Sam

Soljan Fjelstad

How horrible would it be

if Green Eggs and Ham

ended with Sam saying,

“I am Sam

and I hate who I am.

Those green eggs and ham?

I threw them in the can

because they tasted terrible,

And honestly this book was a cry for help.”

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A Book with its Bookmark Carefully Placed

By Maxine Flasher-Duzgunes

        He held my hand, and rubbed the hair backwards, as if he liked the feeling of sandpaper on his calloused thumbs. He didn’t talk to me, about the smell of cut grass, or about his father sitting on the couch struggling to breathe.

        I ignored how grave he looked—his eyes, almost tombstones themselves, concrete that seemed to survey the world without cracking.

        “I’d rather go,” he told me, digging his other hand into the mud.

        There were already specks beneath his fingernails—they’d grown accustomed to living there, and it would’ve been beyond me to tell him to wash his hands.

        “You don’t have to,” I said back.

        There was some slight disparity in the sky that evening. Cirrus clouds hovered by the quarter moon, and yet they also caught sunlight by the bay. I wished I could grab a cloud up there, and mold it into something for him—some symbol of wholeness, to stuff in his sinuses, the crevices behind his ears—to fill him up so I wouldn’t be constantly doing it myself. He’d lost something last week, perhaps the news of his father or my dispassion for him, I’m not entirely sure.

        “I don’t need this,” he said, letting go of me this time, picking the dirt out of his left pinky finger, then backing away like I’d suddenly become alien and he wasn’t willing to rediscover me.

        I didn’t holler or plead like Lina or Maryanne, or any other friend of mine who felt in desperate need of something to hold onto.

        He was not, in any respect, a commodity or a toy that begged me to squeeze it. Unlike some, he did not fit sales material, or any feature on a pros and cons list a girl might devise in her bedroom. I appreciated his elusive uniqueness, the fact that he was too interesting to remain in one place. He’d slip away one morning out of the week, and I’d wonder if that meant he was saying goodbye. He’d kiss me, then jump in his car and drive off for days—unworried, thoughtless almost.

        I told him not to think about me, when those spurs of escape ran through him like electric currents, when he just had to leave without looking back.

        But today, today was different, because he slowed the way he walked, deliberately. He let his footfalls go gentle on the grass, each one sinking before letting the other take stride.

        “My father needs me,” he said, his chest turning towards the lit house, his house.

        And I understood. While in the moment it was a partial understanding, soon it would be complete and put aside like finished homework, ironed clothes, a book with its bookmark carefully placed.

        And I understood. While in the moment I accepted the understanding…I did not want it.

Finding Happiness

By Sol Fjelstad

     You’re seventeen, alone on your couch, you just got a text from your mother, who’s crying in the other room. Because your father’s died in a car crash on the way home. But she didn’t knock because you’ve never been close. And the last time she came into your room you yelled at her until she left you alone.

     You can feel the news infiltrate your mind. Crawling up your neck like a black widow spider, searching for your ear where it’ll slip into your head and push its legs into the creases of your brain. Where it will start to spin webs that itch. You want it to stop. So you grasp at your neck, but it runs, and, just barely, it makes it to your ear, so in a moment of terror your wrap your hand around the right side of your face and you pull. Until your ear is bleeding on the floor in front of you. But you can still hear it. And like a swarm of song birds singing at midnight, it’s beautiful but it scares you. It’s happiness.

      You start laughing. You tell yourself it’s how you deal with sorrow but you’re wrong. You hold your hands up to your eyes to hide yourself from judgement. But you can feel your reflection staring at you. Then your pinky slips and accidentally touches your head wound and it stings.

     The next day, at school, you’re fine. You’re coping. Stoic, even. Okay, you’re content. Dealing with what the world throws at you, emotional inertia and all that, you’re just good at it. Okay fine. You’re happy, dammit. And you say nothing. But everyone finds out. From your classmate whose father sometimes worked with your father. And people run, walk, sprint to console you, but before they do they stop. They look at you. And they ask you why you’re smiling. And you tell them it’s just how your face rests.

     Walking home a strange man stalks in front of you. He’s wearing a black suit and bright clown makeup. He’s smiling so much your eyes hurt looking at him. But he’s in your way. So you walk up to him. You stop. In front of him. And you stare deep into his shoulders. Then he holds out his hands, and despite yourself, you hold out your hands to meet his. Then you realize. Someone just  left a mirror in the middle of the sidewalk. You run your fingers along the side of his hand and it feels like… glass. And for some reason this surprises you.

     You realize you’re staring at your own happiness. And it’s everything you ever wanted. You want to take a hatchet to his head. At the same time you can hear your poor dad screaming, “Not now! Don’t be happy now!” But he’s beautiful, he’s enchanting, but he’s unusual, and that makes you uncomfortable. He kneels down and smiles at you and he’s marvelous, but he’s menacing. Then he hugs you. And you feel comforted.

     He whispers, “It’s okay to be happy.” You want to push him back and scream, tell him to come back when you’ve earned him. But before you open your mouth his head shakes. And he kisses you.

The Jackfruit

by Sumaita Mahmood

Yellow, slimy, sticky, smelly pulp

scooped out of the mottled shell,

leaving the empty carcass of the jackfruit.

It lies on the table, still cold from the freezer.

Special glass dessert bowls are brought out

and a gracious amount is dumped in each one

with a dollop of vanilla bean ice cream.

 

The relatives around the table take their rations,

slurping up the cold fruit into their mouths.

The sharp, bittersweet taste triggers faint memories

of when they were little and had nothing else to enjoy

but the putrid insides of a large jackfruit.

No words need to be said.

Only “mmm” “aaahh” and “oooo”

their eyes closed, blind to the ugly pulp.

 

The seeds are sucked on, then spit out.

Bowls shamelessly licked clean.

Each relative goes for seconds and thirds eagerly.

A bowl of jackfruit is passed down the table

to my unwilling hands.

I confess my allergy.

The quick red flush on my cheeks

miraculously goes unnoticed.

 

A cousin I might have seen three times in my life

wonders why I can’t have this wonderful delicacy

that she has grown up relishing.

I stare back, not answering.

Perhaps what she does not realize, is that

jackfruits do not, cannot grow in NYC.

Only in hot, humid places like Bangladesh

where they reside among the tall, fruit-bearing trees.

Feminism Up

By Brooke LaMantia

Every feminist has a different view of feminism. That’s why feminism is so intriguing, confusing and importantwhy it originally caught my eye. Once I become attached to things, the infatuation that I hold only continues to grow with time. If a topic catches my eye, I learn everything there is about it. So when I decided to explore “feminism,” knowing I wanted to be one, but unsure of how, I picked up a book and started to read. The list of books driven by themes of feminism I’ve read goes on and on; classics like The Handmaid’s Tale,  cultural feminist novels like Headscarves and Hymens: Why the Middle East Needs a Sexual Revolution, and poetry like Milk & Honey. In more common works of art than expected, feminism drives the plot, narrative and voices of women all over the world. One of the best ways to find your own voice is by listening to others’ first. These authors provide insight into what feminism looks like and how it can be carried out in different ways. For me, hearing other woman’s stories made me realize that mine was also important and valid.

After reading Roxanne Gay’s book Bad Feminist, I realized I didn’t have to fit into any mold of what people thought a “feminist” was. In fact, the idea that labels had to define me at all was completely demolished. I related entirely to Gay’s essays. I understood where she came from when she said she found herself to be a “bad feminist” in terms of what society thought, when she affirmed that she did not fit the “mold.” That is the beauty of feminism—there is no right way to be one. Gay writes about how she often finds herself humming along to misogynistic, sexist lyrics simply because they’re catchy. There have been so many circumstances after reading Gay’s essays where I catch myself in the car, singing along to sexist words. These instances reveal that culture and media so deeply influence us. I will always fall short of what I think a perfect feminist is, because feminists are humans too, and expectations are, as well, a part of the issue of sexism. When walking with my friends, I will say sexist things like “man, I wish I had the balls to do that,” only to shake my head and realize what just came out of my mouth. No matter how hard I try, I am and will always be a bad feminist; each day I will fall short of what an ideal “feminist” would look like, but the important thing is that I try. Feminism isn’t about perfection, it’s about change. Everyone will always be a bad feminist in a world of non-existent good ones.

Like Bad Feminist, each book, memoir, poem, etc. that I have encountered with the label of “feminism” has taught me something new. In Rebecca Solnit’s book, Men Explain Things to Me, she discusses “mansplaining:” when a man tries to explain something to a woman that she already knows, refusing to listen to her try to explain it herself. It’s a complicated idea, but it’s one all women have likely gone through. Once I read this, I burst out laughing because it hit so close to home. Every time I tried to explain something to my dad, he would respond by explaining what I had just explained to him. I remember that I came home from college one weekend, eager to tell my dad about a cinema lecture I had the previous week, only to be continually interrupted when explaining it. “Oh, yeah, that’s when the Germans…” he interjected. I stomped away mid-sentence. It’s a frustrating conversation to have and I often think it arises without notice. In Jessica Valenti’s memoir, Sex Object, readers dive into her life and the effects of sexism on it. This book made me understand the sheer importance of vulnerability, the power it can have, and how being honest can impact those around us. Valenti holds nothing back. That is what makes her memoir so impactful. In Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie’s essay, We Should All Be Feminists, she calls herself a happy feminist after receiving backlash from males due to the representation of women in her first novel. Then she declared herself a happy, African feminist, a happy African feminist who does not hate men, and so on. Adichie asserts that calling oneself a feminist comes with too much baggage, and she right.

Each feminist should have the right to determine what feminism means for them. Each feminist has a different reason, different motivation, different vulnerability. Each feminist has their own voice and should be able to use it. That’s why feminist literature is so important. To be able to hear other’s stories, voices, declarations of what feminism means to them, is what keeps feminism relevant and important; it’s what allows us to connect and learn. It’s what pushes us to find our own voice.

Must Reads:

  1. Headscarves and Hymens: Why the Middle East Needs a Sexual Revolution by Mona Elthaway
  2. Bad Feminist by Roxanne Gay
  3. Sex Object by Jessica Valenti
  4. Men Explain Things to Me by Rebecca Solnit
  5. We Should All Be Feminists by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie
  6. The Handmaid’s Tale by Margaret Atwood
  7. Milk & Honey by Rupi Kaur
  8. The Awakening by Kate Chopin
  9. The Color Purple by Alice Walker
  10. New American Best Friend by Olivia Gatwood
  11. Rad Women Worldwide by Kate Schatz, Miriam Klein Stahl