Portfolio Alumni Submissions: What does PC mean to You?
this place, it felt
by Ariana Pasquantonio ’16 Alumna Portfolio Staff
like dripping in sun on the lawn, warm bricks,
like a top-bunk firework fever dream splitting
through closed eyelids,
and shadows, neat lines on canvas.
We Brave Life’s Hour
by Branan Durbin ’16 Alumna Portfolio Editor
The thing about Motherhood, even of Truth, is that her nature is to scatter:
no Mother will forever hold her child
in her arms, the home of her halls.
What blessing it is
that home is not a place,
but people: those with whom you break bread
when paths lead you to sow and reap.
How grateful I am
for bountiful homes, a bountiful harvest.
by Abby Johnston ’17 Alumna Portfolio Editor
Dozing off near a glittering koi pond,
With an emerald dogwood just beyond,
I dreamt a joy.
Recant to me the reed, O rain-voiced Muse
Pierce the root and drown my ears,
For my tongue falls fallow –
The echoes fade over long, old years.
Sing with me an eternal song, O river-sweet Muse
Of Athens and Jerusalem arrayed in gold and jewels;
Show me what may be sought –
Sing to me of a wedding knot!
Of Maps and Meanings
by Jonathan Coppe ’18
Do trees grow at dusk?
A white owl, drowsy at dawn,
Once sighed to me that heaven could be reached on foot.
I took him at his word and searched
Four years in vain for the never-setting sun,
Oft ambling unceasing through the night.
I find my feet are strong, my mind is sharp,
The maps of the world are known to me,
For, hating it so, I have learned to find my way at dusk.
Dawn rises on that owl’s one-time perch,
And here I genuflect at his mistaken wisdom.
The circle closes at last upon itself.
The path is not straight.
But, reliably, it begins again.
Sleeping Traffic Lights
by Jonathan Coppe ’18
1:35 a.m.—Two brutes sitting in an SUV. Intersection along Route 50. Traffic light is the only outside illumination; no moonlight; their headlights are off. Inside the car the overhead cab light is off. SUV parked on the side of the road, in the dirt and grass. A voice comes over the speaker:
“Still no sign. We’re guessing, maybe, another 40 minutes.”
The fat one in the car shoots back:
2:00 a.m.—The other man in the SUV, who is toned and muscular and wears a pinstripe buttondown, has taken out his phone and put on music. They are now pushing an hour and a half in the vehicle. Still no sign of the target.
The nearest cellphone tower offers no internet; they are confined to the one album stored on the phone.
Only the Lonely by Sinatra, now set to play on repeat for the rest of the night.
No cars pass by. A coyote occasionally wanders past. The wind blows. The traffic light makes its round of colors: Red, green, yellow; red, green, yellow; red green yellow; red green…
“Maybe we can go get some girls after this. What do you say?”
2:10 a.m.—The fat one picks up the mic and wires over the radio:
“Any sign yet? We’re almost at that 40 minutes.”
Dead static for a moment. The reply:
“We’ll let you know when we see her.”
The coiffed one (taking the mic):
“Are you sure she’s coming? Might’ve gotten spooked, you know. Maybe she knows we’re out here. Think she heard tell somehow?”
“Do we have someone checking up on that?”
All quiet outside, and inside Frankie over the tiny phone speaker, “…It’s a lonesome old town when you’re not around. How I wish you’d come back to me…”
“You got any smokes?”
2:30 a.m.—A couple cigarettes apiece, ashes out the window. On to talk about baseball and their girls at home. Fat one has a skinny one. Coiffed one has a ditz. Ditz won’t put out, though, and he’s not happy about it. Fat one’s girl won’t either, but that’s okay; he doesn’t mind; he likes spending time with her; she’s smart.
“She’s real classy, and, like, vintage style. She’s got these cute glasses, you know, and a red polka-dot bandana she wraps over her head. It’s cute. Real 1950s-style, with the way those glasses poke out of the bandana. Real cute.”
“So you don’t want to see about any girls after this, huh?”
“Huh? No. You can, though. I’m not stopping you.”
“Nah. No fun when you’re the only one.”
“I guess not. Anyway, it looks like we’ll be out here all night. No way this chick’s coming. Something’s got her spooked.”
“Yep. Just gonna sit here ‘til dawn, it looks like. Then that asshole over the radio will wire in and tell us to go home. Fuck us, man.”
He chuckles. He sighs. “How many smokes you got in that pack?”
2:40 a.m.—A voice over the radio:
“We see her. We’re shutting off the light now. Expect her in about 10 minutes.”
And with that the traffic light suddenly goes black.
2:45 a.m.—Two car headlights appear on the horizon, speeding down the road toward the SUV. Everything else is black, black and quiet. There are only the speeding car headlights.
“There she is.” (The coiffed one, his voice eager.)
The fat one turns the key in the ignition and the engine starts. It is the quietest part of the night. The men listen to their breathing and to the sound of the tires rolling along the road in the distance, getting steadily closer, steadily louder, always closer, always louder.
2:48 a.m.—The woman’s car is in clear view now. A sedan, ’90s model. The coiffed man clutches his assault rifle tightly. The fat one keeps his foot hovering over the gas and checks the pistol on his side, making sure the holster is unlatched and the safety switched off.
They are breathing heavily now and watching the car. They wait for the right moment.
2:50 a.m.—The car is so close they can almost smell it, suddenly it slows down to a halt.
“She knows something’s wrong.”
Indeed, out of the corner of her eye she has seen the base of the traffic lights and realizes they are off. Terrified, she stops.
“Shit, shit, shit, shit…”
Her car idles right in front of the SUV.
The coiffed man jumps from the SUV. He aims and pulls the trigger. The shots burst into the night. The woman’s wheels screech loudly and her engine revs.
“Shit shit shit…”
The SUV revs and screeches and speeds forward to ram her. The timing is all off now. It only makes contact with the side of the trunk. The car swerves, but the element of surprise is lost. She keeps her foot on the gas.
The car is not all in her control, however, and she cannot keep from swerving off the road. The coiffed one keeps his aim on her. She barrels towards him. He pulls the trigger. Shots bray out into the night and the bullets pierce her windshield, but the car barrels on. He plays chicken and jumps away at the last moment, but his foot is caught under the tire.
The car slows to a halt. The fat one has run over. No movement. He goes over to the still car and looks inside. He turns to the coiffed one and gives the thumbs up.
Back in the SUV, he picks up the mic:
“All good. She’s taken care of.”
The traffic lights wake up, and the land is quiet again.
Gilded: Two Stories
by Jonathon Coppe ’18
Noah Donahue looked at an icon.
The church he had entered was kept quite dim. It lit up and down by alcoves of warm candlelight illuminating the side chapels of icons and statuettes, so that the nave—with its vast greenish-grey vaulted ceiling—held only a bare and fragile light. The effect was haunting. As one looked up at that high ceiling, its pale shadowiness, carrying flickers of light like waves on an ocean, seemed almost delicate, like paper—or unreal, even.
But somehow it seemed more real than the icon. When Noah looked in front of him at the Virgin Mary after staring for a long time at the ceiling, he felt a familiar tension. He strove in vain to find something in its face: compassion, drive, knowledge, determination, courage, tenderness, rapture… He could find nothing, and its eyes fixed forward, toward nothing, for no reason, with no reaction.
Could a human face feel like less alive than a dark stone ceiling?
Noah’s heart folded in on itself that night as he answered that: yes, yes it could.
He rose from his prie-dieu with a sigh and started toward the exit. Before he left, he looked once more at the ceiling, and, as the distant light of the candle flames danced in waves upon it, he smiled to see that it was alive. He cried for just a moment, and left.
Nyle Osmund woke up to terrible light.
He coughed and tried to swallow but his mouth was sandpaper. No use.
He had been dreaming that he was at a party in the daytime, outdoors with beer and smiles and a big barbecue buffet. But someone whose face didn’t quite exist had been following him at every moment. He always felt this faceless figure watching him but whenever he turned he was nowhere to be seen. When he finally turned and caught him, he saw his face and discovered that he had woken up into the terrible, terrible light of the 10 a.m. sunshine.
He coughed again and found that he was naked in a hotel room and that he was not naked alone. A smooth, tan female back with a river of straight brunette hair lay next to him, face and breasts down on the mattress. He ran a hand through his own curly, dirty-blonde hair (he spent probably too much money on realistic blonde highlights). He sat up.
God, look at her breathing.
He watched her shapely and tender back go up and down, up and down, up and down. He began to breathe more calmly himself. His nightmare disappeared. He would not recall it again.
He could remember only the vaguest things about her. There had been something—someplace with colorful lights—blues and purples. Her eyes were blackish brown, she wore a black leather jacket.
There was no doubt it had been a wild night, but now she was asleep, and her back heaved up and down with her breath. Even the terrible light that woke him up had softened into peace and even love.
He thought for a moment about staying.
But if I don’t remember, who’s to say she will?
And he realized it was probably better that he go. If she didn’t remember and she didn’t want him (“I’m not really a big charmer. I have to get pretty drunk before….”), well… No, it was better to go.
He leaned over to the bedside stand and scrawled out his phone number. “Call me.” He sketched a winking smile beside it. He knew it wouldn’t be answered. He was leaving her, after all.
He crept carefully out of bed without waking her. “Thank God.” (He lamented in his heart that he hadn’t woken her.) He found his clothes and put them on. Reaching the door, he looked back at her beautiful frame. Still her shoulders moved up and down, up and down. He smiled to see that she, at least, was alive. He cried for just a moment, and left.
‘On the breath of a hope to be shared’
by Jonathan Coppe ’18
Is joy more real when it is shared?
I seek a soul to share my joy,
To wrap in zeal for life and bathe in love
Of every precious thing that pulls
My cheeks into a smile.
To see her smile too—and not for me!—
for finding something more to love,
within the hollow earth,
Oh what a gift to give, to spread
My tiny share of joy!
For I know what I seek:
A heart that’s like my heart and so completes
The rhythm of the song that my heart beats.
But where might such a one be found?
Each person all their own, so fierce, so fraught,
The heart will not yield up to joy,
We all remain apart.
In sorrow like a bank of fog I came to you,
With lids dropped low, in sagging step, with heavy breath.
How strange a single night could open up my hope,
A morning in your bed remold the very earth
And color all its vast expanse
In rosy red and heron blue.
Happiness is A Lie
by Jonathan Coppe ’18
Hatmakers in Chile don’t get a lot of break time. Child laborers in Nepal sometimes have to sift through piles of hypodermic needles.
It’s important not to read too slowly. Savoring words too much kind of ruins the overall effect. It’s like every time you get to a new word, you’re trying to reinvent the wheel, to draw out its meaning all alone, as if it were the only word on the page. But you can only catch a ball if you see it flying through the air first. Same thing with understanding words. Savoring the words makes the words into the story and the story into the words. No, the story is the story, and the words are the words (or the poem or the play or the…).
I’ve been doing that a lot with life lately. I go out to the bar every week. I’ve got a group of friends I read books with. (“Book club” sounds too much like something your grandmother might be a part of, so we’re just “a group of friends”). The occasional movie. Lectures if they’re available. A museum or concert or play when I have the time and money. I fill my life in various ways. I’m sort of realizing that I don’t enjoy it, though. What I do at those things doesn’t quite rise to the level of enjoyment.
The other night at the bar, Dave says to me, “Man, you’re always talking about stuff we could be doing. You never do half of it, which is its own issue, and I’m not complaining but sometimes I just think that even if you did do it, you’d just spend the whole time talking about more stuff you could do. And that’s kinda funny, but it’s also kind of a waste.”
We were all sitting together around a table, and I guess I was talking about taking up golf or something. I think I laughed it off and let somebody else take the floor. Eventually the conversation drifted to global poverty and the working conditions of the third world. I got the general impression of things listening with only half a mind, but at that point I had largely abandoned the conversation.
I felt a little offended at the idea that I was somehow a bore and amusing and depressing all at once. How could Dave sit there and tell me that in front of everybody? (Truthfully, I probably would have taken it worse if it were just him and me.) But, no, I saw that Dave wasn’t trying to mock me and it’s certainly not that he doesn’t like me, so the anger faded pretty quickly.
I guess I also realized that he’s right. I mean, he’s not really right, but he managed to help me realize something, which makes him about half-right. Last time I went to the theater, I found myself downright exhausted by the end of the play. I wasn’t rested or excited or cathartic. I was just tired. I think I went home and had to put on music to unwind. That didn’t have anything to do with the play, though. It was all me. I spent the whole play trying to feel something.
It’s not that I’m emo or depressed or something. Feelings are a regular part of my life. But I guess I was operating on the assumption that if I wasn’t consumed by intense passion and wonder and awe from the moment I stepped into the theater I was somehow doing it wrong, and because of that I realized that I missed out on the whole play. It didn’t do anything for me because I was trying so hard to make sure that it did.
And then I realized that that’s kind of been my whole life. I’m bored and frustrated because every time I do something I need it right then and there to make me feel totally alive. But it’s not that this thing or that thing is living. Living is the whole sentence—or the whole paragraph or book or—it’s all the words put together and their total effect. You live life more when you care less about whether you’re living life. Neurosis is savoring the words. Living is reading the whole sentence. I think I’m going to try to remember that the next time I go to the theater.
Letters to Santa
How is Rudolph doing? I hope good. Is it cold? It’s cold here, but I have a blanket and sweater. My Grammy made it for me. Does Rudolph have a Grammy? Who makes him sweaters? And cookies? And gives him hugs and kisses? The good kisses. Not the sloppy kind my doggie gives me. Do you have any pets, Santa? Oh yeah, the reindeer. Silly me. I made you cookies. The gooey kind. And milk! But my brother ate them. Stupid brother! And my kitty drank the milk. Stupid kitty! My daddy says to not say “stupid.” Don’t tell him, ok? Can you say that word? How old are you? I think three billion! Why don’t you have any kids?
My daddy says I need to write what I want. Ok. I want a pink pony with purple eyelashes and a blue tail. It needs to sing and fly and bake me cookies. Oh, my daddy says I can’t ask for that. Ok. I want a castle with servants and a pool full of jelly. And I want a house made out of candy. And I want a pony, but this time a normal one, but a real one! Please? Oh, my daddy says I need to ask for something you can actually get me so I won’t be disappointed. But, why can’t you give me all of this stuff? You are the greatest man alive! You have powers and a big belly and a jolly laugh and, um, stuff! Yeah. So, I want a rocket so I can go to the moon and eat moon cheese. I like cheese. Do you? What do you like to eat?
Oh, my daddy says I need to stop because I’m running out of paper. I love you Santa and Rudolph and Dancer and
Prancer and the other reindeer I don’t know the names of. Kisses. Oh, and sorry about the milk and cookies. Please still come. I have been good, I promise.
Love and hugs,
I don’t really believe in you. I know I haven’t believed in you for years. Not at all, in fact. So why am I doing this? Why would I write you a letter? I don’t quite know to be honest. I’m not sure I could put it into words, at any rate. So what do I want? That’s the question, right? I don’t think I know anymore. Not to be lonely? Is that an answer? I can’t put my finger down on anything that doesn’t seem to have some sort of baggage and grief on it, but there’s a part of me kicking around that still wants to believe and to hope that something good is out there for my life.
When I was a kid, I guess that meant presents under a tree and a world outside covered in snow. A day of playing with Dad and then hot chocolate inside and watching your clothes get dry in front of the radiator. Then I got older and it changed into more complicated things like money and love and feeling important, and usually we don’t have any of those.
Now you can’t give me what I’m looking for. But I guess if I write you this letter and I remember for a split second what it was like to be a child on Christmas Eve, then at least I won’t forget what it feels like to hope. And that makes all the difference in the world.
This year for Christmas, I do not want any gifts from you. I simply want my family to get together. I want them to enjoy themselves in the spirit of the Holidays. I want my siblings and my friends to love the gifts that I have purchased for them. I want you to fly on your big red sleigh through the cold and brisk air with a smile on your face. I want children and parents to scream your name from afar so that you can hear them and know that they are excited for the season of giving to truly begin.
I love you and all that you do for every child around the world. Thank you for changing my meaning of Christmas for the better. Good luck on your journey. I will be thinking of Rudolph and his shiny red nose and you with your big beard and full belly.
Lastly, please eat the cookies that I leave out for you, they are sugar cookies this year. Please make sure that Rudolph eats his carrots as well.
Much love and best regards,
Your Biggest Fan
Year after year I wrote to you, asking for a puppy—a cute little black pupper with white paws so it looks like he’s wearing socks—and nothing. Every Christmas morning from the ages of 6 to 16, I would run downstairs, eagerly expecting the sight of a wagging tail and the sound of yipping, and instead, all I got were a bunch of Legos, a Playstation, a pair of Beats headphones, an iPhone, and a whole boat load of money.
Seriously, how hard is it to bring me a puppy? When we were 10, you brought my neighbor Jerry and his sister Cathy a kitten, so I think you could figure out a way to leave a puppy under my parent’s tree.
I’m just saying, Santa—if I don’t get a puppy this Christmas, then have fun eating stale cookies from the back of my locker and drinking soy milk next year.
His Name Could Be Socko, But You Playin’
by Jonathan Coppe ’18
“What’s the deal with limp-biscuit over there?” Al scoffed, gesturing toward Logan, who stood rather listlessly some 50 feet off.
“I don’t know,” Jim shrugged back. “I’ve been tired of seeing him moping around the apartment. I thought maybe coming out with us would help, give him an adrenaline rush or something.”
Al gave him a sideways glance.
“He asked to come!” Jim added in defense. “It’s not like I invited him. He asked to come. I wasn’t gonna say no.”
Al rolled his eyes slightly but let the matter drop. The fool was here. Nothing to do about it now.
“Well, tell him to hurry up,” Al said.
“Hey, what’s the hold up, Logo? C’mon, we gotta get in here.”
They were outside a warehouse. Logan had known before he moved in that Jim spent a fair amount of time with shady individuals downtown. He had basically inferred that Jim was involved in crime of some kind. It wasn’t a particular surprise, therefore, when he learned that Jim was a part-time thief. Logan wasn’t, of course, but he and Jim had needed a flatmate at the same time and rent at Jim’s place was cheap. It was better than moving back in with his mom.
The night was muggy, and Logan didn’t feel like hurrying over to brown-toothed Al and getting a point-blank whiff of his malt-beer, dip-spit-scented sweat. But he hurried over. He didn’t want to go back to the apartment, either.
Al and Jim led him over to a padlocked steel door.
“Hold this.” Al handed him a tool bag. He pulled out a pair of bolt-cutters and killed the lock.
Jim frowned, “Al, let him come in. He—”
“He waits out here.” Jim looked at Logan to apologize but Logan just shrugged and looked off.
And they went in.
Logan put down the toolbag after about three minutes and started to look around. The warehouse had four steel loading doors big enough each to fit a tractor trailer. The warehouse was on a compound which they had to climb a fence to get into. That probably explained the lackluster security at the warehouse itself. No alarms on the side of the warehouse that he could see.
There was probably a security station or something like that nearby, Logan figured. He hurried away from the warehouse to look.
Back inside: “Al, this one’s got some nice wine in it!”
“We can’t sell that.”
“Give it to your wife! Or I’ll drink it.” Jim laughed.
“How much longer do we have?”
“Don’t worry about it. Security here is the pits.”
Then they heard a siren.
The haul wasn’t big, maybe only a few hundred dollars once they sold everything. Jim had got his bottle of wine. The compound had two or three police cruisers on it now, all full lights blazing. They could hear some shouting.
No worries, though. They had hurried out pretty quickly, no time for cleaning up, but they made it past the fence and Al was careful as a rule. He wore gloves and didn’t leave behind anything of his own. He wasn’t worried about being caught. But then something occurred to him.
“Jim, where are the tools?”
“I gave them to—Oh, shit! Where’s Logan?”
“Sounds like he’s still in there. You said he was depressed?”
Bang. Bang. A pained cry echoed from the compound.
Upon Finding A Volume of Famous Poetry
by Jonathan Coppe ’18
Among the dusty shelves I see it nestled
—O wicked, foolish kin to leave it so!—
O, what dreams lie herein? What foreign lands
of sunset-colored love and joyful tears?
So off the shelf it comes and to a desk.
With greedy hands the cover comes undone.
And here I see some reference to a god
to whom the Ancient Greeks would slaughter lambs
immortalized in a now forgotten book.
—This fate does scarce inspire joy and awe…—
But half an hour in I have made out
that little have I grasped, although my eyes
run on and on and on across these lines.
Nor majesty nor beauty fill my heart.
Instead each weighty stanza more abstruse,
and every line the meaning veiled, opaque.
Could it be? This same world I lament
and sigh to see, is no less than the world
of poetry, and this is everything after all?
“Dev missed school today.”
“He missed it yesterday, too.”
“So HE was the bait.”
—Julia Zygiel ’19
A jagged smile smirks.
Hollowed eyes stare in the dark.
It’s a frightful sight.
—Marisa Gonzalez ’18
The sky grows foggy
Black monsters leave their dark caves
To torment again!
—Sam Pellman ’20
It was time for mail
The letter read Rest In Peace
In giant letters
—Jess Polanco ’20
Autumn’s costume show
Hides from careless grins the truth:
You will all grow up.
—Jonathan Coppe ’18