet the build up and fear surrounding the relatively simple jump led them to continually fail, despite the fact that nobody ever bails from a belly flop and comes out unscathed. Eventually, the day came where one child, who’s attempt could be called lackluster at best, challenged me to do better. It would have been easy for me to crack a joke and make an excuse. This sandy haired nine year old had no power over me, and being half my age I did not care what he thought of me, but watching those failed belly flops changed my perception on the importance of committing to things, no matter how small. How would I ever earn the metaphorical M&M in life if I was unwilling to put my money where my mouth is? I knew that all my previous experiences with belly flops and their variations had been unintentional, and definitely not fun, so there was some doubt in my mind about the importance of validating myself in front of a crowd of children, but in the end I decided to finally leave the peanut gallery and hop up on stage. As I climbed the guard tower, a wave of calm brushed over me like a warm summer wind. Rung by rung my determination grew, and upon reaching the chair I knew this was to be my magnum opus. The sun was setting, but despite the spectacular visage it created on the horizon, all eyes were on me. I leapt, and a split second of doubt made a valiant attempt to dissuade my body from committing, but it was not enough to stop what had already been set into motion. Head back, arms outstretched, belly maximized, I knew even before I made contact with the pleasantly warm water that my flop was to be of the highest caliber. I collided with the pool, and a deafening smack echoed throughout the deck. As I floated under the water, it finally dawned on me that committing to life, no matter how small of an event, leads to the funniest jokes, the coolest moments, and the best feelings. Aside from this realization, I received two gifts upon my emergence from the water.

A red belly and a new title: The Flop King.
 
- Tom Banse '20
 
 
his seasoned eyes stared back at him tenderly,
bouncing off the mirror.
the press of his hands against the porcelain sink,
offering a sudden chill.
the mirror, it presented uncertainty.
and for himself,
he was unsure---
the mirror’s morphing image of the boy
changed like a slot machine---
constant, yet unpredictable.
the boy’s head felt as if it was being supported by a greater force,
his thoughts were varied, decidedly lucid.
the boy’s image swiftly changed... fresh to expired,
the new skin he wore, was cultured, wrinkled, and loose with a coarse, white beard
...yet the same eyes remained.
the new face and I traded anger and confusion---
the larger scene pictured a white slate bed,
with the boy’s extended family gathered in the background.
the boy frantically scans the situation,
before the artificial hospital light turned from a gradient of grey---
and then
a black
abyss.
the boy reluctantly looked up to find,
himself alone...through his flooded vision
a cold tear forced a path down his face.
the press of his hands against the porcelain sink--
offered a sudden chill.
I am the boy...
 
- Anonymous 
A line is a line is a line
A line of poetry moving you to tears
A line of people moving toward nighttime
A line split on the floor moving you to leer
Over the lines
Cross them over
And see where they bind
Or separate, grow colder
A line is a line is a line is a lie
Best told when told to yourself
Get lost in the lines, in a bye
Bye to the lines in hazy dim lights
Light the way away from these nights
 
- Daniella Pozo '22
“Do you want a cigarette?”

“I don’t smoke.”

Tiny drops of sweat are sliding down his face and disappear under the collar of his shirt. The veins are popping out of his thin arms as he is trying to lift a steel cylinder that would soon turn into a major caliber gun and would be shipped somewhere far from Kharkiv, perhaps to Turkey or Iran. He bends his knees and makes another attempt, groaning and creaking like unoiled door hinges.

“Well, I only offer it once, kid,” I take out a cigarette and put the pack back in my pocket. Last week, the chief mechanic promised to deprive us of our monthly wage if he sees anyone light a cigarette inside the manufacturing block, but I can barely survive on three rubles a month anyway. Might as well have some pleasure in life.

“Oh, sit down for a minute, will you? You’ll break your spine straining like this.”

He puts a cylinder down and stands there for a second to catch a breath. His right arm is shaking as he lifts it in front of himself and stares at his palm, tracing the calluses with the fingers of his other hand. He sits right next to me.

“I used to steal my father’s cigarettes and sneak out to the stables for a smoke,” the boy says, smiling. “One of the mares, Malanka, neighed,” he laughed and used his sleeve to wipe sweat from his forehead. “What a stupid beast she was… Scared me half to death! I dropped a cigarette on the hay, and it caught fire. I thought my mother would kill me with the shovel right there and then.”

He laughed again. His face was simple and not yet marked by heavy labor. He started working at the factory a couple of weeks ago and had probably never seen a forge or a gun before coming here.

“How old are you, kid?”

“Sixteen. Not a kid anymore,” his bright eyes light up on his purple face.

“And where did you come from, sir?”

“Kolochava,” he swings his legs back and forth.

“Never heard of Kolochava.”

His eyes drift towards the window.

“At dawn, when the dew still covers the grass, it is the holiest and most peaceful place on Earth. You leave the house to feed the cattle, when your brothers and sisters are still asleep, and stop at the edge of a fence to breathe for a moment. All you see are the mountains — for miles and miles on end. The fog is dancing around them, accompanied by a babbling brook and blackbirds singing somewhere close.”

“Pretty place, huh?”

He pauses and closes his eyes.

“So beautiful, it breaks your heart.”

“Then how did you end up in this smoke and dirt?”

“The famine wiped out villages around us. My father had to kill all the cattle because we couldn’t feed them anymore. The last time I was with my family, we only had six pounds of grain left in the storage,” he stands up and paces back and forth. “It’s enough to keep them alive for a month, maybe a little more. My father told me to leave to the east and never look back,” he lowers his voice. “Besides, it’s one less mouth to feed.”

I don’t say anything. I know he is just one of the thousands of kids who had traded the comfort of their homes for a minimum wage and never-ending labor in a factory to escape the famine. Chances are, he will never go back to Kolochava or see his family again.

He walks back to the cylinder and rolls his sleeves.

“Doesn’t it bother you?” he asks without turning around to face me.

“What?”

“That someone will use this gun to kill a living thing.”

“Well,” I pause for a second before continuing, “sometimes people have to do things they don’t want to do.”

“Yes, but what about those soldiers they send to fight the battles that are not even theirs and to die in a country that is not even theirs?”

“Here, let me give you a hand,” I walk over to him and grab the cylinder by one side. “They just happen to appear somewhere they don’t belong.”

He smiles and helps me lift the cylinder.

“They do, don’t they?”

- Jane Dubrova '20
As everyone around you is asleep
You stir in the silence
You listen closely to the world around you
The wind seems to sing you a lullaby

The noise of your fan fades into the background
And your mind begins to spin…
Thoughts rush in and out of your head
But you close your eyes and try to ignore them

No matter what you can’t fall asleep
Ideas dart through your brain
But you close your eyes and try to ignore them
You look at the clock

It has become tomorrow
You toss and turn but you can’t fall asleep
So you sit and observe
Until the morning comes again.

- Jocelyn Cote ’22
Oliver woke up well-rested. The long workdays had been getting to him of late, not able to get his necessary ten hours of sleep per night. He got out of his king-sized bed and drew back the blinds that shielded his eyes from the brightness of the rising sun that came right into his eyes each morning. The shadows immediately cast upon the room were intricate, creating a pattern on his carpet that made the design look a lot like a scarecrow. He stared at it in a sleepy trance for a while, not processing what he was seeing, more just staring off into space. His meaningless concentration was broken by his wife saying the all too familiar words, “Olly, come down and eat your breakfast before it gets cold.”

“Coming, dear.”

He walked slowly down the spiral staircase and into the dining room, where his breakfast, the daily newspaper, and his computer had all been neatly laid out for him on the table. He sat down and saw the headline on the front page of the paper. He immediately jumped back out of his seat, the tip of his hair grazing the crystal chandelier set above the table. The title read: Canada Oil Files For Bankruptcy...

“Honey, did you see the news?”

“No, but I saw the headline. Isn’t that fantastic?”

“There hasn’t been better news in years!”

~~~

James woke up to sunlight peeling his eyes open, as bright as an angel descending from heaven. It was truly fascinating that now matter where in the bead he positioned himself, the sun was still able to poke through the trees into his eyes. Summoning the energy to get up, he rolled out of bed and lazily put on his work clothes. He sauntered down the stairs, and robotically made breakfast for himself. He looked at the clock and his eyes widened. He quickly shoveling down breakfast and screamed the all too familiar words, “Honey, I’m off. See you tonight,” before sprinting out the door.

At the train station each morning, he picks up coffee and the paper. The ride to work is about 30 minutes, so the paper gives him something to do at that time. About to miss the train, he threw the paper under his arm and nearly spilled his coffee before barely getting through the closing doors. He sits down and slumps in the chair, finally getting a chance to relax. He takes the newspaper out from under his arm and looks at the front-page headline. He immediately sits up a little straighter. Canada Oil Files for Bankruptcy, Thousands of Workers to be Laid Off.

Thoughts of the future come rushing into his head. After all I’ve been through, why God? Why do you have to put me through it all again?

~~~

Oliver isn’t a bad man. He was raised in a relatively wealthy family, got a private school education, landed a job as a hedge fund strategist, and slowly worked his way up to the manager position. The investment firm had been a long-time shareholder of Astor, another oil company that for years had competed with Canada Oil. But now, with them out of the picture, Astor oil sales would skyrocket, and Oliver would benefit from this greatly. Oliver certainly does have remorse for all the people losing their jobs, but he goes to church each weekend, to make up for it.

James isn’t a bad man either. He was raised under unfortunate circumstances. With his mom dead and his dad incarcerated, he never had any parents growing up. He was still given a decent education, was able to find a low paying job at the Canada Oil gas station just outside town, and was able to build a family with the love of his life. He had always been able to resist the urge to become like his father, never getting into any trouble with anyone. But with limited choices, he didn’t see how else he could support his family.

Oliver isn’t a bad person, but this won’t prevent James from finally living up to his father’s legacy. It won’t prevent James from showing up at Oliver’s door with a ski mask on and a gun in hand. It won’t prevent the bullet from going through Oliver’s chest when James gets nervous thinking Oliver is going to fight back. It won’t prevent James from putting the bullet through his own head, not wanting to live in his miserable life any longer.

- Ryder Henry ’20
 And once again insanity prevails
And left me with a gun alone that night
In thunder, light, then homeostasis fails
In silence, darkness chews away the light.

Male. Sixty one. Depressed Insomniac.
The wristband seared, the touch of Satan’s hand.
“I promise…” “Deal.” “the next time I come back…”
“Those barren fields will be thy promised land.”

I woke again to find my mind ablaze.
Words scorched my mind, words hotter than the suns.
“Obsession comes...obsession comes and stays.
But spark...that spark of genius hits and runs.”

I have these dreams that keep me up at night.
Dreams of a man who says he cannot write.

- Yiwei Lu ’20