Storm King 2015: Pieces from the Litmag Staff

On October 1, 2015, Pascack Valley Literary Magazine members and advanced photography students took a field trip to Storm King Arts Center, an outdoor art museum in upstate New York. They used the art as inspiration for art, literature, and photography. A selection of the pieces that were written, the photographs that were taken, and the art pieces that were drawn are shown down below. 

Pieces From the Lit Mag Staff

STORM KING (10/1/15) BY CHARLIE LEPPERT

  I. Mozart’s Birthday

Light breaks on empty steel,

and birch leaves, and white holiness;

turns figures, distant, into silhouette matchbox bodies,

crawling mountains under the clouds

lit white from behind, leaving rust glowing.

Rolling soft wheat and rough green rustles

under the feet of strangers trying to find themselves

in the places where mountaintop black trees

kiss gray-white endless sky.

The wind turns your hair into bicycle-bar streamers,

your tongue a clicking baseball card in the wheels,

and the rust turning this cold breeze

into something beautiful.

Yellow flowers under hawk, circling carrion

of the summer, fermenting into fall, and far away,

where the hills touch the sky, steel beams reach

just for the boundless, narrowing clouds.

 

    II. Grecian Columns

Dynastic truths hold no roofs,

hold no power, hold me in,

keeping me from this endless hill,

and my endless falling, with the water whispering

behind my back like I can’t hear.

Dry reeds murmur to my clover heart,

the park bench holiness of my own cut-grass palms,

my own bare skin and my own cold teeth.

Watch the mountains fold themselves,

like the creases of palms, into their own skin.

Watch the treetops touch and lean closer

to whisper secrets between their leaves.

Through the blinds of this marble

watch black birds scream their way home

and watch for the eternal change in the wind

that lets nothing live with any permanence

besides stone, towering, undying.

Walk to the rhythm of a distant chiming

under the hollow of pine trees and stone.

Do not let these fingers hold you.

 

    III. Inside Momo Taro

Stone cave echos voice, angelic,

leaves you whisper-gentle, dissolved

by your own cooing chest, your own melting muscle.

From here, Persephone’s fern-mattress-homicide

is far away fright, from your untouchable self,

and you cannot wonder too far.

Cannot wonder where this cliff falls to,

cannot wonder where the spine of this mountain leads,

cannot wonder where this valley is rolling.

All you can do is listen to your own love songs

vibrating off this polished stone

and wonder how many times

this round, stained glass slide of clouds

can kaleidescope away

before you open your eyes.

 

    IV. Suspended

Teenage forms of death-defying,

thrill-seeking, plant yourself in dirt

under weathered iron and hope it stands

for just five more minutes.

Watch the sky run away

from your decisions and while you

plant yourself in a death-trap shadow,

watch the sun come out

for the first time today.

Bathe yourself in morning and warm

just to remind yourself

that maybe you’re risking something

but aren’t you glad to feel the sun,

feel the grass,

feel the blisters on your ankles,

feel yourself

opening up to a life you are wasting,

dangling two tons of steel above your head

just to prove to yourself that you are no longer a coward

like you’ve always thought you could be.

Feel the sun, feel this cold breeze,

feel that you are home in your own skin-

finally.

 

    V. Inside Gazebo For Two Anarchists

Straight-jacket-caged in iron lattice

with windows, open to my sunlight,

casting white threads through cedar.

Wet-black footprints pace in shadows,

free to leave any time.

Held inside birdcage minds,

held captive, set free,

wrapped in iron bars and iron teeth,

empty mouth of archaic beast

spitting writers on its gray tongue.

Locked window boxes grow no flower

but these ladders of steel-

building homes for lovers,

trapped in their silence, in their locked lips

and wet teeth, interlocking

-grow artists.

My heart beats faster than this prison cell

of cobwebs and empty cicada shells.

 

    VI. Mirror Fence

Disappointment stares back.

Hide your eyes behind your hands,

shield yourself from lucite dreams

and cellophane-packaged futures

designed for everyone who isn’t you.

Stare past this white picket nightmare

into green mountains, at yellow flowers,

at the finite world on the other side of it

that isn’t out of reach if you just reach far enough.

Listen for the stream and the vultures,

for the distant elevator hum of the highway.

Avoid your eyes as the sun turns you Golden,

Golden as the money that owns you.

Try as hard as you can to stare past and stare through-

but your reflection will always stare back,

trapped in your factory-made aspirations,

out of place in the waterfront perfection

of this barbed-wire picket fence, surveilling

no matter how much you want to look away.

 

    VII. Three Legged Buddha

Hare Krishna to heavy lidded eyes.

Hare Krishna to Allen Ginsberg,

my appropriative angel, white Buddhist, poet’s prophet.

Hare Krishna to my coworker, in this country thirty years,

says she’s still grateful to have found a home

that let’s her be the person she was begging to be -

even if it leaves a bad taste in her mouth.

Hare Krishna to her no-shit-taken attitude.

Hare Krishna to my own fractured self,

the pieces of me scattered like diamonds,

always looking for a way to bend back over into itself.

Hare Krishna to churning gut, to stiff knees,

to the endless, gentle decay of soft metal,

and soft feet, and our own soft selves, sinking deeper

into own own minds while we sing ourselves

empty Hare Krishnas.

 

    VIII. Five Men, Seventeen Days, Fifteen Boulders, One Wall and Storm King Wall

Every way knows lovers

with a civil war

that stays inside on a rainy day,

holding nothing but itself

to the end of the line,

watching itself crumble

into the storm dark.

Every war knows lovers

across enemy lines-

every war knows lovers

who know no borders-

every war knows lovers,

and I can’t imagine them kissing

each other’s blackberry teeth

anywhere else but here.

 

    IX. Pyramidian

This steel horizon, this green valley,

this rambling, winding wilderness,

crisscrossed with footpaths, highways, forests.

This iron river, from this,

this black and red temple, swinging pendulum

ticking away hours, ticking away millenia,

ticking way with the rhythm of an ancient wind.

This open sky with countless white cloud horizons

in every direction opens from this hilltop,

opens into this cavern of self,

cool wind bringing grass smell and paradise

under blue-white sky oblivion.

Me, in this cool grass, on this wet back,

watching the iron slice the sky

until I am ready for the wind to tick me home,

ready for this glass river and mirrored highway

to see me crash back into myself

while the clouds chase each other over the sun

and disappear behind iron mountains,

never to see me, this calm and this open, again.

 

    X. Mother Peace

Homebound, on this swinging-beam peace ship,

iron, orange, endless as it is,

blocks horizon, blocks sunlight,

turns red with this sunshine silhouette cloak,

moving gentle against blue, white, Gold,

this home built for no one,

built for everyone.

Me, smaller than I should be, watching

as the wind bends her to her will

just like ancient trees wave goodbye to the storm

with myriad dancing leaves,

and the wind turns them white.

I am aware more than I should be

that I may never be here again,

or return the same person I am,

but I let myself know it is enough to have been.

And, oh, how I have been.


BALLROOM, ARTWORK BY JULIE MARTIN-MOONS AND WRITING BY NICOLE ZAMLOUT

The two of us glide on the floor together as everyone gazes on. My dress swishes in time with my movements as I gaze into his eyes. Our dance is perfect, precise, unstopping. I’ve had many dances before but this, this is the dance poets write about, kings die for, and people search for all their lives. 

It’s a dance that is called love. 

A spinning waltz, a spicy tango, a lively jig, it has it all. But I know the patrons of this ball watch in impatience, want me to finish this dance which to them is foolish and much too easy for one like me. They wait to put me with another partner, one who is less passionate, less graceful. The music will stop, our motions will still, too soon, too soon, why so soon? But now, we get to have this dance, just us, if only for a little while. And soon, when the ballroom empties, when the music stops, we will dance again.


REGRET, ARTWORK BY JULIE MARTIN-MOONS AND WRITING BY NICOLE ZAMLOUT

She looks up at the ancient columns, their cracks and decay a trophy for their endurance she watches them, her snakes coiling and swaying in the light breeze, their scales sparkling in twilight. Her eyes stare past the columns, past the stars, into memory. When she had hair rather than snakes and flesh rather than scales and every man wanted her. 

Oh, how they wanted her. 

And how she tempted the man who was unreachable, and made him want. When she drove a god into a pit of lust and desire, she never felt more powerful. She scoffed to herself. Power. Oh how she abused it. When he tried to make good on the promises she whispered in his ear she fled. 

She never expected to follow. 

When she prayed to Athena, she looked down on her in disgust. And as Poseidon took her on the floor, she wondered if the goddess knew this would be. 

When it was done, she opened her eyes to find a monster staring at her. She backed away, only to realize it was her reflection. For millennia, she had felt anger for the goddess who cursed her, hate toward the god who turned her. But now, as man slips on into oblivion and the ancient world crumbles away, joining her tears, she only feels regret.  


SUSPENDED BY JENNY PESHANSKY

The building loomed up before him, looking gray and desolate and ancient.

Not even knowing why, he took a step leading him towards the door. Part of him wanted to turn around, but he was stopped by a sudden and overwhelming terror that there would be nothing there. The fear drained away as soon as he took another step forward, replaced by a strange calmness and serenity that followed him through the door. 

The only structure inside the building seemed to be an old, crumbling pillar in the center. As he neared it, he could see what seemed to be a green vine wrapped around it. 

He felt nothing but a dull stab of curiosity when it blinked and spoke. 

“So,” the snake said said in a tone that seemed too casual for the situation, “what are you looking for?”

“Sorry?” He looked inside himself for fear or surprise or any emotion, but found only an emptiness so resounding that it reminded him of his surroundings.

It sounded impatient. “You’re looking for something. What is it?”

He shrugged. “I don’t know. I’m not really looking for anything.”

“Everyone who comes here is looking for something. That’s how they get here.”

He tried to pretend it had just said something that made any semblance of sense. “So what am I looking for, then?”

“You tell me. Fame, fortune? Salvation, direction, forgiveness, protection? Your lost puppy? This is really something you should know about yourself, kid.”

He tried to make sense of the tears that seemed to be rolling down his face - what the snake had just said shouldn’t affect him at all. “So why are you here then? What are you looking for?”

“Ah,” it said, uncoiling itself from the pillar. “Now isn’t that a question for the ages.”

He stared steadily at the ground as it neared him. “Can I leave?”

“Only if you’ve got somewhere to go,” it told him. “But those who have somewhere to go don’t come here in the first place.”

“So I’m trapped.” 

“I wouldn’t say that,” said the snake. “You could leave, but I’m telling you there’s nothing out there.”

“Can I see?” But the futility of the question hit him immediately, as he remembered the aversion that had stopped him from looking the first time.

“Feel free to look. The concept of there being nothing to see bothers most everyone, though.” It was as if the snake knew what his fears had been - unless, against everything he knew to be reasonable, they’d been somehow right. 

“I came here from somewhere.” That was the only thing he knew for sure, so he clung to it like one clings to the smallest piece of driftwood as the water of uncertainty threatens to pull them down into the depths and drown them. 

“That’s because you had somewhere to come from, but you’ve got nowhere to go.” The snake sounded bored, as if this should’ve been obvious. As if any of this made sense.

 “Can’t I go back to where I came?” He knew the futility of asking before the words had even left his mouth. 

“And where was that?”

The boy racked his brain , but found - surprise - nothing. “I don’t know.” He tried to ward off the horror he wanted to feel at the emptiness where his memories should have been.

“No worries,” the snake said. “If it was an option for you, you’d remember. Then again, if it was an option, you wouldn’t be here.”

“So I’m here forever,” said the boy, trying to accept the inevitable.

The snake was getting close, something that should have bothered him more than it did. “Just because there’s nowhere to go now doesn’t mean it’s going to stay that way.”

“And you’re here to help me find the new place to go?” he asked.

“Is that what you assume?” The snake was looking him over, scrutinizing. Evaluating.

He tried to keep uncertainty out of his voice. “It’s a pretty safe assumption to make, yes.” 

“It’s never good to assume things.” The snake was evading his question.

“So are you going to hurt me, then?” How was it that he felt no fear at that prospect, when the very thought of his past had filled him with panic?

Perhaps it was because, whatever the snake was going to do, it hadn’t happened yet. It wasn’t set in stone. It was in front of him, not behind him, waiting to stab him in the back.

The snake was contemplating him again, as if trying to decipher his thoughts. “I’m not going to say that, either.”

It didn’t look like any of his questions were going to get answered, and yet he decided to ask anyway. “Is there any point in running?”

“Anything is probably better than standing still.”

And, as he realized with a growing sense of urgency, he’d been standing still for a very long time. “But you just said there’s nowhere to go.”

“There’s here.”

The boy looked deeper into the shadows that filled the far end of the temple. “There’s a way out there?”

“More like a way further in.”

“But it’s somewhere.” 

“If any of this counts as somewhere, then yes.”

“I think I’ll go there, then.” The darkness, which should have scared him and repelled him, somehow seemed inviting, despite the fact that he didn’t know what he would find there. Maybe that was why it appealed to him. But there was a sense of dread that accompanied it, something that made it difficult for him to move.

“You don’t seem to be going,” the snake observed.

He forced himself to take a step in that direction, then another. “I am.”

“You seem to be having some trouble.” 

“Not really.” He quickened his pace towards the darkness. “Do you plan to follow me?”

“I never make plans. I just act.” But the snake was slithering alongside him, and soon they’d fallen into a companionable silence. 

But the questions whirled around in his mind, and he couldn’t keep them locked away for very long before opening his mouth again. “So why are we walking right now?”

The snake gave him a withering look as it continued to slither beside him. “Speak for yourself.”

“Sorry,” he said. “Why am I, then?”

“You keep asking me to explain your actions.” 

The boy sighed. “I mean, what’s the point? Am I going to find anything there?”

“Yes,” said the snake. “You’re going to find what you’re looking for.”

“But I don’t know what I’m looking for,” he said. “How will I know when I find it?”

“You seem to expect me to have all the answers,” said the snake. “I’ve told you all I know, and several observations I’ve made as a bonus. You should pay me for my time.”

“With what? My life? My soul?” He didn’t have anything else to give.

“I was making a joke.” The snake’s tone was dry, and cold, as it had always been. It didn’t sound like one that was much for humor, but the boy realized it was amused.

“Ah.” He could think of no other response.

“But you didn’t seem too distressed at the concept of parting with either of those.”

“Are you saying you want them?”

The snake looked at him like he was a mystery to be solved, and he wished he could join the snake in putting the pieces together, instead of just floundering. “I’m saying that’s not normal.”

“How would you have any perspective on what’s normal?”

“Fair point,” the snake acknowledged. “I’m just saying. Maybe that has something to do with what you’re looking for. And, before you ask, that is all I know.”

Before he could say or do anything else, the snake suddenly bolted forward, disappearing ahead of him into the darkness. He felt empty again, with so many questions but no one to ask. But maybe that was why the snake had done it - so that he could find his own answers.

And those answers, he knew now for certain, lay ahead of him in the darkness.

So, with newfound determination, he strode forward where the snake had vanished, and into the unknown.


A PLACE BY JAMIE RYU

There was a place far away that she wished to go.

Maybe it would feel like the summer, warm sun shining down on her face and bugs crawling unseen and unheard. 

Maybe it would feel like the spring, muggy and moist; the air dense with rain and the grass littered with colored petals. 

Or maybe it would be like the winter, white and pristine. 

A clean sheet. A clean slate.

Maybe it would feel like the autumn with a chilling breeze and the changing color. Perhaps clouds would roll overhead and her teeth would chatter and a slight shiver would run up her spine and her hair would blow with the leaves. 

But, no matter what it would be like, she wanted to go. 

She had no need for clear skies, the sun, the rain, the snow. 

What she wanted was an unending horizon. A view that faded into the distance seemingly with no end. She wanted the feeling of freedom that would come with it. 

But it was something that was far, foreign, not within her reach. The space between her and that feeling of flying, of being something bigger to the world, was miles long. 

She knew that. 

She circled the possibility of it, coming so close to just going, leaving, being. 

But this dream of hers, it just wasn’t possible. 

Because it was just as soon as she thought she might be close, inches away rather than miles, just a finger’s length away, that something ripped her back, pulled her, held her. 

And she couldn’t fight it. She couldn’t outrun it.

She was trapped in this circle, forever staring after her dream.


SILENCE IS A MIRROR BY JAMIE RYU

There was something about solitude that people seemed to not understand. Like it was completely baffling that I’d want to be alone. They seemed to think that those in solitude were somehow lacking, that they needed help. 

And so it went that I’d be sitting by myself in the grass, in a hallway, by the bleachers, anywhere, and someone would show up, almost like magic. Like the Messiah or something, glowing light around them and all. Like they’d saved me.They’d show up with a big smile on their faces and plop right down next to me. 

And they’d want to chat and banter and ruin the silence that I’d carefully cultivated, the silence that I’d managed to construct over myself. 

Silence, I’d found, was a great tool for introspection. 

It was great for people who didn’t know who they were or had become. It was for pretenders, for those who were so good at becoming someone else that they forget who they really were. 

Silence was a mirror.

It isolated you, made you look at yourself, really look at yourself. People, interaction, the jumble of sounds that formed words. They were funhouse mirrors. Twisted and warped, they showed you some kind of filtered version of you. 

Very rarely were people good at lying to themselves. 

They lied to others. But alone, with their thoughts, they couldn’t hide. 

And so, when I sought solitude and it was broken, I was never happy. I was never excited about having a conversation, company, or someone to talk to.

Because I was feeding them lies.

Because how could I let them get to know me when I didn’t know myself?