The Fine Print: Featured Works
ART: Delicate by Tehillah Eskelund
ART: Fashion Starlets by Angela Murphy
ART: Winter Ambiance Reflections by Kathryn Stoehr
ART: Untitled (1) by Koralee Montoya
ART: Prayer Flags over Kathmandu by Joseph Girard
sometimes, life is not a story.
stories make sense.
they flow from start to stop with
coherence and continuity.
they have a plot,
but sometimes, life is not a story.
stories are controlled,
and skillfully told,
finely crafted round a reason
serving to redeem even
the darkest parts
we often cringe to read.
yes, life has stories.
swift snapshots and
aching glimmers we trace our
edge-of-your seat epics and
yes, life has stories.
of hope beyond
the longest night
of love to soften
the stoniest soul.
of horror, terror to thrill the heart,
Faint shimmers of Elysium.
but sometimes, life is not a story.
Push me beyond the place
Where my fear keeps me
From the wonderful fall
And redemption of my
The things I give are made
Of dirt and clay and mud.
My future is delayed
By my own regrets
And my own animosities
And petty hatreds.
Me, me, me,
The advent of the small, selfish,
Being drawn out of the mire
Purified by the power of fire
and the promise of peace.
what is in store for the one
who chooses to rise with
the advent of the Son?
I’m willing to move:
My feet are glued.
I want to serve in love:
My heart is stone.
Both found and alone,
Lost and at home,
The truth is here, and I am set free.
~ Katie O’Sullivan
Kiss me with your eyes,
Your hands, your words
Kiss me with your grin,
Your wit, your boldness
Let lips move to heartbeats
To rhythms merging
To reason urging
Let breathless chests inhale
Let tongues flow in constancy
Then love, in truth epitomized
Can finally lead your lips to mine
~ Christine H. Rosa de Freitas
Her tongue is neatly tied like a jade rabbit knot.
Third shelf to the right
stored between her shovel shape teeth--
and her epicanthic folds
peer through filament wires
hatching electric paper cranes
that seep into Kahlo's colorant.
She is not cherished for her
cross-grain jasmine hands
procured through serial forms
but because she
lays gleaming like
an emerald against your skin.
“Is Hawaii a country?”
Taylor slowly pulls her face out of the book she’s reading and stares at me with a blank, dazed look on her face.
Oh no. I said something stupid.
I really need to stop doing that.
She goes right back to reading without answering me. I don’t think Taylor has ever said anything stupid in her entire life. She even looks smart. Her sandy hair is always combed and pulled up out of her face, she’s wearing her thick, round reading glasses, and she’s got like a trillion books spread out next to her on the checkered kitchen floor. Taylor is the weird one in this house. Mom says that God gave her twice the brains as the rest of us combined. She spends every free minute at school, and she calls physics a hobby. She wants to go to college but Mom says that she should focus on more important things right now, like getting a job.
She has some kind of big test that’s four whole months away and this is where I find her every morning: sitting on the kitchen floor, reading like she’s running out of time. She keeps saying crazy stuff about how she’ll never catch up and how she needs to pass or she’ll kill herself. The kitchen’s the best place to study because of the wood-stove. Mom didn’t get the money together for this month’s heat bill.
She really needs to stop doing that.
“What are you reading about?” I ask as I stand on my tippy toes, throwing open all of the cupboards and searching for something to pack for lunch.
“Why do you care? You wouldn’t even understand,” Taylor snaps, as she slams her book closed. “And no, genius, Hawaii is not a country. Look at a map every once in a while. Geez.”
“Hey! That’s not–“
“And stop making such a racket. You’re not going to find anything in those cupboards anyway, I already checked.”
“Go change your clothes, you look like a delinquent in that ratty shirt.”
“But Tay, I don’t have–“
“Wear something decent so no one knows that we’re destitute. Hurry up, you’re going to be late.”
I have no idea what “delinquent” and “destitute” mean, but I’m fed up with her big words and her bossiness. Flustered, I leave the kitchen, and I let her hear my anger in every stomp down the hallway.
Who does she think she is? Mom never cares what I wear to school. She doesn’t even care if I go to school in the first place. She says that Tay has the brains, I have the beauty. You have those pretty baby blues, she says, deep as a cloudless sky. In like eight years, she says, it will be easy for me to find someone who will take care of me. She’s not worried. Tay, on the other hand, gets bossier with me every day. When I pretend to be sick to get out of school– basically every morning – she practically drags me out of the door.
I pull out the cardboard box of clothes from under my bed and look for a new outfit. The room is full of boxes from the move, but we just haven’t gotten around to putting things away. At some point, a long, long time ago, the wallpaper in here was probably a nice happy shade of yellow. Now it looks pale and tired, like the sun when it goes behind a cloud. I told Taylor that I wanted to paint it purple, but she said that there isn’t a color in the whole rainbow that could make this house look less depressing. She’s just being dramatic, as usual. She’s been upset ever since she found out that we would be sharing a room. When we first moved here, she took some tape and made a line right down the center of the faded gray carpet. She warns me not to touch any of her stuff “or else,” so I stay on my own side. Most of the time.
I dig a handful of clothes out of the box and put them on my bed so that I can see my choices. There are a few tank tops and t-shirts, a pair of jean shorts, and a ruffled red skirt. I can’t find my winter clothes. Taylor insists that they have to be somewhere, but I’m pretty sure we left that box in Kentucky. I hate picking out my outfit in the morning. Out of all the schools I’ve been through, Mt. Christopher Middle School is the meanest. My accent, my clothes, my hair–nothing is off limits, and when I try to something, it feels like my tongue is all tied up in knots. I sometimes feel like I’m one of those mannequins that they have in store windows, everyone stops to stare and point, but I just have to stand there and take it. I don’t have Taylor’s brains, I’m not smart enough to fight back.
I decide on the red skirt and the t-shirt with the sparkly pink butterfly across the front. I walk to the mirror in the corner to check out the outfit. I try to imagine what Ms. Fleming’s sixth grade class will have to say about it today. The shirt is getting a little small, but I actually don’t look too bad today. As I’m turning around to see every angle, I notice the glossy magazine with the leafy Hawaiian palm trees and ocean sunset. It’s sitting on the nightstand behind me. Next to it is my homework notebook with my finished essay on top, “Hawaii: The Country I Want to Visit the Most.” That essay–
“The bus just left, you’re going to have to walk!” I suddenly hear from the kitchen.
I quickly grab my backpack and glance anxiously at the notebook one more time.
I decide to leave it behind.
With all of the luxuriously warm and sunny places in the world, I wonder every day why this teaching job had to be in Maine. The first time the weather channel said that it was going to be thirty degrees below zero, I was certain that it had to be a mistake. If I leave the house with wet hair, I end up with a mess of icicles on my head as soon as I open the door. If I don’t wear at least three layers of clothing, the windchill makes me briefly wonder if I forgot to put on pants. “It’s beautiful up there,” all of my friends said, when they found out that I was taking the teaching job. It really is stunning, but I’ve discovered that exploring that famous Maine beauty in the winter just means frostbitten fingers and toes. I’m slowly settling into this new home, but the chilly weather? I don’t think I’ll ever get used to it.
This morning is particularly frigid. I open my drawers and start picking out my warmest layers. I pull out the scarf that I purchased in Italy this past summer. I trace the intricate patterns of turquoise and gold, and I begin to dream of the cathedrals and cobblestones. Italia, la vita dolce. The sweet life, indeed. It is one of the most enchanting places I have ever visited and I hope to go back as soon as possible. I decide that today would be the perfect day to wear it considering that our new unit is about stories from around the world. I’m trying to encourage my students’ curiosity about the world around them. Maybe if I show them where I’ve been, it will make them a little more interested. I put on my warm blue parka, lace up my brand new “Bean” boots and head out the door.
Mt. Christopher Middle School badly needed a sixth grade language arts teacher. It’s a small, underfunded, dilapidated school. Education isn’t really encouraged in the community, so most kids don’t really plan on making it through high school. Many of the parents think of teachers as glorified babysitters. It’s not hard to imagine why they had trouble attracting applicants. As soon as I saw the job positing, however, I applied for it immediately. I was fresh out of grad school, and although I knew a lot about teaching, I’d never actually been a teacher. It seemed like every school back in New York wanted “experienced” teachers, and so I had to start setting my sights beyond my hometown. I knew this would be a rough school, but I had always firmly believed that there was no obstacle a teacher couldn’t overcome with a little creativity and compassion. I relished the idea of this new challenge.
My classroom turned out to be a little smaller than I’d have liked. The desks are completely covered with the “artwork” of their previous occupants and the students have to share books at times. My students don’t really get a lot of help at home, so it’s sometimes difficult to motivate them to work hard in class. We’re learning about stories from around the world because they don’t really understand how much opportunity there is outside of this tiny town. It’s not an ideal teaching job, but it’s becoming home and I will make the best of it.
“Skye Martin,” I say, for what feels like the thousandth time. “Has anyone seen Skye this morning?”
“She wasn’t on the bus,” Trevor calls out.
“I’m here!” Skye calls out breathlessly as she leaps through the door and races to her seat. What in the world is she wearing? I can’t believe she was allowed to walk out of the house like that. Skye is a pretty girl, with long, unruly, brown hair and astonishingly blue eyes. I worry about her, though. It seems like the girls in my class, sixth grade girls, are wearing less and less every day. That red, ruffled skirt is so short that it looks like it could be the bottom of a swimsuit. This is hardly an appropriate outfit for school, especially in the middle of winter. I just wish these girls knew that they don’t have to dress this way. They don’t need to attract a boyfriend in sixth grade, for goodness’ sake!
“What’s the rule about eating in class?” I ask as I watch her open a small package of cereal at her desk.
“But, Ms. Fleming–“
“Skye, what is the rule?”
“I know, we’re only supposed to eat during snack, but–“
“Please put it away. You can eat it later,” I say. Skye slowly closes the cereal package and shoves it in the backpack at her feet without a word. I don’t mean to sound harsh. I’m just trying to teach these kids how to be more organized and professional. I always tell them to eat before they come to class.
“Okay, I’d like all of you to take out your essays and get ready to share them with the class.” Feet shuffle, papers flutter, and one by one their essays appear on the desks the desks. “Who wants to go first?” Ellie Leighton raises her hand. She goes up to stand in front of the whiteboard. She’s not like many of the girls at Mt. Christopher, her mother always make sure that she comes to class dressed smartly with her short blonde hair parted neatly to the side. Ellie’s an honors student and her papers are always some of the best.
“Well,” she says brightly. “The country that I want to visit most is France. It’s filled with history and beautiful buildings, and I really want to go to the Eiffel Tower someday.” It’s a good start to the class. Hunter wants to go to London to see the Queen, Brie wants to go to Australia for the kangaroos, and Carson wants to go on a safari in Tanzania. Overall, I’d say that this project is a success. Skye is the last one to stand in front of the class.
“Um,” she says nervously, rocking back and forth on her feet. “Um, I want to go to France too. It, uh, looks really pretty.” Shame creeps across her face and she practically runs back to her seat. Every eye in the room is on her.
“Skye, please come and see me after class.” She looks like she is going to sink into the floor. I assign the homework, the kids pack up their notebooks and pencils, and hurry out of the room when the bell rings. Skye and I are the only ones left.
“Please tell me the truth, did you write the essay?”
“Where is it?”
“I left it at home.”
“Why did you do that?”
“I–I don’t know.”
“Skye, you’re a smart girl,” she shifts in her seat. “But in order learn and grow, you at least need to try.” No response. “Bring in your finished essay tomorrow, I don’t want any excuses.”
I wish it didn’t have to be this way. I don’t know why these kids choose to slack off, why they carelessly throw away their education. Don’t they get it? I’m trying to teach them about the world around them. I’m trying to help them to be more sensitive to culture so that they can open their eyes to possibility and adventure. I want them to know that opportunity is available to all of them if they just reach for it.
But kids like Skye,
I don’t think they’ll ever understand just how big the world could be.
~ Emily Bellinger
I’m caught between sleeping and waking when I hear the wheels of a flimsy metal cart rolling into my room. Two nurses walk in.
“Good morning, Ms. Camargo” a young and chipper nurse says.
I stare at her because she isn’t worth all the strength it takes to say, “Hi”. Maybe that’s why they say old people are mean. But I don’t care, I don’t have the energy. She motions toward the switch that regulates the angle of the head of the bed and I slightly nod my head and close my eyes to signal my approval. While one nurse presses the button, the other supports my body. I look at the tray she has set before me: fake eggs, toast, and orange juice. I hate all of these things but I eat them because I need food to take my pills. If I don’t eat this they’ll pump me with liquid food like I’m a vegetable and I’m not ready for that yet. So I eat fake eggs.
“Maybe you’ll have a visit today,” my nurse says, smiling while she checks the machines with all my information. I know she says that to everyone. I know I’ll have a visit today. I have a visit everyday.
The nurse turns the TV on to my favorite channel, TBN, and says she’ll be back to check on me. I close my eyes and listen to the hymns before the many TV sermons I will watch today.
It is 5:30 p.m. and I have just finished eating dinner. Again, I close my eyes and listen to the TV. A pastor preaches about the fruit of the spirit and I recite in my head, “love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control.”
I turn my head all of a sudden to see my handsome nephew enter with his wife and daughters. He is aging, now in his mid fifties but he still looked to me the way he did when he was a boy. He had a smile that shone all the way across the room. They all come and kiss both my cheeks and sit down. The girls sit down next to each other and remain quiet for most of the time. He asks me about how I am. “Good,” I say. He tells me I look great. His wife does most of the talking. She tells me about who is cooking for church this week, about the young woman who just had a baby and gave it a terrible name and about how well the girls are doing at school. I listen quietly but with enthusiasm and interest as I try to imagine the baby’s face and the couple’s joy. I don’t have any children of my own but I have raised many boys and girls to be men and women. Each found their way to me differently, but they all left a little more whole.
They stay for about half an hour and leave to church. I am not one for questioning God but I am jealous of where they can go. I could be useful, I could love people, I could share my wisdom. They leave and a tear surprises me and runs down my check. When I don’t have the urge to immediately wipe it away, I realize I am alone.
Three days after my nephew came to visit me, he appears again. But this time, to take me home. He’s here with his brother, my more distant nephew – the exception to the “little more whole” rule. I don’t despair though, I know God isn’t done with him yet. Another nurse, one who never smiles, changes me out of my hospital gown and into the clothes I was admitted with – another gown. I’m wheeled out of the hospital and my nephews place me in their car. Breathing the cold January air feels good – it makes me cough, and I am reminded that I am still alive.
Four days later, I am lying down on my bed at home and it is noon. I no longer have any strength to chew my food so my nephew’s wife makes me fruit smoothies and vegetable soup pureed smoothly in the blender. Surprisingly, they taste very good. Every day, I have at least two visits. The extra rooms in this house have been a revolving door for my “kids” – newly arrived immigrants – for almost forty years. The many green girls I became a second mother to hold my hand and cry. They don’t care that their kids are screaming in the living room, or that their husbands will be home and want dinner soon, because they know they’re losing me. I want to say more. I want to tell them to love their kids and make friends and not forget about Jesus. But I can’t so I just look into their eyes and hope they know.
Every day, everything hurts. My legs look like deflated balloons, my bones feel hollow and they can no longer support me on their own despite the amount of weight I’ve lost. I am no longer in control. Everything that used to be voluntary is now no longer something I can make decisions about. I am a baby. My nurse, Colleen, tells me I have been sleeping for the majority of the past few days. She tells me everything will be okay. She loves me. Or, she loves Jesus, who told her to love me. She does her job well.
Three very similar days pass and I am lying on my bed. It is difficult to open my eyes. I am wearing a gown that belongs to my sister. I imagine mine were getting dirty faster than they could be cleaned. It is hard to breathe. Colleen sits in a rocking chair next to me and reads a book. I’ve heard it said that hearing is the last sense to go after someone dies. If people say interesting things when they think you’re sleeping, then what will they say when they think you’re dead?
It becomes increasingly hard to breathe and I have lost awareness of my surroundings but I feel Colleen’s warm body getting on the bed. She lies down next to me and places one hand under my neck and her other arm over my chest – a hug. She knows.
She begins to sing a hymn; one I am sure she was told was one of my favorites. I try to hum along but it is too difficult so I just listen. I find myself unable to breathe any longer but I hear the last line:
“To a land where joy shall never end, I'll fly away. I'll fly away.”
~Anita Dos Santos