Creative Writing Showcase: Winter 2019


by UChicago Arts

We are pleased to share a collection of original works from students in UChicago’s Creative Writing & Poetics program. Students at UChicago pursue creative writing within the larger context of their academic study, and they are given a rigorous background in the fundamentals of creative work by studying with established poets and prose writers. The program differs from the professional, free-standing creative writing programs at other universities in seeing itself as an integral part of UChicago’s intellectual life, and most particularly in providing opportunities for interdisciplinary work.

Wasted Instructions
by Ricky Novaes de Oliveira, fourth year student Creative Writing and Political Science

How to Waste a Picture
Nonchalantly, but with throbbing heart and ineloquent hand, pull out fake ID Hand to cashier
Flash some teeth
With focus on legality and demeanor, fail to notice the 2”x2” glossy headshot—the one
in the back wallet flap, the one Dad said to keep so you’ll always remember him,
which was confusing because he was standing right there, living and breathing
right there and why need to remember what’s right there right then right now
then—fall to the floor
Sigh relief and wish a good night
Shove receipt and fake into pocket without sorting or storing
Grab the beers and get out of there
Fail to notice the 2”x2” headshot, glossy, on the linoleum liquor store floor
Fail to notice until it’s too late, because store floors get cleaned regularly, and 2”x2”
headshots of unsmiling men usually fail to be salvaged, so that, despite their
gloss, they end up in trash cans and dumpsters and Waste Management trucks
and facilities and assembly lines and landfills, where they limbo with
who-the-hell-knows-what and decompose and lose color and no longer look like
that unsmiling man you were told to remember
Slowly forget what his face looked like

How to Waste a Title

How to Waste Sunlight
Eat breakfast (you’re running late, so just an apple) Go to work: work: repeat until Pay Day
Exchange paper for used paper, use paper in exchange
Buy cheese to eat with apple
But you’re late again, no time for cheese
You need to work again, and repeat
Apple, no cheese, work, repeat
Apple, no cheese, work, repeat
The cheese went bad last week

How to Waste a Whim
Decline the invitation to stay the night despite potential, despite desire, despite her eyes

A Brief History of Ducks
by Andrea Giugni, fourth year student in Comparative Literature and Creative Writing

The window was open when six ducks flew up to the tenth floor of our building. The six ducks lunged above the bed, a pattern of speck and gaggle. They sat, hidden under all of our furniture and settled silent. We got up and tried to find the ducks but everything was the same and you didn’t want to scare them. Some time passed and I found a green one with long strokes of gray down his mantle, lodged between the bedframe and the wall. I cradled him into my arms where he sat. More time passed before we found the rest and put them inside small, clear bins to carry them down to a lake nearby. When we released them, they swam in a perfect v-formation like larks. They paid no mind, mobile. But when I counted them in the water, there were only five ducks. The sixth duck was still upstairs in our bedroom. I was devastated. I woke up. You told me that maybe I needed to get my ducks in a row, laughing. I had a dream about suitcases once that you said was about baggage. I am afraid of being so literal. I am afraid of not being afraid. I am sure of it. I am still not past the house I grew up in. Past the clutch of brown and occasional white ducks that swam in the lake of the backyard. They demanded to be looked at, still shining from their waning coat of water. My mother hated them because they always shit on the patio and she hated cleaning the patio. My grandmother always fed the ducks bread or bananas, which my mother hated because the ducks always came back for more. The television stand at my old house held seven wooden duck figurines, hand-painted with new feathers. I could fit three of them in my small hand. My favorite was the blue duck, because I had never seen a blue duck and I thought that I would very much like to. I soothe myself by telling myself that it is not the same. That my mothering will be a different kind of mothering, that my call is a different kind of call. That my call is not a call. That my call is an apology.

Anti-Ode to this TSA Woman Touching Me Right Now
by Urvi Kumbhat, fourth year student in English and Creative Writing

Please step aside      for a moment, ma’am.
A strike at my bare feet. 
someone else exits the coffin, and 

they go on and      I am here. I have
no bomb but I wish I had 
something to mop the blood with. 

Security, security, my body is yours. 
All around me a taxonomy of luggage: 
raven black briefcase
Prada purse, two seasons ago
pink cheetah print suitcase, 
a faded fuschia trolley bag

I did not offer my body to you. 
I sacrifice at the altar of the state. I am 
grateful to be here, I am grateful to be

here, I am grateful to be he— 
each red
beep the sound of prayer. We make
a home of thanking no one.


Efficient patting down of what
is mine: widening hips, gift from
Nani in her saffron sari, making halwa. 


Dadi listening to her radio, all night-gown
pale. Milk curdles in the kitchen and
my mother waits at the airport. 


Arms, legs,       extremities, liabilities, 
risky, frisky, it’s all the same. Random. 
Your large palms find my breasts, 


and I wonder at all the people who have
touched me: 
first love, soldered kiss 
roommate’s black hair on my neck
long fingers in my petaled cunt
grandpa’s eyelashes on my cheek
angry brother, wringing my hand


My arms they stink of threat.
That I would dare enter through
your door. How could I move?


I’m not really talking to you. Silence
has made a knot of my tongue. To unfurl
it would be to release the ocean. 


Ma’am,   I’m going to have to check your hair.    
Sugarcane juice sharp, scent of jaggery,
oil of coconut and its hairy whiskers, 


bounce of endless sun, frizz of mud-soaked
earth and rain, where the stray dogs howl,
a dirty river that is still ours


— these are not words you have in mind. 
More like BIG, more like ETHNIC, more
like BROWN, more like TOO MUCH HAIR. 


Your hands are on my scalp, they orphan 
each curl, splay the parts out like a ritual killing, 
ripe for the hunt, the slow-burning touch


of nation. You’ve done this before. 
You’ll do it again. 
It’s not your fault. My hair is ruined. 

Heraclitis Goes to a Rave
by Ricky Novaes de Oliveira, fourth year student in Creative Writing and Political Science

Heraclitis Goes to a Rave by Ricky Novaes de Oliveira_Page_4.jpg

Excerpt from Star Baby
by Jacqueline Wu, fourth year student in English and Creative Writing

She wanted the mug more than she’d ever wanted anything.

It was the first thing she’d felt today, and the sensation of it, of experiencing emotion, was overwhelming. Yesterday she’d been numb from the moment she woke up to the walk to the clinic to the procedure itself—closing her eyes, spreading her legs, letting the smell of disinfectant surround her—to the Uber home after, woozy and shaking. (She’d gone by herself. She hadn’t asked Connor to go with her, and—more importantly, it seemed to her—he hadn’t offered.) It was funny, really, because in the days leading up to yesterday she’d been sick to the stomach with an almost constant low-grade nausea humming greasily in her ear. It never failed to surprise her, in an ugly way, how uncomfortable nausea was, the roiling sensation that something was wrong, something that could not be righted without a violent bodily expulsion. Not something you could just close your eyes and ignore. But then, on the day itself, she had felt nothing. Nothingness had embraced her, spooned her, coaxed her to sleep the moment she’d walked back into her apartment. She’d gotten into bed and drifted off on waves of nothingness, even though it was barely dinnertime.

This morning she’d woken up and assumed vaguely that she should have something to eat. The cereal boxes on top of the fridge were all empty—a few last cornflakes rattling sadly when she shook the box—so she’d walked to the Starbucks a block over from her apartment, the closest of the three Starbucks on her college campus. She’d meant to go to the grocery store, but it was raining, which she should have processed before she’d left her apartment but hadn’t because when she looked out the window at the grey and dismal world it felt right to her; of course it was raining. But that meant she’d left without a rain jacket so now she was standing in the Starbucks, hair and shoulders damp and steaming, ignoring the coffee and the pastries. Staring at this goddamn mug.

She wanted it so badly she had to clench her fists against the waves of yearning.

It was a tall white travel mug, ceramic, with a small design emblazoned on the front. A little boy, drawn in simple lines—dashes for his closed eyes, shaded inverted triangle for a mouth, both signaling mischievous enjoyment—and a green smear behind him like a wall, green paint on his two out-turned palms, which were held, laughingly, in bold confession, up by his shoulders.

It was twenty-five dollars. She didn’t have twenty-five dollars to spend on a fucking Starbucks mug, of all things; she’d probably drop it in the next few weeks and then her twenty five hard-earned dollars would be in the trash along with its shards.

But she couldn’t stop looking at it.

It was the star on the little boy’s shirt that transfixed her How many boys grew up wanting to be astronauts? It seemed like it was the American dream, the legacy of the Space Race and Buzz Lightyear. How was it that this laughing, carefree little boy could so completely embody what seemed to her to be the sweetness, the innocence, the color of childhood?

He was utterly different from the child she thought of in her head, when she had let herself think about it at all. The child that would remain forever unborn. Her un-baby. There were no colors in her head when she imagined her child. She pictured a little boy—for some reason, though now she would never know for sure, she had thought it was a boy— floating through the total blackness of space, the lines of his face and body traced in silver. A fetal outline limned in luminous white light. The ghost of the child that could have been, with all that he might have become, each and every one of his potential futures, twinkling around him.

Her lost little astronaut, drifting amongst the stars.

Her face was wet too. Belatedly she realized that it wasn’t because of the rain.