“Losing Grace” by Danielle Smith

Losing Grace

Throughout my career as an English major, I have read many accounts from people’s live recounting invaluable morals from personal experience. And intrigued by this genre, I decided to try my inexperienced hand this noble educating. Through this—I warn you—truly chilling tale, I hope to impart what has become a virtue to me to you. And thus I enter the long tradition of knowing writers and ignorant readers as championed by my dear friend Eddie in “On Journal Articles” with the story of how I lost Grace.

I received Grace at my kindergarten graduation from my parents as a gift for completing two years education that consisted mostly of napping and crayons. I probably received more than that small teddy bear—not much more—but Grace was the only gift that lingers in the memory of my mind.
I loved Grace very much with that passionate love that only exists between a child and her dearest confident. And my heart, already much too sentimental for its own good, relished in the image of having Grace for the rest of my life. I pictured Grace being present at my future commencements of middle and high school, and even made it up in my mind that I would give Grace to my daughter in that far distant future.

I spoiled Grace. Somehow I found a little light green dress with a bow that fit her perfectly; and I—vainly—got no more delight than carrying her, in her lovely green dress, with me wherever I went. This included taking her to and from school as one who does not dare let her most valued possession out of her sight.

Therefore, in third grade I was still bringing her to school with me on a daily basis. I am not sure how acceptable it was to be bringing a stuffed animal to school at the age of eight (As a twenty year old, who has more than ten stuffed animals in her dorm room—not even including those I have elsewhere—I am well aware that my perception of the appropriate age for stuffed animal bearing is quite skewed), but still appropriate or not, I was bringing Grace to school with me every day. If only I had left her at home!

During my third grade year, I sat next to a kid named Jacob on the school bus. I don’t remember anything about him, but I know that he was a brat and I think that I hated him. Nonetheless, he was my bus mate and it was him that I sat next to and played with on the bus. To be honest, he is more or less irrelevant to this story, I just wanted to mention what a truly immoral person he was. I wish that I could blame the following traumatic events on him, but I cannot, for I think they were singularly my fault.

We were playing some sort of imaginative game, and of course Grace was involved and whatever toys he had. And in a particularly dramatic moment, Grace was ascending up to a balcony, which in our imagination was the area near the top of the school bus window.


Aside:Now for those of you who perhaps have never had that particular experience of riding on a public school bus, I will describe the nature of a school bus window. It is rectangular in shape, with a bar of metal stretching horizontally in its middle separating the upper piece of glass from the lower. This bar is the line to where one might slide down the upper piece of glass allowing fresh air into the bus. However, because the two rectangular pieces of glass are identical, when the top piece of glass is lowered all the way, and the top part of the window is open, it could easily be mistaken as closed by a young, carefree eight-year old girl.


And thus when Grace made her fateful ascent up those imaginary stairs to that imaginary balcony on that very real open window, I did not at all expect that it would be her last. And perhaps one of the most traumatic moments of my childhood was the feeling of the wind snatching Grace out of my hands and watching her fly into the void behind the bus.

Now as you can imagine, eight year old me was utterly distraught. It was not watching Grace disappear from sight that afflicted me, but rather my life without Grace flashing before my eyes. Of course I began to sob. It was the most natural thing to do. And my crying grew more and more desperate as Jacob persisted in asking me, “Why did you throw your bear out the window?”

It did not take long for my sister to notice my crying, discern from my hysterics what had happened, and after probably a few words about my needing to grow up, she was able to get the bus driver to stop the bus. But after deliberation, and the realization of how far back the loss had occurred, it was concluded that nothing could be done but to continue along.

I must have been devastated when I got home, and to be honest I have no idea how my parents handled my dejection. I do know that I was able to convince one of them, probably my father, to drive back to where I believed the fall to have occurred to look for Grace. But we couldn’t find her on the side of the road, and I never saw Grace again.

Oh, I did not think that retelling this story would be so painful! I did not know that such old wounds could bleed afresh! But at least, through my suffering, some good might come into the world. For a valuable lesson is buried in the story. And priceless instruction lurks beneath these words. I think the moral is clear: Be careful if you go up to a balcony, because it’s probably nothing more than an open window.

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“Absence” by Eamon Thomasson

Can one express with accented quarter notes
twilight reflected in brass and strings
in the same way the sunrise reminds the sidewalk
of its loneliness?

If I were to articulate to you the dance of the spirits,
you would dance a different dance,
guided by them in a new way.
If I were to envision you there,
I would not be envisioning you.
To try to understand the corralled innocence of your absence
Is to cleanse yourself of all the patterns that shaped and dotted the garden of your past.

These interactions were manufactured as temples to unknown gods,
libations for a future occasion which will not take place

To the untrained ear,
the chord is dissonant, but to the master,
it reflects wholeness.
Cracked fibers will keep the collection together.
One by one, the disintegration of momentary sculptures of sand.

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“A Eulogy” by Danielle Smith

A Eulogy

I went to feed my heart and found it dead,
Starved by my ever-insatiable greed,
I start to grieve, but “No need,” he said,
“No need for such sad feelings felt
To live the lot which life to us has dealt.”
We buried it under a pile of dust
And placed atop the tomb a weed, and rust.


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“On Breakfast Serial” by Eamon Thomasson

For me, writing has mostly been a relaxing and enjoyable activity. This isn’t to say I’ve  chuckled and danced through every essay I’ve ever written, nor is it to say I’ve thought my writing is perfect, enjoyable to read, or indeed possessing of any merit at all in some cases. But writing has frequently been a very helpful tool. Writing about my daily interactions often helps me to focus and clear my head. The struggle of reflecting on some experience or emotion in the framework of a poem, story, or bit of satire has often brought me great satisfaction. But at Columbia, it’s been difficult to find time to pursue writing or reading of anything outside of classes. I wanted to make Breakfast Serial to fill that gap, by providing an albeit small chunk of time and space for writers to share their own work as well as the work of others, and to do so in a relatively stress-free environment. The academic stress at Columbia can be overwhelming at times, and I would hope this group would not add to that stress, but rather would provide an outlet for literary creativity to be shared and respected. I am not one for imposing deadlines in blood and iron, or for demanding that poems be written mechanically to satisfy a requirement. If all we have gathered from this group is a greater appreciation for John Keats, Emily Dickinson, or Etheridge Knight, I will be quite satisfied.

I have found that in brief moments, it is invigorating to ignore all of one’s problem sets, essays, and curricular reading to share one’s writing and receive input from a friend. I’ve also been continually inspired by the works others have brought to meetings to share, and entered the week in high spirits. So here’s to ignoring our work due tomorrow, and our exams coming up. Here’s to the triumph of short bursts of creativity, gleaming like brief rays of sun as we paddle our flimsy canoes into the colossal heart of the hurricane of  our schoolwork. Here’s to Breakfast Serial.

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“Bride of the World: Shakuntala Revisited” by Gayathri Raj

The bride of the world
Wears vermillion on her forehead
At an eternal stalemate with her husband,
Who is sensate, yet illusory.
Within her reach and yet wildly without,
She darkens the rims of her eyes,
so no one can tell she spent yet another
night in tears.

The bride of the world has
a snakelike silver anklet,
The instrument of her betrothal,
and incarceration.
Someday she might fall in love,
and her heart might bind her instead.
That day, she will take
her anklet off and shatter it to pieces.

The bride of the world covers her hair,
With a dusky red veil.
Her mane is demure.
She waits on the threshold
Yet another sunset, searching for consummation.
The twilight wanes by,
And her beloved does not return.
She will await him, with her coiffure undone,
and her hair untamed.

The bride of the world looks into the mirror,
She sees an endless beauty,
And a limerence dark.
She sees her lips painted red,
She hears his voice
from the other side of the door;
She wakes up from her dream.
She sees the single jewel on her crown,
She feels her earrings weigh her down.

The bride of the world does not know
Why her husband left her ages ago.
All she will do is show,
the constance of her love, as inconstant
as his might have been.
She will grow more perfect each day.
Her devotion more divine,
A priestlike serenity
set alight by her longing.

The bride of the world
Will rise at dawn tomorrow.
She will run her delicate lotus-hands
On their conjugal bed.
She will smell him on her pillow.
She will cook his favorite meal,
With her delicate lotus-hands.
She will sit by the window,
Looking for the faintest trace of rising dust,
Hearing for a trampled twig, or a knock on the door.
She will watch the rain as it exhausts itself,
And bid the clouds, and her hope,

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The Cats Walk in To Play: a Poem by Emmanuel Thomastein

The cats walk in to play,

Not one of them a stray,

They twirl and whirl and grin so wide,

How they puff their chests up in such pride.


100 cats I count in total,

not one of them self described as mortal,

black and white and striped and splotched,

Their swishing tails taped up with scotch.


A cat lets out the yarn to fall,

Over the floor in this room now a ball,

Red yarn, blue yarn, white yarn too,

Oh, what does this mean to me and you.


Each find a ball to scratch and play with,

A ball to help them say yay and nay with

Scratch and torn and worn quite thin

How these cats continue to grin


And now they get up, and leave the room,

Someone cleans up all this yarn with a broom

The cats now go on their own way

No longer than interested to play


But, it doesn’t quite take that long

For these cats to remember where they belong

And to enter back into that playground

With much fanfare and sound


Let leash the balls of yarn they cry,

And red balls and blue balls and white balls too fall from the sky,

And they go back to their constant preening

Now their eyes back to their evil gleaming

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Sunday by Eric Feldstein

Mommy can I play?

No, not today,

But please, please, may?

No, no, it’s Sunday,

What should I say?

That you may, that you can play?

Can I play Monday?

You can play Monday.

Mommy can I play?

No, not today,

But please, please, may?

No, no, it’s Monday,

What should I say?

That you may, that you can play?

Go back inside and weigh,

These words I say:

“One does not ever play today”

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Lucky Charms by Danielle Smith

My shooting star,
My crescent moon,
My golden pot,
My red balloon,

Leprechaun hat,
With four leaf’d clove,
Purple shoe, pink heart
And colored bow.

So sweet, too sweet,
Sweetly tragic,
Plain oat pieces,
Delicious magic.

It once was daily,
I ate a bowl,
With 2% milk,
You made me whole.

But now it’s never
You, that I taste,
Instead black coffee,
And boring bran flakes.

I miss my charms,
I miss my lucks,
I miss being a kid,
Growing up sucks.

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“Mad for Mathcore: Appreciating a Subgenre of Heavy Metal Rock Music” by Angel Wang

As music critic Heidi Waleson stated in the Columbia panel discussion on Friday, April 25, “It’s not a critic’s job to make people love a certain performance or genre of music. It’s their job to make the audience listen in an informed way.” Using her insight, I write my review not to force readers to love heavy metal music, but to enlighten them in a way that they can appreciate heavy metal.

Heavy Metal is the music that everyone loves to hate. It seems like every age group complains about some aspect of it—older folk think it’s too loud, middle-aged parents find it too provocative for their children, teenagers think it’s weird, and kids are outright frightened by it.

Unfortunately, these stereotypes blind people from seeing the impressive features of this genre, such as the remarkable virtuosity of heavy metal musicians, the impressive versatility of the rhythm and meter, and the philosophical depth of the lyrics. This review will examine these common misunderstandings.

First, heavy metal is a broad category. In fact, the genre has grown significantly over time; to say all heavy metal is the same would be akin to claiming that all jazz music is the same. To avoid any erroneous generalizations, I am going to focus on a new subgenre of heavy metal called “mathcore.” Mathcore developed from early sub-genres of heavy metal, most notably “metalcore,” but has recently differentiated itself and claimed its own independent identity in the past 5 to 10 years.

Mathcore is most notable for its overwhelmingly fluctuating meter and unusual time signatures. Its very name—mathcore—emphasizes its tight connection with complicated mathematical formulas that provide the foundation for its melodies and rhythms. This is evident in its relentlessly shifting time signature. In the song “The City” by the band The Chariot, the meter changes with essentially every measure (make sure to listen here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=0kczMkGbg90).

It’s impossible to tap your foot along. In contrast, in the song “Psycho Killer” by Talking Heads, a consistent predictable beat is immediately evident at the beginning of the song, first introduced in the guitar bass and then in the drumset and cymbals. In “Psycho Killer,” it’s incredibly easy for listeners to nod their head to the steady beat; in “The City,” it’s incredibly difficult for listeners to grasp the underlying beat since there is no static meter.

This is an important distinction to make, since, many people may stereotype Mathcore as mindless head-nodding music that only requires brash drum banging, random guitar strumming, and screeching vocals. This image could not be further from the truth. Perhaps the most misunderstood feature of mathcore is its incredible virtuosity. Mathcore guitarists display astonishing technical skill, with incessant riffs and flourishes that can last for the entire song. Their fingers move extraordinarily fast, squeezing multiple notes within a single second. This is not only musically challenging, but physically demanding.

Drummers and singers also perform with remarkable talent and mastery of their respective fields. Mathcore percussion sounds are very harsh and sharp sounding, and drummers must not only multi-task to play different features of the drumset (cymbols, bass, snare, etc.) but must do so at heart-racing speeds. Singers too perform passionately, belting out lines that combine difficult pitches in complicated sequences. Thus, mathcore music is striking for its virtuosity.

In light of all these impressive features, why is mathcore music often avoided and disliked by mainstream American society? To examine why mathcore is unpopular, it is helpful to compare it with music that is considered popular. In Professor Bradley Kramer’s music hum class, we compiled a list of traits that contribute to the popularity of a song. Such features include: familiarity, hummable melody, memorable lyrics, upbeat major tonality, and peer pressure.

Mathcore has virtually none of these qualities.

One of the best parts about Mathcore is its refusal to submit to familiarity. First, Mathcore doesn’t use familiar-sounding instruments or pleasant-sounding timbres. Musicians often incorporate strange, outer-worldly noises that are rarely recognizable. Listen to Car Bomb’s song “Gum Under the Table” (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=LeGtMRm9Sho) and notice how it begins with a outlandish siren wail. Then, at 1:25 to 1:45, listen to the disturbing electric squealing sound is audible, which then transforms into other bizarre noises. Doesn’t it seem like aliens have intercepted your computer and forced technological malfunctions upon it? Aren’t you worried that extra-terrestrials are trying to infiltrate your system? Eerie, I know.

Mathcore also sounds unfamiliar because of its intense polymeter and rhythmic unpredictability. Polymeter compositions feature the simultaneous use of two or more meters, and it often seems that each mathcore musician operates on his/her own time signature; the electric guitarist, vocalist, and percussionist seem to follow different meters, yet somehow manage to perform in a cohesive manner. It’s completely mind-blowing. For example, in the song “Turn Soonest to the Sea” by the band Protest the Hero, not only is the meter perpetually in flux, but the different instrumentalists are playing different meters.

Because of this constant change, mathcore music demands much concentration and attention. Unlike mainstream popular music where you can mindlessly nod your head or tap your foot, Mathcore music demands the listener to acutely focus on the fluctuating rhythms. Thus, mathcore music is often perceived as unfamiliar because the beat is destabilizing and unpredictable.

Another trait of mathcore music is its complex melodies. Mathcore melodies are not simplified, easily identifiable tunes, but are often disjunct and jump across a large range of notes. In fact, early mathcore music was atonal, meaning that it did not build upon one principal tonality or key center. This makes it practically impossible to distill an easily recognizable and hummable melody. Additionally, the texture of the music is incredibly dense; the electric guitar, bass, and vocal parts interweave with one another to create a thick polyphonic fabric, much like a Baroque-era fugue. The multi-layered textures are dissonant and sharp-sounding, rather than pleasantly harmonic or consonant, which again makes it difficult to target a hummable melody.

Another reason why it is difficult to identify a hummable melody is due to the sharp, violent percussion sounds. Drummers play with such vehemence and aggression, it is as if they are attacking their drumsets and cymbals. Harsh cymbal crashes and pounding bass drum beats will often overpower the other instrumentalists, an impressive feat considering the piercing levels of the electric guitarists. Thus, a hummable melody will often be buried under an avalanche of sharp, heart-shattering percussion sounds.

Mathcore music is also remarkable for its lyrics. While popular music tends to have warm themes such as love and friendship, mathcore music is oftentimes very dark and painful. Mathcore lyrics are immensely philosophical and directly address controversial subject matter such as death, rape, marginalization, subordination to power, and government repression of human rights. For example, the song “Abe the Cop” by the Dillinger Escape Plan features lyrics

“just shun heavens thunder

while laughing at the sky

with a hiss of the nightmare’s downpour

now wake up and… DIE”

The lyrics aren’t just difficult to grasp conceptually, but are often audibly difficult to comprehend. Many mathcore musicians have gritty voices and the rough, coarse timbre of the vocals make the lyrics difficult to understand in the first place. To the untrained ear, the vocals can sounds like growling or animalistic snarling. Thus, the lyrics are hard to memorize since they are deeply philosophical and difficult to hear.

Why, then, do Mathcore bands utilize these atypical musical features and diverge so sharply from “popular” music? Though each band has its own answer, I personally believe that Mathcore’s unconventional qualities are purposefully used to make a statement about life’s pain and injustice. Mathcore’s unstable and fluctuating meter, raw and gritty vocals and timbres, unfamiliar sounds, sharp percussion sounds, melodic dissonance, and deeply profound philosophical lyrics illustrate the agony that exists in the world. I respect Mathcore for its courage to confront the harsh realities of life, and its boldness in acknowledging these ugly images of life. Whereas some music genres gloss over and ignore the existence of strife, Mathcore audaciously highlights these problems.

Society’s ears have been unconsciously trained to expect certain musical sounds, chord progressions, and general compositions. Mathcore music does not follow the status-quo or these existing guidelines. Yet, just because they don’t adhere to mainstream expectations does not mean they should be disdained and insulted. Though one does not have to love and worship this type of music, one should at least take the time to learn and appreciate the intricacies behind mathcore and heavy metal in general.


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Ode 1.19 by Horace (translated by Danielle Smith)

The savage Mother of that child Cupid
And Bacchus, the boy of Theban Semele,
And wanton License command me to return
My heart to finished loves.

The brightness of that courtesan Glycera burns me,
More refined than Parian marble, gleaming;
Her welcome audacity burns me
And the face too hazardous to look at.

All of Venus charges against me
She has left Cyprus, and suffers neither talk
Of the Scythians or Partha, bold with turned horses,
Nor those things which hold on to nothing.

Put fresh grass for me here, and here
Put aromatic branches, my boy, and position
The incense with a bowl of two year old wine:
The beguiled victim comes slaughtered.

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