Editor: Antara Bird
Editor: Han Lynch
Editor: Clara Fletcher
Interim Editor: Miriam Lubetkin
Letter from the Editors
As the sun begins to melt the frozen ground, and little sprouts wake from the depths of their slumber, we hope that this issue of quarterlife will leave you feeling reborn and refreshed for spring. Go outside and lay down (preferably in the sun) before you delve into the wonderful collection of work that we are presenting you with. Read this issue among the dirt and the worms, and find your community within them. After all, we are all connected in one great web of mortality and the natural–allow yourself to really live with that as you enter the world of “quarterlife is: compostable”.
Carry these thoughts along with you as you toss out your Cleve napkin, make a dirt cake or two, or contemplate the ephemerality of human life as you rot under the covers of your twin-sized bed. We here on the quarterlife staff love a good, healthy compost pile (30:1 brown and green, you know), and we hope that all of our wonderful submissions inspire you to not just put that banana peel in the landfill, but instead to allow it to disintegrate into what it once was.
–Enjoy your spring, Megan & Joshua
P.S. Please do not attempt to compost this issue. It has staples.
The Death of Cold
Every year, somewhere in the place where cold comes from, a door is unlocked. Every year, someone steps through the door.
She is not cold as much as she is the suggestion of it, like some little breeze that feels like nothing, but leaves you with goosebumps and an unexpected shiver. She passes by a wicker casket that bears no name, only the face of something half-remembered, the kind she dreamed of but half forgot when she awoke. The flowers atop it wilt much faster now that she's here, till there's nothing left but a touch of dust.
A bouquet, she needs a new bouquet for the girl-woman in the casket. Alas, the last dandelions had shivered in the breeze and given out. The flowers in the garden beds are kissed by frost and the wildflowers have all but disappeared from the ridges. What can she do now?
There are leaves in the trees, yes, and she will paint them all with watercolors and bundle them up. Better than flowers, she gets to work, one drop from her palette of red, orange, yellow, and brown, which spreads slowly over the pale green of the leaf till it sinks in entirely.
It was a little while after noon.
Fall cannot seem to stop. At her touch, things ripen, become more beautiful. Crops are ready for the harvest, full and inviting. Leaves turn comforting shades of the warmest colors. Fat little squirrels are running around in search of the nuts that she has become accustomed to shaking loose for them.
She cannot stop finding leaves to cover Summer’s woven casket with. She loves them all so much, they are all so pretty, and so she brings them back to rest upon the now cold frame of whoever had come before her. There were so many, now, you could hardly see the wicker edges of the casket, there is just the outline of it protruding beneath the painted leaves. A blanket, to tuck Summer in, tight and warm.
The world around her was painted too, like the mirror image of her face in the pond, but rippled and blurred. There was her dress, the green grass’s death shroud, turning a slow yellow gold. She was the tree trunks and the leaves and she was the blue sky and the rainy one, depending on how the mirror pool rippled. There was the night and the cold, the day and the warm, she danced on the tip of a needle, balance.
High in the sky, the sun reached out, to catch the horizon and pull it close.
Now so many leaves sat atop summer's old casket that you couldn’t see it anymore.
You could not see the barest suggestion of it, only fall leaves upon fall leaves.
It was beginning to look a bit like a bed. Was it always a bed? She realized a long time ago that it was never a bouquet she was making, something in her must have always known that.
Fall does not feel so giddy in her own power anymore. Over and over she thinks of some dreadful impossibility, some terrible idea forming in the corners of her mind. It felt as though she’d done it all before, the casket, the bouquet, the shape of the bed beginning to emerge. The people were warning her too, carving turnips and pumpkins and melons into angular expressions, some angry, some happy, some afraid. They are never sad, though, Falls knows without learning.
She has done this all before. Two forces at work now, somewhere within her, splitting it all at the seams. One half was cold and leaned towards the scythe, hovering above wheatfields, golden with promise. One half trying so desperately to lean away, back into that land Fall did not know, of green grass and lakewater.
When she brings the next armful of colorful leaves back to summer’s grave, she finds a scythe there, unburied and proud. It's hers, for her she knew. She was the harvest, she was the scythe, she was the wheat, she was a tiny zephyr zipping ahead of a massive storm. It feels right in her hand.
It’s for her, she knows, but not her’s to swing.
The door bangs and flutters. She had not closed it behind her when she arrived. The sun kisses the horizon at long last, the sky blushing pink. The sun is beginning to set.
The sky was dark, and the casket was buried completely. Now there is a bed in its place, leaves upon leaves upon leaves. There is not much left to add, not much left for Fall to do. But she can’t stop- something will happen when she stops. Someone is coming, the bed is theirs. The sun is setting, the sky is painted pink and orange, and she wonders if the orange is for her, as if whoever paints it wanted her to take a little heart in seeing her heraldry in the sky.
Perhaps every sunset was orange, though.
People were lighting the gourd lanterns now. Maybe thoughts were for her too, maybe they were not warnings, but little love letters. We love you, they called, we love you and you are loved. The building fear ebbs out, no final sparks, only flame hitting some damp point in the wick and fizzling out.
She sits on the bed she's made. The scythe lies across her lap, her hands finally at rest around its comfortable curved handle. That half that longed for the unfamiliar summer waned and waned, until it became less than a sliver. She sits on the piles and piles of leaves with the symbol of the harvest across her lap, waiting.
The year falls into dusk in a quiet, inconsequential peace.
The sun has set.
It was here. It was here. It was here, the bed was made. The sun had set, the sunset was gone, her orange banner gone, that standard she was meant to carry into whatever battle was ahead. She grips her scythe tighter. She was never going to use it, but it felt good to hold something. The sky goes from blue to black. Pinpricks in the felt, stars, appear, with a sickle blade of moon. What was it that shone through that divine fabric, the light behind the moon? The sun; the moon cannot even claim its own light.
The grass is already dead. It is growing pale in a line now, leading out from the bed where Fall waits. Gray to terrible, cold white. Frost, she realized, she remembered without knowing, the line was written in frost. It feels terrible now, waiting. She feels tamed. She should fight, something is coming! Had she killed Summer? She’d buried their casket. Who would come after her? Would they kill her too? Where did the carpet of frost lead?
Winter, she knew. Winter, Winter. She could not remember, but she knew. She knew Winter too and wondered if he remembered her, or if he knew her. Perhaps it was neither and perhaps it was both.
The moon was a sliver, a foreign light it did not own shining through it. She was the moon, she knew, or something like it. Who’s light was it that shone through her?
Winter stood on the frosty carpet. She knew him then, he was the cold that came through the door with her. He was the winds at night that howled and were given names in old books of legend. He was death, and he was the death that had come from her hands and colored the leaves, that had darkened the skies early and ripened crops, growing towards the scythe, the coming harvest.
He had been with her all along, they had made the bed side by side, arm in arm. She was the liminal moon and here before her was the cold, frosted sun.
The bed was for her to rest in, now that Winter was taking over. It was not a casket. That was kind. She put the scythe on one side of the bed. It was hers, hers alone and it would not be used on her at all. She was just going to sleep for a while.
Winter tucked her into bed. Her breath clouded the air, again and again until it finally stopped, a thin puff and then nothing. Winter left the bedside, snow falling light and fat. An extra blanket for Fall’s bed, he thought. She would need it. It was only going to get colder.
Some long while from now, when the months turn away from the scythe and things start to grow, Winter will lie dead on the ground. His blood will be dark and full of stars. Spring will have a sword in his hand and a song on his lips. The dead grass will feed the new, living shoots.
Fall will wake up, like one who has accidentally drifted off in a place not their own, and, full of sleep, slips away and returns. Winter will be dead.
Spring will give her no trouble as she carries him back to the door to the place where cold comes from. Sleepy, she will close it tight and turn the lock.
laid to rest
help me take the bottoms of my feet off,
and leave them out to dry while
the aching muscles melt off my form
into a puddle on the ground.
acne is no concern;
watch me pry the dirt from
my pores, molecule
by molecule until i look
like a newborn babe. watch
me as pull off my arms and
leave them in a warm cup of water
on my bedside table.
allow me to rinse out my mouth,
my ears, my eyes, my nose,
until i am so clean that to touch
me would be leaving fingerprints
on a blank canvas.
then, help me into bed and observe:
i sink into the down comforter,
a cocooned child,
never to be seen again.
And All the Rest
I watch my mom turn the compost bin in our backyard over and over. Her overshirt catches on a nearby branch and she inspects the newly loosened threads. She’ll fix it later. With a practiced hand, she scoops out trembling, fragrant, dark material. Properly making compost, she once told me, requires listening to the mound of food scraps and grass cuttings. She meanders through our garden and continues on. “Carbon and nitrogen live with worms and the rolly-pollies you love so much and all the rest. If you listen carefully, you can hear them singing.” I asked her what they said and she told me it was more like a word repeated so many times that it fell apart into letters. I told her that was ridiculous.
Even so, curiosity kept me awake all night and I snuck out to the compost bin early one morning. I didn’t want to scare anything away. I plugged my nose and reached out and flung the door open and there they were: carbon and nitrogen wove across the decomposing pile in a pattern I couldn’t figure out. The carbon looked just like the fluffy white head of a dandelion, the nitrogen like the origami stars I had learned to make from long, thin strips of paper earlier that week. With my ear millimeters from their frenzy, I made out their song: “Forever we sing, life we bring. Onward, into spring!”
I sat with the compost for some time, whispering the song back to them and giggling when carbon tickled my forehead and cheeks and ears. Before long, my mom joined me and pulled me into her lap and planted a kiss right where the carbon had danced just moments before. She told me that I was very very lucky to hear them, that they didn’t trust just anyone, that even she had never understood their melodious murmur.
What a miracle it is to inhabit this fleeting, fleshy, fragile temple of mine. My structure ever-shifts, crumbles, wears away a little more with each passing moment, my present-becoming-past existence forever oriented toward all of the futures in which I will not exist. In every instant I am not precisely what I was the moment prior as I sink further into the earth, as I am slowly splayed open and flayed raw by time, as I am simultaneously drawn nearer and cast out, a knot ever-tightening in some places and ever-loosening in others. Entangled, I reach out to the external whose remnants lay within: I embrace, I am embraced, I am an embrace. With each flex and release over skeletal scaffolding, my skin regresses ever closer to newborn softness until I am returned to the collective womb. An ever-eroding trace of a fleeting whole only momentarily embodied, I have always been a ruin in the making. Earth draws ever-toward flesh; soon only my bones will remain until they are drawn in too. Jaw gaping with near-cavernous depth; ribs standing ajar like unlocked gates; pelvis thrown wide like delicate moth wings; skeletal figure splayed apart like a bastardized Christ on an underground cross. Dirt fills my empty spaces; only earth remains where my flesh façade and its bone foundation once stood. I leave no visible trace, and yet I am remembered by the earth. All flesh temples become flowers. Ever-decaying, I am never myself for long.
he’ll be trapped in an august sunset, tethered to
buoys drifting out to center, locked in a moment chosen
carefully for its ability to be told predictably, rhymes
in just the right places, symmetry from top to bottom.
his cautious hands are left in hot cars, windows rolled to the
roof, whispers sealed in the glovebox. i’ll distill a list
of firsts to an easy story told casually over dinner, described
just enough to make myself the punchline, a series of
unexpected events ending like movies we avoided. wonder is
tucked away in receipts blowing out open doors, one door
firmly shut. he’ll be folded under couch cushions, shoved away
with gum wrappers and dried leaves swept into dustpans.
there’s nothing left to lock away, no mystery worth immortalizing
because the pieces are already scattered, not enough left to be.
It’s someone’s birthday today who I don’t talk to anymore.
My smartphone faithfully informs me such.
The digital archive of our friendship, a bond once close enough to warrant a place in my busy calendar, persists unchanged, glowing with the same light it did four years ago when their name first appeared in my notes app list of close friends.
The friendship, to the contrary, has decayed.
It was a summer friendship, the kind that melts away fastest, fruit left out in the sun to rot. Bacteria multiply well in the heat, and they eat right through the apple skin – we reveal deep parts of ourselves in a moment (this is the stage when the birthday is immortalized) – but the composters keep gnawing away until only seeds are left.
I don’t like to think about the seeds. They wait eagerly, like the saccharine notification that the birthday has arrived. But what’s done is done.
Still, I let that summer heat glow through the dead of winter. I let it overheat me long after the person whose name it carries left my life.
As it warms me up, I look outside. Crisp brown leaves have been piling up recently, creating a barrier in front of doors only conquered by wading through, pulling small flecks and stems along with you. The leaves burn slow, kept from the ethereal by the cold, sticking around far longer than a summer apple. The heat of my smartphone would send them up in flames in an instant.
I delete their name from my calendar.
Your new home: a nest
Of your dead relatives
You return to them again
Gain strength from them
Until you too give yourself
As an offering for the future
I hope to someday decay as beautifully as the environment does. I hope to rot as effortlessly, to slide through every season of my body’s unraveling as green slips into orange, red, and brown within the Autumn leaf before it becomes embedded in the earth below. Both womb and tomb, the dirt waits patiently for our reunion, an inevitable return as unpredictable as the time of the leaf’s detachment from the branch of its origins. Its departure is silent; its going is graceful: it passes away on its own, but it is neither the first nor the last to do so. As its edges curl in blackened, brittle rigor mortis against its veins, I, too, draw closer and coil into myself within the earth’s embrace: fleeting, frail, and fetus-like, I am once again unborn.
Field of Spikes
This place is a message. Deliberate,
Repulsive danger, warning of decay.
A sepulcher built to deliver it,
Best only to shun and never to stay.
Oblique obelisks upthrust towards sky
Guard entombed emanations that lie deep.
Powerful culture, none left to ask why.
No circling vultures, no maggots that creep
On ancient corpses refusing to die.
Eulogy made of hundreds of daggers,
No honorable deed or mourner’s cry.
Ghosts making needle stutter and stagger.
Hark! Abandon this place, do not invade
Unquiet earth with the tip of a spade.
I speak, and you stare
I stand, and you stare
I quiet myself, and you stare
I sit down, I curl up, I shrink
But you still stare
This stare is not a gaze, not a glance, no
This stare is analytical to a fault, seething
One that would be better applied to picking lice from an itchy scalp, or
Finding grains of salt in a bowl of sugar
Criticizing the sweetness
Suddenly, I start to squirm and sob
A newborn unable to communicate their desperate hunger
when others begin to ask me why I am so agitated, I respond flailing
I try to claw your eyes out, make your mouth take a different shape, rock you violently into sleep
I fail every time, and we continue on
I get good at dancing around your leering eyes, I stick each landing now, I
Gain some pride back
I have become agile, but never aware enough to stay out of sight for long
I wait for someone to congratulate me on all this hard work, until
I realize finally one day that my behavior is not at all worthy of applause, and
I flail, forgetting the difference between my eyes and yours
Scoop mine out, eat them whole,
I feel a sense of bliss in the blindness, in the defenselessness
I am yours to ruin, but
Understanding what I’ve done, I spit them out, each surface now tainted with bile and grit
I have hurt myself worse than you ever could
The choice then is not to speak or hush, stand or sit
It is instead a choice between two injuries
Is it better, I wonder, to crumble myself from the inside out?
To perfect every round, supple part of myself until I am hard like you?
Until I no longer fit together as a person should?
Or is it better to let your stare dissolve me?
Better to let it seep through my body, eroding away everything but the most sour, scarred corners of my organs?
And it turns out there is no fight here, no choice to be made
I watch you light me on fire
It starts with a slight singing of my clothes and hair, acrid smoke filling every room our bodies have ever
It ends as I decompose into flakes of bone and fat, my muscles having depleted long ago
So I lay there, on the floor, in front of your feet indistinguishable from a puddle of mud, I am a
Festering, dreaming, remembering, screaming
Over and over and over again about you
At first, the dreams vary
I imagine us hugging, our healthy, warm bodies intertwining
Playing, laughing, finally finding safety within one another
But by the time the worms have come, by the time I have lost any hope of someone recognizing me as
human, my dreams stop surprising me
Every night the same vision, every day the same fantasy
Sometimes I am horrified at how much relief it gives me, but mostly, I relish in the joy it brings
To imagine you walking into a fiery incinerator with your head up, staring ahead at something that finally
reminds you of yourself, disgusted.
i dive in—fracturing gilded troughs,
one thousand mouths french-kissing
with needle tongues tasting like barnacles
exchanging salt and sky like spit—
backfloating idiot! skin drinks sun
like water. spinal crests are key edged
ripples uncaging silver;
swell with breath till set gelatin taut,
inhaling, exhaling, gorging
on vulnerability, eardrums full
to burst with white suggestion.
and if i say “peace be with you”—
rubbing flush cheeks with peace,
slipping into sunlight sweaty palmed
—who says “and also with you”?
the Kayak Woman, neoprene-clad quick
cruising polyethylene, straight-line set?
or the Harbor Seal, fat-fleshed thick-lashed
soft-bodied selkie, born of the sea?
sharp-eyed Kayak Woman rends saltwater
from skin, lifeguarding a wetsuit line
into which “can i help you?” slips,
then “how long have you been in here?”
and “let me take your hand.”
i say “saltwater’s buoyancy is therapeutic”,
instead of “saltwater’s blue oil is communing
with my fat, dialoguing
through my porous skin”
or “my eyes peer backwards into saltwater
and shed tears of mucus—
is your kayak glass bottomed?
do you sense the unknowable depths?”
heavy-lidded Harbor Seal opens wide
mucus eyes; we rub our thick-teared
eyes together and belly-down, sinking
flippers in hands, smelling fishness
in her blubber and fishless
in my blue oil blubbering.
so, rising belly-up, she thrusts
a writhing fish onto my chest, weight while
my tongue touches canineless sockets.
my fat slips into lactic acid, sinking
woman from the chest up,
plastic from the waist down:
Kayak Woman and Harbor Seal ring me
muzzle to stern, bow to flipper,
predators circling prey.
Joshua Cox & Nara Deller
A handy Guide
Figuring out what can and cannot be composted at your home can be a confusing, messy process. For your convenience and safety, here is a helpful list of things you should never add to your home compost pile:
Plastics: Even plastics made from plant oils that claim to be ‘biodegradable’ won’t break down properly in a home compost system, and will leave gleaming microplastics behind in the finished compost like the gems of a fallen empire.
Orange Peels and Garlic Cloves: In some compost systems, these can potentially kill worms and other beneficial bugs, and besides, wouldn’t you rather eat them all yourself?
Meat, Grease, and Bones: These don’t break down in home compost, and are likely to attract pests like raccoons, opossums, and roving bands of unsupervised schoolchildren.
Pumpkins, Coconuts, and Avocado Pits: Although they’re plants, hard vegetable matter like these often won’t rot evenly and will often emotionally ‘put down’ softer vegetables to feel better about themselves, sowing discord within the pile.
Credit cards: Compost piles are notorious for their financial irresponsibility and will inevitably run a spending spree with your money. Consider shredding these instead.
Your Econ Notes: Although attempting to educate your compost on financial literacy may seem tempting, it’s better to allow your compost to remain unaware of the capitalist system.
That Roadkill Squirrel at the Corner of Merriam and Cypress: That squirrel deserved a better funeral than this. *Sobs* Why was she taken from us so soon? How could a loving God permit such a thing? I’m sorry, I need a moment. It’s been a tough week.
Tomato Seeds: These can survive the heat of the composting process alive and resprout afterwards, spreading their tomato empire everywhere you spread your compost, until all the world lies under the dominion of their ketchup-red banner.
A Complete Box Set of the Harry Potter Series: Compost piles are impressionable, and they should under no circumstances be exposed to the works of J.K. Rowling. Offer your compost better young adult literature instead, such as Rick Riordan’s Percy Jackson series or Brandon Mull’s “Fablehaven.”
A Gun: Please do not arm your compost. It may seem to hold moderate positions now, but before long, extreme factions within the pile will take control and it will begin to forcibly absorb the surrounding area.
Car Keys: A compost pile doesn’t have the maturity nor motor control to be a safe driver. By putting it on the road, you could be endangering every other driver and pedestrian in your community.
Your Hopes and Dreams: These are best kept with you ever and always, but if you really must get rid of them, it’s wise to take them to a proper disposal facility. I recommend instead that you stare into the night sky during a late-night study session and ponder your insignificance.
As the sickness clawed its way through my blood, hope was my only lingering sustenance. I dragged myself across the soggy ground while it pulled at my feet and begged me with every step to collapse into its soft, forever-dark embrace. But finally, oh finally, I looked upon the altar to that which I’d dreamt of for days—my medicine, my love, my savior—but it lay bare. The guardians offered their apologies, but they fell on ears deaf to their insolence as I held back the maelstrom of emotion that within me roared. Thereafter, I quickly made my way home and fell upon the stoop. The plague seemed to sense my weakness and with nary a fight, I bowed before its strength, drifting into the darkest night.
Amidst a desolate scabland of seemingly cosmic scale, I stand before it. The churn of smog is backlit by the cool blue sky, otherwise free of haze, defined only by the harsh, cutting ridge of the Okanagans on the horizon. With the density of some otherworldly substance, it sinks into the ground and pulls the hills down into the pit of its consumption like a bowling ball on a soft duvet. It pukes up the grime of synthetic vomit.
Looking down on the Babylonian structure from atop the windswept plateau, I become paralyzed. It’s absurd that before me stands the entire truth of modernity: the quietest land this side of the Cascades, waiting to explode.
The Grand Inquisitor lurks in the sagebrush like an imp, scavenging the flatlands for fresh rodents. He is starving. I feel him exhaling briskly down my spine, but I know he is only watching. He is far from his territory and anxious.
The primordial soup of my mind tells to stay here and never leave, to allow this place to possess me and carry my ashes off in the wind, to establish a burrow in the cracks of the land and root my flesh in the soil, to live my life as a hermit watching the birds nest and the frost accumulating and thawing out, to outlive the smog choking me to death as it carries its poison in the winds. I want to rot into the soil and passionately fuck the earth; my nude, grotesque dances on the plateau will send wind through the hair covering my body, and my monstrous Yoko Ono* screams will shake the sunrise on still mornings. This desire is so narrowly beyond my grasp in this halfway between the clouds and inferno.
This cancer has no end. Maybe I’ll just watch for a while instead.
Any whistler by Edmonton
Any whistler by Edmonton
Furrows, bristles, curls.
Freckled by the muskeg,
canyoned and canyoned
its quaking stems. Arboreal
and black-tufted—and which
decamp in time—and which,
in time, dart with the plaited crescent
of your eyes. Your crescents; by their
collapsed vectors of flight; by a glance
whose borrowed parkland
ranges with the shade of its
plumage, the heart of its index,
the name of such an intractable and
I don’t love you like that but I’d still shit my pants for you
C C7 F D7 - last one ends A7
oh i used to think my view of romantic relationships
made me enlightened in a way my friends weren’t
but the reason i love you the same as my friends
is because the love’s not different in a meaningful way
i doubt i’ll ever love romantically if i can’t for you
but i’m still steaming dumps for you
still filling my pants for you
C A7 C7 F C A7 C7 D7
oh my pants are going down to the dumps
the dumps are going down my pants
and i wish i could love you the way you love me
but unfortunately, i can’t
oh i’m sorry i got us into this mess
i didn’t figure it out til now
i felt like romance would keep you holding me close
and reassure me that i’m special to you
but claiming that love makes me feel wrong
though breaking up with you is making my heart hurt
but you still make my bussy spurt
i think of you and my butt poop squirts
oh my pants are going down to the dumps
the dumps are going down my pants
and i wish i could love you the way you love me
but unfortunately, i can’t
so fuck i hope you’ll still be my special friend
i hope you’ll still hold me close
and lowkey i still hope you want to fuck
but i understand if you don’t
C C7 F D7 C C7 F C
oh, my friend,
oh, my love,
my pants are full of poo
oh it gushes
how it mushes
i fucking adore you