The Last Time I Saw Summer

By Annie Zidek

This summer, the sun beat down, but its love beat down even harder; it was like Sofia Coppola directed the minute details, but my body did the rest. Girls and boys played games we’d seen in films, and the midsummer heat felt all but hazy. It burned. There are scars. But that’s what summer is, and you don’t give up the fight. Here in the empty time lapses of October, I’ll tuck in small poems from June, her masterful hands slitting throats, from July, his hair caught fire in the afterglow, and from August, her voice echoing through six countries.

 

crystalized hearts chase Mars at dawn

their sun soaked tresses leave trails

of forgotten lightdust on the road

and at night lightbugs

make love in the brush next to the street

the setting moon is our war call

and we shriek

and we scour

until there’s no one left to fight


 

 

lapping milk out of your hands

before it seeps through the cracks.

the wolves have already kissed

the blank space between my neck and shoulder.

they’re painted crimson with my blood:

my fingers in the alpha,

my toes in the omega.

I’m in more than two places at once;

I’m dancing past pink houses

and prowling past babies I’ll never meet.

orion, what have you done?

now my bones are merely rattles

for the male ego while the snow

sits stained with my fidelity.

tame these beasts with a thread,

stitching decency and formality into their paws

so each time they step

their bodies ache with weight of their knavery.

 

 

the days are wine: sweet, hazy, smooth.

we sat in nervous grass and swam in eager rivers.

our blood is too sweet,

so the mosquitoes kiss us—arms, lips, thighs.

we ache for weeks with red welts of love,

small reminders that parts of us are so easily taken.

like a canned peach, the sun swells

bulbous and fruitful in a hasty sky.

standing atop church spires during golden hour,

I watch the sun cower.

I’ve never seen someone leave earth so quickly,

and now the pregnant moon reigns with summer hymns.

naked bodies and think air:

this is July.

Don’t look back at June;

she carries a weight no man can handle.

one of her nights, they used ice from saturn’s rings

as machetes and slaughtered those

with curved spines and restless sons.

amorous lips and amorous hands and—

mmf—those german lullabies lull me into promises

i cannot keep.

we are walking on the rubble of dresden:

charred, unsteady, guilt-ridden.

but we are humans, eager for touches

and broken toes.

ignoring pocket watches and bedside lamps,

we mimic schiele’s “lovemaking,”

with disfigured lines and steady colors

bleeding into the white with our confident hands.

our jaws will start wars

and our knees will buckle under

and we will be collateral.

there won’t be an armistice;

instead our mouths will be lined with canker sores

and our countrymen will rot with us in enamored skin.



 

The Last Time I Went Home

by Anna Bruner

Photo Courtesy of Anna Bruner

Photo Courtesy of Anna Bruner

This weekend, I will be going home. The last time I went home, I went home to bury my grandmother Willetta Kathleen Piatt. “Billie,” as she was called, named after her father William. She passed away on her and my grandfather’s wedding anniversary. My grandfather had passed away in 2004, five days before my tenth birthday. I feel it’s important to mention that, because when he died I was a child and most of our family was still together and plenty of people were still alive or well enough to remember him. But my grandmother…my grandmother who had been in hospitals and nursing homes for years…who would come to memorialize her, besides cousins and nurses and a few loyal church members? I didn’t know, I thought as I boarded my flight from O’Hare. I didn’t know who would be around at all.

I flew into a regional airport, as opposed to flying into Pittsburgh’s International Airport as I have done every time I have come home. I was picked up by my godmother, made small talk about my job and my plans to graduate this year, and counted the curves in the roadside as her car cut through the Appalachian mountains, hurdling on our way home by ski resorts and state parks and prisons’ distances away from Pittsburgh. I got out at the curbside in front of my house and slid through the foyer full of baby pictures and the dining room full of fresh cut flowers to a newly renovated back porch and yard I scarcely recognized. Since I had last been home, the back of our house had been drastically remodeled, and my father had open heart surgery. He sat laid up on the porch’s couch, talking with his stepmother and a visiting friend, nervously asking if I would like to see his scars from where they pulled open his ribcage. My mother came out and saw me for only an instant, then hugged me, and broke down crying. I cried because I didn’t know what to do, and because she had learned her mother had died only moments before going to visit my father in the hospital.

In the evening I sat up at the dining room table (gifted to my parents by my mother’s parents on their wedding day) sorting through family photos of my grandmother with my mother and her eldest sister. Many of the photos I have never seen: images of my grandmother posing along wooded roadsides, smiling against store lined streets in Pittsburgh, enjoying picnics with her young groom, playing with other people’s children and pets before she ever had her own. “She looks like a movie star,” I remember saying to my mother and aunt, to which they both smiled softly and nodded, as if in prayer, “Yes, yes she does.” We drank pink moscato and I listened to my aunt rehearse her eulogy, and I read my mother poems I have never shared with her because I didn’t know when else the time would ever feel right quite like this one August night.

Photo Courtesy of Anna Bruner

Photo Courtesy of Anna Bruner

The next day my mother sent me out to buy two “respectable” dresses for a Catholic funeral, which is no easy feat, let me assure you. I drove to the nearest strip mall in town where PTA moms buy dresses for friends’ kids’ weddings, and found only one black dress in the bunch, 2 sizes too big. I bought it anyway with my mother’s card.

“Anna?” the woman behind the counter asked, and I pretended to recognize her. “Anna Bruner?” “Yes,” I said. “I know why you’re buying a back dress,” her voice softened. I nodded and said yes again. She asked where I was nowadays, I told her Chicago. She asked if I was in school, I told her I was finishing up. She gave me her condolences, which was thoughtful, except she never showed up to the funeral, not even after watching me buy a black dress made for a woman twice my age with half my grief. The second dress I bought from Walmart, and hated myself for, so I went out and bought cigarettes for $5.40 at my nearest Sheetz plaza.

When I returned from my shopping spree, I came home to find my cousins flooding the house. The two youngest I haven’t seen in years, and immediately went about plotting what horror films we would be watching and what mischief we would get into. My cousin Jessica and I stole bottles of Spanish wine from my mother’s cupboard and watched Clueless in my bedroom, making fun of her brother being afraid of It Follows. We talked boys and drugs and college…a very different conversation from the one we had a decade before, when we shared this same bed in January for my grandfather’s funeral. We were small and mute back then, listening to cats scratch at the door. This time, we let the cats in with us.

At the viewing, I wore my Walmart dress and stood before the casket, flanked by my therapist mother and her United States General brother and her Presbyterian minister sister, not quite recognized by the mourners but pitied just the same. Most of them thought I was married to someone, that the children in the lobby were mine, that I could have in no way been born in the same county as my mother, or that I ever attended Saint Peter’s Catholic School. All of them chimed the same response when my mother introduced me: “Oh my, Anna, how are you? How is Chicago? Are you working on movies? Oh my, that’s so interesting.” In the breaks between floods of visitors, I played with my older cousin’s children and secretly smoked cigarettes in the parking lot. I texted old boyfriends. I scanned my grandmother’s photos looking for my face. I talked philosophy and economics with friends I haven’t seen since childhood when we would dress up and have Halloween parties in their garages.

At the end of the viewing, an old friend appeared, and we sat in the back talking in whispers about how the last time we were in this funeral home was when we buried our best friend. I told him I had been here all day and couldn’t stand anymore, and he offered to drive me home. Once in the front seat of his rattling car, I lit a cigarette and he asked me if I would like to go visit our friend’s grave. It had been over a year since I’d done so. “No,” I said, though I should have agreed, “just take me home.” He dropped me off in front of my house with its front porch full of gossiping family members and friends drinking beer and listening to Eric Clapton. “Did you take a ride home from a stranger?” one of my father’s buddies from high school joked. “No,” I hissed, “I was brought home by a friend.” Apparently I was the last person other than my mother to leave early.

While the adults drank and recounted tales of being slapped silly by Willetta “Billie” Piatt, I sat on the back porch with my cousin’s three-year-old and played restaurant. Our restaurant only served cookies and peanut butter, and it was the finest in all the land. When I crept into my bed I was drunk and numb to almost everything, and I fell asleep beside my cousin Jessica without saying a word, which was so unlike any of us. We both lay in silence, her listening to her music, me texting my boyfriend four states away, and I thought about all the times our hair was pulled and straightened and braided by Billie Piatt. I thought about the lollipops and Pringles hidden in the cupboard above the refrigerator. I thought about the times when I used to sleep in the closet of her house because I loved the smell of mothballs. I thought of all the times she called me, Jessica, and Joshua by the names of her children (Sheila, Mary Catherine, Walter) instead of our own. I thought about the times she sang Little Boy Blue to me before I fell asleep, how I stared at her faux crystal jewelry hanging from her statue of the Virgin Mary.

At the funeral, my cousin Jessica and I, being the only granddaughters, were asked to do the readings from the old and New Testament. I read from the book of Revelations, for the first time since I was twelve and still feared and loved God.

“I, John, saw a new heaven and a new earth. The former heaven and the former earth had

passed away, and the sea was no more. I also saw the holy city, a new Jerusalem, coming

down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride adorned for her husband. I heard a

loud voice from the throne saying, ‘Behold, God's dwelling is with the human race. He

will dwell with them and they will be his people and God himself will always be with

them.’”

We buried Billie next to her husband, my grandfather, in the same cemetery where I buried my best friend two years before. We drank from a chalice blessed in Ireland. We went home and ate chicken and scalloped potatoes. I bought another pack of cigarettes. I took two of her pictures back to Chicago with me. I still hear the song Little Boy Blue. I think of her, and I think of home. 

The Last Time I Was Called "Pretty" By A Man

By Nikita Redkar

Photo Courtesy of  @Broadly  /Twitter

Photo Courtesy of @Broadly /Twitter

… was, as of this post’s writing, 13 hours and 48 minutes ago. I was taking hurried sips of beer in a frantic attempt to eradicate nervousness, and I only had 4 minutes to do so. I unlocked my phone and blankly stared at the bullets on my notes app, and began to memorize the punches associated with the points. Scattered laughter from across the room shattered my stream of consciousness as my attention jolted forward to the man holding the microphone. One punchline down, 3 minutes and 30 seconds to go. I began gulping down my drink like a famished desert camel, as the joke reel in my head played over and over again. I had spent all night writing and rehearsing and rewriting and rehearsing, followed by doubting and self-loathing, to once again continue writing and rehearsing. I had this, I just needed a burst of confidence to permeate the frenzied joke reel in my head. 45 seconds left. I exit out of my phone’s notes to prepare my voice recorder, and getting ready to record my set means I’m feeling pretty good. I started to inch out of my seat anxiously, when the man on stage turned his attention and began addressing me:

“I’m gonna be honest with you. When chicks like you get up on stage, no man is listening to your jokes. Men are purely physical beings, and you’re a very attractive woman.”

God fucking dammit. I stare at him in raging contempt, with the only words surfacing in my head birthed from irrational anger.  The man says more but I keep my mouth firmly shut, determined to be the bigger person in this scenario. He ends his set, thanks the audience, and the host gets up to announce the next comic. 3 seconds left. What was I going to say again?

The last time I was called pretty by a man felt drastically contrary to what he – or many men – might expect my reaction to be. The time I spent mustering confidence to dedicate 4 minutes of my night in complete emotional nakedness felt laughably futile when I wondered if my audience would rather have actual nakedness. Did I deserve it? I had put myself in an industry – a self-proclaimed boys club – where its women have been subjected to unsolicited male opinions for eons. Male opinions are like cockroaches: if one reveals his thoughts, one starts to wonder just how many instances of this opinion are harbored in the crevices of male minds. How many more of my colleagues had thought the same thing? Worst of all, just how many people – comedians or otherwise – saw those man’s words as nothing more than a harmless compliment?

Words like pretty, hot, and their ilk are slightly antiquated terms in an age where women are fiercely independent and working tirelessly to live a life they’ve always wanted. Something as subjective and unearned as physical beauty is extremely off-putting. They’re also a bit selfish and reinforce the ideal that women are vying to please the male gaze at all times. Of course, there are instances when women would love to be called pretty, like if it was genuine and coming from a person she really loved. Unfortunately, pretty’s pervasiveness is desensitizing in its meaning, especially when people think acknowledging beauty is still the de facto compliment for women. Hearing a woman complain about how she hates having her appearance lauded isn’t pompous, boastful, or a “first world problem.” It’s that she would rather be recognized for her accomplishments, leadership, and character than have someone default to her looks in a setting where she wasn’t trying to seduce. A job well done acknowledges hard work and reinforces its pursuit. "Pretty" nods at your lucky gene pool and doesn’t do much to reinforce anything, unless a stellar Snapchat streak is what you’re after.  

Women are taught from an early age that our worth lies in our looks, and men have done their part in perpetuating this mindset with the demand and approval of physical appearance. Well-meaning men have consoled me by telling me if my creative pursuits don’t work out, I can always fall back on modeling (the fatal flaw being that most creative pursuits take time, regardless if they flourish or wither, so what then is one supposed to do if a career still isn’t working out and physical beauty is beginning to fade?). Being called pretty is not a compliment – it’s an observation. A compliment is addressing someone’s hard work, dedication, resilience – a compliment addresses a person’s character, and it’s unisex. Before going up on stage, I felt like a compliment would be someone just listening to me.

There are many beautiful, funny women who are banking on their rambunctious talent as opposed to their looks – Sarah Silverman, Tina Fey, Nikki Glaser, Aisha Tyler, to name a few. But a woman has to work twice as hard to reach the point where she is known for her performance and not her looks, whereas a man is from the onset granted the fortune of only ever being judged for his performance. This is the truth in comedy, as well as most industries out there. The truth is, we live in a male-dominated world and are regularly subjected to unsolicited male standards.

Considering all this, I decided to benefit from the last time I was called pretty by a man. I decided I would live my life and pursue my dreams, not for the concern of someone else’s uninvited opinions, but for the reason that I loved to do what I do. I tried not to internalize that male comic’s remarks in a way that was detrimental, but in a way that I could turn around and throw a joke right back at him. Because comedy is, after all, about jokes as much as it is about mutual respect.  

0 seconds left. I walked on stage, removed the microphone from its stand and began my set feeling light, yet armed. I turn to the man and retorted:

“I know you don’t listen to my jokes because you think I’m too pretty, but I only listen to your jokes because I think you’re too ugly.”

The crowd roared in laughter and so did the man. We later discussed that a joke catering to the female gaze is absurd in a way a joke catering to the male gaze wouldn’t be.  But in that moment I was satisfied. Not because I felt I had got my revenge, but because I knew I was getting to do what made me happy and people acknowledged my effort.