poetry & creative nonfiction
by claire patzner
Peace Within the Storm
The dampness reaches,
Beyond my sleeping bag,
Beyond my layers of clothes
And into my blood, into my bones.
The sky’s faint whispers grow
Into loud hollers of violence
And a white light flashes
Beyond the park,
Beyond the heavens
And into my eyelids, into my mind.
And on that new white canvas of my mind,
I paint a facade of warmth.
I’m in my grandmother’s kitchen
And the hollers of the sky are instead
Squeals of the kettle,
And the dampness of my clothes is from
A day at the lake,
And the rain pouring overhead is simply
The noise of the bath being prepared for me.
I will eat dessert in warm pajamas by the TV,
While grandmother reads home magazines.
I will be tucked into a quilted bed,
Anticipating the smell of omelettes biscuits in the morning.
I will awaken from this lie of comfort,
But for now I have escaped
I woke up very jet lagged that morning. And I ate fruits and strange bread. And it was dull and rainy so I put on my raincoat I had packed. We were going to the hydrangea gardens to see the great buddha. And my host mother laughed at me because I didn’t have an umbrella.
In America we didn’t bother with umbrellas unless it was pouring. We were ok with a bit of rain kissing our skin. I don’t know what it was about rain, but whenever it would rain, even just a little, they would pull their neatly folded umbrellas from their bags and, as if on cue, I would become lost in a sea of blacks, blues, reds and the occasional pink or purple.
But before we went out, we walked to my host grandmother’s house and immediately I was given a light pink umbrella by her as a gift. I felt so stupid for not having my own umbrella and silly for wearing my coral raincoat—the raincoat I had adored in America the previous summer and spring.
And so, without yet having great fluency in Japanese I struggled to say anything, particularly any of my thoughts on the new world which surrounded me. So I stared out the window, a favorite childhood pastime of mine, at the blur of trees and concrete buildings outside the train. After we saw the great buddha and I got my fortune, we went up several flights of stairs to see the “gardens” which were covered in fog. In retrospect, these gardens were pretty deplorable. They were just lines of pink and blue hydrangea with some greenery and herds of people shuffling quickly through them and not stopping to admire the little beauty there was.
I think that the most appealing sight I saw that day was when we reached the top of the stairs. We were overlooking the whole quaint town, with neat streets and modest houses. Even further out there was a glittering sea blending in with the milky grey skies. I pointed out at it and my host mother simply said “Umi” (sea in Japanese) and pushed us along. I wanted to say “Can we stop for a moment?” but I didn’t know how and it began to rain again. So I pulled out my off colored umbrella and tried to become part of the sea.
Cinema of the Mind
Today hurts so much, so today I’m not here. Today I am somewhere else, at a time when I was someone else. I’m in Japan and it’s not a very exciting day, but it’s exciting enough to me at least. And I wake up and walk to school, and it’s sunny, but I bring my umbrella just in case. My teacher is wearing a ponytail around her wrist and it’s decorated with flowers and she’s smiling. My younger friend gives me chocolates and grape jelly soda and I arrive home feeling content as I unlock the door. I drink iced coffee with a baby pink stir stick and two cups of sweetener. My host mother helps me study at the table, and afterwards I help her chop vegetables in the kitchen. We take the two Pomeranians out for a short walk and we go up the stairs and past the park to the pathway which overlooks the city.
And this day is on a loop. I play it whenever my mother neglects me, my sister is angry at me, or I’m reminded of my father who left me. I meditate in the cinema of my mind to this movie about this day—where the lead actress in only a faint version of myself. She’s more naive, happier, purer, better. There are no supporting actors or actresses and the movie has no pain or conflict. Everything is flat and lovely. The night I laid naked in the back of a car, I stared out the window at a distant light, rewound the tape of this memory and put it in. I wasn’t there anymore. I was analyzing the girl in the tape and wondering how to mimic her again. But the screen of the past and present separates me and the girl and the tape always ends. The credits roll and I wake up. I was still in the car, my mother still hated me and I’m still stuck, puffy eyed, in the sadness of today. Today there are no umbrellas, iced coffees, chopped vegetables or walks, and today a new actress graces the screen with a different story.
green tea lover
She used to drink three cups a day;
Red lips smudging against warm porcelain
And black bangs framing her eyes
Which were too big for her small body
And this small world.
She had a green heart,
She was a forest fairy.
I hated that tea, the smell, the taste.
Now I drink that tea every day.
The herbs fall into me and plant trees
At the bottom of my stomach.
If only I had planted them sooner,
So the trees could finally grow tall enough
To touch my heart pure.
The water hit my face and I looked at myself in the mirror. It was my birthday. Today I was sixteen and thousands of miles away from home. I had watched the movies of young girls on their sweet sixteen in awe of their glittering dresses and extravagant parties. This was the day when young girls became women. I leaned in towards the mirror as I applied thick coats of mascara to my eyelashes. I didn’t look like a woman. I still had young eyes, a round face and a small figure. I walked outside my house and saw the cool Vietnamese boys with their slicked back hair smoking cigarettes outside my international school. They inhaled the nicotine into their lungs and exhaled a nebula of chemicals. Their eyes followed me as I walked into the school and I felt out of place.
I got home from school and went inside to see my host mother in the kitchen. “I’m home!” I said, as cheerfully as possible. My host sister, Yuna, had left one of her dresses in my room for me to borrow. I changed into the garment: a cream colored dress with pastel pink flowers. I then waited in the kitchen for my host sister to return home as she was taking me to the Tanabata festival for my birthday. Tanabata day was a Japanese holiday that fell on my birthday every year. It was the day in which two stars came together as lovers. People would write their wishes on handmade papers and tie them to trees in honor of this event.
Excitement was burning in my chest as I sat on the back of Yuna’s bicycle, hugging her waist tightly. Hot summer wind blew through my long blonde hair and the holes of my cardigan. I remembered this same wind blowing through my hair as I laid outside at midnight with my first love. He was still my love, and I wondered if I was still his. He had been racing through my mind constantly since I had arrived in Japan. Every little thing would remind me of him, even the summer wind.
We arrived at the temple for the Tanabata festival when the stars had risen in the sky and the sun was hidden in darkness. We waited in line to cleanse ourselves in the temple fountains: long basins with faucets which water continuously flowed from. We rinsed our hands and mouth, hoping to cleanse our souls. I wished that this had been the case. I wished that as soon as I had rinsed my mouth, mature words would come out. After all, today I was sixteen and awaiting my birth into womanhood. However, minutes later we watched the glimmering trees standing outside the temple, and the same old childish giggle escaped my lips. We went to take a picture of the trees and texts began flooding in from my American friends, wishing me a happy birthday. I waited for my love’s text, but it hadn’t come.
We then stood around a fixture which pumped a scented steam. Everyone began inhaling it. This time we would cleanse our insides. I inhaled the steam, like the Vietnamese boys inhaled the cigarettes outside the school. But the steam didn’t come back out as a cloud and the toxins remained in my system. We moved on to a booth to receive our love fortunes. They were written on papers which smelled of lilacs and lavender. Mine read “your love is slowly leaving you” and I laughed with my host sister. At that time I could never imagine my first love leaving me. I tucked the fortune in my dress pocket and continued to the booth to buy papers and write our fortunes. I wrote mine in thick, black kanji. I wanted to be mature and wish for “world peace” as my host sister had. I wanted to wish for something more substantial than love or happiness. However there I stood, begging for my love not to leave me and wishing that one day I would stop feeling so sad.
I tied my wish on the tree and returned home. The same summer wind blew through my hair and up into my dress. I hugged my host sister’s waist as we biked home. I checked my texts once again and still received none from my love. Tears spilled down my cheeks and fell onto my babydoll dress. The mascara which I had worked so hard to apply, to distract from my young eyes, ran down my cheeks. My host sister shook her head, “Why would you fall in love with him if you knew he was like this?” she said, ashamed at my naive way of thinking.
We arrived home and candles illuminated my face. “Happy birthday” they sang to me. I wanted so badly to feel sixteen. I wanted to be a woman, but just minutes ago I had cried over puppy love. I waited for him to call until three A.M. that night. He never did call.
grew up with a love for reading and journaling and spent most of her childhood summer days at the library. After dealing with great family trauma, she turned to writing as an outlet for my grievances. She writes about her study abroad trip to Japan, her cats, her identity and the knowledge she gains from her experiences. Writing has become her biggest passion in life and she plans to go to college to study it further.
Want to find out more about the writer behind the work?
Read Claire's interview here.