Archive for the ‘Vol. 6: Fall Essays 2014’ Category

Momentssnowflakes

A snowflake appears on your palm,
look away
and now it’s gone. Wait.
Try again.
Watch an ice crystal fleck
the valley of your hand with the blade
of a Tundra swan’s down
that cuts a groove into
the pit of your skull. You blink
from the scene and then it’s gone.
Focus. Stay.
Hear a nymph whisper
a microscopic scilla
into the troposphere—
it strums the roundwound strings of stars
with a pirouette of extended arms until
it embraces your open fist,
tickles, itches, bores into you, travels
up your bloody valves
to the nucleus of your ghost. Then
its body decays from the steam
of your hand-bound fissures,
just a splash lapping
at the edge of neurons.
Turns to vapor, and it’s gone.
See the slush ocean at your feet—
all the snowflakes
you couldn’t keep.

Outside My Yard

Grass in my yard greets my naked soles,
fills me with the warmth
of a newly laid
chicken egg,
my stomach caressed
with dandelion fluff,
and sunflowers I’ve grown
look down at me
from the rooftop height with golden ray petals
reflecting light brightening
my face. Pebbles in the range
of my shuffling toes
inflict no scars, their presence
only known as brief pink indents
that I don’t bother
to bandage.
Garden path stones like checker pieces
laid down by my guardians are
itchy to stand on, stings
if jumped on, a place to build
my mud towers.
But the path
to the sidewalk outside
our lava rock walls
is riddled with my clumsy steps. It juts
into my front yard like a
thick
slab
of lightning
that crackles
against my calluses.

If I want to eat
a McDonald’s
ice cream cone
I need to tie my feet up in rubber
to ward off
the flame and jagged points
of asphalt and concrete, too much
for me to bear and still
I’m punctured by the glares and gleams
of cars and houses passing by
until my retinas ache,
until the thought of shaking off
these artificial soles
flood my mind with rustles
of wiggling toes.

Affectionless

Pale yellow and white
like teeth untouched
by cosmetics,
simply aged
with consuming over time
flickers and floats,
weaving through the empty spaces
of a tall, skinny sharp stalk—
alligator skin gray.
She flounders through the air,
slapping herself
onto its jagged, limp leaves,
then careening up into the oxygen
high above,
only to zigzag back
into the path of thorns again
and again she smells nectar,
but finds none
to soothe her shriveled tongue.

Written for Dr. David N. Odhiambo’s ENG 491: Senior Project

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2014-09-07-14934_kafka_franz“If one were only an Indian, instantly alert, and on a racing horse, leaning against the wind, kept on quivering jerkily over the quivering ground, until one shed one’s spurs, for there needed no spurs, threw away the reins, for there needed no reins, and hardly saw that the land before one was smoothly shorn heath when horse’s neck and head would be already gone.”

— Franz Kafka

In just one long sentence, Kafka manages to write another story that is loaded with complex ideas in its simplicity. Though Kafka doesn’t purposely write specific allegorical works, his stories are simple and odd enough to give readers space for multiple allegorical interpretations; he incorporates enough ideas and concepts for readers to chew on, but never enough information to make our interpretations conclusive. Kafka’s The Wish to Be a Red Indian, though short, is revolutionary in the way the author portrays how limiting language really is when it comes to expression of abstract concepts and meaning.

In Kafka’s The Wish to Be a Red Indian, there seems to be a kind of wanting or yearning for something; the romanticism of the Red Indian helps to portray that feeling. The title itself gives this away, as the story is primarily about the wish to be one. The very first part of the sentence gives a description of an Indian, “instantly alert, and on a racing horse, leaning against the wind, kept on quivering jerkily over the quivering ground” (Kafka 390). The alertness of the Indian implies an awakening of the mind or clarity of consciousness, while the racing horse would represent the power, wildness and untamed freedom that civilized society has forsaken. The Indian character him/herself, represents one who is free and pure in the sense that the Indian is molded by the wild, natural world; the depiction of the Indian represents the natural, untainted state of human beings before the rise of civilization and industrialism. Here, Thomas Aquinas’s idea of civilization corrupting man can be applied, and the idea also stays within the context of the romantic genre in which the retreat to nature is believed to purify mankind.

Another important detail that adds significance to the allegory of the story is in the latter half of the sentence when Kafka begins stripping away material elements of the story itself. The author gives us the Indian, the racing horse and the “quivering ground” that is the landscape, and just as quickly omits the spurs, reins, the land, and then the horse. All that is left of the moving image is virtually nothing but the Indian; but even the Indian is only an idea that we cannot refer to because there is no description of the actual Indian. The Indian is an essential part of the wish itself, and he is only an idea. Indian is not real. Kafka takes away these elements of the image, including the spurs and the reins, which are images symbolizing an imposed state of control over that which is natural. Kafka tries to whittle down the story to having only the wish. The significant part of this interpretation is that the author is showing us a major point about language—like the wish, there are many things that language, especially literature, cannot show. Kafka’s attempt to isolate the wish from the story only results in a virtual absence or nothingness, just like the rest of his stories.

This short story, though only one sentence, reveals the truth and paradox of language: it can say everything, but not really. Kafka writes this story with elements of reality, and then immediately erases attributes of the Indian rider. This poses an emphasis on the actual wish itself. But what exactly is the wish? Reading the story with an allegorical eye, there is much symbolism and context to work off for meaning. The romanticism of the Indian, for example, would be a representation of the freedom and certainty and purity of humanity that originally emerged from nature; Indian represents the purity of the human soul before rules and restrictions that written language uses to control us. Kafka is writing, in part, about how meaning cannot be captured in words because meaning is something that transcends language.

Moreover, the author also seems to be making an even bigger statement about the act of writing and the occupation of being a writer. Generally, Kafka spent much of his time just writing all of his stories. As a writer, he is in a prime position to note the frustrations of writing, and also to admit his yearning to stop writing altogether. Who better to renounce his trade as a writer than the writer himself? This yearning and wishing may stem from the writer’s wanting to stop, or to no longer know written language. Writing literature requires much structure, and Kafka is portraying a writer’s wish to be rid of the spurs and the reins that tame our natural insights. To know written language is to have limitations—in this sense, structure is really a kind of trap. Words only exist because of our need to capture meaning; but once we have the meaning, the words need not be remembered.

This entire story and message can only have been interpreted using allegoresis; allegory is the only way that we can understand something that cannot otherwise be said or written. As is the case with the Red Indian, Kafka successfully showed us that though language helps guide us towards the meaning, we no longer need to be caught up in the linguistics of the words that made the story.

Written for Dr. Brenda Machosky’s ENG 331A: Topics in British Literature Pre-1700

(Moth)IMG_5442

From the void, I come.
Upon my first breath,
My wings unfurl,
Black as the Night,
Smooth as satin.
I fall, only to rise again,
As the wind lifts my spirit high,
I glide across the starlit sky.

Unseen and silent
I fly, flapping and swerving
Against the howling winds.
Moonlight beckons me to follow
The path she shines before me.
I must answer her call,
For she is the light of my life,
The guide through my darkest hours.

 

(Man)

We fear the dark,
Where the unknown lurks.
We search for the light,
To lead our way.
We are drawn to happiness,
Frantic to find the light
Like the dusty moth
Floating on broken wings.

I do not sleep anymore.
On top of the sheets,
Listening to the world outside
The howling of the wind,
Pitter-patter of rain,
Crackle of the candle flame.
My body lays still and limp
The flame reaches the end of the wick.

From the void I come,
Like waking from a dream.
Upon my first breath,
My wings unfurl,
Black as the Night,
And smooth as satin.
I fall, only to rise again
As the wind lifts my spirit high.

Unseen and silent
I fly, flapping and swerving
Against the howling winds.
Moonlight beckons me to follow
The path she shines before me.
I must answer her call,
For she is the light of my life,
The guide through my darkest hours.

We do what is in our power
To follow the light.
A path we must not stray
Leads us through the darkness
And to tomorrow.
To find the light
That never goes out
The light inside each other.

On this night, even the vinyl’s static compliments the silence of my backyard. The vines slithers the black pewter fence the way a snake would around a neck, the neat grass invites a tingle to feet, and my mom’s ghost tends to her small herb garden.

My backyard always molded to whatever I was conjuring in my mind’s brewery. Nameless trees and varying bushes turned into New York high rises and taxis when my six year old brain played in its green. They became my crazed, bra throwing fans as I twiddled songs out of strings on the chestnut stage at thirteen. Now at twenty-two, they are all my mother, watching over Karen and me. The trees, the bushes, and the fence imprint her familiar, worn out face into my reality. Even when I try to expel her presence, I’m camping out in my backyard, my mom’s favorite thing to do when she was skydiving down from an expensive high.

The navy blanket covering our world holds speckles of burning stars for us to label. Stretched out under it, Karen and I sprawl our limbs out on the green sheet of grass. Thin mocha colored arms fold under a head of onyx waves. Through those crisp green eyes, she only sees black and white, so concrete in everything and so disconnected to what it all means. Maybe that’s what I like about her; her chest rises and falls like my mother’s beige curtains do when she wanted to let out dead air.

Lavender and coconut wafts off her plaid pink pajama body as she points to Orion’s belt and comments on the shallow moon ring enclosing it. Her petite hands and irrelevant yapping keeping me grounded right here with her and away from the unknown.

Oxygen must have waltzed in Karen’s lungs, ecstatic atoms filling a beautiful girl with life.

I never told her, but I love her more than the little suns snuggling us into the earth. What if the sky wasn’t spotted with stars, but rather the night sky blocked out the brilliance behind it? I thought about pointing a sturdy bow and arrow in my tan, sinewy arms. Released and bull’s-eye. Right in the heart of the bloated blanket, a rip would break the sky like a sort of heavenly earthquake. All the burning white and sunshine stars would escape their black penitentiary to find refuge on Karen’s breathtaking form. Showered in these convicts of the night, I can’t imagine anything more perfect for my sleepy eyes.

She turns her head to me and her dark eyebrows tell me she has a question on her tongue. Breaking the glance, I dart my own brown eyes back up, still seeing trimmed peaks of my mother standing by.

“Don’t do it,” Karen beckons. Shaking her head, she assumes she knew, like she so assuredly knew everything else.

Clenching my own brown-haired head to contain my brain, I can’t stop the brewing.

My mind’s personal concoction spilled over into my reality. I remember all the blaring alarms going off like a taunting police siren. Still, my feet wouldn’t race to grab a phone. I just stared at the same arched back, full of knots, covered in an oatmeal cardigan. The cerulean dress stretched and peaked out from under her wide bum and the scoffed kitten heel told me I should’ve bought her some new shoes for Christmas yesterday. I knew my mother to crash hard, often on her room’s cream carpet or on the beige living room couch. Never like this though. You trust people who tango on cliffs and after a while, you forget they might fall.

“Look, a falling star! Make a wish!” Karen exclaims.

She closes her eyes tight and the lines on her forehead dance as I fall back into Karen’s now. I laugh at her playful nature. I watch her prance into the house to gather some elixirs from their forbidden high kitchen shelves. I continue to stare up, trying to recall all the constellations she traced like a connect-the-dots to my childish astronomer, I grin to myself at how crazy she makes me. I only cared about the stars now because she did.

Upside down, I see the steps to the wood porch, a bit of the white wall, and the rim of the gutter lining the slanted maroon roof. Knowing it isn’t that big, I turn up to get a better look. I wonder if mom thought it was visually appealing upside down. I think she did, since she was a perfectionist like that. Karen does the same.

Karen’s light footfalls approach me as the quaint crunching of lawn made me want to bury myself under it.

“Ready for some of this?” Karen asks.

I was already drunk off my own mind.

As I unburied my feet from their carpet grave, I stumbled over to my mother. Shaking that gaunt, slouching shoulder and wrenching her cold body upward to glean any life slowly escaping my own body, I panicked. Feeling only static in her vinyl record heart, I burst. Facing me, her freckled expression was peaceful, while I was everything but. My chest knocked from the inside out, popping vessels and blood rushing to accompany my dread. My heart a colossal black hole. The broken orange bottle, emptied of all its luxurious magic, sealed the vacuum in me. Everything broke. My life scattered all over that cloud carpeting, black and white pictures pronouncing their own finality. Even my vision had a foggy white mark slashed through it as I looked through the shards for the phone.

I called an ambulance, then my grandparents. Such a measly little bottle, no bigger than my own hand, savagely encapsulated my whole being.

“How much do you want?” Karen asks.

Strangling the thin bottle necks of my friends Jack and Jim, Karen releases them from their dark brown flasks and the potions splash on the chilled glasses. I tank them before she nestles her head into my chest as we slump back out on the jade quilt. Karen continues to gab, a million worries in her life. Some of her troubles she unknowingly repeats, just to remind herself that they were still there and still hers. I remind her that life is a burden to bear. What was an artist if you couldn’t make whatever art lived in you? I drove this home to my mother multiple times, but she didn’t get the memo.

“You can do whatever you want, babe” I console. “This world is unlimited, you could paint the night sky on the back of your hand if you wanted to. Think about what you want for yourself.”

“Well, I don’t know what I want,” Karen admits.

I couldn’t bring myself to say it, but I finally did.

I didn’t know what to say to my grandparents. My grandmother’s bony back outfitted in the everlasting faded green sweater as she bent over in those generic gray lounge chairs. Her hands covered all the hurt, her face only made semi-coherent sounds, stunted by the rippling tears and historical sighs. I knew that if she kept it up, her tears would drain her sea blue eyes to white.

My gentle grandfather stared opaquely, standing next to a stale black vending machine matching his baseball cap. The bearer of bad news, the last one to look at his dead daughter in that sterile emergency room, he didn’t want to let his heart rage out from his lips. Frozen, he kept everything wrapped tightly in his body.

I knew that feeling. I did the same. My ordinary T-shirt and sweats were a knight’s armor protecting me from knee buckling blows happening from the inside.

My mother’s drugs bowed on the stage of our lives, satisfied with the last scene. Now my grandmother would never see the lighthouse to her ocean eyes, and my grandfather’s body would never thaw.

Karen falls asleep on my chest.

I haven’t told her yet, but I’ll be leaving this ghost house, this prickly lawn, and this indigo abyss we all shared and learned from. Hell, I want to chase that one and only thing that mattered now in this senseless world: my freedom. I imagine New York will greet me, with all their brilliant lights and endless highs, as I imagine my own tango on their skyscrapers.
DSC_5287

Written for Dr. David N. Odhiambo’s ENG 313: Intro to Creative Writing

red_coatShe’s not your average little Red.
“She’s promiscuous!” That’s what they said.
Walking around in Hawaii with her head held high,
You’ll see her in her red high heels walking by.

At first she’ll seem innocent and cute,
but then you’ll understand why she’s mute.
A person’s past will tell you what…
might have happened that made them a nut.

Long ago you see,
she went off to be
at her grandma’s house,
in her bright red blouse.

Her mother had asked her to bring her grandma food,
but Hawaiian Red was not in a good mood.
She refused at first to go to grandma’s house.
Her mother didn’t take no for an answer and grabbed her by her blouse.

“Get going, Hawaiian Red,
Hurry of to grandma’s bed.
She is waiting for your arrival,
Now go, for she’s needing this basket to help her revival.”

She didn’t want to go cause she knew he would know
Where she would be and where she would go.
She had aspired for the attention,
from a man she had never mentioned.

She met him on the internet.
He was devious and refused to take reject.
She talked to the big bad Elvis,
who would only talk about what hung from his pelvis.

Her mother warned her to be safe on the internet,
but she was addicted to it like it was a cigarette.
She talked to as many men as she could,
till big bad Elvis took her childhood.

She agreed to go to grandma’s house
wearing her showy little red blouse.
The whole world could see what she tried to cover,
which is supposed to only be seen by her intimate lover.

Before she left she messaged him
saying that she’s going to grandma’s for a quick spin.
Elvis took this as an invite,
and scurried off out of sight.

She began to run the North Shore streets,
to get to her grandma’s which was between the two creeks.
While on her way she heard a peep,
It was Elvis driving in his red jeep.

He called out, “Hawaiian Red, get in the car,
and we’ll enjoy each other’s time while sitting at the bar.”
“No, I can’t. I really have to go,”
But Elvis refused to take the answer: No.

He called out again,
“Red I need you, I said.”
“What do you need me for,
I’m almost at my grandmother’s door.”

“Come to my house
and take off your blouse.”
“I refuse to do that!
I thought this was just a chat.”

“I know we had more,” he said.
“We connected deeper in my head.”
Hawaiian Red said, “I’m sorry, I’m still too young.”
She was sixteen and didn’t know the power of her tongue.

She continued on in a faster pace,
but she was still scared and pale in the face.
Hoping that he wouldn’t follow
She took the short cut through the creepy hallows.

He followed her all the way
till she was almost there, and he took her astray.
He knocked her out and dragged her to the car,
and took her to his house which wasn’t that far.

He got to his house but then she awoke,
she tried to run but her bones, he broke.
At that moment she remembered what her mother always said,
“Be careful on the internet, my Little Red.”

Written for Dr. Carmen Nolte-Odhiambo’s ENG 100T: Basic Composition Skills

file0001436451068 Chris gazes down with half-lidded eyes and a crinkled brow and crinkled lips at the icy, olive canary lying at the bottom of a cerulean beer case sized birdcage. He shoots a hissing snort at it, as he scrapes his scalp with his fore and middle finger, collecting two heaps of damp dandruff under his nails, then uses his thumbnail to flick them away.
“So…what did you in, Su? Illness? Age?” Chris squats on his bamboo legs, putting the cage at eyelevel. “Or murder?”
Sunny the canary lies belly down, the shadowy yellow feathers streaked with bits of faded green and dusty brown pressed flat against her body. Her eyelids covering her dull black eyes like wrinkled sheets.
Chris sighs. “Well, I guess it doesn’t really matter.” Reaching out he puts a hand on the cage, hoists himself up, then hurls himself onto his disheveled bottom bunk bed. Shutting his eyes he inhales deeply, smelling his chicken noodle soup scent and the dry, tangy, newspaper odor of the birdcage. “Couldn’t afford to save ya,” he exhales.

Chris— a thin thing draped in a faded blue and green tie-dye shirt and denim shorts— trudges home in the grapefruit sunset down the cracked sidewalk, kicking sleepy plants and assaulting pebbles. Patches of ripe, fluffy grass, unlike his own sparse and brittle armpit hairs, and oak trees, which began to shelter bluebirds and shadows, cushioned the houses he passed. Chris smells sunflower oil frying chicken and pungent onions, and hears the hollow laughter of Full House and remnants of a baby’s scream, coming from the homes, and he lifts his feet more briskly, skipping a bit.
Rounding the corner, Chris’ eyes flicker wider as a fuzzy, burnt toast chick tip toes in front of him, pecking at the grains of dirt on the cement. Young chicken or turkey, he can’t tell. It eyes him intently as it hurriedly bobs away towards the street. It occurs to him then that the little bird is by itself and wonders where its family is. Chris crosses the street after it and calls out, “Here chicky chick, c’mere chicky.”
It continues on unfazed.
He stops in the middle of the road and wonders if he will even be allowed to keep it, or catch it. The chick makes it to the opposing sidewalk and into the bougainvillea bush adorned with lavender flowers. Chris begins to look around frantically at the dimming world, the pamplemousse being swabbed away by a soapy gray wash of clouds.
He doesn’t hear the hiss of car tires, but sees his shadow grow bolder in oncoming headlights. Just in time, he sprints out of the pink Cadillac’s way, but trips and scrapes his knees on the sidewalk. His knees burn and his ears ring from the roar of the car’s horn for days.

Chris— wrapped in a gray long-sleeved shirt and black cargo pants— continues to lie on his bottom bunk in his apartment bedroom he shares with his younger brother, Joshua. The apartment is coated with steel colored carpet and the walls are decorated with paintings here and there, abstract paintings that look bright with light blue sky, wispy clouds, and deep emerald ocean with multicolored fish scattered every which way, that Chris’ mother had painted long before she met his father who now lives apart from them.
A knock and a bellowing “Hello?”
It was his father, Bob, at the apartment door.
“Coming!” Chris replies throwing a towel over the birdcage. He walks to the door with tense, terse steps, his calf muscles simmering and heating his feet, causing him to leave dark indentations in the metallic rug.
Unlocking the door, he swings it open wide to reveal a potbellied man with dirty blonde hair, wearing jeans, a black-buttoned shirt, and black leather jacket. A navy blue JanSport backpack is slung over his shoulder.
“Hi,” Chris says.
“Hey kiddo! How are you?” Bob says hugging Chris, plastering his limp arms to his side.
“Good.”
“Dad!” Joshua says, getting up off the couch and running over to Bob, his dark bronze hair flopping about.
“Hey!” They embrace, “Whatcha up to? Playing video games?”
“Yea! I just beat my record for robbing the most stores in a row without getting killed!”
“Really now? What’s your new record?”
“Seven!”
“Alright! Didn’t realize my son was a top-notch thief. How about you show me how to play and then we can play together?”
“We’d need two PlayStations to do that, Dad.”
“Aw, well, we can still have fun right?”
“Yea!”
Chris interrupts, “Hey, I’m gonna take out the trash real quick. I’ll be right back.”
“Okay,” Bob says.
Bob plops onto the frayed, dusty couch next to Joshua who explains loud and quick, “Okay, to move around you just move the joystick, as usual…here.” He hands his dad the controller.
“Okay…”
“Ahh, noo,” he laughs. “the left one, I meant. The right one moves the camera.”
“Ohhh. Got it. Okay, I think I’m ready to rob!”
Joshua giggles.

Chris steps into his bedroom and unveils the birdcage. “Say your final goodbyes, I’m about to bury you.”
Holding the cage door open with one hand, he reaches in with the other. Going to lift the dead bird he feels a tug— its talons fastened to the barred floor of the cage with rigor mortis.
“Oh, so now you don’t wanna leave. You used to try and make your escape at every opportunity. And now that I’m practically offering a one-way ticket out, you don’t wanna leave.” He pauses to pet her chest with his thumb, feeling its 2-ply feathers. “Well sorry bud, you can’t stay.” Chris begins the intricate and tedious task of prying her toes off one by one.

“Get out the car, Chris! Hurry up!”
“Okay, dad!” Chris says. Still holding a Rubik’s cube in his hands, he hops out of the white Kia Rio onto the pothole-filled hospital parking lot. Chris stands there in neon green rubber boots and a moss green polyester jacket, twisting the Rubik’s cube around and around. Some of the cube’s highly saturated colorful square stickers are starting to peel off a bit, the corners curling slightly revealing the stone black plastic underneath. He presses his lips together so that they nearly disappear.
“Leave that behind,” his Dad tells him. “C’mon they’re waiting for us.”
“Okaaay.” Chris plops the cube onto the car seat and tramps to his Dad’s side.
Bob shuts the door then offers his hand to Chris and Chris holds it. Mottled zebra dove clouds— a myriad of grays— hang high above their heads and frame the seven story, bleached hospital building. The hospital windows reflect the clouds’ glare and the herd of cars below. Chris and Bob’s shoes crunch like Lay’s potato chips against the loose asphalt and stray, crispy maple syrup leaves.
Chris squeezes Bob’s salami thick hand. “Dad?”
“Mm.”
“What’s he gonna be like?”
“Well, I imagine he’s going to cry a lot…but hopefully we get a quiet baby this time, ha ha.” He pauses and Chris gazes up at him.
His dad’s dirty blonde hair like an over ripening banana was combed smooth to form to the shape of his skull, the bangs swished to one side of his forehead.
His father continues, “He’s definitely going to poop a lot.”
“Ewwww!” he crumples his nose.
Bob laughs like thunder in the distance. “Don’t worry, you won’t be changing any diapers.” He looks down at Chris, who is watching his feet kick pebbles around. The cleft of his chin is shallow.
“Everything is gonna be fine, Chris. You have a little brother to play with now, and I have another son, and everything will be fine.”
Reaching the hospital entrance the automatic doors slide open and they are bathed in the frigid aroma of Clorox bleach, rubbing alcohol, and detergent— a tangy, bitter smell that makes Chris crumple his nose some more, a smell that tries too hard to compensate for the feces, pee, and vomit of the hospital. Bob drags Chris with him to a window that Chris is a smidge too short to see into up close. But he can smell a faint, sickeningly sweet, strawberry candy scent drizzling down on his head.
His Dad speaks to the window, “Hello, we’re here to see Juniper Rain … In the Maternity Ward,” he adds.
“Of course, go right ahead,” a melodic voice replies.
“Thank you.”
Chris is dragged off again, stumbling a bit before his feet work in sync with his Dad’s again.
On they travel down the milky glass hallways lined with golden brown doors and chairs. The fluorescent fixtures mark the seconds it takes to make their way to an elevator. Chris jiggles about like a quaker parrot, swinging on his father’s arm like a tetherball being smacked around its pole, hyperventilating and squeaking as he begs to press the button. Then up they go to the third floor. Turning a corner they reach Room 302. Bob knocks.
“Come in,” a hushed voice calls out.
His dad clicks the door open. Inside the hospital room in a key lime bed sits Chris’ mom, Juniper. Her hair is shimmering tight ringlets of copper cascading onto her shoulders. The baby’s dimples rise up like spoonfuls of cherry ice cream to meet her hazel eyes. The baby, a bundle of robin egg blue fleece, lies in the crook of her arm.
Leaving Chris at the door, Bob strides over to the bed and shuffles himself between the mattress and the huge window next to it.
“Hi, sweetie,” he says to her, leaning over and smooching her forehead.
“Bob.”
“How’s the little guy?”
“Doing fine.”
“Hey there, you,” he says to the baby. Gingerly he reaches out and strokes the baby’s peach fuzz covered cheek with the back of his pointer.
“Chris,” his mom calls out, “Come see your brother Joshua.”
Chris slowly walks to the side of the bed opposite his dad. His mom leans over a bit so he can get a better look.
Joshua’s face looks raw and pinched shut, as though he had squirmed through a blizzard to be born into this world. Chris sticks a forefinger into Joshua’s shaking, open hand. Joshua grips it firmly.
“Look at that, he likes you!” Bob says.
Chris looks up to see his Dad beaming and his mom giving a tight smile. And for the first time in a while he feels anchored down.

With a final pluck, the canary is free, her boulder-like weight reduced to that of peanut shells. Extracting her from the cage, Chris gingerly places her onto his bed.
“There. Your favorite spot to poop,” he says.
He goes over to his dresser and pulls out a pair of socks, bends down and picks up his sneakers. Slowly he sits down upon his bed and watches to see if she starts rolling away from the dip his weight makes in the mattress. When she remains where she is, he sighs with relief and dresses his feet at the slow pace of a child stalling to leave the lighthearted, sunshine soaked, laughter filled playground. Chris eases himself off the bed then drags out a gray hoodie from between the drool stained pillows and shimmies it on. He picks up the canary and tucks her into the kangaroo pouch on the front of his hoodie.
Chris struts his way into the kitchen. The kitchen sink is stuffed with dishes and mail dominates the white marble counter with overripe bananas at the top of the pile. Chris yanks out the half empty garbage bag from its plastic bin and ties it off. Bag in one hand, he rummages through the utensil drawer and picks out a large, metallic tablespoon, and stuffs it into his roomy cargo pants’ pocket. He glares into the living room at Bob leaning into the T.V., the sounds of pixelated gunfire ricocheting in his skull. Joshua lying on the carpet, his elbows digging into it to support his head with his hands, his legs bent up into the air, feet being swinging back and forth, as he watches his dad play.
“Be right back,” Chris mumbles as he scrambles to open and close the front door.
Outside a playful gust flies around punching loose leaves from their place among the rest of the glowing green mass, forcing them to dance and spin as they fall until they crash land onto the earth below to lie beside the woodlice and other harbingers of a leaf’s disintegration. The gust flies into Chris and flings the tassels of his hoodie onto his shoulders and tickles his nostrils with the bittersweet scent of freshly mowed lawns and overturned soil. And for a brief moment it lifts him up.
Down the apartment hall, Chris walks to the elevator, the setting sun printing the shadows of the railing onto the walkway, creating a never-ending pattern of dark bars that slip over his pants and sneakers as he walks by.
He reaches the elevator, presses the down button, whistling “Taps.” Clanking and clunking, the rickety lift hauls itself up to bring Chris closer to the ground. It arrives and invites him inside its isolated space— a three by four by eight foot crate with walls made of silver, smooth and reflective as a lake on a spring evening. The elevator clambers downward, and for a moment his stomach presses up against his lungs.

“I asked you to wash my clothes today,” Juniper says exasperated. She is still holding her briefcase and a stack of papers against her fully inflated basketball stomach that strained her carnation pink blouse.
“They’re being dried right now,” Bob replies staring at the six o’clock news.
“You had all day to do it.”
“Well, I tidied up, picked up Chris, and got distracted by the T.V. for a while. But I remembered.”
She trudges off down the hall past Chris’ bedroom. Behind his closed door, Chris plays with his golden yellow canary.
“Sunny, come here!” Chris says jumping up and down. He clutches his Rubik’s cube in one hand, a smooth, psychedelic shape stiff from lack of use, its stickers firmly attached.
Sunny was perched up on the curtain rod, twitching her pointy tail, and her chest like a puffy, ripe lemon thrust outward. Her plumage glistens and her smooth, sharp beak cuts a space in the room to pour her sugary song into. Sunny spreads her wings and flits down to land upon Chris’ head.
“Good bird!” he giggles. Clumsily Chris pushes his hand against the front of Sunny’s legs. Nimble Sunny hops onto his hand and is brought face to face with a semi-toothless Chris. “Sunny!” Chris tries to whistle at Sunny, managing only to spit on her, and in receiving such indignity Sunny flies back up onto the curtains. “Hey! Come back!” And the process begins again.
Juniper walks back down the hall into the dinning room, now dressed in a crimson nightgown, the stack of papers and a handful of ballpoint pens in her hands. With a huff she scrapes the dining room floor with the chair and falls down onto it, then casts the thin, dry pulp and inky reeds onto the table causing a series of rattles much like machine gun fire. Across from her in the living room, Bob sits on the La-Z-Boy leaning forward into the television, the radiation glancing on and off his prickly pear face, piercing his eyes.
She picks up the first essay and reads it aloud. “No Booze Allowed, Means More Booze Allowed. The 1920s was a dynamic and revolutionary time, where older ideals and attitudes were being challenged and transformed…”
Bob picks up the remote and pushes the volume a few ticks higher. Yesterday evening a pink Cadillac crashed into local pet store Francis’ Feathered Friends. Twenty-five birds are reported dead, including one scarlet macaw worth around $1800…
She speaks a little louder, “Such a time was indeed dynamic, so much so that the new ideals that sprouted from it often contradicted themselves…”
He thrusts the remote forward and mashes the volume button more. Police say the driver, Tracy Rodriguez, was under the influence of alcohol…
Juniper puts the essay down with a thud. “Could you turn that down?”
“I won’t be able to hear it if I turn it down.”
“Well, I’m trying to concentrate.”
“Well, I’m trying to watch the news. How about using the bedroom?”
“How about turning down the damn volume because I can use any room in this fucking house I want,” she says standing up.
“You know I need to watch the news! So, why the hell are you doing this?”
“Doing what. Watching you watch the news? Watching you buy crap for that damn bird. You insensitive ass.”
And as flaming words are flung around Chris sits in the middle of his bedroom holding that damn bird in his hands, his eyes open wide, the whole of his stomach pulsating with frigid air. Sunny squirms trying to escape.

The elevator reaches the bottom floor and Chris steps off and heads over to the trash room, a cemented area with several mahogany-colored dumpsters with peeling paint lining the walls. As he nears it, he spots his Mom coming from the parking garage, and stops to wait for her. Her copper curls are loose and limp, tied back in a ponytail in the middle of the back of her head. Crow’s feet dig into the corners of her eye sockets and burlap bags weigh down her eyelids.
“You’re home early,” he says.
“I feel so welcomed,” she smirks.
“Sorry, next time I’ll bring the confetti.”
She laughs.
“Dad’s visiting.”
Her mouth stiffens.
“How was work?”
“Quiet, it’s exam week. Of course I brought work home with me.”
“Bummer.”
“I got most of it done during school, thank goodness. See you upstairs.”
“Yup.”
She watches the upper floor balcony as she goes, with deliberate steps.
Chris finds the trash room and flings the garbage bag into an open dumpster. Walking around the corner he arrives at a strip of earth between the artificial structures of his home. He fetches his canary out of his hoodie and holding her up to his face he asks, “Madam, we will have your room set up momentarily. We are preparing an extra special bed for you. We thank you for your patience.”
He produces the tablespoon from his cargo pants with his other hand, kneels down, and begins to stab the dirt to loosen it.
As he digs the cheap tablespoon’s handle bends from the firmness of the soil, but he manages to make a hole big enough to fit his canary. Slowly he lowers her into the hole, laying her on her belly.
“Well, Sunny, you were a good bird. A damn good one considering everything that’s happened.”
And with that he covers her with soil, spoonful by spoonful, and pats it flat. He snatches up nearby rocks and arranges them atop her grave to keep the cats from digging her out so easily. And for the final touch he places a dandelion flower. Chris stands up and stays for a moment, staring at the mound of rocks with a mini sun-like flower, then turns and walks to the elevator.
He rises up to his floor and hears from down the hallway, fragments of his parents arguing. “You…” “Fuck…” “I…!” The sun has nearly crept its way over the edge of the world, the colors all but faded and the railing bars blending into the white noise.
Chris begins a steady march across the railing-less walkway to the burning apartment; his head held steady, facing forward. At the door he unfurls a balled up fist, and steps inside with an air about him colder than the nebula outside.

Written for Dr. David N. Odhiambo’s ENG 491: Senior Project

“He was no longer sure, he had in fact never been sure, whether he liked his life because he really did or whether he liked it because he was supposed to” (Adichie 21).

americanah
There’s a mistaken notion that feminism is entirely about women’s rights. On one hand that is kind of true; but on the other is the often forgotten true goal of feminism: gender equality. Feminists work towards the goal of true gender equality, a goal in where both women and men are freed from the restrictive patriarchal roles society has placed upon them and stand together as equals. Chimamanda Adichie novel, Americanah, is a perfect example of this. Not only does it gives us an example of Ifemelu’s journey to self-empowerment by rejecting the patriarchal roles society has tried to place upon her; but it also shows the very similar struggle that men must also go through in order to stand equal to women through the character of Obinze.

The public image of feminist theory is one that focuses primarily on women. This is understandable in that there is just so much material that any casual observer can access from news articles, viral videos, and magazine articles that all claim the banner of “feminism”. This over saturation of content has led to the misinformed idea that feminists are overly aggressive man-haters. This is rather sad in that the true goal of feminism is gender equality and a “true feminist” is someone who recognizes that men, just like women, are trapped within the patriarchal roles that society has placed on them.

Patriarchal societies such as those in America and Nigeria hold men up to the ideal of the home-owner, the bread winner, and the protector. They are the ones who hold the important jobs, and the ones who hold power politically, economically, or physically. Additionally, they are expected to act in a masculine manner in their guardianship of their wives and children. This does not seem like such a burden, but taken to its logical extreme, we have created a society that punishes men if they show any “feminine” manners. We live in a society where a man who likes to cook and clean over fighting and smoking is seen as a weak or abnormal.

So where does Obinze stand in this patriarchal society? In truth, Obinze’s story is parallel to that of Ifemelu. In the beginning Obinze was already introduced to the idea of the feminist women through his mother and Ifemelu. He has a vague notion of the power that women can hold and he seems fairly comfortable with adapting himself to match them. For example, Ifemelu once mentions briefly about how Obinze once helped her pluck in-grown hairs off her chin. It does not seem like much, but taking a closer look you begin to realize just what this says about Obinze’s character. By helping Ifemelu with this process for beauty, especially for something as odd and uncomfortable as in-grown hairs, Obinze is actively breaking down the feminine mystique. Instead of seeing Ifemelu as this beautiful mysterious figure, he sees her as a human being. However, he is not free of the roles society has placed on him. In fact, he is rather ignorant of the role that he is expected to play, and so he consumes everything around him with a childish naivety. The best example of this is when he forces himself on Ifemelu despite her unwillingness, and he continues without protection despite her outright protest. He pushes forward as if Ifemelu’s body already belongs to him.

It’s interesting to note that all of the men introduced in Americanah are described as being childish at some point in the novel. It’s as if all of the men are children playing at being men. This is exactly what happens to Obinze. Through a rather unfortunate series of events that destroys his original childhood dreams, he regresses from the person he was and allows himself to settle into the roles society expects from him. He gains for himself a nice house, an expensive car with a driver, a beautiful wife and daughter, and the respect of everyone around him. Yet, everything that he has achieved was given to him, he did not have to work hard to get his goals, and as long as he maintains his image he can keep his current lifestyle.

However, Obinze is self-aware enough to realize that this isn’t him. It’s a gradual process, but the longer he spends playing the rich man the more he begins to realize that he isn’t the man everyone thinks he is. He despises the fact that people think he’s humble because he does not wave his money around. He hates the fact that his wife has become ever more paranoid that he will have an affair, and he longs for something to challenge him. That challenge comes in the form of Ifemelu. She is everything that his wife is not. She’s blunt and knows exactly what she wants. Through her own journey, she has come to her own empowerment. She is the one person that Obinze can be honest with, and she is the only one he complains to about his life and the people around him.

However, Ifemelu realizes quickly Obinze’s hypocrisy and is quick to call him out on it. She calls him a coward and immediately ends their affair. This intervention serves as the much needed wakeup call that Obinze needed. He realizes he may have thought that he was rebelling, or reclaiming a part of himself that he had suppressed in order to fit this role that his friends and wife expected of him. However, in truth he was doing exactly what was expected of him. His wife already knew about his affair, she had been expecting it for years, and his friends all have had affairs of their own. This epiphany is enough of a push for Obinze to do what none of his friends would do, for Obinze to abandon his wife, his child, and his success so that he may chase after what he truly wants. It is once he begins to sheds his limiting patriarchal ideology, and only then that Ifemelu lets Obinze back into her life.

 

Work Cited
Adichie, Chimamanda Ngozi. Americanah. London: HarperCollins, 2013. Print.

Written for Dr. David N. Odhiambo’s ENG 380: Multicultural and Postcolonial Literature