The Myth of Apollo and Daphne by Hallie O’Neill

Femininity has been subjugated by man since the beginning of time. Take a look at classical mythology: the ancient discipline is ripe with stories of gods manipulating mortal women and goddesses alike into sexual rendezvous, messing with the natural order of things in order to get what they want. Zeus can change into any animal he wants so he can allure by deception, and many other gods and demigods cast curses on their women to take away their agencies: they become animals, plants, monsters, you name it.

There’s this one myth that I keep going back to, the myth of Apollo and Daphne. In this one, it’s the female who does the shape-shifting. It begins as follows: Apollo, a god, notices Daphne, a young nymph, when walking through the forest one day. She’s stunning, so of course, he immediately falls in love with her. Set upon seizing her for his own, he chases after her. Daphne, however, has already committed to lifelong chastity under oath of the virgin goddess Artemis. As Apollo closes in on her, Daphne quickly prays to her father, the river god Peneus, to destroy the beauty that entices Apollo, and soon her body twists and transforms into a laurel tree. Though her beauty still prevails in her tree form, all Apollo can do now is embrace her trunk and fashion himself a crown of laurel leaves in her remembrance. As a tree, Daphne escapes Apollo’s sexual advances and maintains her virginity while still upholding her extreme beauty.

But there’s a catch that isn’t really talked about in this myth: Daphne’s tree form does not completely spare her from Apollo’s advances. Sure, it protects her from rape, but the tree’s appearance is still as beautiful as her nymph body was—Apollo still feels affection for gorgeous Daphne. In poet Ovid’s original translation of the myth, Apollo proceeds to touch her branches and kiss the wooden bark as if it were tender skin. His ability to tear off some of her branches to craft a laurel wreath to wear upon his head suggests that he retains his ability to dominate her after all. Some critics call the wreath his “consolation prize” as a result of the chase. At any rate, he still wins something. But what is Daphne left with? She loses her agency and her ability to be mobile after her transformation, and he succeeds in his quest to capture her. The myth in itself is a chasing game in which male Apollo is the hunter and female Daphne is the prey. She must sacrifice her very being in order to escape the danger of what would be her rape. It is difficult to say whether or not Daphne triumphs in the end, because although she preserves her virginity, she still does not fully escape Apollo’s unfettered desires, and she still loses a crucial part of her—both her human-like body and the branches Apollo rips from her trunk.

Now picture this: a new Daphne. When walking through the forest one day, the god Apollo notices her, but today, she notices him too. They’re both thinking, “you’re beautiful,” which in this context basically means “you’re sexy.” They approach each other slowly and start to talk, no frantic running or chasing, and they really hit it off. He pours libations, and they both drink. Daphne’s a virgin, but she’s not really interested in pledging her cherry away to some goddess in the sky. Honestly, she’s pretty horny, and she feels ready to go for gold. Apollo couldn’t have arrived at a better time.

Apollo’s presence brings out a boldness in Daphne that she’s never really felt before, and she asks him, “Do you want to go somewhere?” That “somewhere” becomes Apollo’s apartment, then his bedroom, then the sheets upon his bed. He repeatedly caresses her face and hair, the softness a far cry from the rough textures of tree bark and leafy branches, saying, “You’re so beautiful. I’m serious.”

And then, with Apollo, whom Daphne had only known for about thirty minutes, the inevitable happened. Her very first time. It was just about everything she hoped it would be. Apollo kept telling her that he wanted to see her face while they fucked. He kissed her chest over and over; he said he loved the pureness of her mortal body, not yet explored by man. Daphne played with his necklace; he played with her nipples. She bled on his sheets. She told him to keep going until he got what he needed. He asked her if she was okay over and over again. She responded with “yes” each time. One hour later, he held her against his chest and stroked her naked back. She cried a little, but not from feeling sad. Maybe she just needed to process the transition from one phase of life to the next. He let her, and he brushed the drunken tears from her cheeks. He held her hand and walked her back to her little home in the forest, giving her a gentle 3 a.m. good-night kiss before parting ways. All this from a complete stranger, and a god at that. Daphne was hopeful. So sex can be this good. Men can be this good. Who knew.

After this, Daphne kind of gave her body away to Apollo to manipulate how he liked. He was a smooth dude, and Daphne basically did as she was told. After all, she was brand new at this. She didn’t want to overthink it, didn’t want to ruin things. Because this love affair with Apollo stretched and extended; it gave her something she’d never had before it. Everything about her he loved: her ass, her lips, her breasts, her skin, her teeth, her pussy. He told her what it felt like to be inside of her. She’d never known what she was like inside; she didn’t know it could feel like something significant. Like something worth talking about. She coveted this admiration, this fascination with her body that no one before him had ever expressed. She felt like an absolute treasure, no longer ashamed of her mortality.

Sometimes, he referred to her as “my queen.” Her, a mere nymph, suddenly a queen. She absolutely indulged in that shit—all the undivided attention he gave to her. He liked watching her face when he played with her clit, and she liked watching him right back. He wanted to see her reactions; she wanted to see how much these reactions pleased him. It turned him on, feeling her shiver all over and hearing her cry out while her face morphed into contortions of electric joy. She relished in the new sensations he showed to her. She had always wanted to be wanted like this. Maybe she was just afraid no one else would love her in such a way; maybe she was afraid she wouldn’t find an admirer as devoted as he is—was.

But this type of intimacy—this “friend with benefits” tagged transaction—never seems to progress neatly, neither in ancient Greece nor in modern day. What Daphne wanted and what Apollo wanted just didn’t always align. She wanted the pleasure, the admiration, but she knew things between them could only exist in a bed. And now she was curious—she wanted to branch out. Find other gods or nymphs or centaurs to drive her wild. But he was starting to get protective of her, as if he wanted her all to himself. Daphne could sense it in the kisses he placed on her forehead, in the invitations he sent asking her to come over for dinner, in the gifts he offered to buy for her. Every time he accidentally said “I love you” when they were tangled up naked, an amalgamation of limbs both mortal and immortal. Daphne always corrected him, “No, you don’t,” she’d tell him, kissing his lips into silence.

Eventually, Apollo figured out what he had to do to win her undivided affection. He had to take away the most valuable thing Daphne had, and then maybe she’d be his forever. He had to start by shaking her at 6 a.m. and climbing on top of her still-sleeping body, putting something inside of her that had no business being there under circumstances such as these. How could he make her his forever? She was all at once a laurel tree, immortalized by his intrusion. She’d never be able to leave him now, he thought. All he had to do was reach the very deepest core of her trunk, the most intimate, most vulnerable place of her entire being. Her place. A place she didn’t fully understand yet but a place she loved dearly and kept mostly to herself.

Apollo still wears a stolen crown of her leaves on his head, but look at how bountifully she can grow even without that branch he ripped away from her, even with that stain of his greed nestled deep inside her core. In the depths of winter, she shrivels a little from the memory of him, but then spring comes and she blooms so magnificently. She stands strong and sturdy, and she’s able to drink in sunshine and tether herself into the ground and cast shade over the nymphs who dance joyfully in circles around her base. She feels a need to protect them, now.

Trees change from season to season. They are remarkable in their ability to shapeshift and withstand a wide variety of extremes from the dynamic environment around them. There is so much happening underneath that peaceful, seemingly static outer layer of bark. Enough to form scar tissue each autumn so their leaves can drop, produce hormones to prevent the threat of winter dehydration, and protect these same cells with lipids to prevent them from freezing over entirely. They learn how to protect themselves with each overturning cycle. Then comes the tree’s spring, and all good things with it. Life regenerated in full bloom.

Still, as ever, the laurel tree is prone to subjugation. But Apollo didn’t know what a tree was capable of. He didn’t know that trees have secret powers.

Hallie O’Neill is a recent graduate of Drake University with a degree in writing and anthropology-sociology.

Explosions in Movies Tell You All You Need to Know About the World by Maddy Lemons

Michael Bay’s work is only tolerable if you’re in the mood for sexy girls and continuous explosions. Explosions can be pretty fun, until the noise gives you a headache and your eyes begin to burn with the second-hand pyrotechnics experienced through the screen. The explosions bother me less now, which actually bothers me more. Less bothers more, more bothers less. Such is the nature of human beings. Luckily Dan doesn’t mind the deafening explosions, not being able to hear them. Hard for an explosion to be considered “deafening” by an actual deaf person. He loves the flashes of light, the so-simple-it-hurts dialogue, and the painful screeching robot noises are only sparks to him. No matter how many times I attempt to drag him to the gorgeous foreign art films, with their subtitles and nuanced performances, Dan always gravitates back to the mindless explosion movies. He doesn’t even catch half the dialogue, with all the actors shout-screaming their lines while running and being knocked around like GI dominos, but at least he enjoys himself, which is more than I can say for my cynical self most of the time.


Sparks of light would make a great new version of sign language. Maybe then people wouldn’t stare at the poor retards-sorry-but-that’s-what-they-think-inside. Maybe then they’d like the pretty sparks, and think Hey, I should learn that, that’s neat! They don’t know that it’s amazing what you can say with sign language. Dan with his resounding “FUCK YOU AND KISSES ON MY ASS!” when we fight, the words not quite lining up to how people in movies talk. Contrary to popular belief, ASL does not translate directly into English, and you’d be surprised how odd the grammar would seem if it was translated word for word. I’ve always compared it to Yoda’s odd word order, or order of words that is odd. I always fire back with OFF THE LIGHT DON’T MAKE ME SO SEE YOU YELL CANNOT!”  which almost always works, because for now I can still live in darkness, a little beady-eyed Golem ready to strike the Fellowship when they least expect it.


Deaf people are close. Too close if you ask me. The Breakfast Club ain’t got nothing on Deaf friend groups. Dan’s friends share everything. Absolutely everything you’d want to know and everything you don’t. No Karen, I really didn’t need to know that your last boyfriend was in to BDSM play, and that he liked his hands tied up because his hands were how he normally called you SEX WHORE and BUTT BIG SLUT, and he loved losing the ability to dirty sign to a sexy deaf lady in a Donald Duck costume. Dan and I didn’t need to know that, and neither did the rest of our little friend group. It doesn’t help that I needed Dan’s help to understand a lot of her frantically signed sexcapades. Dan doesn’t need to be getting any ideas about costumes.


Pretending nothing is wrong feels a bit like espionage. No sexy dresses, champagne, or assassinations for me, but still. When you can’t understand someone, berate them for mumbling. If you can’t understand on the third repeat, laugh and hope it wasn’t a question. When the coffee-maker beeps and you don’t hear it and you have to drink cold coffee, blame the acoustics of your stupid apartment. When you ask someone to repeat what they said, and they say “it’s not important” for the eightieth time, resist the urge to shank his ass with your stiletto heels. Dan never minded repeats when we first started dating. He garbled his speech with the same accent all Deaf people share, and he would keep saying it for my dying ears. Now we sign almost everything, and I only ask for re-dos when he uses a sign I don’t know. Funny how the language invented specifically for people who can’t hear well works so much better. You’d almost think deaf people were meant to sign, instead of parroting spoken language in a way that makes assholes in bars laugh. Then the laughing assholes get a full can of beer chucked at their heads by a crazy girlfriend who’s gone full Terminator.


Sound seem so important to us everyday live-by-the-sound people, but Dan lets me know that I’m not a broken creature just because my hearing is going out. Just because each explosion fades away just a little bit more with every movie we see doesn’t mean I’m worth less. The darkening of the room means more and more, but he doesn’t care. His hands, normally used for speaking, would caress my face whenever I cry over what I will soon lose entirely. I always appreciate his touches, because that means he’s willing to give up his ability to speak just to be closer to me. He taught me how to communicate with what one day will be my people, and how to look forward to the community I’ll gain instead of mourning what I will lose. Silent explosions may make me sad, but the man willing to silence himself for me and make us fools to the world is enough. Explosions be damned.

Maddy Lemons is a senior writing and biology double major. Her hometown is Des Moines, Iowa, and she hopes to attend graduate school in Iowa City after graduation from Drake.

A Slow and Ambivalent Demise for Pheidippides Following the Battle of Marathon by Evan Sundermeyer

Philip Pides was a notably busy man.  Life kept him so frequently engaged, that he would often be found running from one such engagement to another.  This notion is quite appropriate, considering that Philip had, for four years, been a star member of his high school track team.  He had been running competitively since the age of eight.  His father, Yiannis Pides, made him do so.

But I digress.

Some mornings, most mornings, Philip Pides would run to the shower.  With cold droplets of water still gathered under his arms and across his scalp, Philip would then run to work at the Walgreens pharmacy counter.  After work he would run to class.  And from class he’d run to his other place of work – a culinary position at a high-end pizzeria.  Philip would even run laps in his head, always considering why his movements were confined to such a busy loop.

The running never seemed to end.

Except, of course, on the few mornings where he didn’t shower.  Such inaction often signaled an entire day where Philip would not even leave his bed.  Perhaps he was just too exhausted from all of that running.  I’m not sure, as Philip didn’t have much to say to me on those days.

What I can say with certainty though, is that the busy nature of Philip Pides’ life was quite difficult to sustain.

He required a near constant influx of nicotine, suffered frequent bouts of insomnia, and rejected typical human relationships.  Besides his parents, Philp only maintained consistent communication with a pair of friends he called “brothers,” despite the two typically ranging between 90 and 328 miles away (or, a physically impossible distance to run).  Philp wasn’t necessarily happy with this situation, or even okay with it, but he barely had enough time to get upset about it.


Of course, Philip Pides wasn’t always this busy.  Like most children of the upper middle-class designation, life was once simple for Philip, and all he had to do was let his parents run for him.  They’d bustle him around from mom’s house to school to dad’s house to school to mom’s house to – so on and so forth.

It’s around this time that I first met Philip.  He was a round-cheeked youth who could be found mimicking lightsaber duels rather than playing kickball.

Philip operated as my primer to the concept of divorced parents – featuring a mom who supplied him with videogames rather than personal interaction, and a dad who had high expectations and loved sports.  Or loved athleticism, I suppose, is more accurate.  Yiannis Pides said to Philip that he would never run fast enough with so much meat on his bones.  This was in the Second Grade.

Philip was promptly enrolled in an afterschool running program, which worked well for his parents’ schedules, considering that up to this point he had been a latchkey kid.  I’d see him out there when my mom drove me home – dashing across the uneven pavement that wove through the elms.  His feet moved so fast that they never even touched the ground.


Here’s where the story’s pace picks up.

Philip Pides gets home from work one night feeling absolutely bushed.  This is no surprise.  The endurance running in which he engages – still enforced by Yiannis, despite Philip’s twenty-two years of age – is a wobbly balance of fifty-hour work weeks and maintaining a 4.0 GPA with eighteen credit hours.

This delicate life arrangement could only be handled by someone who is both a genius and a maniac.  Philip Pides is, of course, both of these things.  And I really mean maniac, as Philip often endures bipolar induced hypomanic episodes.  The man’s brain is, unscientifically speaking, “biologically fractured.”  This means that the various creases along the canyon walls of his cognitive fault-line will pulse and illuminate at a highly disproportionate frequency during the occurrence of neural firing.

Again, I digress.

So Philip is home, the time is night, and he’s feeling exhausted, yet his body refuses to pass out.  This is not an entirely uncommon scenario.

Usually when he’s afforded these miniscule periods of relaxation, Philip embraces the momentary pleasure they allow by smoking a bowl and playing World of Warcraft until he can’t keep his eyes open.

Should this effort not grant the desirable measure of dopamine to slip away into unfettered nothingness, Philip will get anxious and go down another path.  On this path he drinks a tremendous amount of alcohol to increase the production rate of inhibitory GABA neurotransmitters which force relaxation.  And seeing how Philip is also diagnosed with generalized anxiety disorder…well he’s quite prone to getting anxious, among other things.

Here’s the scene for this particular evening.  The weed induces a state of paranoia, World of Warcraft fails to reproduce the associated sense of childlike magic, and the alcohol does nothing to sooth his split brain.  All at once there are heightened levels of excitement and fear and depression.  This is the race going on inside his mind, the race that he is always running to some extent.

For a moment, Philip’s overly stimulated brain tells him that something drastic must be done to successfully complete the race.  This isn’t a search for pleasure; it’s a desperate grasping to break free.  Philip is giving everything he can to the race, yet everything is not enough.

So, he decides to make an offering, and give ten percent on top of one hundred.

He enters his kitchen, sets a clean cutting board, pulls a carving knife from the faux-bamboo block with his left hand, lays down his right hand on the cutting board – palm facing up, and then lifts the knife so that it’s parallel with his head.  Philip breathes slowly, in through the nose and out through the mouth.  A precise methodology is at play here, and for once, Philip doesn’t feel like he’s running.  This is when he slams the knife down on his wrist, slicing through flesh and instantly splitting bone.  He pulls back his right arm and the newly separated hand stays pinned on the board by the blade. There is no matter of blood, as the strike was clean and surgical – a motion Philip is well practiced in from so many nights at the pizzeria.

If you are feeling any bit distressed about this, then calm yourself with the knowledge that Philip Pides is a leftie.


Philip Pides’ evening-time hand-chopping is not the first instance of self-mutilation.  The very first time, that I know of at least, occurred during his senior year of high school.

Late one February afternoon, both gendered track teams were holding an indoor practice.  I did not run for the school at this point in time, so my understanding of what happened is only Philip’s words and a few scattered reports.  Building this up any further would be an act of dramatization that I’m not interested in, so let’s just go ahead and jump in.

Philip and his then-girlfriend Elpis had been having it out almost routinely for months on end.  After six years of dating, those two had done a tremendous amount of damage to each other.  Nothing too out of the ordinary though – just two people who didn’t realize yet that their relationship was past mending.

Elpis, a long-distance track runner, was jogging laps around the school atrium when she passed by Philip and the rest of the male sprinters.  I don’t know what she said to Philip – he’s never told me – but whatever collection of words she presented were ultimately successful in pushing him over an edge.  In fact, I theorize that this was the precise moment in which Philip’s brain split open irreparably.

Without a hint of hesitation, he charged down Elpis, seizing her small shoulders and propelling her backwards until she slammed into a wall.

It took three sprinters to pull a screaming Philip off little Elpis.  Left behind her was a moderately-sized indent in the wall’s plaster that, to my knowledge, has yet to be filled.  The school can’t afford to patch every hole or dent that guys bash in using their girlfriends as battering rams.

When Philip returned home from school, he was inconsolable – not that anyone was home to console him.  In a fright of overwhelming and impenetrable emotions, he pilfers a serrated blade from the kitchen, and gets to work on his left foot, heaving and cleaving away.  Due to the little knife experience Philip had, the process of severing foot from ankle is arduous, and leaves quite a mess on the taupe living-room carpet.

Just a couple days after Phillip Pides attacked Elpis and did away with a foot, he was diagnosed with type-II bipolar disorder.  That’s the version where you constantly teeter on the threshold of depression.  Psychiatrists say that returning to a normal state of functioning becomes less likely with every episode.

Philip was prescribed a gambler’s cocktail of mood stabilizers, antipsychotics, and antidepressants.  Then he was told to hope for the best.


If you don’t mind, I’m going to rewind things back to the unexceptional occurrence of a hand removal we discussed earlier.

The morning after Philip’s hand removal, he went into work at Walgreens like it was any other day.  Coworkers and customers alike saw his usual resigned attitude, as well as the fresh stump where a hand used to be located.  Their eyes would flash momentarily, but never did they ask about it.  In fact, they didn’t say anything out of the ordinary at all.  Their faint interest could not be confused for care.

Interactions with his coworkers went like this:

“Deal with the guy in the drive-through please, this asshole won’t stop complaining about some pills that made his leg itch weird.”

“What pills did he take?”

“I don’t know.”

“What does he mean by a weird leg itch?”

“I don’t know, just handle him for me.”


Interactions with Philip’s customers went like this:

“Are you fucking kidding me?  My doctor told me I need this.  He wrote me the prescription, and I think a doctor would understand the situation far better than you would.”

“I’m sorry ma’am, but your insurance won’t cover the entire price.  You can pay with cash for the copay or–”

“Do you actually think I can afford this?”

“I’m really sorry but there’s nothing I can do about the–”

“Don’t you dare disrespect me.”


People didn’t care that Philip’s hand was missing, just as no one ever cared that his foot was missing.  As long as he could work, and run errands for management, they looked the other way.  Similarly, the management at this particular Walgreens continued to employ Philip as a pharmacy tech, despite knowing that he had dropped out of pharmacy school the previous year.

Actually, he’d been kicked out.

The price of Philip’s pharmacy education was three years of his time, approximately one-hundred-thousand dollars, and the last vestiges of his mental fortitude.

All that Philip got out of his pharmacy education was alcoholism, another woman who hated his guts, and of course, this job at Walgreens.


You might be wondering why Philip was kicked out of pharmacy school.  Well, there are plenty of reasons.  Poor relations with other students, vaping on the necks of professors, passing out drunk in a campus bathroom stall.  If any of Philip’s actions existed in isolation, they would not have been cause enough to eject him.  But the school precisely tracked all that he did.  They were tallying every slipup he made with anticipatory glee.

You see, the guy posed a massive risk towards himself, and therefore he posed a risk towards the school’s reputation at large.  They didn’t want to be known as the institution that drove people to insanity.  They didn’t want to answer why their dorm-room windows were outfitted with metal bars.  That’s the real reason Philip was kicked out.

The school started watching Philip after an instance of his brain fracture making consciousness impossibly confusing.  A depressive episode had overlapped with a hypomanic episode.  And he was drunk.

I remember Philip’s other “brother” calling me up around 1:30AM.  He said check Philip’s Twitter, it sounds bad.

I did check, and it did sound bad.

After that I called Philip, and he sounded delirious, barely able to deliver a coherent sentence when I asked what he was doing, and if he was okay.  The only information I was able to extract was that he was in his dorm room.  Then he hung up on me.

I called him maybe twenty times after that, to no answer.

At 2:00AM I called his school’s office of public safety and told them that I thought my friend wasn’t well, that he might hurt himself.  The guy on the other side of the line yawned before sleepily asking what his room number was.  Reduced to near-hysteria, I yelled that I didn’t know, just that I could give his name.

Philip Pides.

By the time public safety burst into his dorm room, they found a half-conscious Philip splayed on the carpet.  Instead of working through an appendage or extremity, he was halfway through a self-lobotomy.  Trying to fix himself.  To repair the fracture.

Everyone notices a missing hand or foot, but it’s hard to see the scars at the base of his scalp.

After he was stabilized, Philip had about two minutes to use his phone before the doctors would confiscate it and confine him to the psychiatric wing.

He texted me in that time and said that he was okay for now.  Then he asked me to explain the situation to his other “brother.”

His final text simply said, “Joy to you.”


The story of Philip Pides doesn’t have an ending.  He’s still running.  The race can’t be finished until every part of him has been incised, flayed, and destroyed, but he’s still running.  And that’s what I find saddest about it all.

Evan Sundermeyer is a Writing and Computer Science major on the precipice of adulthood. He has thus far withheld his writing and views from the world, but is now offering a window into his edgy psyche with Agora.

A Journey through the Heart by Drew Rankins

The return of the robins is one of the first signs of an upcoming spring. A winter that always seems to last longer than the past years yields to the unpredictability of March, April, and May. Soon, the flowers and tree buds follow. The oppressive yet welcome heat of the dog days of summer were always my favorite.

The death of the canary in a coal mine is one of the first signs of trouble. If the miners under the Earth didn’t get out soon, they would follow the canary into death’s embrace. I always wondered what was worse: slowly losing access to life-saving oxygen deep underground, or slowly rotting from the inside from black lung disease.

It was supposed to be an easy assignment; just draw the human heart. We had every cross-section and diagram imaginable in our textbooks for reference. The lazier, yet more clever students just printed out images from the internet and traced them. I wasn’t about to cheat myself out of learning about the heart though. The nonstop messages coming into our class group chat gave me every opportunity to take the easy way out, but I was taking a principled stance against tracing. Besides, it’s just drawing, we don’t need to re-design the damn thing. How hard could it possibly be? I could probably even finish this before the Bulls game tips off.

Another message in the Facebook group chat came across:

Megan: hey guys just in case you cant print pdfs heres a screenshot of the dorsal view.

Followed by:

Noah: who tryna smoke? i traced that shit at lunch and my bro just got a g.

The people who were blowing up the Facebook chat with printable diagrams didn’t bother to study for the exams either. They were the people who passed around answer keys from their older siblings who had taken the class before, so this was nothing new. They’ll get their comeuppance when it comes time for the AP exam.

One of the most important organs in our body deserved my respect and full attention. I could feel my own broken heart pumping away, delivering plasma, red and white blood cells, platelets, and oxygen all throughout my body. The network of veins showed a healthy blue color on my skinny wrists. It made the task of applying IVs very easy for nurses, but it also made me look even skinnier. There was still a tiny round scar from the last IV dotting my wrist. Usually I can handle the needles without any problems, but this one ached for months after it was taken out. It’s a little different when it has to stay in your arm for a week.

Where do I even start with the heart? I’ve been looking at it for hours now and it’s slowly becoming a maze of interconnecting valves and chambers without a clear starting point. I just need to look at it with fresh eyes. I’ll finish watching this Bulls game then get right to it. In honor of Derrick Rose’s third edition of “the return”, I bought a pair of his signature shoes. Maybe I should get a late-night game in. That would definitely clear my mind. I’ll see what Jake’s up to. I wonder why this urge to play basketball never hits during the day. Maybe it’s because the porch lights simulate the bright lights of the United Center during a late spring playoff push. Considering my heart, this would likely remain a fantasy. But maybe if I kept practicing, my skill would outweigh…

No, I need to do this. If I have time after the assignment, I can play some ball. Senioritis is really a bitch. I wish it was May already, I’m already basically in college with my AP classes. Maybe the tracers had the right idea.

Okay, I’ll just print out a picture for reference. The textbook’s pictures were way too detailed and it’s just confusing at this point. I can start with the aorta, it’s one of the biggest and most important parts of the whole heart. It’s also an area I’m very familiar with. It’s brought up every six months when I go to my cardiologist, I should be a borderline expert at this point. Start with the arch, coming from the left ventricle, and dispersing down the torso. There’s the valve, tricuspid in almost everyone else. Maybe if they have to go in there again, there will be a technology to make it tricuspid. I hope I have some time to rebound before they go back in though.

Maybe it’s not senioritis that’s distracting me. Am I still dependent on the oxycodone? I’m still adjusting to a life that’s not centered around doses of the drug. My days were spent keeping track of the four-hour periods while on the drug. The dull pounding in both my head and chest were reminders of normal life, and I wanted desperately to escape it. If I think about it hard enough, the feeling returns. Like gears grinding together without oil, every joint and muscle in my body prodded at my mind for relief. Suddenly, every thought somehow connected to the drug. I can’t operate without it. The pain is nothing compared to this mental crutch. I don’t even feel the scar anymore, yet I need relief. My muscles felt like they were ready to quit on me forever if they didn’t receive their medicine. But this wasn’t medicine, this was poison.

I turn up the speakers on my PC to hopefully drown out the voices in my body. The background study jazz wasn’t enough, I needed something new to grab ahold of. Kendrick Lamar was just popping onto my radar; I’ve been learning new things about his sound every day. To Pimp a Butterfly was becoming the anthem to my semester. The extended metaphor of a caterpillar metamorphizing into a butterfly felt emblematic of my journey into college. I was ready to take a leap of faith into the unknown, ready to learn things about the world and myself but most of all, I was ready to break free from my cocoon. The album could not have come out at a better time in my life.

What else does Kendrick have? I didn’t have much time to think, I needed my reality to be music right now. Shuffling his discography on Spotify brought me to “Chapter Six”. Losing myself in the soothing verse and silky-smooth delivery, the refrain “Pray that we make it to 21, 1, 1, 1…” echoed in my mind.

A crow’s caw is the chilling anthem of late fall; the last warning call of retreat for life before the long winter takes hold. Dying leaves and creeping frost often accompany the harsh sound. The crow is often a resident of the graveyards.

A sparrow’s song has a unique way to ease you out of a heavy sleep and into a sunny morning. It’s a beautiful reminder that life exists outside our human world, and we are all related through the journey of life. When added to the other birds, a chorus of wonderful noise reminds me that summer will return, no matter how long the winter.

Drew Rankins is a 22-year-old environmental scientist and writer from the Chicago suburbs. As a recent graduate from Drake University, he plans to enter the environmental science field to work on habitat restoration and local ecology. He has worked on restoring native prairie habitats in Iowa and wetland ecosystems in the Chicago area. His writing tends to focus on fictional stories but also features personal non-fiction exploring his life experiences.

Audio transcripts of Janine Dunn’s voicemails left on Dr. Lewis Harley’s answering machine the week before she died of a ruptured stomach by Zoe Hanna

September 3rd, 3:32 pm: Voicemail #1
Hey, Dr. Harley, it’s Janine.
Some weird shit is going on right now and I don’t really know who else to talk to. I know you said that you
were gonna be on vacation or whatever but I don’t think this can wait.
So it started with my dresser. One of the handles came off when I was trying to find a dress for that date I
didn’t want to go on. Yeah, so the handle came off in my hand, and I just glued it back on but I ended up
glueing my damn hand to the wood. I ended up just ripping it off, but it got blood fucking everywhere. I got
the handle back on, though. There’s just also some blood and a bit of my skin on it. That was like a week
ago, I think.
So then the next day all of my shelves just broke in half. Like, right in half. It looks like someone cut them
with a saw or something, except the edges are all jagged. I called the company I got them from and yelled
for a while, but they said they couldn’t give me a refund. They said it was because of the warranty, but I
think it’s because they don’t like me. So now I don’t have shelves to organize things, and my room is
covered in books and clothes and blood.

September 4th, 7:12 am: Voicemail #2
Hey, it’s Janine again. Sorry for calling so early in the morning, I woke up to a slamming noise. One of the
legs of my kitchen table broke a couple days ago, so it was just teetering on three legs. Well, another one
of the legs snapped and I jolted awake to the sound of the table hitting the tile, where I was sleeping. I don’t
know why I was sleeping on the kitchen floor instead of my bed but maybe I drank more wine than I thought
I did.
Anyways, I had to eat my cereal on the ground today since my table is useless now and I couldn’t help but
pick at the scab from the dresser incident. There’s a chunk of skin missing from my palm and I like how it
feels when it bleeds. Don’t worry, though, I didn’t get any blood in my cereal.

September 4th, 2:58 pm: Voicemail #3
It’s Janine. My stomach has been hurting a lot today. I haven’t eaten since this morning because just the
thought of it makes me wanna hurl. I haven’t thrown up, though. It just hurts a lot and it feels like there’s a
brick in there or something. Like it’s heavy and uncomfortable? I don’t know how to describe it, but it feels
like I ate something I wasn’t supposed to, even though I just ate cereal? Maybe I’m lactose-intolerant or

September 5th, 12:09 am: Voicemail #4
Why won’t you answer me? I thought you were supposed to make me feel better. Please call me back. I
know it’s late, but I had an awful nightmare. I had a dream that there were rats all around my house.
Underneath sofa cushions, in my bed, in the refrigerator. I was trying to fight them off but then there was
this horrible smell and smoke filled the room and it turns out there were rats burning alive in my oven.
When I jolted awake, my bed was on the ground. The wooden stand it was on is all fucked up, it looks like it
was gnawed on and parts of it are just straight up missing.
My stomach hurts so much, and now everything else seems to be hurting too. My throat feels like there are
needles in it, and today I can physically feel these hard objects in my stomach. I Googled it and everything I
saw said that I’m just really constipated, but I don’t think that’s it. Maybe I’m just sick.

September 5th, 11:24 am: Voicemail #5
I had another dream about the rats. This time they were all over me, scurrying and crawling on me and I
couldn’t move. They kept biting on my fingers and all I could do was cry. I can’t stop thinking about it,
because when I woke up my hands were covered in tiny cuts. There have to be rats in my house, there has
to be.
My stomach finally stopped hurting. I woke up at like 8 am to an awful pain in my lower stomach, and when
I used the bathroom blood came pouring out of me. I know, that’s gross, but it hurt like hell. Maybe I was
just constipated, because I feel a lot better now. But my mouth has started to hurt. Today I found bits of
wood in-between my teeth and my tongue had what looked like millions of cuts. What the fuck is going on?
Tomorrow I’ll go to the store and get some traps, but I can’t leave the house right now. I have to keep watch
for the rats, because I know they’re here. I can feel them.

September 6th, 10:09 am: Voicemail #6
Janine here! Hi Dr. Harley! I was just wondering why you’re being such a dick! I need your fucking help and
all I’m getting is your new dumbass voicemail. What’s the deal? And who’s the new bitch on your answering
machine? Are you hiring new people and just ignoring me?
I left the house today to get traps for those fucking rats. I’ve stepped on them a couple times and now my
toes keep bleeding and staining my socks but it’s worth it, I need to catch those pieces of shit. My god
damn pantry door has been gnawed through. Like, there’s a hole in the pantry door. I don’t know how many
fucking rats are in my house but the hole is at least a foot wide. I’m gonna find them.
My stomach is hurting again, but I think it’s just from stress. Everything around me is breaking, anyways, all
because of these fucking rats.

September 7th, 3:52 am: Voicemail #7
My teeth are bleeding. My teeth are bleeding. I can’t stop bleeding and the rats are going to come and eat
my body and it’s all because you can’t answer your fucking phone! The traps are going off but I haven’t
found any rats. I know they’re here, and I’ve been staying up to catch them.
I haven’t eaten in days but I’m not hungry at all and I think that’s because I know I need to find these rats.
My stomach is hurting but all I can think about are these rats and how I’m going to kill them all.
My fingernails are coming off and I don’t know why. I don’t know anything. All I know is that I’m covered in
cuts and splinters and my mouth is bleeding and my teeth are falling out and the rats are here and my
stomach is full of god knows what.

September 7th, 6:33 am: Voicemail #8
Hey, Dr. Harley, it’s (unintelligible).
Some really weird shit is going on right now and I don’t know who else to talk to. I fell asleep while on watch
last night, and most of my teeth are gone. (unintelligible) my mouth still won’t stop bleeding and my
stomach hurts again. Half of my fucking pantry door is gone, because of the rats. I’m still going to find them,
I know they did this (unintelligible).
My stomach hurts and my teeth are bleeding and you haven’t done a thing to help. I think I’m dying and you
don’t even fucking care. I’m sick of that dumb bitch on your answering (unintelligible). You did this. Way to
do your job.
DECEASED: Janine Louise Dunn
SEX: Female
AGE: 26
DATE AND HOUR OF DEATH: September 7th, 1991, 9:00 AM
DATE AND HOUR OF AUTOPSY: September 9th, 1991, 2:48 PM
PATHOLOGIST: Dr. Yvette Collins
The patient was a 26 year old Caucasian woman with no significant past medical history. An elderly woman
had called 911 after she returned from a week long visit to her grandson’s and found multiple concerning
voicemails on her answering machine. Upon EMS arrival, patient was deceased and surrounded by broken
furniture and mousetraps. Upon examination, it has been discovered that the patient’s stomach ruptured
after the assumed consumption of various pieces of furniture. It is unknown if the patient was aware that
she was eating her belongings, but the voicemail transcripts provided seem to suggest that she was not.

Zoe Hanna is currently earning her BA in both writing and graphic design at Drake University. They have been published in Periphery and The Laurel Review, and lives in Des Moines, IA with her cat, Ripley.

Caesura by Ren Culliney

Johann: historically masculine; Germanized form of the Hebrew וחנן, or Yohanan. Meaning: “God is merciful.” A form of the Latin and Germanic “Johannes”. Anglicized as “John”.

It wasn’t his father’s name or his grandfather’s name or anywhere else in the family, and he wasn’t even German, but something about it stuck the first time he heard it: music history, eleven o’clock, hard wooden seat in the lecture hall.

“Johann,” he whispered, and something inside of him shifted. Some part of him starting to rearrange.

Genevieve laughed, of course, when he told her. “Really?” she asked. “You’re gonna name yourself after some dead guy who wrote lullabies?”

“I like it,” he murmured.

“What do you even know about Bach?”

“He was an orphan by ten. And he was one of eight kids.”

He was only one of two, of course, his parents trying over and over again, rounds of primitive IVF and old wives’ tales and once, after three rum and cokes and a couple shots of whiskey, inviting their neighbor over. When they found out his mother was pregnant it was a miracle; when it turned out to be twins, two hungry mouths to feed on a poor man’s wages, it was a curse.

When he told his mother she cried. Soft tears, not angry, not even shocked. Just quiet. She dabbed a tissue under her eyes and it reminded him of the opera.

When he told his father, he didn’t say anything, just got up and went to the kitchen. A familiar sound: shots of liquor straight from the bottle, no chaser.

When he told his uncle, he let him sleep on the couch for a few nights. His aunt cooked breakfast. His cousin, two years old, was too young to question it. She wouldn’t even remember.

(1986, over a decade later: “Mom, who’s this?” Pointing to a faded Polaroid, two identical girls arm in arm, hair so blonde it was almost white, both of their faces painted with a lightning bolt in red and blue. Captioned: ‘the girls are obsessed with Bowie. ‘Lady Stardust’ is J’s favorite song.’)

Henry had just nodded, looked him over approvingly. “Johann,” he said, testing the word out in his mouth. Honey sweet. Like molasses. “Johann. I like it. It suits you.” Henry was on his way to class, upper-level poetry, book caught under his arm, hair disheveled, perpetually looking out of place and out of time.

In a show of irregular fraternity, he pulled Johann into a tight hug. “You’re like a brother to me,” he said, and when Johann cried, he only held him closer.

When his sister found out it was madness. “You’ve got to be shitting me,” she said first, monotone. And then, when the look on his face revealed that he wasn’t, in fact, shitting her, “you’re never gonna be able to come back here again.”

“I know,” he said, and it wasn’t even angry.

She crushed him to her chest. His hair, newly cut, just barely touched the bottom of her chin. She’d always been taller, and it didn’t help that she’d taken to wearing heels and he’d taken to slouching. “Promise me you’ll be safe,” she whispered into the top of his head.

He pretended not to hear. He’d never liked lying to her.

In some way it was easy to tell Ricky. In the alley behind his favorite bar, grimacing around a bummed cigarette, it was like pulling teeth without anaesthetic, and somehow it was the easiest confession he’d ever had to make.

Afterwards, Johann couldn’t stop thinking about the look on Ricky’s face. It was the same way he’d looked after the last time they’d fucked: like he’d stepped in something disgusting and couldn’t wait to scrape it off.

Johann stayed outside and smoked for awhile. He’d tried to quit a few times but never for long–it was the only thing he’d inherited from his father.

His living room: a few days later, and already the pictures of him had been removed. “I don’t understand,” he found himself saying, even though he understood perfectly well.

“You can’t stay here anymore,” his mother said, and even though she’d cried when he told her, she’d already made up her mind.

He opened his mouth to say something, and then realized there was nothing left for him to say.

“Joanna,” she said, “you need to leave.”

He left.

Ren Culliney is a queer writer based in Des Moines, IA. They’ve been writing since childhood, with at least four unfinished drafts of novels gathering dust on their mom’s old hard drive. While academic writing takes up most of their time at the moment, they prefer writing speculative fiction, creative nonfiction, and other forms of hybrid and experimental writing.