Vanessa Blakeslee

 

 

 

(USA)

 

 

Connect Four

A torch-lined beach, an Indian Ocean night.
Half-lit grin emerges from shadows—
a Thai boy, slight-framed, shuffles through sand.
One arm curls around a slender box. He stops
at our chaise-lounged trio, barks
“Who thinks they can beat me at Connect Four?”

We swig chilled Singhas, invite him to sit.
One swift glance from cousin David—
childhood champion, he’s got this kid beat.
This kid who snaps the flimsy blue legs to
the yellow plastic frame, flicks checkers
in thirty seconds flat, demands
“You be red or black?”

We set the bet: five dollars a round
Kid counts “one, two, three, GO!”
slams checkers, rattles frame.
David is fast but the kid faster. One, two, three rounds
end with the kid’s four black disks in a row.
“You lose, I win! »

Between rounds he tells us he’s twelve,
has lived on Ko Samui his whole life.
Every night for four years he’s bet against the tourists,
to feed mother, sister, brother.
“I speak five languages, plus Thai,” the kid says.
“EnglishFrenchGermanItalianChinese. How many you speak?”

David shrugs shoulders, sunburn hidden in the night.
« Too bad,” the kid says. “I don’t anymore go to school.”
His brown fingers fly checkers down the slats.
Grinning wildly, he shrieks again, « You lose, I WIN!”
The boy scoops his money, packs his frayed box and thanks us.
« Americans, you lose. But maybe next time, you win.”

 

 

 

 

Cousins

We were young together, and then we weren’t.
We jumped off couches with shouts,
called and confided our intimacies.
We made one great trek to Europe the summer you turned sixteen,
but never took the same plane again.

We were young together, and then we weren’t.
You traded school for rubbing stranger’s backs,
and I collected trophies, scholarships, a boyfriend,
an apartment.
You chose a thirty-thousand dollar wedding and a baby.
I chose a thirty-minute subway ride in the cold.

We were young together, and then we weren’t.
You chose the Church, three more kids,
a job tacking visors onto baseball caps
in the town where you grew up.
I chose Saturdays at the shelter, weekend trips to regattas,
the short stories of Langston Hughes.

On Martha’s Vineyard, I thought of you and me,
eating gelato on the streets of Nice, after dark.
How you refused to taste my flavor, and how
I sensed, even then, that you had doomed your life, and how.
We were young together, and then we weren’t.

 

 

 

 

To My Unborn Child

Will you arrive upon an earth
without bees
to an Amazon flooded and damned,
humanity’s lungs near collapse—
World War Three the fight to breathe.
Whooping cough. Asiatic flu. Superbugs.
No antibiotics to save you.

On the day you arrive will a quake
shake Japan?
Fukushima’s grand finale—
a nation scattered across radiated seas,
tuna toxic, milk poisoned.
Local and organic, no matter.
Will your life be shorter
than mine?

If you are a girl
will the schools teach you
abstinence is the holy grail,
and if raped,
be forced to bear a child
when you are not yet an adult?
When you are a woman,
will you know sex
without fear, or shame?

If you are a boy
will you be sent to war
over clean water, arable soil,
Saudi solar power?
Or if you protest,
will I lose you anyway
to a secret prison, privatized,
in the southwestern sands?
No phone calls, no letters.

If you escape autism, leukemia,
auto-immune disorders—
the diseases of ignorance and apathy,
as humanity enters triage,
what will your life be worth then?
Or will it be worth
everything?

 

 

 

 

www.vanessablakeslee.com

 
Biography

Vanessa Blakeslee spent the first eighteen years of her life in Brodheadsville, PA. Throughout her childhood, her parents owned the Chestnuthill Diner and from the age of six she read, wrote stories, plays and poems in the restaurant’s murky basement office and upstairs corner booths. At the age of nine, she had her first experience creating her own books and giving readings for her fourth grade class, and from then on she knew she wanted to write fiction.

At Rollins College, Vanessa earned a B.A. in English and encouragement from her first writing professor, Philip F. Deaver. She continued her education at the University of Central Florida where she wrote the story collection « Bistro Girls » for her M.A. in English thesis. She worked a variety of jobs–as a waitress, bartender, model, tutor, co-author of a screenplay and university instructor. She also traveled extensively, mostly through school exchange programs which brought her to study at the University of Sydney, Australia, Birkbeck College, London, la Sorbonne, Paris, Slovenia, and at Charles University, Prague in the Prague Summer Program via Western Michigan University.

While teaching creative and expository writing classes at U.C.F. and Rollins College Vanessa earned her M.F.A. at the Vermont College of Fine Arts. At VCFA she spent intensive semesters studying craft one-on-one with authors Domenic Stansberry, Douglas Glover, Xu Xi and Robin Hemley. She is also a member of Amherst Writers & Artists, Pen America, AWP, and has attended the AWP, Grub Street, Sewanee and Bread Loaf Writers’ Conferences, among others.

Vanessa Blakeslee resides in Maitland, Florida. She recently finished her first novel and has started her second. In between novel projects she keeps busy writing short stories and poems, blogging and book-reviewing. She is also a Master-level bellydancer at Suspira’s Orlando Bellydance: School of Middle-Eastern Dance.

 

 

 

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