Jen Schneider

Rec Time

The Price is Right wouldn’t premiere 
until 1972. M*A*S*H, too. Plights persist.
Yet guests would consume processed
potatoes and play games of dollars and cents 
for decades prior. Inflation, innovation,
and self-indignation chug without care.
On rails. In airs. At markets. Of square screens.

Pantries remain stocked of tv dinners. Salisbury 
steak and mashed potatoes, 
popcorn kernels, and cheese curls as canned 
and cheesy quips continue to boil.
Freshness always a matter of perspective. Pay for tv, too.

Status seekers. Everywhere.

I’d Much Prefer You Not Touch Me At All

Commands collect like dust in locker room corners
and pencil shavings in classroom cans. Discarded 
and overlooked remnants of a system carefully crafted
by design and decades of textbook tradition. 
Regulation playbooks everywhere. 
Touchdowns and touch-ups, too.
Smile. Don’t blink. Don’t speak. Listen.
Smile. Don’t blink. Don’t speak. Listen.
Comb your hair. Tame stray strands.
Tuck in tummies. Add color. 
Not too bright. Not too dark.
All in moderation, of course. 
Don’t blush. Choose shadows.
Not too dark. Not too light. 
Only what we say is just right. 
Conceal cleavage. Reveal teeth.
All in a row. Pick polish. Don’t pick. 
Let clear lacquers lie. 
Don’t lie. Don’t slump.
Shoulders back / not bare.
Look nice. Not naughty.
Define nice. 
Define naughty.
Not for nothing. 
Review regulations.
Resist temptations. 
Ready? Set. Go.
Yes, Sir. 

Sir, I fail to fathom or find a pattern to the proposed regulations 
that is anything other than indiscreet. Why, Sir, are speedos 
and spikes considered trendy. Lycra leaves little room
for imagination, Sir. Yet, you’d imagine my choices
would leave less to inspire. I am a person, Sir. 

Why, Sir, are low-cuts and cleavage consider unworthy
while buzz-cuts and bricolage sublime.
Do you see me, Sir. I am a person. 
A person of pride and preference. A person of passions 
and peculiarities. A person who prefers to dress by personal 
design rather than by disparate determinations. 

I believe I understand, Sir. Your system works
by design and as intended. With rules that regulate
with intention. By all intents and purposes,
I declare if not demand a review of persistent
regulations. You need not extend your hand
for I wish not for a shake. I wish not for a redo, a reup, 
or a touch-up, either. Touché, you say. Perhaps. 
When in fact, I’d much prefer you not touch me at all. 

Do you hear me, Sir? Do you see me, Sir?
I am a person and I’d much prefer
you recall, repurpose, and repocket
your touch-ups and touchdowns.
Your refunds and reviews, too.
Bury them deep in the ground if I may.
For I’d much prefer you not touch me at all. 

The Radio Dial

Did you ever wake from a dream in a cold sweat and turn on the radio — to 99 point anything – just to hear the sound of another human’s voice? A voice of calm and reason. This is ____ reporting on behalf of ____. A voice of substance and knowledge. Scientists report a success rate in approximately 36% of cases. A voice that reports on facts with a detached, objective perspective – At approximately 5 PM yesterday, a tornado touched ground in the downtown area of the city. At this time, injuries are unknown, though expected. I have not. Yet. Though I might. Soon. Especially tonight. If the nightmares return. Or another tornado. Because on radio news hour just this afternoon, the broadcaster reported on a recent study where the human voice was found to be a calming device in over 80% of cases. And 80% is much higher than 36%. Like the scientists, I’ve been scoring at around 36% lately. And that same reporter spoke of the importance of sleep, too. Sleep is one of the most important components of one’s well-being. However, upwards of 86% of adults struggle to sleep. And 86% is higher than 80%. And I fall into that 86% category. Averaging anywhere from three to six hours. It’s no surprise, really. It’s a super majority. And the majority of the time I spend asleep, I wish I were awake. Scientists don’t know how to treat nightmares. Nor do they know what causes them. I do. It’s grief. I’d venture to say grief is a culprit in upwards of 90% of all nightmares. At least mine. Lack of sleep, too. Because a lack of sleep can cause grief. And grief can cause a lack of sleep. And radio dials become self-fulfilling prophecies where the more the dial turns to the right, the more the voices drone. And the more the voices drone, the more awake one becomes.

Until the dial is denied the space it needs to grow. And the mice grow to fill the space remaining. The mice know my patterns and I know theirs. And neither set of patterns can persist.

And so, when I ask if you’ve ever woken from a dream in a cold sweat and turned on the radio dial, just to hear the sound of another human’s voice, what I really ask is should I. And now that we’ve had this conversation, my initial inclination to comply with the voices on the radio is now in question. The voices speak of super majorities, yet I’d prefer to claim — perhaps reclaim — small spaces in small pockets of air. Pockets of shapes only I can call home. Tiny puffs of commuter rail steam. Hot dogs in crescent roll blankets. Pizza pockets. Cream puffs. Wet Kleenex in denim pockets. Because grief takes both shape and shapes. And often those shapes are not mine. Not yours, either. But theirs. And the radio is always ON. Reports of delays at… Even when the dial is set to volume 1. And even when the power is set to OFF. The voices continue. And so even though I know I can turn on the radio, I will not. Instead, I will turn on my side and fluff my pillow and face the wall. The one I’ve built up around me as others speak of the many shapes of grief.

And in the quiet of the night, I will sketch my own shapes, recreate my own smile, with my own fingers, on my own dials, on my own wall — until I see a shadow of myself. Whether under the layers of hand glued wallpaper — 1970s unicorns, 1980s sheet music, 1990s tie dye. Whether in the mirror — octagonal, rectangular, oval. Fingered smudges in steamy glass. Or in the clouds. Just beyond the rainbow. The one with the pot on the other side. Bright puffs of _smoke/steam/smiles_. In the stars that twinkle. The constellations, too. Hercules dances while Cepheus nods. Draco stretches while Ursa Minor nods. I know they’re there. My smile, too. Somewhere.


I had become too focused on the radio. Breaking news. An altercation. Without thinking, I pressed the brake — harder than I meant to. The light had turned — with no warning. The car in front of me puffed out a whirl of smoke. Exhaust fumes. They seemed surprised — Hello world. It’s a pleasure to make your acquaintance — and then the back lights beamed.

The radio droned ON. The car moved ON. The world moved ON.

The fumes and I both lingered. A small blue bird — no larger than the size of my palm - landed on the front antenna. It chirped. Its beak no larger than the size of the radio dial. Its sound — ON. Pure. Simple. Beautiful. We shared a smile.

Clazie’s on the Clock

Clazie woke before the rest of us most days. Before the alarms, too. Said she’d always been a morning person.

“Good thing”, she’d say. “Babies rise early.”

“One less thing to worry about,” we’d reply - like clockwork. Clazie was as predictable as the rest of us. Patterns everywhere.

Clazie knew she was expecting before anyone would listen. Her cycle always clockwork and the clock broke, she explained.

We all laughed. Then cried. Then planned. Wristwatches weren’t allowed. Not wall clocks, either. We had grown to temper all expectations.

“Broken clocks everywhere,” Hattie mused.

“Brokenness everywhere,” Maddie followed.

In the end, Clazie prevailed. She convinced the guards and an appointment was scheduled. Tests were run. Hypotheses were confirmed. Clazie was with child and the rest of us were with Clazie.

We’d joke, but in all reality none of us could hide our excitement. We all took to mothering Clazie. We long ago gave up on getting mothered ourselves. With so many natural instincts stifled in the most unnatural ways, Clazie offered us something priceless. Purpose.

Days turned to weeks like clockwork — for the most part. Clazie’s cheeks flushed. Her cuisine expanded. Portion sizes and an extra vitamin, too. Ultimately, her girth responded. Turns out joy can bloom most anywhere.

We’d take turns talking to the baby. Each of us had a theory — the more varied the voices, the better; music mattered most; avoid early arrivals — at all costs. Most of all, avoid Here.

Clazie listened carefully. Clazie consumed carefully. Clazie questioned, too.

“Should I eat more greens?” “Are jumping jacks safe?” “Should we name her Joy?”

Claize had been going for regular visits and all visits had been regular. As far as we could tell, Claize and baby Joy were coming along just fine.

Only, we couldn’t tell much, and no one told us much of anything.

At approximately 6 AM this morning, Clazie was called out of our cell. She brushed, cleaned, and complied. Like she always does.

The girls all roused and rose, then wished her well. “You’ve got this, Clazie.” “We’ll be waiting.” “Don’t take too long.” “Can’t wait for your Joy.”

Even at 6 AM the girls found ways to mix humor with hard concrete and weave in scents of home.

After morning routines, we waited. Then we waited some more.

After we got tired of waiting we turned to worrying. Clazie was as much ours as theirs.

Neither Clazie nor the joyful news we’d been waiting for returned. Instead, a special meeting was called at the top of the dinner hour. By then, we were not only hungry for news, we were famished.

Clergy came in and spoke in hushed whispers. Guards shuffled nearby. This was not routine.

Ultimately, a woman in green scrubs approached. Her right eye twitched as she spoke. Her left foot tapped to an unfamiliar beat. She had been in the room when Clazie ran into trouble. She told us what she saw.

“Clazie delivered a baby girl earlier today. The child is approximately 6 pounds. Just shy of 18 inches, I believe.”

Collective cheers erupted.

“There’s joy in this world, after all,” Mabel stood and sang.

The woman raised her right hand and the guards blew their whistle.

Everyone quieted and sat.

“There were some complications. Clazie ran into some trouble. She lost a lot of blood.”

I heard several girls catch their breath. Mabel stood back up. No one told her to sit.

“What kind of trouble?” Mabel asked.

More girls followed. “What kind of trouble?” Decibel levels rose. Fear was palpable.

The guards took two steps forward and the woman said she had nothing more to share.

Mabel wasn’t having it. Not the others, either. Several girls stood at once, begging for answers.

“Don’t come here just to say nothing; where’s Clazie?”

I heard the sound of the slap at the same time I saw Mabel move towards the woman.

The guards quickly pulled her arms back. She rallied — swaying from right to left. Again. Mabel broke free of the guard’s grip.

“Where’s Clazie,” her voice like thunder. Loud. Sharp. Angry.

Sirens rang. Bodies shifted and my thoughts were jumbled.

Mabel was on the floor. She screamed and the guards cuffed her.

I craved Clazie and a small bit of joy.

I reached out my arm and wriggled my fingers. Mabel was out of reach. Joy, too.

More alarms rang and orders poured through overhead speakers. Lock down.

We all complied. And cried.

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.

Jen Schneider is an educator, attorney, and writer. She lives, writes, and works in small spaces throughout Philadelphia. She is a Best of the Net nominee. Her 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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