yesterday; dear child, you watched the worst of man wrap their fingers around your fragile neck. watched them extract ichor of the damned and inject it into your skin. little girl, their stained lips mocked, know your place.
today; dear child, the skies are singing for the end of chalk lines drawn by man. heavy clouds roar for freedom, reverberating inside your chest. rise, they cry in weather-worn voices, for a new day shall come.
tomorrow; dear child, wait until the sun rises again, hold your breath until light flecks green grass, clear waters shimmer, songbirds of spring chirp, until the faces of man are wet with the joy of justice for all.
Anger in Women a photo essay by grace miller-trabold, class of 2021
16/03/1968 (the mute: willow, willow, willow)
So. Another day has passed and so—the sky. It is dark and blue-black, and there are small flashes of white. He looks south, opposite the North Star (Polaris) and the trees clear above his head just so, parting on both sides of the river at his feet (more of a stream, really; it is thin and flooded with moonlight (—sunlight? it is the sun’s light, not the moon’s) and its sound is not deafening: it is tumbling water and flat, weathered rocks and air that cannot make up its mind whether to be warm or cool.). So he lies between the stream and the stars, and he thinks because he has not done so for a long time and because no one seems to do so anymore, but mainly because there is nothing else to do.
Years ago, (Five? Ten? Fifteen? Perhaps even a few hundred —the stars look the same after so long.) he sat on the small, wooden boat his father had made (he always thought it was falling apart), the one with the left side that was half a meter longer than the right and the splitting oars, (those were, indeed, falling apart) and his brother pointed to the sky (it was dark, save for the lantern sitting between them on the floorboards) and traced two invisible lines between a handful of random stars, one vertical and one horizontal from where they sat, and said, That one is Cygnus, see? and proceeded to draw the lines again with his broken left index finger. Of course he did not see; it was not something that could be explained with speech and faltering hand motions. He had to understand it naturally, without being prompted. But he nodded because that was the socially acceptable thing to do, and his brother said, It’s a swan, and he wanted to know why that had not been explained to him earlier, as it most certainly would have helped. (He tried not to curse old, dead, (—rotting?) Greek men who he’d never met before for making up shapes amidst the dark of the night, shapes he could not see, shapes that did not exist.) So he said, What about something more interesting? and his brother looked shocked. That is interesting. It’s my favorite one. And he shrugged and leaned over the choked wood of the boat and stared into the river, this river, and wondered what could possibly be interesting about empty blue space and the swan floating through it.
He finds it easily. It is one of the only ones he can see, the rest shrouded by shadowy clumps of leaves. He traces it with his eyes, and tries to imagine a bird there —it would be flying away from him so he stops trying to imagine it. But he thinks about it and why his brother liked it so much.
(Swans, pure and good and (gone?). Oh, not all of them, but a good handful. (More than that: hundreds. Five hundred. More?) Everything is gone at some point in time, even stars. He wonders: if stars eventually burn out, what of the constellations? (What of the swan?) And: why do horrible things always happen to everything that’s good? (Why do horrible things always happen to everything?) He imagines the universe as a river, and someone in a boat swaying on the water, fishing rod in hand.)
So that’s why.
He’s only ever seen a swan at the zoo, years ago, back when they still had money. It was thin, white but dirtied, and so still that he didn’t know if it was asleep or dead. (He dimly wondered if there was a difference, trapped behind those unyielding metal bars. He said as much to his mother. She gave him a quizzical look and said in that heavy dialect (that sounded like her throat was half-full with water that she was unwilling (unable?) to swallow), They can fly, you know. (He did not know. He had never seen a swan before.) So why don’t they? Her gaze turned sad. She said, Let’s have lunch. He looked back and willed the swan to open its eyes and fly away, but the bird continued to sleep.) (He hoped it was still alive.)
He sits up and plucks a blade of grass and splits it in half and throws it into the stream and looks at the sky reflected on the surface (like the old mirror his grandmother had next to her bed, wavy and rusted, the one he shattered after she-- (why why why whywhywhywhy?) it is burnt now, anyway. Liquid glass.) and wishes he could reach into the water, pick up the stars like they are glowing orbs, rearrange them so the swan is flying up, away from the earth (and perhaps he would keep one or two for himself, just so he can have something).
by gabe miller-trabold, class of 2020
To Kill a Soul Modeled After: Ray Bradbury, “The Veldt”
by nathan yoon, class of 2020 The girl lay in the shade beneath the tree, asleep. It was a perfect day; the temperature was exactly 74 degrees Fahrenheit, and there was a gentle breeze coming from the southwest.
The girl opened her eyes.
There were no clouds in the blue sky, and the sun shone brightly as she walked out of the shade. Off in the distance she could see a small village on the horizon.
What a perfect day.
She did not know why she was here; in fact, she did not remember anything at all. It felt as if she was just born, as if she had just came into this world. But that did not matter. All that mattered was that she was happy.
The man sat at his desk, quickly typing away at his keyboard. He was one of the programmers, tasked with the creation of a game. The deadline was quickly approaching, but there were still bugs remaining within the code, and he had to get rid of them before release.
“Hey, are you almost done yet? The deadline’s this Friday!”
“I’m working, I’m working…”
“By the way, there seems to be problems with the characters. I’ve heard news that some of the testers are complaining that some of the NPCs* aren’t behaving like they’re programmed to.”
“Alright, I’ll take a look at that.”
The man returned to work at his desk. On his computer, he brought up a window that had an image of a field on it. He started looking through the log beside the window, which seemed to be full of code.
Sheesh… what a long day. What’s this about the NPCs? Nothing too big of a problem, I hope.
The man had a puzzled expression on his face. His eyebrows furrowed. He stared at a girl in the field, then gazed back at the log.
You don’t belong there…
He quickly scribbled a note on a nearby sheet of paper. “NPC number 534 does not seem to act properly. Check code, and fix mistakes. May be a issue with the A.I. programming.”
The man decided to do an experiment. In the log he quickly typed System.Test534.talkwith(“Hello there.”);
The girl was walking towards the village, perhaps there was nothing better to do besides relax in the field. The sun shone, the breeze blew, the temperature remained at 74.
The girl was startled. There was no one nearby who could have talked to her. Where did this voice come from? “Who’s there?”
“...You can’t see me. But I can see you. You can call me… “Player”.”
“Uhhh… Player? Can you tell me where I exactly am right now? I don’t seem to remember anything…”
“I see. You don’t remember, huh? I guess that’s reasonable, since you were created 15 minutes ago.”
The girl seemed to be completely in a state of bewilderment. “Created? What do you mean?”
“Your name is NPC #534. Basically, you’re an A.I. program. Short for ‘artificial intelligence’.”
“...What?! I’m obviously more than just a simple program. I mean, I’m in a field right now! I don’t know who you are, but you’re crazy.”
She continued towards the village, except the expression of confusion and worry remained on her face.
The voice from beyond continued. “You’re the result of our experiments on how to create a realistic NPC capable of making advanced decisions. However, it seems as if you have developed a consciousness of your own, which wasn’t really intended for us.”
The girl slowly started to panic. “First of all, I’m not an A.I.; I’m a human being, just like you are. Actually, I’m not sure if you even exist; you’re just a talking voice inside my head! …Besides, what’s wrong with having a consciousness?”
“It… causes many problems. It gives you the power to disobey and be beyond our control.”
“So how should these “NPC”s like me behave like?”
“...Why don’t you head on over to the village? There are quite a few good candidates for ideal behavior there.”
She was close enough to the village to see a few people working outside. Partly curious and partly frightened to see what she’ll discover, she slowly walked towards the workers.
She walked up to one of them. “Hello…do you know where I am? I must have gotten lost…” The man was a farmer, tilling the soil. Yet his movements did not seem natural; they seemed eerily mechanical. The man looked up. His eyes were glazed.
“HELLO THERE. I SEEM TO BE LOW ON TOMATO PLANTS. IF I CAN NOT FIND TOMATOES BEFORE THE WINTER MY FAMILY WILL STARVE. CAN YOU FIND 50 TOMATO SEEDS FOR ME? YOU CAN FIND SOME IN THE MARKET TO THE WEST.”
The man’s voice sounded strangely mechanical, as if it was the result of a voice synthesis program. The girl was shocked to hear such a strange voice from this man.
She decided to head over to the marketplace to check if other people were like this. In front of her was a market vendor, selling all sorts of vegetables. His eyes were glazed.
The girl decided to do an experiment.
She went up to him and greeted him, like she did to the other man. “Hello.”
“HELLO. I SELL VEGETABLES. WOULD YOU LIKE TO BUY? OR SELL?”
Despite his oppressive initial reaction, she continued. “Not to sound intrusive or anything, but how was your day today?”
The mechanical response returned. “WOULD YOU LIKE TO BUY? OR SELL?”
She started to feel something deep in her heart, something frightening.
She held up three fingers on her right hand. “How many fingers am I holding up right now?”
“WOULD YOU LIKE TO BUY? OR SELL?”
The feeling of discomfort grew. She shuddered. Suddenly, she reached over the counter and stole a few carrots that were there, and started to run away. Please, notice… Say something different… I don’t care if you’re angry, or frightened… just show some emotional response!
“WOULD YOU LIKE TO BUY? OR SELL?” The mechanical words echoed in her head. She started to cry. Is this what I was supposed to be? Some kind of emotionless robot?
The voice from beyond returned. “You see? That is what NPCs are. They may not be as perfect as I wished, but they do what they’re programmed to do. You, on the other hand…”
The man wondered why he was doing this, why he was talking to her. Why am I spending so much time explaining everything to it? It’s just a program––it’s not even alive.
“...I’m sorry, but you must be eliminated.”
He went to the log and started to type some code.
The girl sensed her impending doom. She started to scream. “What are you doing? No, please don’t! I don’t deserve this… I have a life! A soul! Can you please––”
He pressed ENTER.
“… … …” Suddenly, the expressions of panic and fear contorting her face vanished. The eyes of the girl dulled, as if her very soul left her.
“…Hello, Player. Welcome to the land of Terra Artificium. I will teach you the controls of this game.”
The man sighed, then said out loud, “...Sorry. It creates complications for the player, that’s all.”
He saved his progress, then quit. It had been a long day for him. He would drive home, then perhaps play with his children, have dinner, then go to bed.
*NPC: stands for non-player character.
by dana blatte, class of 2022
by chloe nguyen, class of 2022
The trash didn’t try hiding nestled in the cracks of the linoleum. The dirt, crumbs, and that mysterious liquid no one bothered to look at or bother to clean. You could see the grime, the things we no longer wanted, and so we discarded and neglected them with the floors.
Leave it to next week, they’d say. Later, like a pestering Monday-morning alarm. No one wanted their mind drawn to the floors, so when it finally came to cleaning them, nothing budged. Nothing changed. Not so much an accessory as it was for functionality. Besides, they would be in our past once we left that house, once we left that house for good.
“Tile,” If you could even call it that. Some moron thought they could melt a million elastic bands, pour them towards their feet, and it would constitute a floor. Sure, maybe it wasn’t elastic. At least it felt like that. Used, old, and almost rubbery if it were a particularly humid day.
In an all-Asian family like mine, you’re an outsider if you can’t see your socks the moment you step in the house. Maybe you thought the floors would be cleaner this way than otherwise. No thanks. I’d rather sleep on the grass than on the linoleum. I mean, my immune system probably had a better chance out there anyways.
Before we got here, before there were these newer floors, my parents brought me up on muddy, off-white “tiles” senior to them. At our old house, I grew used to hearing my clammy feet peel off the ground, where I’d always receive new “treasures” clinging to the pads.
You wouldn’t find anything pretty if you looked down. Frankly, the floors were ugly and an eyesore. I wanted to abandon them and all those things I tolerated stepping on. I wanted to liberate my toes of the strange goo melding them together. Go somewhere I didn’t have to sleep with three other people in a room. Somewhere without those hideous, linoleum floors.
Since we had moved, I figured I had graduated from the sticker residue on the ground and beneath my feet. Perhaps I’d be through not knowing what was in that crack of linoleum I stepped on. No more washing off the smell of perspiration and fish sauce so germs wouldn’t invade my bed. No more wishing for more than I had.
But even beyond the threshold, there would be more.
A decade of my life passed and my feet were still marred with dirt. All of ours were. We trailed our caked heels around the house, walking on beds of memories from floor to floor. It took a decade until I retired from linoleum.
a photo essay by chloe nguyen, class of 2022
Leave the Brothers Be
by tanya zhou, class of 2020
As if Mother Nature herself delicately placed these three brethren diamonds on the deep, dark blue blanket of the night sky. The belt of Orion, formed by those three stars, fastened to the shape they must form to. The three brothers Alnitak, Alnilam, and Mintaka are so diffident; they seem to hide their true luminosity, revealing only a sprinkle of their bright stardust to my eyes. Yet, they cannot hide, as the darkness of midnight they lie upon pushes them to glimmer.
I wish they did not hide, I wish I could make the sky darker than the depths of space, I wish to see more of their beauty shine through the night. Sad as it may be, the shy siblings should remain the way they are now, forever. Who am I to disturb their comfortable, soft light? They are locked to their alignment for infinite time, a normality with other natural normalities that should not be meddled with and should stay untouched.