Posts Categorized: Nonfiction

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Nonfiction Feature: Cartesian Anxiety in a Bleeding I By Camellia Freeman

 

Cartesian Anxiety in a Bleeding I

 
Preface:

Rene Descartes works best in his pajamas. I watch him while wrapped in a blanket, and in my imagination he resurrects easily enough, coughs, walks around. It’s January, so he’s chosen the fuzzy ones with feet—mid- night blue—displaying galaxies caught mid-spin with nickel-sized buttons that run up the front.

            Alone in his apartment, a five-story walk-up, he feels his greatest intellectual freedom while wearing these footsy pajamas, assured no one will ever know. He’s disconnected the Internet and isn’t taking any calls. Even the small television set is unplugged. See how the cords dangle? He bought the yellow swivel chair at his desk because he admires its neat diamond stitches and the way it creaks without squeaking, which reminds him of his mother rocking in her wooden chair when he was still small enough to climb up to her face, rocking in such a way that made her seem playful and lighthearted, as though she would stay that way if for no other reason than because she would always be his mother.

            Resurrected, he writes in Latin because it is the language of thinking and because it is expected. He stares, often between pen strokes. His hand never cramps. Arranging his candles and his stained glass lamp, against which he’s leaned a framed daguerreotype of a girl, his mind chews on one hypothesis only to discard it for the next. The girl is wide-eyed and pale and looks off to the side while clutching the dark lace at her neck. Her left ear tilts toward him, expectant.
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Nonfiction Feature: “Beneath The Surface” By Amy Butcher

 

Beneath The Surface

            The morning I realized the birds on the telephone line outside my apartment were cowbirds and not crows, a boy I knew was getting his heart stitched up.

            The boy was in a hospital and I was not in a hospital. I held the phone against my chin with my shoulder and hunched over, rubbed a cotton ball across my toe, and asked, “It’s going okay?”

            My boyfriend was on the other line, standing against a window on the seventeenth floor of Mass General in downtown Boston. He cleared his throat and took a sip of something. “Seems to be,” he said.

            I didn’t think then about the heart or what was happening to it—the idea that a thread was pulling something so fragile together. I dabbed the cotton ball into more of the acetone and wiped at the other toe and said, “Good.”

* * *

            I’d met the boy nine times before.

            Once we ate Brussels sprouts off china plates in a living room decorated with wallpaper of printed pink Colonial men and women. Another time we pulled on zip-up sweatshirts and walked along the Charles River, drinking marshmallow lattes with a disproportionate amount of marshmallow. On one occasion, he handed me a blanket that smelled like attic and made me watch forty minutes of loose footage he taped at his father’s lake house.

            “It’s going to be a thriller,” he said, “when I’m done with it.” This implied a vast amount of time spent in front of computers and monitors and boxy black equipment. But all I saw were ripples on water and geese taking off towards some definite treeline.

            “Okay,” I said.

            The night we watched the footage, the boy was seventeen. It was January. Even under the blanket, my feet were cold. I kept trying to tuck them up under me, rubbing my socks together beneath the fabric. His cousin Keith sat beside me quietly, watching the footage with fascination.

            “Can we go soon?” I whispered in his ear. I wanted to be some place else: a downtown sidewalk, a restaurant, a place where I wouldn’t have to pretend something ordinary was special.

            “In a minute,” he said. “I’m enjoying this.”

            The footage of the birds and the trees and the sandy embankments would be edited down, turned into a film, submitted at some point as part of a portfolio to film schools. This is what I assumed. I let my eyes slide over the footage and onto the boy. I tried to picture what he would look like under big, bulky headphones.

            When the footage finished playing, I folded the blanket and put it back on the couch. “Good to see you again,” I said to the boy, and then I pulled on my snow boots and trudged to the car, parked two streets away, the snow coming down softly, the man I loved following behind.

* * *

            The boy suffered from congenital heart failure. He wasn’t supposed to live past six months. This is what the doctors told his mother in the birthing room.

            “His heart is functioning at three-quarters capacity,” they said. “Two of the four chambers aren’t divided; they don’t work.”

            His mother held the child, still warm in his blankets. She looked at the doctor. She named the baby Charlie, after her father.

            In the hopes that he might exceed their expectations, she held Charlie against her body each day and sang hymns. An infection, doctors warned, could exacerbate his condition; her milk would be best. But the baby grew tired quickly, his small lips too weak. She bought special formulas to increase his caloric intake, held the bottles along her chest and prayed.

            Charlie turned six months and then twelve. On his first birthday, his mother baked a cake with real vanilla beans and rich white buttercream. She took his picture, his cheeks covered in icing. She put it on the refrigerator to remember.

            Two weeks later, the doctors performed open-heart surgery on the child. They lay the baby on a small padded table and wrapped him in a thin white sheet. They made an incision in the center of his chest, tucking wires around the organ. They divided the upper and lower chambers. They added a patch to the right ventricle to improve blood circulation.

            The surgery would let him see six, they said.

            Charlie turned four and then he turned five. His mother had him swallow pills with orange juice. She tucked the bitter ones in pancakes. The pills fought off infection. He turned seven, and then nine, and then eleven. His heart kept beating. The doctors wondered aloud if it might beat forever.

            On his twelfth birthday, his mother rented a pavilion along the river. His father grilled hamburgers and sweet peppers and Charlie rode a horse along the edge of the water.

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Nonfiction Feature: “When Milk Is a Memory” by Aimee Nezhukumatathil

Aimee Nezhukumatathil reads “When Milk Is a Memory”

 

WHEN MILK IS A MEMORY

When the milk first comes it is gold. When the milk first comes it feels like a tug. When the milk first sprays across the bed, we laugh but you are scared. When the milk is too much and the baby bites you want to cry and dig your hands into your husband’s palm. When the milk spills out and soaks your shirt, the bed—you wake sour to the baby’s cry. When the milk slows because you put cold cabbage leaves in your bra, you cry. When the milk tries to flow and the baby still sniffs around your chest, you cry. When the milk goes back to the body, back to your chest and vitamins back into blood—you feel stronger than ever. The baby gets fat and smiles and all the crying stops.

 

When the milk is a memory you see a glass full of it and only think: bottle. When milk is a memory and your chest softens, grows smaller—you can press against your love without pausing and the baby will coo next to you in his bassinet. When the milk is a memory, every tongue and hot breath to slow near your neck just becomes a cloud of rain-precipitate and your hand an umbrella to cup all the hours of wishing for milk missing the milk teasing the milk fooling the milk and you’ve been friends and frenemies with milk and when the time comes, milk never says good-bye. And when milk gets to where he is going—he never even sends a thank you note so don’t even bother to check your mailbox for his licked flap, his cancelled stamp.

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Nonfiction Feature: “How to Tell Your Rape Story” by A.A. Balaskovits

 

If you decide to disclose your rape, you must give careful consideration to your words, then, what manner or tone will give you the most control. Such anxiety is necessary. You worry that your audience will shift interest, as always, to the rapist, the do-er, the one who acted, the one they are told to take an interest in from the very moment they learned how to appreciate stories. The active is always more interesting than the passive. That is what they tell you when you start to write: always avoid the passive, be it voice or man.

♦  ♦  ♦

Without knowing it, you had begun researching rape from a very young age. As a child, you devoured old stories without fully digesting them. Your favorite was the one about Persephone, depicted anywhere between nine and hundreds of years old, but always youthful, always skipping in a white dress amongst cardamoms and daffodils and daisies. When she was spied by shadowed Hades and stolen from her mother and all those familiar things, when she was forced to grow up with a stranger, you clutched your heart and thought, how romantic. He loved her without knowing her, and he was willing to do something heinous to prove it. It is not the first time you will encounter these stories, and it will be a very long time before you realize that the “Rape” of Persephone was not only a body-rape, but a shift in the culture played out across a womanly form. At the moment of Persephone’s judgment for having done nothing wrong, she is forced to live half the year with her rapist and half the year free of him. No wonder the world dies when she descends below ground; at least some unconscious thing acknowledges injustice. Remember the Sabine Women who were stolen in the middle of a festival, whose arms are depicted raised towards the heavens, frozen in a moment when heathen celebration ended and when the whole of Western history began its march towards conception and conceiving? Philomela, who was raped by her sister’s husband and was so beloved by him he cut off her tongue so that she might never speak of it, and only regained her voice when the Gods took pity on her and turned her into a bird, so that no man would ever understand her again? Medusa, raped by Zeus, and then made a monster, which in itself can be read as a kindness, to have that inner turmoil reflected on the outside? Too often, without using the word, we tell how rape shaped the Western world, and we Do. Not. Blink.

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40.1 SNEAK PEEK: excerpt of WE ARE NOT SAINTS by BRENNA WOMER

SP_Womer_We Are Not Saints

 

Brenna Womer is an MFA candidate at Northern Michigan University where she teaches composition and literature and serves as an associate editor of Passages North. Her work has appeared or is forthcoming in The Normal School, DIAGRAM, The Pinch, Hippocampus, Booth, and elsewhere. Her chapbook Atypical Cells of Undetermined Significance is forthcoming on C&R Press.