Response: Skin

Editor Kirsten Larson, Editor's Choice, May 25th, 2015

"Remember when we were roommates of despair?"

ariana page russell response skin nailed magazine
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In our monthly Response Column, NAILED asks readers to respond to a particular word or topic. We are seeking raw, honest personal responses that aim less to answer questions and more to raise them. Responses in the form of art, photography, essay, story, poem, and rant will all be considered for publication. June’s topic is FATHER, please email your responses to Kirsten@NailedMagazine.com by June 22nd, for publication at the end of the month. (Word count limit: 1,000 words.)

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Response: Skin
 
Untitled, by Anna Mirzayan

 

my doe-eyed, orchid-jawed, clam-nailed, star-nippled one—
my friend behind the door,
back covered in silver-skin because you are unwashed,
unripened, not yet too full of yellow light to read
a short book or play Chopin on the piano—

remember when we were roommates of Despair?
we lived in misery as though in a well-fitting white room,
and protected each other with songs the color of a prayer.

We lay side by side, toe to head, and wriggled and jostled for days
in nests of salt like two bitter pearls, spitting teeth uselessly
at flies.

Remember the flies, festooned in the jolly pineapple?

You wore a crown of flies then, like blood-filled thorns,
and your eyes were crowns of bruises.

Recall the slaughter of the night, rattling doorknobs
and quaking bones; recall the laughter that slept so deep
and long within you that I could see its eyes half-closed
when I peered in.

Remember the windows without curtain,
and staring at the sun as it stared back at us?

Remember that I did not sleep then and you bit both our nails.

We are odd ones now. We no longer fear the sky,
even when it is black.
We live underground and listen to water running and calling
in our clean, separate houses.

But our adjacent bodies will grow old,
wither, become distant from our own selves
and our dreams will litter the desert
like huge bloated skulls.

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Anna Mirzayan is a graduate student in the Humanities living somewhere in the Midwest. Her work has been published in Midway Poetry Journal (upcoming), Carcinogenic Poetry and Former Poetry Journal.

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Photograph for Response: Skin, by Heather Buckley

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Heather Buckley lives and works in Brighton, UK. She loves the atmosphere of streets and public events. Through her camera, she approaches subjects in an alternative way, showing the world as we don’t often see it, from different angles. It’s the perspective at which the scene is observed that she focuses on as well as the environment in which the subject is placed. With the use of a wide angle lens and often shooting blind, she tries to look at the whole of the frame, deciding where to put space and lines, the subject is only the beginning.

To view Heather Buckley’s photo essay, “Inspired Streets,” go here.

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Skin in the Game, by Deb Stone

 

1989: I bounce along the ruttiest road I’ve ever driven. Nearing the bottom of the hill, my then-lover’s driveway curled to the left and dropped another 800 feet before I reached his 1979 doublewide trailer. Blackberry brambles grew over the end of the house. Wicked thorns pierced the gold aluminum siding as easily as they slice skin.

2015: We are long married. I have driven this road for the last 26 years. It is dusty and imperfect, but the zoning is rural farm and timber. We have a neighborhood agreement from 1987 that states that road maintenance must be unanimous and all costs shared equally. In the early nineties, the neighbors decided to pave the upper portion. We dissented while neighbor after neighbor tried to convince us. They decided to pave despite the agreement requiring unanimous support. A neighbor called again to try to convince us we should pay a portion.

“We like living in the country,” I said. “I quit my job to take care of children whose parents are incarcerated or unemployed. I understand you want to invest in pavement. We don’t have that luxury. Our money goes toward counseling, sports, art and music lessons, trips and opportunities that enrich their lives so they will become responsible human beings who contribute positively to society.”

“I never thought about it like that,” the neighbor said. They seemed to understand.

Through the next two decades, we parented thirty-two kids: children, grandchildren, nieces, nephews, foster, adoptive, and birth children; eight to adulthood. Our youngest is 17. The others all graduated high school. Two earned graduate degrees. Two served in Iraq. Three own their own homes. Our time and money was a good investment, it seems.

Soon after I moved in with my husband, people started subdividing their land. The number of neighbors tripled. New homes filled with townies who are used to paved roads and mowed lawns. Good and decent people fond of the accouterments of suburbs. Last month, I received a letter stating that eight of eleven neighbors want to pave the lower half of the road. The first estimate was about $3500 but with revisions to widen the road, add a culvert, slope the ditches, and provide an apron to our driveway, our share is likely to be closer to $6500. Within days, the two households that dissented agreed to pave. When I read the group email advising that all of the neighbors “but the Stones” were in agreement, I turned up the volume to Lucinda William’s song “Those Three Days” and sang at the top of my lungs, “—bite through flesh down to the bone. And I have been so fuckin’ alone…”

I appreciate asphalt on city streets and highways, but I live on designated forestland. Deer, skunk, raccoon, beaver and otters make their homes here. Canada Geese, Bald Eagles, and Blue Heron nest on our property. A stealth bobcat once snatched a duck and tore it right of out its skin. I like the way our gravel road necessitates a slow drive through the canopy of cedar and fir. Slow enough that I can almost see the bleeding hearts bust open, trilliums bloom, and ferns unfurl their green swords.

Last week, a neighbor called to offer us a loan for our portion of the road. Another called to suggest we harvest some trees. “Not clear-cut,” he said. “Thin, so the remaining ones are healthier.” An email from a third stated that one neighbor was meeting with his attorney to force compliance. They mean to help us do our duty as neighbors. They want the road paved. They want our share of skin in the game.

1974: When I was fourteen, my brother Jim gave me a ride home from the bus stop on his mini bike. He popped a wheelie without warning me. I slid off the seat and my coat sleeve caught on the tail light. He dragged me several yards before stopping. He smirked at the way the asphalt had minced my knees into hamburger. At the rivulets of blood that soaked the tops of my white knee socks as I walked the last block home.

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I am a logger’s daughter. I understand the utility of cutting trees but I married a naturalist. When trees fall on our land, he prefers to leave them where they lie. Huckleberries spring out of cedar. Fungi out of fir. Critters dig caves in the hollow logs. “If we had to cut some trees,” I say to him, “could you live with cutting those clustered in the center of our land that we can’t see?” He agrees to talk to the neighbor who is a retired log scaler. On Mother’s Day we tromp across our fertile forest floor, climb over and under fallen branches. I’m surprised at how big some of the fir and cedar have grown in the last two decades. Our neighbor marks some trees with ribbon.

“That tree,” I say, pointing to a thick beautiful cedar he has marked for cutting, “what’s it worth?”

“Can’t say exactly,” he says, “but those two trees,” he points, indicating the tree and the one beside it, “will fill a load.”

“A full load of cedar is worth about $3500,” I say. “But after the logger, loader, and driver take their cuts, we’d get about half. Then, taxes. So we’ll come out with $1400-1500?”

“You can negotiate, but that sounds about right.”

“How old is that tree? “ I ask.

“I’d say about 125 years.”

“So we’re going to cut a century-old tree for $750?”

“Your brain will compensate,” he says. “After a while, you won’t even notice it’s gone.”

The day before our Mother’s Day walk in the woods, my husband and I attended Stephen O’Donnell’s showing at the Froelick Gallery in Portland, Oregon. Many of Stephen’s paintings are self-portraits done in 18th Century women’s costumes. In one, he sports a five o’clock shadow and a white crinoline gown. In another, he wears bold red lipstick. His paintings make me question what I think I know about myself. One self-portrait of him as a boy “Tatouage” has words tattooed backwards on his skin, as if the subject of the portrait were looking in a mirror. Fat, mean, sissy, shy, ugly, useless, greedy, stubborn. My heart broke when I saw this painting. What is art but to sear through our skin and bones to clutch at the heart?

I want that painting. I want to honor the boy Stephen was, and the wounded boys I have raised. The wounded men I have loved. I want to be reminded that the words we utter affect those who carry them. “Tatouage” is $7500. I have spent the last two decades of my life caretaking and advocating for other people’s children. Most of that work was unpaid. In other words, I have spent my life as a mother and a volunteer. I have no retirement. My entire life savings is in our trees and our land.

Thanks to my neighbors, I know how to get $7500. We are going to cut some century-old trees.

I would rather buy art than asphalt, but we will help pave the road. Not because I’m a good neighbor but because to defend ourselves in a lawsuit would cost as much as our portion of the road. To refuse again creates turmoil and frustration among the people to whom I live in closest proximity. I have stood up for other people’s children for two decades. I have spent all my fight. I will cry when those hundred-year-old trees fall, and I will cry again when “Tatouage” sells. The neighbors will be happy. “The Stones are good neighbors,” they may murmur among themselves. I don’t feel like a good neighbor. I feel asphalt tearing the skin off my knees.

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Deb Stone leveraged what her childhood teacher called “minding other people’s business” into work that has improved the lives of Oregon’s most vulnerable children and families. She retired after twenty years as a CASA, and now volunteers her research skills locating family members of deceased individuals who have no known next of kin. In her writing, she often explores the complex ways that people belong to, and separate from, their families. Follow her on social media @iwritedeb.

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Chocolate Confessional, by Negesti Kaudo

 

Curious and afraid, I yearned to touch him. In the beginning, I only let my fingers wander across his body so I could hear the secrets he wouldn’t tell. He had me mesmerized by the way his skin flowed seamlessly over every bone, snaking around the smooth curves and sharp turns of his shoulder blades and clavicles. I found him beautiful and he never knew.

Warmth radiated from him. A blanket of skin melted onto his bones and muscles like wax. He became an insecure black Adonis: a dangerous combination of mystery, intelligence, and lust that made desire rage inside of me. A contemporary Adam sculpted of tar and mud. I’d find myself staring at him as he walked and spoke, wondering if he would get closer and touch me, let the warmth infiltrate me. Was I Eve: curious, naïve and looking for more? Did that make him not Adam, but an apple: red and glossy, hanging just low enough for me to pluck and taste, to savor and share? Maybe he was God because I felt like the Devil whenever my fingers traveled down his sternum, avoiding the gold cross hanging from his neck. As I knelt before him, my knees grinding into the tile floor, I watched how I made his muscles jump, his jaw clench, and his fingers ball up into a fist. I was conflicted; part of me wanted to control him, to own him, but another wanted to watch him from afar and avoid falling into the trap of his skin and the way it pulled me into the memory of an embrace I never had.

I let him kiss me, hungry for the softness of his lips and the burn that accompanied it. He slid his fingers under the hems of my skirts to blindly discover new territory. I let him enter my mouth, so I could taste all of him. He pinned me against walls, pressing himself into my body to conquer me. I let him imprint on my skin with his fingerprints without ever knowing if he loved me.

He called me chocolate because chocolate doesn’t stick. It melts between fingers and is licked off by tongues and the taste is savory and seductive. I was chocolate because chocolate doesn’t stick. Chocolate doesn’t need to be in a relationship. Chocolate is an indulgence. But I wanted to be more, I wanted to be mocha. I wanted to be delicious and necessary. I wanted to be addictive.

And after not having touched him for two years and pumping my memories of him into essays, I found myself on top of him, worshipping the sun-kissed skin below his nipple. In between moans, I licked and bit his chest, creating a pattern, a ritual, and lost in the smell and taste of his skin, my own words betrayed me:

“You’re so fucking pretty.”

I felt the power change between us. I’d never called him pretty; he’d never done it either. I bit him harder, sinking my teeth into chocolate, unable to swallow my words. He put himself on top; pushing into me, pushing me deeper into the comforter, the sheets, the mattress and I became a body without language. Had I become God as he searched for release in me? Or was I stealing his divinity, bringing him to a point of no return, biting the apple and slipping a single juicy finger between his lips? Falling into my clavicle, his wet breath warmed my skin, and we switched roles again as he inhaled my secrets and desires. He melted into me, oozed into my pores. I wanted to bite him, but more I wanted him to bite me, to kiss me, to make me know it was real.

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I used to remember his skin as if I touched and tasted it a few days ago, but it’s been two more years since that brief moment. Our history lies in the depths of our skin cells, spreading like a cancer into the dermis, so that even when the epidermis sloughs off, the story remains. I can just barely remember it. Chocolate brown and warm and how I explored him with aggressive urgency. I’m wondering if that was love: two bodies rubbing off on each other gradually until eventually they’ve unintentionally marked each other so deeply the wound is now a tattoo. I know he’s not thinking about me. That he’s found himself a piece of Caramel to cling to and lose himself. I’m still just chocolate, melting in his pocket.
In the mirror, I look at my naked body and try to see what was attractive about me. My skin is marked in a variety of ways, like the yellow stretch marks that have clawed their way up my thighs to my stomach and the uneven hang in my breasts. The mirror used to make me hate myself. Almost as much as he did. I can’t see the places his fingerprints touched so deeply that he made me believe he must have loved me. But like a bone bruise, my self-hatred only aches when reinjured.

I am in new skin. Everything he’s touched has been shed. He has not run his fingers over my tattoo or licked these lips. He has not ridden these curves or lost his fingers in these curls. I’ve spent enough time alone that I can finally stare at myself in the mirror without flinching. I see my thick thighs, big breasts and pudgy belly, and I’m amused at the beauty marks scattered across my body like dropped pins on a map saying: visit here, it’s beautiful. The memory of his touch is like a shadow—a cold chill crawling under my skin. Without him, I’m comfortable in my coffee bean skin, grinded up into a modern day, millennial Eve: watermarked and missing a rib.

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Negesti Kaudo is twenty-one years old and a senior English/Creative Writing major. She’s found the best way to reflect on her cliche, movie-esque, Midwestern life is through writing (almost too honest) nonfiction.

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Photograph for Response: Skin, by Angela Buron

angela byron response skin nailed magazine

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Angela Buron is a 28-year-old photographer from Spain. She has always felt like she has something important to do here in our world but is still seeking that purpose through her studies, travel and photography.

To view Angela Buron’s photography feature, go here.

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mama told me these things, by Jess Rizkallah

 

i.
fresh lemons always. always.
not that bottled shit.

(when you’re halving the lemons to juice them, cut a cross
into the middle with the tip of the knife)

(this makes the juice give way easier)
(this is how it’s done in the mountains)

ii.
if someone reminds you that they’ve done you
a favor, they’re not really your friend.

there is no such thing as a real friend.

iii.
there might be a such thing as a real friend.

iv.
never go to someone’s home empty handed.
shame on you if you go empty handed.

v.
never leave the pan in the sink after making eggs.
rihet zankheh, w araf a smell that lives in your nostrils
if you leave the invitation marinating.

vi.
no one on this earth is as important as a sister
and no man on this earth is owed any part of you
and no man speaks to any daughter of mine like that
and

vii.
don’t think you can fix people.
if something about your lover pricks you every single time
the light hits them harshly enough, it will always be there.
it will always prick you. it will always hurt.

viii.
it is okay to let yourself feel sexy
(why are you closing the curtain …..let them stare)
a body is just a body, it’s part of nature
nature is a part of you

ix.
you might have to sacrifice. you probably will
need to be the one to sacrifice. we are always the ones
who sacrifice.
you think now that you won’t.
you say you know that you won’t. i hope to god
that you won’t

x.
when your hands have handled enough
ovens and hot pans and wax ……..they will stop
feeling the burn.

you will be able to touch the sun
in all the hiding places it keeps around you:
the summer chain links ……the teeth thrown over the ocean
the door of your car ………..the whites of his eyes, one day
your hands won’t be soft, tobrini
i hope they are they are always soft ……..i hope you bury me

i hope to god

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Jess Rizkallah is a Lebanese-American writer and illustrator living in Boston. She edits Maps For Teeth magazine and her work has recently been published by Word Riot, Electric Cereal, Drunk in a Midnight Choir, Spoken & Sung, and her mother’s fridge. She also makes zines and wants to read yours. Find her on facebook.com/jessrizholla.

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Stranger Skin, by Amanda Gowin

 

Framed by memory or dream it is always dark so you see the crackle of electricity when first his hand makes contact with your collarbone, a fingerprint you do not know, nerve endings rise to meet and follow, eager, a smooth motion that shatters the space between unknown and known. The blue light of a thousand bare bulbs in a thousand hotel hallways bursting one then another, rubber soles on carpet one set backward one set forward. You share a breath, pass the whisper back and forth until lack of oxygen leaves you drunk, infatuated, tingling. Four hands two mouths one silhouette and every pore opens ghost photography radiation each handprint squeeze move slide new pressure whorl crevice, catalogued and memorized—cell memory of the first encounter. Ever after the lights may flicker and sneakers spark but the inkblot remains, a map, cartography complete.

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Amanda Gowin lives in Appalachia with her husband and son. Her fiction publications include “Warmed and Bound” and “Burnt Tongues.” She was a guest editor at Menacing Hedge, co-edited the Cipher Sisters anthology, and her first collection, Radium Girls, is now available.

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Header image courtesy of Ariana Page Russell. To view a gallery of her art using her own skin as the canvas, go here.

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Kirsten Larson

Kirsten Larson is a Contributing Editor at NAILED. She lives near Portland, Oregon. She loves words and is very curious. She received her MFA in writing from Antioch University, Los Angeles. She writes for The Huffington Post, and is an Adjunct Instructor at Portland State University. Her work can be found in NAILED, Huffington Post, Pathos, M Review, and several other places. She is currently working on two books.