Blue Mesa Review Issue 36

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Blue Mesa Review Albuquerque, NM Founded in 1989 Issue 36 Fall 2017

Blue Mesa Review is the literary magazine of the University of New Mexico MFA Program in Creative Writing. We seek to publish outstanding and innovative fiction, nonfiction, and poetry, along with compelling interviews.

Cover Art by Ruben Rodriguez


BLUE MESA REVIEW Fall 2017 Issue 36

Editor

Steven D. Howe

Managing Editor

Lydia Wassan

Nonfiction Editor

Hayley Peterson

Fiction Editor

Tatiana Duvanova

Poetry Editor

Ruben Rodriguez

Faculty Advisor Graduate Readers

Undergraduate Readers

Layout and Design

Mark Sundeen Mitch Marty Ryan W. Murphy Tori Cรกrdenas Abigail Pratt Alice Yang Amanda Bissell Callan Buday Carrie Adair David Schwartz Ellen Lusetti Hector Valverde Mackenzie Thomas Maxine Porter Nathan Odegard Rebekah Rendon J. Steve Fernandez Mitch Marty Steven D. Howe


Table of Contents Letter From the Editor

6

Fiction Around the Parking Lot David Connor 8 In-Laws and Out-Laws Evan Lloyd 33

Poetry egungun Aurielle Lucier 13 Her word will land in you Alana de Hinojosa 31 Starter Home Samuel Piccone 37

Nonfiction On Playing Yu-Gi-Oh as a Nerdy, Brown Kid in Houston Reyes Ramirez 16 Shattering Silence Yvonne Conza 39

Interview A Conversation with Mark Sundeen David O’Connor 25

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Art Hole Sarah Groth

5

Infinity Mahsa Sadeqi

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#107 Nazifa Islam

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Frowned Romeo Harrell

15

Masked Girl Sarah Groth

36

Trees of the South L. Vocem

38

Labradorite Zuri Montgomery

39

Blue Mesa Bookshelf 46 2017 Summer Contest Judges 48 Contributor Profiles 50

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hole

Sarah Groth

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Letter from the Editor Dear Reader, We intentionally didn’t choose a theme for Issue 36 when we opened submissions back in June. Themes have not been Blue Mesa Review tradition, and we didn’t want to limit the submission pool or the aesthetic of our judges and readers. I hoped a theme would materialize from the collective yet independent minds of the writers, judges, editors, and staff readers, and I feel this has happened. What has risen from this many months long process of submission to final judging is a portrait of 2017 America. Had I asked our contributors to focus their work on this topic, I don’t think we could have put together a more cohesive collection than what has occurred organically. We have work exploring Latinx identity in white America, police violence, sexual assault, the growth and dissolution of relationships. Our contributors represent the true palette of American society, not the palette envisioned by our current administration. These poems, essays, and short stories tell the truth of who we are; some painful, some funny, all thought provoking and resonant. In a society absent of truth from our leaders, it is the artist who reconnects us with reality. The editors and staff readers of Blue Mesa Review are proud of this issue and we are grateful to our contributors for sharing their words, experience, and perspective. We thank them for telling the truth. Steve Howe Editor-in-Chief

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Infinity

Mahsa Sadeqi

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1st Place Fiction 2017 Summer Contest Though it is quite different from our own work and even our own reading aesthetics, it is a really well-done absurdist story that relies on restrained dialogue and has a compelling voice. Stories often start strong and then fall apart (or at least fall down), but this one grew stronger. It is fully realized in just four pages. Very nicely done. Anne Raeff and Lori Ostlund

Around the Parking Lot David Connor

On a warm Sunday morning in the suburban desert of Southern California, roughly two days ago, while driving in the parking lot of the VONS grocery store, I suddenly realized that my car was never going to leave the parking lot. My car, which had been circling the lot for almost three hours now, had decided on its own accord to circle the lot indefinitely. Not that I minded. The parking lot was fairly nice. Its proprietors included not just a VONS but several decent restaurants, a gas station, a laundromat, and in fact, in one of the restaurants, there was a help-wanted sign which could be used to my benefit in the event that I would need to make some money. The parking lot was, like so many supersized, highly-unspecific parking lots, a perfect mix of every parking lot that had ever existed and all the parking lots that would at some point exist. What I’m saying is that it was nice, this lot, a break from the speed of the freeway. The thing I liked most about the parking lot was its total indifference to everyone that came and left it. I would see large vans full of children, buses carrying the elderly, sports mobiles, stick-shifters, teenagers in Toyotas. All of them would come and go in due time, and the parking lot would remain utterly unchanged. As I circled around, I noticed an attendant outside of the VONS who was smoking a cigarette and eying my car. She wore blue lipstick and ashed her cigarette by the trash can. “What are you doing?” she asked. “Oh, just circling,” I replied, rolling down my window halfway. “Well can you do that somewhere else?” She pointed to the VONS logo on the lapel of her uniform. “My boss wants you to stop circling.” “I’m sorry,” I said, and rolled up my window, and kept circling. The real beauty of the parking lot was that no one, except for the occasional attendant, was aware of my presence there. I could circle around forever, smiling and waving at drivers in cars, beeping at others, none of them knowing that I had been smiling and beeping for hours. It was 8 Blue Mesa Review | 8


liberating, to gain such a mastery of the space, to understand its ins and outs, all of its divots and bumps and pockets of shade. The parking lot was special precisely because it was a place from which I could imagine myself elsewhere. I could imagine myself in any parking lot that had ever existed throughout history. I could imagine myself in a parking lot in 1940’s Arizona and I don’t even know what that means. I could imagine myself in a parking lot on Mars in the year 2190 with a milkshake and a moon stick. I could imagine myself driving in a parking lot owned by a totalitarian government that owns parking lots and Dairy Queens. I could imagine that I am a parking lot, and that I’m driving in myself. When I passed the VONS again, there was a cop car with its lights on waiting for me. An officer approached my car and told me to roll down the window. “Can I help you officer?” I asked. “What are you doing, son?” he responded through his mustache. “Just circling,” I said. “Circling, huh?” answered the officer, taking a moment to think. “Yeah,” I replied, rolling down my window all the way. “You see that restaurant over there?” I asked, gesturing to the help-wanted sign. “That’s where I work.” The officer nodded. “And you see that gas station over there?” I said, pointing to the gas station. “That’s where I get gas.” The officer nodded again. “And in my free time, I circle the lot.” The officer looked into my car and then back at me. The car was empty except for a couple moon sticks and laundry. I pressed hard on the brakes to bring the car to a full stop but the brakes wouldn’t budge and the car kept rolling ever so slightly, the officer walking befuddled alongside it, eventually gave up and looked on as I slowly peeled away from him. “Well alright then!” the officer shouted in my direction. “I guess this means you can go!” And so I rolled up my window and peeled out around a corner, avoiding a shopping cart, hand honking wheel, toe tapping brake, sunroof exposed. In the passenger’s seat, my cellphone was buzzing. I looked over and saw my ex-lover calling. “Hello?” I answered. “David. Where are you?” “I’m in the parking lot.” “What parking lot?” “I’m driving in circles.” “David. What are you talking about?” “I’m driving in a parking lot.” “Which one?” “You know, the one.” “Are you okay?” “Yes.” “Are you sure?”

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“Yeah.” “You need to get out of that parking lot.” “Do you think about me often?” “What?” “How often?” I hung up, the sun was getting low. The thing about driving in a parking lot was that it got kind of repetitive. One rotation became the next, and then the next, and I sort of lost track over time. Which was okay. It was nice to lose track of things, to slip into a somewhat automatic state in which time goes forward but you remain in the same place for all of it. After a few rotations, I noticed a blue Honda in my rearview and watched it as it followed me around a corner and then past the VONS and then around another corner. I pressed on the gas to speed away, but as I accelerated, the Honda accelerated as well, following in close pursuit, nudging my bumper. What one doesn’t realize about a car chase in a parking lot is that even if you evade your chaser, which I was sure I could do, they’ll catch up to you on next loop, which is what happened, and the blue Honda rolled up next to me, my ex-lover inside, staring over incredulously. “What is going on?” she said, rolling down her window. “Oh thank god you’re here!” I stammered, trying desperately to bring the car to a full halt. “What’s going on, David?” “I just… I don’t know.” My car began to roll slowly away from my ex-lover’s and she tapped on the gas to catch up. “I guess I’ve just been circling here for a few hours, haven’t I?” I said, looking over and smiling. “You’ve been circling here for five years.” “Five years?” “Yes.” “Has it been that long?” “It has.” “I see.” “You need to get out of here.” “Do you still think about me?” “David.” My hands rested on the steering wheel and I stared straight ahead, looking out over 1940s Arizona, or maybe it was Mars. It was somewhere. “I’m still in love with you,” I said, keeping my eyes straight ahead. “And I love you, you know that.” My ex-lover’s voice was as I’d remembered. “We just can’t.” “I need you.” “I can’t right now.” I sped away from my ex-lover, pulling up next to the gas station and filling up my tank. The blue Honda pulled up next to me and my ex-lover stepped out. “David,” she said, walking over. “You know I love you. And I’m telling you, you have to get Blue Mesa Review | 10


out of this parking lot.” “I can’t,” I said. “The car. It won’t.” “It will. You have to.” “I don’t want to,” I said. “It’s fine here. It’s got everything I need.” “David.” “I can’t. It’s just, I can’t.” My ex-lover leaned down and I turned my head to look at her. Her face was warm and glowing, and the wind in the gas station blew against it softly. “David,” she said, and leaned down to kiss me gently on the forehead. “It’s time.” “Time?” I said. “It’s time.” “I know,” I said. “I know.”

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1st Place Poetry 2017 Summer Contest I found such surprise in this heart-searing poem. There is unexpected force in the poem’s unconventional structure, how each line snaps in sharp breaths and staccato bursts of joy and ache in equal measure. The poet imbues each moment with needfully tender observations and a natural rhythm that carries the reader along in its song of grief and wonder. By exploring how much of this living we wear as a mask of yearning for the dead, this is a vivid and touching eulogy for the lost ones. What keeps me returning is the fire of imagination on the page, how it constructs for the lost brother an afterlife of his own dreaming, a place of freedom, a place for the loved ones to dance again; at last, at last. Safiya Sinclair

egungun

Aurielle Lucier

if there is such a place/ where the dead walk/ & there is no/ mourning/ i am sure you are/ there/ brother/ i am sure you are eating/ pork rind & dancing / windmills round/ the niggas we/ read about in/ grandmothers good book/ wildthing / i bet they call you/ i bet you cant hear/ them/ over the tender/ sound of a drum calling you/ even there/ where the time dont stop/ i am sure you/ run late to everything/ i am sure nobody minds/ when you flash them/ that sun swallowed mouth/ that unhinged glow/ brother/ i bet you/ if there is such a thing as God/ he who rules/ the truest religion jeans / who calls the water/ into/ puddle/ into/ flood/ into / the very tears which carve my face / i am sure/ you have renamed him/ my nigga/ have called to him/ aye, OG/ down a long hallway/ full/ your voice a lark/ more mischief than praise/ i am sure he answers with a smile/ each time/ i imagine your shoulder wet/ in the twilight of/ this third space/ this not hell, not earth/ this heaven by another name/ his head resting gently/ his body the tremble/ of a wailing/ now subsided & you brother/ you a crooner/ & been one always/ you sing him your favorite/ songs in the key of life/ you let him unfasten his whole self/ before he go back/ to being our god & the magic of it is/ you aint no angel/ you aint nothing speci / you just you/ out there/ being light/ once/ when you knew you were dying/ you told me to/ rest my head on your chest & listen/ it is silly/ to call the heart a drum/ considering/ but damn/ if it wasn’t music/ brother/ what was it?

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#107

Nazifa Islam

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Frowned

Romeo Harrell

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1st Place Nonfiction 2017 Summer Contest Where does a young man find his place in the world when he bounces between two points of being (“At home, we were Mexican interpretations of Americans; in school, we were American interpretations of Mexicans.”)? Although the Japanese graphic novel seems like the most unlikely comfort zone, this writer (and perpetual outsider) finds his kin in the anti-heroes and weirdoes of manga literature. Written with an unapologetic edgy tone, this essay builds its own linguistic and artistic landscapes in order to illustrate the nuances of Latinx identities. Stylistically rich and refreshingly unconventional, this essay is both intelligent critique of culture and education, and a grateful nod to those rebellious adolescents whose badge of honor was not fitting in. Rigoberto González

On Playing Yu-Gi-Oh as a Nerdy, Brown Kid in Houston Reyes Ramirez

I went to a middle and high school smack dab in Texan, white suburbia, like dudes asking girls out to homecoming with mums as intricate as peacock tails, dragging from a girl’s shoulder to the ground with bells, whistles, teddy bears, ribbons, picture frames, clocks, etc. white. Those same schools banned headwear to make sure the Black and Mexican-American kids couldn’t flex that they were in gangs or some shit and forced girls to leave school for the day if their fingertips went past their skirts. Meanwhile, a Mexican-American youth in a nearby high school would be beaten to an inch of his life, sodomized with a pipe, showered in bleach, and left to die in some ditch by his fellow, neo-Nazi schoolmates for allegedly attempting to kiss a white girl on the cheek; he survived the attack but would later commit suicide by launching himself off the side of a cruise ship. His name was David Ritcheson. So it goes. Que dios lo bendiga. What I’m saying is that as a brown kid in this environment, you try to find a community which will accept you so you can survive the bullshit that is a Texas public education school. My community at the time was composed of: two mixed White/Mexican-Americans (whom I’ll call Ryan and Ross, as they did have white-boy names), two straight-up Mexican-American brothers (Fernando and Miguel), one Honduran-American (Juan, the darkest skinned and most scrawny but surely, the smartest of us all), and myself, a mixed Mexican/Salvadoran-American (whom I’ll still call Reyes). My community was composed of many at its inception with white kids, a black kid, a Jewish kid, (all male, obviously) etc. But time worked its magic and they all found other communities where they fit in better. That is, after all, the greatest lesson of a public-school education: that people wander from one community to the next until they find the one that will give them the love they want; some will rot in communities they think are giving them that love Blue Mesa Review | 16


while some, like myself, will wander forever it seems. It happens. What united this particular group of brown kids was a Japanese trading card game called Yu-Gi-Oh, which was based on a manga which had an anime based off that manga, that we all watched and spent our poor mother’s hard-earned money to buy packs of to get the next holographic card to better whoop the fucking ass of the other in a duel (not to mention all those issues of Shonen Jump and video games that snugly held special edition cards within them.) I was at a particular disadvantage because mi mama was on a single mother’s, house maid’s budget that had barely any room for such babosadas. “¿Quieres gastar mi dinero con esto?” “Pero mom, I need this,” I’d whine as she forked over wrinkled cash to the smiling Comix & Cards store owner. Side note: I don’t actually remember what ever happened to all those cards as I have no trace of ever having them; I imagine them fluttering through the air and landing deep in a wet dumpster as my mom cackled with delight after I left for college. Anyways, I had to use skill, pure luck, and a mean-ass poker face to keep up with my friends whose parents could buy them starter decks and pack boxes. “You sure you wanna make that move, man?” I’d ask with useless trap and monster cards on my side of the field. Sometimes they’d think twice and relent. Then I felt I could win. There are many reasons why a bunch of mostly poor, brown kids played some funky-ass card game where you summoned blonde-haired, big-breasted magician girls and said ridiculous shit like, “I flip summon my ‘Swarm of Scarabs’ and DESTROY your ‘Blue Eyes’ and then I’ll ATTACK your life points for 1,000 damage, MOTHAFUCKA.” Then imagine Ross, a beefed-up, copperskinned baby-face with a buzz cut forced on him by his veteran father, frantically searching the cards in his hand and peeking under his face-down cards on the field to no avail, anger welling up in his blue eyes gifted to him by his mother. “Shut the fudge up and finish your turn,” he’d say because his parents forbade him from cursing. Maybe we played Yu-Gi-Oh because it was something we were allowed to be good at for once. Our public-school education effectively shamed us into not being brown. The Language Arts teachers never taught any Latino writers, focusing on Greek mythology, Shakespeare, Harper Lee, F. Scott Fitzgerald, etc. When a teacher would see that I was bored with the texts but impressed with my reading skills, they would offer me books from their personal collections, which were somehow worse than the class readings, shit like Ayn Rand’s Atlas Shrugged. I still remember my teacher’s face as I returned her Rand back to her half-read, disappointed in a brown boy who couldn’t connect with a rich, white man’s oppression. Whenever Black writers were taught, either their Blackness was taken from them (like how Lorraine Hansberry’s A Raisin in the Sun was simply a tragic story that could happen to anyone, really) or we focused on how much African-Americans suffered (which essentially painted all the Black students as charity cases, especially after Hurricane Katrina.) My social studies teachers taught the bullshit that is the Texas Revolution for Independence, completely leaving out that William Bitch May Travis, Sam Shit Houston, and Davy Punk-Ass Crockett fought to maintain their right to own slaves when the tyrannical Mexicans abolished slavery years prior. I still remember the white boys looking back at me smiling, angry at 17 | Issue 36


Mexicans for winning the Alamo but proud of their victory at San Jacinto. White people love to justify their violence, especially when it comes to the atomic bomb. I was angry, too, but I didn’t know why. I just knew I couldn’t say anything even though no one told me I couldn’t. “Santa Anna was just fuckin all the white women. That’s why they mad,” my mom’s friend’s older son in high school said as we played my copy of Grand Theft Auto 3 on his PlayStation 2. I loved the study of math but the class was fucked up for me, to say the least. For every lesson taught, I then had to translate the corresponding textbook section to the Venezuelan student who only spoke Spanish. Try and imagine a 13-year-old Reyes with blocky, black glasses and something resembling a bowl hair cut stuttering and awkwardly pausing to think of a way to translate what the fuck a parabola is to someone who spoke a different kind of Spanish. It was a proverbial blind leading the blind sort of thing, except it’s just me with outdated prescription glasses. “La respuesta puede ser A o C y si recuerdas el Pythagoran Theorem,” I’d say as neutrally as possible. “¿Pues, cual es la respuesta?” he’d always ask. “No, you have to figure the thing… Es que tú tienes que hacer la matemática.” He’d then give me this stare as if I were the dumb one for thinking he’d do the math. “It’s A. Es A.” “You’re not just telling him the answer, are you?” the teacher admonished me afterwards. This is way before I learned the basics of interpreter ethics. Way before I knew I was doing work for free, another brown boy’s education on the line. “That sounds like a lot of bullshit,” Juan would say as we got ready for a class we took together called ‘Adolescent Literature,’ where we read whatever we wanted for one period a day. He was right. On many levels, in fact, because there I was, a 13-year-old boy doing the teacher’s work to help another brown boy while having to make the imaginative leaps to identify with the struggles of white people in the books I was assigned while my mother cleaned their houses as the news called her an illegal, trouble-making, free-loading immigrant. Every year or so, the school gave students a district-wide and school specific performance score with all kinds of percentages for TAAS or TAKS (whatever it was) and drop-out rates and graduation rates and SAT scores and how badly the Blacks and ‘Hispanics’ are doing. It was the nightmare (or dream) of George Bush’s No Child Left Behind America where numbers, not students, were of the utmost importance and when the low numbers stand for you and your people more than you can stand for yourself, you grow to become angry. The white teachers loved to praise me, “You’re one of the good ones, Reyes.” Then I’d look at my brown brothers and sisters and wonder what was wrong with them. “Can we be good at anything?” I must’ve asked myself over and over again in some angry, teen language that is lost to me now. Meanwhile, the school would be compelled to ban the wearing of hoods on hoodies and kept a low tolerance for gatherings of non-white students. I remember Ross, Juan, Ryan, and Reyes (the brothers had a different schedule) looking for a table to sit at during lunch because our usual spot was taken by a group of future college Republicans who informed us they could

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sit anywhere because hey, this is America. When we told an assistant principal, he shrugged and agreed with them. When we finally found another spot to sit, it didn’t take long until another group of white boys complained and got us booted out. When we used the same logic from before on the same assistant principal, he didn’t care and threatened to write us up. So, there we were, not allowed to be peacefully brown but we obviously weren’t white. When I would tell mi mama of all this, she said I had to toughen up, take it, and move on, to not make any trouble and do what I could to get by. Teen Reyes didn’t understand, especially when he’d been taught about Rosa Parks and Martin Luther King Jr. every Black History Month to stand up for what’s right, but did what he was told like un buen hijo. It would be years later before Reyes, before I, could understand that mama lived every day of her life like this as an undocumented American. It would be years before I read and learned from W. E. B. Du Bois’s thin veil, years before I studied Gloria Anzaldua’s concept of la frontera, years before I started realizing that I was neither fully American nor fully Mexican. At home, we were Mexican interpretations of Americans; in school, we were American interpretations of Mexicans (poor Juan, the Honduran American who could not fit in even more). White supremacy manifests itself in different, fluid ways in our current society. The worst of it comes from well-meaning people, the ones who think forcing children of color to act white and learn whiteness is helping them. That, however, is for another essay. For now, and then, the Japanese stuff will make do. In that ‘Adolescent Literature’ class, Juan and Reyes read mangas where human beings were allowed to be superhuman and extraordinary, winning games of life and death with pure skill, towering intellect, and some good old fashioned milagros, not to mention all the blood and gore and cleavage and panty shots and curse words and other porquerias that pubescent boys could get down with. Mangas like GetBackers, Hellsing, Berserk, FLCL, Battle Royale, Trigun, and whatever Shonen Jump was featuring that month (like Yu-gi-Oh), gave us epic stories and battles that didn’t necessarily have morals or teachable moments or other boring shit like that (okay, in retrospect, they do but the teachers wouldn’t touch the stuff and that was enough for us). Yeah, each graphic novel had ‘good guys’ and ‘bad guys’ but they were anti-heroes and straight-up weirdos like: a defeated Count Dracula who now works for the British Empire to fight the last remnants of a Nazi battalion composed of werewolves, zombies, malandros, etc.; an alien raised as a human who becomes a doofus outlaw gunslinger with blonde hair and blue eyes in a postapocalyptic earth who makes sure to never kill anyone, including his enemies; and a meek, little nerd who becomes possessed by an Egyptian pharaoh when provoked. If all of these sound super badass, it’s because they were. But what was off about all of these characters was that they were supposed to be white. Think about it. Many anime and manga characters are more-or-less fair-skinned, blue-eyed, and blonde haired like Sailor Moon (aka Usagi Tsukino) and Sailor Venus, Vash the Stampede, Super Saiyan Goku, Yugi (sans the blue eyes), etc. In many animes, characters would be dubbed with stereotypically American voices like valley girls, southern debutants, or Brooklynites while the rice balls they ate became hamburgers. It’s sort of a weird translation of Japaneseness into American-ness and vice versa. Yugi from Yu-Gi-Oh is an especially odd case in that

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he is supposed to be an Egyptian prince, or at least, the spirit that possesses the protagonist is; yet his skin is white and he has spiky-ass yellow and red hair (all while voiced by a white man.) In later renditions, much after I stopped watching and playing, he would have a noticeable tan, an orange-ish brown skin tone while the other Egyptians depicted in the show had stark brown skin with normal, black hair. It’s a mystery how an ancient, Egyptian prince would somehow look exactly the same as a young, contemporary Japanese teen. What isn’t a mystery is that the writers and illustrators probably just didn’t care. It’s a Japanese interpretation of whiteness and blackness, in a way: Yugi is not quite Japanese but he sure as shit isn’t black or white either. (Wander around any comic-con and see black cos-players catch racism for being dressed up as Japanese characters, but white people are the standard for cos-play. Assbackwards.) It’s in this nebulous space that my friends and I existed, translating our identities from our parents and from our schools and from America to ourselves and vice versa. We were brown boys not allowed to be brown in public, after all. Carajo, man. What was super cool about Yugi is that he kind of represented who we were on a subconscious level. Yugi starts out as a meek, little boy that when provoked, becomes this badass genius who can defeat anyone in any game of logic and chance. This runs counter to many American narratives of superpowers, like the Incredible Hulk, who starts out as normal people but become these uber versions of themselves who can pulverize you into dust. As brown kids in white suburbia, we weren’t allowed that sort of narrative; my friends and I were potential gang members and constantly at risk of becoming drop-outs and stealing opportunities from more deserving white kids, a paradox that pervades white interpretations of Latinxs: too lazy to work but always taking their jobs. Anyways, since I lived down the street from our middle school, Ross, Ryan, Juan, Fernando, Miguel, and I walked over to my apartment complex’s courtyard and dueled on this shitty, plastic table where someone had lit a firework and left a large scar of burnt, bubbled plastic. On top of that shitty, plastic table we had wars, we had combat, we had death, we had revenge. We argued abstractions like, “I attack your life points directly, which increases my monster’s attack by 1,000.” “Dude, that monster got 0 attack though. Your monster only gains attack points if you do damage. 0 damage is no damage, so you don’t activate the effect.” “0 is a number though. It’s still an amount, it’s still damage. 0 damage is still damage, technically.” “Technically, you’re a dumbass. 0 is the absence of something. It is nothing.” “Look, fricker, 0 is a number, is it not? Theoretically, it’s an amount. Like, 0 degrees is still an angle. 0 is a number, it’s a numerical digit. You can count down to 0. I did 0 damage to you. 0 damage is still an amount, punk.” “This motherfucker. I’m not arguing if it’s a number or not, I’m arguing that it’s not fuckin damage. If I paid you 0 dollars for a game, I didn’t pay you anything, dumbass.” So on and so forth, until one of us gave up so the duel continued. I blame the TAKS testing. The smack talk though—the smack talk was savage, often in the form of vulgar similes aimed

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at our unsuspecting, beloved mothers to rile the other up so turns became focused on forming rebuttals and not on how many cards are on your side of the field, if they should call your bluff on that face down trap or magic card and attack your life points directly, if they should let that shit you said about their mom slide. “Your mom is like a cheeseburger, dude: big, greasy, and worth a dollar.” “Yeah, but your mom is like a vacuum cleaner: she sucks, blows, and they put her back in the closet when they’re done with her.” On even exchanges like those, you maintained the status quo and the game continued as whatever. The uneven exchanges though, the uneven ones were the ones to watch out for. For example, let’s say you were winning by 3,000 life points and had an Archfiend Soldier and a Jinzo on your side of the field while the poor chump across from you had no monsters, three facedown cards that were useless or else they’d have used them by now, and were constantly checking them over and over again, reading the effects more carefully each time, like a broken contract. “Yo, just admit you’re losing, man. It’s ok to lose to someone like me.” “Just shut the fuck up and let me think.” “Just pass on your turn and let me win. You don’t have to be a little bitch about it.” “Now’s not the time for your pompous shit, dude. Just let me fucking think.” “You’re wasting everyone’s time with your little bitchness,” you’d say before a few deep breaths were had, before a few tears were choked back, before a non-apology had to be issued so the game could be continued. “I’m sorry, alright.” “It’s cool. Just… it’s cool.” “I’m also sorry you’re a little bitch.” “Fuck you.” It all reached a breaking point when Ross and Miguel were in the middle of a heated duel. Let me start off by saying that we were all insecure of ourselves, in case you couldn’t already tell. It’s just that Ross and Miguel were a perfect mixture of insecurity, the moisture of Ross’s pompous relishing of his winning situation combined with the warmth of Miguel’s anger rising from his wounded pride to form the oncoming perfect storm (side note: I aced the shit out of the TAKS Science portion, got a fuckin commended performance). You see, when Ross was winning a duel, he rubbed it in like a body massage, made damn sure every part of you knew every other second that he was the man. On the other hand, Miguel was a pretty quiet and reasonable guy until you poked at his flaws over and over again. The moment where shit got real was when Miguel had nothing on his side of the field and Ross had like a Blue Eyes or some shit, Miguel’s 1,200 life points to Ross’s 4,000. Ross went in for an attack. “I attack your life points and end this embarrassment of a duel.” “Fuck that. I activate Scapegoat,” Miguel said as he flipped his only face down card. Scapegoat lets you put four tokens on your side of the field that defend you from getting your life points attacked directly, in case you forgot. Each attack relieves you of a said token until you

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have no more. Miguel used these little chicks he had for tokens, yellow poofs with black dots for eyes and orange foam for beaks. Whenever they were attacked, Miguel would just take them off the field and put them back in his tin box where he kept his cards. “I attack another one of your little chickadees.” Ross loved to make motions for his attacks, like Fist of the North Star dramatic motions where he’d point to your face to indicate he was ordering a mythical dragon to blast your ass with an ultra-beam of light (I don’t mean to make that sound judgmental. I did that shit, too.) “Alright. Just finish your turn.” “You mad cuz I killed one of your little chickadees? Aw, you’re some kind of big momma chicken?” Ross would ask before making some ridiculous clucking sounds. “Just finish your fucking turn.” “I end my turn. Good luck.” Miguel drew a card from the top of his deck, eyes closed. He brought the card to his face and opened his eyes: it was a Cosmic Queen, a pretty badass card you could only get if you ate McDonald’s; however, you need to sacrifice two monsters to summon it and even if he could, Cosmic Queen only has 2,850 attack points to Blue Eyes’s 3,000. Miguel was essentially fucked, signaled by a tsk, exhaling loudly through his mouth, and saying, “This is some booty.” His older brother, Fernando, came to his side and inspected of Miguel’s cards, carefully reading their texts like a lawyer. “That’s why I told you to put that trap card I gave you in your deck, estupi!” “Man, it’s too late for that shit now, ain’t it?” Miguel said after punching Fernando on the shoulder. “Ya! Imma tell mom!” “Aw, is momma chicken having a domestic disturbance over there?” “Yo, shut the fuck up,” Miguel said. “Shut up and finish your turn so I can win already.” Now, there are certainly better ways to be a winner or a loser. One can win with grace and withstand the inevitable barbs from the loser, understanding that at that particular moment in time they, the winner, are ok, on top, and able to sleep knowing every decision they’d ever made up to that point in their life was correct. On the other hand, no one likes to lose, no one likes feeling that things will have to change soon. What things? Who knows. Defeat stings hardest during the examination of each and every flaw in your being. It’s a search that could last forever. What happens next is best described by a word from the ancient and very dead language Latin: hubris. “Fuck you. Your turn.” Ross drew his card, barely looked at it, summoned a Beta the Magnet Warrior, and went into an attack phase he won’t be able to take back. “Beta attacks your last stupid, little chickadee,” Ross said before he picked up the yellow poof and tossed it at Miguel’s face like a lit cigarette. Other than the obvious disrespect, remember that Miguel has 1,200 life points. Beta the Magnet Warrior has 1,600 attack points

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and Blue Eyes has 3,000. That means Ross could’ve attacked with Blue Eyes first to destroy a Scapegoat token and end the game modestly with a final attack from Beta. Instead, Ross chose to destroy that chickadee with Beta with the full intention of finishing the game with a vulgar celebration of power over weakness by attacking with Blue Eyes White Dragon, pointing directly at Miguel’s heart to signify that the ultra-beam of light was directed at Miguel’s soul. I might’ve done the same. Perhaps we all would have. It doesn’t matter though. Because that yellow puff would be reciprocated with Miguel’s fist being driven into Ross’s jaw. I remember shouting. I remember the two stood up and grabbed each other by the shirt. I remember looking at Ryan and Juan with a look of what-fuck-are-we-going-to-do; they shrugged and giggled. Fernando was trying to calm his brother. The laugh of hundreds of cicadas echoed in the Houston heat. Ross and Miguel let go of each other’s shirts. They stared each other down, heaving. I slowly approached them to see if there was anything to be said, to be done. There wasn’t. It just seemed like the right thing to do. But almost immediately someone said something, I don’t remember what, like it was too quiet for my ears only or in some language lost to me now. More fists were thrown and I found myself holding Ross back while everyone else let Miguel get in a punch or two extra on Ross’s jaw, busted it open with blood trickling out like a loose faucet. No one stepped in: Fernando supported his brother, naturally, while Ryan and Juan sat back and watched. I remember asking them about it later. “Why didn’t you guys help?” “Because Ross was being an asshole,” they said in agreement. It was then that I learned even within communities as niche as ours, there can be cracks. Those cracks can spread until the whole thing crumbles, which is exactly what happened to us. Fernando and Miguel didn’t come back to play, obviously. Ryan and Juan didn’t want to invite Ross to duel anymore. They still wanted to use my place though, so I was having to decide between them and Ross coming over to play. Being simple, I thought, ‘two is better than one.’ I helped ditch Ross by not inviting him over anymore. Ryan, Juan, and I kept dueling but found it boring not too soon after, dueling each other until we knew the other’s decks by memory. No one else wanted to join us and we were damned if we played Magic: The Gathering. Our dueling days disintegrated along with the school year, where we all hung out with each other in different contexts, but never together again. Looking back, I understand now that that disintegration was inevitable. After all, what is more toxic than boastful hegemony, the very kind machismo celebrates? Much like how much shit we talked to each other during duels, it only became an issue when one had a steep advantage over the other. It’s like a school run by white administrators and white teachers forcing youth of color to learn white history and failing them for not memorizing it verbatim while demonizing their mothers, uncles, grandfathers, friends, etc. When a person is held down, silenced, and given no reprieve, what else can happen other than the struggle to escape? Than violence? Than hatred? Resentment? Revenge? When oppression does not relent, violence is the final catalyst for change. If that scares you, then good. I’ve been scared for a long time. We have to change something because this isn’t working. Not for me. Not for many. There has to be

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something else or things will get worse. I feel it. But maybe that’s vain of me. I’m not sure. I try to do my part, teaching writing workshops and organizing readings for young POC with WOC, listening to voices more oppressed than mine (and there are many). It feels overwhelming. It never feels like enough. My nephew attends a high school that was named after Confederate general Robert E. Lee (until very recently) that still leaves out Latinx and Black stories even though the demographics of said school are overwhelmingly not white; my nephew will be tested on white history and if he fails, he will be held back and forced to spend more years of his life to make sure he learns it which can cost him scholarships and jobs and even more years of his life unlearning all that bullshit. When I went to grade school, our stories weren’t being told; as of this writing, there were textbooks being introduced to the Texas school board that taught Latinx struggle as inherently anti-American. It took some of the greatest Latinx/Chicanx scholars and minds to refute garbage and drivel, perhaps a metonym on the greater conversation of race in America. We have a president who inspires anger in our young people as they live under constant attack from their own government, emotionally, mentally, and physically. Though I see hope in our youth, I sometimes wonder how much it will be tested. How many of them will inevitably lose hope, because that’s just how tiring la lucha is. I think about my beautiful nephew, who is brown, black, and Native American, and how much this administration will use that against him, now more than ever. Can I say things have gotten better since I was in public school? I went to graduate school for an MFA and found many of the same issues, just in a more conceptual, policy driven form that’s subtle yet stinging. I went to an undergraduate program that only taught white, Eurocentric readings and philosophers. As a writer, I submit to contests and journals and see white people accepted in droves with sprinkles of people like me. I don’t know. You tell me. I feel like I’ve been wandering ever since.

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The Interview A Conversation with Mark Sundeen By David O’Connor Last summer, writer Mark Sundeen moved to Albuquerque as the Russo Chair in Creative Writing at the University of New Mexico—as well as the faculty advisor to the Blue Mesa Review. He is the author of Car Camping (2000), The Making of Toro (2003), The Man Who Quit Money (2012), and The Unsettlers (2017). He has won fellowships from The MacDowell Colony, The Montana Arts Council and The Utah Arts Council. A contributing editor for Outside Magazine, his work has appeared in the New York Times, The Believer, Vice, and McSweeney’s. David O’Connor sat down to speak with him about his work.

Mark Sundeen arrives on time at the coffee shop in Albuquerque with his rescue dog. We sit outside near the busy street. I’ve read all his books. I’ve prepared questions. He asks if the sound will record. This man has been interviewed before. He is professional. The previous night he hosted a party for his new writing students and colleagues. If he was any more laid back, he’d be horizontal. Then I realize, this is just experience. He reeks of intelligence. I want to understand his shift from experimental fiction to longform journalism and nonfiction. I want to know how he got here. I want the secret to his success. He takes off his shades and speaks slowly, occasionally pausing with insight. He is deliberate with words, open, generous, and sharp. Blue Mesa Review: How about a little free association to warm up… Mark Sundeen: We got some nice turquoise colored sunshades… we’ve got traffic and hot sun on the clean brick building…we’ve got shade… BMR: How about I say a word and you say a word? Utah. 25 | Issue 36


Sundeen: Sure. Alright. I’m afraid to say mountain biking. BMR: Santa Cruz. Sundeen: Also mountain biking. BMR: Road trips. Sundeen: Moab. BMR: Literary magazines. Sundeen: Tin House—first one that popped into my mind. BMR: Editing. Sundeen: Becky Saletan, my editor. Becky is a very good editor. BMR: Elections. Sundeen: Depression. BMR: Work ethic. Sundeen: 1000 words a day. Jack London. BMR: Time management. Sundeen: Drawing a blank on that one. Okay, I picture a stopwatch, but I don’t use one. BMR: How do you feel about this new chapter in Albuquerque and at UNM? Sundeen: I’m thrilled about it. There’s only about five places in the US where I would be willing to apply for a teaching job and this is one of them. I wanted to be in the West, close to natural beauty, Tucson, Salt Lake, Missoula, Laramie… there aren’t many towns with a good university near nature. BMR: Boulder? Could you do Boulder? Sundeen: I don’t think they could pay enough for me to afford to live there. We just moved from Fort Collins and I think I prefer it there. Low key. But of all of those places, they all seem very white and expensive and Albuquerque is neither of those things. I find it interesting culturally, historically; the proximity to the pueblos and Navajo Nation. BMR: Speaking of West—except for a foray into Detroit—all your work is set out West. What Blue Mesa Review | 26


do you think of the East? Sundeen: I lived in Brooklyn for a year or two. I teach at a low-res in New Hampshire, but I like the West, the architecture, the wide openness. I like the conversations in the East, but it comes with a self-importance, like “we are the center of the world.” Especially in publishing. Life out here is as equally interesting and it can be frustrating. BMR: Speaking of publishing, when I picked up a copy of Car Camping, you were blurbed by George Saunders and Hubert Selby Jr. Anthony Bourdain wrote the review in The New York Times. How did you get that coverage? What was the process of publishing your first book? Sundeen: I was a graduate student at USC in LA. I came to the program with a lot of these chapters already written, self-published. I took a class with Hubert Selby and I ended up selling the book to a publisher when I was still in school. It came out the next year. I was like 28. George Saunders was kind of a slightly unknown back then. I was working in Mexico, and we had just pulled in to a trailer park and I checked my email,—they must have had a computer—and I got this great blurb. I had never heard of him. BMR: Amazing. Sundeen: 1999. BMR: And the review? The review told more about Bourdain than the book. Sundeen: It was a horrible review. I’ve held a grudge for 20 years now. It was a weird thing. It came out in paperback, not a large print run, a first-time author who had never published anywhere…it was a takedown review as if I were someone who needed to be taken down. But that was before he was famous. Kitchen Confidential had not come out yet. BMR: What was the process for the second book? The Making of Toro… Sundeen: My agent went out to lunch with an editor from Lyons Press and they cooked up a scheme. I was gonna go to Mexico and do a similar book to Car Camping, but about bullfighting. I’d never been to a bullfight. I had zero interest in bullfighting. I found the whole idea repulsive and derivative. The idea was so starkly a “wannabe Hemingway,” but I needed the money. So I took the contract. Before I even went to Mexico, though, I decided I wasn’t going to write the book I was contracted to do. I wrote a mate—a making of… and I just made fun of the book I was supposed to write. Of course, they didn’t want to publish it, so we had to give them the money back. It wasn’t very much, like $4000. Then we sold it to Simon & Schuster. It worked out well. BMR: Then how many years before The Man Who Quit Money…? Sundeen: A long time, I want to say nine years. BMR: There seems to be a stylistic, shall I say, philosophical shift…

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Sundeen: Yeah. The first two were very personal and idiosyncratic and hardly edited at all. Neither of them sold much. No awards. I was still broke and felt like I had sung my song. But I still wanted to keep writing, but not the same style of book… BMR: Was there an emotional toll? Like post-publication depression or… Sundeen: Yeah, totally. I mean, The Making of Toro was almost about the heart break of the first book. It’s hard to spend all this time putting your soul into these books and they are ignored. I decided to try my hand at journalism. I started writing for Outside Magazine, The New York Times, and National Geographic. At the same time, I wrote a very conventional novel. I spent three or four years on it. I sent it out, but the responses were lukewarm. I probably could have gotten it published but it wasn’t going to help my career. I was desperate. I just put it away. BMR: What was it about? Sundeen: A multi-generational family thing in which the main character was out in Utah hunting bones. Anyways… BMR: Let’s talk about the shift to journalism. Was it hard? Sundeen: Yes. But because I had two books out, I could skip straight to features. I loved getting paid to travel and get out of house. But still, nothing was winning awards or giving me the breakthrough I was looking for… I’d almost given up on that novel when my agent called about a ghost writing job for the captain on The Deadliest Catch. I wrote that book on spec—on contract—got paid. It was basically for fans, but I felt like it was better than the novel, just in terms of achieving what it was trying to achieve. Maybe not a literary masterpiece, but a good book about a good person; very well-structured. It had no unrealistic ambitions. Basically, it tells the guy’s story, and it was a New York Times best-seller. BMR: Ghostwriting is just a flat fee? Sundeen: No there are percentages. It was enough to live off for a year. So then, in 2009, I had the glossy publications and a commercial success, and they called me to write about this guy living in a cave without money in Moab. And it turns out, I knew the guy. That felt more personal and innovative than the magazine work, less sarcastic and smart-assy than my first two books. I hit my stride and felt like I had done something right. It was weird. I had done all this striving to succeed, but the reason that book succeeded was because of all the years I spent living in my car being the dropout. Those years allowed me to really understand the guy more than any New York magazine writer anyway. I don’t think anyone else could have written that book the way I did. BMR: Did doing justice to the subject free you from doubts and insecurities? Sundeen: I think the early literary experiments helped me explain the lives of people living radical experimental lives.

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BMR: Which brought you to The Unsettlers… Sundeen: The last two books have a very similar style and voice, personal, with journalistic and novelistic sections. To me, I still feel like I am doing experiments with nonfiction, but no one ever notices that. BMR: Just the facts please! Sundeen: I’m just writing about people who are interesting—that is why people read the books. But, I’m always excited about this idea of the omniscient narrator who can fly around on one page and be speaking personally like a memoirist on the next page and then philosophizing or researching some arcane monetary law or farm bill and the next chapter will be in some other character’s head, more classically novelistic. BMR: Seems like you learned a lot from your subjects in the later books… Sundeen: In The Unsettlers, I didn’t set out to write about married people with children. I thought I’d find loners and dropouts. Then I met one couple, then more, and I found their stories so much more interesting, ‘cause the stakes are higher if you have children. I mean it’s a free country, you can just fuck off and do what you want, but when you expose your children to the experiment, the stakes get high and you start to have all this judgement from the rest of your family or society. I was also interested in women living this way, because it is always about men, the Thoreau-model, man alone in the woods. Anyway, there were not any single women with kids living this way, and at least from my research, no same-sex couples either. No single men with kids either, it’s just too hard. I started intellectually being drawn towards families with children. It turned out that at the same time I was writing the book, I was getting married to my wife who had come from a background like this, an off-grid, back-to-the-land family. And—I didn’t realize this till the final revisions of the book, after three years—I was really looking for role models. People who could get married and have children and still not sell out. Ok, bad phrase, people who were still idealistic, anti-materialistic. A lot of people have kids and say well, we gotta do the private school, the minivan, the piano lessons, and then weirdly the parents say they are doing it for someone else. It’s weird, if you look at gated communities, probably everyone in there would say I live here for my children. I wanted to meet people who had children and still stuck to their ideals. BMR: After the book did you just say goodbye or did you keep in touch? Sundeen: Just to answer the question, I learned a lot from the people and saw two of the three

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families on the book tour. BMR: How do you wear the caps of author and writer? Sundeen: I can’t get enough. I don’t see them as two different things. I guess my writing has always been commercial. I don’t have an amazing imagination. I can’t just sit at my desk and make up shit. That’s why I need to go out into the world and find subjects. I know what I want to write about but I can’t just sit there and do it. I have to go out and find it. And when I do write fiction, I am always second guessing and doubting, no one is going to believe this. The things I need to happen in the story don’t seem believable, but if they have already happened in real life then I can make it work. BMR: What are you working on now? Sundeen: I want to write about Vets and PTSD. Like, tomorrow I’m going to a graduation for Vets with PTSD who have trained their own service dogs. Maybe it won’t end up being a story. But I’ll be there. In fiction, you make up the facts to make the story. In nonfiction you make up the story to fit the facts. You get these true things but you might not have the form. BMR: How do you like teaching? You are more of a writer who takes a teaching job, not the typical teacher-writer. Sundeen: I love it. I mean a book tour takes 20 days. The other 340 days, I’m not just sitting around. BMR: Do you have a daily routine? Sundeen: I did. I have. But since finishing The Unsettlers, I went to Standing Rock, I haven’t written anything for eight or nine months. Like a lot of people, I think I fell into a depression after the inauguration. Which brings me back to teaching. The world just seems so bad right now, I like the idea of being in contact with people, in some way, to influence them and make sense of things. And teaching seems a more direct way of doing that than writing a book that will come out three years from now and maybe people will read it and maybe not… BMR: And maybe it will be outdated. Hopefully he has resigned by then… Sundeen: Yeah, I doubt it.

David O’Connor pursued a career in Theatre and Film and has worked on both sides to the camera and stage. Currently he blogs at The MFA Years and reviews literary magazines for The Review Review. and is pursing an MFA in Fiction and teaching at UNM. His work has appeared in various publications including: Collective Exiles, Bohemia Journal, BlueStem, The Literary Yard, Fiction Magazine, Electric Windmill Press, The Kite Mag, Barcelona Metropolitan, The New Quarterly and The Guardian. www.davidmorganoconnor.com

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2nd Place Poetry 2017 Summer Contest This is a beautifully constructed poem—a thoughtful elegy for those slaughtered by police brutality, as well as an imagined future for the fatherless victims of racial violence. Both tribute and warning, the poem centers on the daughter of Philando Castile as hope, as avenger. The poem soars, using masterful imagery and powerful self-examination to scorch against the fixed stars of these vile historical and reoccurring wounds. Safiya Sinclair

Her word will land in you Alana de Hinojosa

after Philando Castile

When she comes for us, bearing that supple midwest july closing at dusk, first the fire & then the flies, nightfall’s curly goat fur after a haircut like her father’s, seven silver fish strapped with wire to her Falcon breasts, let us recall what we did when we heard her child voice, her mother’s anguished sir, sir, sir, when we saw the video of her father, & the officer’s brown, familiar hands gloved in ivory. I know us: we cling to the light we both love & distrust, gulp sweet honeysuckles while we hunt the night so we may hang it on our walls, betraying you & you & her repeatedly, the blaze of it all hovering between us above our crow & pigeon faces body full of fear, body full of ojalá que the river whose dark hands midwife our children entering this cruel, possible world will encounter something different.

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But look what we’ve done with his hands: First the fire * * * * * * * & then the flies: little things, telescopes & vessels, a father portrait coming in with the tide. So, when that girl-child comes for us (as she will), bearing her firefly, let us study & map our hands, let us implicate one another — my brothers, your sisters, davíd & his son who worked for la migra, doña miriam who called abuela negrita & laughed big teeth, our beloveds reaching over that thin space between Acá y Allá barbed wire phantoms even now — let us hold the portrait’s breath, yield to the child’s delivery, field the questions, her kiss, mouth of fire, returning the night, & braid something ordinary as a Falcon’s black feather blooming in our hair.

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2nd Place Fiction 2017 Summer Contest It’s funny and satirical and makes great use of first-person collective in order to achieve that satiric humor. Anne Raeff and Lori Ostlund

In-Laws and Out-Laws Evan Lloyd

We waited for him to bring her home. When we heard the crunching of the tires on the gravel we ran to our positions. One of us peeked behind a curtain, two of us busied ourselves in the kitchen and one of us hid upstairs. Kristen. We never liked her. We were never sure about her. But we never expected this from her. A betrayal of this magnitude! We still talk about the first time Rob brought her home to meet us. Christmas. A family time. Our favorite time. One of us grimaced at her straight blonde hair and patted down our mousey frizz, one of us tried to reach out toward her, to welcome her, and was met by a cold steely gaze. One of us gave her a glass of wine. She declined and told us she didn’t drink. We gasped. We are a family of wine drinkers. We drink wine. It is what we’re best at, we told each other. Then Rob said he’d cut back too. Rob! Cut back! He’s only thirty-two! We laughed, he’d always been a joker. The baby of the family. She’ll never make it through Christmas without a bottle of Cab Sav, one of us whispered. We gave her a day without wine. We gave Rob an hour. We were right. He was on the Montepeluciano by sundown. We won him back. She was awkward the whole week, failing to navigate through the intricate traditions of a Walker family Christmas. She refused to come to midnight mass. Was she Jewish, one of us asked? No. An atheist. We groaned. We weren’t religious per se, but this was Christmas. She didn’t contribute to Rob’s stocking. Our eyes rolled. He hadn’t told her. It’s not your fault, we lied to her. She pushed around the fish pie on her plate on Christmas Eve, insulting our mother. Our eyes widened. We gossiped in corners and bedrooms hidden away from her. On Christmas morning she was dressed and made up, while we slouched in our pajamas holding out our festive stockings with glee. We thought we would win her over with our generosity by making a stocking for a woman we’d never met. But the sweater wasn’t her size and she already had one of those corkcicles. The pink of the scarf wasn’t in her color wheel. But thank you so much. Our excitement dwindled as we watched her dig through the stocking and find a travel-size, miniature bottle of gin that had been lodged in the toe of the sock. Rejected, the bottle rolled away under the Christmas Tree. We felt like drunk assholes. 33 | Issue 36


Later at lunch she claimed not to like gravy. It’s not gravy, we cried. It’s a red wine reduction! We felt like we weren’t good enough. We were split into teams and we failed with her at charades and felt guilty if we won. We sang carols and she got the words wrong. We weren’t surprised when she said she’d never watched Downton Abbey and we had to turn off the Christmas Special. Then go read a book on your own, one of us whispered to another. We drank ourselves into a stupor and said stupid things to Rob in the kitchen, while picking at leftover turkey. She’s not for you. She’s not one of us. We’re your siblings. Believe us. We behaved badly. We woke up sorry, and fuzzy, and confused. One of us went for a walk with her. To try and salvage something. For Rob. She called us an army of drunks. An army! She was right. We were an army and we were marching to a different beat, but we could change! We would try harder. We could fold her into the family! One of us said it wouldn’t last. One of us said we’d lost Rob forever. One of us cried and said that if he loved her then he wasn’t a Walker anyway. One of us resurrected the childhood myth he’d been adopted. One of us tripped her. One of us stuck our leg out. It was an accident! One of us took her to the hospital despite it only being a rolled ankle. One of us exaggerated and said it was a broken ankle. One of us told her to tough it out. She did. One of us cried with guilt for sticking our foot out in the first place. She stood in the kitchen, high on pain killers and drank wine and told us to go fuck ourselves. One of us smiled. We all exhaled when they left. They’ll never make it. What a bitch, one of us said. She’s not the one you want to hunker down in the foxhole with, another nodded wisely. We Walkers are hard to love. One of us berated the rest of us like we were still children. We sulked. We poured another glass of Chablis. We all sighed with relief when they broke up a few months later. We jumped for joy. We all returned Rob’s forgotten calls. We all met his moans about her. We all shared in his pain. We all told him to get over it. She’s not the one. We all sighed with frustration when they got back together. We all met up for lunches and drinks in the city and we all agreed she wasn’t so bad. In small doses. We’ll be fine! Just top up my glass, we said. We gritted our teeth on a family vacation and played volleyball (her favorite sport) despite just wanting to laze in the sun with a book. We invited her to our weddings (begrudgingly) and our children’s christenings (Well, why? She’s an atheist?) and anniversaries and Thanksgivings and two more Christmases. Then there was Gram Gram’s diamond. Rob asked for it. Our mother pursed her lips. What about us? we cried. Don’t we get it? Aren’t we your daughters? Rob is the youngest, not the eldest. Judy is. Shouldn’t she get first dibs? What about Tim? He’s been with Vanessa for five years. Doesn’t he get it? We love Vanessa. She’s one of us. She gets us. We said we would rather die than see Rob’s bitch with Gram Gram’s ring. But Rob got it anyway. The Golden Child. The baby. We threatened him. If you do this you are done. We’ll never forgive you. You’ll be dead to us. You’ll be the death of your mother. It is her god-damn ring and she doesn’t like her so she doesn’t want her to have it. He flung the ring into the carpet. He went to Jared. We went to the wedding. One of us wore a hat. One of us wore black. It’s slimming! One of Blue Mesa Review | 34


us brought Rob’s first girlfriend as a date on a dare. One of us cried. One of us said she did look beautiful. One of us had two slices of cake. Okay three. One of us gave a laughable but heartfelt speech. We all got absurdly drunk. We all sweatily danced to the Electric Slide. Out of time. We all hugged her at the end of the night and said things we didn’t mean like Welcome to the family! We were surprised when she got pregnant so quickly. Three times! We folded her children into ours. What a Walker face! She’s got Gram Gram’s eyes. He’s got Grandpa’s butt chin. We grew to temper her, distracted by our new additions. We grew to love her because of her children. Rob returned to us. All was forgiven. We laughed and drank and cheered our way through birthday parties with cake and ice cream, and Thanksgivings and Christmases and Fourth of Julys at the new beach house and we forgot all about her. We didn’t notice her in the family photos in matching outfits, she just blended in—a floating white polo neck sweater in a sea of denim legs. We called her. We texted her. We shared recipes with her. She’s not so bad. We laughed about that first Christmas. What a hoot. Aren’t we terrible? She came to midnight mass. She made the fish pie. She never lost the baby weight. She became a godmother to our youngest’s youngest and before long we were one. She bought the Montepeluciano. We loved her. We looked forward to seeing her. We were a family. We were Walkers. Until. She. Fucked. Her. Kid’s. Tennis. Coach—Chad. Who is called Chad in this day and age? Rob caught them in the act. Quite a backhand she has, apparently. We hated her. We rejected her. We cried for her. We were betrayed by her. We felt bruised and battered and upset and lost and confused and we decided we would never forgive her. Ever. Never. Never ever! She filed for divorce. She wanted full custody. We begged her not to. We’ll take you back! We wept for Rob. We never liked her. You’ll be better off, we all said. You are better than her, always were. You’ll move on. He did—we didn’t. We threatened her. One of us keyed her car, a nice straight line. One of us crank called her and breathed deeply. You’re a Walker for life, we scrawled in pink paint across her door. We got sued. We hired a detective. We hired a lawyer. We imagined hiring a hitman and then we imagined cancelling the hitman. We paid her kids to break Tennis Coach’s wrist. It was an accident. We got sued, again. We lost the new beach house. We listened to Rob shout. We settled down. We missed her. We drank wine. We only saw Rob’s kids every other Christmas. We watched Rob turn his life around. We watched Rob lose twenty pounds. We drank even more wine. We moved on to bourbon. We waited for him to bring his new girlfriend home. When we heard the crunching of the tires on the gravel we ran to our positions. One of us peeked behind a curtain, two of us busied ourselves in the kitchen and one of us hid upstairs. She got out of the car, double-fisting whiskey bottles and we thought, she’ll never be as good as Kristen. 35 | Issue 36


Masked Girl

Sarah Groth

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3rd Place Poetry 2017 Summer Contest The rumbling control of this poem is as fascinating as what lurks underneath. By exploring the fracturing interiority of marriage and domesticity against the violent exteriority of the natural world, we see the frightening overlaps of loss and desire. Here we find that sometimes what most wounds us is within ourselves, our unsettling capacity for suffering; our willingness to settle. Safiya Sinclair

Starter Home

Samuel Piccone

Every sound that wakes us we call settling: lumber shaking its last tremors of the forest, the rabbit pups whimpering in the garden, fox-killed one by one until there’s nothing but a trampled burrow, piles of shedding. These first nights are all about adjustment, recognizing the empty stillness as something we’re supposed to fill with our own creation. It’s normal for newlyweds to feel farthest from each other when suffering to be close. We could pretend we’re teenagers in a house that we broke into, the bottle of rum swiped from a father’s liquor cabinet, our nakedness the only important thing. But at some point, finding a place to start stops being the problem. Look at the wedding bands we bought, the must-have inlay of petrified rosewood. The salesman said it was all the rage, natural is in. We thought we wouldn’t care how they creak a little when we spin them on our fingers. We call that settling too.

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Trees of The South L. Vocem

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Labradorite

Zuri Montgomery

2nd Place Nonfiction 2017 Summer Contest The difficult subject matter of sexual assault is sensitively rendered in this powerful essay about a private journey on a very public avenue of activism and expression. This essay offers a clear example of weaving personal voice with political chorus without compromising the distinctiveness of the first or exploiting the energy of the second. “This is the rightest thing for me to do,” writes the author, and the reader can’t help but champion this effort because speaking out from the noise of rape culture is unquestionably courageous. What a moving—and necessarily troubling—literary experience. Rigoberto González

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Shattering Silence Yvonne Conza

In the month when the birth flower is an unfussy, gentle blue forget-me-not and the birthstone is sapphire, I read a tweet about a Columbia University student’s endurance performance art piece. For her senior thesis, Emma Sulkowicz, an art student, vowed to haul a twin college dorm mattress around campus until the student accused of raping her was expelled. Sulkowicz, dubbed “Mattress Girl” by the media, was protesting the school’s adjudication process that found insufficient evidence of her rape. Her actions placed the neglected culture of campus sexual assaults under a microscope. It was political and impossible to ignore. On a video linked to the tweet, I listened to Emma’s easygoing voice discuss her mattress performance. The university’s picturesque quad was in the background. She spoke with endearing and youthful “ums” and odd phrase transitions like becoming-telling that a TED talk coach would have polished out: The mattress is the perfect size for me to just be able to carry it enough that I can continue with my day but also heavy enough that I have to continually struggle with it. I think the other thing about beds is that—we keep them in our bedroom which is our intimate space—our private space where we can retreat if we don’t want to deal with anyone at that moment. But, um, I think the past year or so of my life has been really marked by becoming-telling people what happened in that most intimate private space and bringing it out into the light— A few days after hearing about Emma’s manifesto, I found the courage to grab my memory foam pillow off my bed and join her and others at a Stand With Survivors rally at Columbia. Attendance as a survivor or a supporter was urged through social media and a large, public turnout was encouraged. The weight of what happened to me didn’t feel the same as what Emma alleged happened to her. When I was 7, I huddled at the top of the stairs listening to my sister, 10, tell Mom she’d been harmed. “Liar. You’re a liar”—stated, not screamed. Mom protected her eldest son, 14, over her two daughters. I ran to my room and closed the door—paralyzed into five decades of powerless silence, fearing I’d also be called a liar. Attending the rally felt like the rightest thing to do. I selected the weight I could carry— choosing my memory foam pillow over the lighter goose feathered one—and headed uptown to the campus. I heard myself assert: Rape is not only wrong in a dorm room, it also shouldn’t happen in a dark ally, a store parking lot, a workplace, or a child’s home on a couch or atop a parent’s bed. I identified with Emma when she said on the video: Rape can happen anywhere. Um, for me I was raped in my own dorm bed. And since then that space has become wrought for me—and I feel like I carried the weight of what happened there with me everywhere. I washed my hair, wore sparse makeup, jeans, a graphic t-shirt and a denim jacket—a Blue Mesa Review | 40


combination fashioned to avoid a “Granny to the cause” wardrobe. As I shut the door to my apartment while holding my pillow, I felt bold and fearful. I lived on the top floor and hoped nobody would get on the elevator after I hit the “L” button. Hearing what’s with the pillow? would have been enough to fray my resolve. My eyes fixed on the upper portion of the elevator where glowing red high floor LED numbers morphed into lower ones. It was past 11 a.m. when I stepped onto the sidewalk. Friday’s concierge never looked up and the doorman only nodded an expression of good day. My pillow must have passed for by-thepound laundry. My thoughts became a mantra: the rightest thing to do, the rightest thing to do, the rightest thing to do. Unspeakable: I should have supported my sister. * I arrived at Columbia as the only pillow carrier. Students were turning blue mattresses into message boards by using strips of wide red tape. Pre-made cardboard signs were in a pile and someone asked me to take one. It read, “Thanks for Nothing.” With my pillow and sign, I took my place behind two girls who had their mouths covered with red tape. One held a “Silence is Violence” sign; another, “Fuck Your Fake Concern.” Some of the crowd arrived in pairs or as triplets holding hands. Others, like me, eyed the situation warily, unsure about participating, but unable to walk away. Energy began to build. The number of spectators was growing. As they witnessed the event unfold, many of them decided to grab cardboard signs and join in. The spot on the campus quad had no shade, no cover. Everything was out in the open. A short distance from me, Emma talked to the organizers and reporters. Her lean and lanky athletic body, coltish in movement, was up to the challenge of an endurance piece. Strength radiated from her with ease, not exertion. Selected strands of her graphite hair were dyed a soft wisteria and her end tresses were shaded sudsy sea foam. Imparted: a whispered fairy tale image of pixie dust and Tinkerbell. The scene was empowering and made the fifteen subway stops to get there worth it. She walked from one end of the quad to the other and kept looking back at us with an expression I imagined was pride for inspiring us to show up. Our support felt acknowledged. My attendance was to validate her experience and to support shattering silence of shackled-shame. It felt like a long time before a woman in the crowd took a megaphone and roared out a poem that became the gateway for others to speak their truths. Her savage howl woke up the girl I’d been years ago. For the next three hours, I stood in communion with my fellow survivors listening to their bravery. Each time I thought I’d step up and give voice to my trauma, I’d get anxious and retreat because what happened to me didn’t happen on a campus. My thoughts circled around how assaults happen in homes, before college, and sometimes prior to second grade. For the first time ever, I felt acceptance from others. What happened to me was being believed and given a voice. A young man spoke about being violated, broadening the issue to encompass other genders. Someone else said, “When a pretty girl is raped, it’s a tragedy, and when a fat woman is raped, she should be grateful. Don’t forget me.” Another male talked about being ostracized and how

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he lost his friends because he didn’t defend someone that had been expelled for rape. And then came, “I know what it feels like to be the person in these crowds who doesn’t know how to hold this bullhorn yet, and I want to say something for those who are not going to come up here. We believe you. I believe you. So stay.” His words expressed an understanding of what it meant to be called a liar and be so torn that you can’t speak your truth. After an hour, I approached Emma. She was wearing distressed cut-off shorts with a loose fitting white t-shirt—a sizzling hot day outfit not “asking-for-it” attire. I hugged my pillow into my chest and spoke from my heart, not the bullhorn. I told her, “I came with my pillow. It’s what I could—” Fraught words regressed me back to the strawberry blonde disheveled haired little girl with a scrawny body, long clownish feet and clothes purchased from the Ames children’s section. There was nothing suggestive about the fabrics or fit of my long-sleeved striped pullover top, stretchy baby blue nylon shorts or day-of-the week underwear with elastic waistbands and leg openings. I had not wanted to cry in front of Emma, but then I did. More the adult, Emma embraced me and asked if I’d place my pillow on top of the mattresses. She touched my shoulder and left me feeling that my pillow, the only one there, belonged on the stack. As a rally organizer alerted her to more media requests, our eyes locked and her hand squeezed my shoulder to bolster me. With conviction, I headed for the mattresses that symbolized the all-encompassing bed from which survivors must rise. I placed my pillow atop one. It belonged there. The next day, I went online and viewed photos of the event. Seeing my pillow on the mattress pile, I felt proud. Each snapshot reinforced the rightest thing to do mantra that pulsed inside of me. There’s even one of me freed of my pillow next to Emma, my “Thanks for Nothing” sign held by both hands. I stood with survivors and became one, not in a quiet way through my yoga practice where I set an intention, nor by mailing a check to RAINN.org, but by being visible and unashamed. I’d shown up and allowed myself to be photographed in public. My pillow, amidst a sea of blue mattresses, expressed hard-won courage and determination to speak up and participate in the need for rape culture change. The part I played in the Stand With Survivors rally felt important until 8 weeks later when Emma’s words about the next public rally appeared in the Columbia Daily Spectator Op-Ed: I understand that many of you are considering carrying a pillow on this day of action. I hope that very few of you end up carrying pillows. Pillows are ‘light,’ ‘fluffy,’ and may detract from our message. The propagation of images of people carrying pillows could undercut our understanding of the gravity of sexual assault, and imbue what should be seen as a serious crime with ‘cute’ and ‘celebratory’ connotations. If we flood the Internet with images and the inevitable ‘selfies’ that look like they came from a slumber party, we will fail to communicate what I think we all believe: Sexual assault is neither a ‘light’ nor ‘fluffy’ matter, and we cannot treat it as if it were. She continued to express her desire to protect her college-credited art thesis and ensure that her efforts not be trivialized by the use of pillows. Prior to the rally she’d stated: I’m very Blue Mesa Review | 42


interested in seeing where this piece goes and what sort of life it takes on. Emma was setting the rule as to the amount of weight one must bear to be considered a survivor of a sexual assault. She conceptualized the types of sexual violence that make ‘our message’ better art. Promoted as an inclusive event where survivors weren’t placed into categories, Stand With Survivors wasn’t supposed to be a gallery exhibit. Speakers included those that had graduated, attended different colleges and been assaulted off campus. The issue impacted all genders and all ages and it encompassed more than one woman’s story. I hadn’t felt out of place there. Why didn’t I grab the megaphone and tell my story? Fear had been my childhood narrative. As an adult I told myself it wasn’t that bad. I’d accomplished things—moved to Manhattan, graduated college, been in the workplace, published short stories and married—yet, after twice being assaulted by my older brother, life was never the same. I’m easily spooked and hypervigilant to my surroundings—jumpy at the sound of an umbrella opening, startled by a cell phone notification ping and alarmed by a jiggle from a door handle. I know what air brakes sound like but they still rattle me. My husband tells me I need to learn how to relax. In yoga, I’m reminded to breathe. I’ve had to learn that people will touch me—doctors, subway riders, store clerks, doormen, fitness instructors, strangers, professionals and friends. Still I recoil, in a perfected way that comes off polite not neurotic. My fear, kept hidden from others, leaves visible damage undetectable. It’s also the way I’ve avoided public shaming and the powerlessness attached to sexual assault and incest. Fluffy. Had I acted fluffy? I would never name a pet “Fluffy”—it seems dismissive. * At 7, jolted awake, my police-blue eyes flooded open. My oldest brother had his finger inside of me. I didn’t dare move. Bunched around my knees were my shorts and incorrect day of the week underwear—Tuesday instead of Monday. I played roadkill possum and didn’t cry. Screams were trapped in the back of my throat. It hurt. I might have winced when he saw me awake and pulled his finger out, then put it back in. Things I still recall with exactitude: 1. I had fallen asleep to the host of Romper Room holding her magic mirror and reciting: Romper, stomper, bomper boo. Tell me, tell me, tell me, do. Magic Mirror, tell me today, did all my friends have fun at play? I can see Susie and Billy and Tommy and— 2. The indentation mark left on my waist from the elastic band of my underwear. It reminded me of the equator, a division of my body. 3. My brother’s windblown china black hair that fluttered and lifted off his neck like a horse’s tail in motion as he ran away. Afterwards I curled into a tight, tiny ball hoping that by compressing myself I would become whole again. That day my thoughts splintered, parts of them erased as if they’d been aluminum powder shaken inside a splayed mind’s Etch-A-Sketch resetting itself into a blank slate. But I was not that clever. My hands opened and closed, unable to grip. After awhile I got off the couch, went into the bathroom and sat on the toilet wanting to pee, urging myself to release but holding it in. I tinkled in spurts, then streamed as I folded over and sniffed the cotton liner of my underwear. Smelling the scent of being hunted and wounded felt necessary to reclaim myself.

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In our household there was no one to turn to for help. Violence and feral instincts were household staples, like milk in the fridge. At 5, from a narrow hallway outside my bedroom, I witnessed my father straddle my mother’s body on a couch, his necktie wrapped around her throat. When I was 6, his fist, aimed at her face, turned in a split second and punched a gaping hole into a closet door. * The next time my brother attacked me came soon after. A ten-minute shuteye I told myself as I closed my parents’ bedroom door—more cautious about where I napped. Their room had an aura of restricted access—“grownups only.” I’d only enter to drop off folded laundry or dust the furniture. It was a place where children didn’t play. I’d be safe. Nobody would come after me there. Telling my own story misplaces some details. Someone else should be telling it. I can’t. My brother can’t. He committed suicide. I awoke. Time was elusive and alertness was absent. I was an ambushed rag doll with arms and legs held into place, not unlike our Siamese cat, who days earlier had been dangled in midair wearing a choke collar my brother had put on her. Unable to escape, she put up only a slight struggle. I imagined she reasoned that flinching or showing emotion would only have made the situation worse. Bored, my brother set her free. Having witnessed our cat being tortured from a safe place in the living room, a glass window between us, I feared what would happen to me if I told anyone about my incident. I lifted up, up and far away before returning to my body. A shaft of sunlight streamed in from the window exposing floating dust particles. The fake wood paneling looked hokey, irritating. This time I exploded and fought. I had a clump of his hair in my hand as he ran away. I howled into a pillow. * Traumatized children disassociate, detach, float and reference topsy-turvy awareness. I hovered above myself as a spectator, not the person it was happening to. I did not allow myself to be in the room. I sent myself away. Recovering from my childhood comes with aftershocks. Intimacy is fraught with ambiguity. My life has been about learning how to take off a suit of armor that still feels welded on. What happened to me shouldn’t be squelched or silenced. Sexual assaults occur on college campuses, in parking garages, on stairwells, in bathroom stalls, on park trails, during rock concerts, in the back and front seats of cars, inside laundromats, around side streets, in our homes and in numerous other places around the world. Visuals and symbolic language about such a large and important issue shouldn’t be confined to a Columbia University student’s senior thesis. The weight everyone carries as a result of rape and sexual assault will be different. Nobody has the right to belittle the pain of others or decide how much violence and injustice weighs. In fewer than 8,000 words, Emily Doe, the Stanford rape survivor, shattered the silence of sexual assault. Her victim’s impact letter made people understand what is and what isn’t consent. Four days after Emily read her statement, beginning with, “You don’t know me, but you’ve been inside me, and that’s why we’re here today,” it had been viewed 11 million times and read aloud Blue Mesa Review | 44


on CNN and in Congress. She ended with letting girls everywhere know that, “On nights when you feel alone, I am with you. When people doubt you or dismiss you, I am with you. I fought everyday for you. So never stop fighting, I believe you.” Though spoken to champion others to heal and regain their sense of agency, it takes courage to go public with a story that continues to hurt you. Writer Barry Lopez, abused as a child, wrote: “What you really want in the simplest terms is for somebody to believe what happened.” To be heard and believed is everything to a survivor. If a dorm mattress symbolizes the neglected culture of campus rapes, then perhaps the pillow can represent incest survivors. Headboard, footboard, box springs, linens, bolsters, pillow protectors and comforters—any part of a bed can symbolize sexual violation. It’s time to talk more openly about incest without shame and to make room at the table for fluffy girls with pillows to tell their survivor stories. I am with you and believe you. This is the rightest thing for me to do. The canvas, composition and message regarding rape culture belongs to all of us to curate. It’s time to shatter the silence of every type of sexual assault.

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Blue Mesa Bookshelf BMR editors and graduate readers share what they’re reading when they find a few minutes between magazine submissions and their MFA coursework.

Mitch Marty

Hayley Peterson

With each story, John Jodzio nocks an arrow, shoots it into a dark room, and hits a flawed character who is striving to make the best of a bad situation. Whether it's a broke jewelry maker selling stolen steaks door-to-door while trying to fund his dream, or an alcoholic widower who runs a dilapidated bed and breakfast, Knockout serves up a grizzled cast that keeps getting hit by humorous tragedy and circumstances beyond their control. These absurd glimpses into the lives of outcasts and misfits will leave you haunted by the dark images and complex insights of life on the edge.

Currently I’m reading Whip Smart, Melissa Febos’s debut memoir about working as a dominatrix for several years. My own writing explores various iterations of power, desire, and sexuality, so this book hits the mark for me. Not only does it address these themes (in brazen detail), it explores the condition of secrecy and how we find power in curating manageable identities for different situations and relationships. Type this book’s title into Amazon.com and you’ll get all sorts of fan-fictionquality “customers who bought this also bought” suggestions, but make no mistake, Febos’s prose is sharp, cerebral, and insightful. It forces you to examine your own inner life in ways we tend to avoid.

Tatiana Duvanova Unfinished, abandoned by the author, The Castle is, nevertheless, a very satisfying read. The novel follows K, a land surveyor, who arrives in a village, presumably with the intention to stay. Ever since his arrival, K is trying to gain access to the Castle, the mysterious authority reigning over the village, despite everyone telling him it would never happen. At times surreal and painfully tedious, for me The Castle is all about pursuing desperate causes, trying to get something we know we will never get, banging on the door that will never open.

Tori Cárdenas When I haven’t been reading for my classes or taking long naps that I don’t really deserve, I’ve been reading Burnt Tongues: An Anthology of Transgressive Stories edited by Chuck Palahniuk. These are stories about characters on the edges of society or sanity, and they make you question whether or not you really do believe the best of people. Palahniuk said in an interview that these pieces, these burnt tongues, have a way of “forcing the reader to read close.” I definitely feel that with every page, I find myself bringing the book ever closer to my Blue Mesa Review | 46


eyes in disbelief. But be careful if you decide to pick this one up—every story has something sinister lurking within it, waiting to jump out and scare you half to death.

heroines. Managing to be both fresh and philosophical, I think it rivals anything else being written today.

Steve Howe

This week I’m reading Jamaal May’s, The Big Book of Exit Strategies. I was introduced to this book by my friend and former BMR Poetry Editor/ EIC Aaron Reeder. For the poet, this book works more as a book of entrances. It’s an inspiration. A lesson on examining the self while examining the society that molds us. May’s striking imagery and beautiful rhythms remind the working poet that there are ever expanding frontiers in our art. May is a poet of the present. His eyes are open and he is willing share with us what he sees.

Last spring, I became that guy in your MFA who borrows books and never returns them. Our fiction editor, Tatiana, loaned me The Body: An Essay by Jenny Boully and I just got around to reading it this month. It was worth the wait. Boully crafts a book-length essay comprised only of footnotes to a nonexistent text, which leaves the reader confused, wondering, and in wonder at the beautiful language. Like great poetry, the strength of this nonfiction piece is that it enables the reader to place themselves into the work, and this singular story becomes infinite in its interpretation. It’s a beautiful essay that requires multiple reads, which unfortunately means Tatiana is going to have to wait a little longer.

Lydia Wassan I finally got to reading Arundhati Roy’s long-awaited novel, The Ministry of Utmost Happiness. It took her ten years to write it, and is worth the wait. The novel explores life and love on the margins of contemporary India. Opening in a graveyard in Delhi, the story follows Anjum, a transgender woman and adoptive mother, and Tilo, a former student who travels to Kashmir to assist her friend, a longtime freedom fighter. Roy’s insights are at once cerebral, visceral, and imagistic. Known as a writer who ‘creates her own language’ Roy doesn’t disappoint in rendering her two full and complex 47 | Issue 36

Ruben Rodriquez

Ryan W. Murphy Based on the amazing podcast by the same name, Peter Adamson’s History of Philosophy Without any Gaps series is a smooth, casual entry point into the development of philosophy from classical philosophy up to (in a future volume) the present day. This volume guides the reader through the pre-Socratics, Plato, and Aristotle. Admittedly, I’m no professional student of philosophy, but Adamson’s writing is relaxed and casual, introducing various thinkers and their doctrines, while not skipping over anyone on the way. Beyond the comfort of the writing, you will learn more about philosophy by means of giraffes than you had ever thought possible by picking up this comfortable volume.


2017 Summer Contest Judges

Poetry Safiya Sinclair was born and raised in Montego Bay, Jamaica. She is the author

of Cannibal (University of Nebraska Press, 2016), winner of the Prairie Schooner Book Prize in Poetry, the Addison M. Metcalf Award from the American Academy of Arts and Letters, the OCM Bocas Prize for Caribbean Literature in Poetry, longlisted for the PEN Open Book Award, the Dylan Thomas Prize, and named one of the American Library Association’s “Notable Books of the Year.” Sinclair is the recipient of a Whiting Writers’ Award, a Pushcart Prize, a Ruth Lilly and Dorothy Sargent Rosenberg Fellowship from the Poetry Foundation, fellowships from Yaddo, the Bread Loaf Writers' Conference and the Fine Arts Work Center in Provincetown, as well as the Amy Clampitt Residency Award. Her poems have appeared in Poetry, Kenyon Review, Granta, The Nation, New England Review, Boston Review, TriQuarterly, Oxford American, and elsewhere. She received her MFA in poetry at the University of Virginia, and is currently a PhD candidate in literature and creative writing at the University of Southern California. Source: http://www.safiyasinclair.com

Nonfiction Rigoberto González is the author of four books of poetry, most recently Unpeopled Eden,

which won the Lambda Literary Award and the Lenore Marshall Prize from the Academy of American Poets. His ten books of prose include two bilingual children's books, the three young adult novels in the Mariposa Club series, the novel Crossing Vines, the story collection Men Without Bliss, and three books of nonfiction, including Butterfly Boy: Memories of a Chicano Mariposa, which received the American Book Award from the Before Columbus Foundation. The recipient of Guggenheim, NEA and USA Rolón fellowships, a NYFA grant in poetry, the Shelley Memorial Award from the Poetry Society of America, The Poetry Center Book Award, and the Barnes & Noble Writer for Writers Award, he is contributing editor for Poets & Writers Magazine and writes a monthly column for NBC-Latino online.

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Currently, he is professor of English at Rutgers-Newark, the State University of New Jersey, and the inaugural Stan Rubin Distinguished Writer-in-Residence at the Rainier Writing Workshop. Source: http://www.rigobertogonzalez.com/

Fiction Lori Ostlund’s first collection of stories, The Bigness of the World, received the Flannery

O’Connor Award for Short Fiction, the California Book Award for First Fiction, and the Edmund White Debut Fiction Award. It was shortlisted for the William Saroyan International Prize for Writing, was a Lambda finalist, and was named a Notable Book by The Short Story Prize. Her stories have appeared in Best American Short Stories and The PEN/O, Henry Prize Stories, among other publications. Source: www.simonandschuster.com

Anne Raeff's short story collection, The Jungle Around Us won the 2015 Flannery O'Connor

Award for Short Fiction. The collection is also a finalist for the California Book Award and was on The San Francisco Chronicle's 100 Best Books of 2017 list. Her stories and essays have appeared in New England Review, ZYZZYVA, and Guernica among other places. Her first novel Clara Mondschein's Melancholia was published in 2002 (MacAdam/Cage). Source: www.anneraeff.com

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Contributors David Connor David Connor is a writer based in Los Angeles, California, recently graduated from the California Institute of the Arts with an MFA in Writing. His work has appeared in Potluck Magazine, Running Moon, and his story “The Tornado is in a Seltzer Bottle in the Kitchen” was named as a finalist for the Robert and Adele Schiff Award in Prose at The Cincinnati Review. In his free time, David develops new languages for communicating with his neighbor’s dog. He is working on a novel, Oh God, the Sun Goes, which he hopes to complete soon.

Aurielle Marie Aurielle Marie is a Black, Atlanta-born, Queer hip-hop scholar and a cultural worker. Through her work as a poet and an activist, she explores the uses of intimacy and ritual in the practice of Black resistance. Aurielle is a Roddenberry Fellow Finalist, a Voices of Our Nation Fellow-Alum, and a current Queer Emerging ArtistIn-Residence at Destiny Art Center. Both her activism and artistry ground themselves in the afro-indigenous legacy of storytelling in the Deep South. She was a 2016 Kopkind Fellow and has been featured as a social-political pundit on CNN. Her essays and poems have been published in Selfish Magazine, in Scalawag, on For Harriett, ESSENCE Mag, Allure, NBC Blk, and Huffington Post. Her inaugural collection, Gumbo Ya Ya, is forthcoming from Write Bloody Press. Her work has been featured on a global host of stages, most importantly in her grandmother’s kitchen. Follow her on Twitter & Instagram: @ElleOfTwoCities.

Reyes Ramirez Reyes Ramirez is a Houstonian. In addition to having an MFA in Fiction, Reyes received the 2014 riverSedge Poetry Prize, the 2012 Sylvan Karchmer Fiction Prize, and has poems, stories, essays, and reviews (and/or forthcoming) in: Houston Noir, Southwestern American Literature, Glass Poetry Press, Gulf Coast Journal, Origins Journal, The Acentos Review, Cimarron Review, riverSedge: A Journal of Art and Literature, Front Porch Journal, the anthology pariahs: writing from outside the margins from SFASU Press, and elsewhere. You can read more of his work at www.reyesvramirez.com. Blue Mesa Review | 50


Contributors Alana de Hinojosa Alana de Hinojosa is a poet pursing a dissertation in the CĂŠsar E ChĂĄvez Department of Chicana/o Studies at UCLA that is concerned with histories of displacement, dispossession, diaspora, loss, return, and what these sometimes have to do with rivers and bodies of water. Her poetry has been published in Huizache, Duende, and is forthcoming in Four Chambers, Track//Four, and elsewhere. She is a Community of Writers at Squaw Valley, Las Dos Brujas, and Hampshire College alum. She was raised in Davis, California.

Evan Lloyd Evan was born near Oxford, England. After traveling the world at age twenty-five, he settled in Washington, D.C. He has worked as a teacher in the U.S and the U.K for fifteen years and currently teaches World Literature at Thurgood Marshall Academy. He has a degrees from Lancaster University, Warwick University and recently received a Master of Writing from Johns Hopkins. Evan is currently finishing up his first novel, The Lunchroom, as well as a collection of short stories. He lives in Columbia Heights with his husband, Josh and their Beagle-Labrador mix, Jasper.

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Contributors Samuel Piccone Samuel Piccone received an MFA in poetry from North Carolina State University. His work has appeared or is forthcoming in publications including, The Southeast Review, Passages North, Southern Indiana Review, and The Minnesota Review. He serves on the poetry staff at Raleigh Review, and currently resides and teaches in Nevada.

Yvonne Conza Yvonne Conza’s writing has appeared in The Rumpus, F(r)iction #5 and Funhouse Magazine and her author interviews appear in The Millions, The Bloom and Tethered by Letters. She has performed at The Moth in NYC and has recently been a finalist for the: Penelope Niven Award in Creative Nonfiction, Cutbank Literary Journal, Tobias Wolff, Barry Lopez Creative Nonfiction, Blue Mesa Review and The Raymond Carver Short Story.

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