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Editor’s Note

by Aileen Gray

Fresh off a plane, having been awake for more than twenty-four hours, excited, exhausted – it did not register as odd when the first question my Irish cab driver asked was whether I was voting for Obama or Romney in the upcoming election. The cabbie was friendly and feisty, and his inquiry was followed by many more uncensored questions very few Americans would address to a perfect stranger. Later, after I relayed this encounter and a dozen like it to my family, the full weight of cultural differences set in.

Since that time, I’ve wondered why we so often feel the need to censor ourselves, or far worse, censor others. Why is it that the old saying – never discuss politics or religion at the dinner table – still stands, and should it?

Literature does many things for us, but digging into the topics we frequently avoid is one of its most important functions. It goes where we won’t, demanding that we examine our behavior, challenging out convictions, and allowing us to question the controversial issues in society. Most of my favorite novels and stories do this with a vengeance. George Orwell’s 1984, Yann Martel’s Life of Pie, Walter M. Miller’s A Canticle for Leibowitz – each examines what is and speculates what might be, asking us to rethink how we view the world and how we view controversial issues themselves.

In this issue of The Collegian, we’ve embraced the very notion of controversy in an attempt to disband censorship and encourage greater debate not only in literary and artistic work but also in daily life. The issue this month tackles topics as diverse as infidelity, mental illness, corporeal punishment, and drug use. Whether these pieces resonate with you or not, I hope they will prompt you to reflect on the ideals you hold and the way you approach controversy in your own life.

Institutionalized

by Alexi Vidiani

To be Hamlet, a prince, removed
for my sake, except others take
(satisfaction) offense, so my mind
is revoked, drawn through needles

and taken away. You want what’s best
for me (us). I just wanted (a Pepsi)
the same. I’m fine (I swear) except
when I’m  not. Can you hear me?

A-E-I-me, that’s right. Did you hear
a dog in here, just now? Did you hear
me (sing to it) pet it? If no,
Then why do my hands smell like shit,

If no, then why do you jump when it barks?

Damming Death

by Maddie Zins

I stumbled when I saw him at the road’s side
A beaver laying in a pool of scarlet thickness
flowing like sap from his open mouth
his teeth, stretched, poised to gnaw
through the musculature of trunk into bark

I saw perfect geometric patterns from tires
indents of truck, and car, and truck again
watched shapes of filth pass over
dirtying his underbelly whiteness

I saw his eye quiver in dedication
to division and the odor of fresh forest cuttings
which buried him

I watched him breathe in
the fierceness of wild and with a forceful exhale
expel every track and shape
spraying dark droplets on the stones

I watched the twitch of tail and reversed scurry
leading him to the water worksite

And I saw an old maroon Chevy roll toward me
the man in it gaping his toothless meditation
fixed on me
fixed on beaver
fixed on degradation
in a way which was almost animated, comic
in a way which was almost human

Dear Katie

by Obella Obbo

At any given moment,
an Elephant carries 60 pounds
beneath his breast, 60 in his soul,
& has been known to wither away
at the reality of his loneliness.

Did you know a documentary crew
can’t disturb the habitat they observe?
An Elephant gets turned around
in the wave of a sandstorm
and they have to watch him lose his way.

Which one is being tortured?

Did we pick this path to absolve us
of the guilt of watching him wander,
or because we really couldn’t bare it:
witnessing someone waste away to dust,
when they are capable of such grandeur?

Will we keep our patience, doctor? Will we
remain helpful navigating our own
sandstorms and carrying someone else’s
compass? Are we any better
than the documenters or do we label them
horrid to protect our own values?

Please,
tell me I’m gifted. That I’m capable
of this grandeur too. Don’t diagnose
my sickness as my concern. Give me
what I need and stomp my anxiety
with feet as mighty as the Elephant.

Interrupting Success

by Emma Way

Africa time – a generalized look at Africa as a slow-paced lifestyle, which is exemplified with consistent late arrivals and ruthless interruptions.

As a timid and short-term volunteer in Tanzania, even when I finally got to teach, other superior administration would arrogantly march into my classroom mid-lesson. The constant disruptions and lack of time-management just reinforced most students’ belief that their education is a waste of time.

One day in particular, I was mid-sentence when a senior Swahili teacher knocked on the door. Before I could even see who was there, he pranced in and announced he had an urgent message. I reluctantly agreed to let him speak, not really having a choice as a timid, short-term, volunteer teacher. As soon as I agreed,  his whole attitude changed from a cheery, but tired disposition into that of an infuriated drill sergeant. He shouted at my class of generally obedient teenagers, “All of you, stand up!”

He walked around the room flaunting the stick he always carried while half of my class nervously laughed, and the other half wore faces full of genuine fear. Most of the side conversations were in Swahili, so I was unsure if they knew what was to come, but by the looks on their faces, this incident was a common occurrence.

The teacher then ordered the students to show him their badges, as if they were all enlisted in a boot camp for troubled teenagers or were inmates at a prison. Their badges had the school logo on them and apparently were necessary to learn. He walked around the room whacking the squirming male students who had not remembered their badges. All the boys in the classroom took the quick beating generally well and even laughed it off amongst themselves a little bit.

Then the teacher got to the first girl who had forgotten her badge. She was a fighter. She wriggled her way to the floor to avoid the lash, which only made him madder. The entire class was giggling except the girl’s best friend, who looked at me with eyes full of worry.

After finally getting a firm grasp on the girl, the teacher hit her back once and then slammed the stick against the back of her neck. She fell into her seat and sank her face into her shaking hands.

Five minutes of silent crying later, after the teacher had gone, I brought my stash of toilet paper from my wallet over to her as a makeshift tissue. She quietly responded, “sank you” as she wiped her tears and went back to work.

It was not easy to continue teaching after watching that unfold. I kept looking down at the girl somberly taking notes in the front row, thinking about what a good student she was and the lack of compassion the teacher had had. I understand why these schools use corporal punishment, because it is the same reason America used it when we were still a developing country. In fact, corporal punishment is still legal in 19 states. With a lack of development comes a void in research resources. Underdeveloped countries, like Tanzania, lack the understanding that there are other teaching methods outside the realm of physical discipline.

But what I don’t understand is how he, and teachers like him, can do it. I teared up watching that girl fall to the floor, staring up at the looming stick threatening to beat her. Compassion is required for effective educating and I just did not see it in the majority of teachers in my school.

Pulling from my past anthropological studies, I understand that compassion can vary from culture to culture, which is in part why I did not put up a fight against the teacher with the stick. It is their culture and I went there to learn about it, so I could not keep a closed mind about their various traditions. I just hope that one day, with development and more compassionate teachers, the education system in Tanzania and all around the world will improve so that every student has an equal opportunity to succeed.

I would like to point out, however, that current Tanzanian laws limit teachers to hitting a child no more than four times with a stick. I have personally watched a child get hit ten times.

Losing It

by Alex Vidiani

I lost it way back, my chest
heaving and mind numbly
trying to say, yeah, yeah
that happened. But I never

really felt it. I always wanted
to wait, but she didn’t, and
that burning wouldn’t let up
in my heart- just kidding,

my loins, my groin- and the moans
I would hear some nights didn’t help.
But she was the one called slut as she walked
to class, the one branded for losing it.

Why wasn’t I called that,
just because I have a dick?

On Your Infidelity in the Big Easy (I’m Convinced She Was Big and Easy)

by Kimberly Uslin

You were always the strong one.
When Lent rolled around with its funeral march of
no chocolate
no Pepsi
no nothing for forty days and forty nights
and those goddamn depressing tales of Pontius Pilate
with his untouched hands, awash in
the politics of blood and our Lord Jesus Christ,
you didn’t crumble like the temple
or break like the bread –
You were strong.

So when you told me that you had a business trip
that just so happened to be in New Orleans –
just so happened to be over Mardi Gras –
I didn’t worry about your pilgrim’s fingers
entwining in some bitch’s cheap weave
or the lone feather, sodden with sweat
that you’d peel from your shoulder the morning after.
No, I was more worried that I wouldn’t be strong enough.
It was dessert this year –
My sacrifice to God meant
no pudding pie
no crème brulee
no nothing
for forty days and forty nights
and without you there, I didn’t know if I could do it.

But boy, were you doing it without me.
Buttering her up with beignets,
juleps, and jambalaya in dimly lit corners,
sputtering long-forgotten conjugations
in the fabulous French Quarter,
and wooing her with your doo-wop-dee-do
lies, lips buzzing in a trumpet’s impression.
Just because you played horn in high school
it doesn’t make you Dizzy –

But maybe you made her dizzy.
Swirling compliments with pheromones
and swapping Eucharist
for a different kind of communion:
the big band’s carnival of
call and response
call and réponse –
a farewell to flesh and when I called,
you didn’t respond.

So I’ll think of her as I deny first myself, after dinner,
then you, in the holy night.
And I hope you’ll think of me
when the saints go marching in
and you’re nursing a headache.
Put down the highball, lonesome:
Drink a bottle of water, and
set your alarm.
We have Mass in the morning.

An Essay on the Consumption of Living Organisims, Including But Not Limited to Miso, Deer, and Mine Own Dignity

by Reilly Cox

              By the great peculiarity that is existence, life endures in numerous and varied ways, and the distinction between a mountain and a mountain goat is but a superficial one. For as stated in Atomic Theory, what makes a field mouse so, too, makes a titanosaur, and thus by the same and interchangeable particles, one multifactorial manifestation of life may consume another multifactorial manifestation of life, the particles of one becoming the particles of another and, in that way, live, and, in that way, die.

That is to say, eat a cheeseburger and you get to go about your day.

On Being Fuzzy with Bacteria

            Midnight hunger is a troubling thing for me. It’s not so much that the hunger is troubling but rather that I feel like a force of destruction and doom as I hunch over my freeze-dried miso soup. I choose the freeze-dried miso soup because the package assures me it is a “vegan soyfood” and, as a vegetarian, this seems an acceptable choice for me. Still, I hunch over this package and read:

            Like yogurt, miso is considered to be a living food. That is why Edward & Sons takes extra care to use costly freeze-drying methods that retain, as much as possible, the naturally occurring living cultures for which fresh miso is prized.

So, as I pour my bowl of boiling water, I prepare a rather cruel bath to both wake up these sleeping creatures and immediately kill them.

 Instead of the miso, I might grab some of that aforementioned yogurt. And in grabbing the yogurt, I’d remember that yogurt is made through the bacterial fermentation of milk. And I might remember that that bacteria continues to thrive in the yogurt, waiting patiently to enter your system through the consumption of yogurt, where it will live, grow, and aid you.

After all this thinking, I might want nothing more than some bread and beer. The funny thing, though, is that both of these come from yeast, a living organism. The yeast stays alive so that bread still teems with life. To drink a beer is to drink in a universe.

So to reassure myself after this contemplation, to remind myself that it is okay, I tell myself what we all tell ourselves. “There, there, these creatures are minutia. Dismiss them.”

On Dirty Hippies and Deer Stew

I recognize the absurdity of consuming one form of life while sparing another. I speak for the trees, and they have pointed out to me the irony of the vegetarian tree hugger. Cut into a tree and you will find no heart, no lungs, no brain. But it lives just as we live and, just as successfully, it dies.

As simplistic as it may seem, I choose to not eat animals of the earth because they scream a whole lot more when they are about to die. I once hit a deer and, well, the experience didn’t sit well with me. Some people are vegetarians because they disapprove of slaughterhouses or pescatarians because fish don’t purr. For me, it was that deer. Spend three hours trying to kill something, to put it out of its misery, and you can’t help but feel a connection to it. Call it love, call it murder, call it one and the same.  How can I say that one thing deserves destruction more than another? In the grand scheme of things, we are all dying specks on a dying rock. But here, we make distinctions.

On the Eating of a Childhood Friend

I have a friend who lived on a small farm and kept cows. From this friendship came my obsession with good, whole milk (and rants concerning all other “lesser” forms of milk) and also a love of cows. One cow was named Bumper. As a child, my friend loved Bumper and, for the sake of story, Bumper loved him. One day, Bumper, having lived a good, long life, got struck by lightning. Bumper died.

For this, my friend wept. It was an understandable reaction, finding something so loved so very round and dead.  What strikes me most in this story was the process that suddenly and silently followed. The body was taken, carried by the pallbearers of father and sons, and prepared. The meat was cleaned and dressed. Some hours after the tragedy, the family bowed their heads and said a word of prayer. Dust-to-dust, they remembered Bumper.

And life went on. My friend chased dogs and threw scraps to cats and loved the birds and grew in his way. Gradually, these other furry friends passed away, but, oddly enough, he never ate a dog.

On Eating with Aunt Sue

I must confess that I am a truly terrible vegetarian. I am weak, unwilling to burden my family and friends for the sake of my moral convictions.  For their love, I compromise my commitment—though I know this is foolish, that I would have it regardless of what I do or do not eat.

Family, in truth, is a harder force to deny than conscience. I have “broken” my vegetarianism to eat a steak with my father, thinking of all the years I have missed truly being close to him. I have broken my vegetarianism to eat hotdogs with my grandfather, much for the same reason. I have broken to eat oysters with friends because somehow celebration requires a shared meal.

And through this sharing, we experience much of our culture. Society is dependent on ritual and tradition. Why do we eat turkey at Thanksgiving but for tradition? Why do we eat meals together but for the sake of unity? We follow our traditions and conform to our communities, and, for those who break from the norm, thy fate is ostracism.

I have eaten many of the animals in the animal kingdom. And I think about it. I think about it every moment at the dinner table, as every plate is passed and as I chew each mouthful. In the same breath with which I compliment my aunt for a tasty meal, I want to scream.

And So, a Story, As If We Were Oysters

My motherfather left hisher mark on the shells of herhis fathermother just like the motherfatherfathermothers before herhim, and she spat me out to leave my mark on the shell as well, and he spat me out to leave my mark on the shell as well. And I grew grew up and made made me and became became a shell of a shell with the mass of me to be. I ate good life and spat clean water and one day spat my own sonsdaughters to find their own shells to make their own just like their motherfather. I made my mark on the shells that had made their mark on the shells before, and one day the ground shook and I closed my I opened my I cried my noteyes and my shells and the shells and our shells went dry and loud clanking loud snapping loud lemons making it all wrong and I made my mark on the shells that made their marks on the shells before and now I’m open now I’m open now I’m drowning now I’m lost in the void of a void and I’m gone.