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Essays

Essays

Desiree Cooper

March 22, 2018

No Words

Jay was an expressive kid from the womb, a busy baby who had an adorable need to communicate endlessly. But when he was about eighteen months old, he suddenly started going from purposeful babble to a furious cyclone, flinging himself down and banging his head on the floor. Appalled, I would wrap him in a hug of restraint, fearing for his safety. Often, I’d end up sweaty and crying, trying to understand what was going on.

The tantrums didn’t come when he was angry, or when he didn’t get his way. They came when we were already engaged in something, when he had my full attention. His mood would flash so instantly, I couldn’t understand what was happening. The pediatrician encouraged me to wait it out, and see if he out grew the behavior. By the age of two, the spells waned, and they evaporated after he turned three. It finally dawned on me that Jay had been frustrated trying to communicate. When he wasn’t understood, he would explode. As soon as he had the language to express himself, he never again had to endure the terror of being speechless. Continue Reading

Essays

Sharon Goldberg

March 22, 2018

It Happened There

The young woman in the old photo looks serene. She gazes at the camera, dark eyes unflinching, full lips closed but relaxed, nose distinguished, hair pulled back, perhaps in a bun, a wisp of curl escaping. She is more handsome than pretty. What I see of her dress is dark with a white collar, the fabric heavy, the sleeves long, appropriate for a woman from an Orthodox Jewish family. She wears a cameo on a chain. Is she fourteen? Seventeen? Twenty? I can’t tell, nor can I find out. Everyone in my family from her generation, those born in Hungary in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, is gone. And everyone from the next generation, my mother’s generation, is gone, too.

The photo is one of many in a box of Mom’s memorabilia. When I turn it over I see a notation in her handwriting. “Shayndel or Sorah.” Shock zaps down the umbilical cord that connects me to my ancestors. For the first time, I am looking at the face of one of my namesakes. Shayndel and Sorah were my grandmother’s two sisters. My great aunts. (Whoever identified the picture for Mom was uncertain which of them she was.) In the Jewish religion, a child is traditionally given the Hebrew name of the person in whose memory she is named as well as one in the language of her native country. My Hebrew name is Shayndel Sorah. My parents chose my English name, Sharon Sue, because it sounded similar.

My mother never met her aunts. Unlike my grandmother Blanche, Shayndel and Sorah did not immigrate to the United States in 1923. Unlike their brother Allen, they did not escape from a train packed with prisoners on a one-way trip to Poland. Unlike their brother Irving, they did not survive World War II and immigrate to New York. Unlike like their brother Yankel, they did not survive and immigrate to Israel.

Shayndel and Sorah perished in Auschwitz. They took their last breaths in a gas chamber. Continue Reading

Essays

Alyssa Quinn

March 22, 2018

Dictionary of God

Perhaps our role on this planet is not to worship God—but to create Him.
                                                                                                     —Arthur C. Clarke
Anthropomorphize
[an-thruh-puhmawr-fahyz] n.

  1. To endow something nonhuman with human qualities.
  2. Christians have an anthropomorphized conception of God; as a girl, my church leaders taught me I was made in His image (but I knew this wasn’t quite true—God was radiant and bearded and male).

Being
[bee-ing] n.

  1. Existence.
  2. In Classical Greece, the Great Chain of Being was a hierarchy of existence, with God at the top, dirt at the bottom, and everything else (angels, stars, kings, peasants, sparrows, shrubs, gemstones) somewhere in between. Penalties existed for disrupting the chain, for moving outside your sphere.

Clockmaker
[klok-mey-ker] n.

  1. Someone who makes or repairs clocks.
  2. A theory of God, also called the Watchmaker Theory; Deists believe that the design of the universe implies a designer, but that it now operates independent of divine intervention, like a great machine whose cogs spin endlessly, thoughtlessly.

Desposyni
[des-pos-uh-nee] n.

  1. The blood relatives of Christ, coming from the Greek word for “of or belonging to the master or lord.” Growing up in the Mormon church, I learned that God was my father, Christ my big brother. Sometimes I called him that, kneeling on my bedspread, telling him about my day—an eldest child grateful for someone to look up to.

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Essays

Mark Dostert

February 15, 2018

Getting Rid of the Get

During my eleven years teaching seventh-grade English, the personal narrative essay was part of my state’s mandatory writing test. The prompts went something like this: Write about a time when you learned a new skill or Write about a time when something unexpected happened. Student essays could open almost like this: “One day I got home from school. My mom got mad. I was just getting inside when she got up off the couch. She got to me before I got to my room to get dressed for soccer practice.” My students’ shortcuts in Voice & Style, as the state curriculum calls syntax and word choice, weren’t this severe but severe enough for me to start encouraging them to think harder about what action or idea they wished to convey when relying over and over (as if an unconscious linguistic crutch) on get, getting, got, and gotten. Let’s strengthen our writer’s legs. Let’s walk on our own.

I don’t remember whether this light bulb finally flashed blindingly enough for me to turn exasperated from another batch of student essays to my computer and scour my own writing for such seeming aesthetic laziness. If not, I just came upon them during a weekend or evening revision session. It was humbling to discover that I hadn’t always practiced what I had been preaching to my twelve- and thirteen-year-old students. My reliance likewise on non-dialogue get-conjugations in my then (since published) four-year-old first-person point-of-view nonfiction book-length manuscript about my year as an unarmed juvenile jail guard in Chicago wasn’t as prolific as my students’, but what excuse did they have? Many of them wrote only when instructed to. I was the one endeavoring to forge a literary side-career, someone purporting to weigh his every sentence, every phrase, every word even, with the utmost artistic fear and trembling. Pretentious, I admit, but all those years of reading and then inscribing constructive criticism onto student manuscripts has ingrained me with a nagging dislike of get. If the writer’s mission is to be innovative, vivid, and exact, might “She stepped off the Blue Line at Logan Square” be more pleasing and precise than “She got off the Blue Line at Logan Square”? Could “The skies grew dark” be more evocative than “The skies got dark”? Do the latter constructions not move closer to waking the senses? Saying something familiar yet in a clearer way? Continue Reading

Essays

Natania Rosenfeld

February 15, 2018

The Professor’s Body

 Can fragility feel as hot as bravado? I think so, but sometimes struggle to find the way.

—Maggie Nelson, The Argonauts

 

Photo Credit: Valerie Booth

The professor’s body sits cross-legged on the edge of the desk. Its head turns all round the semicircle to make sure of eye contact with every student.

The professor’s body feels the need to get down from the hard desk. It uncrosses its legs, steps downward. The prof who is, after all, still in her early fifties, lets out an involuntary groan and limps stiffly, like the hunchback of Notre Dame, to the chair behind the desk.

The professor makes a note to self: “Stretches before breakfast.”

 

The professor’s body, before going to work, gazes longingly at the bed she has just made. Rather than in front of a classroom, playing at authority in constricting clothes, the body would like to be in her white flannel nightie on the bed, reading a book and eating chocolate, or naked under the covers, sleeping peacefully.

Instead, she gets herself into the car with the husband’s body—also, reluctantly, on its way to class—and gets out again on campus half-covered in the dog hair that infests the car. Now there is the removal of the dog hair to be performed, also the checking for an open fly or button or food between the teeth. The mirrors on campus remind the professor’s face that it is more than thirty years older than the students’.

 

The p. b. had a night of anxiety and bad dreams, perhaps because of the news, perhaps because she saw pictures of a tortured dog. She dragged it—her body—into the tub and then the closet. In the closet there were no clothes appropriate to the sudden, obscene, spring weather. The professor’s body wore sweatpants and an old, stained woolen shirt to class. The temptation was great not to put on a bra, but the professor did not want to cause an undue distraction in the classroom.

The p. b. does a lot of sweating in front of classes, as well, often at the crotch. She wonders if her pants are obviously stained with sweat. When she is especially carried away she will scratch at a scab on some part of her body and begin to bleed. Suddenly, the professor is writing on the board with a bloody hand.

Sometimes the p. b. has imbibed a lot of coffee and suddenly needs to urinate. Then she apologizes to the class, wondering whether to say, “I’m going to the bathroom,” or “I need to pee.” Since the course she is teaching is about the body, she makes a little joke. The making of little jokes is a big part of keeping her body feeling safe and happy and liked.

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Essays

Dawn Downey

December 20, 2017

How to Survive Christmas Alone

December 17.

Pull the covers over your head to block the morning light, and rest in the spot where your husband ought to be.

Remember sitting here in bed beside him, propped up with pillows, a map spread between you. You had traced the highways and picked the overnight towns between home and the retreat center out east, where you had planned to spend the last two weeks of the year. It turned out you had wanted to stay home. It also turned out Ben had still wanted to go. Ordinarily your disagreements ended with one of you saying I don’t feel strongly. Let’s do what you want. This one had ended with him standing quietly in his truth and you standing quietly in yours. Remember how your certainty had caught you off guard.

Wince at the prize you’ve won by standing in your truth: Christmas Alone. Your family spread across the country and you without a plane ticket, your friends with families of their own and you without an invitation.

Think about being one with what-is.

Think about surrendering to each moment.

Think how unenlightened you are. You don’t want to be one with Christmas Alone. Continue Reading

Essays

Paula Lovo

December 20, 2017

To Proclaim Our Presence Known

Un dia sin Latinos, A day without Latinos

What does that mean? Did we all disappear? Did we suddenly vanish back to our home countries, leaving behind the remains of your unfinished lawn, gloves left on the ground of fields. The gloves imprinted with the bloodied hands of migrant workers picking the apples that you desire.

Nah, it’s a day. You’ll get your fruit or yard work done tomorrow.

But today is our day. In Milwaukee, Wisconsin, we step down from the sidewalks onto the paved roads, our bodies filling the hard concrete ground with our voices breaking the silence we have known too well. We march, despite the cold, despite the criticism we receive, despite the fact that it’s a Monday and we all have somewhere to be. But for today, classrooms are absent of young Latinx students, grocery stores are closed, and Cesar Chavez Street is eerily empty. Walking down the streets you can hear the faint remains of paleteros ringing their bells, simultaneously calling on the children of the south side towards the sweet, milky taste of paletas. Walking down the street you can smell the remains of fresh baked pan dulce, baked by the hard working women whose hands are calloused from pounding batter.  Replacing the silence of Cesar Chavez St. a few blocks away at Walker’s square you are faced with the chants of the people. Brown faces, black faces, even some white faces are  presente. Thousands line the street and right above their heads are hundred of signs. La poli, la migra, la misma porqueria; Stop Clarke, Stop 287g; Indict Convict Remove Sheriff Clarke; and so on.

It’s like a big family gathering because in the struggle we’re all family. Families are present with little Zapatistas sitting in their strollers and tiny Adelitas hanging onto their father’s jacket, their older siblings on the frontline. They have megaphones at hand, clenching onto the edge of banner stating their student organization, treating this march as if it were their last because to this country we are disposable. Continue Reading