Featured piece: Little Dolls
by Parker Rabinowitz '21
Walking out of the usual pouring rain, like the gods' constant crying, you find yourself under the awning of the Sitka Dance Studios. Up the spiral oak staircases to a place where you can see the entire world, out of the paned windows. It smells of blood, sweat, and desperation, but also hope and passion. When you end up opening the windows with chipping white paint, the smells of the sea flow in, and you can see the end of the world that much clearer. Take off your shoes caked with mud and grass, and put on the pale pink slippers.
Your hair gets twisted, sprayed, and stabbed by bobby pins like an ancient Greek tragedy, but you stay smiling. As the other girls yank their leotards up to places - as grandmothers say - where the sun don’t shine, you wonder if you should too. “No tears in your tights,” they say, “you should all look the same.” When something goes wrong you choke back tears and look out the tightly shut windows that are trying their hardest not to let any wind in. We look like little dolls waiting for someone to pick us off the shelf, but what if you want to hop off that shelf and create your own choreography, and not have to beg and hope for a solo like a duck waiting to get lucky for a piece of bread.
In the afternoon when classes are over you can dance alone to your own beat, like the wind coming through the windows that are now open for the world to see. I have a fascination with these windows, they have stood standing the renovations and history since 1907, their strength is inspiring. They slide up to hinges to stay ajar, and sometimes fall down on your fingers like a guillotine. In those moments when you’re dancing with passion, not the voice in your head telling you don’t mess up, you realize how much I love it. After you haven’t been to the studio for long time, and you come back it smells like home, but also like the future.
by Annika Berezney '19
We walked down to the river and stood on the moss covered, old Hamakua bridge. Hands heavy with tiny pieces of dry cat food to feed the prawns. Delicate and dark. As I let each morsel, one by one, slide slowly out of my cute fingers and hit the water, rings formed. Ripples danced concentrically around each piece of cat food. Each piece making its own individual impression. My gaze glued to their simple peace.
I jumped in, eyes closed, face tight. With my bright orange Scooby-Doo bathing suit skin tight over my five year old belly.
“Princess Annika, be careful!”
I tried to, but sometimes I looked for ways not to be. I started poking prawns and swimming where the water got “too quick” as she explained it, over the slippery rocks. We were engulfed in green, and the wet smell and sound of the cool, calm river was our only view. Constantly humming.
It started raining. Big, glob-like drops and we raced. I was always the fastest. And then my breath couldn't keep up with my muddy bare feet, I slowed and held on to her. She was so much bigger than I was. A big jolly smile and fogged bifocals were all I saw when she looked down at me.
Up the twisting paved road. Black and sweet smelling from the rain, past the freshly rotting mangoes, past the Tarzan vines that you had to “test” before swinging on. Past the old cemetery that I found the strength to run by fast when we got close. Into the best red house with the gecko covered steps.
“Can we have hot cocoa? Please.”
“Of course we can! I will go make it so scrumptious for us, yum, yum, yum!”
I sat there, cozy in a towel while Mormor made our hot chocolate, with big mountains of whipped cream. I would slowly stick out my two fresh feet and let the droplets dripping from the rusting roof fall just on my tiny toenails while I waited and drowned in the oversized towel. And listened to the splash as the coqui frogs sang along. Then the real music would play and I would jump naked, swinging my drying curls to the beat of old songs holding her wrinkly, warm hand.
She was always so warm. Smelling faintly of sweat and dirt. We turned down the music and she handed me my hot cocoa and we drank the perfect warm liquid. Looking at the deep brown floor and the huge ceiling beams.
“At some meetings with Papa, sugarplum.”
“How many more sleeps until they are back?”
“Only one, my love. And then you will go back home and it will all be ok.”
I ran outside and set leaves in the newly formed river going down Mormor's steep driveway. From under the deck the chickens watched me place the yellow speckled leaves carefully in the rush. Again and I again I let the water take control of my ships and just watched as the current steered instead of me.
I woke up to pancakes and ate them with not enough powdered sugar as Mormor exclaimed. She cleaned up while I put the VCR in the dusty big TV. Aladdin started playing and the sounds of them singing perfectly together flooded my ears. I tossed and turned on the bright green carpet. Occasionally looking out the window to see the sun peak through the trees outside. The fiery birds having a conversation about the weather I imagined. I was stuck in the dream.
“They are almost here, Annika!”
I ran outside, up the driveway, and sat right by the quiet road, covered in the sun. The rain smell was gone. I picked buttercup flowers, rubbed their yellow tops hard against my chin so the yellow would stain it. Mama would say that means I have been a good girl, the yellow only rubs off when you have been good. I started nervously to dig up the grass and set the rolly-pollies in my piko so they would be nice and warm. I ran to the swing under the avocado tree. The brown leaves crackling under my feet as I jumped on. Continuously looking back to the road to see if they had pulled up like I hoped for. I twirled the perfect spider webs that covered the swing around my finger. And just swayed because my feet couldn't touch the ground yet. Singing sorry to the spiders when I had finished twirling. I sat down on the red splintering steps again. Bored and anxious. The new smell of the sweet green grass distracting me for a moment. I stared at the old broken and rusted fence they would walk in. Then they came, the big white car slowly driving toward me, with their tired faces inside. Mama was looking out the window, Papa was focused on the road, his big hands gripping the wheel tightly. So many unanswered questions like bees. Just buzzing. They got out, Mama slammed the door. I stepped into the sun, eyes closed and reluctant to open, waiting for them to come. And they did. Mama first, quickly kissing my ear and gently squeezing and collapsing my shoulders into hers. Then Papa scooped me up and threw me up in the air, then pulled me close and buried me in his capacious arms.
Mormor came out to watch. They each took me in isolated but equally loving embraces. My eyes closed again, wishing that when they opened we would all be hugging together. Then they opened. And all I looked at was the new green grass with the crackly brown avocado leaves falling one by one, covering the bright green. The grass had no choice, the leaves would just fall. I felt my chin and wiped some of the yellow away, completely aware that none of that mattered now. It was different.
by Zhichun "Rachel" Zhao '19
M ran all the way back home. She fished the key from her pocket; her hands were trembling and she found it hard for her to put the key into the keyhole. She somehow managed to open the door---finally--- and she pulled out a red envelope from her linen schoolbag. Her heart was pumping faster than ever while opening the envelope that would decide her future, and the shaking of her hands made the reading task difficult. She read the words on the letter one by one to make it easier for her to understand while being in such an excited mood.
We have agreed to admit you as a student of the Science Department, majoring in Chemistry. Please bring this letter with you and show up on August 16th, 1956 on campus to register.
1956 May 9
M screamed silently with control after reading it so she would not disrupt her neighbors. However, she couldn’t, and didn’t want to control the excitement that was gushing out of her heart. After all of her hard work, she had won herself the pathway to further her education at one of the best universities in China.
M heard the footsteps of her father, who had arrived home from work.
“What is making you so happy, my dear?” M’s father walked in, closing the door that M had forgotten to shut.
M turned to him and proudly pushed the letter to the front of his face.
Standing in the office room, M looked at the teacher in front of her with respect.
“Sir, is there anything I can help you with?”
“Yes, M. I know that this is your fourth year at Peking University and it will still take a few years for the students in the Chemistry program to complete their degrees, but we have to assign our students to the rural countryside as teachers. You, just like the others, will be teaching from the next semester and will complete your degree by teaching. Would you agree to do this?”
The news wasn’t surprising to her at all, for almost half of her class had already been sent to different places for the same purpose. M was depressed, for sure. All she wanted was an isolated place that was free from the turmoil of the society for her to study, but it seemed like there was no such place anymore in China now. However, thinking about how she could contribute to her country using the knowledge she had learned, M reluctantly said with an official smile,
“As our great leader Chairman Mao said, ‘serve the people.’ I accept the request of the school and the country with pleasure.”
After a busy day of teaching, M was returning the diluted sulphuric acid to the lab. It was raining during the last period of class and little ponds of muddy water was everywhere along her way. Holding the experimental equipment, M had to frequently twist her neck to look over the big, heavy experiment equipment to keep away from the ponds. The long, exhausted walk from the classroom to the lab made her body so sore that her movements were sluggish now.
“400 meters more…” M murmured quietly to encourage herself.
Suddenly, M lost her balance: her left foot had stepped into a pond since the equipment blocked part of her view. Her heart skipped a beat and the emergency awakened her alertness. Finding her balance quickly, M checked the equipment immediately: an iron stand, a set of test tubes and her Chemistry textbook. As she moved her sight from right to left, violent waves of burning pain attacked her from her left hand. As her sight covered her left hand, she gasped: the bottle containing sulphuric acid was missing the cap and some of the chemicals were leaking along the edge of the bottle. And the waves of pain kept hitting her. As a Chemistry student, she knew by heart what she SHOULD do: put down the equipment immediately, dry the dilute sulphuric acid with a clean cloth, run to a place where she would be able to find clean water, and rinse her hand for at least 15 minutes. This was what she learned in her first chemistry lecture about safety, and this was also what the frequent waves of pain were pushing her to do. She SHOULD do it NOW.
If only she could.
She had things that she MUST do.
The bottle of sulphuric acid she was holding was all this region had. If she gave up the bottle, her students might lose the only chance of doing experiments that required this chemical in their life. China had a shortage of chemicals that passed the purity standards that were required for experiments; no matter what happened, the chemical in her hand must be her top priority.
She turned back and saw the red, plastic cap soaked in a muddy pond. The cap was polluted, so she should not put it back. She mustn’t put the equipment down on the road since the mud on the road would pollute the other equipment, especially the remaining sulphuric acid. She needed to walk back to the lab as soon as possible so she could clean her skin. The chemical was now decaying her body, the waves of pain were breaking her down into pieces, yet she had to tolerate the pain. She tried to distract herself from focusing on the pain by thinking about her school, the next chapter she will be teaching, and her students. She moved one leg in front of the other numbly, til she finally reached her destination after a long, long journey.
M was proud, for sure, about her actions for a while. She received praise from the leader of her team and became a hero of their group for some time, but the memory of all the praise faded away soon. The pain lasted longer than people’s praise, which made her suffer a lot. She began to doubt: Is it valid for the government to value state properties -- even the tiny ones like the chemicals she carried --- more than the health and safety of its people? She cut down that thought immediately after it popped into her head: if the thought were known by the government, she would receive great punishment for being a reactionary. She had to SHUT DOWN her ideas NOW. “DON’T THINK!” she told herself.
“See the half moon-shaped scar on my left hand?” M pointed to the dark, fog-like shadow that settled on the back of her hand as my younger sister and I gathered around her. “It was left from that accident. My left hand then became infected due to the poor healthcare conditions in the countryside, and the scar will never come off. The half moon-shaped scar matches with the moon tonight perfectly well,” she added, looking outside of the window.
“Does it hurt?” my eyebrows wrinkled as if I could can understand her pain at that moment.
“I am not sure if it is me who got used to this pain, or the pain that got used to me,” she says, giving me a smile of both childishness and maturity.
by Grace Bostok '21
Picture a million lights… at least that’s what I do every time I think of my special place. New York City: my sliver of heaven on earth. A place that draws me back every time like an impeccably strong magnet. On each occasion I visit I find a new reason to love it. Its beauty is something I will never take for granted. I know that may seem odd considering if you look at it up close all you see is garbage, rats, angry people and pollution, but when each of the pieces combine they collide into a breathtaking collage of beauty and wonder.
So why do I love such a clichéd city? A city filled with crime and financial instability? It’s not because of the hype built up around a city of artists and my dream of being a writer. To be honest, I have no clue why I’m so attracted to this place, but I think that’s part of what makes it so special. It’s a unique love. My infatuation with this concrete jungle is inexplicable and childish, yet I know I’ll never grow out of it. It is plainly marvellous.
I’ll never cease to be amazed by its history. Every time I listen to a musical I imagine it's opening night. Actors and actresses getting coffee and a bagel at a bodega in Washington Heights and taking the subway to Broadway. The performers are ordinary people; no one knows them yet. No one knows they’re about to make history on stage.
And I think if a single place can make me think and feel this much, it’s mine. It’s not just a special place; New York City is my special place, and it will be forever more. My life will not be complete until I am a part of the city. I will not be satisfied with my time on earth until I can join the chaos of the city of my dreams.
by Sarah Newcomb '21
My third grade teacher, Mrs. Wilson, was my mother’s best friend in high school. I used to call her Aunt Suzy, and whenever we had parties she would always be the first person my mother wrote on the invite list. My mother had specially requested her for my third grade teacher and she and I had been practicing all summer long to break the habit of calling her Aunt Suzy. The first time I recognized that something was wrong was when Mrs. Wilson missed the first day of third grade. I didn't realize then that something so small could mean something so momentous.
My mother got a phone call the night after my first day and was on the phone for what seemed like the entire night. My mother said that she had to go on a trip with Aunt Suzy the next day. When she got home that night her face was bright red and blotchy and I thought that maybe she had gotten a facial that day. She told me that Aunt Suzy wanted me to pick a new hair color for her and she said that Mrs. Wilson was going to be missing a lot of school. This frustrated me greatly. This school year was supposed to our school year together and I had been looking forward to it. Throughout the year I watched a bright, vibrant human being get whittled down to next to nothing. It reminded me of when my father whittled sticks to roast marshmallows on. I felt a heaviness throughout my body like it was being filled with weights. Her dirty blonde hair was replaced with a dark brown. Her full and plump face was replaced with a skinny and gray face. It was awful, but not as awful as they told us it was going to be.
They said she wouldn’t make it, but Aunt Suzy proved them wrong. Her face slowly became fuller and her hair was a pixie cut. She slowly regained her bright, vibrant life, and she slowly became the Aunt Suzy that I remembered. We never got our year together, but in my opinion we got so much more.
Landscape - The Jungle
by Malia McKendry '21
When my cousins Savannah, Ethan, and I were younger, we were explorers and official monkey-humans in The Jungle. The Jungle is in the middle of our horse pasture out Mana road, all bone dry grasses and the occasional mock olive bush. Then there are the five lush towering trees that make up The Jungle. Look up. The painted-blue sky. Lower. The tips of the highest leaves, soaking up rays of the sun. Lower. Long, rope-like vines hung from the canopy above. In those days, we excitedly swung on them and often our hands would stain moss-green.
We often just sat watching the gray bugs and looking at the white mushrooms, like stools for small things to sit on in their miniature world. When we turned over the muddy leaves of the stomped-on-stamped-on floor we saw the bugs scurrying about and the stools just sitting there, doing their decomposing. Then we’d kick the mushrooms ‘cause our parents told us all of them were poisonous. We were big monsters, destroying whole cities. Ruthlessly smiling with glee. Crazy fascination with what we see. Wonder so faithfully.
I remember the damp, earthy scent of the decomposing leaves. The feel of the squishy mud and dirt that would always get in our socks. When we climbed in the trees, our comfortably unkempt sneakered feet would dislodge clumps and patches of pale green moss that skittered or fluttered down to the Earth.
There would be a log-slide, a potty-place, a look-out, two doors of leaves; and the branch that was hard to get to. The J branch. Swing around a couple of slippery branches, trip, recover. Scramble, and you just might make it to the J branch, as Savannah and I called it. It was curved slightly. Low enough so that you could jump about four feet. It doesn’t sound high, but from up there, it looked as if you were sitting on top of the Eiffel tower. Such a sight of the amount of air between our jeans with red cowboy boots and the vivid green blades of grass. It stopped our five-year-old hearts. Our parents discouraged the jumping, said you could sprain your ankle, so we compromised. We jumped when they weren’t looking.
We often said we could survive on only the orange tree berries and moss. We were the Tarzans and Janes of The Jungle, the lions of the pride, we owned it. I often had to help a whimpering Ethan up to the lookout, but once we were there, a sigh escaped our lips because some places are too beautiful; joyous; amazing, to describe. It became the place we could go and become someone else, role play, where only other kids were making fun of your accent -- and that was okay, because you could always make fun of theirs. It was our escape: The Jungle.
Fast forward. Sometimes my wandering pulls me back there, and I remember these things like it was the time of the dinosaurs. All those branches, did we really travel them all?
They’re so small.
But the trees are so tall.
Did we really climb up to touch the sky, fly so high, and never break a bone? Do I doubt the fact that joy was the main emotion here, every day? Look, the log that we used to slide on has broken, is rotting, like my ability to climb and jump off the tree. That Eiffel tower is now a souvenir, and the mansion has turned into a cramped treehouse.
Everything is undersized.
Why am I surprised?
by Raquel McMackin '21
Lamb. My name means lamb. A simple one word definition, and yet so inaccurate. I’m not like a lamb. If anything, I’m a ram, with long coiled horns circling around my head. I’m not a small, innocent, follower like a lamb. I’m a fierce, strong, leader like a ram.
My mom picked my name from a book. It sounded pretty, it was rare, and it had an R at the beginning just like my older sister’s. And now it’s mine.
Most people can’t get my name right when they read it the first time. My name might as well be Rachel, or Raquel with the QU sounded like quail. But it’s okay;I don’t even know how to pronounce my own name. Ruh-quel or Raw-quel? My name is sand slipping through my fingertips, and I don’t care that it is. It’s alright that I don’t know.
My name is what it is—something for other people to refer to me as, not something that defines who I am. I am the sound of laughter from my friends and family from a story of my own craft. I am the pain in my hand after writing too long. I am the sight of the same few characters I keep repetitively drawing. I am my knowledge, my experiences, my beliefs, my opinions, my possessions, my interests. I am me. I am Raquel.
by Katie Kuyper '20
As you swim through the golden ponds, all you feel is the freezing cold water as you engulf yourself in the pond. Your feet scraping the rough, jagged lava rock. All of a sudden your feet touch the golden, slimy algae. The little tiny fish start nipping at your toes. You swim farther and farther into the water as it gets deeper and deeper to where you can no longer touch the bottom.
As the pond gets deeper, it gets colder. You swim back trying to find your ground as you try to stand. You lay your towel on the rocks and sit down, looking across the pond, as you see a glimmer of sunshine reflecting off the water and the gold covered rocks below. You remember all the fun times you've had here with your friends and family. Laughing and finally getting to jump in after a hot long hike in the lava fields. You have your fun. You put on your shoes and start to walk back to your car; you look back as you already miss it. The sound of the ocean breeze just over the lava rocks, the feeling of the cold fresh water brushing against your skin. It feels so comforting; it feels like home.
by Morgan Davis '21
I feel the corners of my mouth rise and my eyes widen. I feel the wind brushing through my hair and smell the nice summer ocean breeze. I am about to jump. My feet are planted on an uneven rock. I look down and I feel a jolt in my stomach as my smile slowly fades. Looking down at the deep blue ocean below me, the intimidating washes of the waves crashing up on the rocks, the creatures waiting for me to stir up the water. My body wants to jump but my brain fights it. My foot lifts off of the jagged rocky edge, feeling my knees creak and crack. I tilt my head forward to see the bed of rocks I could land on if I don't jump far enough. I take my other foot and lift it into the air. Leaning forward… I jump. I'm in mid air as my smile comes back, my face brightened with joy. It feels like a blur until I hit the water.
My feet hit first, feeling the power of the water. The ocean quickly swallows me as if I'm one of its own. I don't stay down for long due to the fact that I'm not very good at holding my breath. Bursting to the surface of the water, gasping for air, smiling with all my might, I take a big breath and dive down into the deep blue. I stay at the bottom for a moment, closing my eyes and feeling the water around me. I swing my arm down to feel the water between my fingers and the current carrying my thoughts to places I've only dreamed of. I swim up to the surface to get another breath and see Hawaii and its magnificent curves and edges as the land stretches along the coastline. I swim over to a rock to get out. My hair drips with water as I climb back up to the fear I have conquered and jump off again. I don't feel nervous at all this time. I get up on the rock and leap. I leap as if I would never be in this moment again.