UCI Undergraduate Creative Writing Journal
Fall 2011, Volume 22 Issue 1
Editor in Chief:
Shantrell S. Lumpkin
Social Media Coordinator:
Susan Davis, the Creative Writing Emphasis, the Department of English and Comparative Literature, Alternative Media,
and Justin Standard.
*This publication does not represent the views and/or opinions of the University of California, Irvine; the University of California, the
Regents of University of California, and/or its affiliates.
Luis Gerardo Sanchez
Ruben Cota Jr.
Interview Featuring E.J. Koh
courtesy of Jacqueline Weisbaum
Authors of the featured pieces remain anonymous during the selection process. Only after selection are names
revealed; multiple pieces by individual authors are coincidental.
West 4 th Street
The first time I met you, I smiled because it felt like you’d be in my life always and that you had been there
before. It was like seeing an old friend but also seeing so many possibilities stretching out before you like an
open ocean. I imagined us sitting together, sharing books and huddled up in the cove of my room. You’d
have your big sweater on and I’d have a scarf wrapped around my neck twice, twisting the plaid fringe around
my finger. I met you and felt all the possibilities of a future return, one that wasn’t bleak but filled with
adventures, laughs, and great food.
In reality, we had all of that in our year together. We walked up and down avenues, looking for ice cream, and
spent winter mornings nearly frozen outside of Dominique Ansel’s. My black boots would knock into yours
as I tried to kill time, stomping my feet into the snow to keep warm. You’d brush snow out of your hair and
get it stuck in the rims of your glasses. Children of tropical climates, we never let weather stop us - snow,
wind, slush, nothing. There was an almost sort of triumph in the way we marched through the slush of
Washington Square to get to the library. When our shoes and socks were soaked through, we’d quietly worry
about frostbite but also be proud, wondering if this is what being a New Yorker meant. Maybe we were
stronger. Maybe we were better. Maybe this would last forever.
(I) THE ITCH
Her bones have adjusted
to the shrinking
she is putting herself through.
She contorts her body
and mentally diminishes
in the same recoil.
She has lessened
her value is retreating
the same way her arms do as
she wraps them around her delicate waist,
she grabs, and holds and violently grasps
the edges of her body and skin.
She chooses to make them disappear at the clutch of her very
have done nothing but point sins at her
body and words.
carved into the
of her paper thin nail beds which
attempt to hide
her distorted face –
a natural oily veil
But it does nothing to hold her back from singing
incantations of ‘sorry’s’ that result in
nothing more than another retreat.
She has created a musical within her mind,
one in which she is forcibly the lead and the audience all
Her body rocks her
back and forth,
her exoskeleton attempting to cradle
her back and forth,
the way her mother never did.
(II) THE PICK
Then a tingling begins to creep
Up, Up, Up,
the veins of her ears -
the ringing of dead skin strikes her bodily clocks hour
on the dot.
Her hands then begin to make their way
Up, Up, Up,
to peel and pick at the layer which never asked to be picked,
like the fruit of the wisdom tree.
And she as Eve, begins to
molt, peeling off layers of herself,
filled with pain and pleasure.
Her hands became a part of this impulsive spell, preoccupied as she played her body, the way a musician plays
eyes closed and all knowing,
the behavior became a waltz she had danced to her whole life,
her fingers did not miss a step,
her mind conditioned to play along with this performance,
she became so used to the dance
it became something she could do
rhythmically without thinking.
The combination of pleasure and pain and the wandering of her hands left her baffled;
a sense of relief flirted with her apparent fear
as she pulled her hands down to see
blood between her nonexistent nail beds,
stinging from the scratches and tugs
she was virtually unaware of.
She had removed the layering of her scalp,
and the skin of her ears,
the wax that filled them to the brim.
Gently ending the song that began in a forte of sorts,
she silenced her conducting hands,
pulling them away from the knots that formed in her hair,
and rested them beneath her thighs,
sitting amidst a now pianissimo whirl of the
Her emotions were roaring,
her nimble hands sore and shaking,
her mind repeating and repeating and repeating.
(III) THE PEEL
This metamorphosis had transported her to the shore of the ocean,
The blood on her fingers dried up in the hot sand,
as she stuck them into the ground.
Her ears, empty of wax, felt like hollow caves,
and all she could hear was the sound of seagulls flocking together above the beach,
echoing a mocking song in her empty ears the fact that which she feared –
the fact that they belonged.
And in this fashion,
she decided to screech with them.
Shrieking at the seagulls, but then at the ocean’s waves
for swaying her back and forth,
cradling her to the depths of the sea and the crease of the shore,
she screamed some more,
branding her with this similar perpetuated rocking motion –
she yelled at a heaven unknown to her,
as this movement of the ocean so reminded her of the way her hands moved so in sync with
the tumbling waves,
her fingertips hitting her hard mineral-like scalp,
her heart began to palp-,
itate, the way the waves crashed on the sandy shore,
guilt washing over her in an uproar,
her vocal chords go sore,
It was as if each graze against the white pearly scalp of her head
was something nature so desired,
she could no longer screech anymore.
Each time this reoccurring state of mind took place and hit her body
with just a tick of a word, she suddenly finds;
more arms to
more nails to bite,
more eyes to look away from,
to keep her
hidden from a world
The Farm Sink
She stares out her window, the farm sink stretching
beneath her soap-sud covered hands. Across the street
swings an old rope swing. Her heart beats
and it hurts from the emptiness gaping
inside her chest cavity. She longs for her husband,
who she has yet to meet. An idea her friends
say is archaic and oppressive. Their words do not cool
her heart ache or stem the salt water drops
that fill the sink. She aches for her womb to be full,
for giggles to sing from every corner of their house.
For his musky smell, for soft kisses, for their fights.
Yes, even this she longs for. She does not know
in two years she will meet her husband. Together
they will adopt the child that her womb is unable to carry.
She does not know in two years she will be happy
How can she.
For now, she rinses her hands clean of the suds. She remains
with trembling shoulders; standing in front of the window,
It wasn’t like the summer flowed,
or even slipped, past.
Your three months left you
in minutes and seconds
of cussing the Southern heat with old friends,
of watching horseflies swarm
in a jade haze over the coppery
mud below your home.
You counted down your lasts.
There was the last walk down your street
in the white moonlight, Spanish moss bearding
the pines. There was the drive to the
blue mountains, packed into
the car taking your final bite of Carolina peach,
juices painting your chin. On your last good day,
you drank Lake Fontana
down to its red dust,
and cried yourself to sleep.
Like the pigeons flocking overhead. Like a device,
like the way you hate California,
all its pale gold and heartless grit.
Like your best friend’s voice, in the pinkish glow
of the last night you saw him saying, Please
come home soon.
Recipe Of Me
I like sweet things.
I like desserts:
Melt-in-your mouth apple crumble with
thick gelatinous nutmeg and cinnamon;
Towering vanilla cakes:
• ½ cup baked by princesses
• 2 cups frosted by king’s love
• 1 lb. stalwart strawberries guarding the foot of each tier
• 2 tbsp. drizzled by comic dark chocolate (73% will do);
Delicate lace caramel bubbling up from
heated passion for sugar;
Pastel colored macarons smoothed,
uncracked, balanced on a bed of flavored cream;
Every color imaginable in bite-sized
I like sweet things
But something has changed.
Baking used to be sweet,
An androgynous profession
(Though male bakers looked great,
All swol and buff with crossed buns).
“Guys bake bread, they don’t cut cake.”
Breadwinning by baking bread, breaking
bread, buttering bread.
Kid-boys can bake, and I’m a kid-at-heart
rising to the top, proving what I got.
I like sweet things.
I like bourbon.
Every sip tickles the back of my throat.
Guttural utterances rise as it flows down
And I find words I could never say
It’s an elixir of enlightenment, a temporary
proficiency in your speech-craft stat.
(I should have written this with bourbon.)
I like sweet things
But bourbon isn’t always sweet.
Bourbon isn’t like the bonbons of baking;
Something is expected of nothing.
There’s a fun in baking, a release, a joy
That a man men’s bourbon cannot employ.
All work, all play. All play? No play. With
pay, I say? No sé, pero un día…it may.
Don’t get me wrong, despite what’s
advertised, I’ll still take the drink
Sipping it slow or “down the hatch!” quick.
I like sweet things.
I like dessert and bourbon.
Kentucky Bourbon Balls, mmmm!
There’s some dope ass shit.
Sweet chocolate outside, wet liqueur within…
Best of both worlds
just like me.
Or maybe opposite? If science would allow
The liquid as hell for the gooey-good sin.
• 1 pinch salt to round out the flavor
• 1 bite – all it takes to turn two into me
Nocturnal Rituals of the 21 st Century
Summer of 2014, San Bernardino CA
Luis Gerardo Sanchez
I had forgotten how much I enjoy exhaling
this holy concoction of pleasure---
Offered by my brothers and sisters in this Crowded debauchery;
Wasted swarming youth, a thousand gazes of dilated pupils
mesmerized by strobes and lasers of aurora borealis,
lulled by the profound and supreme roars of the synthesizer.
Intense hues of LED color, dancing with us in the room
Deep Crimson ---revealing our vapors and our glands, then darkness.
Dull Indigo ---painting the smoke of our desire in its whirling, then darkness. Ultra Violet ---bathing our
bodies with ecstatic inaudible vibrations
Sensory overload, my pursuit of reverie and trance, lift me
from myself for just a moment, a hallowed moment
leave me naked, leave me nameless
make me anonymous in this raving Crowd
help me linger like the marijuana smoke
deliver me from my skin,
deliver me from my bones, my pains, my groans.
Elevate me ---sanctify my longing.
In the end the rumble fades and ceases
and so do we as we depart through the open exit
They say the ringing of the eardrums after
comes from your cells, dying inside, I let them shriek and echo through my ear canal
And though I walk,
I am unmoved. Suspended
two feet above the ground, for a moment,
I am aloof
I am released
I am surrendered
For I understood the truth of the drums
the rattle of muscles, of essence and core.
And clarity’s call pronouncing my name
through endless sonorous ethereal songs
The songs-- of I Belong
The songs-- of time’s-no-more
The songs-- of We’re all here, yet we’re all Gone
Sweat dripping slowly to sobriety
still in exit, retreating
back into the World.
If Kafka Worked in an Office
Ruben Cota Jr.
He has twenty something styrofoam cups balanced on the top of his head, ten against the back of each palm,
and he’s reciting the company mantra, which happens to be a poem, telling them in between stanzas, “Look
here, look here, look at me.” And they’re either laughing because of what he’s saying or what he's saying in
between, or maybe it’s both. It could be the fact he’s struggling to balance the cups. It’s debatable.
His name is John. They know this because that’s what it says on his nametag. Of course, he might’ve
stolen it in an effort to disguise his identity, in an attempt to spread cheer without the consequences that
follow such behavior, but most think it unlikely since to do so would require a tact none of them think he’s
capable of. Despite being aware that this is exactly what he’d want them to think if he were an outsider —
say, a member of the rival company — the name tag turns out to be enough for most. And everyone goes on
The Girl in the Stairwell
There is a stairwell that all the students avoid.
It is in one of the humanities buildings, lost somewhere between 18 th century Italian literature and Greek
tragicomedies. Like it is with all such places where the lights blur and shadows dance of their own accord,
stories spring up around it like wildflowers.
One of the students’ favorites is that she was a freshman who had taken her studies a tad too seriously, and
who had then taken her own life just a little too eagerly. Others swear that she had been pushed down the
entire flight of stairs, and that whoever had done it had left her there when she did not move. Left her there
for days and weeks and months, until her bones sank into the concrete itself. Some even whisper that she had
been there long before the school itself, and that they had raised the buildings around her. Whatever the truth
is – if there ever was a truth to begin with – she is still there now.
Most students are smart enough to avoid her stairwell whenever they can, even if it costs them precious
minutes of class time. Even during the day, when the sun is at its highest, there is a chill in the hall outside,
and a draft blows constantly out from beneath the sill, though it should not. Students have learned to keep
their footsteps light when they pass by her door, waiting until their gossip is wisely out of earshot before
But every so often, someone is running late, and rather than waste any more time running through the halls,
they would risk disturbing her.
It is always as cold as winter inside, regardless of the time of year, and it echoes as though it were many times
larger. Those who have passed through without incident never describe it the same way twice. A church. A
graveyard. A library. A crypt. A museum. Sometimes, she is at the top of the staircase. Other times, at the
bottom. And sometimes, at certain times of the day – maybe when she has classes of her own to attend – she
is not there. But there is always something there.
The faint footsteps of someone following close behind, almost near enough to touch. The brush of arms
against elbows, as though someone were walking up the stairs at the same time one was walking down. A
melancholy sigh, and the lonely smell of someone walking beside. The cool breath of a long exhale against the
back of exposed necks. And sometimes, late at night, it is the sharp scratch of a shoe against concrete, the
rustle of a dress, and finally, the weight of a cold hand on a shoulder.
In front of a mall fountain, I saw a woman with blonde hair tied back and her red dress fitting
Over the pregnancy blooming beneath
Her husband held his arm up like a gatepost, so she could twirl around under it
I had to squint just to look at them, through the sun glare and the curtain of fountain waves
They were the best of anything I’d ever seen
My older sister was twelve and still believed that swallowing a watermelon seed
Could cause the fruit to grow inside you, your stomach to swell with the sweetness of it
She would stick out a careful tongue, the black seed spat securely onto a napkin
She cried when she swallowed one accidentally, and when we told her the truth
Today she sent a picture of her silhouette, her daughter burgeoning under her hands, which she
held framing the curve of the swell
I replied, look who swallowed a watermelon seed
I’ve seen a baby bite it’s mother’s cheek in the grocery line, and now I worry
If my niece were to bite my cheek, how cold and foreign, how lemon-sour would it taste
Would the squirm I feel for children, the melancholy gasp when they start crying in my arms, the
gene of maternity I’ve long imagined my brain to have skipped altogether
Would that make its way onto her budding tongue
I was 18 the day I was sitting by the mall fountain
A brand-new 18, and my summer birthday means that my vampiric arms are always winking
slightly at a tan when I greet each new age
I had no sleeves, only straps, and with my arms free, and the fountain water sprinkling my skin
I thought how natural it might feel to fill all this empty space with a baby
Moments later, the couple, the red dress, and the watermelon beneath, had all danced away
This is his scarred, bony fingers, dark like the color of oak bark
darting across a piano keyboard & frantically butchering the notes
at 4am, with the black valley of night yawning between our voices
Are you doing okay, man?
His hand slides down scales
Nah. Chopin can go fuck himself.
I want to reach out and grab his hand, calm the jerking muscles
But this is how he tucks his shoulders in like a fragile bird
& this is how I look away, as if he didn’t know what I meant
An Interview with E.J. Koh
by Misha Ponnuraju
Biography from thisisejkoh.com:
E.J. Koh is the author of A Lesser Love, winner of the Pleiades Press Editors Prize (Louisiana State University
Press, 2017). Her poems, translations, and stories have appeared in Boston Review, Columbia Review, Los
Angeles Review of Books, Southeast Review, World Literature Today, TriQuarterly, Seattle Review of
Books, The Margins,PEN America, La Petite Zine, The Anthology of Surveillance Poetics (Black Ocean Press,
2014) and elsewhere. Koh accepted fellowships and scholarships from The American Literary Translators
Association, The MacDowell Colony, Kundiman, Napa Valley Writers’ Conference, Vermont Studio
Center, and The Jack Straw Writers Program. She earned her MFA at Columbia University in New York for
Poetry and joint-degree in Literary Translation in Korean and Japanese. She is completing her PhD at the
University of Washington in Seattle for English Language and Literature. She has received a Pushcart
Prize, Nadya Aisenberg Grant, and Hannah J. Caldwell Award. She is the recipient of the 2017 ALTA Emerging
Translator Mentorship and is co-translating Yi Won’s books When They Ruled the Earth (1996) and The
Lightest Motorcycle in the World (2007). She has been featured in Poetry Society of America,Best of the
Net, Culture Trip’s 10 Americans Changing the Face of Poetry, The Seattle Channel, Brit + Co’s 16 Modern
Poets, and others.
What was your recent publication accomplishment? Where are you working or studying, currently?
My poetry collection A Lesser Love, winner of the Pleiades Editors Prize, was published by Louisiana State
University Press. I’m pursuing my PhD in English Language and Literature at the University of Washington.
My dissertation defines an untranslatable word for love: Jeong. Ongoing work includes a book of translated
poems by poet Yi Won and my memoir collection.
How long ago to did you graduate from UC Irvine? What did you study?
Eight years ago, in 2010, I graduated from UC Irvine. My first poetry class, I fell in love. Soon after, I
changed my major from Political Science to English and added the Emphasis in Poetry. Susan Davis, Greg
McClure, and Colette Atkinson ushered me forward with great care. They taught me how to care. It’s one
thing to be agreeable, correct, unhurtful, but it’s another thing to care.
What is the premise or focus of your book of poetry, if any? How long did it take to write that?
The book is in three sections: Heaven, War, and Love. Heaven is closest to home. These are poems of my
family before and during our separation (while my parents lived in South Korea). War traces history and the
events of the Korean War, the Jeju Island Massacre, and others—stories of my great-grandfathers and greatgrandmothers.
Love returns to contemplation. In Love, poems like “The Water,” “The Wind,” “The
Mountain” hold the themes before but lurch for new possibility.
Poems I wrote at UCI appear in Heaven. I can’t discard poems easily, not ones in which I’ve learned a
valuable lesson. I keep these poems and appreciate how I arrived at them. If that’s when the book began,
then it was nine years. I’m still learning, arriving at insight. That’s the thing—seeing how alive a poem is, and
how it grows and matures with me. Looking at them, I see the beginning.
What was the most difficult part of writing your book?
The difficult part was how difficult I believed it must be. There was no amount of suffering I would refuse,
thinking I was paying for it with labor, as others must have paid. Completing a book is no easy task, but I
would’ve told my younger self that there’s no reason to make it harder than it is. I wish I beat myself up
about it less, and let it go as easily as if it didn’t belong to me at all. I cannot hope to meet what I expect from
myself, but I can hope to share an intimate experience sincerely.
Was there anything particular from your undergraduate career that helped you as a writer? A class
you took, a habit you picked up, etc.?
Mentors are everything. For me, I did not speak English at home. Writing in English was writing in a
language not my own. I was a Korean American woman feeling as though I did not have a way to speak
about the things I must tell. Everything I said or did appeared to be mimicry. What is authentic about me at
all? Not my language, not my poetry—and yet these are the only tools I have. My writing professors pointed
me to myself. My mentors, real people, and their conversations, meetings, workshops showed me a way of
telling that was authentic to me. Oh, I learned to trust!
I recall sitting in Susan’s office. She would read my poem out loud. It sounded very different when she did.
To this day, I read my poems aloud. I speak entire sections, books. This cadence, rhythm, space, and
intonation is essential to me. I write my poems for the reader who speaks them.
Any advice for aspiring writers?
Advice can be tricky. I can’t say for others, but I can say what took me a long while to understand. At the
time, I thought I can go at it alone. This was my thing, you know. Being alone, I’m good at it. It’s what my
childhood was to me, an isolation. It’s what I was in my workshops. Looking back, it was never true.
Anything that came to me, came from the help of others. It came from the recommendation or foresight of a
mentor, a colleague. Polishing my manuscript was the effort of my friends and teachers. Do you understand?
Finding a community, finding editors, gathering friends, supporting other poets and writers—this is the way.
You are never truly alone.
New Forum Staff
Shantrell Lumpkin - Editor in Chief
Shantrell Lumpkin is a second year English major with a love of reading and writing fiction. She is a selfproclaimed
nerd, lover of all things with a great story. She believes in the power of words and the affect they
can have on people. To her, the written word is important and should be shared. Fun fact: she loves Beyoncé.
Seriously. It gets ridiculous sometimes.
Patricia Estrada - Media Director
Patricia Estrada is a passionate soul, especially when it comes to creative writing. She has written several
stories of lands far, far away. In reality, she is one year closer to obtaining her English degree. She’s excited to
graduate, yet is a bit skeptic about the life afterwards, but will be consoled by her constant marathons of The
Lord of the Rings or Star Wars franchises. Or probably has to bother her cats into cuddling with her. Either
way, she’s going to be okay.
Adam Timms - Financial Director
If anyone knows what Adam is up to, make sure to let him know. He’s constantly torn between about 19
things and striving to perfect them all while laughing at the ridiculousness of his situation. I’m serious when I
say that I talk him out of about four new projects every week. Current professional driver, editor, nursing
student, writer, and dungeon master... when not being distracted by everything else that’s going on.
Misha Ponnuraju - Social Media Coordinator
Misha is a third year English Major. She just finished studying abroad at the University of Edinburgh, where
she left her heart and hopes to return to someday. Now that she back at her beloved Irvine campus, you
might find her walking backwards on Ring Road as a Campus Representative, answering phones at
Admissions, or performing at Soulstice with the comedy group, Soulstice League. Small girl with big dreams.
Yanit Mehta - Design Coordinator
Yanit is an English and Film major whose doe-eyed innocence and resolve makes him believe that he can
make it in the brutal, grimy (yet somehow dazzling) world of Hollywood, while writing prose that will only be
appreciated in hoity-toity literary circles and well, the only reason he thinks any of this is plausible is because
of his brief encounters with hopelessly romantic artists on the cobblestoned streets of Europe. Other than
that he's a pretty humble chap. In fact, the only time you can visibly see his ego inflate is when he's facing a
plate of the spiciest food. Which is weirdly redundant because he owes his ability to handle capsaicin to his
100% Indian genetics; it's not really a skill he honed and perfected over the years after training at some secret
temple under an army of airbending monks but, more so just because his parents happened to mate in the
very land of spices. However, when he's not marveling over his devoured plate of spicy food you could spot
him on-campus clumsily throwing his arms in the air listening to contemporary jazz/funk or, if you're
unfortunate ranting about how Edgar Wright is a visionary director who needs to be making more money or
why Greta Gerwig is the modern day Joan Didion of movies and he’s persistent about it (yes, it’s
Melissa Salcedo- Associate Editor
Melissa Salcedo is currently a second year pursuing a major in English with an emphasis in creative writing.
When she isn’t doing schoolwork she could easily be found binging television shows on netflix or hulu, more
often than not british ones. She aspires to live a life full of both the aesthetic of going to metal concerts and
that of a Wes Anderson film. And as with many another writer she warns to any person borrowing her
computer “ignore my search history, I promise I’m a writer not a serial killer.”
Analisa Gomez – Associate Editor
I used to be Snow White but I drifted. – Mae West
Jack of all trades, master of none, though oftentimes better than master of one. A former biology major with
a wandering mind that spent one too many sleepless nights with a pen in her hand, scrutinizing blank paper
and curious enough to stop and wonder at the daunting expanse daring her to form the endless
possibilities. Now a third-year transfer, if you told her back in high school that she would be an English
major working on novels, dabbling in archery and woodworking, and collecting pennies she would laugh
because then as now science is her interest (and pennies?). But the lost child Woolf spoke of has wandered in
her house and, for lack of a typewriter, lined paper is her preferred medium for that bleeding Hemingway
described. Now that she found her way to UCI with pen in hand for “taking notes” in class and a notebook
for reminders of whether a paper or a concert is coming up this weekend so she can work them around an
all-consuming obsession with words.
Camila Dadabhoy - Associate Editor, New Forum
Camila is a third year English major and Literary Journalism minor, 21 year-old ambitious world traveler,
netflix and movie enthusiast, passionate reader, jokester, and lover of all things cheese. She is a staff writer for
the Features section of the New University Newspaper, blog writer for the Spoon University website, former
published editor of the GenderSmash Magazine at Cypress Community College, and a Journalist in the
making currently attending UCI. She spends most of her time working as a Legal Service Director at Dignity
Memorial, discovering the best food and dessert spots all over OC, watching sports, and traveling with her
friends and family. You can find her in sunny Southern California, where she resides in her native hometown
of Cypress. If you’re ever trying to reach her, she’s probably making detailed, adventurous plans for her
friends to reluctantly follow, pulling all nighters due to her inability to focus on work when there is potential
for fun, and always dreaming big.