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Offbeat: Unvarnished Voices, Vol. 4 written by Kristen DeMay


Offbeat: Unvarnished Voices, Vol. 4 written by Kristen DeMay


The Offbeat is an independent literary series devoted to publishing a diverse collection of voices, and to promoting contact and discussion among Michigan writers. The Offbeat is run entirely by Michigan State University undergraduates, and is centered in East Lansing. Student editors encourage contributions by all individuals with a Michigan connection, past and present, visitor and resident, urban and rural, student and non-student alike. The Offbeat's goal is to provide an alternative literary outlet for all Michigan writers.


"The Offbeat: Unvarnished voices is the fourth title in The Offbeat literary collection series: a series devoted to publishing a diverse selection of voices and to promoting contact and discussion among writers." Student editors encourage contributions by all individuals with a Michigan connection, past and present, visitor and resident, urban and rural, student and non-student alike. Its purpose is to call attention to voices both emerging and established.


The Offbeat: Unvarnished Voices

A Literary Collection

Michigan State University Press

Copyright © 2004 The Offbeat
All right reserved.

ISBN: 978-0-87013-736-5

Chapter One

    A Peppered Earth
    Steven Rajewski

    There are no hopefuls
    in a town baked from stolen wheat
    and blood drenched bed sheets
    where the dangers of rigid belief
    still yet poison young men's futures
    and pepper the earth with grand illusions
    swim fast thru the iron thistle
    where the black casket kings
    have visceral awareness
    and fly razor clawed falcons
    over thin reality
    and bury the burden
    of paying attention
    with a plastic fork

    Our Last Days
    Josh Guilford

    it's been a long time comin
    but it's comin now.
    a chainsaw-spun smile.
    fingers interlocked and revolving—
    the teeth of grinding gears.
    eyes peeled east awaiting this starrise—
    our last day of summer.

    within an inch we'll soak this in,
    it all becomes reflection.
    so kiss me through your swan dive darling
    kiss me falling forward—
    the skyline
    early morning arson.

    I Remember You On Friday Nights
    Rachel Murray

    I watch the streetlight filter through the swirling
    depth of your hair,
    Strain against the seatback breathing in
    Until I can't hold any more of you.
    Really, I'd like to sneak the window down a crack
    And choke you out into the airwaves

    But as I feel you start to slip away,
    I brace my arms between the cushions
    And hold on tighter.

    Somehow you smell sweeter
    Than I expected.

    If I Knew How to Dance
    Erin Ashmore

    El camino, el camino por delante,
    I hum, I'm ready for my trip.
    I stick my thumb out toward the road
    like I test beso extremeño shots with my little finger
    and squelch the flame and throw it back
    and jump in the first stick-shift piece of shit I see.
    Camión, camioneta, ranches?

    How do you say that here?
    When you pull up to the corner I'll get in,
    You'll be late for work but I won't tell your wife.
    We'll find a bar outside of town where they yell out
    Ay Rubi! and I'll throw back my head and wink.
    Ten in the morning and ten shots between us.
    You try the cheap vodka and I'll depend on
    lo que me gusta mas:
    un chupito mas, carino
, because today I'll let you pay
    with sticky bills and lips adhesive to mine.
    I will be the americana only until lunch,
    so we have to act fast.
    I drop my smoke and spit
    on the cherry while we
    skid along to the club that's been
    dripping and hip-thrusting since 6 a.m.
    and you will like that, oh,
    you look at me thinking calientapollas
    and I laugh.
    My plan was never secret.
    Hot in December and dark in the afternoon.
    No one notices the accent when I'm
    singing and in the right light I have
    the face of a morenita and the improvised movement
    of the moribund flamenco dancer.
    When I sway toward you, spin around
    and throw down my foot
    demanding, my hand shoots up high,
    and my face parallels the rooftops.
    My hair sweeps incredulity from your
    eyes and sweat flies
    and stings at the corners of your mouth.
    You forget to move. I forget to stop moving.
    I don't need my bra today—
    It just gets in the way.
    But don't bother looking down, look up.
    It turns out my hips move on their own
    and my eyes oscillate still faster.
    This is your chance and the only piece of ass you'll see
    in four months.
    Is it true what they say about American girls?
    No, no to voy a decir mi nombre-
    Only if you can get me off.
    And you've gotta drop me off on the corner in time to
    change my scuffed boots and do my homework.
    We're reading Machado this week,
    the one who ashed all over his shirt oblivious.
    You will laugh again, and beg me—
    What's your name? but I will let myself out
    without another word
    and point my toes toward the sidewalk
    and kick the liquored cigarettes from the soles.
    Black eyeliner from the grocery store
    wipes off before I hit the door.
    An embroidered orange sweatshirt shrouds
    the leftover sweat on my collarbone—did you leave a hickie?
    No pasa nada.
    There is no road. I guess you make the road by walking it.
    I won't see you again.

The Obsession Brianna Kathleen Reckeweg

I don't know when the first time was I thought I was fat.

I do know that it was when I was skinny.

The "Nutrition Facts" reading, when did that start? My mother could tell you. She rather hated the two hour grocery trips during which I fretted ... Ok the Keebler graham crackers have 110 calories per square and 2.5 grams of fat but the Nabisco ones have 100 calories per square and 3 grams of fat ... and what is a square exactly? ... Is that one of the little rectangles or the big one? ... How many does that mean I get to eat? ... 'Cause I could get the Healthy Choice low fat mini chocolate chip cookies and have 15 for 130 calories and 4 grams of fat ... wait, is that right? ... Hold on mom I have to go back to aisle 3 and read that box again ... Bread, cereal, granola bars, yogurt, lunchmeat, pretzels, gum. Gum? In retrospect, I think the obsession started right about here.

Or maybe it started with the counting of actual food. I remember the cheese puffs. Always twelve cheese puffs. No more, no less.

I remember going on "diets" with my playmate Renee before we were old enough to know what cellulite was or "hips" for that matter, and when we were still young enough to eat candy all day long without feeling sick. We woke up one morning and weighed ourselves. I don't know, 60 pounds or something. Then we swam, and biked, and ran around all day (like that wasn't what we would have been doing anyway in those carefree summer days of our childhood). Aside from the exercise, I believe the food part of our diet consisted of carrots and popsicles mostly, those annoying Twinsicle ones that never broke quite right. By the end of the day, 60 pounds had melted away to 55. Why did adults have such a hard time with this losing weight thing? One day, five pounds, we should write a book. It's 'cause we were little, my mom said. We didn't really believe her. I'll never be fat, I thought. By the next day, we forgot all about the diet. We continued with our afternoon adventures, traded in the carrots for Spaghettios, and kept sucking on those damn tricky popsicles.

And I remember looking at myself in the mirror in ballet class and seeing that my stomach was not completely flat. I equated that with obesity. And when our overweight, middle aged, cranky instructor asked "Have all you girls been doing your crunches at home every night?" I interpreted this comment as being directed exclusively towards me. Of course, being far from fat, a few weeks worth of nightly pelvic raises and it was gone. Then my focus simply shifted to my thighs, or my butt.

At Pom Pon practice one day in high school, with the conviction and authority we expected from a person in her position, Jessica, our senior captain told us lightheartedly: "You know you're fat if your butt sticks out further than your boobs." Well shit. This was a new rule. Yet another test I had to pass. I had to check this out. With apprehension but also with the stoic awareness that it was something that had to be done, I went to the girl's bathroom. This could not wait until I got home. It was difficult to tell with my clothes on however; more rigorous scrutiny would be applied later in private. Until then, I had the confirmation I masochistically sought ... I was fat. My A cup breasts paled in comparison to my rounded dancers butt. My dwindling self-confidence had been squashed by the proclamation from our all-knowing, albeit size DD, captain. Her boobs stuck out further than anyone's ass. Of course that didn't occur to me at the time.

No. The roots of the obsession go back much further. These were just the manifestations. Eating has always been a source of recognition in the homes of both of my parents. As a kid, the more I ate, the more approval I got. When you're little it's always "just have a few more bites honey" or "not until you finish your potatoes you can't!" Then I grew up and the relationship inverted itself. Unfortunately, behaviors learned when you're young, and in relation to your positive self concept, are difficult to change.

Dad always told me, "You did a good job tonight" as he peered over the napkin holder to look at my plate. He used increasingly praiseful modifiers the more bites of steak I consumed. The really's and the very's were often accompanied by a pat on my leg or my arm as well.

Mom spoke with the same tone of pride when I earned my place in the "Clean Plate Club" at the end of each meal. Apparently, my late Papa had been the founder of this particular group and I too blushed with satisfaction to become a member. My large appetite was now even transcending the realm of the living and meriting respect from the dead.

Both parents were also guilty of rewarding my food intake with the presentation of more food, namely dessert. (I still find this to be a very peculiar practice in our society.) Well, if the parental approval wasn't enough to justify eating as much as I could, chocolate cake and pudding definitely did the trick.

Continuing with the detrimental influence of my father, I can recall no childhood experience in which I bonded with him more than on our weekly trips to Prevos grocery store. My father is what you call an impulse buyer. And he is a sucker for packaging. We would mosey down each and every aisle pointing out this new flavor of that, and that new color of this, tossing one after the other box, carton, can, package, and bag into the cart. The goal, as I interpreted by his repetition of the question, "Do you want anything else to snack on?" was, apparently, to want something else to snack on. No, we were not just going to try all these new taste sensations; we were going to try them all that day. To eat continuously and still be hungry for the next purchase, that was how I would win my father's approval. So, for every time that I uttered the phrase, "Dad, I'm hungry again," amid Detroit Lions games and homework, or Nintendo games and Nickelodeon, I was answered with a hearty laugh and a mass of attention as he prepared my next treat and mumbled about how I was a "bottomless pit." How did he not anticipate the consequences of this label? My dad actually told me that my first word was "food." He was lying, of course. He also thought he was being funny.

Little did either of my parents know what conflicting messages do to an adolescent girl. TEEN magazine showed me what I should look like, my dance instructors told me what I should look like, my peers reinforced ideals of what all girls should look like, my friends ridiculed their own bodies, and my crushes ridiculed other peoples bodies (i.e. the fat girl in the back of the class). Man was I afraid of being that girl, more than anything.

My parents, however, had inadvertently led me to believe that their love and affection was best earned by behavior extremely detrimental to the achievement of the goals set by all of the previously mentioned groups.

I needed to be model thin on the one hand, but I had been conditioned to masticate my way to approval my whole life. Shit. But Mom and Dad, in their own ways, and ignorant of one another's complimentary influence, turned on me eventually too. I look for signs now, which could have warned me of their sudden allegiance to the appearance-based values of pop culture. I find none. In my mind, it remains an overnight phenomenon.

Mom said to me one evening, as my slim and sculpted body stood in front of the open refrigerator looking for a healthy snack after my four hours of dance lessons, "Why are you eating again? You don't need anymore food, you already had dinner." Um, ok. Note to self: Do not eat when you are hungry. Deny yourself nourishment even if your body needs it. It does not matter if you look good now, you should live with a fear that you might gain weight.


Well, in the same way a young boy will want a cigarette just because he cannot legally have one, my eating took on a whole new trend. At dinner time, when it is apparently acceptable to eat, I would stuff myself because I knew it would not be okay to eat anything later that night. (I did not notice then the contradiction involved in the bag of potato chips that nightly rested on my mom's sitcom-watching lap.)

When this finally took its toll and I did gain weight, although not very much, my Dad joined in on my confusion. "So, do you like the way you look right now?" he asked. I was taken aback. What answer was expected and implied from this question. "Uh, yeah, I mean, I'd like to lose maybe ten or fifteen pounds, I guess." "Yeah," he said, eyeballing me once more, "that seems about right."


Of course I didn't like the way I looked! I have never liked my body, Dad, but thanks for confirming my fears.

The message was now clear on all fronts: I am not okay the way I am. My new, single, unified goal in life, as idealized by my mother, my father, and my culture, was to be skinny. My sense of worth was tied up in this one aspect of myself. They loved me because I ate food. They loved me because I denied myself food. It has always been, and will always be, about food.

Years later, my mom attributes my eating disorders and my depression to a "serotonin deficit"; my dad calls it a "chemical imbalance." They like the sound of those. Blame biology.


    Neat Cut
    Victoria Henderson

    Box-shaped snowflakes
    Top the basket
    Already filled with loathe
    And writhe
    Fan the flame of dust
    Into eyes
    Does not surprise

    Cavalry speeds
    Horses eager
    Burned tombstone
    Turns into dove
    And flies away

    Trim landscape
    So that no flower
    Scorn petals
    Bathed in light

    Natural Reflection
    Mary Helmic

    against a grey lit sky
    bare branches reach in bold relief
    a view not seen in autumn, only winter
    seasons, their faces distinguishable
    from one another
    offer immediate recognition
    as to where this earth is
    in relation to its sun
    in contrast, I cannot discern
    the face I'm wearing
    can take no reading on where I stand
    in relation to anything save you
    a reference point
    by which I take my bearing
    on which depends
    my strength to survive and create
    to gather the courage to continue
    against your well lit sky
    my dark soul stands out in bold relief
    a world spinning around its sun
    and in that connection
    find my reason for being

    Moonlight Children
    Rebecca Klein

    we sh.-Lit ourselves in dark rooms
    to watch our dreams
    unfold on screens,
    towering castles,
    tall stone walls that crumble
    when the credits roll
    and exit signs usher us
    back to the chill.
    of 'bland concrete.
    with machines we seek
        to recapture
    the escape, our new
    preserved on disc
        and tape,
    reflecting wishes,
    outcast childish. hopes,
    eyes shut,
    weaving shimmering mirages
    through broken glass streets,
    sad two-car garages,
    urban and suburban wastelands
        of divorce -ridden. grunge rock,
        flannel loner Sub Pop,
        gangsta rap and hip-hop,
    voices bleeding our hope
    and hurt, a novel unfinished,
    dreams diminished,
    love cast aside immortal,
    ever-suspended in the glowing
        portal between childhood
        and earth-bound feet,
    voices muttering words
    of retreat, clock-punching
        entities asleep, craving
        memories, ever longing for
    -that, half written symphony,
    scribbling out-words,
    never capturing harmonies,
    lost and absurd,
    lingering in the almost
        and the never-was,
    dancing between couldn't,
        and because,
    shutting eyes when the
        light is too painful,
        truth is too shameful,
    and night is the only lover
    to embrace.


Excerpted from The Offbeat: Unvarnished Voices Copyright © 2004 by The Offbeat. Excerpted by permission of Michigan State University Press. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

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