Wren and River

“Cooper Neighborhood Photos” belongs to Ed Kohler on Flickr.com. Some rights reserved.

It is the year 2010 and the summer sun drives beads of sweat across my face with torrents of heat pouring over my skin, drenching my clothes and making my hair stick to the skin of my neck, cheeks, and forehead. I drown in the sunlight as though I am a baby who has opened her eyes and experienced open air for the first time, all sensitive skin and mouth, throat, and nostrils gasping for breath. I am suffocating and I think I will surely pass on before I can acquire my own driver’s license. I breathe, pushing air in and out of my face as my feet step, calves pumping, thighs burning. Almost there. Just a few yards more. Up ahead, River Yang laughs, his voice mocking and bold, thick like maple syrup but not as sweet.

“Too slow, Wren. Too bad.” River lifts his arms to the sky and grabs fistfuls of blue atmosphere. He jumps in celebration, fingers more than grazing an outstretched oak branch, landing on the balls of his feet with his legs spread wide apart. He is joy and bliss in human form, his accomplishment turns him into a caricature of satisfaction. A crooked smile stretching across his face threatens me with shame for my failure, encouraging me and my oxygen-deprived lungs forward. When I do finally reach him he reaches out his hand for a slap. “Getting slow there, Wren.”

“Hey,” I gasp out the words, “when you’d become superhuman.” My hands on my knees I pant, my sides aching, the lunch in my lower intestines seemingly reversing its journey through my gut.

“We can’t all be Superman, some of us gotta be backup. You’re Robin. Get it? Since your name is Wren.”

“Robin’s my cousin. Six times removed. I might as well not even be related to him.” I slap River’s right hand, meaning for a quick grasp and release but he holds on. His fingers and palms are rough and calloused from playing ball. There is a mud stain on his shoes from football practice with his teammates. He pulls me into him and for the first time but definitely not the last, I feel a twinge somewhere deep inside that region where they say your heart lies and where they say we all have a vulnerability to the sharpened tip of cupid’s arrow, but I say, they lie. It’s all in my head. Just oxytocin and dopamine from not having a close friend and suddenly I’m dancing in the streets under the midday sun with none other than my stepbrother, River.

His post-puberty tendons tense and jump under the skin of his forearm. I can smell the scent of his sweat, the liquid soap my family places in the shelf by the shower head, and the laundry detergent we use on our laundry. I can feel the warmth emanating off his torso. His chest tapers into shoulders rounded by football practice and late hours lifting weights with teammates laughing about “pumping iron and girls.” I sneak what means to be a furtive glance at his face but find myself ensnared in Cupid’s crosshairs. Above, sun beams glint off River’s russet hair, like a reddish-brown beacon for homesick girls like me, lost and confused, who return home to a place that no longer recognizes them. His eyes are blue like an ocean that has never known peace, a sea of chaotic waves and currents that maroons sailors on islands not yet discovered, yet not worth noting discovery for lack of flora, fauna, and human life.

“River.” The word comes out sounding more like an involuntary passing of gas between my lips like a belch, or as my middle-school self would have said, a burp. His once-confident smile falters. He gives me a quick glance-over, my sweaty hair hastily tied under a baseball cap, wayward strands escaping under the rim stuck to the sides of my neck in a sticky mess. My T-shirt untucked and knobby knees with calves that could do with more than a bit of toning. His pouty lower lip teases me with the words he is about to breathe into existence, but then he lets go of my hand and backs away. Wordlessly, he leaves my realm of indecision and constant cautious hesitation and returns to his world of athletic bravado and bold curiosity and clever puns. River walks away from my insignificant corner of the world with my obsessive insecurities and crazy hopeful thoughts and returns to being River, the athlete, the straight-A student, the good son. River the stepbrother, and I, his younger sister.


She Burns in my Mind’s Eye

“Girl’s hand holding burning candle. Winter background.” belongs to Marco Verch on Flickr.com. Some rights reserved.

she breathes fire
he says
the flames they climb higher
and higher

a year without rain
forests and canopies of large green leaves
soon to become dry, empty deserts of nothing
but a sea of wilted vegetation and yellow sand dunes

she’s beautiful
he says
and I wonder if he believes
in everything he’s been told

eyes blue like summertime skies in California
lips large and red like petals from a rosebud
hair golden like fields of wheat bleached by the sun
a fashion photographer’s wetdream

she’s the thunder in my heartbeat
he says
the rhythm I feel when the right song comes on
and I begin to move my feet

it’s the madness I’ve been told
the strangest of strange
the most curious of all
a strange quest of youthful lust
a lost journey into being understood by another

it’s her beauty
he says
that will last me a lifetime
amid the everyday diagnosis of too-many faces to remember
too many names to repeat

she burns with the force of a million dazzling suns
blinds his sight and suffocates his speech
makes him mute and deaf to all around him

an army of man of similar minds
lost in the destruction of their own beings
chasing after acceptance and social status

he gives a silent sigh
and when all the world is lost
she is the flame that keeps on burning

Dear Chloe,

“Hdr Colorful Street” belongs to Ran Allen on Flickr.com. Some rights reserved.

If this begins to sound like the tell-all, show-all, excessively rehashed, borderline-obsessive screenplay of some ridiculously underfunded film written by a high school student in desperate need of fifty or so words to turn in to an overworked teacher—a story about a girl with too-big of an imagination and a friendship that knows no sensible boundaries—please let me know. But honestly, I feel like you’d probably be okay with this, seeing as you still talk to me.

It’s been a good eight years. I know for a lot of that time we weren’t truly in contact with each other, but I’m glad we have the friendship we have now. This feels kind of crazy to me. It really does. Eight years have passed us by and I’m not a twelve-year-old little girl anymore, at least not on the outside. Alright, so what if I do look like I’m twelve on the outside, I certainly feel like I’m twelve on the inside too.

I haven’t changed much. I’m still insecure about the same things, still feel the same way about a lot of things like onions and math. Oh, God, my mental math is still awful. In fact, I think it’s only gotten worst. I’m still anxious when I speak in front of a group, my voice shakes, my fingers tremble. My social anxiety seizes hold of my tongue, vocal cords, and lungs. My mind is a dandelion seed and the stares of my peers is the only gust of wind I need to become dislodged and sail away. Without a mind I become a mechanical machine, hopelessly pushing words on a conveyor belt to be voiced into existence, an action that has been rehearsed tirelessly over and over again. If not expected to speak I become mute, a paperweight sitting on a sheet of paper, insignificant and invisible.

It is with you I discovered a confidant. It was you I trusted my insecurities with, my crushes, my moments of stunning social awkwardness. Without you I would have been an island, isolated by miles and miles of ocean, my poisonous insecurity and traitorous lack of confidence holding me a prisoner of my own flaws. With you as a source of comfort, I dared to speak to unfamiliar faces and build bridges. I managed to gain a sense of satisfaction in everyday tasks and I held onto hope during depressing times. I held out for the blue of sunlit skies after the cold gray of stormy seas. So, sail on, Chloe. And I hope you find what you’re looking for. Whatever it is that you want out of life, I hope you reach. I hope you get there, wherever it is you want to be.

I am and always will be the girl you met on the sandy path strewn with goose feces at Centerville Junior High. We might not be in seventh grade anymore and I know, with time, we won’t always be this close, but I hope that one day, when we meet again you’ll remember me and I’ll remember you as we were, as we are, friends like we once were in seventh grade.

Yours truly,

Julie W

A Curtain From the World

“Curtain Call” belongs to Christine H. on Flickr.com. Some rights reserved.

In this strange, confusing existence I call my life,
my own thoughts are foreign and hide behind enemy lines
mocking me with false grenades and guns without bullets.
They do not want their true nature to be discovered.

To be identified:
abnormal and incomplete.
Missing something vital,
something too fundamental to be detected.

To be wrong.
Wrong like a body decaying in public drinking water or
a murder discovered during a family reunion or
laughter at a funeral.

My own thoughts are strangers
I take out to lunch dressed up like Abercrombie and Fitch models
but my best attempts fail to satisfy the public eye
instead my thoughts appear as repulsively dressed clowns
tastelessly splattered with neon polka dots on black fabric.

Conversation ceases.
The awkward silence slithers from the concrete
up past my shoe and sock into the leg of my shorts.
The silence makes its way under my shirt
leaving a trail of hot sweat along my back.

“Waiter! Waiter! Check, please?”
I want to leave, escape over the hills.
I want to find myself buried underneath the sand of California’s Death Valley National Park.
I leave the restaurant before anyone selects me off the menu
before they eat me for lunch.

They say I am cold, colder than the Arctic Ocean.
They say I am mean. There is something off about me.

I know that there is kindness pulsing like blood in our veins and arteries
traveling through our hearts and bodies.
Is it too late for me to understand what I am missing?
Everyone sits down to eat lunch in their dollhouse world,
but I can’t seem to find my seat.

I wonder if it’s obvious,
if I appear normal.

My Idea of You

“bus stop, 147 Outer Drive Express & 151 Sheridan” belongs to renee_mcgurk on Flickr.com. Some rights reserved.

Some nights I stay up late
repairing the trembling walls
brick by weary brick
I hold tight to the idea of you
anchoring me, keeping me strong
as the dusty chambers of my heart have shaky walls
in this quaking body of mine

You walk on my steppingstone spine
ground your heels in
I look up to meet your eyes
drinking in your perfection

I taste the joy your love gives me on the tip of my tongue
burning through my core
traveling through my blood stream
zipping through my neurons
you embed yourself in my mind
you are the shadow of my words, my actions, my thoughts

You tell me, “Wherever you go, I will always be here for you.”

When all this is over
my memory of you will always be sweeter than you
ever were

I stumble onto an unfamiliar street
wrapping itself around unfriendly businesses
winding through mile after mile of paper mache homes
you reach out to give me your hand
but you have the midnight skies in your eyes
in the darkness I am lost
I can’t find my way
without the light of streetlamps to guide me back home

Without you around
the world feels somehow different
life has been drained of color
the wood of the table is not made of solid matter
and can barely hold a stack of heavy textbooks
a stranger’s kind words sound forced and random
the air itself wrong like expired milk
the bitter chunks slowly moving down the back of my mouth

With you around
I feel like I can burst
explode, splinter, shatter into confetti debris
an eight-year-old’s first piñata and his last hit
a firecracker going off in the dead of night
you set my paper heart on fire
I say, light me up
let me burn

After the last time you raised your voice
I traced the fault lines in my heart
even then I told myself
you are my lighthouse
you guide me home

I am running out of reasons to stay
but I cannot quit you
you’ve got the Devil flowing through your veins
I’m a sinner giving in to my pain

Even now I remember the sweet melody of your voice
humming to me, singing:
“Do you remember December?
Cold nights, colder weather
wondering if we would end up together?”

At night when we sleep
our souls go on a joyride together
while our bodies
in separate houses, on different streets
slumber on

Sorry Girl

“passing…” belongs to Alex Naanou on Flickr.com. Some rights reserved.

I am a sorry girl
stuck between all that could be and my regrets
caught between the commas in a run-on sentence
spotted staring at passerby on the sidewalk from a window on the first floor
a sorry kind of girl

a apologize too soon
laugh a little too hard
kind of girl

I am a silly kind of girl
a do it without thinking
apologize later
kind of girl

a too-easily embarrassed
wondering if I should be embarrassed
if I’m supposed to be embarrassed
if I should act embarrassed
kind of girl

I am a sorry girl
a sorry I couldn’t get it done
sorry I tried
sorry I didn’t
a sorry I wish I wasn’t so helpless
kind of girl

a sorry girl
“wish I wasn’t so helpless!”
“wish I could’ve thought of that!”
“wish I could’ve done that!”
kind of girl

but “Sorry.”
doesn’t fix anything
except offer a brief moment of realization
a brief moment of reflection
because I realize
because I know
I kind of am
a sorry kind of girl

Nowhere Boy

alt text
“Sunrise on Ocean” belongs to Image Catalog on Flickr.com. This image falls under Public Domain.

Nowhere Boy

with your somber gaze and heartbreaking ways

I shall always cherish the time we had

the days, the hours, the minutes

will someday only be a mere second in the memory of the life I’ve lived

you tell me that by dawn you will be gone

far away from this beach where we stand

that I shall not find you here nor there nor anywhere


On this shore

the early morning darkness cannot hide the uncertainty

that shines on my face, a beacon of hope

a lighthouse of my own design

guiding my soon-to-be shipwrecked heart into rocks

on unfamiliar shores in the middle of nowhere


You warn me not to follow you

that I will not be able to find you

that I will only get lost on the way

cursing the day we met and

regretting the time we spent together in Neverland

believing in an immortal forever that never truly existed

that I will only break my own heart

shattering my once beautiful ship carrying a cargo

of aching love and dizzy lust and impractical dreams

against the edge of time and certainty

No Man’s Land where only the old, lost, and confused wander

shipwrecked strangers who have no compass to guide them home

and have lost themselves in the war against Old Age


Not even immortality and eternal youth can bring you back

back to me, back to this moment in time

where you and I were Oh-So-Perfect in each other’s eyes


Nothing will persuade you to come back to this dawn on this shore

between fantasy and reality where the waters of my imagination

threaten to sweep away my crumbling sense of reality

I stand soaked to the bone, numb from the cold

as the grains of reality cling to the bottoms of my feet

before being dragged into the ocean of incredible creatures

and here there be not only monsters but demons

creations of my own that I can no longer prevent from consuming me


Me in my own madness

my disastrous search for you

a boy who I have only ever met in this moment on this shore

Stop! Stop me! Stop me from doing this


I should know nothing will convince you to come back to me

for you are Nowhere Boy

and I am just

an ordinary girl