The glass glows blue under the strobe lights – so calm, so blue, so cold and fresh. Trembling beads wash down from the lip and break the smooth waterline, one by one, one with each thump of the music against the soles of my feet. My whole self turns with the pulse and squish of that stereo. Stomach jumps, up and down and up. Bones in my hand jitter. The little umbrella stirs and blows loosely in the glass.
You know, I have this image in my head, and I can’t shake it, of all these people – umbrellas and hoods and newspapers – skittering down the New York street like raindrops down a window. They’re looking down, down, down, always down. I’m looking at them, not from the street, but from above, in a building, and in a yellow raincoat. So high that the raindrops are wider than the cars, that the people are only pinpricks. I wonder if they’ve ever looked up and seen me, or seen the clouds roll home.
And, you know, once I sat in front of the glass, a pen in hand and the crashing rain before me, and I got it in my head that I would write it all down, every drop – only, I touched down that pen to paper, and all that came was a little blue dot. No words in my head clean enough to show you how it fell, in patters and stones and soft sizzling sheets. None playful enough to show you how it landed, the sighs and ripples, the drumming rings. The empty page – what a world. White as the wind – this still, raging white – and hollow as the prickling stars.
So instead, I stood up and I pressed my nose and my own two hands to the glass, for so long that it grew warm and waxy under my fingers. It started thinning, the glass, like it was melting, only softer. And I think, just maybe, I fell right through and became the rain.
One autumn night, as the heavy blue of dusk cut through the sweet golden of sunset, a single white tulip arose from the dusty riverbank and caught sight of her own silken reflection in the still, breathy water of the river. It was the night of the new moon, and as the low clouds around her dissolved into stardust and the heavens above her crumbled to black, the tulip turned her delicate head this way and that, combing down her brilliant petals and admiring the way that the last star of evening graced her slim form with swift lines of silver. It was not until the trees shifted and darkened the sweet spell of starlight that the flower, at last, seemed to notice the lively woods around her. Slowly, she turned up and took in the long forms of the trees and the flitting of the lightning bugs and the slipping shadows on the grass. She turned at once to the great oak, who had lived in the forest for many seasons, and knew much about the world.
“Aren’t I beautiful?” she asked him. The oak, awed by the pristine ivory of her petals, smiled and dipped his branches gently at the next touch of the rushing wind. But the flower did not see, for she had already moved on, peering beyond the oak into the open night.
“Aren’t I lovely?” she called to a young lilypad, who had made his home a little way up into the water. The lilypad, quite taken with her melodious voice and her delicate perfumes, blushed furiously and ducked his head under the froth of the river. But he said nothing, for when he surfaced to tell her that he loved her, he found that she had already moved on.
This lamp does not belong in summer. It is a winter lamp,
with its twin in the window, its echo in the bone-cold wood.
Summer lamps, they all gleam yellow.
This lamp was not made for lemon light --
for damp porch swings, blue-bluster nights like glass --
It cannot rival the fireflies.
This winter lamp, it sighs – it scrapes – it pounds – it singes
the ice-marble-air. It does not dare to quicken to being,
only to soothe and soften,
throw gossamer sheets over still and beaten forms
Even through the threadbare curtains, Sam can see the traces of frost creeping across the window glass, throwing slivers of moonlight across the hardbound book in her hand. She doesn’t check the spine for the title.
Shivering, she tugs on the sleeve of her pajamas. The wind outside has grown fierce, gnawing at wood and flesh alike; winter has finally arrived. Branches groan against the walls of the house, as if to escape the frigid air, and she sits cross-legged on the hardwood floor, listening to the sound-filled silence.
The room is dark, and her head is pressed back into the side of her desk. Her wire-rimmed glasses, bent ever so slightly out of shape, lie discarded on the ground beside her. She traces the cover of the book in her lap. Its corners are well-worn, curved inwards, and almost reverently, she runs a finger down its pages. She smiles as the moon washes her hand in silver light.
Even as her heart tightens, breath comes more easily, and her shoulders sag. Already, she can feel her own worn-out world trickling away through the cracks between the floorboards, hear new existences blossoming at the turning of a page. Already, she can taste escape in the air.
She draws a breath through her nose as the fresh scents of dust and paper trickle up from the pages. Sleep holds down her eyelids, and she still can’t remember what book it is that she holds in her hand. Only that it is the one she fell asleep meaning to read, and the one that she turned to, hours later, when she sat straight up in bed, choking down a scream. Reading by moonlight has always been her remedy for a nightmare.
And for her first failing grade.
And for her grandfather’s death.
Scratch that--reading by moonlight has always been her remedy for everything.
She’ll have to go to school tomorrow, and she’ll have to go to sleep soon. But for now, there is only her and this book. She hopes that she will lose herself somewhere in the pages, in a world away from this one; she hopes that when she returns, she will be a little more whole than before.
But I still remember
Scribbled notes on orange post-its
Flicked across a desk
I remember making faces at friends across crowded rooms
And laughing when they finally noticed
And I remember when we ran in circles against the wind
Without a care in the world
I remember when we became dragons.
Read the full poem here
It’s been a while since we left. The sun should be well into the west by now, casting shimmering streaks of pale pink across the deep blue evening. Would be, if it weren’t for the huge wall of pure black that spans across the horizon, spreading out slowly, steadily, casting its looming shadow on the world. The crowd surges around us. As far as I can see stretch faces, people, some pushing ahead of others, some lagging behind. Blond hair, brown hair, white hair, dark eyes, it all blurs together until the faces stop being faces at all. Every so often I think I see someone that I recognize, but when I look again, they’ve turned away, vanished into the crowd, and I tell myself that it was just my imagination.
I don’t remember when I offered to take Caecilia from Mother, or when it started feeling like I was holding a sack of bricks instead of a child. I pull my sister closer to me and continue to walk forward, trailing Mother’s dancing shadow, cast in the darkness by the vague flicker of a candle instead of the ever burning sun. Mother glances at the sky, swallows, and increases her pace, pushing through the crowd. We keep walking.
Read the full story here
Growing up, there were four boys on my street, all of us about the same age. Danny, my best friend from birth and the clown of the group, with his dimpled smile and his freckled face. He went on to be the only one of us to enroll in the army, but at the time, he was a mop of hair, haphazardly parted and falling into his eyes when he ran. There was Jacob, the youngest of us and something of a tagalong, who went on to become a famous movie critic. There was me, the quiet one. And then there was Evan, who moved into the old house at the end of our street when we were in first grade.
Evan was the storyteller of the group, to say the least. His eyes shining, he’d spin us golden tales about his grandfather, who had singlehandedly led the American Army to victory during the Great War. He’d swear on his life that old Mr. Dupont was a Russian spy, and he’d speak in low whispers about the time he’d seen a dragon on the horizon as the sun disappeared over the edge of the woods. Being seven years old and new to lies, I hung onto his every word like a precious stone.
My favorite stories were always those about his father. “He’s a pilot,” Evan would say, his back straightening and his mouth going stiff, “and he owns three planes, and he flies ‘em all day. He ain’t got no passengers, no one else with him. He’s up there all alone up in the air, jus’ like a bird. Every day.” Once, he had flown right across the Pacific and skimmed the top of Mount Everest with his wing. Another time, he had broken right out of the earth’s atmosphere and scraped against the edge of the moon. In fact, he was so busy with his planes that he was rarely home. “But I don’t mind,” Evan told us. “He’s the best Dad in the world.”
Read the full story here.
I have my back to him, but I know he is here. I thought perhaps he could only visit in my dreams. But I can see the shadows on the wall shifting with his every breath, hear him shuddering in the winter air, blue-skinned and cold-eyed and drowning in shadow. The cold gnaws at the back of my neck, and I can feel the trails of water running down his face, hear them dripping onto the floor and pooling at his feet.
I close my eyes. Breathe. I need to breathe. I must take in air, must brace myself for the voices. They are only murmurs, now: whispered fragments grasping at something they cannot quite reach. But they will grow louder, as they always do when he visits me, bubbling up in my mind and hammering into my spine. They grow and weave, washing over one another like coursing waves, but I can never figure out what they are trying to say.
I suppose ghosts have the right to haunt those who have wronged them, but his presence still unnerves me. I do not want him here. Go away, Luke. Please.
Nothing; I can still hear his breathing. Must I turn and face him? I cannot bear to see what he has become--
Please, I try again. Please. I’m not ready.
A moment, and then he listens. I can hear his breath wilt into the air as he fades. It’s a soft sound, gentle, like the breath of air that kills a flame.
Silence follows, and then the raw cry of the wind. I open my eyes. The shadows are still; the street lights pour in through the windows. I sigh and rest my head against the windowsill. The painted wood is cool against my cheek, and I feel an urge to sink into it and never wake up.
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The white paint has been peeling ever since she layered it on, and it clings to her palm when she brushes against it. She doesn’t mind it; she likes to think of the small white flakes as lost thoughts, snatched up in the elusive tide of memory.
But when the afternoon sun streams in through the window, it’s not the paint that it catches, but the solid oak underneath, and she finds herself wishing that she could crawl underneath it again, wrapped in thin sunlight, listening to the sound of her father’s loafers tapping against the floor. Even now, it smells, ever so faintly, of honeysuckle.
Read the full story here.
The slipping shadows are slick and warm, and soft and thick as cotton, and they guard him against the still, damp lights of the stars. They wrap around his dangling ankles, around legs too small to reach the ground, around his round-eyed face and his drumming fingers.
She wonders if the case in his arms is stolen or his own, if the smudges on his cheeks and forehead are oil or coal or only shadow. She wonders why his fingers tap so furiously the wooden seat.
He’d been the first one to speak at her funeral. It was an odd crowd – a few of her friends from Church, three or four ex-students, an obscure European cousin who she had lived with for a few months in her thirties. He shouldn’t have spoken – he was the least qualified of them all, really. He and Lillian were strangers, had been for all but the first ten of his fifty years. Strangers who shared blood, but strangers all the same.
He’d prepared a story for the podium – some made-up gibberish about the innocence of childhood and Lillian nursing a tabby cat named Juniper back to health. He can’t imagine his sister actually doing anything of the sort, can’t even remember how the story went, but it had brought the meager audience to laughter and to tears, and after receiving heartfelt condolences from the majority of the room, as well as the odd bouquet, he was sure that he had played the part of loving brother reasonably well. He wonders if he should have brought flowers with him today – roses for love, lilies for peace, poppies for remembrance. That’s the point of it all, really – remembrance. She was loved, flowers call out to passerby. She was needed. She will live forever in our hearts. But that would be a lie, wouldn’t it? He can’t conjure memories of a stranger; can’t offer her the mourning she deserves.
At last, he comes to the end of the graveyard – to a clean, chiseled stone standing straight among the forgotten and decrepit. Fresh dirt clings to his shoes as he moves towards the tomb – pale gray, almost hazy under the curtain of descending night. Slowly, he runs a finger over the name. The stone is cold, and the hard line of the L leaves an indent in his skin.
“I’m sorry,” he whispers.
Read the full story here
The night sky seems to buckle under the weight of smoke, and his voice seeps into the cobblestones, golden notes lingering in the firelight long after they are gone. Though his words are barely whispers, barely bursts of breath in the darkness, there is a sorrow in the touch of his voice. It wraps around each shuffling footstep. Each passing car.
He sits on the curb, perching on an overturned paint bucket just under a flickering gas light, and though his tune is familiar to all who listen, it is his own. Some do not see him; others cast furtive glances as they pass by. First to his guitar, to worn-smooth firelight coursing through wood. Then to his hands, trembling against the strings. And, at last, to his face. Skin like wet paper, clinging to protruding bones. Chapped lips, whispered words. Pale eyelashes, fluttering in time to his song.
And, quickly, they look away. Something about him unsettles them; perhaps his tattered clothes; perhaps the pain that lurks in the silence between his notes. Perhaps it is only his luck.
Some glare; others speed up and pull their children closer. A few search for a donation box. They fine none.
An old man frowns as he approaches, pulls the cigarette from his lips. His footsteps pause, and his breath draws circles of smoke in the air. He nods, slowly, and slides a dollar into the palm of the singer’s hand.
The singer hands it back.
Winter takes a brush to his lips, painting them blue, and his hands tremble against the strings of his guitar.
He sits with one leg outstretched, and every so often, his voice scrapes. His notes grow sour, his words catch, and he pauses. Opens his eyes. Looks to the sky, and finds only smoke.
And still, he sings on.
The wheels drum briskly against the darkened tar, and silence sweeps out the hollow between the dashboard and the front seat. The moonlight falls on the rushing grass, each blade heavy with the weight of the wind, and casts her hands in fine, pale silver. Fingers tight on the cold wheel, bones, ghostly white through the skin of the knuckles, she turns easily onto the curling highway. A lone bright car swerving between dashed white lanes, humming and breathing at the slightest touch of her hands. Behind, the windshield she takes refuge from the roaring world: there is only her and the gas and the gears and the still, stifled air.
The mountain itself stands solemn, towering over all and aching with pride, a silent protector. Its gaze stretches to the whispering sea, to the vast horizon beyond and to the setting sun, who graces the face of the mountain with her warm, golden light. The mountain rolls gently into the sea, which stretches far into the distance, each breath a wave, each exhale a whisper.
Though it tries, the sea can never quite trace the horizon; so, instead of reaching up, it reaches down. It knows the chill of icy depths where even the sunlight dares not wander, and so, it longs for the warmth. Each day, when the sun is closest, it paints itself with vibrant hues of russet, saffron, golden, and rose. Each day, the sun brushes the horizon and smiles at the painted sea, then bids the vast gradient of the sky goodbye, ducking under the land and giving way to the stars and the night.
I wake up, hours later, to the dawn bleeding through my eyelids. The aching sun drags its fingers over the horizon, unraveling spools of crimson into the sky. It warms the gravel beneath me, but makes no move against the bitter chill in the air. Somewhere down the road, a lone engine sputters, wheels kicking up dust.
No one is watching me; no one is even awake. All the same, I keep up the pretense of nonchalance as I glance down at my watch. The face is cracked, almost shattered; it must’ve happened last night.
Grabbing hold of the railing, I pull myself up. The gravel has left a deep pink imprint in the right side of my palm. Absently, I rub it against my sweater. The pink imprint hasn’t disappeared; if anything, it’s gotten deeper.
I know they are there like
I know I am here, I
can feel them surging and
ebbing and pushing to be
The sound of deep, slow breathing resonated through the house that night; I alone was awake. I drew back the curtain and peered out into the night. The moon greeted my gaze, the shimmering pearl in the sky. I pulled open the curtain further, and a shaft of luminescence trickled down through the navy black night, bathing my face in a pool of silver and spilling onto the cotton pillow like a still, rippling stream. A droplet of the purest silver, a beam of moonlight, had found its way down to me, and for a few precious moments, it was mine alone.
A tear traced its way down my cheek, turned silver by the light of the moon. As soon as it hit the pillow, more fell, and I began to sob, silent, shuddering sobs that seemed to shake the world.
The moon was the only witness.
My favorite Sundays were those when it rained. On those days, she’d bring her umbrella, dark gray with a wooden handle, slightly bent on one side. We’d fill that umbrella with rain and empty it over our heads, laughing as clean, untouched drops of water poured down around us like a shower of molten beads of glass and crystal. The sound of the rain echoed in our ears, both gentle and firm, comforting and endlessly rhythmic. Then we’d run down to the lake and skip stones in the water, the ripples we made joining the ripples of the raindrops as they hit the smooth surface. When our hair hung limply around our faces and our clothes were soaked, we’d run to the tree at the end of the lake, our tree, and prop the umbrella up on the lowest branch, securing it with her scarf.
We’d run to the ice cream place at the end of the street and purchase one scoop each. Mint chocolate chip for her, pecan for me. We’d dash back outside and race to our tree, laughing as the rain stained our ice cream and our ice cream stained the rain. By the time we reached the tree, both cones would be a soggy, sticky mess, but we’d eat them anyway, dry under the umbrella, then rinse our hands in the overflowing lake. We’d jump into that lake without hesitation and race to the other side. It wasn’t deep enough to swim, but we waded in and ran across the sandy bottom, our flailing limbs sending up crowns of water all around us as we laughed and struggled to get ahead. The winner would decide what to do next.
Sometimes we doubled back to the umbrella and sat under it and talked. Sometimes we played two-way tag in the park. Sometimes we snuck into a movie at the theater or ran to the playground and clambered onto the wooden swings, riding them so high that it felt as if we’d break through the rain and brush against the clouds. We climbed to the top of the slide and rushed down along with the roaring rain water, shrieking in our own personal waterpark.
Sometimes we just walked to the café on the end of the street and watched the rain for hours on end from the corner table by the window, the one that felt like a separate world. It was a silent pastime, but the silence wasn’t the awkward type that scrapes and screeches past like coarse metal, nor the overwhelming kind that presses down on a room even after it is shattered. Instead, it was a third presence, a connecting fiber between us, safe and comforting, like a blanket of calm, too strong to be broken by a whispered word here and there, by the corner of a smile. Sometimes I feel like there are more types of silence than there are sound.
She wafts in like a harmony,
a rose-golden whisper.
Lives on the inside of raindrops,
Scraping moonlight from cloud-edged silver linings
and pulling shadows from under pine needles.
Crafts the moonlight
and the shadows into truth,
and whispers the truth into star-licked violets.
Swirling clouds of golden
And russet and crimson
And canary yellow
Sprinkled through the air
Like butterflies sailing the wind
They float down,
Until they strike dirt
Across withered brown grass
The color of a rose
That rides just a little farther
Into the setting sun
His thoughts strayed to the thin photograph that was clutched in his hand, to the old, outdated camera that had taken it. He remembered how his oldest brother, Alexei, had gotten the camera, through a year of pestering his mother and father, how his parents had carefully saved up, a few spare coins clinking into the smooth glass jar each day until , finally, on a date almost two years after they had started saving, they had enough. He could picture the anxious look that his brother had worn as he had walked down to the store, the joy in his face when he walked back with a camera held reverently in his hands, the same joy in his eyes when he took his first picture, the very same picture that Peter held in his hand now, a grainy black-and-white image of Peter leaning over a rusted railing, his boots just barely touching the wooden boards as he stared longingly out to sea. In the picture, you could see the vastness of the ocean, the sails of ships fanning out like blooming flower petals, the rough wood of the dock and the traces of rust on the rail. More than anything, you could see the wistful look on Peter’s face, the way the rail seemed to carry his weight, the way only the tips of his boots touched solid earth. You could see the way his hair blew back in the fierce wind, the way that same wind seemed to almost support his weight along with the rail. Looking down at the picture, Peter could almost feel the ocean breeze blowing back his hair, almost taste the fresh tang of sea salt on his tongue, almost see the shimmering blue water of the wide ocean and the hundreds of ships sailing out to sea. He could almost relive the feeling that he had had at the time, the feeling that told him that he was flying, soaring above the world, that nothing could touch him. Almost.
Sun peers up at disbanded night
At faded clusters of whispering stars
Sky’s soft breath sends the wind on its way
And she lifts sun up with tired arms
Fresh sun adorns sky’s shifting robe,
Drowning earth’s shadows with gentle breaths
Whispering wind rushes through trees,
Bringing souls back from the brink of death
Sloping horizon, reaching up from the earth
Wraps the sun in her gentle embrace
And as crashing sea whispers to coast’s waiting ear,
With first crimson stroke the sky is graced
The tall evergreens brushed against each other, whispering in the soft warm summer breeze. The bushes and shrubs shook, shivered and shuddered, causing fresh drops of rainwater to dart and drop, from one to the next, glittering as they went. A red brick path circled a plain grass field at the art center, with the gorgeous greenery gathered around it. A few summer campers played a small game of tag on the field, darting all over and screaming every time a tagger’s hand touched them. The noises of excited children talking loudly to each other filled my ears, along with laughter and footsteps.
“There is no way I am going to do a good job on the next project!” Julie complained, while popping a quarter sandwich into her wide open mouth, and, at the same time, bringing me back to reality.
“You’ll do a great job. You did on the last one!” Ashley protested.
“ I won’t! And mine wasn’t that good!” Julie muttered.
“ Yours was the only one that looked anything like what it was supposed to!” Ashley shouted while staring at Julie. “You’ll do great just like you did in the morning!”
“Will not!” Julie grumbled.
“Will too!” Ashley replied.
On the next “Will too!” two voices rang out instead of one. I had joined Ashley in the debate. Julie’s face burned and her nostrils flared. On her next “Will not”, her voice lowered in pitch and increased in volume, probably to make up for the fact that it was now two against one. I glanced down and saw that Julie’s knuckles had turned white, and stood out against her red hands.
I knew that it was about time to give in. After all, the argument was ridiculous. But just as I was about to, Ashley gave another “Will too” glaring right at Julie. Katie, Anya and I watched the argument progress in silence.
All of a sudden, both girls went quiet. I looked at them. Julie’s face was white, and Ashley’s was red. They were staring at each other with so much concentration that I could have sworn their eyes were going to pop out.
Just when I thought that they would start shouting again, something happened that broke all the tension. A squirrel which had previously been sitting next to a small shrub next to our bench, took three huge leaps. The first landed on the arm of the bench that Ashley, Julie and I were perched on. Ashley’s jaw dropped, Julie’s eyes widened, and I was pretty sure I let out a gasp.
The second leap took the squirrel down to the ground, right between Katie and Anya, their mouths mirrored Ashley’s and their eyes Julie’s.
On the third leap, the squirrel zoomed back up to the bench, landing only inches away from my left leg. The fluffy, gray squirrel stared up at me with huge, warm, chocolate brown eyes. The remaining three quarters of Julie’s sandwich fell to her lap.
That was enough to distract the squirrel. In one smooth motion, it turned and hopped onto Julie’s lap, and for a second I thought my jaw would hit the ground. I could feel my eyebrows suddenly go up and my arms and legs go stiff. My nose itched, but I couldn’t force my hand up to itch it.
Meanwhile, the squirrel gazed at Julie with shining eyes. Nobody moved, not even a millimeter. It was as if we were frozen in blocks of ice.
We stared at Julie, waiting to see what she would do. When she did nothing, Katie slowly eased out her phone from her pocket and snapped a picture. This must have startled the squirrel, because before we knew it, it had disappeared into the bushes. I stared at the spot where the squirrel had been for a second longer, before turning back to the others. We burst into giggles and ended up laughing so hard that I thought I saw milk come out of Katie’s nose.
When we finally found that we could stop, Julie sighed. “Maybe I can do well in the next project!” she said.
Ashley stared at us all in turn. “Told you so” she piped up and for the second time that day, we all burst out laughing. Finally, our counselor lined us up to go inside. I was glad that the excitement was over, but as we trailed into the building, I thought that I saw a small gray squirrel sitting on the second grade table, and staring up at a little girl with sparkling eyes!
One spring morning
I thought I heard
The playful trilling
Of a bird
I looked around
And there it sat, still
Perched lightly on
It peered at me
With deep brown eyes
Then away it turned
With another cry
It cocked its head
And spread its wings
It trilled again
With a quiet ring
It turned once more
And away it soared
The wind that carried it
I watched it fade
Craning my neck
Until it shrank
Down to a speck
And as it vanished
I couldn’t help
But open the door
And feel the breeze
So cool and light
And watch the trees
Oh, what a sight!
I'm a high school Junior.