Fixed (short fiction)

photo credit to Jonathan Khoo on flickr

photo credit to Jonathan Khoo on flickr

Wyatt’s retainer is red and green like Christmas and Melina lights up at the sight of it. The metal gleams. She plucks it from the plastic container and brings it to her nose. The smell of stale French fries and spit triggers a shudder of happiness to tap-dance down her spine. She puts it into her mouth. The retainer doesn’t nestle between her molars like she expects it to, but it hugs her front teeth okay. It hurts. It feels good—right, even. This is so much better than kissing Wyatt. She grins at herself in the mirror, the metal flashing across her teeth like a badge. A secret badge that will go perfectly into her collection. She closes her mouth and all but skips out of the bathroom. She keeps her lips sealed for the rest of the Wyatt’s birthday party as she digs up a “dinosaur egg” in the sandbox, pets a horned lizard in the Reptile Corner, and even rides the miniature pony Drusilla Rex with newfound joy, avoiding a sullen and confused Wyatt until Mom comes to pick her up in the Range Rover.

Melina stares up at the purple papier-mâché dinosaur mask and crumples the popcorn bag in her hand into a ball. The mask lets out a whinny and the unfortunate pony squeezed into the Jurassic-themed costume flares his nostrils like an overheated Brontosaurus and nearly topples over.

“Uh oh, looks like Drusilla Rex can’t handle the heat!” Jason exclaims.

Melina frowns up at the pony-handler and crunches on her popcorn, savoring the sharp shards jabbing her gums between her teeth. She looks down at the pony, and then back up at Jason.

“You named the boy horse Drusilla?”

“Dru for short,” the handler smiles, pulling the reins. “Cute, huh?”

Melina chews on her candy necklace and decides that she’s had enough of the ponies suffering from heat exhaustion and leaves to check out the rest of Wyatt’s birthday party, only to bump into the birthday boy himself. He’s dressed like an archaeologist, spiffed out with a beige vest full of pockets and he even has a bouquet of makeup brushes substituting for the ones used for fossil excavations. He’s holding a fresh popsicle from the cryo bar his Mom is running on the back deck.

He grins at her and she wonders when he’s going to get braces.

“You made it!”

“Yeah.”

Melina tosses the popcorn bag aside, having grown bored with it.

“Go over to the sandbox later and dig up a dinosaur egg with Arabella. They’re full of chocolate.”

When Melina doesn’t respond, Wyatt slurps on the cherry-flavored popsicle in his hand and she fixates on it.

“Can I have that?”

Wyatt makes a face and looks down at the popsicle.

“But it was in my mouth. My spit’s all over it…You want it?”

“Yes,” she says hungrily.

Wyatt hands it over and looks uncomfortable as Melina begins eating and savoring the popsicle that was just in his own mouth. He stares at her for a Moment, eyes wide and jaw slack. He buries his hands in his pocket and scuffs his sneaker against the grass.

“Do you want to be my girlfriend?” He asks, not looking up from the ground.

Melina pulls the popsicle from her mouth and gives Wyatt a once-over. He’s certainly not the cutest, but he always knows answers in math class and at least he doesn’t have red sauce crusted at the corner of his mouth like the other boys always do after they eat pizza (or anything with ketchup).

“Yeah, I guess.”

Wyatt’s face reddens and Melina yanks his hand out of his pocket so she can hold it.

“So now you’re my boyfriend.”

“You wanna ride one of the dinosaurs with me?” Wyatt asks, puffing out his chest.

“It’s just horses in goofy costumes.”

Wyatt scrunches up his face. Maybe he’s not so smart.

“Why don’t you just show me around your house?”

He hesitates. “Sure.”

His house is almost as big as her parents’ and almost as tasteful. They don’t have an espresso machine.

“Do you have a playroom with video games?”

“Uh—yeah. It’s upstairs…”

“My Mom turned mine into her second office. All my dolls live on the bottom shelf in my closet now. Tough times.”

“You can hang out in my playroom…”

“Let’s go!”

He tugs her back.

“Wait, you’re my girlfriend now. I want to kiss you.”

Wyatt shuffles closer to her.

Melina pushes her palm right into his face and pursed lips, then darts away and hides in the bathroom. He doesn’t even see it coming.

“So how was the party, kiddo? Any incidents?” Mom asks, looking at Melina in the rearview mirror instead of looking at the road.

Melina shakes her head and smiles with her mouth closed.

Dad is standing in front of the microwave in the remodeled kitchen, watching a bowl of broccoli steam. He’s wearing gray logo sweatpants from the good-ol’-days of his graduate school chess league. He could have been Great. And he would have been if it weren’t for the explosive nosebleed that unexpectedly disqualified him from his final match at the Global Chess Wizards Championship in ’91 and sent his opponent/victim into shock. His T-shirt is also gray. Melina’s sister, Peyton, sits on one of the bar stools scattered around the island, texting on her phone. Mom slaps her purse on the island and gives Dad a quick, hole-puncher kiss on his cheek and then goes right for the espresso machine.

“Honey, it’s 5pm.”

“It’s early.”

“How’d the meeting go this morning? Did you get the membership?”

Mom lets out a dramatic moan and almost slams a dainty espresso cup on the counter. Dad clears his throat.

“I’m sorry, dear. I know you really wanted to join American Ladies in Flight.”

“Ugh, bunch of pearl-clutchers anyway. Who needs ‘em? I want a skydiving network with real women…I’ve heard Velocity managed to snag Nancy Pelosi and Toni Morrison. I’ve been trying to get invited for months, but they’re more discrete than whores in an opera house.”

“…Mmm-hmm.”

“Oh, Melina honey. You didn’t hear that word.”

“What about my innocence, Mom?” Peyton says. “Does the purity of my ears mean nothing to you?”

Melina stands by the fridge as Mom and Peyton parlay, biting a nail and looking at the seven gold stars under the magnet with her name on it. Each one represents a whole month of her being “good,” of each month she goes without swallowing something “bad” like a stale piece of gum left under a bus seat or a cereal box toy. Her most recent notable exploit was squeezing a girl’s jawbreaker right out of her mouth at summer camp after second grade and gulping the whole thing down in euphoria. Her parents were forced to drive all the way down from Maryland to get her from the hospital, but she thinks they overreacted. The jawbreaker dissolved anyway.

“Mom,” Peyton says, bundled in her football-player-sized sweatshirt. “Maybe skydiving is too much adrenaline for you.”

Mom sips half of her espresso.

“Very funny, smart-ass. Next time I’ll bring you with me.”

Peyton smiles and tugs on her nose ring.

“Mom, I think I wanna go with you,” Melina says.

Mom looks frighteningly thrilled for half a second, but then peers down at Melina’s mouth. She pops a Mom-crouch in front of Melina and gently squeezes her chin.

“What’s going on here? Honey…you didn’t take Melina to the dentist, did you?”

Dad turns around with the broccoli. “The dentist? Nope, not in six weeks.”
A heady twirl of about-to-get-caught spirals through Melina’s chest and she tries to close her mouth.

“What? Melina, where’d you get this?”

Melina shrugs.

“Did you get this from Wyatt’s house?”

Melina clams up. Mom stands and tosses back the rest of her espresso.

“All right, kiddo. Spit it out.”

It still hurts good in her mouth, so it takes Melina a minute to pull out the Christmas-colored retainer. Mom pinches it un-squeamishly and plops it on a stray napkin on the island. Melina watches Mom give Dad a look and Dad just shakes his head and sets the broccoli next to the lamb and roasted garlic quinoa.

Mom crouches down again and brushes back Melina’s hair.

“Honey, I thought we were done with all this.”

The shame in the back of Melina’ throat is bitter and slick.

“You’ve been so good…”

“I’m sorry, Mommy.”

Mom sighs. “It’s okay, but no more of this. Understand?

Upstairs you go.”

It takes a full day for the weight of the loss of Wyatt’s retainer to truly sink in and Melina is left forlorn. Melina kneels by her bed after dinnertime and revisits the purple wooden box that she keeps stashed away underneath. Her dad bought it for her during a trip to Michael’s Craft Store and helped her decorate it with safari animals. Melina bites her lip and opens the box. Inside are nine retainers, each one beautiful in its own way and displayed like jewels. Priyanka’s purple retainer reigns supreme of the nine and has done so for five months. Wyatt’s would have been the best if Mom hadn’t confiscated it so fast, because it fits better than any of the others, but as things stand now, the pecking order goes unchallenged. Melina sighs. Wyatt’s Christmas retainer would have gone so well next to Priyanka’s. She remove’s Shelbi’s retainer which is too wide for her own mouth and licks a stripe up the middle and pokes her tongue between the metal wires. It’s lost its unique flavor and mostly tastes like tangy metal and boring plastic now. Unable to resist, she bites down hard and bends some of the metal out of place. She savors the pressure that gently morphs into pain in her molars and jaw.

A rapid knock at the door jolts Melina out of her reverie.

“Melly, honey. Can I come in?”

With a pang, she realizes she forgot to lock the door. She shoves the box under the bed as her mother lets herself in without waiting for an answer. Typical Mom.

“What’s going on in here?”

“Nothing.”

“Uh-huh, I—Melly…” her mom says in creeping reproach. “What’s that?”

A sledgehammer of dread comes down on her as she looks at her own lap and sees Shelbi’s chewed up retainer resting there.

“Umm…I”

“Melina, is this another one? Give it to me. This is just unacceptable.”

She walks over with an expectant, outreached hand, and Melina reluctantly gives the retainer to her, wondering what her punishment is going to be.

“Who did you take this from? When?”

“Shelbi,” Melina says quietly. “Back in…January.”

Mom rubs her temples in digging circles.

“Melina, these cost a lot of money, you know. You could have really hurt their family. I want you to understand that.”

“I’m sorry, mommy. I won’t do it again.”

“Like you said last night? Do you have anymore of these?”

Melina swallows around a dry lump in her throat and shakes her head, hoping Mom believes her.

“No.”

“Are you telling the truth?”

“Yeah-huh.”

“Well, what’re you doing down there? Move over.”

Trying to hold back tears she can’t control, Melina scoots back as Mom kneels by the bed and runs her arm under, swiping a Barbie doll and some junk from under the bed. She snags the purple box too, and its contents go spilling across the floor, exposing her lie.

“Melina!”

Melina starts to cry quietly and she clutches the hem of her dress with her little hands.

Her mom sighs and goes tight-lipped as she collects the retainers off the floor and stands.

“Mommy, no!”

“No t.v. and no allowance for the next two months. You need to know that your father and I are serious.”

The words slide over Melina like water. All she sees is Mom taking away her treasure, her months of careful collecting.

“Please don’t take them!”

Mom holds them up higher when Melina makes a grab for them.

“Just let me have the purple one and you can take the rest. Mommy!

“Listen, Melina. You’re going to tell me whom each of these belongs to and then we’re going to each kid’s house to return them and apologize. You understand me?”

Melina cries and cries, but Mom turns and walks out the door and just like that, all of her precious things are gone.

Saturday, Mom slathers organic mulberry jam onto her toast.

“I just don’t understand why she has this obsession with shoving things in her mouth! First her thumb, now a stash of other kid’s retainers.”

“At this point we just have to figure out what’s best,” Dad says.

“I know that, James. I’m just worried that this might turn into something like what Peyton had in middle school.”

“I wouldn’t worry about that. This is a whole different animal,” he says and pauses. “I think if we push her too hard, she’ll shut down.”

Dad looks up and sees Melina standing at the bottom of the stairs. He smiles, realizing she probably heard everything by the way she hunches over.

“Melly, you want some cereal?”

Melina nods and approaches the island as Dad gets up to grab the Cheerios. She looks up at Mom, who promptly returned Wyatt’s retainer—before discovering Melina’s stash,—to his miffed parents who claimed that their son’s dental routine had become irrevocably complicated. Melina’s just happy she wasn’t forced to return it herself to her fake boyfriend. She’s pretty sure the separation signifies their breakup.

She sits at the top of the stairs after breakfast, biting the inside of her mouth as her mother slips on heels.

“You ready to get going?” She asks, dropping her purse next to her daughter so she can march to the closet and at the end of the hall where her blazers are ordered.

Mom’s purse starts to shake as her phone goes off inside and she runs back to wrangle it out, hard, French-manicured nails tapping at the screen.

“Hello? Betty? Oh hi….yes. Yes…That’s fabulous news, ha ha ha! I’ll be there for the review in 15. Yes…yes, see you then.”

She hangs up and cheers for herself, pulling down her arm and clenched fist like a train conductor.

“I’m in!”

She bangs on Peyton’s door.

“Peyton, you’re driving your sister to make her apologies! Saddle up!”

She returns after five minutes, beginning to fume, and bangs on the door again.

“Damn it, Peyton! Get out here. You can’t stay holed up in there masturbating to The Smiths or whatever all day!”

Grumbling, Peyton emerges from her den and holds out her hands for the car keys.

The drive to the first house is silent except for The Beastie Boys bleating through the car speakers. Melina clutches her Angry Birds backpack in her lap, feeling dread clump up in her chest like lemon and milk. However,

turning over the retainers isn’t as horrible as she expected it to be. Most of the parents are just confused and Peyton’s quiet moral support keeps her from backing away. Her heart hurts a little more when she returns Priyanka’s retainer and watches in horror as the girl’s usually polite father grimaces and plunks the purple marvel into the trash right in front of her.

“You need to get your sister help before she grows up,” he says to Peyton. “She’s not normal.” He shuts the door on them.

Melina tightens up her mouth and hunches her shoulders.

“Hey! Don’t you talk about my sister like that!” Peyton says, banging on the door. “She was apologizing, asshole!”

She huffs and grabs Melina’s hand.

“Forget that dude.”

Peyton’s words don’t hold back the waves of shame that engulf Melina.

Back in the car, Melina stares out the window and licks the salty tears she can reach from her face.

“I think Mom and Dad are trying to fix me.”

Peyton rubs her nose.

“Mom definitely. Who even knows about Dad.”

“What should I do?” Melina asks.

“Do you want to be…fixed?”

No…No.”

Peyton tilts her head and peers down sideways at Melina.

“Thought about playing an instrument?”

Melina shakes her head.

“Like piano?”

“No, like…um…an instrument you’d put in your mouth. You know.”

Melina feels her face flushing in embarrassment.

“No. I haven’t.”

“I’ll go get you a harmonica tomorrow. How’s that sound?”

Melina scrunches up her nose.

“What’s wrong with a harmonica?” Peyton asks.

“I don’t wanna feel like an old, poor man.”

“Oh…huh. Well, that’s…that’s certainly some classist baggage right there…What about a flute?”
“Uh-uh.”

“Well, jeeze. I don’t—”

“I want…a trombone.”

“Do you even know what a trombone is?”

“That’s what I want.”

“That’ll cost you a few hundred bucks.”

Melina gets quiet and tries to blink away the burning tears budding up in her eyeballs again.

“Fuck. Fine—fine! I’ll see what I can do. I don’t…I don’t want them to fix you either,” she adds softly.

“It’s not a trombone, but I thought this would be almost as good,” Peyton says three days later.

She hands over the gleaming golden instrument.

“Got it at the pawn shop. Had to trade all my frigging Smiths EPs and give the creeper the rest of my savings, but whatever. It’s worth it for you.”

“What is it?” Melina asks, pushing at the random buttons and staring at her house of mirrors reflection on the instrument.

“C’mon, Melina. It’s a saxophone. Alto.”

Melina looks up at her sister and smiles.

“Thank you.”

Peyton quirks her eyebrow.

“Have fun. Your mouth goes there,” she says, pointing at the top.

Melina waits until Peyton is gone before lifting the saxophone to her lips. The mouthpiece is cold at first, but it fits better than her thumb, better than any toy or jawbreaker, or even stupid Wyatt’s Christmas retainer. She fills her lungs and blows a fuzzy, perfect note that vibrates through her body, making the room oscillate and the skin on the back of her neck shiver like it’s January. This is New Years Eve. Confetti, fireworks, crowded streets—the whole shebang. This is it.

Mom and Dad are over the moon to send her to band camp for the rest of the summer. Well, Mom is. Dad just smiles gently like he always knew she would figure things out on her own, because he himself could have been Great.

In the car, Peyton hides some weird-smelling cigarettes in her pocket because Melina tried to pick one up.

“You better learn to play some good songs at nerd camp,” Peyton says after stuffing the cigarettes into her pocket.

“Duh, I will.”

“Seriously, I don’t wanna see you again until you can play Brass Monkey.”

On the first day of camp, she sits on a bench next to a boy with dark curls of hair. His name is Michael. He’s chewing blue gum and she smiles at him hoping he can see her dimples—everyone always tells her how cute they are. Michael takes out his gum and sticks in under the bench before turning to the boys behind him to roughhouse. Melina stares at the little lump of gum and bites her lip.

Two Sisters

We were children gathering the night around our feet,

drawing down the moon in our sun-dipped hands, running

with our hair out in the warm spring rains

that pressed jewelry beads to the earth.

 

We picked the berries from shiny holly trees, their goo cement

for the fairy houses we built

out of abandoned bricks in the woods behind our house.

We lay under the thatched night sky and fell asleep to spiders.

 

In those days, summer flickered on like a light bulb.

And we squeezed lemons into sour juice, selling dad 50-cent cups

while he mowed the lawn.

We caught snakes in the ivy patch that curled in the front yard,

lured bees into our cupped palms with applesauce.

 

We drank root beer by the creek at Norton swim club

back when four dollars was a fortune, splashed

water onto salamanders fumbling over the rocks, sinking

up to our ankles in the silvery soil of the bank.

 

We were a dangerous pair

with the premonition of our mother’s blood:

my sister’s whirlwind tempers,

my half-truth dreams.

building communion with our holy stranger dirt

 

When the sky cracked

and the moon split from thunderstorms like my sister’s rage,

I hunched, shivering under her bedcovers

while the rain pelted the window like cicadas.

 

Some copper evenings, we crouched on the back porch,

grinning and rolling apples like balls of candy

to the deer staring at us with their blackberry eyes,

perched on legs

like stilts, vibrating violin strings, leaping away

through the sun shower like an opera.

Diversity in Speculative Fiction Survey

Hello to all,

I’m currently working on a research project on diversity within speculative fiction and I want to know what general readers think and have to say. My survey is live, so if you’re a reader of speculative fiction (often used as umbrella term for sci-fi and fantasy), please fill it out! There are no wrong or right answers, just be honest. And don’t forget to spread the word!

Cheers!

Diversity in Speculative Fiction – Reader Survey

 

and please follow me @ElyseHamsa on Twitter where I discuss writing, travel, spec ficition, race, culture, and activism.

Strangers in Dar

People always tell you not to get in cars with strangers.

On our return from Zanzibar, we packed up our backpacks and bid farewell to Paje, which had been nothing short of paradise. I was sad to go. We took a taxi through the lush interior to Stone Town, ended up running through bumper-to-bumper traffic to catch the ferry, and arrived back in Dar Es Salaam, the rat scandal from the week before still fresh in our minds.

Claire had arranged a hostel for us to stay at called 4T before our flight back to Johannesburg and she spoke with the owner over the phone as we got off the ferry. I expected 4T to be a nicer hostel than Juba Hotel, where we had stayed our first night in Dar, because the owner of 4T had arranged for one of her taxi drivers to pick us up. Yes, she had multiple taxi drivers.

IMG_1541

As we walked toward the taxi, a man fell in beside me and started asking questions like what my name was and where I was from—you know, the real friendly type. When I said I was from America, he actually stopped, laughed, and started telling me how beautiful I was. “Goodbye, Black Beauty!” he called. My friends, for another time, found this to be absolutely hilarious. The taxi driver greeted us and we squeezed into the car (4 in the back), with me at the right window. As the driver began to back out of his parking spot, the man who had talked to me reappeared and started kissing my window even as the car pulled away. “Black beauty! Black beauty!” he called. Everyone else cracked up as he gave the window one last smooch, slapped the side of the car, and then we were out on the road.

In hindsight, I can shrug off the situation as ridiculous, although at the time I definitely didn’t know how to react. I guess I can say that I had felt embarrassed and special at the same time. It was surreal being a novelty: being a black woman in Africa, but not African.

So, traffic in Dar Es Salaam. You haven’t experienced true hell until you’ve sat in traffic in Dar es Salaam. My god. I thought it was bad in L.A., but I had no idea. We inched through the congested streets for about an hour, until the driver realized it was futile and we had to get onto the highway to get anywhere. He got on his phone every now and then and spoke in Swahili. He told us as well as he could in English that the other taxi driver for 4T would meet us and two of us would go into the other cab, since police gave out huge fines for cars with too many people in them on the highway. Splitting up sounded a little strange, but we complied. The other driver met us at a gas station and Wendi and Christina went with him. After maybe an hour, I felt like we had to be close to the hostel, but our driver exited the highway and went down a street that steadily morphed into hilly, rocky back roads. He drove through more forested, deserted areas up on hills and I could see the city getting smaller behind us.

Jess, Claire, and I kept trying to ask how much further we had to go, but our driver didn’t speak much English and we spoke next to no Swahili. At some point we drove through a university campus that looked just a nice and outfitted as some American ones. Then we started driving through villages and the crowded “main streets” of shanty towns where shacks made from wood and scrap metal lined the unpaved road. The streets wound on for what looked like forever in every direction. How the guy knew where he was going completely eluded me.

The whole “maybe we’re being sold into sex slavery” trope reemerged in the conversation between me, Jess, and Claire. While we were mostly joking about it, I was concerned just because yet again, we were being driven by a stranger at night in city, country, and continent we were unfamiliar with in bumfuck nowhere. We had no cell phones and had no way of communicating with anyone else, including Wendi and Christina, wherever they were. The driver spoke on his phone every now and then in Swahili, but as expected, we had no idea what was going on.

Just when I felt like we were all going to lose it, after over 3 hours of driving from the ferry, we arrived at a walled property on top of a hill. The other taxi driver was close behind. Grinning in relief and frustration, Christina emerged and told us she had been just on the brink of bailing on the taxi. Inside were two houses: the owner’s house and a guest house that they had converted into their hostel 4T. We went inside, having no clue what to expect and as it turned out, the woman in charge was one of the sweetest people I had met in a long time. The inside of the guest house was clean, simple, and modern, complete with a flat screen tv, which was the last thing I had expected. The lady sat us down at the dining room table and gave us a home-cooked meal! Her daughters helped out and while they were sweet too, they were definitely shyer. Oh, and I forgot to mention: there was AIR-CONDITIONING! Good lord. 4T was pure luxury compared to where we had stayed the first night in Dar. Although, the drive from the airport to Juba Hotel on our first night in Tanzania had at least not given us mini existential crises.

4t hostel in dar tanzania

Unity is Not Uniformity: On the Silencing of Intersectionality

On April 7, the Daily Trojan published a column by Rini Sampath on the lack of unity among women, particularly when it comes to addressing and fighting injustice. Sampath used the critiques people have leveled against Sheryl Sandberg’s bestselling book Lean In as an example of “a glaring problem with the women’s empowerment movement:” women not standing together in solidarity. Though I agree with many of the points Sampath made, I view the unity issue among women, especially within feminism, from a different perspective.

In our culture, there’s an idea that having disagreements and critiquing someone’s ideas or work is inherently divisive. But I disagree. Within a movement such as the one for women’s empowerment, everyone has different experiences and those experiences may not all align with one another. What I think is truly divisive is when no room is allowed for discussion and acceptance of differing viewpoints and needs within a movement. For example, within the feminist movement, the issues that affect all women are significant. Mainstream American feminism, however, has an unfortunate history of middle and upper-middle class white women being perceived as advocates for all women, when in reality they have unintentionally and sometimes purposely excluded other women from the feminist narrative. Sheryl Sandberg, whether she meant to or not, didn’t do justice to working-class women and women of color in Lean In, which is positioned as a book for all women. Issues specific to women of color, trans women, working-class women and queer women are often overlooked within the feminist movement. This is obviously problematic on its own, but what I think is worse is when people who try to address differences, inequality and privilege are squeezed out or told to keep quiet.

The issue of exclusion and prioritization within feminism hasn’t gone away. In 2013, feminist Mikki Kendall was driven to create the hashtag #SolidarityIsForWhiteWomen after becoming fed up with the online trend she had noticed of many feminists of color being harassed and dismissed as “divisive to the movement” whenever they brought up how issues faced by women of color are often left out of the main discussion.

Sampath is definitely right in a sense. There is a huge problem of unity within the large and diverse feminist movement and between women in general. The solution, however, is not to tell women coming from more marginalized circumstances to keep quiet when successful, self-proclaimed feminists garner wide media attention for their messages that are, for better or worse, coming from greater places of privilege. Real solidarity cannot happen without intersectionality. It doesn’t come at the expense of inclusion nor should people with different, less popular opinions be expected to stay quiet lest their genuine concerns and critiques be misconstrued as fragmenting to unity among women. For the feminist movement to be successful, healthy skepticism and self-criticism are necessities we must take upon ourselves. It can be uncomfortable to disagree with one another and address privilege in a group in which everyone has faced some sort of marginalization, but it needs to be done if we as women truly want to unite and empower one another.

As someone who is in the process of reading Lean In, I can assert that there are plenty of constructive messages that I can take from it as a woman. As a woman of color, however, there are plenty parts of the book to which I can’t relate, making Lean In positioned as a guide for all women troubling. Still, I’m not interested in throwing the baby out with the bathwater. Feminism isn’t perfect. Lean In isn’t perfect, but acknowledging the imperfections isn’t divisive, it’s simply part of the glorious process called progress.

I advocate for all women to try to understand one another better, acknowledge that all women come from different places and have different primary concerns, and for women from more privileged backgrounds to make a concrete effort to include the issues faced by women of more marginalized identities. We shouldn’t close our ears to genuine critiques and discussions about problematic aspects of it but embrace those critiques and improve the movement for everyone involved.

 

This article was originally written for and published by The Daily Trojan. You can find it here.

Also, here’s my lovingly shameless shoutout to Mikki Kendall. She has amazing insight and you should definitely check out her blog hoodfeminism.

Our Parting Gifts of Salt (published)

This poem, which I wrote in Botswana, was accepted to be published in Altar Collective’s fourth volume! Altar Collective is a great new publication based in the LA-area. They’re getting on their feet in terms of establishing a bigger readership and bringing in enough funds, so I highly recommend getting your hands on a copy of one of their amazing volumes!

 

Our Parting Gifts of Salt

We dragged dead things up from the ocean.

And the white stones that never lived.

With sand biting at our knees and soles

the stones became a ring and that ring encircled a star.

We filled oyster shells

with blue and pink pebbles,

ripped up seaweed coarse as matted fur—

Anything to keep the words at bay.

 

We dragged dead things up from the ocean.

Things the salty murmuring waves had surrendered:

exoskeletons of lobsters mercilessly cracked and crunched,

horseshoe crabs robbed of dignity, rocking on their backs,

the war wounds of their slimy legs and innards exposed,

the singing flutes

of a tuna’s bones splayed

like a fortune telling across the bowl lip of the shore.

 

The sun sank and spilled along the horizon’s thread –

a bead of blood touched with a needle,

and the burgeoning stars lit their secret lamps.

Soon our shadows were naked and black,

stretching like totems

or the towering cast of a lighthouse.

 

With arms raised, we plunged into the sea,

let the stirring tide

pick us clean with its pincers of ice.

That water flattened the whale song out of our lungs.

That gulping cold reached into our flesh and shook us.

We watched our shadows shiver on the sand

and we dragged ourselves out as if

we had just grasped lightning in our hands.

 

Last came the finale of reeds,

raised into a barrier around the ring of white stone,

the bone, the skeletons,

and corpses of lost sea creatures.

We put what we could to the flame

and the heat dried the salt rough on our skin.

We released the night howl from our throats

as that little fire licked up death.

One last time before I left,

around the ring we went.

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Freesias (published)

I am happy to announce that my poem “Freesias” was published in the 5th issue of Apeiron Review this year. You can view my poem in their publication (as well as other pieces) here. “Freesias” is on page 64.

 

Freesias

I sat on my grandmother’s lap when her arms were strong enough to hold me and she could still speak.

She told me stories about her Sight, murmured to me her premonitions, how she saved my aunt’s house from burning after a midnight dream of black plumes and the foundation disintegrating into ash. She had called my aunt who had fallen asleep with the stove on, the curtains above smoking.

She showed me how to take dead butterflies and press them between the pages of a book.

When my grandmother grew too sick and old to visit us, she moved in with my aunt. I was seven-and-a-half. I can count on both hands the number of times we went to see her, the two-hour treks up from Pennsylvania.

Her bedroom used to be my aunt’s storage, the metal-framed bed shoved up by the half-broken bookcase. Her radio perched atop boxes. Paintings of lakes and family photographs smothering the walls. The cramp of a window letting in a cough of light.

The smells clung like dust in whirring machines. Ammonia. Antiseptic. The sheets my aunt tried to wash regularly, but she worked two jobs and had a grown son who only understood thirty-seven words.

My grandmother’s soft, aged skin like paper was a veil over the shy horror beneath the perfume, like something had curdled and was waiting to be dumped down the sink drain.

My mother’s hand on my back guided me into the room to where my grandmother sat on the edge of her bed. I tried not to stare. I hugged her out of duty, smothering my flinch when she would kiss my cheek and the tubes in her nose would press their cool hissing below my eye.

I gazed past the aloofness of her smile as her voice quavered: look at you, Mariel. Skinny as a sparrow. My sister frowned and my mother croaked: Mom, this is Corinne.

The air tasted like dead freesias.

I escaped to the kitchen and watched how my aunt paused outside my grandmother’s room in the hallway that squeezed her like a blood clot in an artery.

In her house you could hear everyone breathing.

Ego Magic (published)

Here is the third and final poem of mine that was printed in the 2013 Winter Issue of Red Rose Review. You can find Ego Magic on their website here and be sure to check out their page to see what else is featured in the winter issue. And I would just like to say “thank you” to Red Rose Review again!

Ego Magic
Corinne Gaston

I was born amongst priestesses and horned gods
in a temple of a half-truth wasteland
I was draped in purple, before kings stole my color for their robes
I am a knife, leaping of my own will into the hearts of wolves
I am the witch in the company of vagabonds
I drink murky infinity in an espresso cup
I suck out the marrow from the bones of time
I devour the past
I boldly stride through the threshold of death
and return with the elixir of life
I stand before dragons who shriek with all their ghastly teeth
and I kiss them
I am the voice you hear in the deep, star-swallowing well
I am the underneath


Temple (published poem)

Here is a second poem of mine that was printed in the 2013 Winter Issue of Red Rose Review. You can find “Temple” on their website here. Also, take a look at the table of contents for the current issue and browse around.

Temple
Corinne Gaston

Out of all things I could want,
I want another night in the garden with you.

Another night of us bathed
in the orange evening song of seven-thirty.
When the hummingbirds linger around us
and the spiders come to bow at our feet.

When you have gathered our oracles:
the copper fleur-de-lis you carved for your family’s name,
my little marble figurines,
the ceramic jar I pinched together with my thumbs.

The incense burning sweet.

I would kiss the skin above your elbows, the veins
running railroads
down the mountains of your arms.

I would lie between the tomato sprouts with you
in the chartreuse froth of ferns,
beneath the citrus glow of the guava tree,
wander in the taste of your mouth,
the warmth your chest.

We could weave the breath of our prayers into the soil
and lick grainy salt from our fingers, our fingers
gathering the whispering smoke in the grass, whispers
building where bricks have failed.

What gifts could I bring you?
You
with your sparrow words of love
and the soft nightingale-brown of your eyes?

In the next night, let us crush the shards of sea-glass
hanging from the stooped tree that makes liquorice-bitter avocados.
Let us scatter the dust
into the air, sow the green glitter into the soil.

Let me feed the crumbs of your fears
to the mockingbirds.
The evening
purples around us like a bruise.

Mars (Published Poem)

I would like to thank Red Rose Review for published this poem, “Mars,” that I wrote in Paris back in 2013. You can view the poem on their website here. Enjoy!

Mars
Corinne Gaston

I can still feel the smoky wild dagga of your eyes
the char of your hair,
the embers in your laughing breath.

You, who devoured tarot cards like candy.
You, who prayed
with your forehead pressed with ash
and your hands knucklebone deep in the ochre dirt.

Your crowned spirit shed its body like a garter snake,
leaving it here for us to burn

and in days to come I will build you monuments of spiraling bricks,
paint them
with the charcoal of your funeral pyre
here beneath the curtains of infernal sunset.

Here
where I bathe in molten puddles
and tuck rose petals beneath my tongue,
where I dress your corpse for burial.

You were my mercurial star,

the alizarin drumbeat of my heart.

Tonight,

in the red gardens of Mars, the lions weep.