Plain China

A Dictionary

Nicole Lynn Redinski · Susquehanna University

words (English): Units of language, consisting of one or more spoken sounds or their written representation that function as a principal carrier of meaning. Language learning begins in the womb, and an eavesdropping baby can start picking up language once hearing is developed, at around seven months. Newborns can already comprehend speech patterns—which essentially means that ever since I was born, I’ve been taking in words, their meanings and values.

Concatenation, n.

Keziah Weir · Bard College

A man in Australia named Charles Bliss published a three-volume work of what he hoped would become a universal sign language. War and destruction, he believed, come from the misuse and degradation of words. People take real, good words and repurpose them to excuse and promote abominable acts. People are reduced to non-lives. Numbers. Things.

Arsenic Possibilities

Aleah Goldin · University of Pittsburgh

I paid 20 dollars for a box of blueberries. I never ate them. They sat in a cupboard for a week, until Susan pitched them in the garbage at 4 a.m. She said she could smell them in her dreams. The smell could have been the black mold growing in the bathroom. The mold looked just like the cap Mama’s Boy had been wearing the first day I meet him. It grew above the shower spout. I didn’t rinse the shampoo out of my hair when I saw it. The thought of Mama’s Boy made me wrap myself in a towel, rock back and forth, eat six Kit-Kat bars from the medicine cabinet, and bite my lip until it bled juice.


Anders Nienstaedt · St. Olaf College · Nonfiction Prize Winner

The New Yorker runs the article my sophomore year in college. The days are getting shorter, and my right knee is moving like it has a loose bolt in it somewhere. The muscles of my right leg have atrophied back up toward my hip because I’ve been limping, and I’ve been limping because I pushed a knee sprain until it became something else. These things are circular. You hurt, then you hurt from the limp.

Smiling At Serious Things: An Evening With Dave King

Robert O'Connell · Grinnell College

Drummer and bandleader Dave King mouths the word “poem” to his bandmates, indicating “You Can’t Spell ‘Poem in Concrete’”—another clumsily named King original—and the song begins. Guitarist Erik Fratzke strums major chords, bassist Adam Linz thumps along in step, and King ticks a plain, straight-eighth beat, culminating in a staple of his style, a stick smacked against the snare on the final quarter note before the melody arrives that doesn’t bounce back but is held there against the skin, smothering the sound. When tenor saxophonist Brandon Wozniak’s lilting melody begins, King leans back and slaps at his instruments with measured abandon.

Dario the Impressario

Olivia Auerbach · Bennington College

In the heart of Chianti lies Panzano, a small, charmingly antiquated, unquestionably Tuscan village. One of the inhabitants of Panzano is Dario Cecchini, the most famous butcher in Italy and, arguably, the world. His store, Antica Macelleria Cecchini, lies to the right of the cobblestone square and is a culinary Mecca for anyone with a penchant for meat. Dario has been a close friend of my family ever since my parents bought a home near Panzano. He always greets each one of us with a lung-collapsing hug and never forgets to kiss my father right on the lips.


Rich Hoyt · Boston College

As children, we worshipped Home, wild and reckless. Armed with markers and crayons, we scribbled manic hieroglyphs on its canvas walls. Relished the soft, flowing pressure of our graffiti.


Dana Diehl · Susquehanna University · Nonfiction Prize Winner

When you peel back the skin of the dead lab rat, it’s like stripping the rind of an orange. You can smell the preservation chemicals, a sweet, over-ripe-fruit smell, and it stings the back of your nose.


Scott Griffin · University of South Florida

Beau, who lives on my couch, attempts to step out of my car and into waves of heat dancing in the dirt parking lot in front of our duplex. Closer in size to a bear than a man, he has to fight to climb up and out of my mother’s old red Dodge Intrepid with the yellow racing stripe down the side. He shades his eyes from the summer sun and looks at me through the windshield with impatient eyebrows. We’re home early from the diner where we work. He gives up on me while I’m still rolling up the windows and sticking to the driver seat.

World Peace Hotel

Georgina Parfitt · Harvard University

I thought I would have something on her, this nun. I thought that being out in the world, spending my time not with my eyes closed, wearing pants, watching television, would give me something that she didn’t have. But now she’s coming slowly down the hall and I’m smiling already, far too soon, giving myself away. And now breathe out all negative thoughts in the aspect of thick black smoke, out into the sky, where they will disappear, never to return again.

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