Halfway to Nowhere

By Simona Ivanova

  1. Light a match to keep yourself warm. Set your house on fire. Scorn your coarse language. Scorn your family. Scorn staying here. Scorn scorning. Sever ties. Change your name. Construct a mask for yourself. Pack your belongings. Don’t look back to where your mother cries to see you go. Force yourself to believe there is a Renaissance yet to happen. It is all about becoming one with the illusion. Master the senses. Focus on the ways to murder the person behind the mask.

 

  1. Enter the Strange Land. Be the Stranger in the Strange Land. Convince yourself itself it is already more of a home than where you came from. Hide your accent as much as you can. Find a Strange lover to do bad things to you. Chain-smoke and cry while walking uptown in the drizzle. Tell yourself this is New York Melancholy. Sit in the parks. Read. Watch. Write. Obsess. Dwell in your small chaos. Call back home occasionally. End the conversation when you get ablaze with irritation after 10 minutes.

 

  • Return to your Native Land after months. Be the Stranger in an even Stranger Land. Scorn your lack of eloquence in your mother’s tongue. Scream at all your close ones. Scratch the blackened, charred walls. Text a stranger: “I WANT TO GO BACK.” Fall ill. Get mononucleosis. Stay in bed. Fever – dream. Reject any attempts to un-sever ties.

 

  1. Return to New York. Realize home is gone for you, as you gravitate from one place to another. Convince yourself that’s great. Liberate your body. Meet voyeurs. Show off your mask. Let them tell you what to do. Let them flip you on your belly and make love to the carcass you’ve been dragging along all this time. Bleed on the floor. See that maybe there is still some life in you.

 

  1. Scorn certainty. Scorn knowledge. Scorn the future.

 

  1. Plan a trip back to your Native Land. Fantasize about the Balkan Mountains. Fantasize about climbing high. Fantasize about getting lost in the woods. Fantasize about lying down under the bleak March sun. Fantasize about spilling all over the land. Fantasize about it absorbing all your decaying liquid self. Fantasize eagles clawing at your mask and gulping up your skin.

 

  • Фантазирай да пишеш на собствения си език.

 

  • Be the Stranger everywhere. Write and rejoice in nothingness. Let someone take your hand and kiss each finger, one by one, 15 minutes after you’ve met them. Radiate. Tell her you love her. Plan to tell him he makes your heart swell with tenderness. Call your mother and ask for forgiveness. Count the days until you meet your dad again. Lie to yourself that you won’t cry when you embrace.

 

  1. Remember what it meant to have a Home. Remember the socialist architecture, covered by fresh snow, the muddy streets, the slurs written all over the apartment buildings. Remember that it has never been New York Melancholy. It has always been and will be Slavic Grief. Remember hearing your father tell you he is becoming sadder and sadder. Remember hearing your mother tell you she is struggling to learn the Strange language. Hear her mispronounce “lavatory” but don’t correct her.

Missing

By Katie Mulkowsky

  • It’s 7:00 am when I mindlessly check my phone. The room is early-morning grey, apartment asleep. There’s a window above my bed that’s damp and cold. It’s summer back home but winter in Cape Town.
  • It’s 7:02 when your mom posts about you. I hadn’t seen your name in a while. No one had heard from you since last night. Has anyone seen my son, she asked in two languages, English and Italian. You weren’t in England or Italy. You were in France.
  • It was July 15. Bastille Day: the night before. I was in Cape Town, a South African city flagged for terror warnings all month, and you were in Nice, a ville tranquille on the Riviera. You were the one missing. A man with motives had plowed a truck through a crowd watching fireworks. People were dead and your friends’ legs were broken and after the impact someone thought they saw you running. They didn’t know for sure.
  • You were missing for three days.

Cape Town’s District Six museum acts like a kind of surgeon. Its walls are scars, stitched together by archives of the black and coloured South Africans uprooted by apartheid. Rooms are constructed out of newspaper clippings, family recipes, old china. Maps of streets long demolished are redrawn by those alive — marked not by signs but by places, reminders of what was once home.

You can stand, if you want, on the corner of Baby’s barber and Dad’s grocery. You can hold patchwork quilts. One wall reads that “our histories are contained by the homes we live in; we are shaped by the ability of these simple structures to resist being defiled.” The right to home is the right to dignity, argue the guides who lived this history, through mouths still muted in its wake.

My first time at the museum was that June. I cried. I was in Cape Town with a friend from home, researching affordable housing in the city, studying the politics of shelter. We went to make meaning out of places different than ours. You were in Nice for the same reason.

All of this is a true story. My second time at the museum was that July. My eyes stayed dry. Gradually we learned how to distance ourselves from outrage at injustice. It was the only way to speak reasonably with architects and activists for our work each day.

But then we heard that you were missing, and for three days every injustice in the world was personal. Elementary, middle, and high school classmate; only child; kitesurfer of the ocean that taught us to swim. Your parents lived up the street from mine at home. If you and I were to erect our own versions of the District Six museum, they’d have the same landmarks.

Things we wanted you to be, 7/15-7/17

  • The John Doe on a surgeon’s table, still breathing
  • Brutally and miserably lost
  • In hiding, in shock; pretending it never happened in a grocery store
  • On a flight home
  • Never there

These days became every living cliché: the minutes that passed were all hours. From Cape Town we updated newsfeeds, shared photos of last-seen outfits, sent solace to home across land masses and equatorial lines. We avoided public gatherings and our mothers’ texts. It could have been you, I want you home. / Pourquoi n’était pas — why wasn’t it?

Somewhere around 5:00 pm on the second day I asked my friend to doodle a house. The next night I got it tattooed on my ribcage. There was a miscommunication about the time I’d come back to our apartment after — one, two, three hours passed and he was alone, starting to panic.

What fear made him do:

  • Call a local friend; get that friend to call a friend
  • Have friend’s friend find my tattoo artist’s cell number
  • Call her, petrified that I’d left hours ago and been missing since

And later:

  • YOU CAN’T JUST DISAPPEAR ON THE STREETS OF CAPE TOWN WHEN PEOPLE WE KNOW ARE DYING ALL OVER THE WORLD.
  • Er — not dying.
  • “Missing.”
  • We existed within 20 square feet of each other but barely spoke until the next day.

By then, we weren’t hopeful, but when the news came we still fell apart. My friend’s words reached me first, texted from our Cape Town kitchen — from the table we studied housing and drew homes on top of. Before you go on Facebook or anything, they’ve confirmed that Nick died during the attacks. It was during the following days that people we’ve known all our lives became the ones who cry and hold each other in news coverage of tragedy.

We weren’t your best friends or parents or high school prom dates or frat brothers. We weren’t home for the ocean paddle-out in your name, and might not have even gone if we were. You were a fixture in our childhoods who eventually became A Facebook Friend. But that is exactly why it was senseless and terrifying for global madness to hit home.

My tattoo wasn’t an impulse and had nothing to do with Nice. I’d wanted it since I left California for New York and fought to make the city I now lived in feel the same way. Back there, home to me was never my house — it was every sunset spot where temporary love could be built into the backseat of a car, parked cliffside and dangling. It was the places where friends grew together and apart, where dads got cancer or didn’t, where Nicks surfed and learned and became people.

New York wasn’t home until it, too, contained artifacts: floorboard of the first I love you, floorboard of the spilled wine, floorboard that trembled one spring night under the weight of too many bodies. In Cape Town we argued for the right to basic infrastructure but also for the right to this type of story, for the right to a home filled with messes and memories and mistakes. And in Cape Town we learned that someone whose home existed indefinitely alongside ours was pulled from it hastily — making him another casualty in a war of hatred, insanity, and fear. But to us, he’s more than that. To his parents and to our hometown, he’s more than that.

This isn’t a eulogy because it has no business being one. It’s a reckoning with home and terror, justice and loss. I’m Facebook friends with a dead Berkeley student I learned fractions alongside in fifth grade. How is anyone supposed to rationalize that? How is anyone supposed to board a plane?

  • The French verb rentrer means to return, but more specifically to return home. Nous sommes rentrès, mais il n’est pas — we returned, but he didn’t. It’s random and will never make sense. I feel lucky in terrible moments because I’m living them.
  • Heartache does not justify intolerance, and terror does not excuse war. Especially not on religion. Thou shalt not race-ialize by association.
  • Cities are living, breathing things, where lives are built and space is planned. The poetry of where we were was the intentional désordre of its form. We searched for meaning rather than solution. No one can turn back time.
  • By my definition, Cape Town briefly became home. The apartment we lived in is filled with ghosts: instants of knowledge, then fear, then loss. We learned about geography and space and law there. We left humanized and ignited and safe.

Untitled

By Sebastian Paine

They say home is where the heart is. Someone stole mine long ago.

She carries it with her, in soft hands that play me like a harp, filling the air with vibrations that make my spine quiver and my very essence falter. One by one, the stony walls of reality crumble and lay in rubble at my feet. Through the dust I see truth. Doubt evaporates, and I am filled with a steely conviction. Home is melting in her arms, surrendering myself by her side, basking in her gaze.

I live the life of a vagabond. She is my direction, and all roads lead to her.

Her voice is a siren song, and with her tongue she paints constellations in the sky. Her breath is the wind in my sails, and I look to her starry map for guidance through blackened seas.

I live the life of a hermit. She is my refuge, and in her presence I take shelter from the storm.

Her eyes are the windows by which I see the soul of mankind, the quintessence of love. It is not, as I once thought, an empty promise.

I live the life of a disciple. She is my faith, and by God, I do believe.

Her words carry the weight of prophecy, and her will is law. My spirit mumbles hymns in her praise as I wander blindly towards the promised land, grasping for hope in the night.

She takes my lost, outstretched hands in her own and draws me close. Reunited with my beating heart, I am home.

At last.

Les amours imaginaires

 

By Simona Ivanova

bag and bra and belt have been abandoned

on the floor, the scattered remnants of a Bacchic night

the silky dress still clinging

to the edge of the bed, almost

touching her

 

she sleeps now

at last

and her soft breaths make the room hold its own

while I wake and look upon her

eyes closed, mouth blow-a-kiss open

and think

I may very well die here and now

 

this is beauty

 

how she turns her back to me

still deep in slumber

while I rise from my own bed

and wash and dress and eat

and go outside to celebrate the tenderness

within me

 

the dance of the imagined lovers is only

for one

 

In Seasons

By Matheus Eleuterio Miranda Dias

I. Winter Born

It was winter when we met.

My first winter in a long time — a real winter, a winter which you cannot help but take note of and dress accordingly to. Most winters I’ve experienced have been Brazilian, and Brazilian winters are at best non-committal.

On a December day, I dressed according to the cold and the occasion: him.

I found myself in a dimly lit room: the fluorescent light in the middle of the ceiling was turned off, the Christmas lights hanging around the room were turned on. On the wall I saw letters, photographs, postcards. On the ceiling I saw a sort of tapestry and a rainbow flag. On the bed, he sat beside me: tank-top, glasses, light complexion, and the bluest of eyes.

His back rested against the wall as we talked. I said something which I can’t remember and in a Freudian slip of sorts, he asked:

“Kiss?”

I smiled as I realized what had happened, and said:

“Sure.”

I leaned in — one arm placed on his right side, another on his left side, both supporting my weight — and placed a soft kiss on his lips.

On them, I could almost taste the sweet fruit of what would become. And I wonder: if we could taste the unripe, would we dare take another bite? No matter what my tastebuds weathered in the road to ripeness, I always believed in the sweetness — I watched the bitten apple in my hand turn from green to scarlet-red.

The following days saw countless kisses, seeming much too few when I unwillingly flew to the harshness of a Brazilian summer. But the sun could never have burnt me more intensely than the passion that burned for him within me.

 

 II. Dindi

It was our first Valentine’s Day together, and I packed to spend the weekend with him and his family in Pennsylvania. It was cold, and when I asked if he had any snow boots there I could borrow — our feet are the same size — he said he did.

We made our way to Penn Station and as we watched the TVs that displayed destinations and track numbers, he told me that we weren’t going to Pennsylvania, but instead to Boston.

I’ve always wanted nothing more than to spend time with him away from all else, and the weekend was exactly that. What made every moment better was the realization he had planned for this to happen, and that perhaps he also wanted nothing more than to spend time with me away from all else.

I had no boots and he had brought no extras, so by the end of the day I could barely feel my toes. But our bathroom had a bathtub, and we filled it to its brim with hot water. He laid inside first, and I fit myself in between his spread legs, resting my head on his chest. I sang a line from my favorite Bossa Nova song:

“Ah, Dindi, like a river that can’t find the sea, that would be me without you, my Dindi.”

 

 III. Midsummer Tears

He was upset, and had been drinking heavily. I struggled to keep him from falling over as we walked back to his apartment — luckily, the walk wasn’t long. He cried, fumbling around his words, and I did my best to try to understand.

I had him drink water before putting him into bed, but I knew it wouldn’t be enough.  

“Do you think you’re going to throw up?” I asked.

He nodded.

I quickly made my way to the kitchen but found no plastic bags, and instead grabbed a thick paper bag, hoping it would be impermeable enough. I knelt down beside the bed and held the bag open as his body expelled little other than a clear liquid: a mixture of vodka and water. When he was done, he rolled his body over and fell into a deep sleep. I took the bag — which thankfully didn’t leak — to the trash chute.

As I walked, I couldn’t imagine seeing anyone other than him in that state, only to feel nothing but love. And I realized it could not have been truer.

 

IV. Home

Brick and mortar built walls upon walls between us, and though I could almost feel his beating heart, there was no warmth.

Walls upon walls served as protection from those who had hurt him in the past. He did not see I wanted to tear them down and build something to replace the prison he had built for himself.

But I was in no position to be an architect, and I took far too long to see this.

 

 V. Oxygen

Our flame had lit up quickly. Yet just as quickly, we began to fade.

In an attempt to save us I unwittingly suffocated the flame, stepping closer and closer. But with no oxygen there is no flame, and my close breathing threatened to bring darkness.

So with shallow breath, I stepped away.

 

VI. Winter Reborn 

I had much to do: the end of the semester brought papers that needed to be written.

My morning routine has always begun with a cup of coffee, and that Monday was no different. But the coffee I had most recently bought tasted too bitter, and I had gone to coffee shops for the past few days — even though the dollars in my bank account would soon reach the double digits.

The nearest Starbucks sat on Spring Street, only a few blocks away from my apartment. Though it was December the true cold had not yet come, and I wore what I had left out from the day before: dark green pants, black t-shirt, black shoes, dark brown overcoat, black fingerless gloves.

I walk in, I wait in line, I order, I wait some more, I grab my order. I turn around towards the exit and make note of the area to my right where several chairs are set up. And there he is, sitting on one of them. 

He, who I thought was in another country, he who had only been an abstraction in my mind for the past months, he who from the moment I sat down made it clear to me that any and all others had been only lessons at the very best, he who barely spoke a single word before I knew I wanted to be his once more, he who I hoped would want to be mine once more.

On the Friday of that same week, precisely two years after I first kissed him in his dimly lit room, he kissed me under the dim lights of mine. Although I wanted him to sleep beside me, he left. It snowed that night, and in the morning I could see nothing more than blurs of white outside my window — Fall was long gone. I struggled to walk in the snow when I made my way to see him one last time before we spent a month apart.

It was winter when we met.