by Marissa Schwalm
In the mornings NPR plays
from my iPhone as I get ready
for the day: Obama as I brush
my teeth, Afghanistan as I straighten
my hair. Today it is the evolving
graffiti in Libya since the fall of Gadhafi.
And I am fifteen again hiding under
bridges, holding your spray cans
wondering when you’ll stop fucking
my three friends. You were
never really that clever, too many
K-holes wormed through your brain,
but I liked the way you made
your bubble letters look like the circus,
and how when you signed the tag
you used the C that I showed you
one night when you were drunk
on the bed showing me your
collection of girl’s underwear.
And there were the trains
and how you hiked me up
on your shoulders to get
parts you couldn’t reach,
threatening to drop me
if I wouldn’t come home with you,
even though you knew
I was too scared to fuck you
and even though I knew
you were too scared to not,
but would at least take
a few more months
of my broken company
after fifteen years of it.
My father tells me
that after prison
you got some woman pregnant
from your job at Burger King
and now live in your parent’s basement.
I wish I could see the walls down there
want to know what your hands
have been making these days,
what collections your drawers
are shoved full with
ready to be spilled out
for an old friend
who knew you when
we had to be nothing more
than fast legs, letters,
and bass, ready to hole
up in some room
thinking about things
Marissa Schwalm is a Ph.D. student in English Literature and Creative Writing at Binghamton University in New York, where her fields of study include contemporary poetry and creative nonfiction. Her research interests most recently include understanding how the evolution of the circus in the United States reflects changing social anxieties. She is current co-editor in chief of the Binghamton University graduate run journal Harpur Palate.
photo by compujeramy
by Neil Uzzell
One time on Halloween, I heard Allen was having a party. All the kids at school were talking about it.
“I’m going to wear the new Victoria Secret line,” Christy Scott said.
Just the thought of her wearing anything that had lace on it was enough to get me standing up straight, and it would have been okay if Mr. Mercer hadn’t called on me, pointing to a “solve for X” problem I could have done in my sleep.
“The answer is the square root of twenty one,” I said.
“Why don’t you come up to the board and show us how you got that answer?”
“Would it be okay if I just told you how to do it from my seat?”
“Don’t be so modest, James. You’re one of the few people in my class who can pull an answer like that out of your head. Come up here and take a little bit of the credit for it.”
“I’d really rather not, sir.”
I squirmed around in my seat a little bit and managed to get my wiener pointing straight up. I stood cautiously and walked stiffly up to the board. It only took me fifteen seconds to complete the problem, but during that time I could feel myself slipping out of stealth mode and onto the left hand side of enemy radar.
It wasn’t that obvious, but it might have been visible to the trained eye. Fortunately, I still had my back to the classroom. Unfortunately, I wasn’t as deft with my left hand. I would have to be pretty discreet if I was going to pocket pull it back into place without being obvious. As soon as I set the chalk down, I jammed my hand into my pocket and jimmy rigged myself. I think maybe that girl Tina in the front row might have noticed, but she was too shy to say anything.
“Excellent work, James,” Mr. Mercer said.
Everything was going to be okay. I was going to make it back to my seat undetected. I had even started to think about Christy in her lingerie again, when I stumbled over a strategically placed foot. My lurch forward dislodged my wiener from its hiding place. I tried to walk, leaning into it to cover it up, but that only made it more obvious. Still, it probably would have been okay if I hadn’t had to sit down behind Christy Scott.
“Eew,” she said, and got up out of her seat.
“Ms. Scott, have a seat, please.”
“That little sicko’s got a boner!” she said.
“Ms. Scott, just have a seat, please.”
“I don’t want to sit down with that little weirdo pointing at me.”
Everyone laughed again, except Mr. Mercer.
“Good Lord, Christy. If you are really going to make such a big deal out of something so small, I’ll move you.”
This sent the classroom spiraling out of control.
Neil Uzzell is an MFA in Writing graduate from California College of the Arts. He teaches, lives, writes, and plays the guitar in Oakland.
photo by Rob Ireton
Eleanor Leonne Bennett is a 15 year old photographer and artist who has won contests with National Geographic,The Woodland Trust, The World Photography Organisation, Winstons Wish, Papworth Trust, Mencap, Big Issue, Wrexham science , Fennel and Fern and and Nature’s Best Photography.She has had her photographs published in exhibitions and magazines across the world including the Guardian, RSPB Birds , RSPB Bird Life, Dot Dot Dash ,Alabama Coast , Alabama Seaport and NG Kids Magazine (the most popular kids magazine in the world). She was also the only person from the UK to have her work displayed in the National Geographic and Airbus run See The Bigger Picture global exhibition tour with the United Nations International Year Of Biodiversity 2010.Only visual artist published in the Taj Mahal Review June 2011. Youngest artist to be displayed in Charnwood Art’s Vision 09 Exhibition and New Mill’s Artlounge Dark Colours Exhibition.Youngest to be published in Grey Sparrow Press. Featured artist in Able Muse and the Taj Mahal Review.
by Jenelle Hayward
We had gone the day before, my mom and me, to the new campus where I would start high school. It was huge and my anxiety built as summer neared its end, making me feel like I would explode.
“Why don’t we walk your route this morning so on Monday you feel confident and know where to go?” she said, with the perfect balance of hesitation and encouragement, unsure whether her fourteen-year-old daughter was going to run into her mothering arms to be coddled or slap the suggestion away to prove her independence. This time I chose to be coddled.
The campus was large, empty and sprawling, each building different from the next; some were obviously old with ornate carvings in stone and others portable, wooden, meant to be temporary but appearing permanent once painted red and white, the school’s colors. I wondered if I would remember the weaving trail we plodded from one end of campus to the other, up hills and down, to the room number in the correct wing. What if I ended up in the wrong room, in the wrong seat, and was late for class? I kept thinking as we walked.
“This is really exciting sweetheart.”
“You’re going to do just great tomorrow.”
“Now you know your route for the day.”
She repeated these encouraging phrases over and over while my body temperature rose and my stomach fluttered just thinking about walking the crowded halls without her.
We found my locker, fourth floor of the building I didn’t have any classes in. I was glad I had purchased the florescent orange, L.L. Bean backpack with my initials stitched on it, for the heavy textbooks I would carry for the next four years. I would never be able to use my assigned locker.
“You’ll get back problems if you try to carry them all,” she responded.
But I was right about the locker anyway; the six minutes between bells was never enough time to get to the building from across campus, run up the four flights of stairs, exchange my books, and still report to class on time.
For a teenager full of anxiety, a change this big didn’t feel like an exciting adventure. Difficult material, a greater requirement for time management skills, and more red flags that my brain was not absorbing information in quite the same way as my classmates’, especially when it came to geometry, came with high school. It was suggested I take B or C level courses instead of A level ones, and studying for hours often meant nothing when the exam came and the grade was given.
“I’ve been thinking that you should get tested for a learning disability, sweetheart. Many people have different modes of learning that don’t cater to typical classroom instruction,” Mom said while we drove in the car or while she was making dinner or while I cried on the pages of my math textbook.
Something, another thing, is wrong with you, was all I heard as it permeated my self-conscious mind, to settle and reside there.
School kept my muscles tied in knots, made me red in the face when I had to speak, made me hear messages like this isn’t for you, you do it wrong, you’re not smart enough. In a school of 3,500 students it was easy to slip through the cracks, and it was easy to ignore red flags because it was likely that you or your mom were the only ones who noticed them.
The back problems from carrying every single textbook I used, every single day for four years, have finally caught up to me, causing a lingering, dull ache; and I’m still months away from obtaining my graduate degree. Walking around campus, I still battle the urge to slip through the cracks. I have to fight the urge to accept self-defeating thoughts caused by fear of poor comprehension recall or inversions of numbers and letters, whenever I read the assigned section aloud for the class or pause too long to let my brain absorb it.
But sometimes I’m able to repeat my mother’s words, replacing the ones that otherwise linger:
“This is really exciting sweetheart.”
“You’re going to do just great today and tomorrow and the days after that.”
Jenelle Hayward’s work has appeared in FourtyOunceBachelors, The Truth About Fact, Gordon College Global Education Journal, and Idiom. I am an experienced classroom teacher currently enrolled as a full-time graduate student at Mills College, pursuing an MFA in Creative Writing.
photo by taberandrew