Cottonwood Seeds en Route: I. Violet Caligos

Each section is based on the Oxford English Dictionary’s word of the day from January, 2020.

This is the first entry in Cottonwood Seeds en Route.

I. Newelty, n. and adj.

“A new job,”
Mom said,
“back where I grew up.”

She was so excited, I hid
my apprehension.

The thing about new houses
in new developments
is they creak and grown
like ghosts
making sure everything checks out.

I’m afraid
of losing my friends,
of starting a new school,
of ghosts following me here.

II. Psychohistory, n.

Our Civic rattled down
the road that had all the stores on it—
Meridian, I think it’s called?
Every couple blocks, my mom
would sigh or smile

“Violet,” she said
as we approached a stoplight
by a construction site.
“There used to be a park there.
Well, when I say ‘park,’
I mean a field
we would play in after school.
my best friend, Sidney,
got her hoodie stuck on a branch inside a blackberry bush,
and she cried and cried when she got out,
because she tore the seam
along her shoulder—“

Her chuckling tapered as she looked at
where the wooden skeleton stood.
A yellow bulldozer
ripped remnants of green grass,
added to a mound of soil
by a neon-orange, plastic barrier.

“Uhh… Mom? The light’s green.”
I tapped her elbow.

“Oh. Right.”
She blinked,
shook her head like escaping a spiderweb,
drove away.

III. Quadrantid, n. and adj.

my bedroom door.
on the twin mattress in the corner.
in cardboard air.
at the wall of boxes across the room.

about what Maya is doing now.
anyone notices my absence anyway.
my trembling ribs.
at the wall of boxes across the room.

IV. Contemperament, n.

They stand
along the side of the road
at the end of our neighborhood
waiting for the bus.

Thick jackets under grey sky,
no faces.
Put my hands in my pockets,
look at the white paint on the ground,
splotches chipped from its face.

The bus arrives with a screech.
We climb in
like telepathic instructions were given.
An open seat
near the front—
I claim it, lean my head
against the cool metal window frame.
The other seat remains empty.

V. Clabbydoo, n.

At some point,
the dashes of the road become a blurred line.
I can feel the distance grow.
I’ve never thought about
how weird driving is,
how strange it is to float above the ground.

The bus fizzles away,
the housing, floor, seats, other people,
until it’s just me,
the wind hitting my dangling legs,
the wet concrete flying by.
I feel like I’m about to fall forward,
roll like a ball down the road.

I gasp for air, and it’s gone;
the bus and the hum of students returns.
I hug my knees to my chest,
count the blue cars we pass.

VI. Basta, int.

you are alone
you will always be alone
they will hate you here
just like all the others

no no no no
it’s only your first day
it’s fine it’s fine
it’s fine
get off the bus

VII. Mocotaugan, n.

“So, what’s your name?”

“Uhh… Violet.”

“Cool! I’m Crystal. I’ll be showing you to your classes today to help you get used to the building. Your first class is… shop? Did you have that at your last school?”

“Uhh… no… Can I change that? Table saws seem scary.”

“Oh, don’t worry about that. The big saws are for the upper-level classes. In the intro class, you mostly sand and maybe whittle with some fancy knives.”

“… They trust students with knives?”

“Well, they’re not like switchblade-knives. They’re using these weird knives with a crooked handle right now; Mr. Anderson’s husband is an anthropology professor at TCC, so he likes to bring some cultural studies and history into the projects and stuff. It’s way cooler than some generic birdhouses.”


“You should try it before you jump right out. Plus, the semester ends in like three weeks, so you can choose whether you want to stay or transfer into choir or yearbook or whatever. Mr. Anderson’s really cool though— Ugh. Class is about to start. His room is right over here by the art room. I’ll be back at the end of the period to take you to… algebra, alright?”

“Yeah. Thank you.”

VIII. Altricial, adj.

Crystal walks away,
waves at someone going into the band room,
probably relieved
to not be around me anymore.

Entering the shop room feels like being transported
into the middle of that intersection in Shibuya
that’s in every anime—
more people than I can count
walking in every direction
carrying blocks of wood, sandpaper, clamps.

They bring walls of sound with them
that close in around me, linger
like the hum of electricity pulsing through lightbulbs.

It’s hot
for January, but
I’m the only one sweating.
It’s loud;
my ears start to hurt.
How is there no air in this room?

“Hello, good morning. You must be Violet; you can call me Mr. Anderson. Are you alright? Coming into the class at this point in the year can be a bit overwhelming. Do you need a minute? I have some earmuffs behind my desk—

“Take a walk down to the water fountain at the end of the hall that way, take a drink if you need, then come back; I’ll get them started on their projects and bring the muffs here for you when you get back.

“It’s alright. We’ll figure this out together.”

IX. Herky-Jerky, adj.

Around two weeks ago,
I laid in bed,
watched my alarm clock start a new day.
It contained
the same strained muffles from the floor below
as yesterday.
I could hear them, but not understand
most of the words.
Mostly, vowel sounds made it through,
some harsher, shorter,
a breath between each sound.
He said her first name,
all three syllables, and she yelled.

A vibration climbed the staircase;
my door slammed open.
My mom rushed to my bed, frantic, sputtered,
“Violet. Get up.
We’re going to stay with your grandma
in Puyallup.”

X. Johnny Appleseed, n.

“Around two years ago, I had a student on the autism spectrum. They struggled a lot with writing, talking, most interaction, really; they excelled at crafts though, it was their outlet. So, their guardians decided to try to put them in shop.

“The intro class is mostly sanding, some whittling— Crystal brought you here, right? She had this class last year, she tell you this already? My apologies—

“Anyway, things were going well at the beginning. I had to learn how to read their nonverbal cues, their work. That was, until we had to carve. A student at the table behind them slammed their block on the table to surprise their neighbor. It overstimulated the student with autism— sensory sensitivity is often comorbid with autism.

“It was a clumsy oversight on our part; no denial. Their eyes welled up with tears, swiveling their eyes between me and the door, trying desperately to hold a scream. I could see the strain in their face, feel all the ropes in their muscles tighten.

“I took them into the hallway, walked them down to a quiet room with Ms.Ruiz to decompress, as was the protocol in their IEP.

“I needed to figure out how to help this kid stay in my room; they were excited for shop, their guardians were excited for it, Ms. Ruiz was excited for it— this was the best outlet for this kid.

“I realized that we had a bunch of these ear muffs for the seniors who used the power tools, but we don’t use them at all in the intro class, they just sit in a bin at the back. Plus, this kid couldn’t be the only one who is going to react this way to the noise level that’s bound to happen here. So, I took a couple pairs and kept them by my desk to be used for times like that. As soon as the option came up, multiple students asked for them. Their focus improved. Their work improved. The room felt— calmer. Calm for a shop class anyway.

“That’s why I had these ready for you, Violet. That’s why there’s another pair on the wall behind my desk. That’s why the pair I gave you say ‘Taylor.’

“So we never forget to think about the needs of those around us.”

XI. Schmick, adj.

The rest of the morning was a blur
(thank Ms. Hendrix’s word of the day board)
by Mr. Anderson’s shop class.

Crystal found me sitting in the hallway,
ear muffs on, alone.
Mr. Anderson had to go back to his class, but checked on me when he could.

She helped me up, asked what happened.
I felt embarrassed— a fussy infant.
She asked if I wanted to talk to a counselor;
I shook my head.

“You should sit with my friends and me at lunch.
I know I’m biased, but trust me, you’ll like them.
That is, if Isabella can look up from her Physics
textbook long enough. That nerd.”

XII. Amour Courtois, n.

The commons has
the electricity of a battlefield.
Crystal brings me to a table with
four girls:
one scrolling through something on her phone;
one poring over a physics textbook;
one chuckling at a book called Candide;
one painting a miniature of a knight,
sword and shield in hand.

“Suri, I don’t get
how you can paint here,” Crystal laughs.

She sets the knight down gently,
the brush eased onto a napkin,
exhales through her nose,
then her brown eyes rise to meet ours.
“It’s about control, Crys.
It’s meditative,
Kordra needs a dope helm to woo their prince.”

XIII. Manducate, v.

“How was your first day?” Mom asks,
placing two bowls of tomato soup on the kitchen table.

I open the drawer next to the oven,
take out two spoons.
It was a lot.
The classes are way bigger
than they were in Sequim.”
Two paper napkins between my fingers,
I fill a glass with water in the sink.

“Puyallup is a bigger place;
more people
out here. I’m sure you’ll get used to it.
Did you make any friends?”
She places her phone
face down across the table from her seat.

“It’s not that easy, Mom.
I can’t just make friends in a day.”
I blow on a spoonful of soup to cool it, take a sip,
realize then how hungry I am,
realize then how I didn’t eat all day.

So warm.

“They assigned a girl to show me around today.
She seems really nice,
her friends too.”

XIV. Musophobist, n.

I didn’t realize yesterday, but Nadine—
one of Crystal’s friends at lunch—
is in my English class.
I ask if I can sit next to her.
She nods,
looks at the board, sighs.

“Ugh. I hate poetry.
Such pretentious
nonsense. Purposefully esoteric
to feel superior
when readers don’t get it.
Random line
breaks to
some deeper meaning.

“I thought you liked reading. You couldn’t put down Candide yesterday.”

“No. Candide is different.
Stories are straight-forward.
They tell you what’s going on,
and it makes sense.
If it doesn’t, it’s confusing and bad.

is always confusing and bad.”

XV. Ambagical, adj.

Violet Caligos
Ms. Hendrix
Symbol Poem

A cottonwood seed floats on the breeze, searching earth, searching for a place to land. A cottonwood seed floats in the wind, tossed tossed tossed by the gusts. A cottonwood seed tumbles, land then sky then land then sky. A cottonwood seed follows a current away from what it knows, away and alone. A cottonwood seed lands in a field, overgrown grass all around it. A cottonwood seed digs into the Earth, something familiar, a new home. A cottonwood seed sings to itself as it waits for tomorrow.

XVI. Prescind, v.

Maya!!!! I miss you so much!! People here are just not the same. They’re nice and stuff, but my classes are HUGE! My english class has 42 kids in it! Plus, there’s no one I can talk to about the Good Place! Did you see the last episode?! I don’t even get their memes here! Anyways, how have you been? I know it’s only been a couple weeks, but it feels like FOREVER since I got to talk to you!


XVII. Contempo, adj.

Back in eighth grade,
back in Sequim,
Maya and I
had the same US history class.

It was December
when they taught us
about the three branches of government.
It was the month after Trump was elected
when they taught us
about checks and balances, the amendments.

Maya asked a lot of questions.
Our teacher stumbled through her what-ifs.

I remember
hearing snickers from the back of the room
when she asked how impeachment works.
I remember
the teacher drawing diagrams
to stall, to scan their words for bias before answering.

I wonder,
as I grab a copy of today’s Seattle Times
from the stack by my school’s entryway,
if Maya is following the process too.
I wonder,
as I wave at Crystal sitting by Isabella
at one of the common’s tables,
if Maya is still asking questions.

XVIII. Telegenic, adj.

Walking through Emerald Ridge’s hallways
is intimidating.
Not just in the a-lot-of-people way,
but in a how-they-dress way.

Their clothes fit
their bodies and personalities
like they all had to pass an aesthetics class
or they all got Tan-Franced.

My clothes are
the first shirt and leggings I find
in the clean pile
with my mom’s high school track hoodie.

XIX. Schlockbuster, n.

I walk up to the table,
put the paper in front of an open chair.
Isabella looks up from her phone.
Her phone punctuates my name,
collapsing onto the table
from her open hand.
“Have you seen The Last Skywalker yet?”

“Good morning to you too?
Haven’t seen it yet,
no time.”
I take off my backpack,
tuck it under the table,

Crystal sighs.
“She saw it last night
and has not stopped talking about it.

“You hush.
Yes, the science is bad,”
she eyes her physics textbook,
“We know about the parsecs.
Yes, the story is haphazard.
Yes, the galaxy doesn’t make sense.

“But look
at what those hundreds of humans made.
Think about
the collective effort and talent
poured into that spectacle.
It’s a miracle.”

XX. Scripophilist, n.

Time feels like it moves slower
when you move to a new place.
Learning new people, places,
memorizing every face.

So these few weeks feel like years,
and Maya’s absence echoes.
I reread our old emails
and scroll through our old photos.

XXI. Downtick, n.

a cold front comes in,
drags in a blanket of clouds.
then the snow comes,
my shadow vanishes
in the scattered light.

hard to talk to anyone
with roads iced over,
layers of jackets
protecting fragile bones.
maybe i’ll just lay here and sleep.

XXII. Ambergris, n.

In the morning, the kitchen is filled
with her perfume
as she bags a sandwich, slides it in my backpack.
It takes me back to

a month ago, when the dining room had
three placemats.

Now, she talks about
making a soup in a crockpot on Sunday
to portion out through the week.
She rubs her eyes, yawns,
wishes me a good day at school.

XXIII. Brussen, adj.

Crystal invites me over to study
for our civics test
on the Boldt Decision.
Her house has two stories,
matching furniture.
She shows me to the living room,
then helps her sister
start her math homework in the dining room.
Some complaints
about letters being in math
echo off the portrait-covered walls.

Her parents
offer to let me stay for dinner.
Her dad
gets a pizza from Papa Murphy’s on his way home.
They all
sit at the dining room table
when it’s ready.

XXIV. Apaugasma, n.

Large waves as cars splash
through the parking lot
trying to go home.
Bright gray sky reflects off darkened concrete.

Crystal told me 
trying to drive home within a half hour after school
wasn’t worth it;
Emerald Ridge sits on a dead end off a dead end—
only one road out for 1400 students.
So, I sit on a bench
under the covered walkway by the gym,
watch the parking lot empty,
until she’s done interviewing
a teacher for something in the yearbook.

Ripples flow across the clouds in the sidewalk,
blurry with constant rain,
bright as stage lights.
The gray swirls and low hum all around—
feels like I go somewhere else.

Don’t notice Suri’s face appear,
don’t realize she says, “Hello,”
until she sits by me.
“Waiting for Crys?” She asks,
opening her sketch book
to start shading a half-drawn knight.

“Yeah. She’s giving me a ride home,” I say,
rubbing my hoodie’s cuff between
my thumb and forefinger.

XXV. Boerekos, n.

Suri closes her book on her pencil,
exhales through her nose,
then digs in her backpack
for a bag of Flaming Hot Cheetos.

“I don’t know what to do about Kordra,”
she says between Cheetos,
tilting the bag in my direction.
“I can’t figure their armor out.”

I take a Cheeto.
“I don’t know much about— heraldry?
But, wouldn’t his kingdom have a crest or
color scheme that all the knights wear?”

“Their kingdom; Kordra’s non-binary,
which is why they got kicked out of the
kingdom’s training camp. It’s why
they work to be so strong, to be the best.”

I pause to think.
“So, Kordra wouldn’t be able to use
the kingdom’s crest,
because THEY got kicked out of there?”

“Like Kordra would want to use
their lame eagle crest anyway.
Those fools didn’t want them—
Kordra’s too good for them anyway.”

Suri’s getting heated, almost yelling.
She stops to breathe, eat three Cheetos.
I say, “They could use Cottonwood then?
A white and green palette, renewal?”

XXVI. Cockaigne, n.

Our bench feels like an island
surrounded by torrents of rain—
protected, somehow, and warm.

Suri shows me
more of the sketches in her book,
always quick to say
what’s bad about them
(they look great to me).

Lulls in our conversation come
when she has an idea,
has to write it down or draw it.

Crys finds us,
tells us about her interview with
the coach of the girls basketball team.
She asks if Suri needs a ride home.
She asks if I’m ready to go.

I see Crystal’s writing; Suri’s art;
Isabella and Nadine; how welcoming they all are;
and feel like this is all too good for me.

XXVII. Boojum, n.

I’ve looked at the
at the bottom of my last text to Maya
for weeks.
It seems to grow by a pixel
every day that goes by.
Why didn’t she answer?

I’ve worried since we moved.
I’ve thought about calling her,
but each time I see that she
and didn’t respond,
it feels like our tectonic plates drift further apart.
When does it make sense to stop?

XXVIII. Peacocking, n.

Back in Sequim,
I walked down the halls,
smiled and waved
at students and teachers
when they’d say hello.
It was automatic—
done without second thought,
regardless of the previous hours
or days.

I don’t know why it’s so hard to do that
People say good morning,
then ask if I’m okay.
Even when I think I’m passing,
even when I think I’m happy,
they look at me
with pity in their eyes.

I know what
I am;
I’m not going to try being what
I’m not.

XXIX. Paralogism, n.

don’t get comfortable rainier is due the ground below your feet is faulty and can fall away at any moment they hate you they feel sorry for you that’s the only reason they put up with your pouting that’s why maya doesn’t talk to you anymore that’s why no one from sequim even thinks about you you are forgettable not worthy nothing nothing nothing a burden a manifestation of a minus sign a weight that drags down crystal that wastes suri’s time that sucks the joy out of nadine’s day that dumbs down isabella they would be better if you just left them alone

XXX. Hipparchy, n.

don’t get comfortable rainier is due the ground below your feet is faulty—

“Morning Violet! I found the earmuffs that were lost yesterday. They’re on my desk. They have a post-it with your name on it to make sure you get ‘em.”

they hate you they feel sorry for you that’s the only reason they put up with your pouting that’s—

“Violet! Thank god! I forgot we have a test in algebra today. Did you fill out your notecard? And also can I see it?”

you are forgettable not worthy nothing nothing nothing a burden—

“Hey, would you mind reading my civics paper at lunch? I feel like I’m missing something, but I don’t know what.”

a manifestation of a minus sign a weight that drags down—

“Bro!! That cottonwood idea was genius! It fits them so well! Check this out— it’s Kordra slamming their warhammer into a werebear that’s attacking an elven village! That human saving that crate of tomatoes in the background is you!”

that wastes—

“Okay. I concede. Not all poetry is confusing and bad. Brown Girl Dreaming was actually really great. Thanks for recommending it to me… Nerd. Now, you have to read Slaughterhouse-Five.”


“Violet!! I finally caught up on the Good Place last night! You should come over to watch the finale at my house tonight! Shut up, it’s fine— my family loves you, they always get too much pizza, and I already told them you’re coming.”

XXXI. Summa Rerum, n.

“They’re looking for more people to
welcome new students,”
Crystal says as we walk to civics.
“I think you’d be great at it.”

She’s so excited, I 
actually consider it.

“Why would you say that?
You’ve barely known me a month.”

The thing about Crystal
is she always has her reasoning at the ready.

“1. A person who cried that hard at how the Good Place ended is a good person.

“2. You know what it’s like to be new. You’ll be better at understanding what new students are going through. You haven’t forgotten how it feels to be surrounded by so many unknowns.

“3. You could help admin do something that’s better at getting people used to ER. There has to be something better than what we’re doing, which is practically giving them a schedule and hoping they figure out where to go.

“4. You’re great, weirdo. Deal with it.”
She mic-drops her binder on her desk.

I place mine down in the seat next to hers.
“Whatever, nerd.
You did great, and you know all the things!
I know, at most, SOME of the things.”

I pause. It’s hard
to get a deep breath, but
I think it’s a good thing
this time.
“Okay. I’ll do it.
Will you go to the office
with me
so I don’t chicken out?”


Continued in Part II. Crystal Coleus.

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