Project A
Caroline Fernelius

A priori:

I have to tell the story of my sister’s rape and my mother’s succumbing (to

what? All that I can say is that it was like quicksand; December in the south of Texas takes no pore

For granted)


Theorem A:

If I tell the story of my sister’s rape and my mother’s succumbing then I am the exploiter (i.e. taking something that isn’t mine) my sister once told me I could make anything

Sound pretty it seems like a compliment it was not one

And since then I have been trying to court ugliness in places more expansive than

The gulf of Mexico In March for example

A Korean café in Providence, Rhode Island over a plate of orange foods a man told me he was working on Gertrude Stein and the grotesque I did not ask

Him to elaborate I want to make things ugly ugly ugly I wish I could

Do that.


Theorem A, in translation:

If I tell the story of my sister’s rape and my mother’s succumbing then I will do unforgivable things like talk about Hephaistos and Athena in a story about my sister’s rape and my mother’s succumbing.


Theorem B:


If I do not tell the story of my sister’s rape and my mother’s succumbing then for the rest of my life I will make things that obliquely refer to the thing which I wanted to explain

I wanted to explain denial and so I wrote my senior thesis on nuns and we all became fucked

I wanted to explain food and so I studied the holy communion in excruciating detail

I wanted to explain sex and I did not understand the question.


If I do not tell the story of my sister’s rape and my mother’s succumbing then I will ignore letters and fridges for all time the slippery fluorescence mocking

An utter inability to commit. To put down the fact that December in Florida is strikingly similar in both meter and tone I want to make things ugly ugly ugly I wish I could

Do that.



Part A

Yellow Things




I love geometry class the little rules I copy in my own book the boy in front calls me ginger I am not one copying the rules and go home to the dogs

Penny and Owen see the dogs go to my room copying more rules making things.

When I was young I wore my hair in a ponytail and discovered one could not make things with words always if one wanted to refrain from turning into dust completely

My grandmother half-dust woman puts colors and mud-caked coins into my hands I put them in rows I cannot become all dust just yet my mother

she’s all clay, downstairs telling brother

stop making a mess with that rice blue bowl for me on

the stovetop she relishes in making us things cruel indirect object.


These are round days made of graham cracker crust hand lotion swing set in neighbor’s yard I go there to think

Come home for chicken cutlets seared in butter and mother’s thin wrists waving over tomato coulis with mint I yell at my brothers they yell at me my mother

puts sister’s hair at the top of her head she’s all pink goes

to a studio downtown to make lines for hours and hours the piano man goes too I stay

Think of her lines at night think think flip the pillow to the

cool side.


Shh shh sh sh sh ah




These were days with no edges chocolate pudding in biodegradable cups my mouth bubbling over with words I put them in

my small notebooks and mailed grandmother half dust-Woman a copy


In English class. When you grow up on the wrong side of relevant every window reveals Texas southwestern sky gas station with a man who sells Bahn mí sandwiches they sell out every morning at eleven down below did you know

I am staring out that window and my teacher says there’s a lot you don’t know.


For example I once got engaged to a woman she left I sold the car left for England taught literature in a small town you wouldn't know it either I say all this to say oh I don’t

Know sometimes we just like to tell stories you get it right turn

The page I write in my short response that one day I will go away too this

revelation receives an A+ hair down to my elbows at fourteen and I have managed to make the east coast of America countercultural Its steeples and

squares and everything the people there made of edges and corners During the round days I dream in terms of breakfast with my father on the Charles this revelation receives an A+ and sister is still In the studio downtown making lines she is supple and infantile they

Are not are never.


For my final paper I write an essay on Esperanza in her house on Mango St my teacher put it on the wall my mom shakes her head in

astonishmentwonderdisgust says I don’t know where you Got it I didn’t make you.




In world history class Castor pressed a pencil eraser to my left shoulder

blade I did not expect to find him among ancient Chinese warfare and those goddamn southwestern windows he gave

a note it said meet me outside the auditorium 4 pm I went with my hair to my

elbows his greaser jacket caught in left hand dragging the cement I think this is

the point of parallelism when we kissed I thought of round unknowable things

for days my mother by the sink back-turned who’s that boy in the back

He’s my friend well she says I never had a friend like that in my life.


Upstairs his tar hair in my hair the gulf coast

in March takes no pore for granted we make jokes

about the invisible radiator and Castor he is trying To be a man.

I am trying to find edges lines things with endings there are none

this side of the Mississippi hmmm.




Castor and I go to an exhibit at the contemporary museum a woman has instructed her

assistant to make photographs as she climb climb climbs a steel spiked ladder Castor says is this capitalism I say no it’s her he says how do you mean I mean look at her

All line and edge where did a girl of twelve learn all that where did she ingest it where is the beginning of the thread I ask demanding

Castor frowns he thinks we are talking about different things I ask him what difference means he gestures towards the blood there it is I would never puncture my skin for the beginnings and the endings of things it’s a kind of self-indulgence I stop him there


At home in bed Castor is licking his thumb while downstairs my sister is learning how good it feels to say no she will say it for a very long time all girl and edge and line floating somewhere in the stratosphere of

round and rounding days I listen for my mother’s voice

Moms always inject roundness where there is none that’s their

job I tell him.


Nighttime we sit round a wooden table I realize I eat like a boy

my brothers and dad and me bread fish fried onions fingers digging around in our mouths like steel hooks and sister and mother sit side by side whispering

I say what are you talking about mother says nothing eat your rice how about you eat some rice I’m done here well so are we your sister doesn’t feel good yeah well she doesn’t look good either it turns out round days dissolve in the darkness and I am still trying to figure out how lines and

Edges both take up and eliminate space maybe that’s why sister pushes her plate mother follows wordless I call Castor I want to make things ugly ugly ugly I tell him I wish I could

Do that.




In Texas that summer we were drunk on sun the whole time me and Castor taking roundness and running with it like we were getting away with

something cackling the whole way down I-45 in my red car I felt like there was too much

inside of me for sixteen I said Castor do you ever feel like there’s too much he goes no look at the billboards I think billboards are so sad well okay Castor.


Get off at the grocery store on green blvd we talk about atoms drink orange juice Castor I say have you ever wanted to be smaller he doesn’t answer the question he says

when you look at the sun like that jesus christ your eyes well

I have always wanted to be beheld the way you behold and I know you have a

general distaste for the beginnings and endings of things but I think that’s it

right there




Across from Houstonian bay windows I realize I am eating for three

Mom I say have you ever thought there was too much inside no she says I don’t know

what you mean and if I did my answer would still be no she takes a laboratory flask of chardonnay to the lips ah she says that’s better


Mom I say do you remember the toast days what she says her torso unmoving hand still gripping

the base of an afternoon white oh you know the toast you used to eat it in your pajamas on this stool here fried egg with a crack of pepper on top like confetti with restraint do you recall the

toast days she says go get your brothers dinner’s ready.




Castor and I eating again while sister down below

She sits out back she is thinking that if you breathe breathe breathe

The space between sternum and pelvic bone will turn inside out she is thinking.



Part B





Mother was right it was hell dreaming backwards

Me fingering without alarm or regard the dorm room radiator I always thought


I wanted and Cassius on the line like sorry babe I just have a different

Concept of time I guess.

In the morning we eat orange things for breakfast when Mom rings from

the South I am in love with how far away I feel says now why would you do this to

yourself I didn’t raise a shrinking violet she says is he really that good.


On the bench outside the music

library dark heat to rival Gulf Coast waters in October it’s a shame says

Cassius what is oh just your brain you’re so smart but it’s all poisoned I take

One look at Carolina oak a delicate and ever expanding beneath

east coast moon well you know boy I remember everything.


Cassius is foreign to me I breathe to mother later in the state that is half slumbering half wanting boys who know the beginnings and endings of things are

foreign to me Ma he worships edges and lines he wishes to gather and roll

around in them for an eternity I do not know what to do with all of that sharpness be calm she says see how it goes when it ends I nearly dissolve in rage think about Goya’s Saturn

devouring his Son for months.




After the yellow things sister learns again the retreat Mom on the phone she’d like

To hear from you you know I think she thinks you’re better at loving her from afar oh I

reply well the words went and ran out I can’t write her into bigness I tried that when I

tried it my own words lysed like I was back in freshman year biology I

already did it and when I did I ate sawdust for weeks I wanted to see what it was like

To wage that kinda war so don’t go asking me for words because mine they went and ran out





In the absence of round days we poured helium into the crevices behind and between

Our radiators talked about hometowns over Italian on Broad St you know

I think that I’m from here now I eat my dinners from a carton box and it feels

right leaving the library past twilight I wrote the last line of Wallace Stevens’

“Gray Room” in every notebook they no longer contain the little rules but all night I am trying trying to make things did I tell you the boy in my Walt Whitman class has the voice of God Father calls


Talking about the dogs Penny and Owen now listen we had to send her away Mom would’ve called she can’t talk I tell him don’t worry about me seventy in October on the Eastern seaboard how is it there did the heat break like a fever yet they took her yesterday I’m just telling you

now well I don’t know what you want me to say Pop I’m sure she’ll be fine now which one are you talking about here I’m not sure now don’t disrespect your mother like that don’t

talk to me about disrespect Pop you you are the king

of round lines never had a chance with you so please don’t tell me about

respect don’t tell me.




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(   )




(   )





In the moment when all became perpendicular I was alone in darkness waiting for a place to put my dirty dish on the conveyor belt washing machine I saw him and I knew I knew I knew


Hello can you help me I did not have words for after that what he says his curls chiseled marble I’d follow you to Japan if you asked (I thought but did not say) well alright then he replies

In that moment all became perpendicular I was hungry for weeks weeks my thumb was

half the size of his I told him I will remember our thumbs comparatively speaking for

the rest of my days I will Ajax I will.




Sister is making mudcakes in the jungle I think of her not often I am making lists Ajax comes

over in the darkening heat of August says what’s for breakfast not mudcakes no I’m

making lists over here if you sit still for a second I may never let you leave well then how would I do this now huh at the beach his hands half dust I think of stars how they are

geometrically improbable he is always trying to approach my words in similar

fashion you see he says you need proof for that well I’ve got lists of things I’m trying to make

something I need to make something yes but where’s the logic in

that okay (lying) I see your point his half dust hands commanding seasalt air touching cloud touching me.




Funny how you can love something that unseeing I’d

return to him over and over again I do return to him over and over I read every line peruse every crease in seminar I write an essay about this phenomenon of the unseeing I

email it to mother who replies after exactly one hour and seven minutes wow need to read it over again something not making sense but wow sister is doing well in her letters

she discusses the flora and fauna and currently constructing a written

autobiography you can send her something you know I know I’m good sister once told me I

can make anything sound pretty it seems like a compliment it was not one.



Part C





When Hephaistos tried to take Athena she scraped off his

seed with a piece of wool sent it flinging towards the ground accidentally impregnated the earth later a child begot with serpent scales for a body when Athena’s sisters saw it they threw themselves off the Acropolis or else were killed by the child-serpent the ancient writers can’t agree and I have spent Hours days weeks say it months trying to write you into wellness it’s true Whitman thought he could save the nation with his verse he thought the poetic I a thing divine he thought he thought he spent years thinking and they still

went and did it they still did his pages went limp under layers of sawdust and so I turn to you because I tried to make things so beautiful you would agree to stay you would agree to eat chocolate slowly you would agree to look at the men on the subway with their hair strands parting and coalescing in equal measure every time you would agree and I would give up rage I would cut out words and put them in little envelopes and give them all away I would give up this religion of making ugly things sound pretty I would worship at the feet of everything purple instead I would I would I would



Theorem B my friend tells me over tea Theorem B B B

At first I do not recall my own words he says again Theorem B if you do not tell the story of your sister’s rape and your mother’s succumbing then for the rest of time you will obliquely refer to the thing which you wanted to explain


You wanted to explain denial and so you wrote about geometry

You wanted to explain food and so you pontificated somewhat unintelligibly about sawdust and the female form

You wanted to explain sex and still you did not understand the question.


Oh I see I thought I’d done it though I really thought I thought that if I discussed the beginnings and the endings of things they would see I thought if I articulated the consequences of the Gulf Coast I would also be telling the story of no I thought I could say the thing without saying that thing no he says you don’t include this but recall when Cassius gave you a poem he said it was about you Cassius? Part B Cassius oh I see yes

well when he gave you the poem he said it was about you it was about a man on

one ship who searches for gold until eventually he dies do you remember do you get it it wasn’t about you at all but he thought he really really thought oh yes uncanny right I didn’t realize

we had so much in common I’m not saying that yes okay well


(After I finish take one I send the PDF file to my sister via text up at school across the Atlantic she does not reply I think this is fair)




In truth this friend of mine has always urged continual returnings

He gave me a copy of Tom McCarthy’s Remainder last fall when my heart (Ajax) was undergoing a piecemeal splintering in the novel the main character repeatedly buys cappuccinos at the coffee shop he is trying to get punches in his card to receive a free cappuccino in so doing he becomes addicted to the process of ordering he buys five six seven cappuccinos drinks

them all in the reviews online they call this writing laborious (huh) but I think it is the best part of the entire book I think about cappuccinos for a long time splintering heart and all.


So let me begin again.



Part 2A




I tell him: when I say that things were yellow I mean that me and sister wore matching bows we had small dolls the size of our own fingers we would set up a house in which those

finger dolls might live and when the house was finished I crept back downstairs


Mom in the kitchen making her own things I did ask her many years later why she said

having children was the only thing I was ever sure I wanted to do don’t flatter yourself it’s

not like that I just never wanted for years and years I pray (to whom) for

a similar sense of conviction or else to be freed of the wanting but anyways I am getting

ahead of myself because back then things were all yellow


Dad in the backyard making hot dogs in November and I think we were still quite small

when we realized she was beautiful this sounds like a blessing it is not one during the yellow times we watched movies and in the movies beautiful people were always dying or

almost dying hold up he says go on I reply not not irritated what about your father what

about my father I told you he was the king of round lines never had a chance with him

you’re ignoring something it isn’t important if you’re ignoring it it is ah.




My father well my father was born in Ohio his father before him didn’t say much

the first sixty or so years of his life and now he can’t stop his words foam at the mouth

much like mine do but anyway my father was born in Ohio to a teacher and a tax

accountant he ran around the flatlands at night biked to the corner store bought

popsicles thought about redheaded girls in the morning went to school thought to

himself I have to get out of here there is nothing wrong but I have to get out of here he

never said this to his folks when the letter came from the East they looked at him three

times said I didn’t make you


And out East well out East that’s where the wanting began jogging around the monuments

at night in the stillness he decided to eat everything there was to eat law firm recruitment

receptions women in sheer skirts the Honduran Embassy bacon grease in the morning

he had a dream one night in the dream it told him don’t go back to steelcorncars he said I won’t I won’t I won’t I won’t caught a plane to the only place on earth that could match his appetite his wanting he went to Texas met the girl to end all girls they had a daughter she was beautiful someone took something that belonged to her

for ages she ate sawdust after school went to the studio made lines in front of the pianoman

sawdust sleep repeat.


Ah my friend says interesting how so the unseeing the unseeing You speak of the unseeing you wrote an essay on it received an A+ I am sure and here again you talk of an incurable

blindness how so he was the king of round lines never had a chance with him he decided

to eat everything there was to eat law firm recruitment receptions women in sheer skirts the

Honduran Embassy bacon grease in the morning he never stopped wanting did he he never stopped right and your sister the beautiful one uh huh she is sitting there making lines and eating sawdust right right.




Castor and me upstairs hamburger juice dripping chin to cheek I gave him many things that belonged to me and he gave them all back promptly one by one his eyes made of buttermilk beeswax stardust everything soft Castor I said can you imagine wanting that much I said Castor

it must hurt to want all that don’t you think buttermilk beeswax eyes dripping un-

comprehension no I don’t really I suppose I am simple like that in the moment of parallelism I realize I am holding something imminently shatterable I consider for one moment the myth

of Narcissus Castor I say Castor you can’t keep giving me everything back Castor

oh my friend interrupts oh? I see now what you ended the yellow things you ended them I did

not I you did you don’t understand the story why else would you tell us of Castor (panic) I I I I.




Thinking now over tea I realize Castor is no Hades he walked around my kitchen with a

wooden spoon he gave my brother a red boxcar wrapped in handkerchief I gave him

many things and he was continuously returning them to me unscathed it was a ritual I

could not respect I tried and when I was done trying I tried again wow he says what now I

reply she really did make you.



Part 2B




In North Carolina everything was ensconced in a technicolor sheath we drank blue

liquid in thin paper cups that fell over when we blew on them the sky was a deepening

orange I didn’t see morning for some number of months when mother called and asked if

I was happy I told her no I never want to leave the frat houses on Broad St contain multitudes and I never want to leave.




When sister started to give things back (her will she gave away even that she gave away the

tiny elephant figurines atop her nightstand she gave away worrying she gave away that feeling

you get when you are sure about something she gave away tennis shoes spent gum wrappers

little glasses with tulips hand-painted on the sides an I heart NY t-shirt she gave away grace

she gave away the entirety of the New Testament she gave away colors shoestring dishwasher

soap she gave away disagreeing she gave away scarves embroidered with her own name she gave away socks she gave away vodka in thin little tubes) when sister was giving all this away


I became beholden to the idea that I could take everything I took paperclips I took money I

took condoms I had no intention of using I took shards from the glass-stained windows up

at the Divinity School I took love I took chocolate bunnies wrapped in gold tinfoil I took my

memories of 9/11 I took scotch tape and expired library cards and baked Amish oatmeal I took

my ideas concerning Wallace Stevens’ potentially problematic appropriation of American

jazz I took illegible sheets of music I took the hurricane of 1900 I took shot glasses I took

Aperol liqueur I took boys in gray winter hats I took a public policy studies textbook I took the entire southwestern stretch of I-84 I took and I took and I took and it

was never close to enough I took until the taking ran out.





He licks his lips slowly this is about him isn’t it I don’t know what you are saying for the rest of your days you will make things which obliquely refer to the thing you wanted to explain but Ajax there it is he took something that belonged to me I will spend an eternity trying

to get it back that isn’t true that isn’t true I gave him something of my own volition

I gave him many things I will spend an eternity trying to get them back what did you

give seasalt I gave seasalt what else I gave him that look on my face when I’ve just

figured something out and I gave him cutout comic strips a squat glass bottle of orange

vitamins stripped wine bottles filled with flowers a shower cap three tiny blue bowls an

electric teapot my at-times crippling insecurity re: the shape of my cheeks how they balloon

when I smile how I am consistently not-smiling in photographs as a result a forest green

cardigan two envelopes and seven stamps I gave him the recipe for pistachio-crusted

salmon I gave him three containers of horchata I gave him my misguided attempts to

be better I gave him calendars of years past as part of an interesting inside joke I gave him

little poems I gave him toast I gave him every eyelash blown from my knuckles I was

prepared to give all of these things and more for a long time possibly no don’t say it

I was prepared to give all of these things and more and when he left all became

sawdust I put it in my hair and in my teeth and behind the dresser drawers and then

I went to sleep.



Part 2C




When Hephaistos tried to take Athena she scraped off his seed with a piece of wool sent it

flinging towards the ground accidentally impregnated the earth later a child begot with

serpent scales for a body when Athena’s sisters saw it they threw themselves off the

Acropolis or else were killed by the child-serpent the ancient writers can’t agree and I am

just now starting to understand repetition how in an act of desperation or hubris or

something I sought to tell a single story how I was condemned am condemned in that moment

to repeat repeat repeat so here is a list of the things I wrote instead:


a dissertation on the color yellow the story of my first time a botched rendering of a misremembered Greek myth the sudden and inescapable desire to fall asleep for

a very long time the instantiation of obsession the highways down in North Carolina how they

are continuously going and returning in a manner which makes me envious to the point of dissolution the first day of October a boy whose chiseled marble curls I will recall for the remainder of my days my father in Ohio his father before him barely spoke for sixty years now he cannot stop met the girl to end all girls they had a daughter she was beautiful someone took something that belonged to her I dreamed a million and one dreams about Florida in December and when the millionth and first was over I dreamed them all over again.

* 10 sec. each

Caroline Fernelius is a writer originally from Texas. She presently lives in Ann Arbor, Michigan, where she is pursuing a PhD in English.