Vibrations Through Wire and Air

by Kirsten Burningham

"Uprooted" by Samantha Snyder
“Uprooted” by Samantha Snyder

As a college freshman, I stretched my wings, and it was irritating to feel my mom’s desire to tether herself, ever so slightly, to me. I took pride in how little I needed—perhaps, even, how little I wanted from her. I can’t remember exactly what was bothering me about our last phone call; perhaps it was simply that she called, interrupting my socializing with her interest in my life. Whatever the reason, I was festering, and her needs were pestering me, so I walked from the back row of my Intro to Sociology class, passing metal-backed and spring-seated chairs, to the front of the auditorium for advice from my professor.

 After a brief description of my angsty mother-daughter relationship, my professor asked, “So, when do you call your mom?” 

A simple question, really. But the answer that formed in my mind pummeled me like a tidal wave that still today tumbles me senseless in its undercurrent. 

“Only when I need money,” I responded. 


Alexander Graham Bell’s mother was hearing impaired. As a child, Alexander would speak to his mother forehead to forehead, so close she could feel the vibrations of his voice. Did she understand the words he whispered into the wisps of her hair? Was the closeness—having him near and sensing his vibrations—was that enough for his mother? For him? I imagine his hand curled around the back of her head, interweaving between strands of her hair as he purred into her temple. 


I am now approaching forty-years-old, and as I look back, I can say, “Of  course, I’ve always needed my mom.” But because of the elemental role she played in my life, I couldn’t then see my reliance on her in the compounds that were forming into my life. I leaned on her for support, but told myself I was running free—my strength, my grit alone, got me to my destination. Like a child’s prayer that is at first a parroting of a parent’s bite-sized phrases, adjusted to their ability to repeat in full—our lives are mere impressions. Only later do they become independent and individual. But how does one know when a mother’s phrases end and a child’s personal prayer begins? When did her bedrock, formational words finish and my unique petitions form? The lines are blurry at best, and it’s been easy to write her out of my story of growth. If it weren’t for her soft “please bless this” and “thank you for that,” would I even know how to pray?  Or why to pray? Or when to pray? Would I know how to live?


I made my first phone call from our faded mustard-yellow rotary phone. It was attached to the wall above our wood stove fireplace in the kitchen. My mom guided my hand to show me how each digit had to go all the way around the circle to connect. You had to be patient when dialing on a rotary phone. It could not be rushed. She had every relevant number from the phone book memorized, so I would wait for her voice to cue the next number and then pull it over with a satisfying zip. 


One night, when I was about eight years old, I was sharing a mattress on the floor with my mom while on vacation. We were exhausted from traveling, but I watched as she lay on her back and prayed. I’d somehow imagined up for myself a towering, indignantly regal God who expected nothing but a quivering bow, who would only ever hold an audience with the profoundly obedient. My mother’s prayer, which some may measure insouciant, was, I felt, a deeply spiritual devotion: a spirit of the law of transcendence that challenged my basic and pharisaic notions of prayer. So the lesson I learned in that moment wasn’t really to pray—she’d already taught me that. It was that God hears us even when we are tired, even when we know we should kneel up but can’t muster the energy, so we send up a wish, a hope, a need, a soft call to the divine, before we sink into our mortal slumber. I prayed more after that; I even sent up the sloppy prayers I would have previously thought too unfinished for God. 


The first flip phone was introduced when I was eight years old, but I wouldn’t own one until my first year of college. That first year of college was like middle school on steroids. I was testing truths and pushing boundaries to see if they were really where my parents said they would be. Some boundaries were more flexible than I had imagined, others I was still working out—like how often I really needed to call my mom, and how often she should be calling me. Others were exactly where I had been taught they would be, though I’d occasionally feigned ignorance. However, at least one truth was reiterated for me on a deeper level. I remember standing in the football stadium endzone, my phone’s qwerty keyboard clicking like an incantation. After selecting the name of the person I wanted to contact, I stood spellbound when the right person answered. It weirdly strengthened my faith. Though I wouldn’t have acknowledged it in this way at the time, it was like seeing my mother pray while flat on her back, almost casually, but knowing she was heard, and knowing that she knew she was heard—wherever, whenever, and however. It seemed that if that little pressed cube could spit forth an almost exact duplication of my voice through invisible airwaves to the precise location I desired, then yes, God did hear my frantic and mostly fervent prayers, and They even heard the sleepy yawning prayers, maybe even the prayers I forgot to say.


Famously, the first words spoken from a human voice and transmitted through wire were sent from Alexander Graham Bell, who bounced them across the laboratory to his assistant, saying, “Mr. Watson, come here. I need you.” Later, in a demonstration, he would say, “Mr. Watson, come here. I want you.”

Come here. I need you. I want you. I believe those words summarize the increasingly throbbing core of every phone call I made to my mother after my professor’s question exposed my self-centered blindness, my ignorant, toddler-like use and abuse of my mother’s forbearing, swaddling voice. Slowly, heavily, I exposed the many layers of need I had for my mom. Money was merely the most urgent, superficial, and salient demand that peaked above the icy waters. Below the surface, my needs matched and then outsized her own. Increasingly, I wanted to draw her forehead closer to mine, to hug the soft wave of her hair to me, and whisper my vibrations, my resonance, so she could feel the truth of my need. 

Eventually, I called her on a steady, rhythmic basis. Just because I wanted to, because I needed her advice with this wild thing called pregnancy, and then with the downright deception of breastfeeding. (I mean, some women make it look like eating chocolate, or taking a stroll in the park. I, on the other hand, was being devoured and chased down by wailing sirens.) If I called and my mom didn’t pick up, I knew her phone was at the bottom of her purse or the battery was dead; she never upgraded past a flip phone’s three-hour battery life. So, I would immediately call my dad—never to talk to him (bless you, Dad. I love you, but you’re terrible at phone conversations). After the obligatory salutations, I asked him to please pass the phone to Mom. 

Calling my mom became a preamble to talking with God. I’d wrestle a tough topic out with her on the phone, and then I could take a clearer picture of my challenge to God. It became uncomfortable to go too long without talking to her. She patiently listened to me as I tacked awkwardly through the early headwinds of motherhood. She was my safe harbor as I voyaged through the tumultuous swells of bearing and raising children.  

I had a three-year-old who played like Houdini, and Mom understood my anxiety. I’d call to tell her how he had escaped through the locked backyard fence and played chicken with the FedEx truck to cross the busy road. I laughed and cried with her after reading a neighborhood Facebook post about a little lost boy. That same afternoon, probably while I was sucked into my chair nursing the baby, my son had apparently waltzed out the front door and let himself into the first unlocked house he could find. We now have a top lock on our front door eponymously named the “Eli” lock. 

Being an independent, disconnected daughter lost its smack. The increasing weight of children depending on me had me smarting for my own freedom to simply depend on someone else. I wanted more and more to sink into my mom’s lap, to tuck my head into the crook of her neck, to let her caress my hair and soothe me back to sleep. I could rest on the other end of an eternal phone call, curling and uncurling my fingers in the cord, just to sit with her voice.


The last good phone call I remember with my mom when she still sounded like mom, was about three months before she passed away. She called to check in on Eli. With unusual urgency and clarity, she told me she loved Eli so much, that I was the perfect mom for him, and that she was sure he would grow up to do great things. “Just hang in there, honey,” she said. 

Then, in November 2020, we gathered as a family on a Zoom call. Did Alexander Graham Bell imagine this future for his technology? Images of a whole person soaring effortlessly through the air to fill a visual square for other squares of people with ears and eyes to behold? 

We received the news that this really was it for her. Again she lay prone, lightly covered over with a hospital sheet, feet protruding, her hands clutching the sheet and fisting together over her heart. There was nothing left to do; the cancer had settled deep in her bones, and like a lion leaping for the jugular, it slashed her throat to bits. She could hardly emit sound. Her vocal cords turned from velveted tapestries to scrub brushes, the abrasions scraping away at her lovely soprano. Phone calls became nearly impossible for her to bear.


So, when do I call my mom? 

Never, now. I try to. Instinctively, I pick up the phone; she is still on my favorites list. I have four saved messages I’ll never be able to delete. They end with her cheery, “Love you, hun, thanks, bye-bye,” her voice crackling through the recorded airwaves, cracking a little on the bye.

During my first few prayers after she passed away, I felt like she was somehow on the other end. It was as if God rerouted the prayer because They knew she was the one I was really trying to dial. I kept forcefully pulling the numbered circles all the way to the end, anxiously waiting for them to bounce frenetically backward, begging her to answer. Mom, come here. I need you. I want you.



Kirsten Burningham is a first-year graduate student at Brigham Young University studying British modern literature. Her research interests include ecological and motherhood studies. She teaches a first-year writing course for the university and delights in helping (often reluctant) students develop into passionate communicators. Outside of her on-campus work, Kirsten and her husband, Steve, have five children, and together they love to hike, read, and explore the world. (Mt. Kilimanjaro is next). 

(Art) Samantha Snyder is a mixed media artist who was born and raised in the Central Valley of California. After graduating from Brigham Young University, she spent the next several years teaching elementary school in Texas. She is currently working on an MFA in Studio Art at BYU. Her artwork is greatly inspired by her and her family’s time residing in the Pacific West. Her work consists of a variety of media, including collage, artists books and prints. Samantha currently resides in Utah Valley with her husband and 3 children.


by Chloe Allen

"Forever" by Phyllis Green
“Forever” by Phyllis Green

I don’t remember you.

I should, shouldn’t I? I should see you in my own reflection—in my eyes, my nose, my smile. Does it make me a bad sister, a bad twin, do you think? For not remembering those moments when it was just us two, when you were my world, and I yours? When in our own unborn existence, you were the one I knew better than myself?

Losing the other half of myself ought to have left a mark. A scar. Something broken, at the very least. Don’t you deserve that? A visible cry out to the world so that someone other than me and my parents would feel your absence?

In my head, you’re a girl. I’m sorry if that’s wrong. I should remember, but I don’t remember. We would have shared a room and stolen each other’s clothes and talked about boys and driven each other absolutely insane. I would have been jealous of your nose, and you would have been jealous of my eyes, and you would have told me in high school that my glasses were a bad fashion choice even when no one else would. And our great-aunts would get us mixed up and we would roll our eyes because we aren’t identicalbut we wouldn’t ever say anything. And I think you would have been loud. Someone ought to balance out the silence I speak at any given moment. But I wouldn’t have minded. You would have said what I wanted to when I was too afraid to open my mouth. 

But instead, everything is quiet. Four siblings, and somehow it isn’t enough. 

Did you know that Charlotte didn’t know you existed until a couple weeks ago? You would have been her sister, and she had no idea. Is that my fault too? I should have talked about you more. But what do you say when your other half is a stranger? I wish I knew.

Somehow, in the lottery of life and death, I lived. And you left. I don’t blame you. But that doesn’t change the fact that every day I do the things you never got to. There’s nothing quite like feeling air effortlessly move through your lungs, somehow giving your body strength. But you don’t know that. You never got to pet a dog or go to prom or jump on a trampoline or rollerskate or drink water or scream or tie your shoelaces or run until it feels like your heart is going to explode or go to school or hug our mother or dance. You never got to live, to experience this beautiful chaos we call life.

So, I’ll live for you. You can come with me.

Let’s go.


Chloe Allen is an undergraduate at Brigham Young University, where she obsesses over the English language with her fellow editing and publishing majors. She enjoys reading, singing, and watching The Great British Baking Show, and has recently discovered she has an intense aversion to writing about herself in the third person. After graduation, her goal is to become an editor of fiction novels, so that she can read for the rest of her life.

(Art) Phyllis Green is an author, playwright, and artist. Her art can be found at ArLiJo 123, Gulf Stream magazine, Novus, New Plains Review, and soon in CALYX, Aji, I 70 Review, Rip Rap, and Cinematic Codes Review.

One Clear Voice

by Celisa Fullmer

We were lucky to even be there.

Beating diligently overhead, the sun penetrated the plains with a dry heat, contending with gusts of Albertan wind in periodic spats. It whipped at our ponytails and howled in our eyes, yanking the moisture straight out of their blurred corners. It quarreled with the truck’s engine, drowning out its mechanical protests and hurling grasshoppers toward the windshield.

For how remote and foreign it was, our destination might as well have been a distant island. Our truck sailed through a sea of grain. Fields of wheat billowed on either side, hushed not by the wind like we were, but by a reverence I couldn’t quite quantify. The land radiated as if the sun itself had plunged fiery tendrils deep into the soil, defiantly rummaging beneath the plains for gold, before evaporating in a gentle retreat, leaving gilded stalks in its wake, each glittering with grain. 

When I was assigned to serve in rural Canada, my untraveled mind defaulted to a snowy log-cabin scene with a moose somewhere in the background, not the never-ending flatness of blonde fields, not a dome brimming rim to rim with gold—and I definitely had not anticipated Hutterite colonies. 

It was rare for the Hutterites to invite outsiders, let alone missionaries, into their private corner of the world. The boundaries of colony property were not treated lightly—nothing about their lifestyle was treated lightly. Laura Baxter and her husband, local members of our congregation, had long been neighbors of this particular Lehrerleut branch. Through shared experiences in farming and ranching, the Baxters had earned the Lehrerleuts’ trust and the privilege of visiting in person, on the mutually unspoken condition that religious conversation remained off-limits. My companion and I had spent weeks helping the Baxters with their cattle, and Laura had grown fond of us. It had been her idea to entreat the Lehrerleuts to give us a tour.

Our truck rumbled onto the property in a procession of dust, cotton seeds, and abnormality, attracting a flock of curious Lehrerleut women. Two men with wide-brimmed hats stood to greet Laura. My companion and I hopped clumsily out of the back seats of the truck, awkwardly lingering behind as Laura’s ecstatic sheepdog circled our legs. Besides the fact that they lived in religious colonies and made exceptionally good bread, I knew very little about the Hutterites, and I became keenly aware of my ignorance. 

The women stared at us—amiably, but with obvious fascination. They stood in a cluster of blue skirts and polka-dot bonnets, all with freshly-washed faces and hair up in conservative, middle-parted buns.

I suddenly became self-conscious of my boots, my jeans, my uncovered head. In their eyes, these were men’s clothes. I stood there, feeling oddly defiant and a bit naked: my hair high in a ponytail, my shirt pleated, my jeans form-fitting, my eyes lined with makeup.

Like a heathen.

Laura and the colony leader gestured for my companion and I to join the throng, explaining that the girls would show us around the property. For how warmly they enveloped us, an observer would never guess that my appearance probably appalled them. The younger girls bustled excitedly around us, telling us their names and inquiring after our own, as if this simple act would officially make us friends. Though my companion and I, as missionaries, typically went by Sister, it felt more fitting to tell them my first name. The girls had never heard a name like Celissa before and were intrigued by the idea of my parents simply making it up because they liked the way it sounded, rather than choosing one from the Bible.

Next thing we knew, we were being whisked about the property. We visited the homes first, all uniform and utilitarian—not one decoration on the freshly painted walls, not a single speck of dust on the gray slatted floors. One family had a Roomba, and absolutely brimmed with glee upon demonstrating to us how the marvelous contraption worked. To the Lehrerleuts, home was a sacred space, and cleanliness truly a sister to godliness. Any technology that aided in that effort was a welcome gift. Already my misconceptions had been corrected: they were not exactly like the Amish.

This mentality of efficiency also accounted for their immaculate schoolyard, central to the perimeter of their homes. I stared at the playground; its minimalistic toys and rigid equipment were so different from the messy wood chips, pinchy-chained swing sets and fluorescent, static-shock-inducing plastic slides of my childhood. Nearby, I noticed a wooden scooter lying on the ground, painted green with the name “Thomas” in white. 

“Can I ride this?” I asked abruptly, lifting it upright. 

The girls laughed at my unintended joke. “That’s a boy’s toy! Girls don’t ride those!” But one of the older women smiled and shrugged, quite ready to let me make a fool of myself, so I gave it a go. Kneeling to fit onto the tiny contraption and peddling around in wobbly circles, I once again became conscious of the liberty of movement afforded by my pants and boots. The girls laughed and laughed! To them the act appeared so contrary, so ridiculously masculine, as to be downright comedic.

We moved on from the playground to the school, with its rows of tidy desks, absent of what was surely an attentive, obedient troop of children. On the front wall hung an alphabet chart in German cursive. All around us hung sheets of the children’s own impressive renditions of the cursive, along with endearing crayon doodles. The young woman leading the tour happened to be the schoolteacher; she explained to us that Lehrerleut girls could no longer attend school once they turned fifteen years old, but that they could sometimes continue in education by instructing the children in the basics of mathematics and reading. 

“Amanda wants to be a teacher, right Amanda?” the teacher asked, turning to address a teenage girl with deep brown eyes and dark braids. Amanda nodded shyly, smiling.

The girls asked us if we had ever gone to school, and what we planned to do after completing our missionary service. My companion responded that she planned on becoming a nurse or a surgeon, which won smiles and nods of approval. A bit uncomfortably, I explained to them that I studied rhetoric and literature, and that I hoped to become a professor one day. Nodding gravely, one girl said, “The only way to go to university is to leave the colony.” The others nodded silently. I made a mental note to ask Laura about that exchange later. Amanda looked up, her brown eyes piercing me with their depth; she seemed to be searching my face for something. 

Our group quietly shuffled out of the schoolhouse and into the dairy barn, where we ran into a handful of young men tending to the cows. The girls whispered excitedly as one particular boy walked by, tipping his hat.

“What?” I asked eagerly, “Who was that?”

“Jacob,” one girl replied while the girl next to her blushed and covered her smile, staring after him. 

“He and Rebecca are cour-ting!” said another in a singsong voice, and the others exploded into giggles. Pretty soon all of them were telling us about the boys of neighboring colonies, who was seeing who, and who would be married soon.

I grinned. Missionaries don’t date while serving. I had missed girl talk.

After that, it was on to the nursery, then the hospital, and the bakery and the butchery and the dining hall and the warehouses and chicken coops and the stables—all of it an absolute whirlwind of foreign familiarity. Somehow, it felt like a long-lost home and another planet all at once. We spent the entire day learning about their lifestyle, conversing easily, and strolling pleasantly. 

I was stunned by the massive machinery they had for drying meat, plucking chickens, making bread, and harvesting corn. For the level of isolation they strove to maintain between themselves and the worldliness of modern society, the Lehrerleuts were certainly masters of efficiency and consistency. One had to admire it. From their top-of-the-line farming equipment to the meticulous mechanics of their lifestyle, every gear and cog knew its place.

Finally, we arrived at the church, with windows and pews as pious and polished as a Sabbath sunrise itself. There, the eldest girl explained to us the practices and purposes of their fundamentalist Christian faith, rooted deeply in Germanic traditions of worship. They listened with fascination as we explained how we taught people about Jesus Christ and helped prepare people who wanted to be baptized. 

One girl asked my companion and I to recite our favorite Bible verses. Fifteen pairs of eyes expectantly lit upon us. My companion spoke her favorite verse in German, which won her a reverent round of applause. I recited Isaiah 53:3-5. The girls clasped their hands to their chests, overjoyed at our shared ability to recite from memory verses about the Savior. Perhaps not all outsiders who came to tour the colony had such similar beliefs. 

“Come,” they said eagerly, “You must meet the others before you go!”

And so our tour concluded at a construction site, a home being built for a newly-wed couple, following the exact same pattern as every other home. Teenage boys and their male mentors tracked sawdust back and forth through the framework, carrying planks of wood and hammering at door frames. The pounding and shuffling ceased when the women arrived; tipped hats and respectful nods accompanied us into one of the nearly completed rooms. We sat on the empty white floor and some of the boys joined us, lining all four walls, sharing cups of water and bags of popcorn for their snack break. From the cheerful chatter and back-and-forth banter, it was easy to tell that they were all good friends. 

Suddenly, Laura suggested that the group of youth sing for us. I thought it an odd request, but they enthusiastically complied.

One girl began singing, her voice strident but confident, setting the tone for the others to join in. By the second phrase, I recognized the tune. It was not a hymn, as I had subconsciously anticipated, but the late-90’s ballad “One Clear Voice” by Peter Cetera:

Whole world is talking, drowning out my voice
How can I hear myself with all this noise?
But all this confusion, just disappears
When I find a quiet place, where I can hear

One clear voice, calling out for me to listen
One clear voice, whispers words of wisdom
I close my eyes, till I find what I’ve been missing
And if I’m very still, I will hear one clear voice

Their voices brought my mind to the wheat fields, rising and falling in tides of resplendent harmony. Each stalk a sweet sound, collectively: the symphony of the plains. Here, in the middle of nowhere, their own sacred privacy filled their lungs—lungs adapted to the virgin atmosphere of a haven untainted by the chaos of the world—distilling upon the air like audible, crystalline waves. A unified sea of gold.

One clear voice—I knew that voice. It was the same voice I had followed my entire life, the same voice that had brought me to Canada, the same voice that calmed my heart and heightened my joys and numbed my sorrows and silenced my fears. And the same voice that reassured me, in that moment, that there were people who still believed in Christ, people ready to tell the world all about Him, people who loved Him.

All too soon, the song ended. As we gathered back at Laura’s truck, the girls teased that they would be more than happy to sew us dresses and bonnets to properly outfit us. One even invited us to learn Germanic cursive in their school, alongside the five- and six-year-olds, which they found hilarious. They begged us to stay. A part of me—I couldn’t explain it—yearned to stay. This place was such a spiritual haven compared to the world we would soon return to. They wished us blessings as we searched for people to teach. How they beamed as they hugged us! And oh, how I needed that.

Saying goodbye was harder than it should’ve been for people who had only known each other for a day. And yet—even though I knew I would likely never see them again in this life—it felt powerfully introductory to a certain unspoken chapter of sisterhood. Something deep within me knew that these women had a place within my frame of experience that would extend far beyond this single day. From now on, my understanding of and questions about what it meant to be a woman would be gently sculpted by their unexpected influence.

We drove away from the property, the wheat fields nodding farewell to us with newfound intimacy. Laura broke the silence by saying, “Pretty different world out here, eh?” We agreed. 

“That was amazing,” I said.

Laura nodded solemnly. “They have an impressive lifestyle.”

After a pause, I brought up the conversation in the schoolhouse. 

“Ah, yes,” she said, “Yes, you ladies were certainly exotic in their eyes! Lehrerleut girls don’t often leave the colony. I’m sure the idea of university absolutely boggled them.”

“Do you know anyone who has left?” I asked. 

“The colony? Oh yes,” Laura said. “George and I are good friends with several who have left. One young man, Jeremiah, told us that it all used to drive him so crazy that every morning he would run, just run. He’d run to the edge of the property and stare out at the fields, wanting to scream. He finally left. So restless. It’s hard out there but most of them make it; they figure it out. Has a beautiful wife and two kids now. They seem very happy.”

She continued, “If men leave the colony and happen to want to come back, they have to consult with colony leaders and work things out. If women leave, they can never come back. That’s why so many of them simply stay. Security and community.”

I looked out the window, unsettled. Something about the image of that boy, driven to madness, screaming into the wheat-field void, felt so eerie. 

For the rest of the trip home, my companion sat in the front seat chatting with Laura. I lounged in the back of the truck, pensive. Despite how fascinating the day had been, a strange surge of concern settled upon my mind like the cloud of a summer storm, vast and bleak. The type of sky-sized cloud that seals its grayness from one horizon to the other, blanketing squalls of heat into fitful dust devils. The kind that hangs ominously but refuses to precipitate, clutching the dry ground below while garish light beats upon its back above.

I had nothing but profound admiration for the Lehrerleuts. It had been an incredibly eye-opening day. Those girls were some of the happiest, most delightful people I had ever met. 

So why was I bothered?

To this day, the sound of their singing is as freshly sutured into my mind as if I’d been with them just yesterday. It was the most magnificently raw sound I’ve ever heard. They were searching for “One Clear Voice” amid a world of turmoil. They’d established a lifestyle entirely centered around preserving and heeding that Voice.

So why did their voices both enchant…and haunt me?

They seemed so happy; were they happy?

Was I?

A summer storm did roll in, later that day. My companion and I returned home, waved goodbye to Laura, prepared for bed, said goodnight, and knelt to pray. Jealous of  my already-unconscious companion’s steady breath, I knelt in the darkness alone. Slowly, I began untangling my thoughts by thanking the Lord for the experiences of the day. Tentatively, I prayed that someday we would understand. I wasn’t sure who “we” was, but the identity of a Christian woman has always been slippery, vague. Indisputably, there is joy in the life of a mother, a sister, a believer. But I couldn’t help but wonder whether, like the golden sea of wheat—planted, raised, and hewn for consumption, year after year—it didn’t matter how rich a soil was, if the harvest was always the same.

Were roots for stability? Or immobility?

This cloud of consternation followed me into bed, rumbling, unsettling. Someday, I thought, staring up at the ceiling, someday. I didn’t know what it meant, but it felt fitting.

I closed my eyes, listening to the thunder above, and all of a sudden—blessedly—it began to rain.


Ever since she could hold a pencil, Celisa has loved to write everything from poetry to essay. She currently works as a content writer and will graduate this spring with a degree in Professional Writing. Her husband is the joy of her life, and everything they dream of together revolves around a future family.

A Car Ride, Beastie Boys, and John Lennon’s Ghost

by Evie Darrington

"riot grrrl!" by Evie Darrington
“riot grrrl!” by Evie Darrington



Count of 15 on the beat keeping time, head nodding and finger tapping—

Your cup holders carry expired coupons, the dented tiara from when you were crowned prom princess (you swear you ran as a joke), and those tinted circle hippie glasses, the ones with the scratched lenses from when we went as John Lennon (and not his ghost, mind you) and Yoko Ono to that one dinner with the family with the boy with freckles that I talk about too much. You wouldn’t let me put you in that dingy bed sheet because you said you looked too much like Jesus. The ghost of John Lennon frowns down disapprovingly from heaven (or hell? Satan has yet to claim rock and roll as his own), clutches the still-bleeding bullet hole in the center of his chest, adjusts his wire-framed glasses and decrees that dressing like him is in fact offensive, and maybe a little sinister. Even if you’re using a seemingly harmless bed sheet to do it.

The crimson patches in your cheeks, red like freshly-scraped knees or premature rebellion. The boys are especially loud tonight; Mike D. sounding brassy, MCA a little brash, and Ad-Rock bold. I savor the bite of each new verse and swallow. 

And these days are cherry-scented chap stick flavored, like the beat up lipsmackers from the seventh grade that I have at home crammed in the very back of my desk drawer behind the three different pairs of tangled earbuds and the stupid love poems I wrote about you-know-who. I got a haircut and chopped it short short—it slashes off at about my chin in a straight blunt line, but it isn’t like the time Dad buzzed my head in the kitchen of our old house and the collar of my hand-me-down pj shirt itched red-hot with short shorn hairs for weeks. The dull dim years of high school whisk out of sight on this canyon road and ahead is crisp and shiny and brand new. My head hangs a couple feet above the rushing highway; I stare up at the expanse of sky and the tiny pinpoint of stars, stretch my arms out and inhale the vast mountains in cool shadow looming overhead. I breathe it all in until my lungs ache with icy pine-stained wind and try to reason with it to stay for as long as possible—thirty seconds, sixty seconds. The song ends, the boys never making it to Brooklyn. A minute thirty. I exhale.



Evie Darrington is a sophomore at BYU studying graphic design. She is from Seattle, Washington, and the rare instances it rains in Utah make her think of home.


by Alex Faletti

We stop at the 32nd Street Market, “Third World Market.” It’s
after midnight, and I look over my shoulder as I leave the car.
Sue wants to read, so she stays behind.
“I’ll be right out,” I say, and I lock the door.
I dodge a half dozen kids carrying groceries for a buck, wonder
why they’re out this late, and pull myself through the rails that
keep carts inside the store. I walk in the out door. Through the
glass, I see a man, and he’s mad that I come in the wrong way,
madder than I figure he ought to be.
I step to the side. The electric doors open and I follow them
inside. I’m almost inside, and the man insults me from across
the barrier separating the in door from the out door. It’s like
he’s spitting words at me, but they’re not really words, just
sounds, and I hear what he says, but I don’t listen. Nobody pays
attention to him.
I nod at the security guard and push through the one-way
stiles. A crowd blocks my way through the housewares, so I take
the meat department. The smell of blood and fish halt my
breath. A pig’s head stares up at me from behind a glass case,
and I enter a gap in the crowd.
A glass tub filled with catfish faces the aisle. A mass of mucus
and bloody ice, the fish press against the glass. Imagine frying
up an unskinned catfish. It’s like I test myself, force myself to
gag, but I don’t.
I get to the milk. I want a clean gallon, one without dirt on
it. I find a good one, but the date’s bad, so I settle for lowfat.
Still fresh, looks good. I leave the meats, look for the caja rapida,
the fast lane. I wait ten minutes to pass the cashier and decide
rapida doesn’t mean “fast” in English.
The grocery bag digs into my fingers and I work my way to
the exit. The guard stands to the left, in the same spot. I nod-
whatever I suppose he expects- and wait for the electric door.
Outside, the kids talk back and forth. When they see me, they
smile, reach for my bag with one hand, grab my arm with the
other. I walk through them to my car.
Sue stops reading. She’s looking over the backseat, out the
window. I try to knock, but the bags are too heavy. My arm burns
from the weight. Sue jumps back, surprised at someone being
so close. She looks around and opens the door. I hand her the
milk and start to sit down, when a man walks up from the curb.
He talks about poverty and children and about having no money.
I want to get in the car and ignore him, but he has me in a bad
way. I’m saying something sweet to Sue, something like, “I love
you,” or “Hey, hey, how ’bout some mac and cheese,” with a smile
and a corny look, something from that part of me that loves her.
And then I see this guy and I remember it’s late, and I put the
bags on the seat and hope to start the car, but he beats me.
He says he’s from the South, moved to California for a new
start, says Job Service found him a job and tonight’s his first
night. He works at the Coliseum and wears a blue and gold
“Event Staff” jacket. The story makes sense: a U2 concert, at the
Coliseum, ended an hour before. He tells me, “I’m not gonna
tell you a lie. I just want to work and make some money for my
family. I ain’t a bum, but I won’t get paid for a couple of weeks.
I need food for my kids.”
“I don’t have any money;’ I tell him and get into the car. I
expect him to get mad, maybe get a bit pushy like some bums
do, but he doesn’t. The man’s face changes from a plead to the
most pitiful look I’ve ever seen.
I want to give him some money, but I’m broke. The milk I
bought is for macaroni and cheese, and I don’t even like it. So
I look at him for the first time and reason with him.
“Do you know how many times I get hit up for money in this
parking lot in a week? How do I know you really need money,
and that you’ll use it for your family? And, besides, I really don’t
have any money. All I have is a checkbook.”
”All I need is some food. You can buy that with a check,” he
says. He’s right.
I look at Sue. She shrugs and gives me an 1-don’t-know-about-
this-but-be-careful look. I turn back to the man and tell him,
”I’ll be right out. Keep the doors locked,” I say.
We walk back. The security guard gives me a long look, makes
me wonder what I’m doing with this man. I figure walking into
“the 32” with a black man’s no big deal if he’s another student.
But this man’s no student, and I walk with him, and it’s odd,
and we’re together.
We take the same path I followed earlier. The crowd’s not as
thick as before, so we have more room to move. The man pushes
a cart ahead of us. I figure we’ll head for the milk, buy some
mac’s and cheese and be out of here. But he stops in the meat
department. He eyes a bottom round steak, the cheapest cut.
“Can I get this? It would be good. We haven’t had nothing
but pancakes for three days,” he says.
“Yes . . . that’s fine . Go ahead,” I say, and I hesitate.
“You sure?” he says. I nod and poke a tenderloin with my
finger. I push in the plastic and leave a dent. He throws the steak
into the cart and moves up a few paces.
He stops in front of the catfish. I give him a wave of approval,
and he tells the butcher two pounds. The butcher reaches under
the window and drags out three fish. He weighs them and wraps
them in white paper. “Thank you! Thank you!” he tells the
butcher and drops the fish in the cart.
We move aisle for aisle through the store until we run out of
aisles. I want to get this over with. Every time the man wants
something, he asks me if it’s okay. I say yes, but I grudge every
purchase. Does a beggar get three Hershey’s bars? Applesauce?
Bread and milk. Bread and milk are beggar food . The cart’s half
“Come on, let’s go. You’ve got enough to last you a week,” I
say. He stops and looks around like he’s lost something, but then
pushes the cart to the cashier. We make it through the line
quickly and head for the parking lot.
He holds four bags in one hand, three in the other, and
he’s staying on 54th Street, South Los Angeles. A bag tears.
The milk bounces. I look at Sue, and she shakes her head.
She says “No,” and I want to say “no;’ but the milk has rolled
close to my feet. It’s a foot from me and it’s got dire on it and
I don’t pick it up.
I drive him, but I don’t like the idea. Already, my plan to buy
him a gallon of milk and some noodles has cost me thirty-two
dollars, and now I’m putting him in my car with my fiancee and
driving to 54th _Street at 1:30 a.m.
We load the groceries in the backseat, along with our friend,
and head for Watts. I don’t feel good. My thoughts are bad. I
expect him to reach over the seat at any moment, kill me, take
the car, rape Sue, and go home to a steak dinner.
“I think I’m going to leave you at the bus stop,” I say.
“It’s a couple of minutes,” he says.
“If it was just me, I’d do it, but I’ve got my girl here. It’s kind
of foolish,” I tell him.
“It’ll only take ten minutes,” he says over the seat.
“No. I’m letting you off. I mean, come on, you’d have to walk
home anyway.”
I turn south on Broadway and find a bus stop. We put the
bags on the curb, and I shake his hand. He asks me for bus fare.
I give it from the money I didn’t have. He waves goodbye, as I
walk back to the car, and then he starts to thank me.
“God bless you! Jesus bless you!” he says from the curb, and
he keeps saying it, “God bless you! God bless you!” he says.
I sit next to Sue and drive towards school. I feel like crying but
don’t, which only makes me feel sick. My face tightens and one
side twitches. I blink, and I can’t stop it. I feel like a fool for
leaving him.
I say nothing to Sue. I drop her home. Then I drive to my house.
I drive slowly. I see every bus stop. I notice every person. I feel
sicker every minute, and I think about him frying those catfish
for his family, telling the kids a joke, telling them about the poor
man at the market.

Cemetery Day

by Paul Rawlins

We’re late getting up to the cemetery this year. Usually we’re up
early in the morning, Grandma and my aunts bustling around
the kitchen between arranging flowers and getting dressed while
the rest of us finish breakfast. This year it’s two o’clock before we
even start up town where my Grandpa Rawlins is buried in the
Lewiston City Cemetery.
I was only two when he died, so I never knew him. He knew
me, I suppose. I’ve seen his picture. But I know his grave. I’ve
visited it probably every year since he died-I know I’ve been there
in May every year I can remember. Memorial Day in Lewiston is a
funny thing. I see relations I don’t see any other time of the year,
and the whole town makes it out to the cemetery. My grandma’s
there, and she used to talk for hours when I was little, when hours
were longer. My dad sees old school buddies. He tells them no,
he’s not in the tire business anymore, says this is his wife LaJune,
this is his boy-Mike, Paul, Robert, whoever’s around. And we
go grave to grave, trying to make sense of who is related to whom
and how. Only my grandma knows it all. She could probably tell
you something about almost everybody in the cemetery, or at least
their families. I believe small towns are like that, kind of close-
knit, nosy in a concerned, family way. I don’t know-I’m not from
a small town – but that’s what I believe.
And I hear stories about the people I came from. I know
I’ll wish I remembered the stories some day. They’re supposed
to be a part of me somehow-somehow, whether I know them
or not.

The cemetery sits on a bluff sort of overlooking a river, sur-
rounded by a partial ring of trees. I suppose they used to run
round full circle. Now there’s a gap-maybe for the living to come
and go. We come in on the west side, and we drive a loop all
the way around to the east side to start over at my grandpa’s grave.
His isn’t far from the edge of the bluff and the river. You can
see the old sugar factory across the road. My dad used to work
there. My grandpa probably did, too. He worked a little bit of
We don’t have peonies from home this year. We always used
to have peonies. We still bring roses from our yard, though. And
there’s columbine, in a glass jar, from out front of my grandma’s
house. My aunts have a nice store-bought arrangement and a
wreath in fall colors that work well. Somebody from out of town
has left lilacs. The wind’s blowing, so we anchor everything down
with little shepherd’s crooks bent from hanger wire. They’re
always too long or too short, and the ground’s always hard. But
we finish, and everything stays up.
I have the camera this year, so I take the picture. My aunt’s
pulled handfuls of grass from around the headstone, and she’s
going to dump them over the fence. My other aunt’s saying
something about the guy who mows the lawn.
Then we start the loop. The cemetery’s full of Talbots, Ponds,
Van Ordens, Leavitts, Lewises, with a good handful of Rawlinses,
too. The Rawlinses go back to Harvey M. His grave makes the
far end of the loop; he’s to the north, kind of in the center.
The faded white stones mark children’s graves. I pass a row of
them along the east side for children who died in Decembers and
Januaries. I think the winters in the valley were hard on children;
I have a tendency towards the dramatic. Dad says a Rawlins would
have been the first newborn in Lewiston, but it was too cold, and
the parents wintered in a warmer house in Richmond. The children
in these graves weren’t even newborns. The older two were nine
and eleven; the younger two were three and five.
My aunt points out the grave of one of my uncle’s best friends.
She tells me someone in the family had a fit about his grave being
so close to his mother’s. And he was a tall boy, she says, and
he should have a flag. He was killed in Vietnam, stepped on
a Claymore mine. It was one of those things -the point man got
A couple of kids horsing around get a talking to.
“Do you know what reverence is?” Their dad is being strict.
“This is sacred ground.”
No chasing and stepping on headstones. No being disrespectful.
I used to worry about stepping on the dead. I could never keep
straight which way the graves ran. And I used to feel sorry for
undecorated graves and put a spare flower here and there. My
mother, my grandmother, they still right tipped bouquets.
My aunts take care of the family headstones, clean off the bird
droppings, trim the grass, raise them when they start sinking.
The dad asks the kids if they understand. They look sheepish.
They’ll nod their heads, but it’s an adult thing, death and
memorial. Cemeteries are just scary places to be alone or at night
to kids, like the one in my hometown where the statue looks at
you if you walk around it three times at midnight. There’s nobody
here for them yet.
We stop by the grave of mom’s dance teacher. This is new to
me. Barbara Monroe. A beautiful lady. Handsome husband. She
died in 1968, the year my youngest brother was born. I’ve seen
a picture of my mother sitting in front of the old house on
Liberty Avenue with her ball gown spread around her on the lawn
like a pond. Barbara Monroe wasn’t teaching in Lewiston when
my mother took dance. My mother isn’t from northern Utah, but
everybody knows somebody from Cache Valley. I could go to the
end of the earth, I think sometimes, and mention that my dad is
from Cache Valley, Utah, and someone would say, “My grandfather
was from Smithfield” or “My wife’s folks are in Cache Valley.”
Maybe that’s what dad means when he calls it God’s country.
It’s some kind of Eden, some source. Dad insists on being buried
here. He comes as close to looking forward to it as you can without
being morbid. He talks about being buried under a tree for shade,
maybe one down by the stream along the south side of the
graveyard. My mother says he’ll have to be buried with his heavy
cotton sheets, or he’ll be complaining about the cold. Maybe
a reading lamp. He says he’ll come back to haunt us if we bury
him anywhere but up here, especially if we leave him in the city
cemetery down in Ogden. Too much traffic, too noisy.
Most of the direct family is over to the west. Harvey MacGalyard
Rawlins was the first of the family to come out West. He’s here.
And Jasper Alphonzo and Cora Mae Burbank, dad’s grandparents.
My great uncle still lives in their place up town. There is a string
of small cement squares here, too. They’re numbered, and they
sink and get lost in the grass along the roadside most of the year.
They mark babies’ graves, babies my great uncles lost. They don’t
even have headstones, but every year my aunts hunt up the graves.
They tug back the overgrown grass and talk about whose child
each was and how they died.
Ruth is here, too. Ruth’s grave always got a little metal basket
of flowers, but the silver was starting to show through under the
paint, and this year my aunts have a new arrangement. They never
miss her grave, and I wonder if anybody here even saw her, except
maybe my grandma. Ruth was my grandpa’s baby sister. She died
on Armistice Day, “while the rest of the world was celebrating,”
my grandma tells me.
My aunt says that once my grandpa let my uncle shoot a cow
they were going to slaughter. My uncle asked about the convulsions
the animal went through as it died, and grandpa said that death
was just like that. My uncle was being smart-alecky and said,
“How do you know?” Grandpa said, “I watched my baby sister
die.” That’s all he ever said to anybody. He always said he couldn’t
remember, when people asked.
I know that Ruth died of influenza. Ruth’s mother, Cora Mae,
grieved until her own mother came back from the other side and
told her to stop, that she had Ruth and that the baby would be
fine until Cora Mae got there. The day seems right for telling
these stories, and my grandma and aunts tell me more. Ariel
talking with Horace after he went, Lynn having visits from his
mother and father, my uncle and my own grandfather – I think
it must run in the family, this closeness to the other side.
Here and now, these aren’t ghost stories; they aren’t tabloid stuff.
They belong because the family is here. We think about those on
the other side, they worry about us over this way, we all talk. But
I tell my dad he can write me a letter if he has anything urgent to
say after he’s gone. I don’t want him tapping me on the shoulder.
We walk back to the car, gathering up stray members of the
family, finishing the loop. “I know more people here than I know
alive,” my aunt says. I guess time will do that to you.

All this from the cemetery will come back later this afternoon
when I’m standing on an old spreader in a corner of the field.
I’ve seen the spreader from the road on the other side of the ditch
every time I’ve walked by, but I haven’t been out on it for years.
It’s a long box on wheels with a lip sticking out along the top
edge, and the wood is white like bone and cracked like dry clay.
The lever on the right-hand side is frozen tight with rust. You
can squeeze the handle, but the cogs won’t move. I won’t stand
on the wood for fear of its giving way. The tires aren’t I’ll
find that hard to believe. And I’ll wish I knew my grandfather.
I heard once that my grandfather was a good wrestler. His
brothers used to gang up on him, and they still couldn’t take him
down. I don’t know if he ever wrestled like I did in high school
or if it was just roughhousing, but I wish he had been around
to give me any pointers he might have had. I wasn’t a good
wrestler. He might have had a trick or two. Who knows.
I know from talk that my grandpa was a short man, with arms
half again as big as my dad’s-and his arms must be two or three
times the size of mine. I’m long and narrow chested. I’m not even
wiry. I’m not the kind that works twenty-four hours a day like
dad says my grandpa did. I’m not a farmer. I think there’s some
morality tied up in the country and farmland, and I don’t com-
plain about the smell of silage, but I was born and raised in the
city. I had a paper route instead of a milk route, and the ditches
I dug were for sprinkling systems in residential lawns.
But I’ll think this afternoon that there comes a time when you
need to come to know the dead. To know what of being a Rawlins
is or isn’t tied up in my father and my grandfather and another
father on back past James Mason, who changed his name (we
think) during the Revolutionary War. I owe them things. If it’s only
growing up in Utah and in my faith and with my name and life-
style. Or I might even look something like somebody back there.
And I’ll want to lay a claim on these people. I respect the
grandpa I didn’t know because he could work my dad into the
ground. I can’t, but I’m thinking I must come from solid stock.
I come from small farmers on both sides of the family, and
they’re the only ties to land and soil I have left. And I come
from pioneers who trekked a thousand miles into the American
wilderness for their religion. And I hope we had a horse thief
back there somewhere along with our seventeenth-century governor.
I don’t care much whether royal blood is in my veins, but these
days, a bit of something passed down from a freebooter probably
couldn’t hurt. And I like the glamor.
My great-grandfather, Jasper Alphonzo Rawlins, had a solid
reputation in the valley from what I’ve heard. A couple of his sons
needed to get their car pulled out of the mud one night, and the
farmer they asked for help held back until he found out they were
Alf Rawlins’s boys. Then he got his horses, hauled the car out,
and told them to make sure to mention to their father who had
helped them. I belong to Alf Rawlins somehow, too. And to Owen,
my grandfather, and to La Vere, my dad. And they belong to me.
Out there on the spreader, something in me will be glad for all
this, and something in me will want to know just what it means.

I’ll walk through the field as the sun goes down behind the
mountains on the far side of the valley. I’ve heard jokes about the
family waiting for Jasper Alphonzo’s and Cora Mae’s good looks to
surface again one ‘of these generations. Maybe in some of my kids.
Maybe I’ll have a boy named Alf someday. And we’ll come up
to Lewiston in May and decorate the graves, make the loop.



by Nyle Smith

“Please don’t protect me,” crosses my mind as I watch my
father-in-law brush the leaves from the tiny grave. He and I have
never been particularly close, although we have reached that
comfortable equilibrium where we recognize that even though his
daughter is my wife, she’s still his daughter, and even though
she’s his daughter, she’s my wife.
“Please don’t protect me.” That thought again, knocking around
clumsily. I ignore it and notice that although there have been
many tears at this small graveside in the past, there are no tears
today, just acceptance of a long past tragic fact . For just a
moment, I lose track of my father-in-law’s hands among the fall
leaves. It’s difficult to distinguish between the veins and calluses
of his hands from sixty-nine years of life and the comparatively
youthful aging of the leaves from one brief summer. The leaves
and his hands blur together just long enough for me to imagine
that my father-in-law looks as if he might be a tree. If I sawed
him in half, perhaps I could count the rings of his life, left there
year by year as life pressured him to grow. The ring from 1952
would be an extremely wide one, a mass of growth forced on him
by a year of storm, and the death of a babe.
I have babes of my own now-two girls, one aged three and a
half years (mustn’t deny her that half year, it’s very important to
her), and one aged seven months. The rings of their trees are very
tender. Tender, too, are my feelings for them. I want to wrap them
in the arms of my love, protecting them from any harm the world
might bring against them. I want to preserve their innocence, but
most of all, I want to ensure at least one tiny element of their
tenderness survives the cauldron of youth. Yet I realize I can’t
protect them from their personal hardships any more than my parents
could protect me from mine, and there are some things no one
can protect them from. The thought of them being taken from
me, ripped from my arms by the dispassionate power of death,
destroys me. I am sure if that happened, if I actually had to lay
one of my children in the grave, my heart also would be in danger
of burial. Life itself would become impossible for me, I would
simply refuse to exist. Yet, I see around me the proof that I
would still exist, that I would find a way through.
My father-in-law would agree. I watch him from the corner of
my eye as we drive away from the little graveyard on the hill, the
graveyard that will contain both him and his wife one day. They
purchased four burial plots here years ago, and now they’re con-
fronted by their mortality every time they leave the cemetery; they
know one day they won’t be driving away. One day the stone they
leave behind will bear record of the final resting place of Wendell,
Sarah, and David.

David was their baby’s name. He received it though officially
he didn’t graduate into life. He died during the turbulent
innocence of birth. The difficult thought to confront is that
he was perfect. Absolutely ten-count-’em-ten toes perfect. Yet he
didn’t make it. The cord wrapped around his neck while still
inside the birth canal. While modern medicine was furiously
trying to save him, David stopped breathing, then was still. When
the forceps wrung him from the womb, there was no cry of joy
or rage or bewilderment, there was only silence. In the silence,
Sarah wept. They whisked the tiny body away from her, protecting
her from the sight of her perfect baby, her perfect, dead baby.

Wendell, protected from the scene by the plaster and mortar of
the waiting room walls, was stoic when he was told. He was an
Idahoan, and stoic Idahoans, used to drought and long winters
of ice, deal with tragedy directly. Confront the problem, damn
the emotions, put forth your best solution, and continue on with
the blessing of life. So he arranged for the burial of his son.
The problem with arranging for a burial was that a mortician
had to be called and paid, and money wasn’t something my
mother and father-in-law had a lot of then. Besides, there were
the hospital bills, which would be formidable. Yet the Idahoan
in my father-in-law prevailed, and the funeral was arranged. A
viewing was discouraged, for the tiny body of David had been
badly bruised. But he still needed to be dressed. It would have
been nearly an impossible task for my mother-in-law at the time.
She had experienced too many miscarriages in the early months
of pregnancy, and to have to confront the body of her full-term,
perfect baby boy would be too much to bear. My father-in-law
was willing, but strongly discouraged. Too difficult for him, they
said, too traumatic. So an angel in the form of the mortician’s
wife stepped forward and volunteered to do the job. Soon David
was prepared, dressed, and tucked safely inside his tiny coffin.

The family drove to the “final resting place” and gave David his
dues for making it at least this far in mortality, namely a funeral
and a headstone. Though he may not have been there to feel it,
they also offered love.
The “angel” who had volunteered to dress David for them also
charged them twenty-five dollars for the privilege. Twenty-five
dollars! To this young couple, in 1952 dollars, that was an
astronomical amount. If they had known the cost, they would
have arranged for a church or extended family member to
complete the task. Perhaps the final insult of misguided capitalism
is in the realization that even compassion can be bought and paid
for. Though incensed, my in-laws scrimped and saved and got
the bills paid somehow. In Wendell’s house, the bills always got
paid “somehow.” Yet even after the financial matters had been
taken care of, something still gnawed at him. He should have
dressed David. It wasn’t a matter of money, it wasn’t a
matter of being “protected” from the sight of his deceased son;
it was a matter of a father’s duty to his children. David was his
son, and he should have dressed him. As he viewed the events
with the clarity of hindsight, remorse crept in.
The cemetery is now far behind us, and as the car tires crunch
through the leaf-lined streets, I think I see a small tear forming
in the corner of the Idahoan’s eye. Then he says it, straight out.
“If I could change anything in my life, I would have dressed
David.” He need say no more, the glistening in his eye and the
slump of his body tell the rest. I want to lean forward from
the back seat and hug him, tell him I understand, that as a father
of children I offer him empathy and support. Instead, I wiggle
deeper into the Naugahyde-covered seat and stare out of the
window, wondering how any of us ever survive our personal tragedies.

It is difficult for me to express my feelings to my father-in-law
because it brings me too close to a father-and-son relationship,
something I am distinctly unfamiliar with. When I was eleven
years old, my mother called each of her sons into her bedroom.
I knew something big was up, for the bedroom conferences always
denoted great import. When my turn came, my mother took my
hands in hers and asked me what I would think about her and
my father divorcing. With all the wisdom that an eleven-year-
old could muster, I told her that I didn’t think it was a good idea.

She merely smiled sadly and told me it was so, that they were
to divorce. I wondered why; I had never seen my mother and
father fight. Violence wasn’t something that was tolerated in our
home, a standard that was difficult to enforce with a family of
five active boys. Even though it seemed natural to me then-for
I had known of no other lifestyle – now I realize that for years
my father had not even been living with us.
After twenty-seven years of married life, Mom now faced the
future as a single parent. We had been living in Texas, but she
picked up and moved us to Utah, to be closer to family. Shortly
after our arrival, she found a job at the Attorney General’s Office
and over the next fifteen or twenty years carved out a career for
herself in consumer protection. The only thing I carved out
during our early years in Utah was a hole for myself to hide in.
I didn’t deal well with the divorce, and I didn’t deal well with
the years of poverty we endured before my mother was promoted
from secretary to investigator. Perhaps the most disturbing point
to me was that I never knew why my parents divorced, why my
father wouldn’t help us financially, why I suddenly found myself
in Utah in the midst of a church congregation that took the
wrong kind of pity on me because I came from a “broken home.”
My brothers wouldn’t talk about it, and all I could sense from
my mother was a deep sadness about my dad.
So it was disconcerting news when I discovered Dad was moving
to Utah to be closer to his boys. It was even more bewildering
when I remembered that Dad had never spent time with us when
he was living with us. So why was he making the effort now? I
needn’t have worried, for even though he did move to Utah, he
didn’t spend much time with us. But he did spend five minutes
with me one afternoon.
He called while my mother was at work and wanted to come
over to see me. I readily agreed, and when he arrived I eagerly
opened the door only to notice that something was wrong. He
entered and promptly handed me twenty dollars to go skiing
with, a gift that a fourteen-year-old boy like myself was definitely
happy to receive, but that happiness was marred. My father was
drunk. After he left, I wondered how I was going to tell my
mother. What a shock it was going to be to her, especially being
raised in a religious setting where alcohol and the devil walked
hand in hand, the same philosophy she raised me with.
When she arrived home, I blurted out what had happened,
afraid of how this new knowledge might affect her. There was
no registering of shock, no incredible disbelief; there was only
the same sad smile she had when she told me of her divorce. She
then related that my father had been an alcoholic for nearly a
decade, and that was the reason for their divorce. It became clear;
now I knew why they were divorced, it all made sense.
Bewilderment was replaced by appreciation of what my mother struggled
through and a renewed veneration for her. But still, I wanted to
tell her that she could have told me earlier, that she could have
confided in me. If she had, I think I might have been better able
to piece the puzzle together, that after I dealt with the pain, I
could then deal with my life.

Wendell’s eyes are dry again as he pulls the car into the drive-
way. As we get out, I avoid looking at him. We have shared an
emotional moment during our drive, and for the rest of the day
we will have to deal with its consequences. We speak in matter
of fact tones. We unload the car, and as he walks into the house,
for one brief moment, I imagine the years melting away from
his frame. He is a young father again, confronting the death of
his newborn son. He gingerly takes the tiny body into his arms
and lovingly places on the infant a gown that should have been
reserved for the joyous moment of bringing the baby home. His
tears flow freely as he places his son into a casket. It is more than
he can bear, this final act; yet in the tradition of his pioneer
heritage, he would have borne it well. It is life, it is hard, and
there is honor in bearing the pain. I imagine myself as an eleven-
year-old, crying out in confused pain and frustration at my
parents’ divorce, trying to confront the unbearable fact that
my father was an alcoholic. Yet I, too, came from pioneer stock,
and bear it I would have, if given the chance. Even though my
father-in-law and I are many years past these events, the rings
of our growth are still living within us, layered over by a lifetime,
but still an integral part of our daily existence. I wonder how
much wider might those rings have been if we were allowed the
luxury of not being protected, the luxury of facing life’s griefs
head on. But it is difficult for me to find fault, for I know full
well that the protections tendered me during my years have been
offered only in love. I, too, offer such protections not only to my
children, but also to my mother as she ages, and the tenuous role
between child and parent starts to blur.
We are through unloading the car now. My father-in-law enters
the house. As I watch the door shutting solidly behind him,
the thought crosses my mind once again, this time mildly:
“Please, don’t protect me.”

Another Spring

by Amy Harris


Something is wrong. It is blue—somewhere between navy and royal. A couple of teeth are missing, but it still works well. I have never paid so much attention to my comb before, but this morning it suddenly seems immensely important. Important because I can hear people in the kitchen talking, an alien sort of talking—hurried, hushed, and desperate. I have heard that talk somewhere before. I am only sixteen, but I have heard that kind of talking before.

Something is wrong. I leave the bathroom, taking the comb with me, and go into my parents’ bedroom. Their room has a bigger mirror, and besides, it is farther away from the strange talking. I leave the bedroom and meet my sister in the hall. She says three words to me. Something is wrong.

A rock. There is a rock in my stomach, and it is growing, overtaking me, filling me with pain and anger. I can’t stop it, and it finally comes out: I cry. Betsy hugs me and holds my hand. Funny, I don’t remember hugging her for a long time, and I never remember her holding my hand. Why now? Something is wrong, something to do with those three words.

Somehow I have moved into the front room. Betsy is still in the bathroom. Dad and Mom and Alan and Susan are also in the front room. Where is Barbara? Strange, she should be here if Alan and Susan are. Then I remember, and the rock is back in my stomach. Barbara is the something that is wrong. Her name is one of those three words.

Tears, or their memories, hang in the air. Mom hugs me and holds my hand. But she can’t make what’s wrong go away. She knows that, so do I, but we keep hugging and holding hands. I am sitting, and she is standing over me. I can see her dress. It is black with some small white pattern. The pattern seems to be a cross between flowers and butterflies.


The butterflies dance around the spring blossoms on the apricot tree. I love the smell of apricots in spring. I stare at the tree with its blizzard of flowers. I almost forget that I am playing “Hide and Seek.” I remember to come back to the game. I know where my neighbor is hiding. I am just about to look behind the bush where she is hiding behind when I hear the honk. Our car comes speeding out the gravel driveway, Mom and Dad in the front with Barbara in the back. The car heads down the road and quickly moves out of sight. I move towards the bush again.

Someone is yelling my name. It is my sister, Deborah. She tells me to come inside for the night. She has been crying and she is upset. She’s hardly ever upset.

The next day is tense at home. There are hushed conversations. Everybody is edgy, except for Barbara because she isn’t home. I know why she isn’t here: too many pills. Take too many pills, trying to end it all and going to the hospital. Mom and Dad tell me about Barbara’s being in the hospital—too many pills. Only sixteen and too many pills.


Sixteen. I’ll be sixteen this fall. I was ten when I played “Hide and Seek.” I am sixteen now, and I’m not playing anything. It’s spring again, but there are no apricot blossoms. There’s no apricot tree anymore. We moved away from that tree and its flowers. I don’t want apricot blossoms after those three words: “Barbara shot herself.” Three words, six syllables. Six syllables that won’t stop echoing: “Barbara shot herself … Barbara shot herself … Barbara shot herself.” I can still hear those three words. They won’t stop echoing.


I hear the nurse’s footfalls echoing off the walls of the intensive care unit. Her white shoes on the white floor under the white ceiling. Too much white. Not enough color. Not enough life. I’m in Barbara’s room now. I am with Dad and Susan. Susan is crying. She talks to Barbara. Barbara can’t hear. Maybe she won’t hear. Susan still cries. She takes Barbara’s hand and squeezes it. I look at Barbara’s hand. She needs to clip her nails. She needs to wash her fingers. There is blood on the cuticles. Blood. I can’t see the blood anymore for my tears. Dad is silent and controlled. He takes my hand, and we leave the room. We are walking down the hall. We’ve left the white behind. Now we are on light brown carpet. We go to the waiting room. He squeezes my hand and leaves. I can see the wallpaper. It has flowers on it. A few hours ago I liked flowers. Now there are too many of them, too many flowers, and it is too cold. The heater must be broken. It is so cold in here.


It is still cold. I started feeling cold four days ago, and I am still cold. Dad is talking. It’s cold, but the chill isn’t coming from the room. I’m cold, but tears are hot on my cheeks. I can see Barbara’s hand through them. She gestures towards the Kleenex box across the room. Dad keeps talking. I still have tears, but I can see the box. It is covered with flowers and butterflies. I don’t want to think about flowers and butterflies. I look at her hand again. I try to touch it; I just can’t. I once wanted to be just like her, and now I can’t even hold her hand.


“I want to be just like her.”

I’m looking up at Deborah and Susan. They are putting on makeup and brushing their hair. I can feel the cool white tile of the rim of the bathtub beneath my hands and the rich purple rug at my feet. We are getting ready for a birthday celebration. Barbara’s birthday celebration. She is thirteen today. I tell Deborah and Susan that although Barbara is officially a year older, she does not look any different to me than when she was twelve.

“I want to be just like her when I grow up,” I proudly tell them.

“Oh ya do, do ya?” Deborah smiles down at my five-year-old frame.

“Sure. Only I’ll have long hair.”

“Of course.”

Growing up to be like Barbara is my greatest hope, but I don’t think I could give up my long hair for it. I lean back against the rim of the tub again. I feel the refreshing cold of the white. Reveling in thoughts of growing up to be like Barbara, I contentedly put my hands on the cool tub, and dig my toes into the endless depths of purpleness.


The deep purple of the petals shine in the sunlight. I put the flower on the mound. Barbara helps me stamp the dirt around better, and she says a few gentle words. She calms my seven-year old fear of death. Boris had been a good puppy. She explains why all beings, including humans, must die. She helps me understand that dying is not the end. That dying leads to something better. I don’t completely understand, but I feel better. I look down at our dirty, summer-hardened feet. I feel the dirt pushing between our toes. The dirt that covers Boris. It feels warm and pleasant. It makes my feet look black.


The night is black and cool. The crisp autumn air feels good on my face and the football feels slippery in my hands. I hold the ball tighter in the crook of my arm and run. I feel her hands grabbing me and pulling me down, but she is too late. I have already scored the touchdown.

Next we practice offensive patterns. We’ve been working on these for the past year, and at eight years old I feel experienced. She is great at offensive patterns, and she is teaching me everything she knows.

The cool grass tickles my feet and makes me run faster. The rays of our backyard floodlights cast a shadow as we throw the ball back and forth. Our shadows leap and tangle in the light. I can see our shadows together, then apart.

I run back for a pass. I know that I’m going too fast. I trip and fall. I ask Barbara to come help me because my ankle hurts. She jogs over. Before she reaches me, I look up. The floodlights are behind her—glowing. For a moment she pauses, and the lights cast her shadow across me and the lawn. Through the shadow, she puts out her hand and picks me up.


But that was when I was eight; now I am sixteen. Why doesn’t she keep picking me up?


Why? I don’t know. All I know is that there are no more dribbling practices, no more summer evenings playing games, no more watching the sunrise from Bear Canyon, no more lessons on right and left. No more of anything, except pain. Pain and fear. Fear and anger. Anger and guilt. Guilt because of anger. Just guilt remains.

Guilt and talking. Everybody seems so intent on talking. No one will just be quiet and let it disappear. They just keep on talking and asking questions. But I don’t want the answers.


Questions. So many questions. Why did she do it? Why did she let me down? How could she take my hero away? Doesn’t she understand how bad it is? Doesn’t she care about us? Does she hate us? I can’t believe she would let me down. I can’t forgive her. I can’t love

NO! That’s bad. Of course I love her. How can I not? I do love her, but I hate her too. No, I can’t hate her—she’s my sister. No, I can’t hate her. I hate what she did to me, to our parents, to our brothers and sisters. Why did she do it? Why? Why? Why? I don’t want to answer that. I don’t want to think about it or talk about it. Talking takes too much energy and hurts too much.


I am downstairs. Barbara is with me. She is doing her laundry. I am watching television. Barbara asks me a question. I evade it and notice the yellowness of the light bulb. Why can’t they make a pure, clean light bulb? Why yellow? Yellow is so hollow, so decayed. She asks me the question again.

“Mad. Why?” The question makes me cold.

Good, now I’m cold again. Cold is good. Oh no, I’m getting hot. It must be that light bulb and its yellow light. No, it isn’t; it’s tears. No, please not tears again. I hate tears. There have been too many of them over the last six months. I’m mad at the tears.

“Mad. Why?” The question makes me cold.

She has tears also. Hers are pain and love. Mine are anger. I look at the carpet. It is an awful combination of browns and oranges. It looks soiled and deteriorated.

“Mad, you. Why?”

Mad at tears because they are hot. Mad at light bulbs because they are yellow. Mad at you because—sorry. I’m so sorry, so sorry, so sorry. There are even more tears, but they have more pain and love than anger. I’m sorry, sorry, sorry, sor—please no more sorry. Please forgive. Forgive you. Forgive me, please. Please let me say it. “Forgive me, please.”

“Forgive ……. Forgive?”

Through the tears I can see her hand. It’s moving. She takes my hand. I can feel her skin. It’s been so long since I touched her, but I remember the touch and feel of her fingers from so long ago. I remember feeling spring. I remember smelling apricot blossoms. I am smelling apricot blossoms now. She holds my hand. And I hold hers.


Chivalry, Love Physiology and a Reevaluation of Sir Gawain’s Sin

by Daniel Brough  

For most people, Arthurian legends make wonderful bedtime stories: they are full of heroism, courage, romance, and triumph. To me, Sir Gawain and the Green Knight seems to be a different kind of Arthurian legend; in this case, the hero is fearful, conscience-stricken, and persistently seduced by another man’s wife–and chis, in my opinion, just scratches the surface. 

An Introduction to Sir Gawain and the Green Knight

The story goes like chis: during a fairly raucous holiday parry in King Arthur’s court, a mysterious green knight rides in with a dare for anyone brave enough to accept it-the green knight will allow anyone in the court to deal him a blow with a battle axe, as long as the challenger will meet up with the green knight in exactly a year to receive his blow. Sir Gawain bravely steps up to take Arthur’s place at the dare and promptly severs the green knight’s head, only to witness the green knight pick up his head, bid farewell, and walk calmly out of the castle. Bound by his word, Sir Gawain sets off after a year to hold the fateful reunion with the green knight, but on the way he runs into a winter storm and takes refuge in Lord Bercilak‘s castle. The two quickly become friends, and Lord Bercilak makes a deal with Gawain: the two men will exchange whatever they win or otherwise obtain during the day. The deal is soon complicated, however, by the romantic advances of Bercilak‘s wife, who unsuccessfully cries three times to seduce Gawain. At the end of each day, Gawain valiantly bestows upon Lord Bercilak a kiss (representing the one he had received earlier from Lady Bercilak), bur on the third day Gawain receives from the lady a green girdle designed to protect him from any physical harm and, true to his word to the lady, keeps it a secret from the lord of the castle. Upon his meeting with the green knight, Gawain is indeed protected, but is chastened by the knight, who turns out to be Lord Bertilak in disguise, transformed by a spell of the witch Morgan le Fay. The members of Camelot instantly pardon Gawain’s sin, but the reader is left feeling as if Gawain’s sin is still somehow unresolved. 

Most scholarship concerning Sir Gawain and the Green Knight argues that Gawain’s sin, if indeed he did commit one, lies in the withholding of the green girdle from Lord Bertilak. My disagreement with that argument lies in the detail that Gawain attempts repentance before actually lying to Lord Bercilak-but immediately after his third encounter with Lady Bercilak. Gawain does not try to repent after the first two meetings; only after the third. This paper deals with what exactly happened during that third seduction and explains it in the context of prevalent notions of courtly love and Renaissance love physiology. The latter of the two considerably postdates Sir Gawain and the Green Knight, but I assume that Renaissance writers read texts that in turn considerably pre-dated them. 

Traditional scholarship dealing with Sir Gawain and the Green Knight considers Gawain’s sin to be that of withholding the green girdle from Lord Bertilak, thus violating the knightly ideals of honesty and truth. Gawain does, in fact, lie to Lord Bertilak, but this does not constitute the sin of which he repents before meeting the Green Knight. Rather, an analysis contrasting chivalric love and medieval love physiology reveals that Gawain’s true sin is a shocking and unorthodox form of fornication: Gawain’s rejection of Lady Bertilak is, in fact, a paradoxical effort to augment the passion he feels for her-this is the sin which torments Gawain so profoundly. 

The Sin: Gawain’s Wooing of Lady Bertilak

Gawain at first seems to be a passive victim of Lady Bertilak’s advances, but he is actually an active seducer. When Gawain first meets Lady Bertilak, he feels she is even more beautiful than Guenevere (945). Gawain’s attraction does not consist of a pure admiration of beauty; upon being formally introduced to the lady, he takes her “briefly into his arms, / Kisses her respectfully and courteously speaks” (973-74). Later, at a banquet, Gawain and the lady sit together, while her husband goes to sit by the “ancient lady” later revealed as Morgan le Fay. Until this point, Gawain’s actions toward Lady Bercilak are completely conventional; kissing, embracing, and sitting next to one another would probably be normal ways for a lady to associate with a guest. However, the Gawain poet makes reference to attitudes and desires that go above and beyond the norms of hospitality, and all before Lord Bertilak officially awards Gawain his wife as a “charming companionwhile Bertilak is away hunting (1099). For example, he mentions that, during the evening festivities, Each man fulfilled his wishes, / And those two followed theirs” (1018-19). Here, the two are not merely participating in hospitality; they are pairing off and following desires. Furthermore, the Gawain-poet mentions that Gawain and the lady

Found such enjoyment in each other's company,
Through a playful exchange of private remarks,
And well-mannered small-talk, unsullied by sin,
That their pleasure surpassed every princely amusement,
for sure. (1011-15, italics added)

The Gawain-poet, for some reason, deems it necessary to distinguish that the two speak in a non-sinful way; the implication is that they have spoken, or will speak, in a sinful way. At the very least, the Gawain-poet does not consider speaking a purely benign activity. If Gawain is evaluating Lady Bertilak’s beauty, making a conscious effort to be near her, and fulfilling desires with her, then he is not a passive recipient of Lady Bertilak’s advances. While we will later discuss whether or not Gawain’s actual seduction was conscious, the fact remains that Gawain-in a seemingly subtle combination of thought and judgment hidden in propriety-has begun to consider Lady Bertilak as much more than the host’s wife. 


Gawain’s seduction is a complex concoction of words, images, and rhetoric-all components of a magical recipe for love. Before modern times, love was possibly more physiological than emotional and therefore something that could be controlled, inflicted, and diluted at will. In his book Eros and Magic in the Renaissance, loan P. Couliano writes of the physiology expounded in Brunos De vinculis in genere [“Of Bonds in General”], “the goal of Bruno’s erotic magic is to enable a manipulator to control both individuals and crowds” (91). This magic “occurs through indirect contact (virtualem seu potentialem), through sounds and images which exert their power over the senses of sight and hearing” (Couliano 91). Erotic magic, or the magic of love, is essentially a tool of manipulation; the magic spell works through indirect contact through sounds and images-either seeing or hearing a specific thing or combination of things can magically induce love in the one who sees or hears. 

The ancient Greek schools of medicine likewise considered the infliction of love to consist of the interaction of the pneuma and hegemonikon of two people. Members of Empedocles school believed the pneuma to be a blood vapor chat circulated in the arteries, distinct from the blood, which circulated in the veins (Couliano 7). According to Aristotle, the hegemonikon, or “cardiac synthesizer,” “receives all the pneumatic currents transmitted to it by the sensory organs and produced by the ‘comprehensible phantasms’ [phantasia kataieptike] apprehended by the intellect” (9)-a phantasm being a sensory image transformed into, for example, a unit of currency that the intellect can accept. Marsilio Ficino’s explanation of the act of initiating romantic feelings is chis: the pneuma brings to the eyes “thin blood”; love-arrows are later equipped with pneumatic tips and fired, through the eyes, at a target. These arrows will enter the eye and travel down to the heart, or hegemonikon, where severe damage is done. Whether the man is the target or the archer, he is the one injured by the transmission of pneuma in such a manner (29-30). 

Gawain’s seduction of Lady Bercilak employs these aforementioned tactics and physiological principles. The Gawain-poet describes the first formal meeting of the two lovers in terms of images and sounds: first, Gawain greets the elderly companion with a deep bow (thus imparting an image of his chivalric virtues), and then he verbally offers himself as a servant (972-76). Specifically, the Gawain-poet speaks of the hero in terms of his speech: “I chink that those who hear him, / Will learn what love-talk is” (926-27)-it is talk, or the verbal organization of sounds, that defines Gawain’s prowess as a lover. Likewise, Gawain employs Ficino’s physiology of love: the Gawain-poet’s first descriptive phrase of the introduction mentions eyes: “Gawain glanced at chat beauty, who favoured him with a look” (970). That they were exchanging pneumatic glances is undoubtable, since later Lady Bertilak confesses being “wounded in her heart” (1781); the arrows had already entered her eye and registered in the hegemonikon. Furthermore, the Gawain-poet chooses to juxtapose the temptation scenes with scenes of Lord Bertilak’s hunt; in the first two hunt scenes (in accordance with the first two temptation scenes) the hunters use arrows to gather in their prey. The juxtaposition suggests that arrows are also flying between Gawain and Lady Bercilak. In the third hunt, however, the Gawain-poet does not mention archery. Why? 

The third temptation scene is the only time that the Gawain-poet mentions that Gawain is beginning to experience “hot passionate feeling” (1762) in his heart (again, the hegemonikon -Lady Bertilak has also been firing arrows at him). Before this time, the Gawain-poet goes to great lengths to show that their conversations were unsullied by sin, and that Gawain had no interest at all in love due to his impending trial. If Ficino’s physiology is indeed factual, then Gawain must have been physiologically seducing Lady Bertilak, but the possibility exists that, up until this point, it has been inadvertent. Couliano notes that, in the use of magic-manipulation, there is a need to “take account of the subject’s personality for, though there are some people easily influenced there are others who react in an unexpected way to the magic of sound” (91). Gawain’s absence of romantic feeling indicates that he might not have accurately assessed Lady Bertilak’s personality, making his seduction of her accidental. Likewise, his behavior is the same in all three temptation scenes, with the exception of receiving the green girdle, but he confesses only after the third temptation. The girdle, however, cannot possibly be the motivation of the confession in the Green Chapel because, at this point, Gawain has not yet withheld it. The third temptation scene-in the bedroom with Lady Bertilak-must be the scene in which Gawain realizes his inadvertent seduction of Lady Bertilak and instead of suppressing those feelings, accepts them. At this point, rhetorically, the arrows have ceased flying because the damage has already been done; “capture” has already taken place. By not rejecting the passion he feels, Gawain’s inadvertent actions become dangerously purposeful. 


Gawain’s seduction is not unusual behavior for a knight, who was, because of his office, expected to be romantically aggressive. The language Lady Bertilak employs in her seductions is tinged with allusions to the romantic responsibilities of a knight-an aspect of an ideal of the code of chivalry. Just before leaving Gawain after her first round of temptation, Lady Bertilak taunts Gawain by questioning his identity: if he really were the renowned Gawain, he would have asked her for a kiss (1293-1301). In a subsequent visit, Lady Bertilak asks Gawain why someone “So courteous and chivalrous as you are known far and wide– / And of all the aspects of chivalry, the thing most praised / Is the true practice of loveknighthood’s very lore” never utters “a solitary word / Referring to love” (1511-13, 1523-24).’ In these questions, the Gawain-poet introduces the notion of chivalry, with all its implications and responsibilities (it is implied that Gawain might feel social pressure to comply with the lady’s requests), into the relationship between Gawain and Lady Bertilak. 

By mentioning chivalry, Lady Bertilak colors all her dealings with Gawain. Chivalric love is eternally platonic; to consummate it would end it. Obstacles, then, are inherent in chivalry. Denis de Rougemont explains chivalry in the context of the story of Tristan and lseult: the two lovers part repeatedly, yet “not one of the barriers to the fulfillment of their love is insuperableWhen there is no obstruction, they invent one” (37). The story is about the parting of the lovers “in the name of passion, and for love of the very love that agitates them, in order that this love may be intensified and transfigured-at the cost of their happiness and even of their lives” (de Rougemont 37). It is in this aspect that love is often described as a painful business and is illustrated in the relationship between Gawain and Lady Bertilak. At one point, the two discuss “Love’s misery and bliss”(l507); Lady Bertilak’s wounded heart indicates the pain she feels at Gawain’s rebuffs. 

We have shown thoroughly that medieval love physiology manifests itself in much of the diction of the poem, but in order to show that the physiological notions, which considerably postdate Sir Gawain and the Green Knight, constitute a relevant interpretation, it is necessary to demonstrate its link to the chivalric attitudes also present in the poem. Bruno’s vinculum, according to Couliano, are bonds that link one person to another; however, “to maintain the strength of a bond, it must not be enjoyed.” Couliano further observes that Bruno recommends that one be both continent and intensely desirous of the other (101). These notions of unfulfilled desire, in all their possible explicit manifestations, are strongly reminiscent of the courtly love just discussed. In both cases, barriers are erected to intensify and preserve affection, at least in an erotic sense. Thus when we refer to courtly love and Renaissance physiology, we are, at least by my definition, referring to the same thing; both therefore serve as a useful heuristic in evaluating the events of the third temptation scene, in spite of differences in date. 

De Rougemont’s comments on chivalry illustrate an important, yet subtle, point: the barriers to love serve to intensify and transfigure the passion. The relationship between Gawain and Lady Bertilak is already fraught with barriers-Gawain’s impending reunion with the Green Knight, Gawain’s knightly code that forbids him to consummate the relationship, and Lady Bertilak’s marriage (though that doesnt seem to stop her much)-but the addition of obstacle to obstacle actually serves to augment the passion. Since it is clear that Gawain purposefully rejects Lady Bertilak, his intention is not to quell the lady’s passionate overtures, but to nourish them. His complete acceptance of Lady Bertilak comes at the end of the third temptation scene when, realizing his passion for her, Gawain acts to augment the passion rather than resist it. His sin, then, is sexual: by acting to augment the passion he feels for Lady Bertilak, Gawain “covets his neighbor‘s wife” and violates the trust placed in him by Lord Bertilak

It must be borne in mind that it is only after the third temptation the temptation in which passion finally wells up in his heart-that Gawain begins to fear for the state of his soul: he goes to confession to learn 

How his soul could be saved when he leaves this world. 
There he confessed himself honestly and admitted his sins, 
Both the great and the small, and forgiveness begs, 
And calls on the priest for absolution. (1879-82) 

As previously mentioned, Gawain at this point has not yet withheld the green girdle from Lord Bertilak, so the withholding cannot be the sin of which Gawain here tries to repent. Though for different reasons, Robert Goltra notes that “Gawain is obviously in a state of sin” at the end of the third temptation scene, and “The fact that he has not yet physically withheld the girdle from Bertilak nor lied by omission concerning his possession of it does not alter his situation”; Gawain’s “disposition” pre vents his confession in the green chapel from being valid, Goltra’s concept of “sins,” “dispositions,” and their results differs slightly from my interpretation, but the idea is the same: Gawain’s sin lies in his heart, as he has turned it over to another lover. 


Although at first an accident, Gawain uses the psychology and physiology of love to seduce Lady Bertilak; by rejecting her advances, Gawain actually augments the passion between them by erecting a barrier to their love. The fact that Gawain’s greatest sin lies with him in the bedroom illustrates a new direction in Gawain studies. 

¹James Winny observes that the Gawain-poet is unusually cultivated and well acquainted with the literature of courtly manners and ideals(xi); he likewise notes that the French romance is a likely source of the temptation plot (xiii). Sir Gawain and the Green Knight, therefore, fits into a specific chivalric context, influenced by the French (de Rougemonr 7591). 


Couliano, loan P. Eros and Magic in the Renaissance. Trans. Margaret Cook. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1987. 

De Rougemont, Denis. Love in the Western World. Trans. Montgomery Belgion. Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1983. 

Goltra, Robert. “The Confession in the Green Chapel: Gawains True Absolution.” Emporia State Research Studies 32.4 (1984): 11. 

Sir Gawain and the Green Knight. Ed. and trans. James Winny. Peterborough, Ontario: Broadview Press, 1992. 

Winny, James. “Introductionto Sir Gawain and the Green Knight. Ed. and trans. James Winny. Peterborough, Ontario: Broadview Press, 1992. 

I am indebted to Richard Duerden, whose English 495 class furnished me with ample material on courtly love and Renaissance physiological ideas (and for whose class chis paper was written), and to Paul Thomas, whose introduction to Sir Gawain and the Green Knight, as well as his helpful comments at the symposium, molded the paper into what it is today and hopefully will carry it to what it might become.


by Shauna Lee Eddy


Raconteur, he says.

Because I like words, he says raconteur expecting me to know. I don’t, and this amuses him. He laughs as he eats the black beans and rice on his plate. Next to the salad, I like the beans and rice best. The Torch’s Bar-B-Q chicken isn’t all I expected.

Raconteur has become his game of withholding, and he laughs at his own game.

I automatically laugh with him because he has always been funny. But I stop laughing because now I understand. It is funny not because it is a joke; it is funny because it is a game. I wonder if everything I’ve laughed at before has also been a game. Only later do I learn raconteur means storyteller.

I am surprised that he and I have become friends. He brings the stories he writes to my house. I wonder why he tells me these stories. Rather than ask, I silence my curiosity; I enjoy the time and the stories.

His story intrigues and warms me. I ask questions and I listen to the many stories that constitute his story. These stories, they are Cardstonisms—he knows them all and tells me some. For some reason I laugh hardest at “Saaaaaahh.” He and his friends say this when something is silly-too silly to be laughed at, really. I think it is funny. When he is with his friends and I am watching, they tell the same Cardston stories over and over. Laughing deep belly laughs every time.

I say, You should record these stories; you are a great storyteller. We are lounging in my bedroom when I tell him this. We are laying side by side on the bed. Not touching. He says, You know every thing there is to know about me now; you record them.

He turns over on his stomach and continues to tell stories.

This time the stories are about Holland-about the old man he met there. And he tells me the story about his accident there. It was the only time he’s every really been sick.

Another night it is elementary schools. He tells me how much the Black Foot Indian children from the reservation just outside Cardston touch him—how much their situation saddens him. He helps them and he reads to them. Because we saw Dances with Wolves, he tells me these stories as he drives his tan Jimmy 4X4 to my house.

While he tells me the Indian stories, I think I want to tell him my story as he tells me his—meshing and intertwining. I try. He listens and watches, inevitably writing bits and pieces. His voice feels familiar, natural. Does he understand his voice harmonizes with mine? Does he know he writes part of my story? I am nervous. I can’t let him know; if he knows he may take his voice away.

I say to my far-off self, Of course you are nervous—there has never been reason to trust. This is different. I promise.

Why do I always tell myself it will be different? My friends say they do the same thing. I wonder why.

Sunday night in Denny’s. ZZZZZZ: Vulcan mind meld, he says over hash browns and ice-cream. We are talking about Italian cinema. I laugh, taking hope and pleasure in our connection, in our melding. Part of me is really happy. I think it is enough of me.

Soon, I let the warmth of him envelop me.

Another night, I laugh my real laugh—my laugh-from-the gut-laugh—with little hesitation. We are sitting on the couch in my living room watching TV—probably CNN Sports. We always watch that now.

He winks at me from under his red corduroy cap. A hockey cap. I don’t know hockey. I have never even seen part of one game. But that’s okay, he says. He smiles at me from under this same cap. I tell him I like his smile and he smiles more. We run about the living room taking and giving the basketball. In a tumble, I bruise my right knee. I don’t care. He loves basketball.

It is his smile that makes me let go of fear a few weeks later. I think it is time to let go. I give fear to him to keep—to keep from me. I do not give it as I would give a gift. It is not a gift, in the usual gift sense. My trust is the gift, but fear is larger right now. Fear is trust’s packaging. I think he hides fear from me. I hope he puts fear in a safe place I cannot ever find.

But he does not understand what I have done with fear. And I do not tell him. I want him to know. But he does not know how much fear I have entrusted to him. This leaves fear angry and alone. My fear fights back with more power than I knew it had.

Sometimes we drive around in the Jimmy 4×4. One Wednesday night he can tell I am nervous; he doesn’t say anything—but he senses it. It makes him nervous, but out of deference to my feelings he is silent. Now we are both nervous: I am eternally the architect of walls. They are nice, elaborate; sometimes they have graffiti inscribed, sometimes porcelain; sometimes they inscribe me; but always they are thick and cold.

We are watching TV one Friday night in December after eating at Carousel. At first, it is normal. We are watching CNN Sports. Then he turns off the TV set to talk.

This he has never done.

Nothing, not even my own body, seems near me. Fragmenta tion. I can’t touch, see, or hear anything clearly. Fuzz. That’s what I sense. I see, hear, feel, and say fuzz. When I am like this, people think I am talking to them, touching them. But I can’t hear or feel them or me. I am on automatic pilot; I am not really there or anywhere. I am far away.

He speaks of eroticism, of intimacy—its elusivity. He says, Intimacy never makes sense. You can’t determine who you will be intimate with. It just happens or doesn’t happen. I think he is explaining why, though we spend all our time together, we will never really spend all our time together. He thinks I expect some thing more than he expects. In a way, it is true. I don’t expect more. But I want more.

He speaks of loneliness and pain. As if I don’t understand. As if I don’t know them more intimately than he does. As if I didn’t hand them (I can do this because they are parts of me) to him for my safekeeping. Maybe they are new to him and he wants to tell me. But I already know. Maybe in the newness he dropped them and they came back to me for real safekeeping. Or maybe he already knows, too, and is giving them back to me because he already has too much. There are no more hiding places.

He speaks and his words float beyond me. I can’t find them; I don’t hear them. I just see him giving them to me. No. I see him launching them at me. Now he is distant enough to launch words in my direction.

I don’t see some of them, and they sneak up at erratic intervals. I feel them and they hurt. I can’t keep track of them.Too many come at me for me to watch all of them. I think I will cry, but they keep coming.

Crying isn’t enough. Crying isn’t what fear demands. Crying is too easy, says fear. My tears stop trying to come and the pain penetrates fully. Only then do the words stop coming. Because pain has penetrated, the words stop surprising me-they lose their significance.

As his words fade, everything (actually THE big thing that controls all else) comes back, more horrifying because I know I will tell him-because I trust him enough to tell him. I feel I must tell him ifl trust him-if we are going to ever be “we.”

I can see him talking to me, but I don’t know what he is saying.

To console myself amidst his words, I tell myself that I won’t really tell him. I will not tell him of the white-haired man in the dusty blue overalls who first had his way with me. I won’t mention the weight, the smells. I won’t tell him I was nine and that I have been alone ever since. I will not tell him that my nine-year-old self is still there. I will not tell him how blue overalls make her tremble, even though I know differently. Blue overalls can hurt her-they do hurt her. Every night. Nor will I tell him about the greasy black hair and the foreign sounds at sixteen. I won’t tell him that in a Lisbon city park these things also had their way. I will not tell him I am still sixteen-the me who is sixteen is terrified of travel, of change, and of daylight and parks.

I think that telling him even one detail would be too much. I think telling him all would kill him. He is too sensitive for that horror. I will protect him from the harsh reality, but I will let him know reality. I am too sensitive, too. But I am no longer. Only fragments of me exist. Independently-apart from each other, only occasionally bumping into one another. And it is my parts that will protect him.

I will tell him. Not the details. But I will tell him.

Before I tell him, we are opposite each other. He has just turned off the TV.

Because he asks, I try to tell him about what I want to do and what I think I must do. I say, You see, I have to go out there and help them-those who are like me. But I am too afraid. This fear makes me a failure.

He doesn’t respond. He is silent, which makes me more nervous. He is never silent like that. Finally he says, you have an irrational fear. I know you up to that fear, but beyond that I do not know you until you tell me about this fear.

I tell him.

And I think that in his sensitivity he understands. I think I have found someone who understands. I think, This me is no longer alone. I think, I can come back. I think, I can end this schizophrenia, this fragmentation, of I and me and my many parts. Because of this, I relax. I break down—almost in a frenzy—the thick wall I have so carefully crafted. Frantically, I pull and tug at the bricks.

Perhaps in my frenzy I didn’t really see.

You can make a difference here—for those really like you, he says.

Don’t give up hope, he says.

I like hearing this from him. I think he understands me. (But now he looks at me oddly when the topic comes up-and he always brings it up. What can this mean?)

Don’t give up hope, he says again.

But he takes my hope with him. We exchange hope and fear. Does he know this?

And he has lost me. He now talks to and relies on the me who is not me. Does he know this?

Enough, enough, enough. Now I will just listen.

Because telling him has made all the difference, I take refuge in listening, in an outward silence. I pull back from the language that is not me. Inside, I attach myself to music. Not to music generally. There is no swelling symphony of sound. Nothing that dramatic. It is a deceptively simple piece I hear in my gut.

Rachmaninoff wrote this piece that speaks to me as no other music speaks to me. He calls it Vocalise. Though vocalise is not even a word in English, it is powerful; maybe it is even more powerful than fear is. Vocalise in French means voice exercise; however, Rachmaninoff’s Vocalise is a voice ascending and descending scales, but the scales are turned upside down, twisted, set aright, changed, undermined, and presented. And it is piano music, notes, intertwining with the voice and its scales.

The beauty of Vocalise begins to encompass me, making me part of its art. I think he is talking to me, but I cannot tell. Maybe I am even talking to him. But I only know Vocalise right now. Vocalise captures my pain and the pain becomes Vocalise. But it does not become an exercise. It runs too deeply for mere exercise. Vocalise becomes notes without words—a voice no one can understand. It becomes notes that penetrate and hurt like his words. I both want to hear and don’t want to hear it more. It is me. Its fragments are my fragments. It is the me that hurts and cries. It is me. I try to take pleasure in knowing me. I hear it again. Over and over. It is inevitable.

I am just listening now. No, I am doing more than just listening. We are braiding—this music and I.

The voice and the notes intertwine, mix, move in and out of each other-almost like a game, but too connected to really be a game. The intertwining, the mixing and moving is smooth. Right now it is languid. Because it has made me part of its art, because it has encompassed me, I complete the braid of voice, notes and me: Vocalisesque. We move in and out, up and down, penetrating and then leaving behind everything but ourselves.

I am sitting on the couch we used to share. He is sitting on the tan chair across from me. The TV is off. We talk. Actually, he talks. He cries and I believe in his soul. Maybe I even believe his soul. I try to listen, I try to pay attention, but Vocalise pounds louder in my mind, forcing everything into the background. The notes use their power and take over. I let them enter. They are familiar. We begin the braid within me now. The languid movement increases in tempo. My fragmented soul weaves its way in and out of the notes and the voice.

He is still talking about intimacy. I wish he were Sixo and would say, “It’s good, you know, when you got a woman who is a friend of your mind.” I wish he would believe that. Though it is true, it will disappear before it reaches his mind. I wish that he would believe these words so that he would say them.

But that is fiction. The world-as-it-should-but-never-will-be.

He says, Everyone needs intimacy, but intimacy isn’t right between everyone. He means, You are not attractive enough for me. Or maybe he even means, You are not attractive at all to me. I wonder if telling him what I have told him makes it this way. But it is definitely an issue of attraction.

I wonder how women might speak of being and failing to be sex objects. I wonder why we haven’t really tried to honestly tell our stories of failure and success. The truth of our stories has never been told-the truth of our stories remains shrouded. We don’t speak of it as women. Women, if they spoke ofit as women, would not allow it, would become indignant. But we don’t speakofitaswomen. We only feel it. I think if we spoke ofit, if we told our stories, we would no longer fail. But we continue to fail-even in our success, we fail. But we fail more in our failures.

Sex objects. Pathetically, wrongly, but undeniably, my life is reduced to objectivity of the sexual sort. I fail, undeniably, inevita bly, here. No success can compensate for failure of objectivity of the sexual sort. The mind merely accessorizes objectivity of the sexual sort. All minds are accessories. Well, all female minds are accesso ries. Male minds are the essence. Sometimes, the female mind is too loud and takes away from this brutal objectivity. Objectivity of the sexual sort, that is.

He is crying.

I don’t want him to hurt, but mostly I don’t want him to take any more of me with him. Ironically, I want fear back. He doesn’t deserve it. He doesn’t need to hurt. I can take his hurt and fit it to mine, add it to mine.

I tell myself, He hasn’t hurt me; I have hurt me. I’ve decided I am the only one who can hurt me because I befriended fear. I have no option to believe otherwise. If other people can hurt me, they will. If it is fear, then I am part of it, and people have no control when I am paired with fear.

The weaving of my Vocalisesque braid enters the range between G below middle C and E above middle C. Minor sounds. The voice opens, the notes plummet. My fragments race in and out, up and down.

I let go of imposed order, letting the invaders just speak, let them continue the braid: Who would you pick for me which one should I take out something must be wrong me I can tell she likes me he can tell I like him too I stayed awake all night thinking of sex it’s an obsession my hand still smells like Susan I’m a physical person your hair-it’s nice I like it I like it I like it it’s beautiful you’re cute with your hair like that sometimes you’re really silly-can I say that? (you did) sure, I am silly sometimes can I come over tonight she’s cute maybe my brain as accessory overstepped its bounds I can’t find his words but I feel them they are more familiar than I am they become bitter-sweet

Talking like this-it helps, but it is not enough. It is musical, but it is not enough. Music can only approach-not reach-me now, unless it is Vocalise. It would seem that Rachmaninoff, a man, has taken over. He won’t let anyone else near enough to help. He, too, laughs at his power. A musical game. Everything is a game to laugh at.

But Rachmaninoff doesn’t control-he can’t take over. I have heard Vocalise many times on many instruments. But it is not Rachmaninoff who controls: it is a woman’s voice using his notes and intertwining with me that controls now. The braid equals power and control.

When I go home to Lakewood, the women at church say, I like your hair-it’s cute. Now if you just lost weight, cleared up your face, hid your brain [maybe forever?], acted like a girl, dressed like a girl, and giggled like a girl, your life would be perfect; you would have a man.

Would that make my life perfect?

I am thinking about these women while he cries in his chair across from my couch. I am registering another failure in their goals for me.

I try to remember why he started crying.

The first thing I ever remember him saying to me is, I am deeply affected by your voice.

I am deeply affected that he heard my voice, because I did not think my voice would affect anyone. I think, he must hear the voice of my soul. This I like.

I remember the time he told me he liked my voice. I wanted to show some of my dinner guests my house, but he grabbed my arm and said, You have a nice voice. I didn’t know what to say, so I said nothing. I responded with my eyes, but sometimes my eyes speak a different language and people don’t understand.

I tried to say something, but I didn’t say anything, just, Do you want to see my house? That isn’t really anything. It is not something I would say ifl were going to say something.

From his chair across from me, he says, I like you a lot.

He cries harder. I tremble more.

He says, I don’t want to lose you. I rely on you for so much.


I want to rely on him. I have always thought friendship and reliance are mutual things. I think, since I want to rely on him, I have to rely on him.

And I try to rely on him.

I tell him.

I tell him about the men, I tell him about the pain. Still, I did not give him details. I try to hide that, even from myself. It is after I tell him that he asks me, that he says, What do you think of me? I cannot answer first because I do not know how, and second because I cannot forget the dusty blue overalls and the greasy black hair.

He says, What are you thinking? What do you think of me?

I say, I think you are nice; I think you are wonderful…

No. That is not what I meant. That is not what I meant at all.

(It is, however, what he said. He said, What do you think of me?) I have to remind myself to keep myself.

I meant, What do you think of us?

He makes me make the first move. He forces it, though I don’t think he meant it to be this way. How could he know? And I don’t understand that I was forced until later. I can’t answer because I am too afraid. No one has ever bothered to ask me before. I can’t answer: I don’t know how to talk-I forget all syllables, letters, and sounds. Something hidden deep answers. Something over which I have no control, but that takes over for me when I forget where I am. I am too busy trembling. I want to say, “Do you dare to eat a peach?” I am momentarily and slightly amused at my own allusion.

I begin the trembling, and this time I can’t stop. I curl my legs up and try to wrap my arms around me. They don’t go all the way around. In the stories he writes, he would probably explain my inability to hug myself with Physics. Physics is a subject very important to him, I think. Despite the laws of Physics, I need my arms to go all the way around. I hear Vocalise pounding stronger penetrating deeper. The braiding stops, and I unite with the voice.


I need someone to hold me, even if it is me. I am the only one who will. Am I the only one who can? But I can’t. I try as hard as I can, but I can’t.

I suddenly feel more alone than I have ever felt outside of the night terrors-the night terrors of blue overalls and greasy hair. It is the same distance and muted sounds that surround, invade, and haunt, but this time they are stronger, distancing me even more. Fragmenting me even more. This loneliness lingers, echoing; it blends with the voice and notes of Vocalise. The more intricate braiding begins, accumulating more power in its intricacy.

I believe his tears. I really believe his tears.

But then he says, Thanks for an enlightening evening. What can he mean? Doesn’t he know how I felt all along? What has been revealed? What have I revealed? I cannot distinguish the revelations I have obviously made.

The me who is not me says, No, thank you.

For what? Why did I say that? Why did I thank him? Why did I say everything is okay when nothing is okay?

After the heart-to-heart in front of the silent TV, I tell my friends I still believe in him-I tell myself and I tell him. He cares. I know that he cares. But he cares his way. I do not know and I do not understand his way. I want to ask, but I am too afraid. He does not explain. Maybe he does not explain because he does not see the need to explain.

Because he tells me he doesn’t want to hurt me, I tell him he can’t hurt me because he doesn’t want to. It is the last words we really say to each other. Everything else that comes later will be periph eral-a game we both engage in. I am good at this game. I know it well. All too well.

The next day, I think, Of course, I should be healed. I should encourage him in his womanizing fantasies; they are to be expected, they are normal and a friend would. I find this reasoning powerful.


Powerful enough that I try.

He drives my roommate to the airport. On the way, he tells her we are better friends after our heart-to-heart. Was his heart there? Ifl believe his tears, it was there. But then, ifl believe his tears, my heart was there, too. My heart was there at first. But later, my heart was trembling, far from his.

Do I still believe his tears? Do his tears acknowledge my heart or his heart? I don’t think it can be both. But I think I still believe his tears, though I don’t know what they mean. I do not even know how or why I still believe. Do I believe because I think I am supposed to?

Two days later, he comes over to tell me about who he wants to seduce. I should be numb to his biting humor about sex, though he knows I don’t understand—though he now knows why I don’t understand. He even knows why it not only confuses me, but also why it scares me and makes my nights worse. Though we continue our conversation, knowing silences him for a time. I have never seen him silent like that. I think it is because it hurts him that I am afraid. Is this why intimacy won’t work?

Despite myself, despite my nights, I should play along. It is always expected by those who don’t know. Sometimes it is expected more by those who do know. They think, Telling me should dismiss the pain, should dismiss fear; telling me, especially me, should be enough. Everything should be okay now. The fragments should be permanently in place now. They think, Even the cracks between the fragments should be healed-invisible.

Do they really believe this?

I should play along. I tell myself over and over: I should play along.


The dreams, the night terrors, come back. They are more powerful. Because I told him? No. Inevitably it all becomes one again. I can never displace or decenter it because it is everything. I am alone, and I crouch.

Sometimes loneliness can’t be explained. You can’t say, I feel alone; I feel lonely. That is not what deep loneliness is. Deep loneliness comes when people are around you, even talking to you, but you can’t be there-you are far away and can barely hear yourself. You definitely can’t hear others. Just yourself. Barely.

The night terrors bring this loneliness: their loneliness that wanders around me, finding me at every turn. A loneliness that mutes the sounds I must hear to be with people, to be part of people, for people to be part of me. A loneliness that pushes everyone and everything away from me-so that they cannot hear this loneliness roaming and wandering inside of me.

My repetition of loneliness begins weaving through the Vocalise braid, making it even more intricate and powerful. I want someone else to join this braid-to hear and feel its beauty-but they must know of the braid. And it is too hard for others to hear the footsteps I can barely hear.

At The Torch, we talk about loneliness. I think he understands, and this makes me sad.


It is a deadly serious game we laugh at. It is a deadly serious game he has created. But I think it is only deadly for me. Despite the intricate braid I have weaved, it is deadly for me-maybe because he is part of the braid. For him, it is just a game to make you laugh nothing more and nothing less.

Raconteur. Yes, he may be a raconteur, but he doesn’t know this story, can’t tell this story.


He laughs.