It’s March and too cold for Delia, who pulls her black wool scarf tighter around her neck and tugs her coat—missing three buttons—tighter around her body. Under the coat, her winter blue-plaid school uniform offers no protection against the chill. She holds a stack of textbooks against her body for added warmth and wishes she hadn’t lost her gloves. She longs for warmer temperatures, for spring’s kiss on the now-naked winter trees lining the streets. Her father, who has sayings for everything, once told her March comes like a lion, but leaves like a lamb. Today, the lion roars her to numbness. She reminds herself to remember to sew the buttons back on her coat and to possibly snag her mother’s gloves.
On Riverside Avenue she forces herself step by step toward the Inner Harbor, away from Mary Star of the Sea High School, knowing she must endure the cold for another twenty minutes before she reaches her neighborhood. First a piano lesson, then home to change, and then her cashier job at the grocery store where her mother knows the owner and finagled the under-the-table job. The stack of textbooks provides some protection against the cold air, but her arms ache from the weight. She sets the stack down on a nearby stoop and shivers in her thin coat until she picks them up again. The books hold her coat shut. A few days ago, she asked her mother for a warmer coat, but winter is nearly over, her mother said, adding that she’d get a new one next year. She also asked her mother to sew the missing buttons, which sat in a small, clear cup in her room, back onto her coat.
“You could do it yourself,” Ivy said. Continue reading
Crooked fingers of thick grey fog moan over the birch forest. The sky looks heavy. My nose is pressed up against the window, breath hot on the frosty pane.
“Come away from there,” Mama says to me in Russian, “you’ll freeze.”
“Mama,” I turn to her. She’s dark and bundled in the cold light. “Can me and Kolya go out and play?”
She draws in a sharp breath, and eyes the edge of the forest. “Why do you want to play? It will rain later, look. Better to stay inside. Talk to your family you haven’t seen.”
She looks down her long, thin nose at me. Hands on hips, heart beating. I’ve been trapped inside the dacha, summer cottage, for days as Karelia pours bucket after bucket of rain down on us. We don’t usually come in the autumn, but my grandmother wanted to spirit us away from the city before my mother and I go back to New Jersey. My heart is pounding against my chest, itching to breathe the open air.
“Maybe,” Mama acquiesces. “After you eat your lunch.” Continue reading
Photos by Erin Popelka
It was subtle at first. When Carpolina was 14, she noticed some scales forming around the base of her neck. Her mother always told her that puberty was a bitch, and to expect strange bodily changes around this age. Sure, the scales were kind of itchy, but in the lighting of the bathroom, they glistened. In high school, where everyone experiments with spoken word poetry and dramatic fashion statements, no one suspected anything when Carpolina showed up wearing turtlenecks. Continue reading
I gazed with both awe and skepticism at Kevin as he sipped his coffee, bit into his muffin and surfed the web on his phone. We had been together for four months, yet there were still times when he felt to me like a figment or dream. It seemed as if he might vanish at any moment, leaving me alone in my Brooklyn apartment.
In the decade before I met Kevin, there wasn’t one Sunday that I didn’t take breakfast alone. I’d had a few one-night-stands, but always crept away or convinced the guy to leave as quickly as possible. It was no wonder I occasionally doubted if Kevin was real. For my entire adult life and most of my childhood, solitude had been my only companion.
I met Kevin at a Hell’s Kitchen gay bar. I didn’t go to bars often, but once in a while did crave human company. Kevin walked in, slender, bespectacled, gawkily handsome, in khakis and a buttoned-down shirt buttoned to the top. Appearing as wholesome as a fifties sitcom character, he seemed as out of place there as I felt. That was surely what possessed me to approach him, ask him the name of his cerulean blue drink. We ended up having three rounds of “bluebirds.” At the end of the night, we exchanged numbers and went to our respective homes, a rarity in the gay world. If I were to find love, it couldn’t be with anyone remotely normal.
Kevin was strange because he was so “normal,” raised by two devoutly religious, yet wholly accepting parents in a small Minnesota town. He had moved to New York from Minneapolis a month earlier, transferred by his consulting firm. He’d recently ended a long-term monogamous relationship. There was no Grindr on his phone. The only “Molly” he knew of was his sister-in-law. Continue reading
Crawfish pie, succulent as any dish at Galatoire’s, beckoned from the counter alongside a platter of baguettes and, glistening under the skylights, a heap of romaine tossed with strawberries. Were cilantro and pine nuts wedged in there too? Either way, the silver platter caught Beth’s crab-like hand scuttling toward the baguettes, and her eyes as well, looking to elude her mother’s gaze. “I’m twenty-one years old, Mom, and I don’t care if I’m not emaciated like you,” she might have said.
But she didn’t. In this polite envelope of a crowd, gathered together at Uncle Adrian’s beach house, a rejoinder to her mother’s silences would be unthinkable. Every June they visited. As usual, her family had traveled from Chattanooga, though this time she’d driven alone after work, first with the radio blaring, then As You Like It on CD. While for her the trip to the Gulf Coast took seven hours, her cousins, who lived in New Orleans, except during and after Katrina, could make it in four.
“Okay, everybody!” bellowed a pious great-aunt. Continue reading
Jenny lived across the street and down three houses. Precocious, with white blonde hair in a bowl cut and a tendency to run around the neighborhood in her swimsuit, she was the first friend I had when we moved in.
My father was a fundamentalist evangelist and along with my mother, we had been traveling around the country in our big 1983 burgundy Buick, state to state, church to church, revivals, tent meetings and summer camps for the last seven and a half years. After years of pleading from my mother for a home of our own and empty promises from my father, he had finally found a church to pastor and we were going to “settle down.” The church was in a Phoenix suburb and had a small, struggling congregation that needed Jesus as much as they needed jobs and money to pay bills that were due last month. With little more than a pittance, a rental house with three bedrooms and two bathrooms, a front and backyard, as well as the long promised formal dining room, was found for us fifteen miles away in a largely Mormon part of town. As a homeschooled, only child whose friendships came on visiting preacher’s kid status and the backseat of the Buick that was the most permanent personal space I had, the move to a house in a neighborhood with an elementary school around the corner was new, exciting and often a culture shock.
Jenny’s family was what my mother called “rough around the edges”, but Jenny was friendly and curious and no cold shoulder from my mother seemed to discourage her interest in me. We walked the two blocks to school together in the mornings and rode our banana seat bikes around the neighborhood in the afternoons. Roughly the same age and in the same class at school, the thing that really cemented our friendship was a love of Barbie dolls. Barbie, Ken and her friends were my favorite, though they were generally given different monikers and often after various pastor’s wives or children I had liked best; small and compact, they were easy to pack up and play with in the backseat of the car. Barbie’s long hair, big breasts, tiny waist, plenty of dresses made out of my father’s old ties and tiny plastic high heels made her the perfect wife, mother and lover of Jesus in all the scenarios that I placed her. I was never aware that Barbie had a dream house or career aspirations. My Barbie had been baptized in the bathroom sink in the name of Jesus Christ for the remission of her sins and cooked dinner for her family before going to church three times a week. Jenny’s Barbie dolls moved in different circles; they wore mini skirts, some cut their hair off and drove Corvettes. Regardless of our respective Barbie’s differences, Jenny and I loved to bring our haul together and spent countless hours in our imaginary worlds with them. Continue reading
He told her he knew how to do it. He told her he’d camped in the northern forest, year after year, always in mid-autumn, just him and his dog, a foxhound mix with the lungs of an Arabian stallion, who tore up and down the mountain trails, covering three or four times the distance he did, the ecstasy never once dimming in its soft brown eyes. Each time he brought along an extra sleeping bag for the dog even though the dog declined to get inside it when the nights dipped near freezing and would maybe sleep on top of it but generally preferred to curl up against him, right in the crook of his head and shoulder so that, as he tried to sleep, he heard and felt the deep breaths rumbling contentedly through the dog’s body.
He liked this part of the forest, he told her, because the shelters along the trails eliminated the need to carry a tent. The shelters were simple plank platforms with shake-shingle roofs, each with four bunk bed frames, all of it sitting on sturdy foundations built with boulders and mortar. The weathered lumber was incised and initialed, some inscriptions with dates going back forty years and some in languages from other continents.
After the dog died, he lost the will to return alone, but the memories stayed strong, the scarlet and golden mountains and forest whispers and the dog splashing through and slurping up the clear water of every brook they came across, a doggie paradise loop running endlessly in his head.
“It was paradise for you too,” she said. Continue reading
You feed these birds at night
the way every feather they use
comes from a quarry where the air
darkens with each landing –it’s Tuesday
and you still have not forgotten
their return for seeds, endlessly
weeping for a missing child
a brother, mother though their eyes
are unsure how to close
when listening for a name, a flower
a river –you fill your hand from a bag
as if at the bottom they could hear
an emptiness that is not a night
falling behind step by step on the ground
–how open it was, already grass.