Volume 41 ~ 2018
Iroquois Theater Fire of 1903
The spotlight sparks and
oil canvas scenes of trees smolder
with the anticipation of being free.
The cast fails to contain the heat
and frantic motions as the flame
spreads up the scaffolding.
The audience, consisting of children
and mothers, beam smiles
and snickers at performers who
sing fairy tales and run in circles.
Laughter echos as the asbestos fire curtain snags.
The lead actor sings for the children,
comforting them until he gets swallowed
by the inferno of the collapsed stage.
Twenty-seven hidden exits trap
patrons in the tinder box.
The ceiling splinters and falls. Balcony
members jump to safety,
only to be crushed by those who follow.
Mothers hold tight to their children and trample
those who trip and are engulfed
by a sea of boots. A stagehand
flees to the firestation too late.
It took mere minutes
to extinguish the flames
as no timber remained.
Dips and dives, a perfect reaction
of hovering heights.
My wandering mind jumps off the cliff
only to be caught by the rising sun.
I rise into the midday sky,
on the wings of an albatross,
then plummet into the swirling sea.
I sink deep until the only light
is the eerie glow of lanternfish
and I settle in the sediment.
As Newton said,
“For every action there’s an
opposite reaction,” and my seesaw
sky-rocketed, spraying seafoam
onto the beach and leaving my lungs
gasping for equilibrium. The relief
is short-lived, and soon my body treks
up the mountain until the oxygen thins
and chokes my brain. The seesaw dives
and my weight sinks into the soil
until I’m trapped, burrowing like a mole
searching for sustenance
before the seesaw tips back.
The sun beams through the windshield and splinters into rainbow rays where the glass is cracked. In the passenger's seat, I slouch and attempt to shift away from the pile of cookie crumbs sticking to my thighs. Petrified chocolate chips smear further into the seat as I turn to look at the driver. Her hands, white-knuckled, are clenched around the steering wheel at precisely 10 and 2. We don’t speak.
Her brunette bun bobs mindlessly to the deep bass and flashy lyrics of her current hip hop obsession blasting through the radio. The minivan has enough volume to make my ear drums rattle in my head. The gravel road loops endlessly before me, and it feels like we are passing the same rusty red barn for the millionth time. The driver pulls a lighter from the inside of her bra and fishes the longest cigarette butt from the ashtray amongst shriveled piles of orange filters. Her scraped knees hold the steering wheel steady while the smoky nicotine floods the minivan and mixes with the scent of stale ketchup. She repeats the process with gradually shorter butts until not a single shred of tobacco remains.
We turn down a minimum maintenance road, and she stops the vehicle in the midst of a tree line. She climbs out of the driver's seat to the back of the minivan, where the seats have been removed and replaced with trash bags of clothes, a coffee table, and a television haphazardly piled in the back of the vehicle. She rummages through a bag until she finds a half-filled bottle of vodka. She removes the lid, tips it back, and takes a large gulp. Her face contorts, and she gags on the swallow. I reject the offering of the value-sized bottom-shelf liquor. Instead, I watch her compose a drink from a half-empty orange Gatorade and paint-thinner vodka filling the bottle to the brim.
I sit in silence as she shares stories of drunken escapes and fleeing busted frat parties half-dressed in crop tops and booty shorts. I bring up memories of starting cults and fires and catching feelings along with stray kittens. Her face lights up at the mention of our past, but her dimples seem forced. We talk as the sun starts to sink in unison with her Gatorade bottle. Her words slur as we stare at the stars and wish on the brightest one. Shortly after, my father calls and says I must come home.
She slinks back to the driver’s seat and begins to plow through piles of gravel and muddy ditches, while only slightly swerving. I fasten my seatbelt tight and brace myself by planting my feet firmly in the half-melted Milk Duds stuck in the carpet below. The only brightness in her eyes as we drive is the orange gas light, a blinking reminder to how empty we both feel. She crawls the van up to my house, afraid to encroach on the faded gray walls and stops in the center of the road. I climb out of the minivan and empty Arby’s bags follow suit.
“I’ll miss you. You should come and see the parents sometime.” I force the words out in this silence, and they ring under the singular streetlight.
“You know I can’t do that.” She snaps back, while pulling a piece of hair loose from her bun. “Besides, I have my independence, and they can’t take that away.” She shifts in the driver’s seat and pulls out another cigarette. Her shaky hands are further impaired by her drunken stupor, and she lights it unevenly.
“Call me if you need a place to crash. We can hide you in the garage with the cats.” I laugh uncertainly.
“I’ll keep that in mind” she replies, picking at the uneven burn of the nicotine.
The car door shuts. She swerves away. I pick my way through the dark yard and up to my room. The darkness rests around me and my eyes hang open as I struggle to sleep. My mind can’t flee from the image of my sister: a huddled mass stashed away.
A Woman’s Role
Golden cascades and porcelain
smiles do not discredit my emerald ambition.
Teetering heels are not vulnerable,
but an aid to touch the stars.
Free-flowing skirts signal
determination as I sashay
through the wide world of boys’ clubs.
The path I chose scoffs at Dorothy’s
yellow-brick beggar’s route.
Her only achievement
was finding a pair of shoes.
Smeared lipstick, tear stains, and pantyhose runs:
The battle wounds of rubbing elbows
with the Washington wolf pack.
I’m meant for more.
More than child-rearing and dust bunny
decimation. Society gives baby dolls
to girls who are babies themselves.
Boys are given the world.
I want the world.
I will wade through the trenches
of misogyny delivering blows
in the same movement as hair flips.
I want to see the glass ceiling
shimmer when I shatter through it.
Except, I feel pretty in a dress
but powerful in a suit. Femininity
disqualifies opinions and silences
Torn between identities,
I wear my suit jacket and pleated skirt
and stand at the top of Capitol Hill.
Men will scoff when they learn
I don’t deliver coffee or make copies.
I don’t take calls or water plants,
pick up dry cleaning or flaunt
myself for their benefit.
What do I do?
I lead the nation.