Jen Schneider

Hello, World

Cheese lover. Afraid of mirrors, cameras, and mice.
Subject to trauma-induced security-question password resets.
Mesmerized by puddles. Often fail to recognize myself.

The Many Shades of Baggage.

Pantry shelves lined of chipped ceramic mugs – eight and twelve ounces preferred. 
Comics – mostly Marvel. Sometimes Batman. Classics, too. 
Glass figurines – unicorns, exotic birds, and snails. Neatly ordered by date of purchase. 
Snoopy tunes. Lucy and Linus on scratched cassettes and hand me down CDs.
Brushed gold and tarnished silver stacks of foreign coins turned towers.
Ball point pens. Inspiration inked in company messaging and four-point font. 
Unsharpened No. 2 pencils, by the dozen. 
Stocked and stacked in the colorful wooden cylinders on sun-drenched windowsills.
Built by hand bookcase shelves. Installed by hand laminate kitchen counters. 
Fabric stuffed closets woven of dreams.  
Blue gingham bandanas. Red plaid skirts. 
Cardigans threaded of ocean turquoise, sandy beach beige, evergreen forests. 
Sock drawers, hand rolled and neatly organized. Striped cotton knee-highs. 
Fuzzy wools, prints, and ankle length to thigh-high stances on a world gone wrong. 
Yellow ducks, expressionless emojis, pinatas bursting of pokes and potential. 
Always believing I should 
have been born a 100-years prior. Also, a fan of prints. Black and white. Sepia. 
Abstracts. Walls are made for sharing. Life, too.
Five birds in cages. Pups on print blankets. Basketful of kittens. Cups full of kibble.
Need to pause. Adjust the frame. There, perfect. Picked this one up just yesterday. 

A State of Suspension

In windowless rooms full of limited light, artificial evergreens, stock music
tunes, and vinyl seat covers, anxiety breathes. Long, slow, and staggered.
Air puffs heavy with thoughts of all things precious – finger dust lists
as unique as the half-clothed bodies that lie on the elongated structure,
neither chair nor bed / neither supine nor prone, and wait.
Images of laughing children, some grown, some yet to be born, unplayed
Games of hide n seek, chess, even solitaire. Visions of half-baked pies
and half-eaten meals. Notions of thumbs tacks on wallpaper maps
with destinations unknown. All float in a state of suspension.
Eyes track fingers then close. Lashes brush solitary tears and fists
tighten. Ears listen. Silently count irregular pauses. Listen for voices
in hallways on opposite sides of the faux-wood door. Knobs wait
in anticipation. Records play tracks of dusty roads and romance.
Records are read. Life pauses. Future tracks, too.
Unable to focus on the future. Unable not too.

Before the fog

Before I spent the night in jail, I was an owner of a brown leather wallet that contained an up to date license. One with a picture that looked nothing like me and which I hid behind my maxed Visa card and a picture of my babies. Two boys and a girl. Always smiling. The wallet a gift from last Christmas. The photo from the morning of. Flannel pajamas and tousled hair. Eyes bright and lips the color of cherries. Three days before the first snow of the season. And before that I was a customer who paid for groceries – a bushel of red delicious, a gallon of milk, three cans of tuna in water, and a small box of milk chocolate kisses - with crisp dollars, freshly gathered from the corner ATM, and hand-picked out of said brown leather wallet. And before that I was a browser, tasting freedom, who wandered aisles in the local big box a few minutes before closing, hoping to fill the fridge and satisfy a craving for chocolate. Pushing a metal cart with squeaky wheels while I hummed tunes in line with the overhead speakers. Before that I was a driver, who turned off the ignition as she waited for green. And before that I was a singer, whose vocals quieted a noisy house and turned story time to slumber. And before that I was a mom. Simply a mom. Whose babies needed milk for the morning. One who left the house in a rush, eager to reach the market before closing time, unaware of the forecast for quick moving fog. Why then would no one believe me when the sirens turned red and I fell disoriented from the fog and I veered to the left and the officer asked for my license and I failed to find the brown leather wallet that held the bills that were used to pay for the items that I loaded into the cart that I pushed only after quieting my noisy home?

Knees kiss concrete

Broom in right hand, dustpan in left. Plastic handle taps wall as bristles grumble. Knees kiss concrete through frayed denim. Sweep glass, squashed blueberries, and cereal crumbs. The baby, nearly a teen, had fixed a cake with pantry findings. Canned fruit, boxed yellow, and sugar. Yum. We ate it together and played a game of fish. My boy first suggested war, but quickly retracted. Enough fighting. The Mr. returned soon after my last card hit the wood table and shortly before the plate would hit my shoulder. He was hungry. I quick fixed a dish of eggs but the day, my birthday, had already been scrambled. Mr. made a mess and mistook my message. More games. More fighting. I lost, again. Lesson learned, again. Salty tears dismantle, only slightly, hardened grime. Dirt piles accumulate and solidify slowly, years in the making.

Paths Taken: Dusk Turns Dangerous As Minds Crave Sleep Yet Dreams Dare And Danger Dances In A World of Dreams Where All That Was Once Right Is Now Wrong and Left Pleads Right and Split Second Decisions Turn Lives Upside Down and Dates Meet Dares and Destinies Meet Darkness And All I Long To Do Is Reset The Clock, Pause The Alarms, Pull Up The Blankets And Turn On The Lights To Silence Sadness, Longing, and Regret So That I Might Simply Remember and Relish A Time When the Night Brought Sweet Dreams.

6:04 PM: We took the steps in pairs, counting backwards from ten. Four minutes behind schedule. Thirty seconds to our oyster. An evening of food truck fare and street dancing. Concrete grids all with hidden treasures. He pulled right. I tugged left. He followed. Always. He joked. I laughed. Always. Ready. Set. Go. We were off. Hand bounced in unison. Then, unfamiliar beeps.

Baby, I’m in trouble.

Strings of letters met cold air in an altered state. Dimensions where time and space converged, then changed as letters turned words emerged from pale, water-starved lips. His voice had lost its deep, lush tone. He spoke words of another man. Maybe many. Beeps and blips punctured the air, heavy with smoke and sirens.

It’s okay. Everything’s okay.

Speech stormed then stuttered. Words uttered in a place and a time where there was no room for reason, and no chance to undo what was already done. I spoke. Again. Words of another woman. One I longed to be and become.

You’re alright. Baby, you’re alright.

Ten, nine, eight. My breath paused as his became more labored.

Hard, harder. Then nothing.

Fingers fell limp. Gold bands touched yet no music played. Muscles turned to stone as tears fell.

It’s gonna be okay.

Reality roared. Repetition

cannot turn lies to truth.

Nothing is okay.

Arms thick of weighted navy cotton grazed then grasped shoulders. Yellow tape replaced crimson lips, corduroy elbow patches, and sunny smiles.

M’am. Step back, please.

I resisted. Turned right, left. Right again. Nothing was right. My knee shifted and my skirt tore. The skirt was a gift. Bought on a whim after an afternoon of window gazing. He noticed. Always. So different from our usual budget. And my usual taste. Embroidered linen. Tiny bouquets of yellow daisies and pink roses. Two layers of lace. The image of the twinkle in his eyes as I unwrapped the red satin bow, lifted the cardboard box top, and fingered the pink and purple tissue paper a permanent etching in my mind.

He was pleased. Decades after dating, I could still make him smile without even trying.

Looking good, girl.

I smiled. He offered a long, low whistle.

We took the apartment steps by two and turned left.


Sheer cotton fabric
soaks tears
of love and loss
dandelions blossom 
and bloom 
in fields blanketed
of pen ink,
erasure stubs, and cigarette ash
Nights spent crafting
letters turned lectures
in blue and black ink.
I’d often write of wishes
to follow
to redo
to reset
to begin anew.
Then squint as I’d watch 
the lined paper
float then fall.
Up. Over. Down.
Dampness meets darkness
as the sun sets
and nothing changes.
My eyes close  
and see the world
only as I wish 
it to be.
Sleep warms my tired 
soul and nourishes
my tired mind. Pre-set
alarms now silenced.
My body bathed
In sweat that smells
of fear, I inhale. Hold
All that is precious
still in my mind 
and count. Ready.
Set. Go. Exhale. Sleep.

Counting Clues

Inside, a woman in a heavy black robe kisses a chafed hardwood floor. The fabric soaks her stray tears. A brush broom spreads dust as a paper-wrapped purple crayon bleeds in a pool of late afternoon sun. My silhouette is also on the floor. I see it, though the others appear not to. Colored paper, mostly shades of blue and green, and metal jacks form patterns and rainbows the spread across the floor. A housefly buzzes near the woman’s ear while an older couple, dressed in suits of lace and crisp linen, waltz near an undraped window. Below the windowsill, a trashcan overflows, overflowing with crumpled tissue. Nearby, a short black skirt with a stretched elastic waist drapes a body. Identity unknown. A sandwich, spinach and turkey on a Kaiser roll, sits on a small circular plate on a narrow rectangular table. My stomach rumbles. A tiny mouse, perhaps also hungry, watches silently from the far corner. Several meters over, an oak door creaks as a small child with tousled hair and a navy blue and cream gingham dress whispers through a middle crack. The voice faint and the words unclear. My own hearing not what it used to be. On the other side of the door, a hooded delivery boy holds a floral bouquet – dozens of roses in shades of reds and pinks, wrapped with ribbons of crimson berries. He looks familiar. Six – no, seven tarnished chimes graze the boy’s hood and sway as the cold wind blows. The robed woman stands up, her back bent, and she moves toward the weighted door. Her right arm rises and flicks off the porch light. The couple continues to dance while he child retreats to the room’s far left corner and resumes play with metal jacks. I am present – I see myself in the other’s shadows - yet I remain unseen and I am hungry.

Outside, snow falls in ways reminiscent of my childhood – sugar wrapped donuts and frosted corn flakes - and dusts the front walkway. Along the gravel path, a blue sedan presses up against an orange cone: the heavy plastic buckles but does not fall. An infant, clothed in a red snowsuit, sleeps in the car’s backseat. Near the path’s edge, a yellow box truck rumbles on the busy avenue. Papers rise with the wind and scatter on the concrete walkway as a small brown fox hesitates. The nearby garbage can rustles, though no one notices. A crow emerges and takes flight, child-sized denim shorts in its claws and a ripe banana lodged between its upper and lower beak. I’d wonder (perhaps) about the physics of flight and the possibility of a second banana, but there is no time. I must remain hidden. Two pairs of feet walk on the side of the road. Binoculars dangle from an arm that belongs to the legs. A man and a greyhound, nose squashed to the car window, pass. I no longer know if I am in or out. Dim yellow headlights cast a glow on dark clothed bikers – decoys, no doubt - and sirens slice air. Bare branches bounce gently as a man with a clipboard counts. Perhaps cars. Bodies, maybe. I remain unseen. The man’s fingers push keypad buttons and his boots scrape concrete as pebbles bounce on black ice. A black chihuahua yawns as a gray-haired pug laps water. More dogs, a black poodle and a brown retriever, each without collars, approach. The air quiets and their noses squeeze. An empty brown leather wallet rests on an empty bench. Once mine. Gifted on my last, now final, birthday. A hawk circles overhead. Likely also hungry.

A pledge to never repeat my past mistakes.

Fresh coats of paint – two, maybe three, shades lighter than freshly soured buttermilk – blanket the concrete walls and cover though never smother our tears. Blood and sweat, too. Toxic scents confuse nighttime visitors on scavenger hunts for food. Drink, too. Like us, rats also desire, even deserve, life. Rectangular grids turned journals – mark minutes, days, weeks, years. Square windows bathed in bars do, as well. Many bare scars. Others stream stories – missed birthdays, forgotten anniversaries, time between visits and before library cart rounds. A place we are in, neither of nor off. Not home. Not housing. Not rehabilitation. Nothing more than four walls and forty cots times two. Often more. Nothing less than eighty worlds on pause and a hundred reasons to cry.

Jen Schneider is an educator, attorney, and writer. She lives, writes, and works in small spaces throughout Philadelphia. Recent work appears in The Popular Culture Studies Journal, Toho Journal, The New Verse News, Zingara Poetry Review, Streetlight Magazine, Chaleur Magazine, LSE Review of Books, and other literary and scholarly journals.
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