Built in a pandemic, issue 22 of The Catalyst is testimony to the resilience of UWL’s student writers and artists. Don’t let the door hit you on the way out, 2020, but… thanks for showing us what it means to survive.
As a way to promote the newest issue, we contacted a few of the contributors and asked them a few questions. Check them out and get to know the artists and writers behind the pieces that made up Volume 22. If you haven’t already, make sure to check out the latest volume of the Catalyst HERE!
Titles of Pieces: March Again & 2 Movements
Year in school, hometown, plans after UWL:
I’m a Sophomore from St. Peter, MN, and I only know I want to keep writing, keep making stuff after UWL.
What is your piece all about?
Both of my pieces stem from this loneliness I’ve become too accompanied to over the course of this past year. They are about looking back at concerts and dancing and hugs and the uncertainty of aging within chaos. If you want to know more, check out Vol. 22 of The Catalyst.
What is something specific you want people to know about your work?
I write for myself. Everything I write tells some sort of truth about me, and if someone relates to it, I’ll be grateful that it connects to you, but yeah. I write for me. Also, even though my work turns out fairly depressing, I’m a pretty happy person in real life.
What inspires you?
Everything. Everything is telling a story, you just gotta find it. I also find myself being inspired by other people’s art a lot. As a writer, sometimes I forget that you have to live in order to create, so yeah. I take the world in, and I give something back.
What is something you’re looking forward to?
Speak Now: Taylor’s Version
Where is your favorite creative space in La Crosse or elsewhere?
With COVID, Myrick Park and my dorm room, but I love walking downtown to get my thoughts going.
Any cool artistic spaces, projects, or people we should know about?
I’ve been pretty into Moor Mother’s work recently, especially Brass. Also, Michelle Zauner is brilliant. And Audre Lorde; Always read Audre Lorde.
Do you have future plans for your work?
Not really, just keep on writing poems and essays and music and seek out opportunities to share it.
Beside The Catalyst, where can we find you and your work?
You can find my music under the name Dress Codes on all the streaming platforms, and I exist on Instagram @idontlikedresscodes.
Any parting words or thoughts?
Making something that’s not very good will almost always be better than making nothing at all.
Make sure to follow @uwlcatalyst on social media to stay updated for when we post more contributors’ bios!
As a way to promote the newest issue, we contacted a few of the contributors and asked them a few questions. Check them out and get to know the artists and writers behind the pieces that made up Volume 22. If you haven’t already, make sure to check out the latest volume of the Catalyst HERE!
Piece Title: POTS-y Party
What year are you?
I am a senior graduating in December 2021
Where’s your hometown?
I’m from Maple Grove, MN (about 20 minutes out of downtown Minneapolis)
What are your plans after post-UWL?
My ideal job post-graduation would be in museum education, but if that doesn’t work out I’d like to get Montessori certification and work in a middle school
What is your piece all about?
My piece in the most recent issue is called “POTS-y Party,” and I created it for Dysautonomia Awareness Month.
Artist statement: When people think of disabilities the first images that come to mind are of people in wheelchairs using ramps, cancer patients laying in hospital beds, or students with developmental issues sitting in the back of the classroom. Not only that, but those with disabilities face the generalization that their lives are not as enjoyable as those without a disability. This is why I created this project– not all disabilities are visible and lives with disabilities are not lesser. Though lives are negatively impacted by disabilities, they can also be impacted for the better. In the case of these two, daily tasks such as cooking, cleaning, going to work, and showering are difficult to complete. The seemingly healthy subjects in this piece suffer from a form of Dysautonomia called POTS. This disability requires these best friends to go to the hospital three times a week to have infusions, which is where they met. Though they have this invisible illness, they are two of the funniest people I know. A frequent thing heard when hanging out with these two is “I’m feeling POTSY!” or “You’re looking very POTS-y right now, are you okay?” They may not live the same everyday life as those without a disability and of course some days are better than others, but it’s their ability to make the most out of the situation they are given that is what I want others to see and to learn from.
“Postural Orthostatic Tachycardia Syndrome (POTS) (Links to an external site.) – estimated to impact 1 out of 100 teenagers and, including adult patients, a total of 1,000,000 to 3,000,000 Americans. POTS can cause lightheadedness, fainting, tachycardia, chest pains, shortness of breath, GI upset, shaking, exercise intolerance, temperature sensitivity and more. While POTS predominantly impacts young women who look healthy on the outside, researchers compare the disability seen in POTS to the disability seen in conditions like COPD and congestive heart failure” (Dysautonomia International).
What’s something you’re looking forward to?
I’m looking forward to eating some soup my Granny made (it’s really good, as most Granny foods are.)
Any cool artistic spaces, projects, or people we should know about?
If you like cute animals and northern lights follow @haileyworth on Instagram! She’s a photographer with a hobby farm in northern Minnesota. It’s all very wholesome.
Besides The Catalyst, where can readers find your work?
You can find me on Instagram @missy.deisting ! I have more photos from the POTS-y Party project posted on there
Make sure to follow @uwlcatalyst on social media to stay updated for when we post more contributors’ bios!
The COVID-19 pandemic has prevented many artists around the world from sharing their work and engaging with artistic communities. At the University of Wisconsin-La Crosse, six students participated in the 2020 America’s Best College Poet (ABCP) competition – a nationwide search for collegiate poets judged by famous poets from around the country including Ebony Stewart, Ashlee Haze, Katie Kramer, and Carlos Robson. The contest allowed students to share their work, engage in their art form, and connect with fellow poets.
Students progressed through several levels of competition with the goal of making it to the final round. Champ Camp, a workshop program for those students who make it to the finals, allowed students the opportunity to work with professional poets to build upon their artistic talents.
UWL’s Mirm Hurula and Kab Vue progressed to the national finals with a total of the competition with Mirm Hurula earning a 4th place overall.
Mirm Hurula (they/them) – 4th place
Senior early childhood education major Mirm Hurula, placed 4th overall in the ABCP contest. In an interview with The Catalyst, they said this was the first major poetry competition they had participated in but had participated in open mics and other slam poetry events in the past.
Hurula said they started working with poetry in high school and grew into the practice through college. “I didn’t really start writing slam poetry or free verse poetry until I got to college. When I was in high school we just learned about rhyming schemes and those types of things that surround poetry but never any, like, creative outlets that come with being a poet,” they said.
Like many of the poets who participated in the event, Hurula first heard about the contest through Campus Climate and their work as a SEED (Students Educating and Embracing Diversity). “One of my advisors loves pulling me to do different things. They were like, ‘So, um, you should do this. Auditions are on this day, here is the Zoom link, come prepared!’ So I showed up, I had written a piece the night before, and it’s kind of like the rest is history at this point,” they said.
The piece Hurula performed in the preliminary round, semi-finals, and finals is titled “Talafaasolopito o lo’u Aiga” which translates to “My Family’s History” from Samoan. “I talk about the colonization and the demonization of my culture and its religion, what the first German settlers that came over to Samoa did to my people. It goes into me being in the diaspora and not having any history about it,” they said. The poem also explores not seeing the history of the Samoan people or other South Pacific peoples represented in history class, and a hurricane that destroyed their village in 2009.
Hurula said their favorite part of ABCP was the community that was able to come together for the contest. “I think it’s really opened up the realm of the poetry sphere within the United States. I have met amazing – the poets I have met are national champions. Which I’ve been so lucky to hear from them and be in community with them. One of the things we were able to do before the competition was we had a week of workshops with all of our judges. So I got to learn firsthand from Ebony Stewart, who is one of the best, Ashlee Haze, whose nickname is ‘30’ because her poems get 30s, which are perfect scores,” they said.
The biggest advice Hurula offered for poets hoping to enter competitions is to “write and write and write.” They said writing was the biggest source of inspiration, as well as free or low-cost workshops offered by poets like Ebony Stewart. Hurula also said looking for local poetry slams that typically occur at places like the Root Note in La Crosse, WI, or open mics offered by UWL campus communities like Campus Climate.
Hurula also said that knowing the value of your story is important, even if critics belittle or berate the topics, as happened to them. “People are always going to want to listen to stories. As humans we are intrinsically storytellers, we want to learn about other people, we are inherently social. And so storytelling and listening to those kind of stories is just another way to communicate with each other and be in community with each other,” they said.
Kab Vue (she/her) – National Finalist
Graduate student in the student affairs administration program Kab Vue was one of seven students to compete in the national finals of the America’s Best College Poet competition. She said she had never competed in a spoken word contest and initially joined the program at the urging of her peers and supervisor at UWL.
Vue said her poems are based on personal events and that she uses the poems to work through personal emotions, especially those tied to her identity. “A lot of my pieces are about exploring what it means to be a daughter of refugees, what it means to be a Hmong queer woman within the Hmong community, or what it means to be a first-generation student and carry a lot of the hopes and dreams of my parents on my back,” she said.
Vue said her interest in performing started with her involvement in high school theatre. She said the experience nurtured her interest in seeing representations of herself on stage since it wasn’t always present during her childhood, an idea that carried over into her spoken word performances. “I started getting into spoken word when I was in my undergrad at UW-Eu Claire. I started performing pieces that were written by other people and just felt like, instead of performing other people’s stories, performing my story would be the most effective and the most true to myself,” she said.
During the prelims of the competition, Vue performed her poem “When They Ask Me,” a poem borne from repeated questions she would receive about her identity and ethnicity.
Linked to this article is “Home,” a performance provided by Vue of a poem she wrote in a single day. “I deployed to Ukraine this past year and while I was there is was really difficult to adjust, just as a Hmong woman being in the Wisconsin Army National Guard – which is extremely white because it’s a reflection of Wisconsin – and feeling like I didn’t really have a place to speak up or didn’t really have a place have any type of critical conversation,” she said.
Vue said the piece was also bred out of her longing for a place to call home since there is no home country when it comes to her people, the feeling of being weaponized as a member of the military, and aspects of mental health and not being defined by things that hold her back.
Vue said her highlight of the competition was hearing the personal and unique story delivery of her fellow participants, especially from marginalized voices. “The coolest thing is recognizing and realizing that everyone’s poetry is their own, and they present it in so many different ways. The way that people share their stories and process their stories is really beautiful and deserves to be heard, especially when it comes to marginalized voices,” she said.
Mickey Redington (they/them)
Senior at UWL Mickey Redington is a psychology major with minors in ethnic and racial studies and inclusive recreation. They said they first started doing poetry in high school as an for strong emotions, along with therapy and visual art. “The first [slam poetry event] I did when I got here was actually at the Root Note, they had an open mic night. I met Kab Vue that night, so that was really cool. I’ve had so much admiration and respect for her ever since,” said Redington.
Redington also performed a tandem poem with Mirm Hurula at a conference two years ago. They said since that performance two years ago, they haven’t had much time or inclination to write, so America’s Best College Poet was a welcome reason to sit down and write again.
Redington said their poetry often revolves around identities they hold, experiences they’ve had, and emotions that cannot be expressed in a traditional way. “It’s really cool that in slam poetry you can say like, ‘My heart was like a bottle rocket and you were a glass window’ – something like that. Something that you can’t really explain with traditional emotions even if they are the most specific you can find,” they said.
The poem Redington presented for the competition was about their experience growing up in Rockford, Illinois, usually deemed one of the most dangerous cities in the U.S. They said the poem was one they needed to write down, to talk about why they left and how the transition went, in order to get it off their mind.
Redington said their best advice for poets is to throw themselves onto the paper. “Do it even if you’re nervous. You know, a lot of people are going to be super supportive of whatever you bring to the table as long as it’s fully you,” they said.
John Vue (he/him)
Junior John Vue is studying sociology with an ethnic and racial studies minor at UWL. He first joined America’s Best College Poet through Campus Climate and SEED staff members, he said.
Vue said his first experience writing poetry was in middle school, where he wrote a rap piece for a project but never presented it. He continued to write through high school, he said, exploring the genre with romantic themes and social issues. Vue said one of the turning points for him was joining speech. For his speech performances he was, “basically taking parts of other people’s work and using it as a speech. But for me what I wanted to do was do poetry and write my own poetry and then present it – but according the rules you couldn’t do that,” he said.
Vue said he doesn’t have a distinct style, but does gravitate towards rap and spoken word. “I like describing situations and feelings, and being more direct in my work,” he said. Vue said music is also a big inspiration. “In high school I really wanted to write lyrical music and stuff like that. So that’s part of the reason I wrote a lot in high school. What I was missing was the musical element – I had the lyrics but not the instruments,” he said.
For the competition, Vue performed a piece featuring several internalized emotions relating to social justice and his Hmong identity. “At the beginning of the piece I talk about not finding a lot of value in my Hmong history. I make it really general, but to be specific it was about me growing up not finding a lot of value in my Hmong history, me being Hmong, and through middle school I didn’t really hand out with Hmong people,” he said. Vue said he uses the poem to question that feeling and evaluate several issues that surround it. “Poetry and writing is all about expressing yourself and also kind of, in a way, speaking to yourself as if in a conversation. You can take that as speaking to your internal thoughts, your biases, or just expressing what you feel,” said Vue.
Ellie LeBouton (they/them)
Senior psychology major Ellie LeBouton began writing poetry young, shifting to a narrative style of poetry as they grew older.
LeBouton said their biggest inspiration comes from poets like Andrea Gibson and Denise Grohman who discuss mental health and trauma in relatable, accessible ways. “A lot of the people that I take inspiration from share some of the identities that I share, which is really helpful in terms of looking at how to discuss those topics,” they said.
LeBouton said their favorite part of America’s Best College Poet was listening to their fellow poets. “I think listening to other people’s pieces was kind of the highlight because there is a feeling of sort of accomplishment and putting yourself on the line – and like finding that community when you do your own work. But then, I really enjoyed the feeling of being in community with other people and being there to support them and their stories and their journeys,” they said.
Cait McReavy (she/her)
Junior education major Cait McReavy found out about the ABCP competition through Facebook promotions. She said she joined to competition because she wanted an avenue to share her work, which had been limited throughout the COVID-19 pandemic.
McReavy said the environment of the competition and interacting with her fellow participants were high points. “For me the highlight of the experience was getting to hear other poets read their pieces. I’ve had the opportunity to meet and hear the work of several of the other competitors so it was great to see them again! All the poems presented were incredible and I enjoyed being in a spoken word space again. It’s a very supportive atmosphere,” she said.
McReavy first started writing poetry when she was eleven, starting from a place of simple rhyme schemes, she said. As she grew as a writer in middle school, she started to break out of the form and explore freer formats as well as spoken word, she said.
For those who are interested in poetry or spoken word, McReavy said she advises they pay attention to the mental tricks of comparison. “It’s easy to get in your own head and start doubting yourself, especially when there’s so many incredible writers out there. Your own unique voice and experiences are what make you great as a poet. Focus on being better than you were yesterday, not on measuring up to someone else’s journey,” she said.
Its here! Finally! After much delay due to Covid related distractions/irritability, the spring 2020 edition of “The Catalyst” has finally been released from the depths of my computer, where it ate megabytes for survival. This edition features a poem on how to properly sanitize your hands; prose questioning how Jesus managed to carry all those bricks around with him; a picture of a woman overcome with pigeon love…and much more!
The Covid Months have proven to be difficult for all of us, and we hope that this tiny (minuscule even) ounce of art and words brightens your day. In the meanwhile, stay strong, and make sure to keep your odds positive for a better future while learning from that computer!
Thank you for supporting the arts here at UWL 🙂
Luis Acosta Jr., head-editor.
Hello art freaks!
The 20th edition of The Catalyst is (finally) out! Thank you to the students who contributed to this edition, we greatly appreciate your talents and we value your trust. Volume 20 can be found under the “Current Issue” drop-down menu.
As the sun sets on another issue, we here at The Catalyst feel “poorly-lit” (we would have said “somber” instead of “poorly-lit,” but how boring would that have been). We prefer to have our necks forever hunched over if it means being able to format your art and words until we are more editor than human.
This edition is dedicated to those who glide around UWL’s campus in search of a place where they can hear their voice echoed between the river and the bluffs. We support the quite creatives, the disciples of Dionysus; the obnoxious intellectuals, the pained thinkers, confused know-it-alls; deviant-weekend-warriors, romantics; those who are spiteful towards all kinds of weather; and, especially, all creeds, genders, identities, and artists that form the many walks of life floating around UWL.
Make sure to follow us on Instagram @thecatalyst_uwl. Spring submissions are now opened. Deadline: April 27th, 2020 ;).
Thank you for helping us live,
By: Luis Acosta Jr., Editor-in-Chief.
UWL Public Health student and singer/song writer Jacob Greenberg sat down with The Catalyst to discuss his newest project “Peculiar way.” The syncopation of his voice in songs like “Wisconsin” blend beautifully with his staggering musicianship, one that started as a rhythmically inclined teenager eye-balling guitars at local music shops with his father. This passion transformed itself into a completed project with an approach resemblant to the likes of Justin Vernon and Father John Misty, musicians Greenberg says he takes as heartfelt influences and guides in creating this album, rooted out of an indie-folk style familiar to the state he continues to call home.
- What were your formative years like, musically?
I started playing drums when I was 6 years old and took lessons for a very brief period of time. The main three instruments I play are guitar, piano, and the drums. I can also play bass guitar, ukulele, and other various percussion instruments. I started with drums when I got a set for Christmas one year. It wasn’t until I was 14 that I decided to pick up piano and guitar. I always loved to play the drum sets on trips to the guitar center with my dad. My dad plays the guitar so there were always instruments around the house. When I was 14, I really wanted to be able to play guitar, so I went on YouTube, looked up some tutorials on basic chords, and practiced every day until I started to get the hang of it. Piano sort of started the same way. I was able to play songs out by ear which, along with practice, helped me build a knowledge base on the instrument.
- How would you describe your sound?
I would describe my sound as traditional/pop-folk with occasional experimental touches on the vocals. I try to incorporate attractive and easy-to-listen to chord progressions that are found in pop music along with thoughtful lyricism, all essential pieces to quality folk music. I also enjoy experimenting with my vocal tracks by adding harmonies, pitch shifts, layers, and various other effects.
- How many hours did it take to compile “Peculiar way” ?
I don’t know that I could put an hour quantity on the time it took to compile this album, due to the fact that it was sort of an on and off project over the past few years. The song “Peculiar Way” is an idea that was a few years old, and one that I completed, re-worked, and re-recorded probably 3 or 4 times before finally producing the version that I chose to put on the album. With some ideas new, and some old, I wanted to chronicle my changing feelings throughout the past few years, and the emotional impact they have on my life.
- What is the biggest problem you’ve had to overcome so far, music wise?
The biggest problem when it comes to music for me is trying to produce professional sounding takes with a lack of high-quality equipment. I’m extremely grateful that I’ve had the means to obtain a lot of necessary pieces of equipment for producing quality recordings, but there is always room for improving microphones, software, and instruments. Eliminating white noise, and unwanted sounds from takes is always a struggle while living in a busy college apartment complex.
- What musician do you wish to collaborate with the most?
If I could collaborate with one musician, I would have to choose Justin Vernon of Bon Iver. Through Bon Iver and his other various outlets, Justin Vernon has popularized his unique and experimental touch on folk music in a way that not many musicians have been able to do. His music has helped to define a new generation of folk while still evoking the same level of emotion that is found in traditional folk. I could go on… but in conclusion, he seems like a pretty awesome dude and I’d love to jam out with him.
- Do you have a favorite album?
Pure Comedy by Father John Misty
- The cover of “Peculiar Way” seems to have a personal touch, as well as the art incorporated with the singles you’ve released on Spotify. What do they represent?
The cover of “Peculiar Way” is a picture of my girlfriend Natalie from a trip we took to Washington D.C. Not only do I love the picture, but I also found it very fitting in that many of the lyrics throughout the album helped narrate the progression of our relationship, from being good friends to when we started to see each other as more than that. I think it’s very important to acknowledge and give gratitude to the individuals and the items that bring you inspiration and having this as the cover of the album did just that.
- What do you like to do outside of music?
Outside of music I love spending time with my family and friends. Quite honestly, I am not that adventurous when it comes to my day to day activities and am usually pretty content with hanging out and having good conversation. Additionally, I value physical activity in my life and try to get out for a run on most days; I have run a few half-marathons in the past and hope to run more in the future!
- What’s your favorite track from the project?
My favorite track is “Wisconsin”. I think this track allowed me to be able to convey a lot of emotion through very little words. I also really like this track because the majority of the instrumentation came from different manipulations of the human voice. Experimenting with vocals and using them for supporting sounds in a track is something that I love to mess around with, and I think that my attempts amounted into something pretty cool.
- How do you go about writing a song?
I don’t have any specific procedure that I stick to when writing a song. Sometimes I’ll write poems and then bring instrumentation to them after I have lyrics that I like, and other times I have a riff that I like, and will add lyrics based on how the instrumentation makes me feel. I prefer to write my lyrics on paper as opposed to typed. I love the connections between abstract concepts like love, sadness, nostalgia to the concrete aspects of the natural world. Sometimes I will have an idea for one lyric, and then just kinda riff off of that with ideas that mesh with it well in regard to literary structure or theme. Music is all about creativity and I think moving away from using a specific formula to create songs can help facilitate the most creative environment.
- What’s one song you never get sick of?
Bohemian Rhapsody by Queen.
- Do you have a standard you wish to keep your music to?
I really just want my music to make people feel something. I want people to be able to relate my music to their own life, and their own experiences. If my music can do this in any capacity than it has lived up to my standards. I love music and art that question the nature of things that people just pass off as normal. All normalcy comes from perspective, and being mindful as to why things are the way that they are is extremely important when it comes to meaningful art and music.
- What songs do you sing in the shower?
Pure Comedy by Father John Misty, I Found You by Alabama Shakes, Cleopatra by the Lumineers, Norman F*cking Rockwell by Lana Del Rey, amongst others!
- Where and how do you like to perform live music?
I don’t perform all that much, but I will often play the Root Note’s open mic in La Crosse, and occasionally I’ll play for fundraiser events in my hometown of Wauwatosa. With that being said, I am very open to looking for more opportunities to play my music wherever they may arise.
- Who’s your biggest fan?
- Do you prefer a certain brand when it comes to a your choice of instruments or equipment?
As far as production equipment goes, I love running Logic Pro. I have used other DAWs in the past and Logic is easily the software I am most comfortable with. Other than that, I love a good Fender Stratocaster guitar, but will really enjoy playing any instrument you put in front of me.
- Favorite book?
The Other Wes Moore by Wes Moore
- What’s something you wished people understood about you?
Who I’m with is always more important than what I’m doing. I could be doing the most objectively thrilling thing, but if I’m not doing it with people I want to be with then it truly wouldn’t mean that much to me.
- What are your next steps academically?
This spring I will be doing an internship with The AIDS resource center of Wisconsin in their Milwaukee office. This will be the last thing I do to complete my degree in Public Health – Community Health Education and minor in Spanish. After graduation I hope to find a job and work for a few years while pondering a return to academia to work toward some sort of public health related graduate degree.
- Any final words, thoughts, complaints, philosophical wonderings you’ve been chewing over.
Just take the time to be mindful in your day to day life and try to understand why you do the things that you do (both good and bad).
Make sure to check out “Peculiar Way” on Spotify and Apple Music!
By Abdulla Mustafa A. Gaafarelkhalifa
The Sudan (Near the Abyssinian border)
“Babaaaaahhhhhhhh!” screamed out from a distance by a little girl, followed by screams of despair. A distinct sound that can only be heard by a parent. Screams that Osama, watching over his sheep, heard. He left his sheep to gaze in the field, not caring what happens to them by small water stream. Running through the tall grass, he blamed himself for all of this. His daughter, Mariam, was just playing with her doll along his side, and blamed himself for being distracted. The screams went on, but then it was followed by a deep, deflating roar.
He heard grass being tumbled, and the noise slowly went away as if something was running into the distance. All he saw around him was grass, but the only distinct part of his surroundings was a collection of trees not too far from where he stood. His heart beat as if it wanted to escape his body. Beneath the wind he heard not one, not two, but a few flies. Then the sound of flies increased in quantity and loudness as approaches closer to the trees.
He approached the bundle of trees hoping to find Mariam. He circled the trees like a vulture and he found something familiar. It was Mariam in her new dress that her mother made for her 5th birthday just a few days ago. She was breathing body facing down, with a swarm of flies covering and flying over her. “Mariam!” He tries grabbing her attention but has no response. He rushes to her body, still breathing, and turns it around. He almost wanted to let go from the breath taking sight, of his daughter’s face, eyeless, more bone than bits flesh, with flies still drawn to the blood. Her eye balls were nothing but white and pink mush sitting in the holes where they just were not even ten minutes ago. Not even her lips remained. Holes in her neck, clearly made with large lion claws covered her front neck. Lighter claw marks covered the rest of her body. More work was done to her face particularly.
Regret, fear, and anger. All emotions not felt before shook Osama’s body and soul at the sight of her daughter’s face. “Mariam!” He cries to her one more time before his tears dropped on her body. With no notice, her jaw started moving, her tongue twitched, as she made coughing sounds, choking in her blood. Holding her in his arms, Osama can feel the breathing stopped, and so did her heart pulse.
“Oh God!” He yells out. “Why? WHY!?” God didn’t answer, but a roar returned to him. From somewhere he wants to be.
Twenty years ago, in his own village, Osama was learning to butcher sheep meat with his father. A cry from his mother was heard across the street from where they lived. “Jaffer! Osama! Come here! Basheer is hurt!” The seriousness was incredibly felt from the hawk like scratchy scream. Osama crossed the street carelessly, almost being hit by a donkey cart, curious to see what could have happened to his younger brother. Him and his father saw a trail of blood go through the gates of their home.
In the outdoor guest area, Basheer was crying, screaming, and biting into a cloth. So many people surrounded him that Osama didn’t know what was going on. All he could see was his brother’s head. Bloodied cloth was carried out, and people holding buckets of water moved in and out as well. His father, Jaffer, was tall enough to see a sight that he never thought he’d ever have to see. The shock on his own father’s face made him more curious.
He quickly moved closer but he was stopped by his father, whom he slipped through to get a closer look. What he saw through a pocket between members of the crowd. What he saw was something to never forget. His brother’s knee, was ripped, not cut, but ripped out of his leg, with a broken knee bone sticking out through exposed muscle and tendons. The piece of cloth was pushed out of his mouth covered in tears and slobber. “The lion! The lion!” He screamed so loud, the cats that normally hang around the walls surrounding the home pranced out of view.
The doctor shushed in response as he stuck the cloth back into his mouth. “Don’t worry Basheer, that lion isn’t going to hurt you again.” Osama ran out, all the way to the edge of the village, and puked into the base of a date tree. He felt a hand going over his shoulder. He elbowed back, and was ready to fight for his life until he saw it was his father.
“I…I uh… what? Uhh…” Is all he could utter. His father shushed him.
“Stop your screaming! You are no longer a child! Now its time to be a bigger man than ever before. Do you understand me?” Osama was just shaking, unable to respond. “Do you get me!?” Osama was shocked back into reality and shook his head to confirm he understood his father. “Good! Because we are going to kill that lion before it gets to any of us or our livestock.”
The sun was setting after Osama, along with his family and friends, buried the little girl that brought joy to all of the towns’ people. It wasn’t just a death in a family, but a death in a community. “The smallest of bodies are the heaviest to bury” is the one thing that Basheer, now an imam, said that many of the towns’ people took with them after Mariam’s burial.
During the night in Osama’s home, his wife Hannah, cried silently, packed with on and off wheezes on the twin bed in the sleeping quarters of the family home. Sitting alone with himself on his twin bed, he tries to approach Hannah. Hannah found some small tray lying around, and threw it at his direction. She screamed with the passion of a thunderstorm. Still ducking, Osama sat back down on the other bed. She points at him “It was you!” She began crying more hysterically. “This was your fault!”
“Sweet heart. Please.” Osama tries to calm her down.
“Don’t ever refer to me that way again! You INCOMPITENT… USELESS… excuse of a BASTARD!” The whole village could hear her pain, like the evening prayer call. “It’s so hard to watch a bunch of mindless sheep for which you’ve neglected to think about your own daughter! What’s the matter with you?” Tears begin to mix with the mucus coming out of her nose so she tried wiping it with her hijab. “You should suffer the same fate as the beast that did this to my little girl! And that would just be mercy, because you could at the very least have a slight chance, of seeing her smile once more. You took that from all of us.”
He didn’t know what to say. All Osama could say was that his wife was right, because in truth he doesn’t want to admit it. He was distracted, thinking of pointless, trivial nonsense, like what Hannah might make for dinner. What the market might be like when he wants to head to the city to sell a portion of his herd. Whether the cloud from afar were rain clouds. Just pointless thoughts. Osama silently admitted to himself one thing that he can agree with his wife on. That he deserved to die.
He took the same shovel he used to bury his daughter, then headed to Hannah’s tea garden. He was digging for something his mother hid from his father during the Mahdi days, back when he referred to his home as his father’s. A rifle, covered in white sheets, along with bullets. He never hoped he’d have to use it for long time, but it’s been 20 years. He loaded it and cocked it without thinking too hard about it. It brought him back to when Basheer lost his leg, and his father brought him along on their quest for justice. It brought him back to when he first acquired the weapon.
Under the Egyptian flag, glowing in front of the dim orange sun hiding behind gray clouds, Osama entered the fort. He walked alongside a line of chained men, probably soldiers and disciples of the Mahdi, were guided by soldiers. The prisoners chanted “God willing! We shall enter paradise! God willing! We shall enter paradise!”
He headed to the eating area outside the barracks. He saw three soldiers, enjoying tea and briskets. One of them was playing an oud, and other soldiers from a distance clapped along to his song. Osama walked up to them, unsure how to introduce himself. The oud player stopped playing when noticing young Osama. Twirling his handle bar mustache, he asked “You’re Osama, right?” Osama nods. “Where’s the sheep your father promised?”
“Outside,” Osama answers.
“Bring them in my boy.” Osama unties the sheep from the tree near the fort walls and brings them in. Now he sees those same imprisoned men lined up in front of a wall while soldiers gather together, making sure their rifles are locked and loaded. Smiles spread like waves across the fort when the sheep entered. Just in time for Al Daha. Osama was the only one who wasn’t smiling, along with the prisoners of war. When he brought the sheep over to the same soldiers, one of them passed the sheep to the chef where he would begin to butcher it.
The solider guided the young Osama how to use the rifle. At the end of the quick course, Osama asked “Have you ever killed a beast?”
He smirked “We’re soldiers. It’s what we do.”
“Savages! Like the ones we gathered in front of that wall over there.”
“What is a savage to you?”
“Savages think they can be free when they don’t know what freedom is. Savages kill for nothing as they drown in the rivers flowing with the blood they spilled.”
Still holding on to the rifle, Osama proceeded to ask “What about animals?”
He laughs at the young Osama, as his friends set up a hookah. “You know, you’re like a silver miner giving up after discovering gold.”
“What do you mean?” Not appreciating the soldier’s humor.
The solider bubbles in the hookah vapor into his lungs. He exhales “We are worse than animals.” The firing squad fired. Osama thought he heard a hundred lightning strikes at once behind him before he turned. He saw a white wall splattered in blood and brain matter. A small stream of blood forms then flowed into the cracks of the wall. Osama turns back to the solider trying not to look frightful. The solider gets up and puts his arm around Osama’s still shoulders, and made sure he turned around to see the half dead prisoners about to be shot once more. “Man can be tracked. Man can be predictable. But still intelligent.” He takes in and exhales more hookah vaper then passes the hose along. “We’re the perfect hunt. And you know what’s fascinating? When we kill each other, we don’t do it for food, or for clothing, we do it for our own satisfaction.” He then chuckles “There’s actually something quite comical to it. How they lose their sight of living for killing. Even if their lives are at stake.”
Osama kept to himself and didn’t think aloud. All he was thinking about was the lessons that his father taught him, that man is inherently good, fair, and honest, but in retrospect, that lecture was just a way for him to share the toy cart with Basheer. He stood still like a pillar as the barely living men against the wall begging the Egyptian soldiers to hurry. “If this is what Man can do, then there’s no beast imaginable that man can’t kill.” His friends pass the hose back to him, then he inhales and exhales “Osama my boy,” then continues “you can kill this beast, because there’s nothing more threatening than man.” The soldiers reload, and fired once more.
Osama wakes up on the bed outside of the house to the sound of a donkey braying, remembering he kept the rifle under his bed. When he woke up, for a few bitter sweet seconds, he thought Mariam was alive. He had a dream about the day before where Hannah made eggs with pastrami, as a way to convince Osama to watch Marium because she wanted to go to her friend’s home just a few kilometers out to make holiday cookies.
He patrols around the village through the forest with his rifle resting on his shoulder like British solider. Out of nowhere, bushes began to shudder which forces him to stop. The shuddering increased more by time. Osama’s heart starts racing. His palms started moistening from sweat as he cocks his rifle and points the end of the barrel at the bushes, and at its loudest, a large white object falls into the pathway, then Osama shoots but missed this object. Thankfully he did miss, because that large white object was his brother in his clean white tunic, who fell because the rough ground made him loose balance with his crutch.
“You almost fucking shot me you dick!” The first words that came out of his little brother’s mouth, whom many often forget is the village imam. Osama doesn’t speak. He helps Basheer up, and places the crutch under his pit. “Thank you,” he says less stressfully. “Ya Osama. What are you doing? You should be with your wife, mourning, and remind her that my niece, your daughter, is spending eternity among the angels.”
Osama’s teeth are clenched. “What the hell is the matter with you?”
“Excuse me?” Osama continues his patrol. Basheer follows. “What’s wrong with me, brother?”
Like a jumping spider, Osama quickly turned to his brother as if he were prey “Your flesh and blood niece was killed by a lion, faced worse pain than you did, and you’re just going to give me closure that God took my girl, MY GIRL! To paradise? I expected more empathy from you.”
“Ya Osama. I feel your pain. God forbid this happens to my boy. But a lion doesn’t care where it gets a meal, that’s just how nature is set. There was a drought and…”
“You’re sharing empathy with that murderous monster!”
“Murderous? It’s an animal in the wild looking at our angel as if she was one of the bush creatures. Unsupervi…”
“That’s the thing, Basheer. It took nothing. All limbs were still intact. It just clawed her! For nothing! It wasn’t hunting. It… just… killed her.”
“Whatever the case may be, you need to be aware of the amount of darkness that clouds your soul. Only God knows how much, but I can sense it, because you’re my brother, Osama.”
“This isn’t darkness,” Osama doubts.
“Yes it is! Darkness can morph you with no difficulty as if you were nothing but a lump of clay. It’s important to always fear God no matter how you’re formed. No matter where you journey, or what actions you intend to take.”
Osama stops and really did take in what his brother said. His anger then regains as well as his pride, and looked down on him and tells him, shaking in unreleased frustration, “Fuck… you. Fuck you and fuck your God.” Basheer stood still, and looked down in disappointment. “If she’s in paradise, then she won’t know true bliss until she saw the beast that put her there burning below us.”
In a low frying voice, Basheer tells Osama “I forgive you for your anger. But don’t you dare twist our parents’ faith for your own foolishness” Osama scuffs then proceeds “I still think you should return. Your wife is leaving.”
“Of course. Why do you think I rushed here through the grass with one fucking leg?”
Osama stops and turns back to his brother “And now you’re telling me! God damn it Basheer!” He runs back to the village.
Basheer decides to take the time he’s in the forest to have a peaceful stroll. The path back to the village should make him pass the Taha’s field, wondering if they don’t mind him taking some ripe unpicked guavas. He appreciates all of God’s creations from the trees, to the birds, and sun. He hears something in the distance, from the back, but he knows there’s too much effort for him just to turn back due to his condition. In voice speaking broken Arabic, he hears “Ye-ye—ye-you say, vear goduh.”
“Oh, forgive me if you caught my wonderful conversation with my brother. He’s just lost for the moment I’m afraid.”
“Excuse me,” he continues to walk.
“Veear…Godeh… th…then… I God.”
Basheer takes into account his light humor, and says as he slowly starts to turn “You know, blasphemy is a sin, but I think its slightly worse when you do it in front of an Ima-” He finds something hard to pick together right away. A lion, malnourished enough to see every rib beneath gray fur. A mouth with the hair and whiskers dyed in red blood, and a large but healed X shaped scar for one eye, and just a horizontal line for the other. The lion growls slowly as he approaches Basheer. He tries moving backward, but falls on his back.
Despite the lion’s old age, it runs to Basheer as if it was a large cub. Before Basheer inhaled the air to scream, the lion placed its paw on his mouth fast. His claws slowly extend and pierce through the skin in his cheeks and nose, and now he’s screaming into the paw. He tries throwing a few punches at the lion any way he can but he loses faith that it even notices them. The lion faces down to Basheer as if it had eyes. Mimicking with almost perfect motion, human like language. “V-v-v fear. Fear God.” It says in a low frying voice. The lion hovers his other paw over Basheer and extends the claws for a show, which somehow made Basheer’s screams louder just from the sight. “God… dake you…Baradise.” From the eye brows down, the lion cuts through Basheer’s eyes, then ends in his eye bags.
Once Basheer passes out from his trauma, the lion takes his paws off his face. The lion whispers “No… yell.” It bites into Basheer’s neck, and enjoys the meat of it until he gets to the bone, where he snaps the neck off from the body, then lightly bites the head to carry it. The lion moves onward to the village.
On donkey cart, his friend Amjed rolls onto the front gate of his home. Amjed gets off the cart and greets Osama, “Asalam’ou’al-lakum” while retying his new checkered pattern scarf around his neck.
“Wa al lakume alsalam.” Osama greets back. “What are you doing here my friend?”
“Your wife sent the Taha boy for me.”
“Oh. I thought you would know”
Hannah comes out with her clothing bags and thanks Amjed for the short notice. Osama looks at Hannah in anger and confusion “Where in God’s earth do think you’re going during these times?”
“My parent’s village.”
“Tokar!? You’re going to Tokar!?”
“My parents deserve to know, Osama.” Tears ran down her face. A sorrowing sight for Osama. “They should know why they won’t be seeing their only granddaughter during Al Daha.”
Osama took a deep breath and tried to sympathize with his wife. “Very well Hannah. May I come along?”
Wiping her tears “No. You need tend to the sheep.”
“Alright then, if you think it’s for the best. Just promise me you’ll stay safe.”
“I will, ya Osama.”
Amjed interrupts with his hand over his chest “You have my word Osama, your wife will be safe.”
Hours pass since Hannah’s departure. Osama rests on his outside bed with the rifle under it as for usual. All of a sudden, a loud feminine scream comes from the mosque. Then a roar. Osama reaches for his rifle, and charges for the mosque.
A crowd surrounds the entrance crying, screaming, and praying to themselves. Osama goes through the crowd with his rifle to find a horrific sight. In the front of the mosque, at the very top of the minber facing the entrance, his brother’s head lied on its side, with his eyes clawed out. He walked slowly towards it to make sure if it’s who he thinks it is, the closer he got the more he was sure that the lion which slain his daughter, now slain his brother. Osama’s face was ridged in match to his anger, and like fertile valleys, his tears traveled across his cheek. He regretted that his last words to his brother was “Fuck you.”
One woman in the crowd, claimed “It was those damn Ethiopians!” A man claims “It was those good for nothing Christians! Only they could slay an imam.” An old man declares “Those White English bastards want to scare us! That must be true!”
“How?” Another woman replies to their arrogance.
Osama cries out, grasping his rifle to the fearful crowd “Now is not a time for panic!” A scream comes from the back door. The scream is coming from so much pain that no one could understand who was screaming. Osama leading the crowd bust through the back door. The familiar sound of flies enters the background noise for Osama.
He turns to his left and is distraught by the site of his sister-in-law, Ferzanah, ripped in half through her abdomen. Both pieces of her body, a meter apart. Her intestines were pulled like strings, with one end pointing towards her home. The guts were in between blood-soaked paw prints, from a large feline creature. As flies covered the open flesh, and everyone was weeping after witnessing both Basheer and Ferzana, slaughtered like sheep, no one but Osama could notice the gasp of air she took. He commands “Everyone! Shut up!”
Osama kneels and asks a question he knew would be the last one he’d ask Ferzanah. “Ferzanah. What happened?”
Coughing out blood she told everyone circling her torso “It…(cough)… spoke!”
“What? What spoke?” Osama replied.
Her last dying words, with blood building up in her throat were “The lion! It spoke! And it wants you, Osama…” She passes, right in front of him, like his own little girl.
Everyone was confused. Osama looks at the bloodied paw prints again, and realizes that the lion was trying to lead people to the direction of where the intestines were pointing. He left the crowd and followed the prints. As he approaches his brother’s home, he could hear the sound of his baby nephew crying from his brother’s home. He yells “Nooo” and busts through the door with his rifle healed steadily.
He scans the area with his rifle. Just like the mosque, the back door was also open. The crying came from the sleeping quarters. He entered the sleeping quarters, to find on the family bed, something moving under a heavily bloodied scarf. “God. Please no.” he thought. Holding the rifle now with one hand, Osama slowly moves his hand towards the scarf, and removes it quickly to find his nephew crying alone. Omar, his nephew, seemed like he was in perfect shape. No claw marks.
It still depressed him, knowing that little Omar will never know the great man his father was. The blood from the scarf didn’t come from him, thankfully. The thought occurred to him after his relief. He wandered what this supposedly intelligent beast was doing.
He realized as the crowd from the mosque was coming to see what was going on, that the scarf has a checkered pattered beneath the blood. It was new. It was Amjed’s. “Oh my god! Hannah!” He hands his nephew to his neighbors to be cared for. He then borrows a horse from the Suleimans to ride on Tokar trail.
Young Osama wandered around the bushes with his father. They were following lion prints on the ground. Easy to find with the sun being blocked by the thick clouds. Growls, small and faint, are heard in the distance. Jaffer signals to follow the sounds. Osama only had a butcher’s knife in his hand, held with the tightest grip he had. The blade shook slightly with every fast heartbeat of fear pulsing from his pubescent chest.
Beyond the tall grass, on the ground, he found the source of the growls. There were three lion cubs, fragile, waiting for their mother. Osama gazed upon their innocence as they played with each other, climbing over each other, unaware of the dangers of this world. Seeing them walk reminded Osama of Basheer’s inability to do the same.
Osama’s father claimed “These are the cubs belonging to the beast for sure.”
“How do you know?” Asked Osama.
His father answered “The last lion we saw was a rotting corpes a few kilometers back. More bone than skin.” He then said “Perhaps we can use the cubs as a way to attract the mother.”
Osama felt cold when the clouds covering the sun became thicker. His heartbeat slowed down. He got an idea, after looking at his reflection in the blade of the knife. “I know what to do.”
He approaches the cubs, picks one up, and it made no attempt to resist his action. Osama slams the cub down, making it scream in its high pitch sound, as did the others. He stabbed the cub through its chest multiple times, making the rest scream louder. He grabbed another by the tail, and sawed through its neck with the bloodied knife. He turned to his father, expecting some sort of reaction, but his father looked into his son’s eyes, with pride. There was one left which his father points out. “Don’t kill the last one. We need at least one to keep screaming to get their mother’s attention.”
“What do you want me to do with it?”
“Cut its eyes out.” They both notice that the last cub ran through the grass. Its legs were too stubby to make it significantly far. They knew where it was going because the grass moved every time it pressed its foot on the ground. Jaffer ordered his son to go after it.
Osama was able to grab it. All he felt was anger. Osama just wanted it to feel pain. He took out his bloodied blade once more, and slowly dragged the blade against one of the cub’s eyes, then decided to repeat the same process across the same scar, making an X. Screaming loudly, the cub kept trying to scratch back, but Osama ended his torturing by just carving one scar across its other eye.
He came back to his father with the screaming cub, blinded by Osama’s rage. Osama drops it to the ground like sack of sand and waits for its crying to work. After just a few minutes they hear more growls, but deeper, and louder. Out of the bush, they see the beast that took Basheer’s leg. A malnourished lioness, skinny to the ribs, exhausted. It could barely see ahead of itself.
She limps forward to make the realization that all her children that she committed to raising were slaughtered, because she wasn’t there. She made a strange roar. As if she was crying. The crying turned to grunts of anger. She focused her eyes on Osama, who walked back slowly. She leaps forward, Osama closes his eyes and covered head with his arms. A gun shot was heard. He opens his eyes and looks down to see the lioness just inches away from his toes. The bullet went straight through its left upper foot, and hit its heart.
The cub walks around and bumps into his mother’s body. Osama’s father hands him the rifle for the first time. “Finish it,” Jaffer commanded.
He looks at it, crying and afraid. Wondering why his mother isn’t getting up. Osama reloads the rifle, then points the end of the barrel at the cub’s head. But before he could fire, a vulture sweeps in and takes the cub away, now screaming into the sky.
Its sundown, Osama sees the cart Hannah left in, flipped upside down, and he’s in fear of what he might find. He yells “Hannah! Hannah!”
She cries back “Osama! Is that you?”
“Yes! Where are you?”
“I`m beneath the cart!” Osama notices a small pocket between the ground and rim of the flipped cart. He hops off the horse, puts his rile down next to the rim of the cart, then puts his hand under it, the attempts to lift the cart, but was too heavy at the first go.
“Sweetheart! I`m going to need you to lift the cart with me. Can you do that?”
“I`ll try!” Unsure of herself.
“Use your legs!” Osama pulls the cart up with all his strength, then Hannah uses her legs to lift the cart more. Osama put his other hand to hold the tilting upside down cart. Keeping the cart lifted, Osama commands “Move!” Hannah manages to crawl out, and Osama lets go with a huge relief. They share a brief hug where Osama whispers “I will never let you go again. You’re my family, you hear me?”
All of a sudden, growls apear in close sound. He turns around to have something massive thrown at him, but he pushes away Hannah just in time. The thrown object made him hit his back against cart. Osama realizes what was thrown on him was the skeletal body, moist as if the flesh was recently torn off. He pushes it forward out of fear and disgust. Where it lands in front of the lion. He sees the grey beast, with its head pointing at him, staring at him with his scars. Osama picks up his rifle as the lion smiles at Osama’s and Hannah’s presence. Osama tells Hannah who is on the ground next her to “Run!”
The lion responds “Yesssss! Run! No need for you! Only want… (growls)… hypocrite.”
Hannah runs past the bushes. Osama loosens his grip to the rifle from the sight of seeing something he never thought would be possible. “You… you…speak?”
Staring at the skeletal remains, Osama asks “Who is this?”
“Amjed… A bountiful meal.”
Disgusted by his words, all Osama could only conjure “You’re a monster!” He points his rifle at the lion before realizing its quick approach, as it slapped the rifle away with its paw, making it land in the bushes. Its front legs pushed Osama down to the ground, and held them there. “What are you!?” He asks as he struggles to get out of its hold.
“You must… fear me!” His claws extend through Osama’s shoulder skin as it says “Call… me… God!”
Screaming with his jaws shut, Osama asks “What do you want?”
“I hear more. Why I can make human noise. I also hear your breath, your heartbeat, and smell your fear. I know you. You were boy who took everything from me. Mother. Sister. Brother. Blood-smell I still remember.”
Osama realizes “My God! I remember you. You were that cub.”
The lion roared so loud at Osama’s face, that it became dampened and heated. He says “Now you know what I will do. You will feel pain I felt when I little. Because I hate you!”
Somber in anguish, Osama focuses in his words to tell the lion “I caused you a great deal of pain all those years ago. I thought of that day for a long time, regretting it. You were innocent, and I`m sorry.” The lion roars at his face again. “If you hate me! Why do you want to do what I`ve down to you. Does that make you better? My family is as innocent as you were.”
“I taken your family…almost! But now, I take your eyes (growls). I don’t want you to see what I do to your mate. I want you to hear it.” The beast pulls out his claws from Osama’s left shoulder, then nicks at the corner of his left eye. “God will show you pain.” He makes a slow cut through his eyeball which made Osama scream as loud as he did when he found Mariam.
The beast laughs after completing the first part of the X it intends to complete. He begins to start the other part but as Osama shut his one eye, he hears a gun shot, then a large splash of blood hit his face. He wipes his face with his sleeve before opening his one remaining eye and sees the lion fall to its side, with half its left face blown off. Osama turns right to see Hannah, holding his rifle, and the smoke almost covering her frightened face.
Osama tries to get up from the growing pool of black blood coming from the beast’s head. Hannah starts to tear heavily and shake. She walks slowly towards her husband and starts whimpering “I`m sorry,” but he couldn’t catch it the first few times from all the wheezing she’s doing. Hannah never felt such a heavy load of empathy for another human being in her life. Osama rips out part of his garb, and makes a quick patch for his eye.
Hannah and Osama hugged each other, as they need each other’s heat in a mid-winter night. The lion coughs, tilting what was left of its half blasted head up. Its blackened blood oozes through its visible teeth. Brain matter leaking out of the holes in its skull. The beast struggles to declare “I…(cough)…wish for death.”
Osama let’s go of Hannah, takes his rifle back, and then reloads it while replying “Let me give it to then you son of a bitch.”
He walks towards the lion, self-proclaimed God, and points his rifle to it just when he says in a low frying voice “Let me see my family, Osama. Let me see them again.” Osama was angered by the audacity of that statement. He can’t utter those words until his own time. He hesitates for a moment about what he’ll do with the monster that almost destroyed his life, but came up with one decision that would give him solace. And harmony returned.
Mustafa Gaafarelkhalifa is a native to Oman and the the son of Sudanese parents. Having been raised in the United States since the age of four, he developed a love for writing at an early age, leading him to Major in English at the University of Wisconsin – La Crosse. He recently decided to experiment in horror, which influenced him to write and publish a story through the Catalyst which takes place in his family’s homeland.
By: Luis Acosta Jr.
During a brain numbing scrolling session through Instagram, you may somehow find yourself stalking an account named “@_blu3m,” where one eclectic creative named Abby Duncan resides her thoughts and aesthetics. Originally from the Green Bay area, Abby now calls La Crosse, WI her home, where she lives with her oversized cats in a small apartment, adjacent from her favorite co-op supermarket. She’s a book-worm and proud of her “bossiness,” which she believes gives her an edge for her teaching aspirations. Pictures of striking bookcases, selfies from all angles, and vibrant colors with clever captions, accompanied by activistic takes on issues she deems her voice valid enough to express, riddle her Instagram. She is never afraid to convey her attraction to the weird, as Abby will always do and say whatever she wants.
Out of all the expressions Abby tinkers with, writing is what keeps her creativity at its hungriest. “I’ve always leaned towards poetry, right now it’s my main mode. I just feel this need to write” she says, impressing me with how she does so even on days where he heart doesn’t feel the call to write; “That’s when I try and push myself the most.” Duncan’s brain swirls with phrases and words that she says she “just has to get out,” which comes out through poetic spurts and limericks often inspired by music or a certain mood she finds herself to be indulging in.
Having Abby this year as a co-editor for The Catalyst means working with a past collaborator, as I operated fiction and nonfiction editing next to Abby’s poetry section for The Steam ticket, Vol.22. “Poetry is something that’s always been with me. It’s been a gate way that’s helped me enter other artistic spaces” she said, using music as a specific example. With the help of an Akai Midi keyboard and confident vocals, music became one of her new experiments. On Abby’s Instagram you can see her cover a Your Smith’s song called “Bad Habit.” As an avenue to help her express her role as a creative, being hindered by a lack of musical training hasn’t stopped her from outgrowing the so called “learning curve”: “I used to think, ‘oh I didn’t start a musical instrument when I was a kid so I can’t anymore’; but, I’m 21, I’m so young. I have so much ahead of me” Duncan said.
Abby Duncan views art as, well, everything. “As long as the person who produced it views it as art, then it’s art” she said. She references Marcel Duchamp’s sculpture Fountain, as its depiction of a porcelain urinal with the signature “R.Mutt, 1917” on it proves to be art even if it was hidden away from the public due to its improper themes. Abby views committees like the ones who voted against Duchamp’s urinal sculpture from being presented in the Independents Exhibition in New York City as dishonorable. “What makes that art versus somebody posting a boredom doodle onto Instagram” Duncan says, continuing with the strong nature she always wears on her sleeve by unfolding what she thinks her art should represent: “My art has personal meaning to me, and whether somebody appreciates it or not, I’m happy to say the personal value I find in it is enough to keep me motivated keep making more.”
The freedom to explore whatever expression she feels like practicing comes from the ease in labeling herself as a “creative.” Transcending the ordinary as an artist is difficult as it is, but before Abby was ready to fully identify as an “artist,” her confidence needed to be secured, in order to be “all in,” as she says. With the help of some inclined friends, the pieces that Abby needs to surpass her layman, “learn-as you-go” style that she is constantly looking to evolve, finally had a blueprint thanks to her influences. One in particular: Talking Heads front man and walking-abstraction David Bern, who’s non sequitur lyrics represent for Abby what true musicianship is. Her upper-left elbow is where Bern’s chorus from his song This must be the place resides, keeping his words close as they remind her that she is always where she is meant to be.
She describes her views on behaving in society and the parameters put around creative people as a “cage,” having been inspired by the enclosures she’d see animals live out their ritualistic lives during her short time as an employee for the Milwaukee zoo. “I consider myself a staunch, post-humanist” she says, believing a life separated from nature and instinct is a poor way of knowing what your possible contributions to the world could be. “We have natural tendencies, and we act as though everything is intellectual and cerebral; these are the things that inspire me to be as creative as possible” Duncan said.
It’ll be a true honor to work with Abby this year, as her love for art and design adds a strong element to The Catalyst’s current evolution. She is an organizational queen; her planners are a work of art and her brain ticks with delight whenever she brings up enlightening topics, which occur often during our weekly meetings. As a person who benefits off of judging a story by narrative, structure, and growth of character, poetry may be too explosive and impatient for my eyes to be able to deduce a proper definition for what it may mean to include it in The Catalyst; but to have Abby’s incredibly versatile mind, I can confidently say that her opinions will stand the test of time, as the poetry she elects to be worthy enough to represent the artistic minds of UWL will exceed what this journal has set out to accomplish.
By: Abby Duncan
This year, Luis Acosta is co-editor of The Catalyst. We sat down to talk about his perspectives on art, his creative process, inspirations, and his plans for the Catalyst.
We began our conversation with his perspective on art in general– how he defines it, expresses it, and it’s impacted on his life. Luis, a first generation Mexican American, defined art as “pure expression.” His take on art is a free-form style, based on the intention behind creating rather than a pre-defined constrict. As far as his production of art, he says, “anything I do can be art. It’s what I feel needs to be done in the moment in order for me to feel accomplished.” Luis expressed an urge to produce in order to feel accomplished. However, this isn’t to say he doesn’t appreciate the process of getting there– he says, “I like the idea of seeing something that I had in my head presented in front of me in a way that was either expected, or not at all; it’s exciting to see a piece turn into something totally different.”
Luis has been featured in the Catalyst in the past, contributing mostly fiction pieces. Creative writing has been the focus of his contributions to the journal, but he practices a number of other creative modes as well, from music to comedy to sculpting. When it comes to his writing, he aims to practice his craft regularly by writing daily and gaining inspiration from a wide array of authors. Luis cites many authors such as Pablo Neruda, George Saunders, Joan Didion, David Foster Wallace, Arthur Miller, and Mary Karr as sources of inspiration. For Saunders, he says, “his writing is so natural. He is such a good communicator. His short stories have so many styles playing off of each other in one paragraph, but somehow it’s still easy to understand.” In his own writing, Luis aims to find the simplest way to say something while still capturing the idea’s beauty. “It’s important for me to be communicative while being as creative as possible; no one likes to read a story written in a way that only for the author is able to understand.”
Musically, Luis has been heavily impacted by his father, who introduced him to the drums when he was just six years old. As a drummer, Luis’s musical viewpoint is intriguing– he sees things a bit more structurally than other musicians might. He says, “drummers kind of structure out everything you need in a song. If I’m playing a song, I need to know what time signature all the instruments are in while playing the correct rhythm for the rest of the band to play along accordingly.” He connects his structuring ability to how he organizes his writing: “I need to make sure that my paragraphs are organized and that there’s some kind of pace, similar to how effective playing rhythms in certain sections in a song give it it’s ‘pop.” Luis has been inspired by musicians like Manu Katché (who is a favorite of his dad’s), the simplistic chaos of The Beatles and The Beach Boys, Jazz drummers Buddy Rich and Art Blakley, and contemporary drummers like Chad Smith of the Red Hot Chili Peppers, and Matt Helders of the Arctic Monkeys.
Luis’s artistic perspective is sure to make him an asset in creating the Catalyst. He says, “I’ve always been interested in creating beautiful things,” which is certainly a goal many aspiring artists. He values a product that has a sense of ease, one that “readers can enjoy the beauty of without seeing all of the trouble that went in to make it beautiful.” He expects to enjoy this process of creation, and anticipates that this experience will help give him a better idea of what UWL’s creative body looks like. He says, “I just like to see what people have to say. When I read people’s work that I know from around campus, I’m surprised. A lot of times people think differently than I thought they did before.” He enjoys being able to put an idea to a face that he recognizes, and points out the uniqueness of this way of interacting with people around campus. “It’s just completely different,” he says. “It’s like they’re giving me their brain and saying ‘this is for you.”
Luis’s perspective as a writer, drummer, editor, and artist in general is unique and interesting. It’s always so valuable to be able to gain some insight into how others perceive their own process of creation, especially in relation to others, so it was fascinating to learn about how Luis has developed his own process and how he plans to apply that to his work on the Catalyst. He has a clear passion for what he does, and he sums it up best, simply stating “I just really love art.”