Literary Voices 2020

June 1, 2020

The writing that follows is a sampling of the work of some extraordinary young people in the Aerie writing program. Their voices are compelling and deep, and worthy of an audience. For those who’d like to read more, there IS lots more. Stay tuned!

Mark Harris, Director of Aerie, Wheeler’s enrichment approach.

Aerie Literary Voices 2020

Recent examples of exceptional poems and short fiction by Aerie writers. Aerie writing teacher Bob Koppel published all these works and more in a literary journal.

Aerie Literary Journal sitting on carpet.


Neoclassic

Catherine Sawoski ’20

“Time is a vindictive bandit to steal the beauty of our former selves. We are left with sagging, rippled flesh and burning gums with empty sockets.”

–––Raphael

 

The only thing wrong with our time is that it has always been now.

Despite the separation between them, you have always thought that all years look the same ––

passing briskly with upturned collars just barely characteristic of the bad weather ahead,

and you all but notice transparent hail before asphalt cracks and cobblestone breathes.

They say there is graffiti on the pantheon, but you have never believed it ––

artists are the only ones who scar beautiful things, and there is not enough marble in the world to sculpt everything to words; not when dates in quarried flesh are history embodied and statues’ sweat is time itself.

We were never supposed to see marble this way

(drained white with shock at the state of the populous these days)

and instead isn’t it funny we live thinking that the Greeks left their paintings stylistically silent when (Plato will tell you) they were so loud that their music reached across a hundred years to knock the brushes right out of Florentine hands and so ugly that they don’t teach you about it in school.

Raphael called time a bandit, but isn’t it true our gums are more frozen than burned ––

gnawing on thoughts that dissolve as soon as they go in our mouth like an ice cube on a hot day,

swallowing down the last few bits of culture whole, sweating so profusely that even the Grecian Urn (costly and consequential) must slip out of your hands and fall to the floor with the type of grace that could only come from worlds respected but worlds unlived. And isn’t that the thing about Greece?

No one visits for its now, just to obtain bits of its past –– pretending that we know we meant the parthenon earlier but isn’t the pantheon just so damn close.

No, you were never supposed to see this.

Buildings that could never imagine you would exist,

statues upright in the middle of a museum courtyard,

looking for some paint fleck that survived all this time.

You were never supposed to see this,

but how extraordinary that you did.


Kenya

Sam Clurman ’20

The shaded wooden door swings open as seventh-grade students at The International School of Kenya pour out of class arrowed for lunch.  I remain in my seat, observing classmates scurry.  Mr. Rose, my English teacher approaches.  We fist-bump as I prepare to be interviewed.  But first, a flood of memories…

 

The scuffed leather ball cuts through the weeded grass on its trajectory to my foot.  No thought to what comes next: I strike.  The ball floats above waving blades, destined for the net.  I leap into my teammate Kato’s arms.  All is elation and light.

 

Loud shouts from uninvited guests precede pushing as testosterone surges through the garden behind my house.  Lily’s surprise birthday party divides by school, each faction congregating behind their appointed champion.  My dad leaps through our screen door and breaks up the fight.

 

The claustrophobic office of our school’s principal, Mr. Baker, smells of the sweat of the many students who are regularly called in for screwing up.  I am there with my friend Noah because of a disagreement with Ms. Vickery, my history teacher.  I avoid eye contact with the principal, leaving his office, biting my tongue which draws blood.

 

I begin to organize my story, a student spotlight piece, for Mr. Rose, which will be featured in The Weekly Word…

 

In the summer going into fifth grade my dad frequently went on business trips to Kenya, a place, which at the time, I could hardly pinpoint on a map.  My sister and I noticed that returning home, he had a new energy about his work, unlike before, when bags hung under his eyes above a forced smile like a Dan Mask.

 

That January, coming home from school, I saw my mom sitting in the living room with the image of a fancy resort in the Seychelles pulled up on her computer.  I looked at in awe.  She said we might go there over school break.  I couldn’t wait.

 

In February, Mom showed us the itinerary for our vacation, with a stop in Kenya to see where Dad worked.

 

Touching down at Jomo Kenyatta International Airport all I experienced was exhaustion.  But, the next day, I quickly recovered from our first trip across the world.   Then the fabled dinner…

 

As we completed our meal at the Fairview Hotel, Dad sighed audibly, telling us, “Listen kids, we have some news.”

 

My sister and I exchanged glances both anticipating a corny Dad joke.  Lily giggled. “Are we headed to the Seychelles a week early?”

 

With a serious look on his face, Dad raised his head, making eye contact with Lily, then me, as he told us “We’re going to look at schools tomorrow!”

 

My mind puzzled this and I responded “Schools?” Are we going to see what schools are like for the people here?

 

“Dress nicely!” Dad said reflexively.

 

Almost as if he was reading from a script, as if he had practiced this conversation in his head many times, “I narrowed the list down to three schools, and I think you guys are going to like them.”

 

Now worried, my sister’s voice quivered.  “But why are we looking at schools if we already go to Wheeler?”

 

Dad took a long deep breath.  Then another.  And now the big news.  “Guys, your mother and I decided, we’re moving to Nairobi.”

 

Unable to hold back tears, Lily turned to me for reassurance.  Thoughts form then fray like words in a letter, torn in half, then thrown away.

 

Is there a school where my sister and I won’t be the only white kids?

 

My dad called for the bill and I sat thinking, trying to accept what we’ve just been told, wondering about the future.  Lily sobbed, rushing from the table toward the stairway.  My dad followed.  Dad vs. Goliath.

 

Lily lay with her back to me on the phone with her best friend from the US.  My mind wandered to the landscape painting on the wall, its cracks, intricate discontinuities, branching out in all directions.  Every morning I’ve awakened in the same bed, in the same room, the same house, the same neighborhood, the same city, the same state, the same country, the same continent.  Now things will be different.

 

Three months later at my fifth-grade graduation, every student makes a short one-minute speech before they cross the bridge to middle school.  I would be the last to speak.  As I sit waiting for my name to be called, I scan the crowd for where my mom is seated.  Deep breath.  Michael Barone, a short, no-nonsense friend, cried at the end of his speech.  That’s just unfair, I think to myself, but I can get through this.  Another breath.

 

As I approach the front of the assembly, I adjust the microphone down to my mouth.  It’s all muscle memory at this point.  Words start to spill.  I’m not processing the next thought before it escapes my teeth.  And then I have arrived at the final line of the speech, “I will be back in a year unless a lion eats me.”

 

As I sit here today pondering my experience in Kenya, a singular image comes to mind:  a sea of flying termites moving in unison, Macrotermes ukuzii.  They circulate out of the downpour––determined to reach a destination, not knowing where they’re going or how things will turn out––to my family’s sheltered porch, casting tiny shadows under the hanging iron lantern.  They collide with the glass door until the rain ceases and grey morning finds them scattered on the tile floor, wings lost, melted in the rain.  I marvel at their glistening arrangement, delicate black filaments, as the distant sun begins to rise.


Life Waits for No One

Chantel Kardous ’21

 

Somewhere

Beyond Bleecker Street

A man in pained defeat

Working

Working

Working

 

Where he wants to be

Magnolia bakery

Battenberg

Rum baba

Pavlova

A few

blocks

Over

 

Why

He asks

Am I such a

Dead ender?

Everything I do

A fender bender

 

Where’s my future?

Why don’t I fit the mold?

Give up accounting

For once

Damn it be bold

But for now

Working

Working

Working

 

I’m aching for baking

Baking and dreaming

Dreaming and eating

Pillows of pudding

Sheets of Red Velvet

Clouds of meringue

Sorbet melting

Bananas splitting

Cinnamon rolling

Guavas and mangoes

Abaking I must go

 

Everything’s

Upside down

(Like the cake)

Except for the pineapple

On the kitchen counter

 

But what Herman doesn’t know is

He’ll never see the longed-for day

He’ll contract a virus

And pass away

 

All those years

With all those tears

Waiting for euphoria

Arriving at crematoria

 

Down the road

There’s a lawyer

Who wanted to be an astronaut

But her dream never came true

Go ahead and

Ask her who’s to blame

She’ll tell you

It’s her mother


Loneliness: A Definition

Samantha Flum ’23

 

To be the last dollar

shoved to the bottom

of a worn pocket

a dark and

solitary place.

Hiding in a tattered

moth-chewed coat

of a defeated old man,

Walt,

or maybe Gus.

Torn at the corners,

you don’t even know who

you are

anymore.

And here you are abandoned,

crumpled

wishing

Charlie

(that too could be his name)

had bought

one more cigarette,

so you could be sitting

on the Formica counter,

of a beat-up gas station

off a highway leading to

God knows where,

surrounded by pennies,

and nickels,

and quarters

that once you called friends.


Twilight for Cassie and Josh (an excerpt)

Jillian Iredale ’22

 

Sunrise

THESE  RANDOM WORDS SCRIBBLED ACROSS HER SKIN

“Cassie?”

She averted her gaze at the sound of her name, tearing her eyes from the thick volume in front of her.

She looks like her too.

“Josh?”

I bob my head silently as she sticks out a hand buried in silver rings, rope bracelets, and inked messages. My Cas used to do that too. She’d write herself little notes all over her body, sometimes her hand, sometimes thigh. There were times that I’d catch a glimpse of words scattered in places that seemed impossible for her to reach without dislocating an arm. It drove Mom crazy.

“How’s your day going?”

She has a nose ring, a small silver hoop hooked into her nostril. It looks good on her, making the tiny freckles peppered across her nose and cheeks stand out.

“Good, good. Yeah, really good.”

My Cas never had a nose ring, but that was only because Mom never let her. I think it was Grandpa mostly though, he was always strict about the whole “Your body is the temple of the Holy Spirit” kinda thing. Mom was always scared of him, his aloof military manner, intimidating her like she was a little girl, bouncing across the country to whichever Air Force base Grandpa was assigned.

“Coming from class? Brown, right?”

“Yeah, Darwinian Med.”

Cas hated that I wanted to go into science. She said there was nothing more boring than a kid following his “sciency parents’ sciency footsteps”. She was always an original, preferring creativity to school work, with piles of forgotten sketch pads and dried paints, books published across the centuries from Shakespeare to the present: poetry, philosophy, fantasy, anything she could find in the hundreds of tag sales and thrift stores that she frequented. Cas always said that she would read every book that she owned once before opening a book for a second time. Her Life’s Library she called it. I think it’s from one of the books she read. She always shoved it in my face when I was little, trying to force me to read it, even sneaking into my room one night, reciting the first chapter to me as I slept. She got two pages in when I woke up and screamed for Mom.

“Biology. Jesus. I thought law school was hard, I can’t even imagine listening to a three hour lecture on natural selection… honestly, that’s pretty much all I know about evolution and Darwin.”

Her mouth turns downwards as she laughs. It’s strange; she looks happy, her eyes lit up, cheeks turning slightly rosey, but her expression, pained more than anything else.

“Mostly just cell comp-”

“Law school really was hard, you know? I mean, not so much difficult as it was impossible to actually do.The people. Couldn’t stand them.”

She keeps talking for a while, justifying her reason for becoming a law school drop-out. Cas probably would have done the same, loathing the thought of anyone around her thinking her a quitter, no matter how insignificant their opinion was. I hear her voice speaking through Cassie’s lips: the accusatory tone, her rants about a crappy roommate, the Neanderthal teacher, espousing Paleolithic views, or the annoying know-it-all, who sits next to her and judges intricate doodles in her notebook.

Cassie is looking at me. Silent. I feel my face go hot, knowing that I missed something, abandoned in my thoughts.

“Don’t you think?”

I avert my gaze, unsure of how to respond. Cassie looks down, twisting the thick gold band on her thumb, uncomfortable in the silence.

“Um- sorry, what’d you say?”

“Do you think he should have kept his mouth shut?”

Struggling to figure out what she meant, I keep my response brief. “Yeah.”

Her inky fingers play with her ring, slipping it on and off, spinning it on the table, rotating it round and round.

“My grandmother gave me this you know. It was her wedding ring. Kinda old fashioned, but I think it’s pretty bad ass too, right? This perfect, lady-like little British girl, only revealing a sliver of skin, walking around with this sparkplug on her finger. Said Gramps chose it so she’d be a rebel for once. Obviously her parents hated him, wanted her to go live in a convent. Even shipped her off to Switzerland so she could go to this fancy prep school.”

Cassie stopped for a moment, expecting a laugh, I think. I remained silent. Then she continued.

“Marrying Gramps was her act of subversion. Didn’t speak to her parents for years… Distanced herself from their money, religion, hometown, everything. And then of course her daughter decided to marry into a family exactly like them: they had the mansion, the car, the school, the big Jesus statue in the garden. Right before they sealed the deal, I popped up. Wrecked everything. They left, took their son with them. Never saw ‘em again.”

Cassie’s doing the same thing Cas always did, covering her discomfort with a playful smile, repressing it beneath a Cheshire Cat grin and winking eyes. Eccedentesiast. That’s what Mom called her while we were in the car on the way home from the hospital. “Always an eccedentesiast.”

I remember wanting to ask what it meant, but at the same time, I felt like I was eavesdropping, listening in on a private moment. Some time later I looked it up, typing the word into Urban Dictionary. Eccedentesiast: someone who hides pain behind a smile. But Cas didn’t hide her pain. Couldn’t hide her pain. At least, not at the end. Everything came out in the end.

 

 

 

 

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