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Welcome to the first issue of Runestone.

In the last four months, twenty-three of us — twenty BFA students, two graduate-student associate editors, and me — gathered every Thursday evening in order to read the work of talented undergraduate writers, then argue about it.

We didn’t always agree about the coherence of a writer’s vision, or even about whether an image was original or not. But when a piece came along that was well-crafted, and also made us feel physically as if the tops of our heads had been taken off — at those moments, we all knew we were holding a great piece of writing in our hands.

We weren’t sure how big our first issue should be. We asked the advice of our friend Esther Porter, a founding editor of Revolver, when she visited us one night to talk shop. She told us that Revolver chose to publish a very small inaugural issue, containing only work that their editors really believed in. That way, Esther said, the editors could stand behind that work and say “this is who we are” to their first readers, and to writers who might submit to them in the future.

The writers in this first issue come to us from colleges in Houston and Pittsburgh; Ann Arbor, MI and Chicago; Carbondale, IL and Salisbury, MD. They come to us from across the river in Minneapolis, and from down the highway in Northfield, Minnesota. They write about transformation. Their work transformed us. Every one of these writers can flat-out write.

This is who we are.

Katrina Vandenberg
Editor, Runestone

Teddy Bear, by Zachary Weber

Teddy Bear

In a bronze-framed photograph

on top of the coffee table,
the infant me is fast asleep,
cradling an 1898 Paul Blanchard

violin instead of a teddy bear—
the same violin that sleeps
on the splintered surface of my desk
next to an avalanche of sheet music

in a room where I spent hours
arguing daily with a jet-black
spray-painted music stand
in between fits of pacing

from the bedside, to the kitchen,
to the Gateway computer and back—
while massaging the static out
of the tendons in my forearm—

the type of gesture a child
can only inherit from his father.

Zachary Weber has just received a bachelor’s degree in creative writing from the University of Houston. He has served as the reviews editor for Glass Mountain, and his work has appeared in The Aletheia, Silver Birch Press, Glass Mountain, and The Blue Route. 

Nasreen, by Anjum Tanveer


Nasreen and I had the same haircut when she was six and I was five. It was an ugly mushroom cut, the kind most Indian parents subject their children to at that age; it didn’t matter if you were a boy or a girl, it was practical and kept just enough hair out of your eyes while still preventing your forehead from getting dark in the sun. But my haircut was chic and cute- carefully and meticulously trimmed by my father- bangs often swept up and secured with my favorite false ruby-topped pins. Nasreen’s hair looked like her eight-year-old sister had taken a scissors to it– in the dark, while blindfolded.

It certainly would not have been far from the truth. My cousin Nasreen was the youngest of seven children and I was the eldest of four, and that was often all the explanation that was needed when anyone watched us play together: one was an over-loved, well-dressed brat accustomed to getting her way, the other, a grubby-looking, perpetually mucous-streaked ragamuffin who fought tooth and nail for her chance to brush Barbie’s hair. But I would always let her. I could never say no to Nasreen, something she herself told me I needed to learn to do, many years later. Besides, I still had a Teresa doll for my own.

But when we did fight, and it happened rarely, it was clear whose side everyone would take. Once we stood over the large floor vent in the middle of the hallway during a family dinner party, watching as the hot air whooshed up our legs, blowing up our pink (mine) and green (Nasreen’s) dresses, fanning them out absurdly. I suppose I had been capitalizing on too much of the hot air, and my dress belled around my waist more fully than hers, because the next thing I knew, she pushed me off the vent and I tumbled backward onto the floor, landing squarely on my bottom. This, I think, was the first time Nasreen realized that whenever things went wrong in the slightest, I would scream bloody murder, and I think this is largely the reason why she was careful to never upset me even later in life.

As I shrieked and held my bottom, our parents and aunts and uncles rushed towards us, and no explanation was needed. Nasreen was soundly spanked, I was kissed and held, and she spent the rest of the dinner party sitting up on the countertop in the kitchen (too high for her to jump down from, but cleared off sufficiently for her to have nothing to distract herself with), where she could not harm me. I strutted in front of her all evening, making smug faces and taunting her with na-na’s and boo-boo’s.

But Nasreen always forgave me. At least, that was the impression I always had. She never sought revenge after her timeout that day, nor did she reprimand me when years later, I left her on our scary, toothless, old neighbor Mr. Dimopoulos’s porch and jumped into the bushes when we played ding-dong-ditch on Halloween night when we were eleven and twelve, nor did she confront me when I sold her out and told our other cousin Anisa that she had been sneaking around with Anisa’s boyfriend, when we were sixteen and seventeen.

Nasreen was everything my parents did not want me to be. Every day she would borrow her brother’s bike and ride the few blocks down from her house to mine, and she would stay for hours and wear tie-dye shirts two sizes too small and cuss loudly and say shocking things about aliens and boys and rap music until my father would ask her to go back home in the evening.

“She is a terrible influence on you,” he would yell at me whenever I complained about his sending her home. “I won’t tolerate that MTV talk in my house.”

And while it was true that she adored MTV and in fact introduced me to it, she was just terribly lonely. While she collected blue jay and cardinal feathers, fed the squirrels outside her bedroom window, and made collages out of fashion magazines to decorate her school binders with, her six older siblings were always taking extra classes and praying and cooking and generally growing up to become good Muslim children. Nasreen always existed somewhere in the fringe, too enamored and astonished by life’s minutiae to be bothered with anything bigger.

One summer when we were twelve and thirteen, Nasreen and I would go out to the forest behind the fence in my backyard, dragging a bench we had picked up at my neighbor’s yard sale through layers of leaves, to a small clearing by the creek where she swore she had once seen deer. We did not see a single deer that entire summer, as we sat together on that bench, tossing pebbles into the bubbling creek, but we got quite a lot of other things done. We would tear up flowers from a nearby magnolia tree, press them between our fingers till juice came out of the petals, and fill empty Amoxicillin bottles with this liquid. We made several bottles of ‘perfume’ that summer, and called it ‘Love Elixir’ (‘Love’ was her contribution, ‘Elixir’, mine; I read more than she did). We dug earth till our fingernails were black and buried it in a tree stump and promised to look for it the next year and spray ourselves with it, when it was ‘ready’.

“You’ll just dab it on your wrist, like they do in those old movies, and rub it all over yourself.” She rubbed her wrist behind her ears, down her neck, and dragged it slowly and deliberately across her breasts, then quickly swiped behind her knees. “Tariq won’t be able to resist you.”

I nodded solemnly, mesmerized. I flinched at her mention of my crush, but she was the boy expert after all. She was the only one out of all of our cousins to actually have a boyfriend, and a ninth grader to boot. It was a great secret, a tantalizing, dirty affair for our little Muslim minds, for we had been expressly forbidden to even speak to boys about anything other than schoolwork.

“Don’t even go near boys until you’re married,” Fariha, Nasreen’s older sister, sagely told us one day, “You can’t trust boys as far as you can throw them.”

“I bet I could throw a boy pretty far,” Nasreen had whispered to me, and we had cracked up uncontrollably.

Nonetheless, we kept Nasreen’s secret from her elder siblings. We knew she could handle herself with boys. This is what she was good at.

In fact, that was one of the many things she was good at. Every boy wanted Nasreen; she was beautiful, funny, a brilliant painter, incredible at basketball, could cook with any ingredient you gave her, and was incredibly talented with makeup. Nasreen was good at anything she tried, but I was good at everything that mattered. When I was in the ninth grade, they moved her out of her tenth grade pre-calculus class into my geometry class.

“Don’t let her cheat off of your homework,” my father would warn. I would roll my eyes, but I never offered and she never asked.

She simply didn’t care about math, or science, or history like I did; art was where she shined, and this worried her parents and the glittering stars that were her six older brothers and sisters. Two brothers and a sister were in medical school, one brother in dental school, and it looked very much like the other two sisters were headed for dentistry as well. They worried that Nasreen might not catch some of their residual glitter for herself– that she would never amount to anything.

It didn’t help when she dyed her hair bright pink at sixteen. Her clothes were already too tight and she had expressed an interest in piercings and tattoos, and all of the uncles and aunties would make comments about her in secret.

“I don’t know how her mother lets her go out like that in public,” my aunt Samia quietly told my mother one day at a family brunch. “Next thing you know, she’ll come home with a belly piercing. People notice these things in our community, how will she ever get married?”

But the pink hair was the straw that broke the camel’s back.

Nasreen arrived at a family dinner party later than everyone one evening, a black headscarf pulled tightly around her head.

“What’s up with that?” My cousins Anisa and Sahar asked her, laughing and tugging one end of it gently. She did not wear the hijab, so it was a bit of a surprise to all of us. With that, Nasreen whipped it off, and we gasped and cooed in amazement. This was the first time anyone had seen her candy pink hair, strategically streaked with deep purple. Everyone at the dinner party left their plates and milled around her, touching her hair and commenting that it somehow, somehow suited her. The aunts and uncles tutted in disapproval, and her elder sisters looked white in the face.

Two days later, she sent Anisa, Sahar, and I another picture of her hair, this time back to black. “I fucking hate them,” she wrote.

And she really, truly did, for several years. She would come to my house and stay for hours as usual, but she would never want to do anything other than sit in my room and text furiously. I had so much to tell her: how I was almost positive that my crush Tariq had chuckled at a joke I told in biology class the other day (“Two blood cells fell in love, but alas, it was all in vein”), how I had finally figured out how to dance to Baby Bash’s “Cyclone” (I am a terrible dancer, even easy dances like this eluded me), and how frustrated I was by my own overbearing father. But she just did not seem to have the time for me anymore. When I asked her what was wrong, she would tell me that she had had dreams of fighting violently with her father, smashing a mirror on the floor and throwing the shards at his face. She would call her mother a menopausal bitch and her siblings uptight pieces of shit. I learned to stop asking, continuing on with my homework at my desk, back turned, as she sat on my bed texting her boyfriend of the month. I cannot count how many evenings we spent like that, in the same room, backs turned– one trying to save her grades, the other trying to save her relationships. I realized she just wanted to be away from home.

I was sixteen and Nasreen was seventeen then, and it really did seem that we had nothing in common anymore; she was too embroiled in her own disagreements with her family to want to do anything with me. I remember thinking at the time that they were too focused on how she looked and the pitiful grades she brought home when they should have been more attentive to who and what she was spending her time with.

No matter how alarming and obvious the signs became- the strange, muffled noises coming from her bedroom in the middle of the night, the mood swings, the skunk smells, the red eyes, the stains on her sheets– none of her siblings wanted to broach the topic with her. I remember being infuriated by how blind they were to her problems, but I feel now that they genuinely did not know how to talk to her about these things; it was all completely out of their comfort zone. Muslim girls simply did not do drugs or have premarital sex, after all.

But how I wish they had they said something. How I wish I had said something. Nasreen was dating a boy from our high school, boyfriend number four, a year older than her again, with a spiraling drug problem. It had only been weed in the beginning, and then shrooms, and I had not thought much of it at first.

“It’s like the stars are speaking to you,” she told me of her mushroom trips on a rare day when she felt like sharing with me. “Good for when you’re stressed out about your dad, I can get you some if you like.”

 Suddenly it was heroin. Nasreen swore to me she never did heroin, but her boyfriend was going through the worst stages of addiction and she wept to me about how different he had become. She told me how she loved him through all of it, even when he would vomit on her dress and then lie there, shivering in her arms when they were together at night and he was having an episode, and how she endured his irrational anger, even when he called her a cunt and a whore.

I could not bear it. I could not stand to see her this way, and I had no idea what to do. But I ended up not having much to do, because as suddenly as he had come into Nasreen’s life, he left her for a Korean teen model.

“She’s so much skinnier than me,” she wept to me the night she found out.

Nasreen plunged into depression, and dealing with this was almost worse than everything else. Her behavior before had been misguided, at its worst. Now she seemed intent on destroying herself. She smoked more than ever before; she quit basketball because her lungs could no longer handle running back and forth on the court. She was expelled from our private Islamic high school for her grades and quickly gained a reputation for being ‘easy’ at the public high school she subsequently attended a few blocks away. And after three speeding tickets and one near-fatal car accident, my aunt decided she could not handle Nasreen anymore. She booked her a one-way ticket to India to live with our grandparents.

We were seventeen and eighteen by then. The night before she left, she came over, and I expected nothing different. I prepped myself, ready to watch her sob, scream, and cuss about how unfair everything in her life was. But she said nothing. She had made me penne rosa (she called it penne lava, “because it wasn’t quite rosa,” she would say), and brought black tarp, watercolor paints, and paper. Nasreen swept my homework off my desk (despite my protests), covered it in tarp, and lit candles.

“We’re gonna paint,” she said. So paint we did.

As the outlines of a large tree began to materialize on her sheet, while a sad circle grew more oblong on my own, she began to tell me everything she realized she had not been able to these past few years.

“You need new bras. Ones with better underwire,” she said as she added leaves. “You don’t want triangle boobs, you want round ones. Throw out all of those cotton ones you still have.”

“Okay,” I said, and I drew large red lips at the bottom of the oval.

“Don’t get a lover,” she said sternly. I cringed at the awkwardness of the word. “They don’t do anything but mess you up. Not even Tariq, if he asks.”

Several black paint drops splattered onto my page. My cheeks flushed as I remembered the note he had left in my locker just the other day. Nasreen had been paying attention to me even when I thought she wasn’t.

“He’ll tell you that you have pretty eyes, because you really do. But don’t listen to him. And please, for fuck’s sake start wearing some eyeliner.”

“I’ll try,” I told her, and she gave me a hard look, and then grinned.

“Listen to more Gwen Stefani,” Nasreen continued, as she outlined small pink flowers between the black branches of her tree. “Gwen is life, Gwen is going to fall off, then she’s going to make a comeback.”

I groaned at this and dipped my brush in pink, and she nudged my arm playfully.

“That was the next thing I had to say: learn to say no. To me, to your dad, to anyone that stops you from doing what you want to do.” She held the paper away from her face, and scrunched her nose, then smiled back at me. “But it looks like you’re already figuring that one out yourself.”

There was rough sketch of a magnolia tree on her paper. I looked down at my own work and realized I had given my oblong face pink hair.


Nasreen left for India the next day. I gave her my painting and she gave me hers at the airport. We kept in touch aggressively during the first year she was gone; I listened about how she’d learned to ride horseback, how she’d made friends with the sweet old maid who worked for our grandparents, how she’d been working at a local organic farm and gotten tan and muscular and strong. But I never told her about how difficult it was to move out of my parents’ home, or about getting my first job and surprisingly, doing quite well at it, or even about the many, many mistakes I ended up making with Tariq. And she never asked. I suppose neither of us wanted to complicate her life any further at the moment.

Nasreen has been gone for three years. Her family has been talking about bringing her home soon. She is twenty-two and I am twenty-one now. I think about her every day, the sister I hated, I judged, I loved, I looked up to, and never understood how much I needed. There is still so much I need her to teach me, so many things I need her advice on. Perhaps when she gets back, I will take her to our bench in the forest behind my backyard, and we will dig up our perfume and see if it is finally ‘ready’. And I will tell her everything that she has missed.

Anjum Tanveer is a student at the Loyola University of Chicago. She is interested in portrayals of Muslims in contemporary American literature, and hopes to someday add her own perspective to this vein of writing. Anjum studies anthropology and is minoring in creative writing.


Through the Viewmaster, by Melinda Ruth



Through the Viewmaster

What they don’t tell you is that memories
only fade around the edges, leaving
behind vivid images, crisp recollections

tinged with the smell of bleach permeating
white walls, plastic tube shining
as it curves, punctured

puffy flesh, EKG beeping continuous.
The tan foundation hides the paleness,
She looks like she’s sleeping. Piercing

the pit of your stomach, you. Watch
the strongest man you’ve ever known fall

apart, bloody knuckles, vomit in grass.
The electronic voice on the phone,
The number you are trying to reach has been

disconnected. Yet you keep the voicemail locked
in your cell. A baby blue lazy boy no longer offers
comfort, hyacinths on marble. The empty seat

at your graduation, the short fat Douglas
fir, pine needles draped in ornaments
and tinsel, reflective. Song stuck

on repeat in your head: I’ll have a blue
Christmas without you.

Melinda Ruth is a senior creative writing major at Salisbury University and is the fiction editor for the schools literary magazine The Sacarab. Her work has appeared in Summerset Review, is forthcoming in Red Earth Review and Broadkill Review.

Up in Smoke, by Ashley Belisle 



Last September, the Chicago Bagel Authority caught on fire. It happened sometime at night, but you could still see these huge black clouds all the way from campus the next morning. I heard that the whole goddamn building would have burned down completely if the outside weren’t made of brick, and I bet it’s true. See, there was this fake tanning place in the upstairs. It was called like Ultimate Tan or some awful name like that, and they have all those plastic beds that shoot UV rays into your skin to make you look browner. It’s funny, isn’t it, that all these women—and men, too, I guess, to be politically correct and inclusive and shit—want to be browner. They cook themselves in these giant Easy Bake ovens as if their bodies are expendable. I can’t understand it. You only have the one life.

So one day, one of those plastic beds got too hot or blew a fuse or something and the whole place went up in fucking smoke. It was wild, I guess. My roommate wrote a poem about it. (He is an English major, and says that poetry is “always the right answer.” I say that he should tell that to Congress and maybe suggest they pass a poem for a fucking budget.) Anyway, the fire kept spreading and spreading, and they called the fire department, but I guess it took them too long to get there, and by the time they did the whole restaurant was turned to flaky black ashes. We had to go to Bruegger’s for a few months after that.

A week before the Chicago Bagel Authority burned down—it was exactly a week, I remember, because our articles are always due on Wednesdays—I fell in love. I did. It was wild, because I’m not a romantic at all. Ask anybody and they’ll tell you. I’ve never had a girlfriend, really, outside of this month-long stint in eleventh grade, and I don’t even like dates. Why would I want to pay money to make myself uncomfortable by sitting at some too-small table with a girl I maybe kind of know and talk about idiotic and “appropriate” topics that I couldn’t give a shit about? It’s a huge fucking game, and I don’t have the energy to waste my time playing it.  

Well, it was mid-September, late enough in the summer for the leaves to start shedding their green skin and curling in at the edges, ready to croak. The reason I remember it was a Wednesday is that I was smoking and pacing. I’m not a smoker, really. I’m not addicted to cigarettes; I just need them at certain times, like when I’m tired, or stressed, or really amped, or scared. You know? And I’m the opinions columnist for this college newspaper we have, and I love it, and it scares the shit out of me. I mean, I guess it shouldn’t, because probably a half of a percent of the student body will ever glance at a single lousy word I write. But, Jesus, it’s a powerful thing, writing.

Anyway, on Wednesdays I have to turn in these op-ed articles, and I don’t know why, but it drives me crazy. I always end up pacing around the quad, wearing this old navy blue blazer that I found at a thrift shop two summers ago, and letting a homemade cigarette sag out of my mouth. I work up a nervous sweat, and I see all these words typed up in a 10 point Minion Pro font floating around in my head. Honest to god, I do. My roommate—not the English major, but the moderate Republican—says that if the Red Line derailed and came barreling through the quad right past me one Wednesday afternoon, I wouldn’t even turn my head. He might be right. I don’t know.

But this afternoon, the week before the fire, as I sucked down a poorly-rolled cigarette and felt the sweat stains start to seep through the armpits of my blazer, something interrupted my ritual pacing. I saw a flash of red out of the corner of my right eye, and I looked up to see this girl just tearing across the quad on her bike. As she got closer to me, I could hear her tires trampling mountains of leaves. The bike was just a little too small for her, and her enormous gray backpack—somehow the exact same color as her jacket—seemed to emerge right from her body. She had this curly hair flying everywhere, and later, when I told them this story, my roommates asked me what color it was, and the truth is I don’t have a goddamn clue. It must have been brown or blonde or something, or maybe in between, but I honestly didn’t notice. I didn’t notice, because her face was so familiar that it hurt.

Do you know what I mean? It was just like walking through a crowded place—like the cafeteria or something—filled with all these people, some I kind of recognize and some I swear I’ve never seen before. And I’m walking alone, focused completely on not dropping all my food or falling on my ass, and I look up to see a big round table with like six friends sitting around it, and one of them sees me and smiles, and we all sit down to eat together, and my heart actually hurts because in this giant crowd of seven billion human beings, there are some really fucking awesome ones that know me. When I saw her—this absolute stranger on my campus—I had the exact same feeling.

So this girl, she was tearing across the quad on this too-small bike, staring off into space with these wide bulgy eyes, concentrating really intently on something, but whatever it was, it sure as hell wasn’t biking. She barreled closer and closer, and I swear to god I don’t know what made me do it, but I just stepped right into her path. I did. A half a second later, we were lying in a heap of leaves, the three of us all tangled together—the girl, the bike, and me. I can’t remember if it hurt.

“Shit,” I groaned. I lay beneath her bike, not moving.

“Ohmygoshohmygosh,” said Biking Girl. “I can’t believe I didn’t see you there. Are you okay? Are you hurt?” She reached for my hand and tried to pull me to a sitting position, but the bike was still caught between us, and I somehow forgot that I could have just shoved it aside, so I was just lying there staring at her like a fucking idiot, and she probably thought I was some sort of psychotic masochist who throws himself in front of oncoming bicyclists, which I guess, in that moment, is exactly what I was.

“Are you okay?” she asked again, more slowly this time.

“Yeah,” I said. “Oh. Yeah. I’m fine. Sorry. Are you okay?” Biking Girl had sprung to her feet by now, brushed the crunchy leaf dust from her jacket, and thrust her hand out to me again. This time I had enough sense to actually touch her, and I let her help me up. She still had half of this big orange maple leaf sprouting out from behind her ear, but I didn’t say anything.

“Yeahyeahyeah I’m totally fine,” she said. Even after a bike accident, she spewed enthusiasm. She looked at her bike, still lying unconscious in the brown mess of leaves.

“Oh, shit. Your handlebars got fucked up,” I said, reaching down to pick up the bent red frame.

“Shoot,” she said, and her eyebrows scrunched together, and she got this really pensive look on her face, and I swear I don’t know what came over me, but I decided to throw my painstakingly developed date-rejecting, love-hating, fuck-it-all attitude right down the drain, and I blurted out, “I’m so sorry I ran into you. Can I buy you a bagel to make up for it?” I said it in this honest-to-god confident, charming way, and I almost threw up right after because I couldn’t figure out what was making me act like such an actual idiot.

But then she said, “Sure,” and her eyebrows got unscrunched, and she smiled this big wide grin, and the grin somehow made me notice all these little brown freckles speckled all over her face, and I swear to god I fell in love.

“I’m Aidan,” she told me, thrusting out her hand to shake mine. “It’s nice to meet you.”

We sat on a bench right outside the Chicago Bagel Authority. Aidan had ordered this colossal sandwich with like meat and veggies and four kinds of cheese spilling out of the sides of the bagel. I ordered a pumpkin bagel with turkey, cheese, and sprouts.

“Sprouts can give you E. coli, you know,” she told me in this matter-of-fact way as she watched me chew. When she talked, the words rushed out of her mouth. It was as though if she didn’t say everything she thought about as soon as it entered her mind, she would lose the opportunity forever.

“I didn’t know that,” I told her. She seemed unfazed by the potential negative consequences these sprouts might have on my health and kept chattering—about her classes (biology major), her rigorous schedule of extracurriculars (Student Activities Committee and the pre-med club and community service), and the weather (autumn). She bolted down her sandwich, too, but I somehow never caught her talking with even a bite of food in her mouth. She asked me questions, and I’m sure I answered her, but I can’t remember what they were or what I said. I was inexplicably enchanted by this girl on a small red bike, too enthused about the vivid details of her life to address any more practically pressing issues, like avoiding a dangerous bicycle-human collision.

“You’re intensely focused,” I told her as I pulled out a cigarette and grazed the tip of it with my lighter flame. “It’s fascinating.”

“What?” she spoke-shouted, staring at me with those big bulgy brown eyes.

“It’s fascinating,” I repeated.

“No. No. I mean whatareyoudoing?” she shot up from the bench and her eyebrows scrunched up again. Jesus, I never knew eyebrows could say so much. I glanced down at the cigarette between my fingers.

“Oh this,” I said. “Yeah. Sorry. I’m not really a smoker. It’s just, when I’m stressed, or if I’m tired—”

“This is the twenty-first century!” She was really shouting now. “You know better! You only have the one life!”

“I’m not really a smoker,” I protested in this voice that sounded tiny and feeble and absolutely idiotic.

“I’m sorry,” said Aidan. “I just realized I reallyreally have to go.” She swung her enormous backpack over her shoulder and grabbed the mangled bike by its handlebars, and just as quickly as she had entered my life, she was gone. I should have been fuming, like I was every other time somebody told me what to do with my own goddamn life, but I wasn’t. Instead, I was in love. I was in love with this possibly crazy girl on a bike who judged my consumption of bean sprouts and tobacco and whose last name I had somehow forgotten to ask to know. Fuck.

I watched from the front porch of my apartment as the Chicago Bagel Authority burned. My roommate—the vegetarian—read me his Twitter feed as we watched the big clouds of ashy smoke rise from the red-gold brick. It was a tanning bed, they said. The fire department didn’t get there fast enough, they said. I rolled up the sleeves of my navy blue blazer and sighed.

“Burning their own bodies in giant fucking Easy Bake ovens,” I muttered, and my roommate nodded.

“You’ll have something to write about for next week,” he told me with this feigned sort of cheer that all optimists have somehow perfected. I lit a cigarette and began to pace up and down the deck. The redwood planks groaned beneath my footsteps.

“It’s obscene,” I said. “You only have the one life.”

Ashley Belisle is a 2015 graduate of St. Olaf College, where she majored in English and Spanish. She served as the executive editor of the Manitou Messenger, the college’s student newspaper, and has had her creative work published in the Messenger and St. Olaf’s literary journal The Quarry.

Evolving, by Mary Cornelius




Even daytime in the ocean
is lit like sunset, like six o’clock
stopped in time. Light slants strangely
below the waves, bows and bends
like anemone on sea-drunk spines.
Rumored blue, too often, the ocean
is dark. So the fish has begun to dream
of wide-open spaces. Of lungs, of
wind-chapped lips, of whales.
Some nights he wakes with fins
itching, gills aching, mouth tight
with the memory of air.

Mary Cornelius is a poet, runner, and amateur baker with big dreams. Her work has been published in Murphy Square, The Minetta Review, and The Riveter Magazine. She is a junior at Augsburg College majoring in English literature and creative writing.

The Raspberry Festival by Mary Cornelius



The Raspberry Festival
Hopkins, Minnesota

Its woods are studded with
stoplights now, its thickets
partitioned with trim asphalt
cages and sold in neat, square
half-acre lots. The berry bushes
have been seeded over with
Lawn Restore and Miracle-Gro
by the balding, sag-eyed fathers
greedy for greener grass. And
yet, Main Street still closes
each summer for the parade,
they sail floats decked with flags
down the road like a river while
the high school marching band
plays Yankee Doodle and a new
upbeat arrangement of taps. The dads
laugh beery laughs, clinking glasses
of Summit—all praise Hopkins,
eating pie their wives bought
the day before from the grocery,
shipped in from outstate
on the overnight train.

Mary Cornelius is a poet, runner, and amateur baker with big dreams. Her work has been published in Murphy Square, The Minetta Review, and The Riveter Magazine. She is a junior at Augsburg College majoring in English literature and creative writing.

Terra Merita, by Tahseen Khaleel



I am lying down in a dark room in the back of the Mario Tricoci School on Sheridan Avenue on a fall afternoon. I have been given ample warning not to come here by my best friend, Sana: “They pick people off the street to give terrible haircuts,” she had told me darkly, as she ran a finger through what I thought was a rather chic bob that she had gotten there previously, “And I don’t think they clean any of their things.”

But here I am in the middle of a Mario Tricoci facial, a few days later. My eyes are squeezed shut, but it isn’t doing any good. The magnifying lamp is so bright, it is shining right through my eyelids, and a tiny woman with garishly outlined lips is slathering my face with something cool and creamy. I would probably be enjoying this if she didn’t talk so much.

“You’ve got nice skin, honey,” she tells me, “It’s too bad about your pores though. Get a steamer, it’ll do you good.”

“Mmhmm.” I mumble, as she smooths some of the cream around my lips.

“You do anything at home to get your skin this way?” I am suddenly alarmed as I feel her fingertips press firmly over my eyelids, going in circles. I see fuzzy pink spots on the insides of my eyelids. I am nearly one-hundred-and-four percent sure that she shouldn’t be doing this– aren’t eyes and lips safe zones or something like that? But I say nothing and clear my throat.

“Yes, sometimes I use– ” I pause, and repeat the word in my head before speaking it out loud. “I use too-murr-ik masks at home.”

“Ahhh, turr-murr-ik!” she enunciates, as if to clarify, and if my eyes were open, I would guess she would be nodding in approval.

I sigh at her pronunciation.

“Great thing, turr-murr-ik,” the esthetician repeats, chattering away, glopping more cream on my forehead. “Sometimes the best stuff is the old stuff.”


It seems that in whatever odd instance I find myself during which the discussion of Indian spices transpires, the word ‘turmeric’ is unfailingly pronounced a different way every time. And somehow, no matter how I pronounce the word, no matter how different the circle of individuals that I happen to be surrounded by at the time, I seem to do so incorrectly.

Past consultation of the ‘T’ volumes of the Oxford Dictionaries offered me only one pronunciation of “the Indian perennial herb (Curcuma longa) of the ginger family with a large, aromatic yellow rhizome”, and it is ‘turr∙murr∙ik’, wherein the first syllable is pronounced with a round, hard ‘turr’, like the turret of a tower or a tank. I tried this pronunciation once with a friend at work when discussing remedies for colds and she blinked and corrected me quickly.

“No, no, it’s pronounced ‘too-murr-ik’!” she said with a laugh, flipping her long, blonde hair. I felt my Indian showing.

How I hate this pronunciation: the rounding out of my lips to issue a soft ‘T’ sound strikes me as thoroughly pretentious, and unfailingly reminds me of tumors. How could this possibly be correct? But a quick glance at the American English dictionary confirms this: “Turmeric (too∙murr∙rik) | noun: A bright yellow aromatic powder derived from a rhizome, used primarily in Asian cookery for both flavoring and coloring.”

But I had been let down once before by the Oxford Dictionaries, so I consulted Merriam Webster for a final opinion, and lo and behold, I found not one, not two, but three pronunciations of the word: “Turmeric (‘turr∙murr∙rik’ also ˈtoo∙murr∙rik’ or ‘tyü∙murr∙rik’): a yellow rhizome of the ginger family, or the powder prepared from this plant, often used as a condiment, as in curry powder, or as a yellow dye, a medicine, et cetera.” I nearly threw the book out of the window in frustration. I had been right every time I pronounced the word, even when I was wrong!

But I did appreciate Merriam Webster’s acceptance of multiple standards of sound and stress patterns for syllables, and decided that I would go with whatever people would use in conversation, and if they corrected me, so be it. I wondered why I even bothered with these English pronunciations, anyway. Turmeric (pronounce it however you please) has only ever been haldi, the Urdu word, to me; the offensively loud, yellow powder my mother spoons carefully out of a silver tin next to the ginger garlic paste, and drops into a pot of frying onions for nearly every meal.

Haldi is extremely important,” she always tells me, watching as my face crinkles in distaste. “It’s good for you in every way!”

And she is not the only one to think so, apparently. According to an article called “Turmeric and curcumin: Biological actions and medicinal applications” by Dr. Ranajit K. Banarjee at the Indian Academy of Sciences, turmeric has been used in Asia for thousands of years and is a major part of natural Indian Ayurvedic medicine. Its rich, golden, earthy hue was beloved by the continent, and it was thus primarily used as a dye before its medicinal properties were discovered. Dr. Banarjee explains that the name appears to derive from Middle English as turmeryte or tarmaret. The origin of these names is uncertain, but a more widely accepted etymological hypothesis is that the word has Latin roots, evidenced by the phrase terra merita, or ‘merited earth’.


Turmeric has a peppery, warm, and rather bitter flavor. It is a bright, sickly orange-yellow in its tuberous form, and becomes a less sickly, dark golden yellow when it is crushed into a powder. Its only saving grace is its mild fragrance, which is slightly reminiscent of orange and ginger, in my opinion. It is an essential ingredient in Indian cuisine, something my mother never fails to tell me.

“You’re twenty-one and you can’t even put together a proper salaan,” she clucks at me one day after I burned up a salaan, or curry, in a particularly astonishing way (there were very, very large flames). “Look here.”

My mother nudges me to the side and I watch her as she starts the curry over, bringing out a new pot and setting it over the stove. She has me chop up onions and tomatoes as she measures out spices.

“You only need five things to cook an Indian meal,” she tells me. “Everything else is just fancy stuff. Onions, tomatoes– Good God, I told you I wanted slices, not chunks– ginger garlic paste, chili powder, and oil.”

I consider the bubbling golden oil slick at the bottom of the pot before she drops in my onion and tomato chunks, and recall that there is a color missing from this concoction. I step past her and drop a spoonful of turmeric powder into the pot.

“And haldi, right?” I am slightly afraid that I have ruined the curry again in this tiny moment of bravado.

“Ahh! Yes, six ingredients with turmeric,” she grins and stirs the pot, turning on the fan above the stove. The kitchen now reeks of onions. “Good job, see, you’re not so bad at this after all! And you put in just the right amount. Your dad always puts in too much!”

Indeed he does. The mark of a family dinner at my house that my father has cooked is that for a day afterward, everyone’s hands are always stained yellow from the excessive amounts of turmeric he uses. It drives my mother crazy, and it is slightly off-putting, to be sure, but this tiny after effect of a family gathering has become something of a joke amongst my relatives.

This turmeric tattoo, of sorts, is a timeless little detail that has consistently repeated itself in the twenty or so years my extended family has gathered together, ever since my parents, uncles, and aunts first settled in Chicago. It colors the holidays they brought over with them from India and made sure their children celebrated without fail, in the mounds of sweet, yellow, fried dough balls called laddoos that we stack on the ends of the table on the Eid feast at the end of Ramadan, and scents the biryani, the rice dish of the Mughal kings, that lays handsomely in a tray as the centerpiece. It even finds its way into the American holidays we children have co-opted for our immigrant parents from the land of our birth: it is my cousin Humaira’s solemn duty to prepare the fixings for the turkey every Thanksgiving. Her secret ingredient for her beautifully golden stuffing is a dash of haldi.

Haldi also leaves its loving fingerprints as each member of this new generation starts their own lives. Each summer, one of my thirty cousins inevitably seems to get married. The night before the wedding festivities start, my aunts ground up turmeric and mix it with water, sandalwood, and a bit of jasmine, resulting in a musky-scented, thick, golden paste the night before the haldi ka rasam, or turmeric ceremony.

But my cousins and I use a more apt term, in my opinion, and call this ceremony the haldi war instead. Because indeed, that is what all of my aunts’ hard work amounts to the next day: the merciless, unceremonious smashing of the fragrant aforementioned mixture into everyone’s faces.  No one is safe, not a mother, not a father, not even a grandparent, and especially not the bride or groom.

At my cousin Aisha’s haldi ka rasam, I made it a point to trace a large, curling yellow mustache above her lips, finishing my masterpiece with a large blob of turmeric paste on the tip of her nose. My handiwork gleamed and dripped off her face, in stark juxtaposition to her glittering bridal finery.

“Just wait till your wedding,” she told me, scowling and laughing all at once.

The haldi ka rasam is usually the first event in most Indian wedding ceremonies, because the messy turmeric mixture guests spread over their skin is believed to be antiseptic in nature, and leaves a slight, warm, golden hue on everyone’s hands and faces. The idea is that everyone leaves the haldi war happy, healthy, and golden-faced for all of the subsequent wedding events, excited for new beginnings, with the blessings of ancient traditions.

The claim that turmeric promotes good health is by no means a new one. In fact, for thousands of years, turmeric has been used in Indian Ayurvedic medicine as a remedy for stomach and liver ailments, pulmonary and gastrointestinal distress, aches, pains, wounds, sprains, and is even used topically as a balm to heal sores and blemishes. It is believed that the plant has immense bactericidal, antimicrobial, and antiseptic properties. But according to an article released by the National Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicine in 2012, called “Herbs at a Glance: Turmeric, Science, and Safety”, there is apparently “little reliable evidence to support the use of turmeric for any health condition because few clinical trials have been conducted.”

But it seems that this has not deterred India from continuing to celebrate the benefits of turmeric. If an elder hears you cough or sneeze, they will direct you to haldi ka doodh, or milk with turmeric (a thick, orange-yellow drink which I have personally always found horrifying unless sweetened with honey), swearing that it ‘clears you up inside’. Haldi ka rasams continue to mark the beginnings of weddings across the country. South Indian peoples take things a step even further, and participate in the Haldi Kumkum ceremony, a yearly festival in which young women gather together and exchange bowls of fresh turmeric and vermillion (called kumkum in Hindi) as a symbol of starting afresh in their friendships with one another, good wishes for their future husbands, and excitement for new beginnings.

It seems that the antiseptic benefits of turmeric are as widely touted by my own family and friends as they are by my country of origin. Take for instance, an episode with my aunt when I once had a particularly bad bout of acne: my aunt finds me moaning in her bathroom one summer afternoon about yet another pimple, this time at the center of my chin. I was positive that this was the final component in the Ursa Major constellation of pustules that had cropped up on my face over the past few weeks.

“None of that Clearasil stuff,” my aunt says, tutting. “For problems like this, we need a foolproof remedy.”

She signals me to follow her to the kitchen, and pulls out two crooked, light brown sticks of raw turmeric from her spice drawer.

“It’s stronger when we use it from the source,” she explains when I ask her why we did not just use the powder. “Follow me.”

We make our way out to the concrete patio in her backyard, and suddenly, without any warning, she smashes the sticks of turmeric on the ground repeatedly, and starts scrubbing the concrete with them.

“Here, take the other one and do it with me!” She hands me the other stick.

In horror, I obey her and scrub the ground with the stick, watching as orange-yellow shreds of tuber tear away from it. Ants crawl towards the new yellow stains on the concrete, take a sniff (or feel around with their antennae, whatever it is that ants do), and run in the opposite direction.

My aunt takes the stick from me, and douses it with water from a hose. She examines them, and smiles proudly.

“Here,” she says, handing the sticks to me, “Now just scrub the tip of these on your pimples, and they’ll be gone by morning!”

I take the sticks, thank her, and run back inside. I toss them out in the bathroom and dig around my cousin’s medicine cabinet for her Epiduo medication. If that haldi wasn’t good enough for the ants, it certainly wasn’t good enough for me.

But years later, in college, I once spend a night at my friends Sana and Amina’s apartment, and find myself a bit more open to the antiseptic properties of turmeric. We are sipping chai that Amina has expertly prepared after only one consultation with her mother, and we are talking about boys. Suddenly, Sana declares that she wants to have a spa day, and pulls out a packet of turmeric powder she picked up on Devon Avenue (the little India of the Rogers Park neighborhood, where I attended school) earlier this week.

“Let’s make haldi masks!” she says excitedly. I groan, remembering the sticks I scrubbed on the concrete with my aunt summers ago. But seeing the neatly packaged ochre powder, I decide that this method of blemish-prevention appears considerably less barbaric, and give it a try. Besides, there are no ants running away for dear life this time.

We tie our hair back as Sana mixes the powder with water, and puts a glob of paste in each of our palms. I smooth the turmeric paste over my cheeks, forehead, nose, and chin, and help Amina with her mask.

“Oooh girl, you will positively glow,” Sana tells Amina. “Wait till Hamid sees you in your ethics class tomorrow!”

“Oh my God, shut up!” cries Amina as we laugh, and her face is probably turning red, but it is now too yellow and covered in paste to tell.


It is interesting to consider the things that we swear by, that at times, seem to have no logical or scientific basis. It astounds me that even thousands of years later, we pin our hopes so much on old traditions that we are sure that somehow, some way, will help us achieve the things we desire. I wonder if centuries ago in the Indian subcontinent, teenage girls worried about their acne, and spread yellow paste over their faces in the hopes that someone might take notice of their golden glow the next day. I wonder if an aunt offered up an old remedy to a worried young girl, and whether it really was a balm for her blemishes, or just a balm for her heart.

I had never thought that something as insignificant and frankly, as humble and rather ugly, as turmeric could have left so many little yellow fingerprints on my life. Whether it serves as a mark of adulthood in knowing the proper amount of spice to cook with, or it is being smeared onto the face of a loved one before sending them off into one of the most important partnerships of life, or even affording a young girl some reassurance that an unsightly pimple will disappear and a boy she likes might notice her, it is an odd, but sweet realization that turmeric, terra merita, this merited earth, has accompanied me through so many of the merits of life.

And as I leave from my facial at the Mario Tricoci School on Sheridan Avenue that fall afternoon, blinking in the brightness of the white autumn sky after squeezing my eyes shut for so long, I realize I agree with my chatty esthetician. Sometimes the best stuff really is the old stuff.

Tahseen Khaleel is a senior at Loyola University Chicago majoring in biology and minoring in biostatistics and English. She enjoys reading and writing about the intersectionality between religion and nationality, as well as the experiences of immigrants in the South Asian diaspora in various forms of media.


Five Women, by Tahseen Khaleel



How Rabbits Taste – Ammijaan (My Grandmother)

Whenever you come visit us,
You sit by the bay window, watching the rabbits,
Your little hands folded neatly over your sari.
It makes you look bigger than you are:
A white cloud gathered and folded over
Shrunken bones and hanging skin
Encircled with rings and bangles of gold.
I wonder what you think about.

One day I try to ask as I plop down next to you,
Enjoying the smell of your Vicks and jasmine oil,
My head against your bony shoulder and you say:
“I wonder what those kharghosht taste like,
I used to hunt them back in India.”

For one sparkling moment, your wit reminds me
Of a story Mama told me about you
When you were young and strong.
You had shocked everyone and jumped into the fishing hole in your village
Your sari billowing around you as you swam,
Silken black hair streaming.
She said you caught fish for everyone that day.

I tell you this, and you nod fondly as it registers.
Then you ask me to remind you who I am.

At Least She’s a Doctor – Phuppo (My Father’s Sister)

They’ve just cut the cake,
And gingerly, Cousin Hamid feeds his glowing new bride
A tiny piece so as not to smudge her lipstick.
We clap for the glittering couple as they smile at the rows
Of decked-out aunties with matching bejeweled headscarves
(Halfway down their heads, like afterthoughts,
So the glorious perms underneath will not have gone to waste).

Babies have begun to cry,
Sweaty uncles seem like they will too,
But then chai is served, and all is well.
The banquet hall is now abuzz
With the hum of everyone gushing
About how wonderful the occasion is.

As they eat together,
Glittering in their finery,
I watch Hamid sneak glances at her,
And smile to himself like a happy fool.
“They’re adorable,” I tell my phuppo, mother of the groom.
She gives me a hard look, and sips her chai before answering:
“Cheh! She’s dark as a koyal bird.
Laughs like one too!”

Braiding in the Afternoon – Mama (My Mother)

It’s nearly noon and she’s still sitting there,
Not quite watching television.
So I sit at her feet, pressed to her knees
And hand her the bottle of liquid almonds.

My scalp is suddenly cool
As I feel her fingers twist and pull
The scraggly hair she gave me.
The comb makes rows and scratches well.
“Like tilling earth,” she says.

I poke her wrinkled feet and tell her things:
“Everyone takes my new markers.
Baba’s socks didn’t match at all today.
Also, I got a ninety-two in science!”

“Ahh, and who got the ninety-nine?”
Sternly she knocks my now-oiled head
(It sounds as hollow as she says it is.)
Tying back the slick black braid, she stands.
“Challo, it’s time for lunch.”

The Tea Party – Khala (My Mother’s Sister)

It’s going well.
My khala surveys the room
Full of plump ladies in sequined
Pink, blue, and green shalwars,
And though her eyes catch every crumb
Of cake rusk that drops on her sun-faded Persian rug–
The Kashmir Crown rusks she had me carefully place
In each of the twenty flower-painted china plates
(The ones she only takes out for the in-laws and potential suitors)–
She is pleased.

Bits of vapid conversation float pleasantly:
“Arey, I haven’t seen you in ages, ji!”
“Why don’t you try, kya bolthe, a neti pot?”
“Yes, I am looking now for my son, but doctor girls only.”
“But what about Syeda’s niece?”
Here they gesture, here I blush,
Top off their teacups and turn away,
When suddenly we hear the unmistakable crash
Of one of those precious in-law plates shattering
Like all of my khala’s dreams.

The women gasp
And mill about the scene of the disturbance.
Has taken a tumble on a spot of spilled cardamom chai I missed.
And now the sole baby in the room has burst into tears,
As is the appropriate response
When a two-hundred-pound woman hits the floor.
“I’m fine, I’m fine!” she insists as she tries to heave to her feet.
Someone grabs my arm too tightly:
“Beti, get your khala! And some ice!”

Sleepover – Meri Choti Behen (My Little Sister)

It’s well past midnight.
But you just keep talking.
We are playing the imagination game.
“Okay, picture a sheep,” you say.
“Okay, but instead of wool, he’s wearing chainmail.”

I check the clock. 1 a.m.
We are discussing our parents.
“So like, have you noticed
When we’re out with Mama,
She freaks out when she realizes
She needs to be home before Baba to make him chai?”

It’s 2 a.m. now.
You need to sleep, there’s school tomorrow.
I tell you so, but you’ve grown quiet.
“Yeah,” you say.
“What’s wrong?”
“So there’s this boy.”

3 a.m. I’m talking now.
I’m telling you about my own boy problems:
How badly I messed up.
How much we hurt each other.
How Baba confronted him.
“It’s not worth the trouble,” I say.

4 a.m. You’re starting to yawn.
“I would never marry a fat dude,” I say.
“What if he was hilarious?”
“I’d rather marry a F.O.B. from India.”
“F.O.B.s can be kind of sexy though!”
“Oh my gosh, shut up!”

5 a.m. You’re out cold.
I feel bad, you need to be up soon.
You’ve started to drool on your pillow.
Even in the dark, I can see we have the same mouth.
I kiss your forehead, and pull the blanket under your chin–
Something you’d never let me do when you’re awake.

Tahseen Khaleel is a senior at Loyola University Chicago majoring in biology and minoring in biostatistics and English. She enjoys reading and writing about the intersectionality between religion and nationality, as well as the experiences of immigrants in the South Asian diaspora in various forms of media.

Hapa, by Tahseen Khaleel



Irfan Parvez had three pictures of Madhu with him in total, but his favorite was neatly tucked into a plastic, silver frame he had picked up at a Chevron the day he’d landed in Lihue. The frame stood like a silent guardian in the left-hand corner of the large architect’s desk he had pushed into his dingy suite in Kauai Palms Extended Stay Hotel, watching him as he pored over blueprints and scratched his eyebrow with the back of a Sharpie. Whenever the wet, midday heat crept in through the windows, as it was doing now, seeping into his brain and turning the numbers in his mind to putty, he would toss aside the marker and grab the picture frame, tracing his fingers over the cheap glass.

She looked like a princess in this photograph: she was wearing her wedding sari, the sparkling ghunghat veil pulled over her head, golden sequins glimmering in the photographer’s flash. Her smile was shy and her kohl-rimmed eyes were lowered, the vermilion bindi between her brows glowing like a ruby. He sighed. It was because of that tiny, scarlet spot that his parents had not come to the wedding.

“You can die with your Hindu bitch for all I care,” his father had spat at him when he came home to invite them. The old man had then turned in his chair and refused to look at him. His weeping mother asked him to leave. So Irfan had promised Madhu he would do exactly that, as he took her hand in his some days later, and walked around the ceremonial fire, whilst a fat priest wrapped in orange robes recited marriage vows and had them repeat after him.

Irfan pushed the frame back to its corner on his desk. He tried to return to his schematics, but the measurements and calculations he had jotted down seemed to turn into little black fish, swimming away as he followed them with his eyes. The humidity was getting to him. Wiping the sweat from his forehead, he had just begun to unbutton his shirt when he heard a knock on the door of his suite.

Cheh, I gave her last month’s payment two days ago,” he muttered, buttoning his shirt back up. He made his way to the suite’s tiny foyer and opened the door. It was not Mrs. Nalani as he had expected– the elderly, portly innkeeper who always wore one of what seemed to be a collection of only three muumuus– but the bald man who had recently moved in down the hall that Irfan knew was Indian but had never gotten around to speaking to.

Salaam, brother,” said the man sheepishly.

Irfan blinked in surprise.

Maaf karo!” the man apologized, his eyes turning wide with embarrassment. “I just thought you were Muslim because of your name–”

Nehi, nehi, you’re absolutely right,” Irfan said quickly. “Walaikum assalaam. I was just surprised. It’s silly, but for a long time I thought there weren’t any others in Kauai.”

Hahn ji, that’s why I’m here!” the man said excitedly. He suddenly looked around and lowered his voice, as if he were sharing a secret, and held out his hand. “I mean, I’m sorry, I’m getting ahead of myself. My name is Sadiq.”

“Very nice to meet you, Sadiq,” Irfan said, shaking his hand. “You said you knew my name?”

“Ahh yes, Irfan bhai, I asked Nalani memsahib. Forgive my curiosity.”

Irfan chuckled at the juxtaposition of the Indian honorific with the Hawaiian name. “It’s so good to hear someone speak Urdu after so long,” he told Sadiq. “Why don’t you come in for some chai?”

Sadiq looked truly apologetic. “I would love to, Irfan bhai, but I’m late for namaaz. That’s actually why I stopped by; I was wondering if you wanted to come pray with me?”

The question made Irfan uncomfortable. He had never been one to pray– after his wedding he had stopped whatever little he used to do– but his first month in Kauai he had been diligent, going so far as to buy a world map to determine where Mecca was in relation to the tiny island he now had to call home. He wanted to start the job out right; currying favor with God seemed necessary. But as the months compounded into a year, his prayers became sporadic, faltering until they altogether stopped. He didn’t think anyone was listening.

Nehi, Sadiq bhai,” Irfan said finally. “But thank you for the invitation.”

“Oh, achi baat.” Sadiq fell silent for a moment, and Irfan could almost feel the man’s disappointment.

“Where do you pray?” Irfan asked encouragingly. “Is there a mosque anywhere near here?”

“Yes, Irfan bhai, that’s what I meant earlier,” said Sadiq, brightening. “You’re not alone here, don’t worry! I found some brothers who work over in Niumalu, only a few miles away. They pooled together their resources and have rented out a small space where we can pray whenever we need to. May Allah reward them for their efforts!”

Ameen,” agreed Irfan. He’d only known the man five minutes, but Sadiq’s enthusiasm had already begun to grate on his nerves.

There was an awkward pause between them before Sadiq cleared his throat.

“I should get going, bhai. It was so nice to finally meet you.”

“Likewise,” said Irfan. “Come by any time.”

“You as well!” Sadiq paused, then began to fumble with his pockets. He pulled out a scrap of paper and a pen, leaned against the doorframe and scribbled something, handing it to Irfan when he was finished.

“In case you change your mind,” he told Irfan. “Salaam, Irfan bhai, and take care!”

Some evenings, when he felt particularly restless, Irfan would make the drive out to Anini Beach. Tonight was one such evening. Mrs. Nalani, who was in the habit of asking him where he was going and when to expect him back on the rare occasion that he would saunter out of his suite into the lobby, could never understand why he bothered driving that far when Wailua and even Kapa’a were so much closer.

“Because it is … nani–” he explained to her one evening, hesitantly trying the Hawaiian word, “–beautiful. Also, no other malahini!” Here, he put his hands to his face, and pretended to wildly click a camera and gawk about. His pronunciation was horrible– no amount of consultation of an English-to-Hawaiian dictionary would ever fix that– but this seemed to please her.

E malu `oe,” she had told him, grinning, and she said it again now: “Be safe.”

Irfan smiled at the old woman and made his way to the beat-up Jeep the company had provided him upon his arrival to Lihue. It was eleven in the evening, and the road was empty; the twenty-five mile drive would be painless tonight. He coasted along the Kuhio Highway with the windows down, breathing in the omnipresent ocean salt. The drive was monotonous– the miles of pristine white sand and crystalline blue-green waves ceased to impress him long ago– but he resisted turning on the radio; most of the programs were in pidgin anyway. Thirty minutes later, he was able to make out the battered sign in the distance: anini in red letters, with a faded W before the A. Why they had formally changed the name rather than simply replacing the W that had fallen off during a heavy tropical storm, as Mrs. Nalani had told him, he would never understand.

Pulling off the road and alongside the sign, he got out of the Jeep and stepped over a low metal fence, clambering onto the black rocks below. The moon was beginning to wane, and the sea was calm. Irfan had just enough light to carefully make his way along the black coral strip, avoiding broken bottles and angry hermit crabs. When he could no longer see his Jeep behind him, he knew he was near his favorite spot.

Hopping off the coral path, he stretched out on his back on the glowing white sand, propping himself up on his elbows. The faint moonlight illuminated the larger granules of sand, making them sparkle as the languid sea pushed weak waves not quite up to his feet. He listened to the palm fronds dipping in the breeze above his head and the faint, rhythmic crashing of larger waves on the hillside east of him. Irfan took a handful of the sand and let it fall in a mist over him. It had never been this clean in India.

That was the funny thing about Hawaii. It reminded him so much of India at times, with its rich, riotous flowers and scents, its people’s endearing insistence on leaving one’s shoes outside before entering, and its wandering roosters that squawked every time of day except dawn. But Irfan had a keen sense of feeling marooned here that he had never known back in dusty, bustling Mysore, the city of his childhood. He doubted that even God could see him.

This was supposed to be America, and yet it did not even feel like the America he knew. Only two years ago, after his marriage, his sister Maham had helped Irfan and Madhu apply for green cards, and wonder of wonders, they were able to take the first plane ride of their lives to Chicago. They did not care for the cold at all, much less the people, but they had done well for themselves. Irfan swept floors and made sandwiches for a year at a Subway while finishing his engineering degree, till he could move his new wife into a proper home: a tiny studio on Ashland and Taylor.

The night of his graduation, he and Madhu gathered as many newspapers as they could from the 7-Eleven owned by the Gujju on the corner of their street. The kindly old man had handed them small cups of Italian ice when they told him the news. Irfan had once approached him for a job– unsuccessfully– but the elderly man had kept in touch with the couple ever since.

“You’ve done well, beta,” the Gujju said, thumping Irfan’s back and smiling.

They made their way back up to their little apartment, and Madhu spread out a chawdar on the hard wooden floor, opening up each of the newspapers to the classifieds. She found several markers and stretched out onto the sheet, bossily instructing him to mark all the civil engineering listings he could find. They made a game of it, drawing circles around places with fantastical names– Kalamazoo, Tallahassee, Los Gatos, Hanapepe– laughing as their clumsy Indian tongues tripped over syllables, till they were thoroughly bored and made love instead.

He ended up applying for all of them, and a month later, Madhu marched into the studio, dropping a thick package on his lap, the top conspicuously torn open.

“Heavy construction service specialist, Lihue, Hawaii!” she announced, pronouncing each word carefully. She grabbed his face and kissed both his cheeks. “For the Molokoa Development Company!”


“Yes, yes!” Madhu was practically bouncing. “Look at the salary!”

“That’s very far from here, no?”

“It says temporary, full-time.”

“What is that?”

“Temporary! You won’t be gone long!” There was no stopping Madhu once she started. She waved the papers in his face. “Look at this! You deserve this, Irfan! Look how well you’ve done. I’m so proud.”

How well he had done. Irfan chuckled. The money was definitely good, more than he had ever earned in his life. He had enough and more for himself and to send home to Madhu, but at what cost? He spent his days toting buckets of wet concrete and steel beams on his back at the Molokoa Subdivision construction site, sweating like the brown-faced coolies he had grown up pitying. At night he furiously scribbled infrastructure diagrams and piping and wiring plans to hand in the next morning, overworking the brain his framed University of Illinois engineering degree assured him he had.

“The listing said service specialist, sir,” Irfan carefully told the project manager, Mr. Kingston, on his first week. “I think so I should not be doing all this.”

The ruddy-faced white man, haole, as the other workers would whisper behind his back, wiped his sweaty brow on his already wet shirt and squinted at him from under his hardhat. Patting Irfan’s back roughly, he said, “Emphasis on the ‘service’, son. Besides, we need all the hands we can get. I think so you’re exactly where you need to be.”

How well he had done indeed.

But Irfan never told Madhu all this. He would instead write to her about the sunsets, the sea, the woman who only owned three muumuus. And she would write back about her job at Macy’s, the snow, the kindly Gujju who owned the 7-Eleven on the corner.

And that she was pregnant.

He had called her long-distance from a pay phone, clutching the letter she had sent him during his second month in Lihue, counting how much each minute was costing him; there was a reason they had opted to write to each other instead. He listened as she babbled about buying diapers and bottles, whether they would have enough room in their studio, what they would name the child.

“I’m missing all of it,” he said finally, his tone accusatory.

“As though I could have planned it, Irfan,” Madhu said dismissively. “Why so sour? You’ll be here by the time he’s born!”

“Or she.”

“I’ll write you everyday.”

“And I’ll get the letters every other week, only.”

“Don’t be that way, Irfan.”

Irfan sighed and got to his feet, shaking out the sand from his hair, as though the memories would fall out as well. His right foot had gone numb, and he stepped gingerly, extending it towards the gently lapping waves, hoping the cold water would shock his foot back to function. He glanced at his watch, squinting in the dimness of the moonlight. He needed to head back.

Madhu was more than eight months along now.

He clambered back onto the mounds of black coral, making his way back to the lonely Jeep along the road, praying to his, and whichever of his wife’s gods he could remember, to watch over his unborn child.

“Great job today, boys!” Mr. Kingston boomed over his clipboard. He pointed his pen at Irfan. “The pipes look great too, Parvez. Really nice design you hashed out for me.”

Irfan blinked. “Thank you sir,” he managed quietly, but Kingston didn’t hear him. The sweaty man turned around and glanced at the sun as it slipped quickly down the horizon, seeming to set the Kuhio behind them ablaze.

“How ‘bout we call it early today? Let’s go down to Kapa’a. My treat.”

The men whooped and cheered.

“Hey, Kingston’s not so bad after all,” said Kai, a tall muscular fellow Irfan was sure couldn’t have been more than nineteen or twenty. He stretched his tattooed arms above his head and behind his back, and punched Irfan’s shoulder playfully.

“I guess not,” Irfan replied, grinning.

Their drive to Kapa’a was pleasant. Irfan had chosen to ride with Kai in his pickup truck, and sat in amusement as the younger man blasted rock music and punched the roof of his car. They pulled into the Kinipopo Shopping Village and met the other men and Kingston at a Monico’s.

Haole’s really pulling out all the stops today,” Kai whispered to Irfan as they seated themselves at the bar. “Probably got laid last night.”

Irfan was sandwiched between Kai and Kingston himself, so he could not have replied even if he wanted to. Everyone had already ordered their drinks. He tried to busy himself with the menu. It all seemed to be some variation of sliced-up island hog. He had never eaten pork in his life. Irfan put the menu back down.

“Not eating anything, Parvez?” Kingston asked, nursing a beer. “Let me get you a drink then.”

“No sir, thank you. I actually don’t drink.”

“Don’t drink?” Kingston was amused. “What kind of crazy fuck doesn’t drink on a Friday?” He called a pretty waitress over and ordered Irfan something. Irfan watched helplessly as the waitress returned and placed a bottle in front of him, giving him a lingering look. Her eyes were utterly black and almond-shaped– like Madhu’s. He glanced over at Kai for help, but the younger man was yelling and wolfing down nachos, pointing wildly at the game on TV.

Mahalo,” he told her simply, and she winked and walked away.

“Doing well at work, and with the ladies!” Kingston laughed, slapping Irfan on the back. He pointed at the Hula Hefeweizen bottle in front of Irfan expectantly. “Loosen up. Tell me where you’re from.”

“I’m Indian, sir,” said Irfan. He unscrewed the bottle cap and listened to the hissing of the fizz. “I–”

“Indian, huh? So why don’t you have the …?” Kingston pushed a thumb onto his own forehead.

“I’m not Hindu.” Irfan grew quiet and contemplated the fizzing bottle in front of him. I’m Muslim, we don’t drink, he wanted to say, but my wife can. He chuckled at how ridiculous it sounded. He did not pray, and now he was insisting on not drinking. He could feel his brain turning to putty again; he felt smothered by the heat of the crowded bar. His eyes followed the pretty waitress, her hips swaying back and forth as she delivered nachos.

“Mmhmm. They have, what, five hundred gods, right? Elephant heads and all that?” Kingston paused to take a swig of beer. “Can’t really say anything about all that though. We got so many gods right over here.”

He gave Irfan a hard look. “I know the old ways. I’m half-Hawaiian, you know. My mama was full.” His speech was beginning to slur. He hadn’t even had that much, Irfan noted. “So none of you can be calling me haole like you all do.”

Irfan turned red.

“Drink your damn beer,” the haole told him aggressively.

Irfan obeyed. It was fizzy and aromatic, and he didn’t care for the taste, but he liked the way it warmed him up. I’ve already married, fucked, and impregnated a woman who worships cows, he mused. I don’t pray, and here I am whining about putting alcohol in my mouth.

Hapa-Hawaiian,” Kingston repeated. “Not haole.”

Kai dropped Irfan off at Kauai Palms around midnight.

“You’re a real friend,” Irfan told him. He couldn’t see straight.

“And you’re real drunk, brah,” Kai laughed. “Be safe, okay?” And he drove away.

Irfan staggered into the lobby and knocked over the pot of orchids Mrs. Nalani kept by the door. Hearing the commotion, the portly woman, clad in her purple muumuu this time with curlers in her hair, hurried into the room and nearly tripped over him.

Lolo!” she hissed at him. She uttered a stream of words; they sounded fuzzy to Irfan, but he knew she was cursing. “Have you been drinking?”

“Yes,” said Irfan happily. “I’m alone, Nalani memsahib. I don’t know where God is.”

“He’s not with you right now, that’s for sure. Wait here,” the woman said shaking her head, and she hurried away.

“Alone. Marooned. Muslim.” The tiled floor was cool to his cheek. He stretched out his arm, tracing the starfish designs on the tiles with his fingers. “Madhu is Hindu. I’m having a baby. It’ll be hapa. Half and half.”

Mrs. Nalani bustled back into the room, dragging a tired-looking Sadiq behind her. The bald man’s eyes grew wide when he saw Irfan on the floor.


Arey, Sadiq bhai! So good to see you!” Irfan grinned at him, sitting up shakily and outstretching his arms. Then he turned and vomited onto all of the starfish tiles. Mrs. Nalani cussed some more.

It was about midday when Irfan woke up, blinking away dreams of the pretty waitress dancing hula before him as he lay in a hammock, her clothes slowly falling away with each sway of her hips. He was back in his suite. The light streaming in through the windows felt like it was piercing his brain. He smelled of vomit and piss. He sat up in bed and looked at his desk. The photograph of Madhu in the silver frame seemed to be staring at him. He wondered if she knew what he had done.

He struggled out of bed and pulled off his shirt, taking shaky steps towards the bathroom. Before he could get into the shower, the phone suddenly rang, and he groaned, turning and lurching towards it instead.

“Hello?” he said groggily. His voice did not sound like it belonged to him.

“Good, you’re up.” It was Mrs. Nalani. “There is someone named … Magoo here on the other phone for you.”


“Come down quickly, it’s long distance, and I’m not paying for this.” She hung up.

Irfan hurtled out of his suite and down the stairs.

Mrs. Nalani was horrified. “Irfan, you’re not wearing a shirt,” she said. She wrinkled her nose. “And you smell pilau.”

“I am so sorry about last night, Mrs. Nalani. I’ll pay for whatever I broke. Can I speak to my wife?”

Auê! Your wife?” She looked surprised, and then shook her head. “That poor girl,” she said, handing him the receiver.

Madhu’s voice was bubbling with excitement. “Irfan!”

“Madhu jaan. How are you?”

“I had the baby!”

It was like someone had knocked the breath out of him. “What?! When? Who took you? Are you all right?”

“Maham didi, who else? She’s been so helpful. He came early!”


“The baby, Irfan!”


“It’s a boy!”

“A boy.” Irfan felt a small tug in his chest.

“He’s so perfect and small. I wish you could see him, Irfan. He has your eyes, I think.”

“A boy with my eyes.”

“His name is Sameer. It’s a Muslim and a Hindu name. Do you like it?”

The breeze was gentle as Irfan drove the company Jeep down the back roads Mrs. Nalani had described in her directions. Irfan pulled out the crumpled piece of paper Sadiq had given him earlier from his shirt pocket: Mah-Kauai Mosque. 4-1579 Kuhio Hwy, Suite # 205, Niumalu. He looked at the cake and knife in the passenger’s seat that he had picked up at the Safeway before leaving Lihue. It was frosted with white buttercream, with red hibiscus flowers around the edges. The lady at the bakery had asked him what the occasion was. He said that he wasn’t sure.

He soon pulled up to what appeared to be an old office building. Irfan made his way to the receptionist’s desk, and handed a bored-looking girl with red nails Sadiq’s slip of paper. She nodded and told him to go up to the second floor.

Finding Suite 205, he removed his shoes and gingerly entered a bare-looking room with a few prayer rugs pointing to where he presumed was east. A few sad-eyed, pot-bellied, bearded men sat against the walls, counting their prayers on their fingers and rosaries. Sadiq was among them. He looked up and met Irfan’s eyes.

“Irfan bhai,” Sadiq said, getting up and coming towards him. “How are you?” He gave Irfan a light hug.

“Much, much better. Thank you for taking me to my room last night. I….” Irfan shifted uncomfortably on his feet. “My wife just had a baby. His name is Sameer.”

“Arey! Mubarak, bhai!” Sadiq beamed, clapped him on the back, and hugged him again. “I’m so happy to hear that. May Allah bless and protect the child.”

“Would you help me cut this?” Irfan held out the cake. “I wanted to give it to these brothers.” The men sitting by the walls were now looking curiously up at him. Irfan gave them a small smile.

“Of course,” said Sadiq, taking the cake.

As Sadiq cut and distributed slices of cake to the puzzled men, Irfan walked to a prayer rug in the corner of the room and knelt upon it, pressing his face to the ground. He knew Sadiq was probably watching him.

He had long since forgotten what to say. But as he knelt, he imagined with every fiber of his being that his soul had sprouted wings, and was racing towards Mecca from his little island. It was skipping across oceans and continents; it leapt over Chicago, soared over dusty Mysore, and rose higher and higher until it found its way to whomever was up there watching him, watching his son. And for the first time in so long, Irfan felt whole.


Tahseen Khaleel is a senior at Loyola University Chicago majoring in biology and minoring in biostatistics and English. She enjoys reading and writing about the intersectionality between religion and nationality, as well as the experiences of immigrants in the South Asian diaspora in various forms of media.

Mahalo by Lucy Zhao




5,000 orchids fall from a helicopter onto Hilo, Hawaii
on May 4th. Paid for by Disney to celebrate their new cruise line.

I am still rubbing dandelions under my chin,
when no one is looking, to see if I’ve fallen in love.

Yellow is the color of desire. The crushed pollen
under the heat of my skin. The yellow wallpaper
of your living room as we stare at the TV,
pinkie fingers dangling dangerously close

together. A boy told me once,
we are meant for each other. You are scorpio
and I am cancer, both shelled creatures
that claw at sand. You on land
and I in water.

Floating, I peer at the fish below,
breathing through my mouth a hollow sound.
All I feel is the scrape on my knee
from rubbing cells with coral.
I’m afraid the coral will die now.

The word for white people here is haole,
pronounced like a laugh then oh! and lei.
It means no breath. When we greet a close friend,
we put our foreheads together and open our mouths.
We breathe each other’s air, the sound of waves.

Lucy Zhao’s work has appeared in Xylem, Outrageous Fortune, Fortnight, and The Michigan Daily. She is a senior at the University of Michigan majoring in business and English.

Birthday Parties and Nazis, by Stephanie Liang



Birthday Parties and Nazis

I would not call myself a Nazi sympathizer—
What does that word even mean, sympathizer?
But ever since that time in the 4th grade
When my arch nemesis Maureen
Invited me to her birthday party,
I realized I needed to give more people a chance.
You’re probably thinking, well she’s not a Nazi.

Let me explain. In senior year of high school,
We learned a term in psychology called
The Fundamental Attribution Error.
Which was pretty much a fancy way of saying,
When some asshole on the highway cuts you off,
Your first reaction is to blare your horn and scream
Something along the lines of:
You fucking asshole! You stupid fucking asshole!
Meaning, you think he cut you off because he is
Fundamentally a stupid asshole and not because
His child might be dying in the hospital.

Well since we’re on the subject of dying children—
Imagine yourself, for a moment, in postwar Germany:
One son is dead, your other is dying.
There is never any bread and you come home
To an empty table, an extra chair.
Until suddenly, this God-like man arrives,
Veiled in light, promising to feed your children.
By God, you want to feed your children.

You notice shops closing, you see the trains running
Out of the city into the horizon until they disappear.
You sometimes hear faint shrieks in nighttime.
But mostly, you notice the bread on the table
And your son’s fattened ribcage.

On an essay question, I was once asked to answer:
Does silence equal complicity—In other words,
Should the Germans who knew be held equally responsible?
(“Knowing” is a funny word here. There are accounts of
The stench of burning flesh enveloping the air;
Choking people like an un-washable fog above the city).

And I answered. Unequivocally. Yes.
They were just as evil as the Nazis themselves. Put them all to death!
But then I think about Maureen, and I think about driving on the highway,
And I think about never having enough bread and
Watching your children die in the war and then
Watching your children die at home,
And I realize, no one can say for certain that
If given the choice to be a Nazi, they wouldn’t have taken it.

Stephanie Liang is a rising junior at the University of Pittsburgh studying English literature and economics. She has loved poetry from a young age and is just starting to share her work with the world. She is excited to see her first two works published in Runestone Journal and another one of her pieces will be appearing in Rainy Day Magazine in the upcoming year.

Yardwork, by Stephanie Liang




The overgrown weeds
and wilting wisteria
Defy the winter
by daring not to die—
Their seedlings spread,
spring, into a mess.
Our nosy neighbors,
noticing the eyesore,
Go back to minding their manicured
lawns of majestic,
Year-round, golf-course
grandiose greens.
Our scorched land of
sighing sprouts:
A burden to the serenity
of the budding backyards
Of houses filled
with families and fathers
With lawnmowers, a love
for lawn care
That I never learned.
Leaving the languishing
Grass to weather
the wintry winds
(A worry that weighs
on my weary shoulders).
As I shut the window
to shelter secondhand
Thoughts of trimming
the tree branches,
Tidying the belligerent
bushes to beautification,
And your cold hands,
half-holding mine,
As the machine slows,
simmers to a stop.
The grass germinates,
but as a different green
To prove perhaps,
without your presence
We’ll never be
bothered by the weeds.

Stephanie Liang is a rising junior at the University of Pittsburgh studying English literature and economics. She has loved poetry from a young age and is just starting to share her work with the world. She is excited to see her first two works published in Runestone Journal and another one of her pieces will be appearing in Rainy Day Magazine in the upcoming year.

Lilacs, by Marcallina James



On Second Avenue lilac bushes grew along side our house that wasn’t really our house.
Sister and I hopped along like baby chicks on crackling twigs.

Late spring 1976–We live on the bottom floor of a duplex on the south side of Minneapolis. Our daddy’s younger sister lives upstairs with her two kids, our cousins. They often have black eyes and bruises on their arms and legs. Momma and Daddy don’t yell at us or hit us like that, they only scream at each other. When Momma gets real mad, she starts throwing whatever is close to her: forks, plates, books, shoes…lots of stuff. Daddy ducks and yells in a loud voice. Then he runs toward momma and shakes her. “Woman are you crazy? You almost hit the kids!”

At first it used to scare us when they argued, but they do it so much my sister and I just go outside. We play on the side of the house where sour rhubarb and lilac bushes grow. We cup our ears and listen to the tweet, tweet of the robins in the trees. We don’t care if the grass only grows in patches or that the mud dirties our white tennis shoes.

The sun’s rays shimmered through ruffled leaves and gentle winds dispersed lavender. We inhale-d–it tickled our throats. Branches swayed and lilac bunches bounced. We plucked the purple flowers.

I love the smell of lilacs. I also love the smell of Daddy’s Old Spice Cologne. Just like the breeze blows the lavender past my nose, Daddy’s cologne floats up my nostrils when he swings me in circles up and down. He can hold two kids on his flexed, rocky arm muscles. Daddy says that he got strong while bustin’ rocks with a sledgehammer down in Arizona. A man on a horse used to watch him and make sure he didn’t stop until he blew the whistle. My stomach tickles so much tears roll down my cheeks. Daddy has froggy eyes and with his thick black moustache he roars, “Who’s the kiiiing!!” I laugh super hard and scream, “You are!” I wish he always smelled like Old Spice and smiled that way.

Crows cackled in trees up high as our parents came down…
We didn’t notice the screams–of cars speeding along the highway.

It’s Sunday morning. Momma and Daddy are still asleep because they were up late. I put my Dino slippers on and slide over to the kitchen. I look around. Where are the Cheerios? On the counter there’s a small white box with stuff in it. I get up on a chair to see what’s in it: strips of tin foil with burn marks, Pepsi Cola bottle tops, spoons that look burnt like the tin foil and long rubber bands. There’s also spilled baking soda that I’ve seen Momma use in her cookies. Yuck, I don’t want to pour my cereal near that stuff on the counter ‘coz it stinks. Where’s the sugar?

Sweet honeysuckle on our tongues sent us twirling giddily in circles. We fell…we laid…eyes wide, as clouds raced across the sky

I help my sister put on her blue and white pokadot pants and white shirt with the little pink bowtie, then we go outside. The sun shines on the lilac bushes. We pick little flowers and suck on the stems while we skip toward the front yard.

On Second Avenue where the lilac bushes grow, we soar over rainbows and eat marshmallow clouds.

Marcallina James is an Augsburg College senior who is majoring in English with a concentration in English literature, language and theory. She has written articles highlighting Somali music performances on the Cedar Cultural Center’s Midnimo blog site. Marcallina’s primary aspirations are to become a published writer specializing in creative nonfiction and poetry. She also strives to attain a high level of skill in her craft and is dedicated to continuous development as a writer.

by Cameron Price

Runestone, Volume 1   [ POETRY ]



when brother came back
from the country of our dead father,
gray fog leaked from his ears

it wreathed his face, tightened his collar, blinded his eyes
I watched him, afraid of his darkness.

at night when he opens his mouth, a blanket of dead stars
roll out like clocks, each frozen at the witching hour

he had been the bright one :
a splinter of light in a dense cloud but
sleeping in our father’s grave had turned his life to stone

now he pulls cords of fog around him,
mute like the purple depths of the sea
his marrow frozen into ancient amber,
his sharp eyes grating the iron sky into toxic dust,
the heavens falling into pieces like a decrepit house

what but stones can bear the petrifaction of the living dead :
where is the sermon of hope to wake us from
the dust, when only fossilized bones
emerge from the fog?



Cameron Price is a poet living in Ann Arbor, MI. His work has appeared in Humble Pie, Six Fold, and is forthcoming in Mount Island Magazine. His experimental video poetry has been featured in Small Po[r]tions, and was recently screened at the 6th Video Festival in Cairo, Egypt. He is the visual art / design editor for Duende, an online literary journal dedicated to publishing underrepresented voices in the literary ecosystem.

Save Dave, by Michael Ribbens



He was only trapped in the elevator for fifteen minutes, but some people are just looking for an excuse to drink their own urine. We found him slumped in the corner, looking altogether too self-satisfied. It would have been surprising if it was anyone but him.

“All right, up you go, come on,” said Joe. We hoisted him up and walked him through the hotel lobby. It was the ninth time in August we had rescued him. As a firefighter you don’t expect to have regulars, but that was Dave.

It had taken us a while to notice.  His nondescript face and plain clothes made him difficult to recognize, and it never even crossed our minds that someone might be actively seeking out emergencies.  Nobody’s that crazy.  Who knows how many times we rescued him before we realized the pattern?  He probably could have gone on that way forever if he hadn’t gotten greedy.

We were evacuating a burning apartment complex.  I exited the building with a man over my shoulder and set him down on the curb across the street.

“What are you doing?” Joe yelled.

“What, I just got him out of there,” I said.

“What?  I just got him out of there!” said Joe.

“What?”  I looked at the man, but he was no longer sitting on the curb.  He was making a beeline for a first floor window.  We pursued, yelling at him to stop.  Joe went through the window as I went around through the hall.  We found him lying on the bed, apparently unconscious.

“Where’d he go?” yelled Joe.

“That’s him, right there!” I yelled.

“Seriously?  How did he pass out so fast?  Wasn’t he wearing a jacket?”  We threw his arms over our shoulders and dragged him out of the building.  We made an EMT watch him closely as we talked it over with the chief.

“He went back in?”  he asked.

“At least twice,” I said.

“Was he trying to save somebody, or his stuff?”

“That’s what I thought,” said Joe, “but he kept going into different parts of the building and passing out.”

“It’s like he knew where we would find him,” I added.

The chief took off his helmet and rubbed his sinuses. “What kind of maniac…?”  He sighed. “All right, lemme talk to him.”  The chief walked over and took a knee in front of the man.  “Some of my guys tell me you went back in.  Wanna tell me why?”

The man said nothing, a trauma blanket draped over his shoulders.  The chief gave him a lecture on the obvious: that emergency situations are no joke, and so on.  The man sat quietly, just nodding and waiting like a child getting in trouble.  The only thing the chief got out of him was his name: Dave.  Eventually we had no choice but to let him go.

A couple weeks later we pulled him out of a house fire in Paxton.  The next day he was found pinned beneath a parked Prius.  Over the next two weeks he fell in the big tank at the aquarium, rolled down an escalator, and got his foot stuck in a chair at a regional spelling bee.  Then, in his most ambitious feat yet, he took a window washing lift eighty-three stories up the Jefferson Building, soiled himself, and passed out.

The chief called a meeting.

“Look, we’ve all got theories as to why Dave does what he does.  Honestly I think he’s just nuts, and that’s it.  Either way, we gotta do something about it.  I won’t have you guys putting your lives in danger just for him to get off on being rescued, or whatever.  So next time you see him at an emergency, notify the police.”

The next day at a house fire in Jackson County one of the guys walked out of the building with a man slung over his shoulder.

“Is this him?” asked the fireman.

“Uh…I think so,” said Joe.  We set him down by the truck and looked closely while EMT’s worked to revive him.

“He has brown eyes, right?” I said.

“I don’t remember,” said Joe.  “I think it’s him, though.  He has the…that’s his face, I think.”

“Yeah…pretty sure,” I said.  I wasn’t sure.  Dave’s face had a way of sliding out of your memory the moment you looked away from it.

They questioned him at the police station, but couldn’t nail him for anything.  He just shrugged and blamed his bad luck.  It was a losing battle.  There was no precedent for this kind of behavior.

The chief called another meeting.

“All right, so this guy has a screw loose, but he’s tricky.  If he wants to keep playing games, we’re gonna show him it’s not a game.  From now on, we are putting a full rescue ban on Dave.”

“You serious?  Can we do that?” asked Joe.

“Technically, no.  But I don’t think the justice system is equipped to deal with this level of craziness.  I’m making a judgement call: don’t save Dave.”

“But what if he’s actually in danger?  We just let him die?” I said.

“If he can get himself in there, he can get himself out.  We rescue people.  We don’t play defense,” said the chief.

I was walking right under the alarm when it sounded.  Ears ringing, I quickly suited up.  Fire on Bridge Street.

The parking lot was empty except for a few bystanders. The hose team immediately launched into their practiced sequence as Joe asked around to see if there was anyone inside.  It was an office building, one of those generic brick and glass constructions that always have space for lease.  Thick smoke hurried out of two upstairs windows.  A cleaning lady was in semi-hysterics. “One man.  Upstairs, he was…he wouldn’t wake up.  Upstairs.”

Joe nodded to me.  We strapped on our masks and hustled for the front door.  The lobby looked like a Call of Duty level: a mess of crackling light fixtures, paper scraps, and grey smoke.  We breached the door at the top of the stairs.  Smoke twice as thick filled the room.

“Fire Department!” I yelled.  “Anybody up here?”  A faint cough somewhere to the left.  We pounded boots along office carpet to find Dave slumped over a keyboard in front of a computer.  He was dressed for the occasion, in a sensible white dress shirt and blue tie.  He could have fooled anybody who hadn’t already rescued him thirty-five times.

“Dave!” I yelled through my mask, shaking him.  “Wake up, sir!  We need to get you out of here!” No response.  “Look, we’re not gonna keep rescuing you if you do this.”

Joe shook his head. “All right, we’re leaving now, last chance, Dave!” he said.

“Dave!” I shook him, but he was stubborn.  The floor shook and rumbled as something crashed nearby.  “Dave, let’s go, man!  Come on!” I yelled.  Joe pulled me by the shoulder.  I looked back as I left the room.  Dave just sat there.

We stomped back into the cool air.  The handful of people in the parking lot looked at us with wide eyes.  Joe put out his arms.

“It’s all right everybody.  There was somebody up there, but, uh, he wants to stay.”

“What?” somebody said.

“He’s kidding!” I said.  “There was no one up there.  Everything is under control.”  They looked at Joe with disgust.

“But, but, but…” the maid grabbed my arm, and I took her aside.

“Ma’am, I understand what you think you saw, but stressful situations can confuse the mind.  Trust me, I’m a professional, I’ve seen it many times.  So what you need to do now is relax and stay calm.  Allen?”  I handed her off to an EMT and met Joe on the other side of the engine.

“Thanks for making me look like an asshole,” said Joe.

“We can’t tell them we left somebody in there!  How are we gonna explain that?” I said.

“He does it on purpose!” said Joe.

“I know,” I said, “Why?  That’s what they’ll wanna know.  And what would we say?  We don’t know why the fuck he does it!”  I threw my helmet against the pavement.  The bystanders looked at me.  “Sorry, everything’s under control.  You can go home now.”  Joe shook his head.  I picked up my helmet and went to help at the hose.

A week later the chief called me into his office.

“Still no Dave, huh?”

I shook my head no.

“You’re sure it was him, right?”

I nodded.

“Good.  Then he’s learned his lesson.”

“Think he got out?” I asked.

“Probably,” he said.  “Why don’t you take tomorrow off?  You need a break.”

I tried relaxing, then cleaning, then exercising, but I couldn’t shake the thoughts.  It was Dave we left behind, I was almost entirely sure.  But that still didn’t make it make any more sense.  I decided the healthiest thing to do was embrace my obsession and do something practical about it.  I bought a big sheet of poster board and pinned it to the wall of my apartment.  At the top I wrote: “Why, Dave?”  Underneath it I made a list of answers:

He’s doing an experiment.

He has a fetish for being rescued.

He’s writing a book about fire rescue.

He likes the danger.

He likes the attention.

 He’s after some twisted Guinness World Record.

He’s insane.

He’s insane.

He’s insane.

My pen snapped, and I had to go scrub off the ink.

The local news was in the middle of a live report from the scene of a burnt-up KFC.

“…indicated that the fire began when a member of the kitchen staff accidentally tipped a tray of oil onto an open burner.  We spoke with one survivor of the incident.”  They cut to a clip of a man wrapped in a trauma blanket.  His face was smudged, and a bit of his beard was singed off.  He had brown eyes.

“I was in the bathroom, and I noticed that the door handle was hot.  So I knocked on the door and yelled, but then the smoke was too much, and I passed out.  Apparently a fireman broke down the door and saved me.  I’m lucky to be alive.”  He looked at the camera.  The bastard looked right at the camera like he knew I was watching.

I returned to work at the station with enthusiasm.

“You ok?” Joe asked.

“Just happy to be back to work.  I got bored at home, started to go a little crazy.”

“You seem a little crazy now,” said Joe.

“Do I?” I laughed a little too loud.

That week I was the first one ready for every call.  I set speed records as a wheelman and hose leader.  I pulled nine cats out of a burning fifteenth story window.  I axed through an unlocked door to get to a burnt bag of popcorn in an office microwave.

The chief called me into his office.

“You feeling ok?”

“Yeah.  Totally fine,” I said.

The chief leaned back in his chair, sighed, and rubbed his face.

“You think he’s back.”

“He is back.  He just stepped up his tactics.  He has a beard, but not always.  He thinks he can get away with it.  I’m gonna get him.”

“And do what?”

“I’m gonna find out why he does it.”

“You think he’s gonna tell you?”



“It doesn’t matter.  I’ll figure it out.”

The chief sighed. “At some point you may have to come to terms with the fact that some people are just nuts.”

I nodded.  Maybe.  Not yet.

The next week there were no emergencies.  Which was fine.  I could wait.  Same with the next week.  And the next.  No accidents, no incidents, no fires.  Three months later the chief was joking that we might be out of a job.  Poster boards now covered three of the four walls of my apartment.

He wants to be a firefighter.

He’s trying to relive a traumatic experience.

He’s lazy.

He just has really bad luck.

He’s cursed.

He’s a demon.

He has short-term memory loss.

He’s an alien.

I forgot to sleep sometimes.  The chief told me to go home.

I walked into my apartment.  The news was on.  My heart punched.  Fire at the Patterson Center.  I ran to my car and raced to the scene.

“Go home, man, we’ve got it under control,” Joe said, trying to hold me back.

“He’s here.  He’s here.  He’ll be here, let me find him.”  Joe shook me.

“Hey!  Buddy!  We’ve got it, ok?  We’ll keep an eye out for him.  Go home.” I nodded and backed away.  When he turned around, I sprinted around the corner to the other side of the building.  The conference center was huge, burning with reckless heaviness.  I ripped open a glass door and entered a hallway.  I darted from room to room through the smoke and raining sprinklers.  I was more agile in jeans.  Why don’t all firefighters work this way?  A beam collapsed and rammed into my side.  I gasped for breath and saw blood on my hand.  A figure on the floor by the bed.  I crawled into the room and started laughing.

I hobbled out of the burning building with Dave over my shoulder, triumphant.

“What are you doing?” Joe yelled.

“I got him!” I yelled, dropping Dave to the pavement.  “What were you doing in there, huh, buddy?  Think I don’t know who you are?”

Joe pulled me back. “You need to calm down,” he said.  EMTs rushed forward to attend to Dave.  People were staring at me.

“I figured it out!” I yelled.  “I know why you do it!  YOU THINK IT’S FUNNY!”

“Coming through here!”  Another fireman exited the building supporting a man in a button-down shirt.  He helped the man onto a stretcher.  It was Dave.  I looked at the man on the ground.  It was Dave.  I looked into the crowd.  Dave was standing there.  So that was his game.  He hired lookalikes.  Or clones, maybe.  Yeah, throw that on the big board.  Well played, sir. Bravo.

“Are you ok?”

Oh yeah, it’s all coming together.  Hahaha.  Hahahahaha.

“Sit down.  Dude, you need to sit down.”  Hahahahahaha.

The chief called me into his office the day I got out of the hospital.  He looked at the report for a long time.  Finally he spoke.

“You peed too, huh?”

I didn’t look at him.

“You accused seventeen people of being Dave and then laughed until you peed.”

I didn’t look at him.

“Do you have any idea how happy I am you weren’t wearing your uniform?”

I looked at him.

“Do you have any idea how angry I am about everything else you did?”

I didn’t look at him.

The chief sighed and rubbed his sinuses.  “You’re fired, man.  Go home and get some rest.”

I slept for a long time.  The doorbell woke me up.  It was Joe, with Chinese food.  I shoveled lo mein into my face while he sat patiently.  Eventually, Joe cleared his throat.

“I uh, came by while you were in the hospital.  I took down, the uh, the poster boards.”


“So what are you gonna do now?” Joe asked.

I shrugged, polishing off the fried rice.  We chatted about mundane station things for a while, and then he left, promising to come by later.

I stood by the window and looked down at the street.  From this angle, they all looked like Dave.  I opened the gas valve and found a box of matches.  Some people are just nuts.

Michael Ribbens is a senior at Calvin College studying digital filmmaking and writing. He won Calvin’s talent show as freshman by doing standup comedy. He has since performed comedy in a number of events as a comedian and a member of Calvin Improv. He is the co-writer and producer of Calvin College News, a 10-episode news satire, and a contributing writer of the Calvin Chives, another news satire.


glass cages, by Rebekah Durig



glass cages

On long summer afternoons when I was a child,
I would pop open the mirrored doors of the medicine cabinets,
and angle them enough to let light bounce between
them. Forty-five degrees at first, just enough to see
the back of my head reflected once or twice,
then closer until my heads filled the grid to infinity,
then closer still, too narrow to fit between the glass panes.
Peering into the crack, one eye closed, all reflected noses,
I would wonder,
                                         If I could press myself thin enough,
could I slip through that greenish-grey hallway
and walk until I found a forest of heads?
Could I step out of the mirror into another house to find the face
that also spent afternoons kneeling on slick bathroom counters?
If I could walk through these mirrored hallways,
would I ever meet another ring of noses, or wander, lost,
only find the restless ones who came in here to hide
from their sins, still followed by ant trails of their past,
never to escape?
What’s the lonelier prison: a Midwestern town
of paint-peeling churches and tattered American flags,
or infinite hallways, where light hangs like damp blankets?

Rebekah Durig is a poet, playwright and mathematician, and a recent graduate of Southern Illinois University. Her full-length play, Lewis and the House of Cards, was performed this spring there. She will be pursuing her master’s in the fall, and is spending the summer as a theater intern in the Berkshires.


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