The First Gulf War
I never thought my friends would go fight in the Gulf War. It seemed simple: we would move to Canada if necessary. The TV screen was mostly dark, there were reporters in red Patagonia jackets under the channel’s graphic, there were streaming lights across the sky and an occasional glow from the ground. “We are live from Baghdad” but our TV screen looked like a video game for which we had no controls. This was the prevailing visual comparison and I still use it because it’s exactly what I remember. I didn’t actually know if Canada would let us in. That night, my Jewish boyfriend got into a fight with my Palestinian friend and in response to this, my other friend, son of a black nationalist from Newark, stormed out of our apartment to join the protest up the street in front of the White House.
and white pillars, lawns of green grass in sections stacked up then pieced together—their seams occasionally show. Cut-off shorts, black fishnets, combat boots. The card catalogue, fans on stands, my notebook pages fluttering up. I put my name on a clipboard to use a computer and I wait. We all wait and then tear the perforations off the edges of our papers. It is 1989 and in Theories of Feminism we sit in a circle and share responses to Audre Lorde’s “Uses of the Erotic.” Someone says, “My boots are erotic.” I love this answer that surprises our professor. There are free condoms at the health center. On a whim I audition for the modern dance troupe and get in. I withdraw my membership from the church.
I can still smell the warmth inside my leather jacket and hear the screeching of a hundred blackbirds circling the campus. We did not think about careers. We were not ambitious. We weren’t intellectuals, artists, or even activists. Our parents had informed us about their losses and we spent the start of every semester lined up in the hallway outside Financial Aid. Most of us didn’t worry about the future that final fall and I don’t know why not.
There is a layer of yellow ginko leaves on the ground. It is 1 in the morning and none of the buildings are very tall. Most curtains are drawn. We walk past the Fox & Hound where there’s laughter and glasses clinking and smoke, The Clash and messenger bikes chained up outside. Then a gunshot—a fast, sharp clap—and we stop. The quiet after is frightening. Finally we hear voices and sirens and we walk toward it, toward our apartment. He holds my shoulders as we skirt the scene and I catch a glimpse of a man’s head in a pool of dark blood.
Brown or Dartmouth
“The problem is I didn’t go to Brown or Dartmouth.” “You could have.” “Yeah. Fuck. Maybe. My parents had no clue.” He sits in the middle of envelopes, applications, index cards, stamps, signing letters. I step over the pile. I can’t decide if it’s him or me who is foolish: foolish for making a plan or foolish not to. “I’m sure you’ll get in somewhere.” “Problem is there are a million fucking people who want to get in right now. I should have gone to Michigan. Fuck.”
I float, watching the red mobile above. Who would I be? I could have six tattoos, old furniture, book shelves filled up. A camera and many trips to Europe. I could design myself, name myself “June.” An espresso in the museum café. A postcard purchased for a bookmark. I repeat “June, June” under my breath. I could be a book.
The Baltics split away, Russia is a country now, they are dancing on top of the Berlin Wall, and Hungarians are pouring into the grounds of the Austrian Embassy in Budapest. They give West German currency to East Germans, send them on a shopping spree, and our German professor expresses doubt. On the other side of campus our sociology professor proclaims: “Remember this time—it’s a real revolution.” I don’t know why it doesn’t excite us: the Cold War is over.
“NASA Invents Velcro”
is the first line of the first poem I ever write while sitting in American Cultural Patterns. The last row is filled with frat boys who sit with their legs stretched out. I write other poems about a flight into the margins. The crash of the 80s has happened and we have no clue about the economic policy that has just locked in and will settle in over most of us for the rest of our lives. We read about mergers and acquisitions, the military industrial complex, and a study on the relationship between baby boomers, protest, and leisure time. I distribute a survey and assume it’s one of the frat boys who doesn’t answer my questions but instead writes, “Go to hell you feminist bitch.”
and the recession coincides with our graduation. There is house music then rap, Zulu Nation, Run DMC, and everyone’s talking about moving to New York despite crack. “For a job?” “No, nothing yet.” We perform our final dance of the year to an essay on AIDS narrated live. It’s staged in the courtyard of the Art-Sociology building. Two male dancers join us “from the DC community” and one breaks down crying during the performance. At rehearsals we were always mapping the perimeter of a disaster. Later that day I threw a water bottle up and down against the already-hot blue sky until the cap came off and this release was captured on film. That art and sociology could go together—maybe this was my education.
JILL MAGI is an artist, critic, and educator whose research and teaching interests include poetry and poetics, experimental literature, handmade books, alternatives to mainstream publishing, and textile arts. Her books include LABOR (Nightboat Books), SLOT (Ugly Duckling Presse), Cadastral Map (Shearsman Books), Torchwood (Shearsman Books), and Threads (Futurepoem). Her essays, reviews, and creative works have been published in The Brooklyn Rail, Michigan Quarterly Review, Columbia Poetry Review, The Conversant, and The Review of Contemporary Fiction.