Singing in the Bomb Shelter

Music class was held in the bomb shelter down the hall from my senior kindergarten homeroom. The shelter was plain with thick walls, so inside the acoustics were good. We inhabited a musical safe zone where we could play anything and not get hurt. My music teacher had a Russian accent that made her words taste funny in my ears. She sat on the floor between our tapping feet and sang as we tightly held the mallets with our childish hands. I focused on the rubber ball on the other end of my mallet, hitting and bouncing off the metal slate of the xylophone. The room was long, narrow, and cold like the xylophone slate. There was no space to sit in a circle, so we sat on the bench beside each other and faced the bricks in front of us. Hidden and safe.

/michal

Extraterrestrial

My brother and I shared a room until I was nine. I joined his room when I was born, taking up space with the crib our father built. My brother welcomed my invasion with late-night stories of green-eyed aliens in the closet. The nook-like closet could hardly fit an adult, but it was enormous. A space for a whole colony of aliens. My bed was closer to this danger zone, which meant that the aliens would eat me first when they emerge. For years, I slept with my knees tucked up so the aliens wouldn’t get my toes.

The floor was covered in a dark blue carpet that was speckled with yellow, red, and orange dots. I would wake up after surviving the scary nights, and step onto the carpet of dots. It looked like a night sky, and I was a morning astronaut standing upside down to count the planets. I would walk through the universe inside our own room.

Then came the glow-in-the-dark star stickers my brother shared with me, which I could merely look at, but never touch. They covered the ceiling, illuminating the dots in the carpet below. I stared at our private skylight of stars only we could see, forgetting about the aliens in the closet. We slept between two universes: one on the carpet below, and one on the ceiling above. The stars were real, and the aliens were not.

/michal

How the Story Goes, How You Go

I knew I loved you when we went swimming
And you read poems to me from the Icelandic book I got you
And we saw that raccoon
And I wore your sweater
And you hated the cold water
And you were sick
But I kissed you anyway
Knowing that I was in love.

I left you
A month later
Still in love
Knowing I would see you again.

And you wrote to me
Months later
Looking to see where I have gone.
I tried to show you but I felt too much
And you said too much
So I left you again
Still in love.

I knocked on your door
A month ago
Asking to try again
And we did, but I was unhappy.
I have left you, one final time
Still in love
With you you you(.)

/michal

Numb but Unafraid

I have a story
to tell but no urgency
propels me
towards its completion

and so it will remain
half-whispered, half-exclaimed
flowing yet contained

a dynamic equilibrium
changing all the same.

It does not matter
in a world bursting
at the seams with the imminent
the breaking

do not have time
do not have ears
but the broken

have no fears, they are not
even afraid of waiting,

not anymore.

/cristina

Telling Tales

I am unsure how much you are willing to know.
How will you know me? (what will I say)
Will you be willing? (what will you hear)

What can I teach? (too much too much too fast)

I am filled with pain and stories and moments that demand to be shared
with you? (who else)
Do you want them? (do they soften)
I continue to breathe next to you, unsure how to tell you that I have a lot to tell you

/michal

 

Melting Point, Freezing Point

She is stuck between two worlds, in a perpetual transition phase that never seems to end. If only life had a clear-cut schedule of categorical time periods. “Now you are lost. Now you are found. Now you are alone. Now you are okay. Now you are confused. Now you are you.”

But no, the now is the always until it is no longer there. She sees no ends and no finish lines and no distinctions between who she is now and who she will be, until after when she isn’t herself but instead someone new.

She is stuck in a past love that seems to fade slowly, despite her pain and despite the letters. She is stuck in the fading process, a gradient of self-care and self-pity, pixelized so that you cannot see the truth, in case it might hurt.

The elegance of her broken state is blurry and looks more like a photo of moving lights in nighttime than a crystal chandelier; at least that’s all she sees when she looks in the mirror.

She thinks too much and feels too much and falls too much, but her legs were bruised from age 6 anyway. 6.5, to be precise. Something happened then that never got fixed. Something got stolen then and never returned.

/michal

Occupying Space

Some people you only meet in libraries. Where the bookshelves protect you and connect you and line the outside borders of your relationship. You represent to each other the transformation that overcomes you when you are there. They are your partners in this endeavour of thought. They are your only constant in the inevitable alterations that shape you forcefully, lovingly, and continuously.

He sits quietly, with both hands holding his phone, a slight hump for a back and agitated feet. By looking at him, you might think he is waiting for some important news through the phone. But he is just lonely, sitting with virtual images filling him with emptiness. Across the study table is a girl with an empty cup of Earl Grey tea who seems to be taking up more space than she feels is appropriate. She channels her discomfort with herself into the dispersed notes, textbook, lab manual, and laptop that occupy a carefully studious radius around her.

She bobs her head to music as she types up her anatomy notes. He notices her ring.

He comments, it looks like a neuron.

Oh, this? she says, it’s a starfish!

Interesting. He sees it now.

That’s not a neuron, he says.

She smiles without any further thoughts to express. He thinks he looks stupid and uneducated. Of course that’s a starfish, why wouldn’t it be?

The guy wears a Blue Jays baseball cap backwards over his long combed-back hair. He has an extra-large coffee cup and a laptop out on the table. Not so much space occupied, despite the huge cup. He looks like the type of guy she would expect to meet at some bar downtown, who flirts with you but doesn’t mean it. He looks like he’s wasting his time and money going to university. She’s trying to become less judgmental but she can’t help her disapproval.

What are you studying? he asks her quietly.

Anatomy. I have an exam in two days. She replies.

He doesn’t know anything about anatomy, which he involuntarily admitted in the first conversation. She won’t even talk to me, he thinks as she whispers back, you?

I’m working on a philosophy paper. He smiles sheepishly and looks down at his coffee.

Oh, what kind of philosophy? She’s intrigued.

This essay is on the ethics of euthanasia. I’m just trying to figure out how I feel about it.

Huh, I love that. Feelings have never been relevant to any of my courses. But they can provide so much insight into your thoughts… I’m Caroline, by the way.

I’m Jordan. Nice to meet you.

––

She waves to him as she walks by. He does not see her. She is too weak and shy to call out his name.

––

When Caroline looks up, she catches Jordan looking at her, but he suddenly looks away and then timidly looks back to see if she is still there. His eyes lightly twitch in embarrassment as she quickly continues to work. Jordan thinks she must hate him. Caroline thinks he must think she hates him.

––

The only food she can cook is pasta. And when she does, it is consistently fantastic. He takes the large wooden spoon in the pot and serves each of them a portion. He smiles a small, timid smile as she starts to eat. Finally a day when she has a good appetite. It has been a while since she ate like that.

––

They walked in the dusk when it was past fall but not yet winter, in the restlessly unpleasant pre-holiday atmosphere that choked the street. They felt nothing – no fear, no joy, no sadness. Or perhaps only sadness as a result. They stepped slowly. He was holding the leash, she was holding him in one hand and the umbrella in the other. The air got darker with each heavy breath but they kept going. They were running away in a loop. Running away from themselves, their pasts, their futures. From me. I saw them wither in the wind, losing their balance on the downhill path, being pulled forward forcefully. What was pulling them?

––

Her chin is pointed down. Un-kissable.

––

The room is dry in colour and in ventilation. There is only arid heating in the desert-like hospital offices, with patients and nurses walking by in the hallway, peering in from one desert into the other.

––

A man with a hat covering his entire head is reading a book slowly; not because he is a slow reader, but because he keeps looking up to see who is walking by. The man was a musician, they said. Is he bald? I can’t tell. He looks ill. Or unhappy. Or both.

 

/michal