Photography: greenhouse


This greenhouse is part of a larger business that belongs to a friend of my father’s. It is currently non-operational and has been abandoned and up for sale for the last couple of years.

I can still remember watching them hunt snapping turtles in the summer and terrorizing the waterfowl on their small cattail choked pond when I was a kid. In the winters, we would wait for it to freeze over so that we could go ice skating. Skates were put on in one of the shuttered greenhouses; it was always so cold that my fingers would turn white and stop working. I have a vivid memory of my skate held carefully between my father’s knees as he laced them up for me one of those times my fingers became useless. My skates belonged to my mother when she was younger. They were a sort of roughed up, fuzzy old leather and I had used white shoe polish to try and make them look better. They had these ridiculous homemade pink pom-poms tied through the laces down at the toe and gave terrible ankle support.

When I got older, I worked a summer at the greenhouse when they were still running wholesale alongside their newly opened on-site store. I was always selected to pull flats of tomatoes, partly because their green house was short and so hot and humid it felt like there was no air to breathe, but also because I could drop down and sit cross-legged, scoop up several trays so they ran down the length of both arms, and smoothly stand up without losing my balance.

The guy who ran the place was always hatching the craziest schemes; my favorite was the one where he was going to have these fancy gardens in the middle of everything with peacocks living in them. The gardens never happened, but the peacocks did; they lived in a large shed towards the back with a huge chicken-wire wrap pen. They smelled and were absurdly loud, but the two females were nice enough; the male was kind of a jerk.

As the years have passed, age and economy made the place more than they could handle. It’s a rather typical farm sort of story: the kids don’t want to take it over, 24/7/365 is too much for the owners, and no one wants to buy it. So it sits there. The sheeting is ripping off of the two greenhouses that have managed not to collapse, and though plants grown up from seeds that were scattered still pop up and flower here and there, it is literally just a shell of what it was. Every time I see it, I have all these weird complex emotions about where I grew up, and what is happening to the space that I once knew as it becomes something new to which I have no connection.

S&R Poetry: “Eyebrows,” by Elizabeth Ballou

and they say that’s how Brooke Shields landed
the 1980 spring issue of Vogue, after all –
before those eglantine eyes made her
a tabloid queen,
it was her brows
that floored the likes of Thierry Mugler
and Azzedine Alaïa:
those martial, luscious supercilia,
cutting across her forehead like
two thick rows of Idaho barley
in a pas de deux of susurrations,
two bisecting tire tracks
of a Ford trundling down backcountry roads,
or the lost brushstrokes of
Da Vinci’s masterwork.

nowadays we box and pin them
into draconian arches
or the flat lines of an electrocardiogram.
we beat them away with hot wax.
we trim them each morning in a ritual
as sure and constant as cleaning teeth.

sometimes I dream of putting away my tweezers
and letting my eyebrows jut together like the ‘v’
of far-off birds
in a five year-old’s landscape.
I think that maybe Frida Kahlo,
with her palm leaves and hummingbirds
and pomegranate-red lips,
had the right idea after all.

let us take again the case of Miss Shields,
legs encased in Calvin Klein blue jeans like
the two forks of a river delta
and those eyes like lighthouse beacons
and those voluptuous oak-branch eyebrows
which, my god, could just drive a person

Vivan las cejas, Miss Kahlo might say.
Long live those brows.


Elizabeth Ballou is in her first year at the University of Virginia. Her work has appeared in the Claremont Review, Crashtest, the Adroit Journal, and Polyphony H.S., among others. In 2011, she was the recipient of the New York Life Award for her short fiction.

Oscar Pistorius and the heart of South Africa’s violent society

It was about 3am when the noise of a car being stealthily driven down the drive awakened him from slumber. Fearing that criminals were attempting to invade, he drew his firearm and shot at the vehicle.

When Rudi “Vleis” Visagie looked inside he saw that he had shot his daughter, Marlè, in the head. She died instantly.

Marlè had been sneaking out quietly to surprise her boyfriend for his birthday.

The tragedy convulsed South Africa back in 2004. Visagie was one of South Africa’s minor celebrities, an ex-Springbok rugby player, and the story was an all-too-common and all-too-horrifying reminder that South Africa has become the place where far too few people die of old age.

“Who killed her?” asked the five-year-old daughter of an acquaintance upon being told that her granny had died. That she could have died of old age and natural causes never occurred to the little girl.

South Africa’s population is 50 million, about 16% of the United States’. Despite this – and as violent as the US is – in absolute numbers, almost as many people die in gun-related homicides in both countries. 17 people per 100,000 die by gun-fire, five times that of the US.

That isn’t even the worst of it.

It is estimated that over 40% of South African women will be raped in their lifetime and that only 1 in 9 rapes are reported. It is also estimated that 14% of perpetrators of rape are convicted in South Africa.

“I’m tired and sore,” said Anene Booysen, then she closed her eyes and, very quietly, died. She was 17.

On Friday, 8 February, Anene had been out with friends in a bar in the small Western Cape Town of Bredasdrop. Sometime in the small hours of the morning she was gang-raped.

That wasn’t all, so skip this paragraph if you are not prepared for this level of brutality. Her arms, legs and fingers were broken. Her throat was sliced open. She was disembowelled and her guts ripped out. She survived long enough to identify one of her attackers; an ex-boyfriend and close family friend.

The violence in South Africa is so overwhelming, so ubiquitous, that it takes a lot for it to make news. The death of a celebrity helps; Lucky Dube, one of the world’s most successful reggae musicians, was murdered during a hijacking as he dropped his children off at school. Just last week the CEO of Chrysler South Africa, Trent Barcroft, was shot during a robbery.

But such attacks are too common to make the news that often.

The brutality of the crimes is sometimes so appalling that it is almost unbelievable. In February 2012, a 78-year old woman, Johanna Moore, was tied up, tortured with a hot clothes iron, and then beaten to death in her home in Dullstroom, Mpumalanga.

Rich, poor, politically-connected and socially isolated: everyone is a potential victim. Neither is it clear that the political elite have much interest, or credibility, in reducing crime. The president, Jacob Zuma, has survived a rape trial and numerous charges of corruption. The previous two heads of the police are both, independently, in jail after being found guilty of corruption and racketeering.

The violence of the crime begets a nervous and easily volatile populace. Large gatherings of people protesting legitimate grievances – such as poor public services, low pay, or lack of security – can quickly become horrific tragedies.

The Marikana miner’s strike, in which 47 people were killed by police, made the international press. There have been such protests almost continuously, although with less loss of life, but people have still been killed.

It is against this context – of a terrified and defensive people – that the awful events of the morning of 14 February, when Oscar Pistorius allegedly shot his girlfriend, Reeva Steenkamp, took place.

We have, at this time, insufficient facts to know what actually happened. However it works out though, a deliberate murder or a terrifying case of mistaken identity, if it weren’t for the fame of the protagonist it would just be another invisible statistic in South Africa’s ongoing struggle with anarchy.