To telescope, we begin with 300 words, then slice the word count in half for each successive section. We stop when the numbers stop dividing evenly. This week, eight Nass writers telescope the word “fault.”
Greta, in her 120-pound Bull Mastiff slobbery glory, was a black hole when it came to food, or anything remotely resembling food. She had gorged whole loaves of bread in record time—not letting the plastic wrapper heed her appetite. Sometimes she opted for chewing off a leg of a Barbie doll or even once, consuming part of a container of iron vitamins, which resulted in a rare trip to the vet. Through these impressive feats, Greta earned one of her many nicknames, “noo-noo” after the vacuum in the TV show Teletubbies.
Our household built habits around this otherwise amiable force. We had to remember to
pick up the floor of any toys and push back food on the counter as far as possible to evade the
reach of “noo-noo.” Nonetheless, sometimes matter fell between the cracks and into the black
depths of her mouth.
One incident occurred the morning after my 8th birthday, right before I was about to
leave for school. I heard a sudden crash and the scuttling of nails across linoleum tile. The next
thing I saw was the leftovers of my double-layered chocolate cake on our kitchen floor being
inhaled by Greta. After witnessing the tragic end of my birthday cake, I vowed to not pet her for
the remainder of the day (I broke my promise).
The pettiness of 8-year-old me over such trivial stakes as birthday cake always
entertains me to reflect back on. It was not her fault—it was ours for not knowing better than placing the cake where she could pull it down from below; and despite that face of ostensibly eternal penitence, that droopy wet mouth, those delicate forehead wrinkles, and those glossy round black eyes, she was incapable of shame. After all, it was just her nature.
Volleyball relies on a theory of “bettering the ball.” Your team is given a spike, serve, or tip that you must “better” incrementally from a pass to a set to a hit. Volleyball doesn’t ask for perfection; volleyball asks for doing the best you can with the conditions given to you. Consequently, the blame of a lost point, a fallen ball, is almost always collective.
Take a serve going deep into the middle of the court, where the libero is. The libero
reads the serve late, insufficiently moves back, so the ball catches her high up her platform, the angle of which is nearly parallel to the ground. The ball goes straight up, instead of following a
parabolic arc to the setter. The DS hesitates when the setter doesn’t call “help,” and attempts to
salvage the play by diving dramatically—but she’s late and the ball thuds to the ground.
An asteroid killed the dinosaurs. Well, the non-avian ones, anyway, in addition to killing
countless other families of mammals, reptiles, and fish. The asteroid struck at a particularly
vulnerable time, too, for dinosaurs, with herbivores such as Triceratops already in decline and
food webs in disarray. Also, there was another asteroid 66 million years ago, granted this one
had mostly regional effects, but it was an additional contingency effectuating the extinction of
the non-avian dinosaur.
My mom tells me to stop saying sorry when it’s not my fault. Maybe, my frequent invocation of the word dilutes its power. But I contend that the presence of fault merely intensifies the sympathy within “I’m sorry.”
I grew up in a two-room house in the mountains outside of Albuquerque, New Mexico. Between the first room and the second, at the entryway, terracotta tiles are cracked and blistered. It seems like something we should fix. Below the French doors an edge that could cut our bare feet. We never really noticed. Just another source of dust.
The woman before us added the second room to the first, haphazardly; she was paranoid. The basement is like a bunker, with a heavy metal door, in case of bombs. (Why was she worried
about bombs? Never clear. People have their neuroses.) She added the second room later. It has different walls, sharp plaster instead of smooth; the roof is tin, not shingled. But it was built on a different foundation, it must be sinking, the terracotta tiles between the rooms have cracked.
The Little House was temporary, until my father could build the New House. He planned
meticulously; building wasn’t started until after years of sketching, planning. Those were my
early years. Looking at lines that would be walls. When I was two the ground was broken, trees
were cleared, concrete was poured. You can still find my handprints in the porch.
There would be no mistakes. Maybe he tried to hire a contractor, but they did something wrong, messed something up. He came back to it alone. Every week it seemed there was another wall, another block of cement, another beam in the roof.
I know it meant a lot to him. He grew up in an apartment block, in a country where there isn’t space like this. Sometimes we sit outside, and he puts his arm around my shoulder, says, isn’t it incredible, that we have… He’s looking out to the hills.
Then one day, all construction stopped.
The Little House wasn’t meant to last for more than a couple years. A few at most.
Life found manifestation in clutter: a wood-carved penny tray, ceramic salad bowls, dogs, strays from the woods, books, many books, a shining gray lamp. At night I would sneak from my bed in the corner of the second room to peer through to the kitchen, yellow light through the French doors. I could see my parents’ shadows moving back and forth, waiting, I suppose, until I was asleep.
And so the New House too accrued sediment. Dust, screws and nails, two cats, four unusable Volkswagens. We got used to the half-built house. We joke about it. Weekends were spent dusting, putting down new paper to protect the stained concrete floors.
As a kid, I was scared to enter at night: wouldn’t I get lost, I worried, in the dark space under the
Now that I’ve left I think about what home meant. I’ve closer to my parents than I would have
been. And how much time have I spent walking back and forth along the same trails, seeing the
same stumps and flowers and valleys and rusting scrap metal. Easy to get stuck in your head. My
thoughts brushing up against walls, objects, these past nineteen years.
Sometimes I tried writing but it ended up in pieces.
They told us in school that we lived in the “Tijeras Fault.” Between two tectonic plates. It was a
wonder, we all thought, that there aren’t earthquakes; there are, they said. Subtle enough we can’t feel them.
A wasteland of green plastic straws and bags is all the Cowboy sees before hopping on the last Airtrain to New Marseilles. Old Arizona is lost to the wrath of the planet now: that’s all he has in his monthly report, written down in the old, leatherbound notebook, which he bought on the flea market in January but pretends to have inherited from his grandfather. His real inheritance, however, he’s less proud of, as he’s sharing it with everyone else left on this dying planet. You only need to look around to see it.
The Airtrain anchors in the President’s station at 4:50 pm, dropping the Cowboy off downtown, in the city whose veins are pulsing with the last drops of life. He treks his way up to the office, where the secretary in the green dress is waiting for him patiently, just so she could let him in the door to the meeting room, where the Usurer, the Executioner, the Philosopher and the Whore are all standing with their arms crossed, looking down on him, judging him for the two days long delay. There is really no explanation for his actions, other than the desperate insistence on the one last tiny flicker of hope. Now even that is gone.
When the Cowboy makes his monthly presentation about Old Arizona in front of the council, they all remain perched in their fake leather chairs, silently honoring the memory of the first meeting exactly five years (plus two days) ago on this day, when they hatched up an emergency plan together to salvage what still remains to be salvaged for posterity. Five years of hard work, disappointment, more hard work, and more disappointment. The room temperature finally drops below zero, and the Whore sighs in resignation. It’s Babylon all over again.
I grew up as an only child. So many beautiful things can come from being the only light your parents’ eyes are drawn to see. But for every moment of joy, there is a meal spent alone with insatiable hunger in a bedroom big enough for two, pondering what could have been. I’ve craved brotherly affection as long as I can remember, for the terrors at night take the form of old furniture at day, and the only one who could keep me safe is my own blood.
I talk to you on rainy days, dear brother. It reminds me of the time we spent together, in that room that was warmer than anywhere else I’ve lived ever since. But I know mum is not to blame for me sleeping alone. I curse myself, for the only regret I have in life is that I devoured you in the womb.
“And now please join me in one minute of silence for the victims of the shootings” murmurs the
preacher piously. Believers from town pray silently for the deceased, cursing the murderer’s name. A month ago, this same preacher, these same believers, were reciting the passage from the book: “Thou shalt not lie with mankind, as with womankind.” And the murderer was one amongst them too, nodding in unison. So, who’s the one pulling the trigger?
Blocks of rock next to each other, so close that the most minimal of movements would cause friction, tearing down all villages along the fracture. How they wished they were allowed to make love without causing an earthqu-
My boyfriend and I went to an art exhibition in New York. They served champagne and I wore
my uncomfortable black shoes, the ones that remind me what pain feels like, the ones that he
always asks me to wear. But I smiled because his art was on display, so I wore my shoes and
sipped my champagne and tried to not think too hard about how I didn’t fit in here, about how he
did. I spotted him in a group of strangers, and he was wearing a smile I hadn’t seen before with a
laugh I didn’t recognize. My throat constricted and I begged it not to but I’m not very
convincing, so the tears blurred the scene around me until I was surrounded in nightmare. I
turned around to leave but I wasn’t used to those shoes and I woke up next to a broken flute,
stained with champagne and covered with stares. He helped me up, smile gone, and my guilt cut
deeper than glass.
When we got back to his apartment, he asked me why I had to go and do that, and I could only respond with an open mouth. He changed out of his suit in silence, but I kept my shoes on. He noticed, telling me to take them off and that he didn’t mean any of it he was just stressed about the exhibition, you know? I wanted to leave but my body ignored me, and I stripped off my shoes before making popcorn while he found a movie to watch.
“People really seemed to like your art,” I offered. He shrugged and I gave up. I wasn’t strong enough to force us to fit together and my arms had grown tired, so we watched the movie in silence. He didn’t laugh.
I am going home, and so is my brother. He’s everywhere I am because we’ve gone to the same
school since we were two, but I like it that way because he is a piece of home that I get to drag
with me. He’s smarter than me but I don’t mind because I get to brag about him since half of his
blood is my own. He is kind when I am not, he listens when I do not, and he is patient when I do
not deserve it. He is my twin, but he is my antithesis, and sometimes I think he got all the good
and I was left with the bad.
He drove us back and I fell asleep in the passenger seat, forgetting to play the songs he asked me to. I woke up in the grocery store parking lot. He was inside, getting dinner.
Sometimes my brother and I give up on talking and go play tennis. After two decades, the
concrete courts are fractured and weeds fill the cracks. The summertime heat soaks us through
and he wants to leave. I serve one last time, all shoulder, arm, racquet, and anger, but the net
catches the ball, rolling it back towards my feet. I don’t bother to re-serve. He’s already left the
court and is starting the car.
I wrote you a letter, smattered with stamps. Part of me hoping the layer of postage will carry it
over the ocean, part of me wanting it to drown in the Pacific. In this uncertainty, I am clean.
It would not be wrong to call the bags nurturing, if only because they held objects to which we were all devoted. There must’ve been at least eight boxes, each with rows and rows of little Ziplocs, where all our tiny portals into the world could breathe easy while we forgot about them. Some things, a quarter-thousand people had agreed, were best left outside the collective memory: hidden from our future selves.
And in what I want to remember as faint, goldish light (but of course wasn’t), we walked
out and scoured the boxes. I had waited an hour—always making sure I was sharp enough to remember the flow of time—for the pleasure of checking each miserly bag. My job then was to wait awkwardly as she plucked her line to earth and sent a message back saying that, yes, she was fine, and that no, nobody had bothered her, and yes, she remembered she had to leave by one at most and call again within the hour. My hope was to do—to be—more than just help.
Perhaps I should have left then. I would have walked into the arms of people I had spent the past ten years trying to meet and will spend the next ten trying to forget. A beam of stage light might have brightened up my mood; the base could have taught my muscles how to move the way my culture had always demanded. But I stayed. We overlapped in the way two off-key waves cancel each other out, in the way I had grown accustomed to expecting whenever I got ahead of myself. Even here, where authority could be trapped in a polymer cage, it was never going to be a good time. I made the choice to get hurt.
Laps and laps and laps. The pool was probably not designed to serve as a walking trail, but aren’t we all thrust into uncomfortable positions from time to time? In my long hours by its side, I do believe it came to forgive my neglect; the occasional leaf I picked up from the shallow side hopefully offset each time I stared at the water to lose myself rather than appreciate the structured beauty of its waves.
Each dozen laps I began a call, sent an SOS across what admittedly could’ve been a
more dramatic distance. But it was only a single sea, had only been a couple weeks, and it was still easy to believe small distances could be breached. Continents—I had yet to learn—drift further apart, not closer together. I tried to be the Colossus of Rhodes, only for fault lines to push me against the water.
No ceiling could have been suitable. I wanted to stare farther than eyes are meant to see, faster than light would allow me to. A mirror halfway across the galaxy would have been ideal, one where the images of a recent past could be framed by constellations and lightened up by twinkling stars. Instead, I had a concrete slab a meter from my face, a reminder that not all questions are meant to be answered.
I’m done with writing letters punctured by reflexive apologies. Ink will flow and I’ll fight
towards its viscous embrace, and I’ll drown in the substance of my choosing. Some
tragedies are meant to be embraced, not revised.
Our ridges were one before you drew the fault line. As days folded into months and years, the stately bluebonnets enveloping your soil tangled themselves with the golden poppies hugging mine. Smooth rock seamlessly coupled. The birds craved continuity in the earth’s crust; the clouds depended on it. You and I sustained an ecosystem. Until winter blurred and summer seeped in, humid air burrowing into our united ground. You stood by and watched the heat make breaks in the rocky surface. Faint enough to escape the sun’s detection, but not mine. You painted the distance between us, and our fault line grew. I tried to erase it, to keep rock and sand tethered. Millennia of fusion, I told you—or tried to. Don’t shatter our earth. Don’t tear apart the purple and yellow petals blooming atop our shared soil. Don’t rip apart the ground. Don’t let down the birds and the clouds. But you leaned into the break and away from me. You untangled yourself, your boulders turning my body into fragments of stone. As you slipped away, you told me the world is round. That you’d come back to me one day, your rock fusing with mine again. You told the birds and clouds to wait. You told the ecosystem to remain frozen in time until you returned. But if you really believed in our unified line, you wouldn’t fracture us now; you wouldn’t tear apart the soil and petals and let me crumble into sand. The truth is that the earth, while round, spans eternity. Your rocks will move along its surface until they clasp a ridge on another hemisphere. Or perhaps they’ll keep on going in perpetuity. One thing is for certain: my granules of sand and shattered rocks will remain sinuous miles and dark oceans away.
Our ridges were one before the fault, your stately bluebonnets entangled with my golden poppies. Smooth rock seamlessly coupled. The birds and clouds accustomed to our continuity. You and I sustained an ecosystem until summer seeped in, humid air burrowing into our united ground. I tried to keep rock and sand tethered. I told you not to shatter our earth, not to tear apart the petals blooming atop our shared soil, not to let down the birds and the clouds. But you leaned into the break, turning my body into fragments of stone. As you slipped away, you told me you’d come back. You told the birds and clouds to wait for you, the ecosystem to remain frozen in time. But if you really believed in our unified line, you wouldn’t fracture us now and let me crumble into sand. You wouldn’t leave my stone miles and dark oceans away.
Our ridges were one before the fault, your bluebonnets entangled with my poppies. You and I sustained an ecosystem. The birds and clouds accustomed to our continuity. I tried to keep us tethered, but you leaned into the break in our earth, turning me into fragments. You told me you’d come back one day. But if you really believed that, you wouldn’t fracture us now. You wouldn’t leave my stones miles and dark oceans away.
Our ridges were one before the fault. I tried to keep us tethered, but you leaned into the break. You told me you’d come back one day. But if you believed that, you wouldn’t leave me fragmented.
Please Turn Your Devices To Airplane Mode
Earthquake season always left me lonely. While the electric grid grinned up at us, fifty pairs of
light-up sneakers were flying across the concrete. All the pilots did was promise turbulence.
Evan was watching A.N.T. Farm. A sailor knot cleaved his scarf into two silk apple slices.
“Your nails are chipping,” said Evan.
“Shut up, Evan,” I said. My nails were fine. They were curling at the edges like vines.
But not enough to open the bag of pretzels. I went for the Coke instead. It cracked open with a
As a child I believed that Coca-Cola tasted best three days after opening. Once the seal was
undone, you had to wait seventy-two hours for the flavor to settle. Not too sharp, not too flat. A
perfect C natural.
Other middling Cs kept falling through the cracks in my desk, my windowsill. Crumbs gathered
in my coat pockets, in the liminal space between couch cushions. It was upsetting. It brought the
ants in. Told them that this could be a home, too. Or at least a good place to build an interstate,
and maybe a Five Guys.
There was nothing to be done, of course. Things fall apart all the time. Not always all at once.
Sometimes it’s a slow necrosis. Bits and pieces flaking off like dandruff, like dandelion fluff.
The finest snowfall. The smallest faults.
When dreaming, dust and plot bunnies look about the same. Any one could be a trick of the light.
Or a Newbery Medal in the making. If ants could read, maybe they would write those elaborate
The bag burst open. Evan cracked a smile.
“Finally,” I said, popping a pretzel in my mouth. The salt was a balm. But not a salve.
An Open Letter From A Divergent Fault
That’s right, it’s me. Remember? You made a franchise with my name, grossed 700 million
dollars, and ruined my Google searchability. (I didn’t copyright, but still.) I mean, what do
personality traits have to do with tectonic plates anyway?
There’s a gap between us I can’t fill, no matter what I try. It collects instead. Newspaper reprints,
diner napkins, Hello Kitty hair clips, honeysuckle stems, ticket stubs from Ant Man and the
Wasp, a used copy of Catching Fire. Things loved and then discarded.
Maybe when enough of it collects, it will form into something more than this basalt breakage.
Maybe when the rift grows wide enough, there will be room for something new.
Still—not cool, Veronica Roth. This separation is nothing to write novels of. And it was my
name first. So where’s my New York Times Bestseller sticker?
There was a room of mirrors in the old house. Wall-to-wall, ceiling-to-floor, six-foot-tall mirrors.
The key was somewhere. Probably. (Other pocket, Marjorie.)
With eyes closed it was more bearable. You could pretend you were daydreaming. You’re a tree
in a chrome forest, a cloud suspended in hazy skies.
But all blinks have to end eventually.
No time to apologize. When she put her fingernail to the glass, it splintered and cracked in two.
Matters of the Heart
Peer closer. Through the hairline crack, a faint outline of light.
This air holds you like a taut rope. Your name a spool of thread, drooling.
The crowbar. Slip beneath the fault, and —
Mollika Jai Singh
Sestina: Fault idol worship, temporary religious floor.
The summer we moved away from the fault
and to the river, I knocked over and broke an idol
in our new kitchen, but not one we worship,
because we don’t do that with temporary
things — objects aren’t religious,
even when they shatter on the floor.
When Ganesh is in pieces on your floor,
the natural inclination is to accept fault,
to leak from your eyes rare religious
tears, to feel sorry for the idol,
to forget that mess is temporary
and your parents’ love is endless worship.
Ganesh excelled at the opposite worship,
circling his parents sitting on the floor
when they asked him to take a temporary
leave and go around the world thrice, leaving at fault
his brother, Kartikeya, who became the lesser idol,
which is to simplify so many things religious.
My parents don’t seem very religious,
especially when they worship
the hook that held the idol
their daughter fated to the floor,
for finally absolving them both of fault
in not keeping track of the temporary.
The hook holds monthly calendars now, temporary
but lasting more than a month, because we’re religious
about dwelling on the past and finding fault
in paper, which I otherwise worship,
printing and stapling, arranging on the floor,
trying to become a weapon, an academic idol.
That’s right, I’m supposed to be an idol,
too, even if as a temporary
title, just until he’s five feet off the floor,
so, when I fumble this religious
item, I expect a breach in worship
from my brother, but he never finds me at fault.
It turns out idols, even broken, even religious
ones, are temporary, and there’s always more to worship,
like the floor your family walks, like those who never find you at fault.
Until he shows you words of affirmation,
you don’t discover you understand tongues so
good, good, good, good.
You hold the belief that you are a loving bilingual, that your only
two love languages are quality time and physical touch
until he shows you words of affirmation,
and you remember you’ve been fluent your whole life.
Your can blame Ms. Trudy, who said your poetry was so
good, good, good, good
and your dad who finds your ninety-nines and
asks you to explain the forfeit of the one percent
until he shows you words of affirmation,
and says he and mama are proud of you no matter what.
All you ever wanted to be and all you understand, you find, is
good, good, good, good.
You forgot it’s possible to fault
so much warmth for your shivering
until he shows you words of affirmation:
good, good, good, good.
My curves and faults
golden shovel after Sara Teasdale’s “Faults”
John’s a hack. They
say he came
from heaven to
Chrissy to tell
her: I love your
imperfections. But what about her faults?
To love “imperfections” is to
accept outside standards for me,
to know they
me, for them,
inadequate. Love my faults over
all else. Say I am the one
exception to rules by
which you live. Say I am the one.
If you take me out for a malt,
grab me fries with some salt,
call that a meal while I scowl,
and later in bed my stomach growls,
then you know that it isn’t my —