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𝔐𝔞𝔶 𝔦𝔰 𝔞 𝔐𝔬𝔱𝔥𝔢𝔯
The Domestic Garden by Rafaela Bassili There is a recurring image of my grandmother that plays in a loop in my mind, filled with admiration and a little sadness, colored in the blue tones of a film I love very deeply but which I have never seen: my grandmother, in a tank top and jeans, sitting on the balcony overlooking the street in a folding chair, holding an espresso cup on one hand and a cigarette on the other. An unfinished embroidery hoop sits on her lap, the needle woven into the spot where she left off, maybe threaded with red wool, she had been embroidering a rose. It’s February and the heat elongates the already languid nature of the day: it’s too hot to move, to do anything but sit right in this position, where the breeze from the beach a couple of blocks over manages to just scrape by, kissing my grandmother’s temples where drops of sweat accumulate. The hot espresso, perversely, almost relieves the humidity, because it brings the exterior condition to the inside, and in that moment my grandmother is thinking about something very important to her, and unknown to the rest of us all, and she is one with the stillness of her life, blissful, dignified. It seems preposterous to say it, but sometimes, when reason dawns and I consider quitting smoking, this image comes to my mind and I decide to keep my unhealthy habit. This is through no fault of my grandmother’s, of course, who was eventually diagnosed with lung cancer and beat it like the illness had been an inconvenient mosquito waking her up from a peaceful sleep. But there is something so feminine, domestic, and statuary, there’s such dignity in my mind to that image that I can’t let go of it because I want it, for myself. I’m never going to know whatever thought looped in my grandmother’s mind in moments like those, but what I am sure of is that she knew something I don’t, a mystery of ungodly proportions for which I am perpetually reaching. Call it experience, motherhood, the weight of the memories of a life hard-lived. I don’t know. I want to know, badly, but I also revel in the mystery, the vastness of a depth of feeling that one person can access and the other can only imagine. Part of me tries to uncover it, and the other part holds the cover firmly down; so, whatever it is that it is, I think it’s utterly fundamental. I feel moored to that feeling that I chase but have never caught when I’m smoking, contemplatively, or sometimes when I sigh deeply, exasperated at something so unbearable I can’t even think of what it is. At my parents' house, my grandmother caught me smoking out in the garden one day, looking at my mother's orchids. "You smoke?" She asked me, surprised. "Yes, grandma, for a while now. You knew this!" I told her. "You know, I used to smoke." "You did, for so many years." "It's so bad for you. But it feels so good," she smiled.
Rafaela Bassili is a writer and translator living in New York. @sallyjaygorce (twitter) ✿✿✿
Lovely is The Silence of Things Growing by Haley Bergeson When we went away to Greece my Grandmother stripped away the lifeless dried parts of the houseplants and in perfect quiet solitude she nursed them back to health She knew about pain because pain happened to her so everyday she prayed for the fortune of others. She even forgave God for all the sickness and death and accidents and darkness - tiny gifted mystic in the American desert Visitors think New Mexico is a spiritual place because there is a lot of lavender or something but if you truly want to be spiritual, let your angelic Grandmother take you to the public pool, spoiled gringa underwater. Shoot a gun into the empty cricket sounds with her ex husband, sleep on the flat roof where a person can really watch God watch death and nurse the living, find beautiful the unbearable silence of things growing.
Haley Bergeson is a writer and choreographer in Los Angeles. @muybergie (instagram & twitter)
Untitled (Spring 2022) by Grace Jones I don’t know if I believe in God, and I don’t know much about real things. But I am attuned to the Universe, and hear the messages It sends me. I'm not a psychic; I don’t see ghosts. But three years ago, when I moved to the West Village, I think I met the Devil. There was an old man who roamed between Bleecker and Sixth. He moved at a surprising speed for someone with a walker. You’d have to jump out of his way so he wouldn’t run you over. He muttered nasty words beneath his breath, and his face was covered in growths and blisters. The first time I saw him, we nearly collided around a sharp corner. He barked something and I scurried off. I was a twenty-two-year-old preoccupied by beauty then. I couldn’t understand how someone could be so ugly. I mean really ugly both outside and in; the anger and misery he harbored so clearly expanded around him, casting ugliness wherever he stepped. Soon our encounters became a weekly occurrence, and I would see him only on particularly bad days. He was an omen sent from the Universe, a sign something awful was manifesting. I would avoid certain streets I knew he took, but always, he would find me. I didn’t know if he was The Devil or a sad soul stuck in purgatory. I didn’t know where he lived or where he was going. But I imagined he hid beneath the subway grates, waiting for me to cross his path, waiting to reach out his brittle hands, and drag me down beneath the city, to turn me into whatever he was. I wasn't the happiest then, but I was very hopeful I could be. I believed that true, unbridled joy was just waiting for me: all I had to do was transform into my higher self. But here was the old man, trying to lure me off my path, trying to stop me before I’d completed my journey. He wanted me to be just like him: just as sad, just as angry, just as ugly. My mother, the analyst, would say: You have an overactive imagination. You dwell upon unfounded anxieties. You should put this energy to better use, like making art or working out. And I would say: But my third eye is open! I’m sensitive to the truths around me! I’m a Scorpio rising! Three years had passed, and I was walking down Bleecker on the first nice day of Spring. A tulip sprouted through the concrete cracks of the sidewalk. I smiled at her sheer persistence to thrive. And it hit me: I had not seen the old man in weeks, maybe months. I knew then he was gone. I felt relief, and felt guilty for feeling relief. But had I finally been freed from his curse? Had I escaped from whatever damnation he faced? I hoped he'd reached heaven and known joy. I still don’t know why the old man came into my life, but now that I’m nearly twenty-five, I do believe a little more in God, and I do know a little more about real things.
Grace Jones is a girl in New York City. ✿✿✿
Undine By Sol Paz Kistler When our mother went to be with God, I am told, my sister did not hesitate to be the one to replace my polyisobutylene pacifier when it would slip from my mouth. Her grieving for Mother was overtaken by her captivation with me. That little petrochemical nipple provided what nourishment it had to offer us both. My first memories are of following her around the backyard barefoot, polycarbonate sippy cup in hand —a thermoplastic containing, no doubt, the precursor monomer bisphenol A. She kept our baby dolls under a tree, sisters like us, made with additive plasticizers to soften their polyvinyl chloride bodies. She would brush their nylon hair and place them side by side to “sleep” under a blanket of biodegrading leaves. This is how I thought of her: my sister had the power to infuse life into otherwise passive matter. She served this vitality to me from our high-impact polystyrene tea cups. I am aware that my memories might be selective looking back under these circumstances. It seems possibly too symbolic that the polyester comforter we pulled over our heads at night was printed in a lovely, replicative, baroque pattern of invertebrates and Carboniferous ferns. Or that the only children’s book of ours that I can recall with any detail featured sorrowful woolly mammoths, their trunks raised, unable to lift their knees in pools of tar. I know now that this image is merely a simplification for children, and that the much truer story of petroleum is composed of microorganisms; of phytoplankton, zooplankton and algae. But this is harder to depict. At the time, I had taken a ballpoint pen (polystyrene and polypropylene) to the book’s pages and scribbled blue tears falling from their eyes and forming lakes around them. My sister drew ladders for the woolly mammoths to ascend. My sister stole for pleasure. I would be on the lookout at the market as she hid a can of peaches under her clothes. She would place the can on top of the fence and make us wait until the fruit had warmed in the sun, corn syrup mixing with BPA, before we scooped out the syrupy half-moons and ate them with our hands. She drank straight from the polyethylene gallon milk jug, wiping her mouth dramatically afterwards. She was also a true redhead, like Mother. Each strand of her hair seemed to be a different shade of gold or copper. I watched her braid this hair with a nylon bristled brush, securing each plait with an elastomer band. Every time we would get into the car, my sister would turn and quickly buckle my polyethylene terephthalate seat belt for me before I had the chance. She would never outgrow this game. When I fell, she would gingerly apply nylon polymer bandages to my knees. I think of these gestures as the links between us —as long polymer chains of hydrogen and carbon. When the time came, my sister warned me that the sodium polyacrylate sanitary pads would feel like wearing a diaper. She showed me, before I had to ask, how inserting a low-density polyethylene tampon applicator was easier and more comfortable to do while standing up with one foot on the sink. Side by side at the sink, we scrubbed our faces with an exfoliating cleanser made of micro-fine polyethylene granules. These tiny beads have since sailed down, spilled out, and propelled themselves away into currents where they have passed into ever-increasing bodies of water; first a river, then a sea, until finally they reached the ocean where they are forever suspended into what can now be described as a large soup of materials that cannot die a natural death. She remembers our mother, while I can not. I think this is why my sister is the type of person who believes her spirit will never fully depart, but only change form. It's why she can look up at the stars and say that she feels “at home in the universe.” Like most redheads, she has a baptism of freckles across her face indicating stardust. I thought her beauty would mean she was stable and nearly-eternal. I chose to become a chemist in an effort to learn how to transform waste into worth. I wanted to understand intimately how, for example, with the cumene process, where phenol is made from oil, a capsule of aspirin can be produced. And the expanse of geologic time can be held in the palm of your hand and administered to someone with a fever. In chemistry, things become more similar than they are different. DNA and nylon, for example, are both polymers. Simply put, they are long chains of repeating molecules. It’s the small changes in the type of molecules being bonded and how that create different compositions. There is a memory I have, thinking this: my sister wearing lipstick (petrolatum) and biting into an apple coated in paraffin wax. I wanted to make sense of the way that death can imitate life. My sister and I are together everyday now. Grown old from other kinds of love that failed and disappointed. I am holding her hand, and this is the truce between our two dichotomies: we’ve agreed that her polyvinyl chloride IV is her etheric cord tethering her to this plane of energies. As she lays in her hospital bed breathing shallowly, I look into her eyes and see — what else? Nurdles, those resinous microplastics swirling in retinas the color of two great water columns. At her side, I am aware that I am incessantly lecturing to her that her current state of failing health is likely the result of a consumerism in which we’ve both been immersed. That all of these short-term pleasures have assembled in her body, mimicking life and disrupting her endocrine system until she has become frail from the organic eternity that is constant change. I find myself angry at a solidified material that is hard to pull apart, passive, yet performing invisible tasks. Fulminating that we were so desirous for a world that could always be future tense, that we created an abundance of things made only for immediate consumption. At this, my sister’s eyes widen, and her voice is propelled forward with that incalculable impetus, not the imitation of life, but the real thing: “Imagine how the ocean feels!”