Impression № 005: Noir

Rachele Masetti describes this image as dreamy and melancholy portrait in ink.  It is a personal work.

Crust

hat year the ground gave out from under us. We went to the flats behind the 7-11 every day after school and took turns jumping – first individually, then in pairs, then threes, seeing how far our nerve would take us. The earth buckled and yawned open in places and when we jumped it sometimes cracked to reveal a shelf and one time threw Susanne Laurence back up in the air like it was spitting her out. There were other places in town you could do these things, but behind the 7-11 was the best place.

Some mornings when we walked to school the ground seemed unsteady all around us, gas leaking from the vented earth. Our school was small, it fit our town, five rooms that we shared in shifts with the younger students. We packed our day into five hours and would pass the first- through fifth-graders on their walk in as we headed home, the janitors emptying trash cans and scrubbing blackboards in preparation for their arrival.

We were at a party in Jason Dunbar’s basement when the alert was issued, seismic activity or something. This is the sort of thing we should remember but Jason Dunbar had the best basement for Spin the Bottle and Seven Minutes in Heaven and we were fifteen, when we knew all the things worth remembering were going to happen in his parents’ game closet or laying on the cement floor behind their bar, well-stocked with watered liquors.

Sometimes we couldn’t sleep at night for the groaning that went on all around us, the sounds of the Earth gawping its maw. We wanted to know things like why was this happening to our town, of all towns. In front of the bookmobile’s parking spot a steady fissure of steam that grew and grew until we all, even the librarian, became reluctant to bypass it to open the door of the blocked and reimagined mobile home.


hen Jenny Wells disappeared we all of us knew where she had gone. She never came with us to the flats and it only made sense she would go alone. That was the way she did things. We told our parents we had heard she went back there after school to test the earth, that she would jump up and down in one spot until something gave. The sheriff went back there and when he returned said it was like walking across a sea of jello, that he thought he’d seen a new fissure but it was hard to say because he had felt the ground might at any minute quit its wobbling and decide whether it wanted to throw him out or take him in. He was young and his wife was pregnant and none of us was surprised when a week after Jenny Wells vanished he vanished too, but with his wife and his truck and his house stripped of all its valuables.

We went back to the flats one more time. We jumped singly, then in pairs, then three at a time, howling as the earth returned to us what we gave in steam and a viscous brown liquid that leaked from its crust. The sun slapped our backs, doubling us over with its strength, and between turns we stood hunched with our hands on our knees, sweat dripping from our foreheads to the cracked earth. What made it so bad was that the heat came from above and from below, and we said that this must be what hell was like, this place right here, the not-being-able-to-get-awayness of it all.

The earth rolled that day, the flats undulating and never ending. We jumped four together, then five, then six, imagining Jenny Wells somewhere under us, then all seven of us, lined up and holding hands and sweat staining the armpits of our shirts as the earth threw us higher with each go. There was never any wind and the stillness of the air made it feel like there wasn’t any at all and we would have to gasp for breath when we came back to earth.

We imagined that under the crust, down where Jenny Wells was so persistent in her hiding, was another vision of our town, only with green things and a bookmobile that had wheels, a school with a gym and ten classrooms, a grocery store so the people down there didn’t have to drive ten miles to the Food City just for a frozen pizza. The earth down there was still and coated with grass that didn’t wither and die the minute summer hit but stayed green all year round. We said that while we were up here clutching hands and jumping Jenny Wells was down there on lunch break from school, sitting under a tree watching the sky shudder and release the rain clouds we were making. Everything in that town down there was good and better and the way it should be, but all the same we ran home after we were thrown so high we landed in a tumbled aching heap with rivulets of the brown mud working their paths around us. We didn’t tell our parents about the under the crust town but stayed at our windows watching the mud coming down the edges of the streets, widening and widening until all the pavement was taken over and we couldn’t do anything besides sit with our families and listen to the news. We all of us went back to our windows again and again, watching to see if Jenny Wells had come back to tell us how things were down there, but there was only the mud and the sun and the still, cracked air.

Exposure № 009: Mysore

Says Helen Korpak: “This photo is part of a larger body of work I produced while traveling in south India during the first months of 2011. I coped with the huge amount of new impressions and experiences by partly turning my photography inwards and not only examining and documenting my surroundings but also myself, taking daily self-portraits as a complement to my written diary.”

Moves

The pack of wild men dances with arms up,
chests out, teeth flashed. You there in the center,
yes you. That white T-shirt and the view from
upstairs—howl, as they say.

Around we go, the hip hop beats on, we beat
on, feet stuck, slipping, moving, hips stuck,
slipping, moving.

I declare you, man, the owner of moves: first,
last, your lips on my neck, my curves and yours,
words just words, my lips, yes, mine.

I declare myself woman—the resistance until
what will be. You loved someone else before.
Remember? Let’s not be alone, man, man. Say
it with me.

Skipping School

oanne told her teacher she believed in God. Her Bible class teacher. What the hell else could she tell him?

She fidgeted in her seat, her hand automatically reaching down to smooth the pleats in her skirt. Joanne hadn’t expected the question, hadn’t expected anything like it. Mr. Galloway’s class was usually the most boring hour of her day. He liked to go on and on about King David and the Ten Commandments and Leviticus. Joanne couldn’t have cared less.

She had been staring across the classroom at Brad when the teacher asked the question. Brad was the only boy she knew with red hair. She gawked at him not because she had a crush on him or anything, but because he wore his orangish mane in a tight crew cut like her brother before they shipped his ass to Iraq.

“Of course I believe in God,” she had answered, her head snapping around to face her teacher, her cheeks flushed because – just maybe – she’d been caught ogling Brad.

“Why?”

Joanne struggled with the question. What did he mean by it? One didn’t need a reason to believe in God. It was automatic, something she had done all her life. She believed because her mom and dad had raised her to believe. And because all the priests expected her to. Because her parents had dragged her out of bed for Mass every Sunday for all of her twelve years, and what was the point if he wasn’t real? And she believed because her grade in Bible class pretty much depended on it.

When she couldn’t answer the question, Mr. Galloway turned it over to the rest of the class.

“Because the Bible says so.”

“Because the universe didn’t create itself.”

“Because he talks to me when I pray.”

“Because without him there would be nothing.”

They sounded like good enough reasons to Joanne. She wondered why she hadn’t been able to think of any. She watched her classmates–boys in their starch-white shirts, girls in their plaid skirts and tube socks–work themselves into a near-panic raising their hands, squirming, vying to show off their smarts. Joanne didn’t feel like she belonged. Soon enough, the lecture changed course. Mr. Galloway told the story of Job. Joanne zoned out. She’d heard it a thousand times before. She glanced across the room at Brad.


ater in the hallway, Joanne marched toward math class while Amanda followed her like a sad puppy. Amanda tried to tell her what it felt like to kiss Jason from down the street. Normally Joanne would have been extremely interested in any story about kissing Jason, but just then she was preoccupied by math class. The doorway loomed before her. It would be division today. Long division. Joanne just couldn’t take it.

“Let’s ditch, Amanda, just you and me,” Joanne said. “Let’s skip class and go to the park, the mall–anywhere. Let’s get out of here.”

Amanda looked at her like she’d suggested shooting Father Mattias in the face. Joanne sweetened the deal. She had a little money left over from her birthday. They could buy fast food. And then there were the cigarettes. Joanne had been pilfering them from her mother for weeks, one or two at a time. This morning she’d meticulously wrapped them in a red bandanna and shoved the package to the bottom of her purse next to the letter from her brother.

Joanne could see from the expression on her friend’s face that she very much wanted to smoke these cigarettes. But, inevitably, she chickened out. Amanda was a cunt.


ater, Joanne sat by herself on a park bench. She munched a cheeseburger and sipped Coke through a straw. The afternoon was colder than she’d expected, and she cursed herself for leaving her coat on the rack in homeroom. She’d thought about retrieving it but decided not to risk drawing attention to herself.

She had expected the park to be full of kids. The park was lousy with them on weekends. Now that she thought about it, it made perfect sense that they’d be in school, but the park was weird without them.

The swings stood empty. She considered playing on them but decided against it. The thought of swinging by herself in the empty park depressed the hell out of her.

Her cup gurgled as she sucked out the last of the cola. It didn’t even taste like soda anymore. It tasted like watered-down shit. She put the empty cup and her cheeseburger wrapper on a heap of garbage overflowing from the trashcan beside the bench. Then she fished through her purse for the cigarettes. When she came up for air she held one cigarette, a lighter and her brother’s letter.

She struggled with the lighter. She hated those things, hated the way the teeth on the metal wheel dug into her thumb, hated how it would slip and she’d lose the flame at the last possible instant.

Eventually she got the job done. She smoked not because she particularly liked it but because it was what one did while ditching school. She took another puff and wondered what all the fuss was about.

The letter sat on her lap. It wasn’t going away. She’d made her brother promise to write her every week, and now he’d been gone for six months and this was the first she’d heard from him. The day the letter arrived in the mailbox she seriously considered throwing it the fuck away. Now she had folded and unfolded it so many times she feared the seams wouldn’t hold and it would fall apart into rectangles.

She opened it and read it once again. Her brother began by calling her that nickname he knew she hated. Then he said he was very, very safe and having as good a time as possible, considering the circumstances. He said the food was mostly normal, but he’d tried some Iraqi cuisine once and it was wretched, goat and lamb prepared in the most bizarre way possible. He said sometimes he felt like joining the Army was the right thing to do, and other times he just didn’t see the point, like the war was doing no good and he had given up what should have been the best years of his life.

He asked her to be good to mom and dad. He told her to “buckle down” in school. He told her he loved her. Joanne remembered he’d told her the same thing the day he left, and it had been the first time she’d heard those words from him.

She folded the letter closed for what must have been the thousandth time. Her cigarette was spent. The sun was setting. It was time to go home.

She walked through the park and across the street to the sidewalk that would take her where she needed to go. She noticed an electronics store at the corner by the crosswalk. A newscast played on a big television in the window, and while the news typically bored her, this particular segment was all about soldiers in the desert. Lots of soldiers. She couldn’t hear the anchor, but she could tell by his demeanor that something big was happening.

Joanne noticed her own reflection in the glass. She always hated her hair, not quite blond, not quite brown–a frizzy wreck. An afternoon at the park hadn’t improved it.

A man crossed the street. He stopped a few feet from her and watched the television through the window. He rubbed his jaw and sighed.

“What a mess,” he said, turning to walk away.

“What’s going on?” Joanne asked. “What’s happening with the war?”

“Huh?” the man said, acting like he hadn’t understood her even though Joanne knew good and well he had.

“The war,” she said, pointing to the television. “Is something going on?”

“Oh yeah, yeah,” he said. “The Marines will be in Fallujah by morning.”

“So it’s just the Marines?” Joanne asked.

“No, no. It’s everybody. Tanks, planes–everybody. What a mess.”

The man rubbed his jaw again and left. Joanne watched the television for a while. She considered going home, and then she just didn’t. She leaned against the shop window, watching the cars whiz by while the sky turned dark. She folded her arms against the cold. Then she fished through her purse for another cigarette, pulling out a crooked one. A small ball of lint clung to the filter. Joanne straightened the cigarette and removed the lint. She lit it on her first try.

Joanne thought about the war.

She thought about her brother.

Joanne made up her mind about a few things. She was already late and knew her parents would be frantic, so she decided to go home as soon as she finished the cigarette, or maybe after another. She felt cold but the smoking warmed her. Joanne decided she no longer believed in God.

Cutting Fruit

Knives slipping through the fruit. We
can barely keep ourselves,
Sweet juice, pineapple, that one
At the store all alone, yellow to the
Core, my wife sweet on me,
Because I was with her, picked
It with my nose and how soft it was
Felt like I was in the tropics, nowhere
Near the mountain’s, paradise in a
Bite, and honey dew, just like its name
Crisp, soft and white,  they will be
On skewers tomorrow, strawberries
And blueberries and cantaloupe,
A going away party, to dip in
That marshmallow cream, and make
Everybody happy, content
A hell of a lot more natural than
A birthday cake, a chunk to dance
Upon the tongue and make everyone
Feel like cotton candy at the state fair.

Three’s (Not) A Crowd


onight, before I sleep, I will write my will. It may interest you to know that you are one of the beneficiaries. Nothing fancy, I promise. Just an old cardboard box, filled with some items that I thought were worth saving, and which you might like to have after I am gone. I hope they remind you of me, when the time comes for that anyway. That is all I can really ask of you by that point, to be remembered.

In your garden, the primroses that you planted months ago have finally begun to blossom, unfolding their petals to greet the sun’s waxing warmth. The buzzing and humming of insects will soon follow, as all the other flowers rouse themselves to follow this early herald’s example. He is already waiting for you by the gate, his toothy smile a perfect match for yours, as you straighten from tending the flowers. He holds a bunch of daffodils, which you take from him, only to drop when he in turn takes your face in his hands and kisses you. The two of you walk out the gate, hand in hand. It swings shut behind you and a single butterfly alights on the post. I wait until you are out of sight, and then leap over the gate to pick up the only daffodil that has not been trampled by your passing feet. The butterfly takes flight.

Bodies are strewn across the beach, baking and slowly turning into stranded lobsters served up on gritty sand. You stroll back to your mat, carrying two coconuts from the vendor further inland and dripping perspiration because of the glaring sun. He spots you coming and runs to grab you by the waist, spilling juice onto your hands. He licks your fingers, one by one, and you swat him playfully. He chases you into the ocean, the coconuts forgotten beside your mat as a breeze ruffles your hair. I step out from behind the vendor’s stall and follow the path you took, matching your footsteps in the sand until I reach the coconuts. There is still some juice in one of them. I pick it up and drain it dry, watching the two of you disappear into the crowd of splashing bathers.

very so often, a chilly wind whistles through the trees, shaking red, orange and yellow leaves from the branches. They rustle underfoot as you walk along the track, the lowest of the bare boughs just managing to scrape your head. He gathers up a handful of twigs and leaves, sneaks up behind and dumps it onto you, laughing all the while. You turn and glare at him, crossly brushing the dead matter from your hair. He tries to help but you evade his touch, turn and stalk down the path. He follows a short distance behind, kicking up crackling piles as he passes me, step by step. I reach out from behind a tree and snatch up one of the leaves before it falls to the ground. The wind strips another branch of its leaves, which fall all about my outstretched arm.

The two of you stand in the middle of a field, blanketed by the snow. You have each left a trail of shoeprints behind you, dark against the white expanse. All about you, the snow continues to fall steadily at an angle, weighing down the skeletal frames of the trees that line the perimeter of the field. Near one of them, a branch lies on the ground where it fell after snagging in the hood of your parka and snapping off. He tries to kiss you but you stop him, and taking his hand in yours, you lead him away. The snow crunches beneath you, as you slowly allow the distance between your bodies to grow, until you drop his hand, still walking on. He pretends that it did not happen. I pocket a twig from the fallen branch and follow the path you took past the witch-hazel shrubs, twinning our shoeprints. I turn around when I reach the place where you were standing and start walking backwards, until all the shoeprint trails are paired, marching across the powdery snow, two by two.

On my bedside table, there are four things that I look at every night before I go to bed: a dried flower, an empty husk, a shredded leaf, a bare twig. The old cardboard box is already waiting, labelled with your address.

Existentialism for Dummies

Even some of what is tied down is not permanent.
Erosion and raccoons see to that.
Rust.
Some things change
but take so long to do so that watching them
would cost you changes in yourself.

Some are only noticed
when you look away
and look back,
your sister after five years,
the old neighborhood with new traffic lights
and street lamps on Hamilton boulevard.
Does anyone walk on Hamilton boulevard?
Are they trying to keep people longer
or prevent more from coming in?

Medical students can’t hang out with their friends
without noticing what’s wrong with them,
english majors without correcting
them every time they do somethin’ good.

Now that your way has failed
they want to show you the other way,
the Frosty path of complete abstinence from everything fun,
from Rummy Bears and the welts of late night horseshoes,
from confirmation that, yes, they do put the handcuffs on too
tight,
from the tattoo across your chest with your last name misspelled.

Change is made up of elements no one wants to look at,
complete surrender and the acceptance that you are not ruined,
you just got on the wrong bike,
you need the curb to get on and off
and you keep tripping on it.

Honesty is the first principle
of the first step of your new path.
Ten pages for your resentments alone.
Where they disagree is pride.

Exposure № 008: Portraits

Audubon Dougherty shares these two moments with Dr. Hurley.  We love the beautiful contrast and peaceful mood of these photos.

And the booger.

The White Dress


he had been waiting her whole life for the white dress. For years, she had planned the meal that she would eat, the song that she would dance to, the women who would envy her when she wore that dress. Once, in high school, it was short, fluffy, with cap sleeves and a bow in the back. That was short lived. In college, it was long and gauzy, completed by bell sleeves and a corset back. She wanted to look like one of Tolkien’s elves, recently materialized from the mist over a lake. Ethereal in the afternoon sun. But she didn’t have the hair for it. So usually, it was a princess-style ball gown, with jewels aplenty and a tiara on top. Every little girl dreamed of being a princess, just for one day.

Her mother had spent years considering this as well. Nothing too gaudy, nothing too ostentatious. Mother was a practical woman. And Mother was paying. So she chose simple things, without flounces or buttons or lace, with minimal rhinestones in favor of pearls. No train. Trains made her look silly. That dress is not right for this occasion. You can’t wear that. Honestly, what will the neighbors think? Be realistic. This isn’t a royal wedding, you know.


er grandmother had no strong opinions on the matter. But that white was the wrong white. White had looked different when she was younger. This white hurt her eyes. What about something with pleats? Don’t they have anything with sleeves? Well, back when she was young, they wouldn’t have worn anything like that. But I guess that’s the style these days. A heavy sigh, a shake of the head, a shrug of disenchantment and disappointment. Whatever you like, dear. I don’t have much to say about it.

Her sister rolled her eyes and glared at her. You know, this was really draining, having to watch her try on all these dresses. She wouldn’t care that much. It was just a dress, after all. Must you always be the center of attention? Little miss pretty pretty princess? Everyone is doing all this work just for you. Don’t you care about how hard this is on the rest of us? Whatever. You’re so selfish.

Her best friends told her to be true to herself. Here, this is the one you used to like. Don’t let your family talk you out of it. You love it. Why are you changing your mind? It’s your day, you know. You should get what you want. Pay for it yourself, if you have to. You can always make up the difference someplace else. You have to choose something. Do what makes you happy. This will make you happy.

The men stayed out of it. This was wise. Her father’s opinion was somehow communicated through her mother, though he professed not to have one. This just meant Mother got an extra vote.

A suitable dress was found. Of course it would need changing. A different neckline. Different shoes. Different accessories, and different hair. Honestly, honey, it’s not that difficult – a four hour drive for alterations, breaking in three pairs of shoes, finding earrings that matched for under $20. Simple things, to look perfect on your special day.

Oh my. Turn, pause, turn the other way. Can you move? Can you sit? Well, you won’t be sitting, anyway. Can you breathe? Let’s try it with a different veil. A tiara? Well, it’s your decision.

On the day of her wedding she was her mother’s delight, her grandmother’s pride, her sister’s best friend – everyone’s porcelain doll. They were all so proud of her. It wasn’t clear why. She smiled until her cheeks hurt, said hello to all of the right people, held her flowers just so, said I do. She didn’t feel like herself at all.