Conceptions Southwest 2015

Page 1






Copyright Š Conceptions Southwest Published by the Student Publications Board University of New Mexico All rights revert to contributors upon publication issn 1048-8790 c/o Student Publications MSC03-2230 University of New Mexico Albuquerque, NM 87131-0001 Printed by Starline Printing 7111 Pan American Freeway NE Albuquerque, NM 87109 505-345-8900 Conceptions Southwest is the fine arts and literary magazine created for and by the University of New Mexico community. Its staff consists of undergraduate and graduate student volunteers and is directed by an Editor-in-Chief selected by unm’s Student Publications Board. Submissions are accepted from all unm undergraduate, graduate, and continuing education students; faculty; staff; and alumni. This issue is brought to you by the Associated Students of the University of New Mexico (asunm) and the Graduate Professional Student Association (gpsa). Copies and back issues are available in the Daily Lobo Classified Advertising Office, Marron Hall, Room 107. The Conceptions Southwest office is located in Marron Hall, Room 225. To order copies of our magazine, please contact us at or visit our website at




Jim Fisher Dr. Leslie Donovan Carolyn Souther Becky Maher and Starline Printing Daven Quelle and the Daily Lobo Advertising Office Michael Andrews asunm and gpsa every encouraging instructor every staff member every contributor and every beautiful reader Student Publications Board members: Dr. Leslie Donovan (Chair), Faculty Senate Representative Zoila Alvarez, gpsa Representative Sophie Martin, unm President Representative Ilia Rodriguez, Faculty Senate Representative Erinn Tibbs, Journalism and Mass Communications Representative Robert Trapp, New Mexico Press Association Representative Gabriela Eldredge, asunm Senate Representative David Ishmael, asunm President Representative





Editor-in-Chief Jordan Burk Managing Editor Chandra Blue Hughes General Staff Georgia Lillian Casswell Gabrielle Curry Marie Dosanjh Savanna Duran Michael Houle-von Behren Nick Koontz Jillian Kovich Kelsi Long Gabriel Maxson Kelsey Mayne Debra Nieto




What you hold in your hands is the collaborative effort of the University of New Mexico creative community— writers and artists, editors and designers, photographers, proofreaders, students, alumni, professors, poets, readers, and each and every person who flipped open the cover of this little magazine—you all made this. You struck together your minds and sparked a blazing bonfire of art and wonder, and that bonfire is a magazine, and this magazine is a fragment of our culture embedded in the world for centuries to come. And that’s pretty damn cool. We’ve got a vibrant world of art down here. It’s all around us, and it’s beautiful. The arts let this world breathe. In turn, we must keep them alight. Our goal here at Conceptions Southwest is to share and preserve the beauty of New Mexico—your beauty—and we’re getting better and better at it all the time. We may say it every year, but it’s the truth—this is the finest edition yet. So I’d like to extend my thanks to all of you. All of you who contribute, all of you who support us, all of you who love the arts—thank you. To my marvelous staff, the most dedicated team of volunteers you’ll ever find—thank you. To Jim Burbank and Amaris Ketcham, to all the professors who have pushed me forward—thank you. This magazine is thanks to all you, and I hope you’re as proud of it as I am. Now jump in and enjoy! May your fires burn free,







16 Aphasia Sarah Haak


Another Thursday Kimberly Mitchell


From the Hands of Thieves Q. Clemente Chirdon


Cada Cabeza es un Mundo Jesse Montoya


I Swear to God This Doesn’t Usually Happen Jordan Parro


Española Astronaut Jesse Montoya


For Amythest Amy Zuverink


I Awoke Some Time in 2010 from a Dream David M. Castillo


In the Tides Stephanie Nahua


Affection Confection Kelly McCarthy


May the Force Be with You Alaine Antoine

8 Microcosm Bree Lamb 67 Perfecto Justin Guthrie 11

Starla (III) Taylor Brooke Denton


Starla and Heather Taylor Brooke Denton


Street Artist Chi Lan Huynh

68 Lineage Michaela Dolly 35

Love, Daedalus Amy Zuverink


May Evening in Wichita Stephanie Nahua


Party Games Lyndsey Broyles


Terra Firma Corpus Brianna Tapia


This Man’s Hands Liliana Rehorn


Day Twenty-Something Derrick Heisey


Does It Make You Feel Better? Vicky Camarillo

60 Muna Sabrina Alderete 80

Robin’s Egg Blue Q. Clemente Chirdon


Slow-Dancing with My Anxieties Katherine Weinberg


Home Sweet Hippocampal Jocelyn Richards

37 K-1 Julia Lambright 36

Lady Day Yvonne Gandert


Lady of Kurskaya Station Julia Lambright

41 Limbo Julia Lambright 75

Loft, Williamsburg Brandon Straus



Man’s Disguise Jennifer Dixon


700000 in One Julia Lambright

25 Marlena Kerry Bergen


A New Uh-byun-sung-ryong-do YooJung Hong


No Man Is an Island Jesse Furr

10 Afternoon Taylor Brooke Denton

59 Rods Jesse Furr

33 Bath Taylor Brooke Denton


Sip-jang-saeng: Ten Symbols of Longevity YooJung Hong



Some Semblance of Order John Fatemi

Ellerp Chooses Her Mood for the Day Dawn Davis

3 Evanesce Mia Casesa

71 Sonny Jesse Furr


14 Tetris Julia Lambright

Float Away Caitlin Carcerano

15 Funston Kacie Erin Smith 79

Getaway, L.A. Brandon Straus


Winter Cabin, Aspen Brandon Straus



he strapped himself to the Space Needle and gunshot the sky rusted snake teeth fell like foam and rain shed from pursed lips the atmosphere exploded into the roof of his mouth as he crashed the moon skin cratered hypodermic when he planted the Zia la luna grasped for the blue earth she squeezed it dry of all the spit Espaテアola Astronaut all crumpled on the ground may you find rest may you find rest



Expired 35mm film


Acrylic on wood, 12" x 12"




SWEAR TO GOD I THIS DOESN’ T USUALLY HAPPEN Dear Dr. Laura, I’m sorry I saw a vagina in the Rorschach test. I didn’t mean to. You were reassuringly calm during the whole process, with your “don’t worry, it happens all the time” air of professionalism. I felt vulnerable yet empowered, to be honest, in that moment. Not so empowered that I would confess to seeing a penis two inkblots ago, because that makes you gay (that’s right, I took Psych 105) but, you know, pretty empowered. That brief burst of empowerment is what I needed because of the mounting pressure to lie. I tried to mimic the vibe of sterility and maturity I was catching from you, but how do you tell a person you just met that you see a vagina? You try not to mumble the word “vagina.” Say it. Loud and proud. But don’t shout it. I remember the execution: “This one reminds me of a vagehñmeh.” My internal narrator turned on me mid-sentence. “You’re not just telling a doctor of psychology that you see a vagina, you’re telling her that you are the kind of person who sees vaginas in the meaninglessness and indifference of the inkblot. This is an examination room, not a confessional. Get it together.” The nature of the scenario is such that, with every psychologically sound answer I felt I gave, with whatever pride I gained in thinking I was completing these little tests well, I must have also revealed something deep and embarrassing about myself. I thought I was dressing myself with psychological dignity, but to you I must’ve resembled a man strutting down a hospital corridor with


his gown untied in the back. Seeing a vagina in an inkblot made me vulnerable, as if in confessing to you that I had seen a vagina, you had seen my soul’s vagina. But it wasn’t enough to get it out there in words. This was an exam. You continued to probe. “What about it makes it look like a vagina?” “What about it makes it look like labia majora?” “What about it makes it look like a clitoral hood?” I answered the rest of your questions tastefully, with composure and clinically correct jargon. I was honest and I don’t regret it. When we met for my follow-up, you didn’t bring up the vagina at all. You assured me that all of my results fell within the normal range. Thank you. That was tactful. I, too, would like to avoid reliving it. Unashamed, yet looking forward to never bringing it up again,





Pencil and marker on paper, 6.25" x 8.5"


Postercolor, 24" x 32"






Oil on wood, 28" x 40"



Expired 35mm film





AWOKE SOME TIME IN 2010 I FROM A DREAM I’m finally the quarterback one left-step-half-full-back with a boner; chasing the other players down the field every perfectly manicured finger of grass crushed beneath my feet.




This man is much older than I am. He has a face that says he knows what he’s talking about. It’s square but melting, like a box with the edges drooping over, his neck peering over the collar. He tells me in his booming voice that I am very pretty. He laughs at me with one leg crossed in expert black-socks black-shoes joviality—his pants are slightly too short for him. I notice he has fat fingers. Around one of them is this gold band that glimmers blackly—so clean that I can almost see myself in it and I think he probably can’t even take it off anymore.



Egg tempera, oil, and gold leaf on panel, 36" x 36.5"



Monotype with gouache, 30" x 22"







To protect the innocent, let us call our main characters Dean and Agatha. But because no one is truly innocent in this tale, let us make it clear we are talking about _____ and me. This is a real-life story, with real-life characters. Named Dean and Agatha. Which parts of the story are most important? Dean and Agatha loved each other. Dean joined the military. Dean and Agatha got married. Agatha always called Dean her “partner.” Maybe she did not want to be married; maybe she did not want to be married to Dean. Dean went crazy. Is that the end of the story? Maybe someone should write a how-to guide for people who will go crazy inside the military. It is very normal for young men to have their first episode of schizophrenia inside the military. The military can be very stressful—you must stand on your own inside the military. You must learn discipline and selfreliance. You cannot lean on anyone else. You cannot depend on anyone else. But the how-to guide would have to be for people who had already had their first episode of schizophrenia outside of the military. People who falsified their medical records. People who got caught. People who did not correctly understand their first episode of schizophrenia, who mistook it for other, more normal, acceptable things. People who loved Jesus. People like Dean. Agatha did not love Jesus, but Agatha was idealistic—she had hope.

When Agatha first met Dean he was in a phase of not loving Jesus. Agatha did not know Dean was in a phase of not loving Jesus. Agatha did not know Dean had phases of loving Jesus. When Agatha first met Dean, Dean’s friends and Agatha would go out at night and spray-paint the town. (Dean would write the word Aphasia under the busy freeway overpasses and inside of the drainage tunnels. Aphasia was the first word he understood among those of the psych-ward doctors to describe his earliest diagnosis. Agatha did not understand this. Agatha thought Dean was creative.) Dean was impulsive then, always in and out of jail for this misdemeanor or that misdemeanor. Dean was wild. Dean was reckless. Later these behaviors would become symptoms, as in “When did you first notice the symptoms, Agatha?” Or, “Why did you not see this coming, Agatha? All the symptoms were there.” And sometimes, “You could not have known, Agatha. The symptoms are often mistaken for something else.” Because all of Dean’s friends were impulsive. All of Dean’s friends were wild and reckless. Isn’t everyone impulsive, wild, and reckless when they are young, derelict skateboarders who are often in and out of jail for this misdemeanor or that misdemeanor? Doesn’t everyone experience confusion when they look back and try to piece it all together? What matters about Dean loving Jesus? At first it was not noticeable that Dean was loving Jesus too much. At first it just seemed like Dean was loving Jesus the same way he had always loved Jesus in the phases when he loved Jesus. It can be complicated to recognize the difference between loving Jesus too much and loving Jesus just enough. Is it just enough when you pray before a meal? It is too much when you turn to Jesus because you are lost or hopeless? Is it just enough when you go to church every Sunday (and Bible-study on Wednesday)? Is it too much when you believe in sin? That you are sinning? That Jesus is watching for you to sin? Is it just enough when you pray? It is too much when you hear Jesus talking back?



For a while, things were okay for Dean and Agatha. Dean and Agatha were happy. But then Dean and Agatha went on a trip. Dean had a long weekend away from his station. It was in the winter. Dean and Agatha had been in New York for a year. They lived in a little port town with a little port harbor. Agatha loved the little port town. These details matter. The details tell us about the people. We are setting the person of Agatha. We are establishing the person of Dean. On the trip with Dean and Agatha: Agatha wanted to go to Salem. She wanted to drive along the coast. She wanted to take the ferry. She wanted to stay in the Nathaniel Hawthorne house that had become the Nathaniel Hawthorne Bed and Breakfast Inn. She did not want to go to the witch museums because she hates museums. She wanted to climb the rock harbors. She wanted to go to Boston. She wanted to walk around Walden Pond and throw rocks at the ice. She wanted to eat tinned fish in front of the fire with grained mustard and crackers. She wanted to make love to Dean in the romantic Bed and Breakfast. She wanted to want to make love to Dean in the romantic Bed and Breakfast. She wanted to read poetry and drink hot chocolate, visit the fishing villages, see a storm roll in over the ocean. Dean wanted to talk about Jesus. Every chance he got, Dean brought everything back to Jesus. This is the part of the story where Dean begins to show symptoms, when “the patient begins to suffer from hyper-religiosity.” Agatha knew something was wrong when she bought a postcard with a witch on it in Salem and addressed it to Dean’s mother. In truth, Agatha had known something was wrong for a long time. In truth, maybe Agatha had always known something was wrong. But what was wrong? What was wrong with Dean? Dean got angry when Agatha bought the Witch Postcard and addressed it to Dean’s mother—in the way Dean typically got angry—but this time he used words to express his anger instead of silently staring Agatha down. Dean talked about how terrible it was that Agatha could not understand the implications behind sending a witch in the mail to Dean’s mother (who also loved Jesus). Was Agatha not aware that witches were connected to the Devil? Did Agatha not respect Dean’s mother? Did Agatha not respect Dean or even Jesus? It was never a problem for Dean that Agatha did not love Jesus. But even before the Witch Postcard, there were fights. Marriage made the fights come more often because now there were questions of children, questions of family. But even this seemed like a normal progression of events. Later, as Agatha listened to Dean listening to a radio broadcast about Jesus (he never used to do this in front of Agatha), she felt Dean was far away, and Agatha was afraid. Agatha was afraid for Dean. But by the time Agatha truly understood something was wrong with Dean, it was too late. It is always too late in stories like these.

Maybe Dean is not being portrayed well enough—maybe Dean does not feel like a real person. Dean: Sometimes slept on the roof of buildings. Once pushed a burning van over a mountainside. Used to drink so much he would pass out wherever he was standing when he needed to pass out. Was very handsome—baby blues and a sweet, sweet smile. Would always pick the most dangerous path, but always made it through. Loved bread. Made the most beautiful wooden tables out of found wood. Was the best skateboarder in his skateboarding group of friends. Sometimes got sad but hardly ever cried unless he was extremely stressed. Went to jail dozens of times. Wrote long, labyrinthine poems. Wanted to be a Forest Ranger. Or an engineer. Or an electrician. Liked shoes. Was concerned his head was too big for his body. Wanted a new set of friends who were not always getting into trouble. Often quoted this Bible verse: “When I was a child, I talked like a child, I thought like a child, I reasoned like a child. When I became a man, I put the ways of childhood behind me.” Had a father who did not love him enough. Had a mother who used to cut the tails off the purebred puppies she sold, and who used to wake Dean in the middle of the night screaming that he had to believe in Jesus to avoid the pits of Hell. Loved Brad Pitt movies. Ate a lot of sugar. Mostly cookies. Joined the military to be taken more seriously in the world. Loved Agatha. Is this a good time to say that Dean is dead?



Dean is dead in the way people who have lost their minds are dead: Dean is dead to those who judge by diagnoses. Dean is dead to his dreams and his aspirations. Dean is dead to his reputation. Dean is dead to his friends who do not understand. Dean is dead to privacy. Dean is dead to his military career. Dean is dead to supporting himself. Dean is dead to the absence of confusion. Dean is dead to sleep. Dean is dead to calm.

When Dean went crazy, everyone helped Agatha and no one helped Agatha. That is to say, everyone helped Agatha when she was Dean’s Wife, and no one helped Agatha when she was herself. This is an important part of the story. Dean did not think Agatha was herself. In the height of the story (and maybe always), Dean thought Agatha was Dean. And Dean was Agatha. And Agatha and Dean together could take over the world. Agatha and Dean were so powerful together. They were the greatest love story. WHY WHY WHY WHY WHY WHY would Agatha want to ever tell a different story? Maybe it does not matter that Agatha also needed help. Dean was the one crying in the white rooms, pacing the floors, and waiting for Agatha. (This is the part that haunts Agatha the most, Dean’s face in that tiny window—waiting, always waiting. But we are still in the past. Let us avoid what haunts Agatha today.) Though perhaps what haunts Agatha today is unavoidable. Maybe Agatha could have stopped Dean from losing his mind, and maybe no one can stop anyone from losing their mind. While Dean was waiting for Agatha, Agatha was planning her escape. She knew it was the time to go. The worst had happened, Dean was gone, and even if Dean wasn’t gone how could Agatha help Dean if she did not love Jesus? How could Agatha help Dean if she did not love Dean enough? (Dean was always telling Agatha she did not love him enough, so she knew it was true.) How could Agatha help Dean if she did not want to be married? If she did not want to be married to Dean?



In the end, the details make the person, but what kind of person is made out of the details? For example, here are some details that Agatha does not want to remember: The sound of Dean’s boots climbing, climbing, climbing the stairs that final morning. «There’s nothing wrong with me. It’s you, Agatha. You’re the sinner. Why don’t you believe, Agatha? It’s your fault, Agatha. Where are you, Agatha? There’s nothing wrong with me, Agatha.» Maniacal birthday requests made from inside the hospital—written on a piece of notebook paper like it made perfect sense, like it was normal to have maniacal birthday requests made from inside the hospital. Playing checkers, playing chess, always playing something. «Don’t leave me, Agatha. Please don’t leave me. It’s your fault, Agatha! Don’t leave me, Agatha. Please don’t leave me.» Hope, the illusion of hope, the blame of hope, the accusatory questions concerning hope and taking away someone’s hope. «Why aren’t you helping him? Why aren’t you doing something to help him?» Decisions. All the decisions in the world. Clothes in plastic sacks. «Why are you taking his clothes? Why are you taking my clothes? Agatha, don’t let them take my clothes.» You cannot bring in this belt. You cannot bring in these shoelaces. You cannot bring in this chocolate cake. Questions. Timelines. Questions about timelines. What came first? Jesus before the disease? The disease before Jesus? What came first? What is left?

The details make the story, but which parts of the story are most important? Dean and Agatha loved each other. Maybe Agatha did not want to be married; maybe she did not want to be married to Dean. Dean went crazy. Is that the end of the story? Agatha thinks she could have done more to help Dean. But there are only two things, really, that Agatha could have done. 1. She could have known. 2. She could have stayed. Would it have helped anything if Agatha had known? Would it have changed anything if Agatha had stayed? After all, you cannot help a dead person, and Agatha (thinks she) knows this.





Graphite, conté crayon, and charcoal on Arches cover white, 22" x 30"




DOES IT MAKE YOU FEEL BETTER? Benny Rubio stared at the back of Frank’s head, like he always did. Frank must have had his ginger hair trimmed; more of his white, freckled neck was visible than had been the day before. Benny wanted to reach out a thumb and run it along the smooth skin exposed above the collar of Frank’s polo shirt. The school day was winding down; Miss Davis, the fifth-grade teacher, sat on the edge of her desk, swinging her legs and talking to the class about her upcoming wedding as everyone packed up their backpacks in the usual rustle of eagerness for the final bell. “We’re having a chocolate cake,” she said. “I wouldn’t have settled for anything else.” Benny tuned her out and returned his gaze to Frank’s head, which was now bent over his desk—he was drawing in his notebook. Benny sat straighter to try to see Frank’s drawing, but at that moment Erica, the girl sitting to Benny’s right, shoved a folded note on his desk. There was a heart drawn on it. Benny stared down at it; he and Erica only exchanged two words maximum every day, and he wondered if this was some kind of joke. But when he glanced at her, she was looking at him with wide, exasperated eyes and motioning her head toward Frank. Benny crumpled the note in his fist and looked deliberately at Erica’s reddening face. “Benny!” Erica hissed. “That’s not for you!” Frank turned around, his eyebrows furrowed. Feeling his own face warm up, Benny pushed the note toward him. Frank picked it up and, noticing the heart, gave Erica a tiny smile. Erica’s face was still flushed, but now she was smiling. Benny tried to picture what Frank could possibly see in her. Benny was a brown boy with dirt-brown eyes and


black hair; she was a white girl, blond and blue-eyed. In that moment he hated her. “Someday you guys will be married, too,” Miss Davis said. A few kids yelled, “Ew!” “I’m serious!” she said, laughing. “Benny looks like he’s thinking about it now. It seems like every time I look over at you, you’re always looking at Erica!” Miss Davis was smiling broadly as if she’d said something clever, and Benny felt his face flush. Almost the entire class was howling at this; he peeked over his shoulder at them and saw a blur of laughing faces. Erica looked embarrassed and offended. “No, I’m just teasing,” Miss Davis said. “I’m sorry about that, Benny.” But she was still giggling. “Just ignore them,” Frank whispered. Benny’s head snapped toward him. He wanted so badly to say, But it’s not even true, I don’t like her. She’s not the one I like. But that was not an option. He bit his tongue. His mom picked him up from school a couple of hours later. Benny trudged to the car with the class’s laughter still ringing in his ears and Frank’s face burned in his mind. “What a long day,” his mother said. “None of my students will shut up about the homecoming game on Friday. The idea of rivalries between schools based on sports never made sense to me. And they’re just high schools.” She went on. Benny was never sure if she was talking to him or not. “So how was your day, m’ijo?” She looked at Benny in the rearview mirror. “It was fine,” he said. He looked away from her and turned to the window, feeling her eyes still on him.

ALMOST THE ENTIRE CLASS WAS HOWLING AT THIS; HE PEEKED OVER HIS SHOULDER AT THEM AND SAW A BLUR OF LAUGHING FACES. “Really? It doesn’t look like it was fine.” Benny shrugged. His mother made a tutting noise but didn’t press the matter. Somehow this only made Benny want to tell her, even as he was horrified to hear himself speak. “When was the last time you liked someone?” He realized how stupid this sounded after it left his mouth. He assumed the last person she liked was his dad, who died when Benny was a year old. “That’s a good question,” Mom said. “I’ll get back to you on that one.” She drummed her fingers on the steering wheel. “When was the last time you liked someone?” Benny’s face felt warm. “Right now.” His mom laughed in delight. “Okay. Who is it?” “It’s just someone in my class.” Mom pulled into the driveway of their tiny house. “You can tell me, you know. I’m sure it’s a nice girl, anyway.” It was Miss Davis all over again. “Never mind,” he said, and he got out of the car. “Benny!” Mom said. “¿Por qué te vas? I’m talking to you!” The front door was unlocked, which meant his nineteen-year-old sister Mandy was home, but she must have been holed up in her room. Benny walked down the hall toward his room but paused at Mandy’s slightly open door. From inside the room he could hear music playing softly and something like the tinkling of a glass. He poked his head inside. Mandy was sitting cross-legged on her desk chair across from the door and taking a sip from a white, oversized coffee mug. It took her a second to notice Benny.



“Can I help you?” Mandy asked, putting the mug down. “I won’t bother you, I promise,” Benny said. “I just wanted to stay in here for a minute.” Mandy shrugged. “Sure, whatever.” Benny slid down against the wall next to the door until he was sitting on the floor with his knees to his chest. He watched Mandy, who was swaying back and forth to the music. She began to sing along. “But the good ones go…the good ones go…if you wait too long,” she sang loudly and off-key; her eyes were closed. “Don’t you go getting married…don’t you go get engaged—” she hiccupped and turned down the music. “Benny, I know you’re too young to worry about this now, but I want you to know from a young age. Don’t fall for a guy. It’s time-consuming and also kind of degrading.” She drank from her mug. “Or, wait, a girl. A person. Don’t fall for any person, ever.” Degrading, that sounded right to Benny. Mandy turned the music back up, and when the song finished, she played it again from the beginning. She reached under her desk, pulled up a green glass bottle, and refilled her mug. She looked at Benny sheepishly as she returned the bottle to the floor. “Is that why you’re drinking that?” Benny asked. “Does it make you feel better?” Mandy laughed. Benny wasn’t sure why; it was a serious question. “To be honest with you, it does,” she said. “It kind of does.” She started to bring the mug to her mouth but put it back on the desk. “But that does not mean I’m encouraging you to do this. It tastes really gross and it’s not worth it. I mean, this was four-dollar wine, so that’s to be expected, but anyway. It’s bad for you. It gives you cancer, and you die.” “But you’re still drinking it.”

She waved a hand. “You don’t worry about that, just listen to me.” “That’s not very fair,” Benny said. “And what happened with this guy, anyway? Or with the ‘person’?” Mandy heaved a long and loud sigh. “It’s this dumbass—I mean, this dumb guy I work with. He’s not actually dumb. He’s the opposite, really. He’s just….” She did a gesture that didn’t really convey anything to Benny. “He just is.” “Is what?” “He just is, Benny.” “And so you told him?” Benny said, leaning forward. “You told him you think he’s just—whatever?” “Of course not! Please, that’s the whole problem. There is a whole list of reasons, there is an overabundance of reasons I can’t tell him. God, no.” Benny leaned back against the wall again, his shoulders slumping. “That’s dumb,” he said. “What reasons could you have? It’s not like he….” Benny stopped himself. Mandy was now looking at him with a shrewd expression. “Is there something you want to tell me, Benny?” she said, and pressed her lips together like she was fighting a smile. “Is there someone who just is to you?” Benny opened his mouth. If he couldn’t tell Frank or his mother, maybe he could tell Mandy. But no sound came out. “Amanda!” Mom called from the kitchen. “Come help me make dinner!”


Mandy groaned. “Why can’t she let me live? I’m just trying to chill.” She continued to grumble under her breath as she rose from her chair and crossed the room, walking slowly and steadily in a way that looked awkward to Benny, like she had to try extra hard. When she was gone, Benny’s eyes flitted back and forth for a few seconds between the white mug and the green bottle under the desk. Benny got up and walked over to Mandy’s desk, tiptoeing and looking over his shoulder to the door in case she popped back in. She didn’t. He bent his face over the coffee mug on the desk. It smelled disgusting, like bug spray or rotten fruit. He backed away a step and rubbed his nose furiously with his fist. He heard Mandy’s socked footsteps trudging back to the room and he turned, about to run back to his spot by the door, when he heard his mother’s voice: “¡Niña, ven pa’ca! Cut up these onions for me, at least.” Mandy groaned again, and Benny could hear her heading back to the kitchen. He turned to the coffee mug once again. He sniffed it and grimaced—it was still horrible, but he’d expected it this time. Holding his breath, he lifted the mug to his nose and gulped down the wine before he could change his mind. He almost choked—it tasted like a liquefied, carbonated foot, and it burned his throat. His face and ears felt hot. He stood still for a few moments, letting the feeling wash over him. Then he realized with a jolt that Mandy would find the empty mug and know what he’d done. He looked down and saw the green wine bottle, still

HE ALMOST CHOKED—IT TASTED LIKE A LIQUEFIED, CARBONATED FOOT, AND IT BURNED HIS THROAT. half full, on the carpet. There was a small knife sticking out of the cork where Mandy had opened it. He eased the cork out—thankfully it was loose—and carefully lifted the bottle and filled the mug until it looked like it had the same amount of wine as before. He positioned the mug and wine bottle to where they’d been. He scurried out of the room and almost ran into Mandy in the hall. “Are you not going to hang out with me anymore?” she asked. He shrugged, avoiding looking straight at her as if she would know just by looking at him. Preferring to avoid his mother, he tiptoed past the kitchen and to the front door, which he opened as quietly as he could. He slipped out of the house and dashed around to the backyard. It was a chilly evening, but he could barely feel it. The sun had almost completely set, and the sky was a dull periwinkle. Staring up into the sky, he almost ran into the rusty swing set in the backyard that no one had used for years. Now seemed as good a time as any to sit on one of those swings, so he did. The chains of the swing were covered in some kind of smooth, thick plastic material that felt good to squeeze with his fists. His ears still felt a little warmer than usual, and as the minutes passed, he felt more and more like there was a layer of something mysterious separating his skin from the air. Even though he was sitting perfectly still, he was beginning to feel dizzy, but it was a weirdly pleasant kind of dizzy. The sky was growing darker, and he heard his mother calling his name—she was so loud, the whole street could probably hear her—and he figured dinner must be ready. But the stars were becoming more visible,



and he didn’t want to leave this spot. He pretended that Frank was in the swing beside him, and the thought made his heart feel tight. “Niño, ¿dónde chingados estás?” his mother yelled from inside the house. Her voice gave him a pounding headache. He was feeling at peace with the world despite Frank’s ghost beside him, or maybe because of it, and her voice was like a raisin in a cinnamon roll. His thoughts were making less sense to him, and at first this worried him; but then he remembered Mandy sitting at her desk, singing along blissfully to her music and laughing carefree at unfunny things, and he smiled to himself. He looked at the empty swing beside him and remembered the first time he’d ever sat on a swing next to the real Frank, not a ghost. He’d been alone, kicking the dirt with the toe of his shoe, trying to distract himself from his empty stomach. In some twisted idea of a joke, a sixth-grade kid had stolen and thrown away the sandwich and orange Benny’s mother had packed for him, and Benny knew that if he bought lunch from the cafeteria, the boy would just throw that away too. Better save the embarrassment. Then Frank came over and sat on the swing beside him and handed him a bag of Cheetos. “That guy is just a loser with nothing better to do,” Frank said. He gave Benny a small smile. Cheetos had never tasted better. But the more he thought about those Cheetos, the more he felt himself shifting back to reality. The idea of Cheetos was making him nauseous. He burst back into the house through the back door and caught a glimpse of his mother and Mandy at the dinner table, their food untouched. “Hey, dummy, why didn’t you come when Mom called you? We’re trying to eat,” Mandy said. But the smell of

the food made Benny’s stomach twist, and he zipped through the kitchen and took a sharp left turn into the hallway, wishing it would just stay still and not move back and forth so he could stop colliding with the walls. He reached the bathroom and lifted the toilet lid. He kept his eyes shut tight as he threw up. “Benny!” His mother’s voice was suddenly in his ear, and her warm arms wrapped around his middle. He felt a rush of affection for her even as he continued to vomit. When he finished, Mom flushed the toilet and smoothed his hair. “Cielo, are you okay? Do you feel better?” she asked. “I think so,” Benny croaked. His eyes were still closed. “What happened to you? You didn’t even eat.” She put a hand on his forehead. “I don’t know.” He could feel her face closer to his and distinctly heard her sniff. Her hand fell away. “Why do you smell like that?” Her tone had changed completely. Benny’s eyes snapped open and fell on Mandy, who was standing in the doorway. Mom followed his eyes and turned. “What?” Mandy said. “What does he smell like? What are you talking about?” Everything was still for a solid second, then Mom flew at Mandy, throwing her fists at her anywhere she could reach. Mandy shrieked and covered her head with her arms.


“What is wrong with you? Why do you have that in the house? You could have killed him!” Mom yelled. “I didn’t—even—do anything!” Mandy swung an arm back at her mother, which only served to make Mom yell a string of cuss words in Spanish. “I didn’t give him alcohol, do you think I’m crazy?” Benny still felt vaguely in a stupor, although it wasn’t pleasant at all anymore. “Mom, I drank it because I wanted to. She didn’t give it to me, she didn’t even know I drank any.” Mom turned back to him. Her angry expression was now mixed with disappointment. “But why would you do that? Why did you want to?” “So you hit me but you’re not going to hit him?” Mandy said loudly. “Tú cállate,” Mom spat. “Benny, why did you do that?” Benny looked back and forth between his sister and his mother, again feeling like something was rising from his stomach to his throat, but something other than vomit this time. “Because Frank…just is.” Mom looked like Benny had spoken Mandarin; Mandy’s eyebrows shot up. “Wait, say that again?” Mandy said. “Frank?” Mom said. “The little boy in your class? What about him?” “Frank,” Benny said. “Just is.”






Oil on wood, 36" x 40"







Geography made him lust. Blue rivers sheeted. Tracing through Valleys, meadows, and mountains. 98.6 heat that elevated from beneath. From the core, To the mantle, And through the crust, carnem. The perplexities of bird’s-eye view Have fractured his ribs until He reached down. Though his carpals stiff And his spine So enervated; He dug deep. The arthritis, his phalangeal feel Made the rock and mutt tough. He dug deep. So deep He blessed the earth only leaving red. He plucked the weeds Pulling roots from the soil. Grasping the base while applying a constant, Moderate force pulling upward. An intimacy with no twisting or bending, No breaking, bleeding. His fragile joints felt at ease As his sternum pressed against Submerged surface. Terra mollis.




To my diametrically opposed Icaran girls: I By all accounts, a successful series of flights, But over and over we fell into the labyrinth Fighting jealousy and resentment. In the end We attended to each other but nothing more. We were never each other’s wings. And on our last flight, we tangled And spectacularly crashed, destroyed In a torrent of salt and white feathers. II You reduced me to an experiment, biology, So I buried the art inside and tried to fly beneath you While I waited for a girl who wanted Both biology and poetry. But I’ve never understood science, particularly physics, And with no feathers to attach to my waxy shell, I dropped into the sea, and you shrugged. III I learned from my mistakes, and bound you first, Tried ropes before tossing you out to sea. And you flew, leaving a trail of black feathers And waxy red rose petals stuck to my sheets, Under my nails. You are indestructible. Even rope-burned, kissed by hot wax, you return Laughing, asking to go again.



Graphite, colored pencil, and ink , 8" x 10"



Egg tempera and gold leaf on panel, 15" x 15"





DAY TWENTY-SOMETHING It is day twenty-something, and I am still at the bottom of the well. I tried pouring the first two bottles of Jim Beam out in the vain hope of rising to the top, surfacing to sunshine, rewarded with mouthfuls of air that do not have the wet, musky odor of lichen. I poured out those bottles, but they only made my sneakers soggy. I drank the third one in the vain hope that 750 milliliters of Kentucky bourbon would kill me. I am unhappy to report that it did not, even when I tried holding in the vomit to keep the precious poison in my gut. I only succeeded in puking rainbows colored like a film negative. Now my shoes are soggy and I have thin ribbons of celluloid bundled around my feet, coiled like the snakes in my dead grandmother’s hair. It is day twenty-something-else. I think it is my wife’s birthday, but I am not sure. My phone died twentysomething days ago, so Mark Zuckerberg cannot tell me. I am holding my sneakers over my upturned face, like a baby bird begging to be regurgitated into. I wring the canvas of the Converse and savor the bourbon that drips like Fu Manchu’s water torture—a slow bleed, drop by drop. Down the road, not across the street, I remind my shoe. That’s how you do it if you’re Virginia Woolf serious. But I am only Hunter S. Thompson serious, spiraling down the drain like a coin in one of those penny funnels they have at the mall. I watch that coin with lucid fascination from a thousand yards away, aware only that it is still upright and not that it is almost at the bottom. I am a character in a novel who has been strung together like a garland made out of Coke cans: It is so ugly that it is charming.


I am pretty sure that it is between day twenty-something-three and day twentysomething-five. I hold the celluloid up to the light and see my life in it. The entire thing looks like a German expressionist flick, complete with title cards. “Our hero wets the bed”; “Our hero is rejected by the oddly mysterious girl in the back of the class”; “Our hero is ensnared by debilitating daddy issues.” I watch myself masturbate for the first time—to a Sear’s catalog—and then begin dry-heaving. Acrid bats erupt from my mouth, bursting out of my crinkly paper-bag lungs. They talk guano as they fly into the sunshine, then burst into flames. I hold my breath because I still have stale cigarette smoke in there, and I refuse to let it go. I have decided that time does not really exist. The 8mm filmstrip doesn’t seem to end as it passes through my soft fingers. I get to the part where I am at the bottom of a well and my life becomes a Mandelbrot zoom of a picture inside a picture inside a picture inside a picture— Picking up one of the empty bottles of Jim Beam, I peel it like a banana and tie the celluloid around its neck in a noose. I lob it up the well. It catches on the stone lip. This is what Batman feels like, I decide, scaling the slippery throat. I slip once on the slime. Otherwise, it is easier than I thought. I reach the top. The warm, goldenrod sunlight feels like my first kiss, and the air does not smell like lichen. Not even a little bit.




Intaglio print on paper, 10" x 14"



Egg tempera, oil, and gold leaf on panel, 22" x 28.5"







I The day the Blue Mustang came crashing down it galloped in your studio, scattered your world, and crushed it to stardust. The hooves thundered into silence and grayscale leaked across the floor. II Your world, your world, I want to see your world. The sagebrush expanse where you keep your broncos at the foot of mountains and mesas in the space between two hemispheres between colors and dreaming. Show me the forests of scarecrow trees where your lobos howl and spill pastels from their quivering snouts. Let me shake hands with the grinning Vaquero feel los bailarines dance en la Fiesta Jarabe. I want to place my trembling hands on the Blue Mustang, to stare down the red eyes, to grasp the neck and with all my strength squeeze down and forgive.


III Your world was scattered, pebbles blown like stardust against the cool brown earth. Find the pebbles, hold them. Raise them like specks to the sun. Let them sing.



Egg tempera and gold leaf on panel, 36" x 36.5"


Egg tempera and gold leaf on panel, 15" x 15"







On Christmas Eve, I saw your dad. He was outside the Smith’s down in the valley, Clutching a receipt and a six-pack of Coors Light. He was no longer the fat, laughing man Who would drive me home from school. He was skinny. His eyes were dark. He asked me how you were doing. He called you by your nickname, Shorthand for Amethyst, shunning A thousand years of ancient Greek Beliefs that drinking from a vessel Made from your namesake stone Would prevent intoxication. But I hadn’t seen you in years. We only stayed friends until you took off At nineteen on an Amtrak train to California, Fleeing the wasteland of piñon smoke And the threat of predisposition That hid inside your body. In high school I got you drunk On Prestige and raspberry soda. You slurred that you would cry Every night, yell at your parents, Don’t you love me More than you love drinking? I never gave you vodka again.


There is a photo somewhere Of you and me in kindergarten. We are short, fat, and muddy, Stamping around a swimming pool Set up behind La Luz Elementary For the last day of school. We wear floral bathing suits, And our hair is stringy. We’re looking ahead, shyly, Clutching each other’s hands. Do you remember how to make friends?



Postercolor, 70" x 32"





It is 1993 and you are a soldier strolling through the hot, crowded souks of Saudi Arabia. You are a young, blueeyed American, thousands of miles away from home for the first time. Your uniform is crisp, your posture sharp, and the world belongs to you. You had wanted to see the world, and the world obliged. You’ve seen an old man who sits in an alley all day weaving baskets until he falls asleep on the spot. When he wakes, he pays a boy to bring him food and starts weaving again. You’ve listened to a sergeant explain with ugly relish why all of the squadron’s staff cars have broken door locks and no one bothers to fix them. Nothing will be stolen. They cut thieves’ hands off, here. You’ve watched a silver RollsRoyce turn off the highway at top speed and drive off into the desert, out into nowhere. You’ve seen a woman beaten in the streets of Khobar by Wahhabi zealots. You’ve listened to Saudi Air Force pilots, many of whom are related to the royal family, talk about their fighter jets like prize horses. You’ve seen a public beheading. Your duty post is “The Oasis,” a recreation center near the flightline at Dhahran. So most of what you’ve seen are good Americans off duty. They barbecue and drink non-alcoholic beer, play water volleyball, and try to have sex with each other. Overhead, all the time, phalanxes of warplanes pregnant with ordinance roar west; and all the time, warplanes with empty pylons come back. Today, in that crowded souk, you see a dirty little man who stands in front of you, blocking your way. “Saddam is beaten,” he says in accented English. Everyone everywhere speaks your language. “When are you leaving?”



You smile at him. Your good American smile. “We are guests of the king.” “How long will you be guests of the king?” “For a long time.” You try to push past, he stops you. People are watching. Dirty faces. “When are you leaving?” “I don’t know. But consider Europe.” You speak slowly; you want him to understand. “We went to Europe to fight Hitler. Hitler is gone. We stayed to fight the communists. The communists are gone. Now there’s only us, and we’re not leaving. We never leave.” You’re still smiling while you push past him and off into the crowd. It never occurs to you whether your words are right or wrong. You told him the truth, like telling him it rains. Later, you find what you came here for: a cartouche for the girl you’re trying to have sex with. You had left home, but you’ve come back to America. You are surprised to find that they don’t mean the same thing. America is connected to the kingdom in a way that home never was. America makes the kingdom possible. On the cab ride from the airport, you look out at the strip malls and drive-thru windows rushing by. Everything is so green it hurts your eyes. When you close them, possibilities rend away and your life boils down to a straight line. When you open them again every billboard, every used car lot, every plump and happy face is an omen. You can see the future. Everything will change. First, you’ll stop shining your boots and ironing your uniform. Then you’ll stop sleeping soundly. Drinking will help. You’ll stop showing up to your post on time, and you’ll stop performing your duties while you’re there. It’ll all seem pointless. Kind of stupid, when you think about it. Finally, you’ll stop wanting to be sober.

They will ask if you want to re-enlist; they’ll know your answer before you say it. One of the girls you like to get drunk and sleep with will tell you she’s pregnant. You’ll leave without saying goodbye. Nothing terrible happened to you during your nine months with the Saud; it was only the world you had wanted to see so badly. You will not think of the dirty little man who stopped you in the souk again until 1996. Your hair is longer, your teeth more yellow. You sit on a couch in the morning, take a bong rip, and turn on the news. A suicide bomber has driven a truckload of explosives into the barracks at Dhahran. The bed you used to lay your good, American smile down to sleep on, the locker in which you hung your crisp uniform; they are all under a pile of smoking rubble, along with a few of the young, blue-eyed Americans who were using them most recently. You wonder if it was that dirty little man behind the wheel. Say you’re sorry, although you’re not sure why. Take another bong rip. Later, you will get dressed and look for work, but your heart won’t be in it. Don’t worry, you’ll find a job, eventually. But your heart won’t be in that, either. Get used to it. It is 2000, and Al Gore has just won the presidential election. And then he doesn’t. You are engaged and in love like you’ve never been before. And then you aren’t.


You looked at the numbers, you saw the celebration. But someone else is going to be taking the oath of office. You were honest, you were faithful. But that isn’t enough. “You’re a good person,” she says. “You just don’t want anything. There’s someone else. I’m sorry.” There’s so much more, but that’s the gist of it. You don’t blame her; you wouldn’t want to marry you, either. You are unemployed, broke. And you’re angry at something. Something too big to hit. Don’t worry, you are young and there’s so much you haven’t seen yet. Somewhere else. The world still belongs to you. It is 2001 in a different city. You are on your way to work. You’re going to sell books for a living. It is cold for early September. The streets are empty and something is wrong. The way something is wrong for animals before an earthquake. You see people huddled around a portable television at a street vendor’s cart. Breath like smoke. Through the grainy static of bad reception, the sky is falling. You leave work a few hours later, crying like a baby. You won’t come back. 2003. Same city, different job. You sell coffee now. The owner has an affinity for human strays. It feels like home, and it makes you happy. You meet Jonathan there. He’s younger than you, a boy really. But the two of you laugh at the double-latte who drives off in a Lincoln Navigator with the “Think Globally, Act Locally” bumper sticker.

YOU DON’T BLAME HER; YOU WOULDN’T WANT TO MARRY YOU, EITHER. “Jesus, this country is fucked,” he says. You wish you’d known that when you were his age. The night America invades Iraq you are sitting on your girlfriend’s living room floor. It is snowing outside. She, Jonathan, and you watch the ordinance rain down on tv and play Risk. “The crummy thing about Risk,” you tell them on the balcony while you smoke, “you know who’s going to win in the first hour. Then you have to play for three hours more to actually win.” You smoke one cigarette after another and shake from the cold. They’ve gone inside. Watch the snow fall. Flinch each time a smart bomb finds its mark. You can see the future. A few months from now you will be lying in that living room watching the news with your girlfriend. These are the bloody times; every night there will be updated body counts. Good Americans. You’ll watch it all, transfixed. Like watching a bad wreck from the opposite side of the highway. When things are good she’ll run her hands through your hair and tell you it’s not your fault. When things are bad she’ll end every argument by asking you to come back to the human race. You won’t know who will give up first, but you will lose your girlfriend. You will lose the job that made you happy. They are the last of either you will have. You will be angry at something too big to hit again. Only this time you will be old, and that world that used to belong to you will be gone, stolen. April 2004. You are living on Jonathan’s couch. You wake up whenever and look out through the blinds. You see cars and houses, 401(k) plans and dental coverage, time



clocks and an honest day’s pay. At night you watch heaps of dirty little corpses pile up on the other side of the stolen world. They are all part of a linear progression, a horrible circuit you complete every time you turn on the lights. It is a causal relationship that no one at the antiwar protests seems to get once they drive away in their suvs, headed for careers and condos, promising to vote Democrat come November. You don’t want a job anymore. You wander around Jonathan’s apartment, watching the same four or five movies until you know them by heart. You hate eating; you hate using the water. You’re a hairy skeleton that stinks and stays awake until it collapses, exhausted. No one comes around, no one asks you out. No one but Jonathan. He takes you to the old haunts where you see old friends. They all look nice; they’re all worried about you. Jonathan pays for your drinks and bums you cigarettes. He never asks you for a cent of rent, never asks you if you’ve found a job yet. But the best thing about Jonathan is that he’s the only one who doesn’t feel sorry for you, doesn’t look at you with pity. He’s the only one who doesn’t think you’re crazy. Tonight you can’t remember the last time you ate, so it’s no surprise when you realize you’re too drunk. At the bar drifting in and out, with Jonathan in your ear. He’s talking about film school. “So I’m going to do a fifteen-minute short. Zombie apocalypse. I want you to star in it.” “I can’t do that. Look at me, John. I can’t do that.” “C’mon. I’ve got it all scripted. You get to be the tragic soldier carrying on no matter how lost the cause is. Just

look at the screenplay.” He hands you a pile of paper. “You’ll get to use this.” It’s a dull gray 1911 .45 automatic. It is metal. Heavy. The slide works, and when you lock it back, solid brass slugs nestle in the chamber like larvae in a dead branch. “Feels real. Where did you get this?” “At the gun store. It does everything a gun does, except actually shoot bullets. I’m going to put the muzzle flashes in during post-production. It was on sale. Look, this project is due in three weeks. If you don’t want to be in it, let me know so I can get someone else. But say you’ll do it.” You put the gun in your waistband, fold up the script, and ask Jonathan to tell you more about his movie. He’s excited. It’s good to think about other things. Jonathan is never too drunk to drive. On the way home he is an automaton, fiercely gauging the yellow line. Ten and two, he becomes a dmv manual in human form. He doesn’t talk or listen. There’s nothing to him but the rules of the road. Swans on the cd player, Mind/Body/Light/Sound. You unfold the script and read by the passing lamplights. He passes out in the driver’s seat as soon as he puts his car in park. You turn off the lights, the radio. Put the keys in his pocket, pat his snoring cheek. “You are a brilliant drunk. You are a lousy screenwriter.”


There is a note on the front door from the landlord. Even drunk, you can unpack that: Whatever it says, the landlord came while you were gone, sometime between nine and twelve pm, hoping to catch Jonathan at home. Landlords don’t do that to share good news. You turn on a light and throw yourself on the couch. Third late notice, neatly typed. And handwritten in what you can only assume is the landlord’s script: “I know there’s someone else living there. He’s got until the end of the week to pay or you can both get out.” You look around the apartment. You didn’t eat, so you never noticed how empty the refrigerator was. You didn’t pay bills, so you didn’t notice the unopened letters from the electric company piling up. You can’t remember the last time Jonathan had a full tank of gas in his car, or spent money on anything but your drinks and cigarettes. You knew this couldn’t last, but you didn’t care how it would end. There is a cardboard box you keep in the closet. Along with your duffle bag of dirty clothes, it is all that has survived your endless migration. It holds a few beatup books, some baubles, and lots of loose papers. Under the outlines for stories you never wrote and the letters you never sent, you come to your suicide notes. You’ve been drafting them for a while now; they all suck. This is the end of the line. There’s no backup plan, nowhere else to go. You don’t know what you wanted to happen, how your life was supposed to be, but it wasn’t supposed

YOU ARE A MONSTER. YOU ARE AN ANGEL. THERE’S NOTHING IN THIS STOLEN WORLD TOO BIG TO HIT. to end like this. You know you can’t be here when the sun comes up. Don’t worry, you won’t kill yourself. Maybe you think it’s unfair to leave Jonathan with your mess. Maybe you think about all your old, nice-looking friends and how they’ll say they all saw it coming. Maybe you just don’t want to give everyone who’s ever called you a loser the satisfaction. Maybe you’re a coward. And all at once, something wonderful happens. Everything clicks, tumblers in a lock. If your life is really over, what can’t you do? What’s out of bounds? You hope everyone gets to feel like this, if only once. You’re finally outside of everything. Free to do anything you want no matter how ugly or miraculous. There’s no judgment anymore. You are a monster. You are an angel. There’s nothing in this stolen world too big to hit. You’ve sobered up by now, but it feels good. The fake gun at your waistline, a heavy, gray potential. You can see the future. Tomorrow morning you will shave with Jonathan’s last, dull razor and you will put on a T-shirt and a pair of shorts. Over them, you will put on a dress shirt, slacks, a tie, and a sports coat. You will empty your duffle bag except for a worn old beret and a pair of sunglasses. Filing past the silly suicide notes in your sad little box, you will put a short, final note onto a fresh sheet of paper. You will stuff the note, a plastic shopping bag, and the gun into your pants. Sling your bag over your shoulder. Leave the apartment when the sun comes up. Leave the bag in an alley behind the bank.



You will have been awake for two days. Your heart will be racing from waves of adrenaline and fear. The bank will have just opened, and you will be one of the first in line. Everything will look like something seen through fractured glass. The way people remember surviving a car crash. The teller is an old, thin woman with thick glasses. There is a silver cross around her neck. Your good, American smile. “This is a robbery. Please do what I tell you and I’ll leave. Put all the money from the till into the bag.” Hand her the bag. Put the gun on the counter. Put the note over it quickly so the cameras can’t see it. She does as she’s told. You step away, say thank you. And that’s that. You pass through a crowd at the bus stop out front; you are grinning from ear to ear.You left the gun on the counter so she’d know it was fake. The note says: I’m sorry I scared you. I didn’t know what else to do. In the alley you strip off your outer clothes, throw them into the duffle bag, along with the sack of money. The shorts and T-shirt you wear are unwashed, that clay smell of stale body odor. You are strolling down the street, still smiling, when three police cruisers race past you. They don’t even slow down. Dirty little man. Jonathan is still passed out in his car when you get home. You empty the duffle bag, count the money. Twelve thousand dollars. You take the bag, most of the money, and your beat-up copy of Catch-22. You leave the rest of your dirty clothes, your stubble in the sink, and all your suicide notes, along with three thousand dollars in an envelope on the coffee table. On it you write, “Good luck with your zombies, John. Quit driving drunk.”

It is a two-day bus trip to San Diego and you sleep most of the way. You get a hotel and stay up all night watching cable. Movies you’ve never seen. In the morning you buy some new clothes and an mp3 player. Order a pizza and download some music. Take the commuter rail to the border. You walk across the crowded causeway into Tijuana. The sky is bright blue. The Cure playing loud in your ears, “Plainsong.” How long can you live on eight thousand dollars in Mexico? Don’t worry, it’ll last a long time. It’s not much on the scale of things, but you tell yourself that every dollar you spend here is a dollar removed from the horrible circuit. An American dollar that won’t be spent on bombs or bullets aimed at all the dirty little men everywhere who only wanted you to leave. When you check into a beachfront hotel in Rosarito, you tell the clerk you’re not sure how long you’ll be staying. The future is unknown. You swim out into the cold Pacific, toward a setting sun that turns everything crimson. There are fireworks at a party up the beach. It’s all smoke, faraway laughter, and brilliant flashes of light.





I’m slow-dancing with my anxieties on the roof of the Hudson View East, watching red and white lights roll through the streets. Hours ago, street lamps laid claim to the sky, and the masses wait in anticipation at Times Square for the ball to drop. I zip my jacket up a little farther. Nearly twenty flights down, couples kiss under neon lights, take pictures with their friends and family. They drink champagne and laugh too loud and tell their waitresses to keep the change so they can hurry home to do some blow. Drunken tourists already stumble their way through the streets, trying to sing along to songs they don’t know. People go home with someone they met hours before, not knowing if they’ve just found their soul mate or a prostitute. Maybe both. Marguerita asked if she could have me for her New Year’s present. I think she figured I wasn’t for it when I ran away and didn’t call her that night. An infection of guilt festers in my stomach. I wish I could make her happy, but she wants things I don’t know if I can give— like emotions. And then I found out that I actually qualify for the nasa position. And I can’t get enough cash for more smack, so I bought a case of beer instead. And Sophia invited me to a New Year’s party at her place, but I didn’t go because her husband can’t stand me. And I can’t— And I’m not— And and and…



I lean forward a little, over the edge of the building. I’m just looking, I remind myself. Just looking. It’s a thrilling drop. I’m afraid to use the stairs outside the building from this height; maybe I’ll trip into the elevator instead. I turn my gaze up at what few stars I can see through the haze of smoke and mirrors. I lie on the rooftop and put chilly hands behind my head. It’s hard to see the stars from here with all the lights in the way, but I recount as many stories as I can remember, and make up a few more. The stars are freedom, I realize as I mumble fake proverbs to myself. They are escape and captivity at the same time. You can get off the rock you grew up on, sure, but then you have to live in a small metal prison. Really, I don’t care. That’s where my dreams take me regardless. Up and out, away from New York and Marguerita and heroin and thunderclouds that never seem to leave my head but never let the rain fall either. Maybe I’ll go for that Florida job. I won’t get it, but it might make me feel better. Clouds pass over the buildings and blanket the city. They hide the stars and reflect the lights back down on me. For some reason, I think of Ashton’s lips. It’s cold up here, and the wind is picking up, but I remember how he loved it when the weather got like this. I don’t know where he is now, or who he’s with. He won’t talk to me anymore. Can’t say I blame him. I hear the door to the rooftop open and close, and then footsteps. I stand up and turn, ready to apologize and leave. “Thought I’d find you here, D,” someone says. I relax. Gideon Strong saunters over, all limbs and charisma. He

grins and winks before opening his arms for a hug. He finally cut his hair—it used to be long enough for a ponytail, but he’s going for the clean-cut look these days. “Hey, Gid,” I say, squeezing him hard. “How come you aren’t wearing more coats? It’s cold up here,” he says, and shivers dramatically. He smells like booze, but he doesn’t drink so it must’ve been spilled on him. “I’m fine.” “Yeah, yeah, whatever,” he says. “You just ditched my party to mope.” “Wouldn’t need to if the music was better.” He sits down, and I follow suit. His baby face looks up at the clouds, and he watches them pass over us. Shadows cling to the underside of his cheekbones. “You left your party for me?” He rolls his eyes. “It fell to shit anyway. Brett punched his ex’s new boyfriend, then someone had to take him to a hospital and Brett ran away to cool down. Then Terry got all pissy with me ’cause I slept with this chick he was into. And also the dude he was into.” He flops an arm around me and shrugs. “Short version is that you’re feeling sorry for yourself alone on the top of a forty-story building, and you’re still better company than them.” “Is everyone okay?” I ask.


“Oh yeah,” he waves a hand. “I just told everyone to go home once the new year hit.” I check my watch. “We’ve still got fifteen minutes to go.” He grins at me. “You’re not wrong.” “Aren’t you afraid they’ll trash the place?” He throws his head back and laughs. “Oh, I’m counting on it. It’s Scott’s place. Apparently, he’s away in the tropics with his new man.” “I hope you left the water running,” I say. He curses. “I should’ve thought of that! That’s why you need to come to my parties more often.” “No, I really shouldn’t,” I say. “I don’t exactly fit in with your crowd.” I point to my forearm, prickled with healed-over needle points. “Whatever, we have all races down there,” he says before figuring out what I mean. “Oh. Well, I guess there’s that.” He hugs me with one arm. “It just means I get you to myself.” We sit on the roof for a few more minutes. The clouds pass. Neon lights beckon to celebrants. Gideon breathes heavily beside me. He lets me think about the stars alone in my own head. But just having someone here calms down my brain, like a lighthouse in a storm. I never realized that before. I guess I need someone around. Too bad I don’t know how to let them close enough to be “around.” Even Gideon and I disappear from each other’s lives for months without so much as a hello. I always figured we both liked it that way. But he doesn’t leave parties for just anyone.

THERE’S LITTLE TO GET READY FOR, SO THERE’S LITTLE TO EXPECT WHEN IT ALL GOES TO SHIT. “Two minutes to midnight,” he says finally, and just barely keeps himself from singing the song. I think it’s only because he hates that it’s longer than two minutes. “Ready for the new year?” I don’t answer, because I think he knows. I’m never ready. There’s little to get ready for, so there’s little to expect when it all goes to shit. “All right, then, Broodypants,” he says. I shove him with a shoulder, and he laughs. “Are you ready?” I ask. “Oh, I’m always ready. I’m just about ready to open the business.” “Your clothing store? Really?” We talk right through midnight and on into the morning. He walks me to my place, even though he lives across town. I give him a hug, and he leaves. Back in my apartment, alone in the darkness, the storm should start up again. When it doesn’t, I fall asleep to my own quiet breathing. Happy New Year.



Ballpoint, 5.5" x 7.5"



Collagraph, 12" x 15.5"






I first met Muna when she was in the midst of skinning a raccoon. Muna says she knew me when I was a little girl. I followed my daddy everywhere, his tail. Muna is. Or was. A childhood friend of my father’s. Junkies on the playground. She found him slumped over with a needle in his arm and eyes in the back of his skull. This was a month ago. I found Muna. How I found her is irrelevant. Muna says they used to sit under the trees at Willow Hill and I would stand behind him and run my chubby hands through his thick hair. She says it broke his heart just to look at me, to know something so fragile was in his hands. I tell Muna I was never fragile. Muna says I’m the spitting image of my mother. Except for my eyes. I got my daddy’s eyes. Yeah, Muna says I’ve got my daddy’s eyes. Black and cold. Full of ambition, yet no hope. Muna says she misses him. I do not respond. Muna says some of us carry our hearts in our heads. I look away. I want to call Muna a junkie. Just like him. I didn’t come here to get like this. I’m not a child anymore.


I know you want to know about my mother. I’m not going to tell you. No, I’m not going to tell you. Muna’s left pointer finger is infected. The shears grazed her skin as she trimmed the flesh from the raccoon. She says it was worth it. She saved the skull for me. She notes it is so small and beautiful, it made her think of me. I want to ask why or how she even remembered my father had a child, how he was anything other than that which consumed him. But I don’t. Muna tells me she had a feeling she would be seeing me. I look away. Muna says to stop biting my tongue. Life isn’t all just take, you know, you also have to give a little of yourself to the world every now and then. I tell Muna it seems all I do is give myself to the world. A babbling fool unintentionally leaving pieces of myself in places they don’t belong. In the beds of lovers who don’t even care to look. To really look. Sure they pull a long strand of black hair from their pillow, laugh, and maybe even make some stupid joke about how it’s so thick they could floss with it. As if I want to picture my hair in their teeth. Then they toss it to the floor. Not giving a second thought to the part of me that is trapped in the corners of their room, long after they have forgotten the skin of the scars that live on my left knee. Not giving a second thought to the hushed words that are trapped in that thick strand of hair, there in the corner of their room.



Not giving a second thought to my lingering vulnerabilities that are trapped there in the very feathers of the pillows that they crush at night. I want to tell Muna these things. But I don’t. I just lied to you. I nod as she speaks to me. Tuck my hair behind my ear and look at the moss growing over the cracks in the cement of Muna’s doorway. This isn’t supposed to be my story. I want to know Muna. I follow her into her home and am overwhelmed by all of the patterns, trinkets, and creations around me. I thought junkies only destroyed. Muna is skinny, but you could never describe her as frail. She has a presence. I want to know Muna. I point to a blue stone that lies flat on the table carved out of a wooden stump. I ask where it’s from. She says she was too damn high to remember. But when she looks at it she’s happy. Muna laughs and I smile. Sometimes I feel guilty for nothing. Guilty for others’ misfortune. Or what my naïveté forces me to mistake as misfortune. I want to tell Muna I’m sorry and I don’t know why. I want to know Muna. She isn’t just a junkie. Muna has traveled the world. Muna has beautiful brown skin and delicate monolids. Muna grew up in the desert. Muna takes lovers like she takes memorabilia from the earth. Muna stays awake to listen to the coyotes howl at night.

She tells me her mother came over once and asked, where is all the grass? Why does everything always have to be so dead with you? She told her mother, this is the fucking desert. Muna tells me you can’t expect everyone to understand you. You can only seek to understand them. Maybe they’ll come around. Maybe they won’t. It’s your knowledge to keep. You only die when you refuse to understand that around you. That is death, Muna tells me. Muna looks at the cold water bath in which the skeleton soaks and sort of giggles, poor unfortunate soul. She found the rodent’s body on the side of the road on her way up north, kept it wrapped in a plastic tarp and tucked away in a wooden crate for the entire trip back to the Southwest. This is her first skinning, having mainly dealt with birds in the past. I like to imagine Muna collecting the fragile skeletons in the nearby Bosque. Smiling as if she found treasure without a second thought of her morbid nature. Muna says Daddy always had his head in the clouds. I say, yeah, he was always high. She ignores me and I feel stupid. As I should. I always bite my tongue at the wrong times. Muna says Daddy always had his head in the clouds. He was always looking at the sky. Never realizing the shoes on his feet. Or the places he could go. He looked up because that’s where you look when you’re down. Whether it be to a god, the sun, the moon, or just to look at the clouds. Muna takes me to the Bosque with her. We’re searching for skeletons, as if they are easy to find.



I tell Muna I’ve been here before. With somebody. He ran ahead of me on the curvy trail. I didn’t chase him. I don’t chase anyone. He kept running. I just watched the dirt that became air with each of his strides. I just kept walking. I found him sitting on a rock. He pulled me in and we sat by the water, him behind me, his chin resting on the top of my head. He told me I was like nobody he ever met before. But all I could think about was what he looked like running away. I tell Muna I fall in love too easily. She said, who doesn’t? It’s not a difficult thing to do. I want to ask Muna why. It shouldn’t be easy. To feel like a part of something. Or a part of nothing. What’s the difference. All I hear is apart. Not a whole, but a hole. I’m ruining Muna’s story with my insecurities. Forget the raccoon. Forget the birds. They don’t mean anything. I can remember a time when my father had called. He simply said, you should go look at the moon right now. I hung up when I realized it was him. But I stared at the moon until it became the sun. I came here to find Muna. To find my father. To fill the crater he left. Yet I found myself in that very crater, not needing to be filled at all.


Below thousands of waves, the depths shake and vibrate with long-lasting songs Every ebb guides the notes, the coral reefs and drop-offs propel each hum Into every wave sound can embody, until all life and stone are touched songs of the whales will be









I see the transfer of our selves, blossoms of sun-garnished genes not meant for these places but withstanding. Empires of blood, passing it down, until the warm dust that I stand upon revels in the need for a cold, blank pasture, wondering Where is the snow? I will burn here, you know. but we don’t. I am bewildered that I am the halves of two people, your eyes, your stubborn sight, your blanketing color, your distaste for each other, blue-hearted mixture of all you had that, despite the years, keeps on, interacting as two textures of softness as though they refused to see the beauty in the likeness, sitting pink petals in the sawdust.





Never have I ever: Lain beyond the gates of a closed cemetery, legs open while a boy as sad as me fumbled with a condom wrapper between his teeth. Never have I ever: Lost track of the hours while sipping warm pbr in the back of a pickup truck, cold on a February night. Never have I ever: Nervously called upon those beyond, leaning over the Ouija board, gaze clouded by cherry-stone incense and departed spirits. Never have I ever: Lost myself so completely in youth to know the smell of midnight woods, or the nervous laughter of early-morning vandalism, or the never-absent unspoken worry of a collective life wasted on all tomorrow’s parties. Instead, I have dreamed in red panic that never would I venture beyond the comfort of this safe, warm bed.



Ballpoint, 22" x 30"


Linocut, 6" x 9"






It rained all morning in our tiny town.

When it stopped, and stubborn rays broke through the clouds, I went for a walk. I walked past the house where you grew up. Its white eaves were chipped, painted over with yellow, and covered in ivy and honeysuckle. When we were eight, you got a frisbee stuck in those vines and tried to cut them back with safety scissors. As I walked, I jumped in a puddle to soak my green shoes and pretend, for a moment, that you were here and had spilled the dog’s water on me. Again. Then I followed Jim the mailman up your parents’ lawn, and looked over his shoulder at a stack of bills and gardening catalogues. I wondered if there was a letter from you. You haven’t visited since the accident. I wandered away to the big green hills we used to roll down on weekends until we couldn’t stand from dizziness.


The sun set. Red. Orange. Pink. I leaned against that old oak tree where you broke your arm. And when the moon rose, I walked back down the hill to my little plot of earth within this tiny town. And I sat alone on the cold gray stone with my name and a dash worth twenty-three years of life. And I wept.



Ink, chalk pastel, vine charcoal, and white charcoal pencil on paper, 36" x 24"



Oil and acrylic, 48" x 48"




Digital painting





Charcoal skies light with white flashes, revealing billows of purple, of ash. The earth is hushed by sudden rumbles and taps of moisture begin to flood the earth. The dirt drinks until drunk.



Oil and acrylic, 36" x 42"


Oil and acrylic, 30" x 24"






Randy and I had closed on the house in Littleton two weeks ago. It was the perfect neighborhood: row after row of white houses centered in well-trimmed parcels of green. Nice cars obeyed the speed limits as they travelled down the well-lit streets. There were no loud noises, except for the birds that sang all morning. I don’t know what kind of birds; I’m not a bird person. Even the kids who pedaled their bikes up and down the street all afternoon seemed to move with an obedient precision. Maybe they were little monsters somewhere else, beyond the supervision of adult eyes. Then again, maybe not. Maybe they were conditioned, like everything else in this place, to be quiet and proper. The neighbors descended on us en masse the evening after the movers had come and gone. There were husbands and wives and a few kids. The adults were professionals, their children well-behaved. They brought along enough casseroles, pies, and bottles of wine for Randy to insist they stay for an impromptu house-warming party. “Cheryl,” he asked, “why don’t we break some glasses and plates out of the kitchen boxes and start plating up some of these great eats?” I smiled graciously at our sudden houseful of guests, retreated into the kitchen, and started slicing through packing tape with my new house key. Not before I opened a bottle of wine and took a few deep red pulls straight from it. Chuck came in a few minutes later. “Hi,” he said from the doorway, “I’m Charlie. Me and my wife, Anne, have the house on the corner. I thought you might need some help.” I looked up from the boxes in the corner where I knelt.


“Do I look helpless to you, Chuck?” The wine was settling in, spreading out, warm and acidic in my belly, my head. He put his hands up and started to say something, but I cut him off. I motioned to the bottle on the floor beside me. “I’m Cheryl. Have some wine and start on the boxes at the other end.” He went on about the neighborhood, how much I was going to love it here. He went on about his wife, how she was supportive about his being between careers ever since the real-estate market went bust. On about how he had been staying home and watching the kids. About the kids, how great they were. But I wasn’t really listening. They had ushered the children who had come with them into our big and empty backyard, and I was imagining them, finally away from parental supervision, splitting up into two little armies and finding rocks to throw at each other. Or maintaining unity, one army, and finding rocks to throw at us. The way the kids in Fallujah had done it, making neat little pyramids of throwing stones they could hurl while we loaded the wounded onto the Blackhawks. They were nothing to us in our helmets and flak jackets, until they started aiming for the spinning rotors. I was remembering the way the blades would kick them out and down like bullets that would dent the hulls of the choppers around me while wounded men on stretchers cried and the children screamed hate until we were loaded down and the engines roared away all other sounds and the dust obscured all vision and then we were floating, flying, and gone.

...I WAS IMAGINING THEM, FINALLY AWAY FROM PARENTAL SUPERVISION, SPLITTING UP INTO TWO LITTLE ARMIES AND FINDING ROCKS TO THROW AT EACH OTHER. I was imagining the living room windows shattering in a hail of stones, all those warm and chatting professionals shitting their khakis and grabbing the floor. I was imagining those well-behaved, blond, and pony-tailed children throwing stone after stone from the neat little pyramids beside them. Faces twisted and red with anger, voices shrieking hate in foreign tongues. “I think this will do it,” Chuck said. We had emptied a few boxes and had a respectable stack of plates, silverware, and glasses around us. Somewhere along the way we had emptied another bottle of wine, although I had probably done the lion’s share of the work. The rest of the evening was all right. I met everyone, although I don’t remember the names they mumbled around mouthfuls of casserole. “Don’t worry,” Randy whispered into my ear, “we’ll have years to get to know them.” He worked the room with his adorable brand of infectious gusto; he was so happy. After everyone collected their children from the backyard and left, Randy took me upstairs and laid me down on the mattresses we had stacked in the corner of our bedroom. I was drunk, it felt good, but I couldn’t help imagining that either he or I were someone else. Anyone else. Randy and I were high-school sweethearts who lasted all the way through college and beyond. The secret to our success, I think, was planning and execution: We figured



out where we wanted to end up, figured out how to get there, and followed through. Back when we were kids, we used to lay awake together and map out our future. Even then, he was set on being a hotshot corporate lawyer, and I always knew he was smart and determined enough to make it happen. Randy had always been a doer: Responsible, assertive, and forward, he was always providing and taking care of the things that mattered to him. That included me, and that felt good, like love. My own aims were less clear, but that was all right. Randy folded me into his tomorrow easily, made it our tomorrow, and that felt good like love, too. When Randy went to college, I followed. He got the full-ride scholarship; I covered my tuition through the Army rotc, studied pre-med. I was good at it, but it was really just something to do with myself while we positioned ourselves for the future. I’m not sure who knew it first, him or me, but it really doesn’t matter. I was going to have his children and be the most brilliant mother in the free world. I had names picked out: The boys would be Randy Jr. and Daniel (after my dad), and the girls would be named Susan (after my mother) and Alyssa (because when I was little I had wanted to be named Alyssa). I imagined all the challenges and joys of parenthood I would face, played out worst-case scenarios and how I’d handle them. I knew how I would dress my children, what kind of school I wanted them to go to, when and how I would talk to them about sex, about drugs, about death. “What’s your favorite color?” Randy had asked.

“Blue,” I had said. “Robin’s egg blue.” “When we’re married and move into our first house, let’s have a big front door and paint it robin’s egg blue.” “I love you,” I had said. It was the first time either of us had talked about marriage; I guess that was how he proposed to me. Engagement rings soon followed, but without ceremony; it had already been decided. He graduated and got into Columbia. I was accepted to ocs and made good on my commitment to the Army. There were years apart, dotted with little good times together, but we stayed on task. Stayed committed. Being separated and getting through it was hard. I didn’t make a lot of friends in the military. All I wanted to think about was Randy and getting on with our life together. I started going out for drinks with my unit, just to break the ice and relax, and it made it a little more bearable. But those years are over, so I don’t have to think about them anymore. I came back from Iraq for the last time and mustered out. Randy had graduated from law school with a junior partnership already lined up in Denver. We got married right away in a little ceremony at his parents’ church. I wore his grandmother’s gown; we exchanged his grandparents’ rings. His family sat on either side of the aisle. I didn’t have any guests.


My mother had died before I was old enough to remember her. The only family I had was my dad, and he had passed during my second tour in Iraq. A career nco, they buried him at Arlington with full honors. I couldn’t be there for the service, but I had seen him a year earlier while home on leave. He had put his big arms around me in my uniform, ran his callused fingers over my lieutenant’s bars, and said he was proud of me. After the wedding, Randy and I honeymooned at Disneyland. It was my choice. Randy said we could go anywhere; I told him I didn’t want to leave the country. We came back to Colorado, and with the money we had saved over the years we closed on our dream home. “Just like I promised,” he said while he carried me over the threshold. “Here we are.” I used to get up early with Randy, set out his suit, his shirt, his socks and tie, then make him coffee before his commute into Denver. We would talk a bit about our day, what we had planned. Randy would tell me about his first case; I’d tell him I was thinking about unpacking the boxes in one of our rooms. As the days went on and the boxes remained unpacked, it was funny the way Randy’s big case became less important than my plan to get started on the downstairs bathroom. “That’s a great idea,” he would say with a bizarre enthusiasm. “Are you going to put the green towels in there? Do you want to take me to work this morning and use the car? Get some things from the mall?” “Thanks, baby. I think it’ll be okay.”

I’D TAKE THE ASPIRIN AND TAKE A SHOWER, FINISH OFF MY PINT FROM THE DAY BEFORE, IF THERE WAS ANYTHING LEFT, AND SET OUT FOR THE STORE. That didn’t last long. It was harder and harder to get up early, and after a week Randy gave up and let me sleep. Instead he would leave me a note on the box by the mattress that had become our nightstand. Good morning, gorgeous! I was thinking we should get started on the office upstairs, today. I’ll be home to help as soon as I can. See you soon! Love, R I would find his notes when I woke up, usually around noon. The note, along with a glass of water and four aspirin he would leave for me. I’d take the aspirin and take a shower, finish off my pint from the day before, if there was anything left, and set out for the store. There was a supermarket about two klicks west of our house. I’d bring a backpack and try to enjoy the early fall day while I walked. It wasn’t easy. Suburbia looks like paradise from your front lawn, or maybe through nine-year-old eyes from the back of a bicycle, or from a nice car, obeying the speed limit as it passes through. On foot it’s different; I’m not sure why. People walking through suburbia are interlopers, unwelcome. After a while, it didn’t feel like walking through the neighborhood as much as it felt like being excised, the way a splinter gets pushed out of your hand by the surrounding skin. I’d come across women working their flower beds and I’d smile, but none of them would smile back. Groups of kids would pedal past in silence, staring.



I paced slowly by those neat, green lawns and big, white houses, and couldn’t help fixing on the dark windows. The strangers I knew would be there, just out of sight, watching me trying not to watch them back. At the supermarket I’d buy dinner for that night. Nothing I couldn’t make with the single saucepan or cookie sheet I’d found when I unpacked for the housewarming. Frozen pizzas, hot dogs, canned soup. Add to that a couple of bottles of wine for the night and a pint of whiskey to finish my day before Randy came home. All of it fit neatly in my pack. I’d use the bathroom in the market, sit in the stall and have a few pulls from the pint before heading back. I could still feel the resistance, the pushback as I walked in. It felt less like walking and more like burrowing in against unwilling earth. But as the whiskey found its mark and spread warm all through me, it got better. I could think about the warm sun beaming down and the way its heat on my skin mingled with the cool wind off the mountains. The leaves were changing, and the trees were brilliant, like fireworks frozen in mid-release. Big, thick cumulus clouds sailed by overhead like bonebleached dreadnaughts. I didn’t care if anyone smiled back at me. I didn’t care about the dark windows. If the children pedaled by in sullen silence, it didn’t matter; I smiled for each and every one. Children are beautiful. I’d get home feeling good enough to start opening boxes, but it didn’t happen. I’d drink more whiskey and find the potential of the vacant walls and hollow cabinets clean and comforting. I’d find myself wanting everything to stay like this just a little longer. I’d find myself standing by the windows at the front of the house, staring out through the blinds at the strangers passing on the street. I’d pass the rest of the day that way, until the sun started to set.

Someone had left a ladder in our backyard, and I had taken it up to the little deck that extended out from our second-floor office. With it, I could get to the roof from there. Every evening, after I’d hidden the almostempty pint from Randy, I’d open a bottle of wine and take it with me up to the roof to watch the sunset. It really was something. I couldn’t see the green yards or the streets from up there, just the rooftops. There was very little else, just the chill wind cooling the air while the fading sun danced in and out of the clouds, growing dimmer, sinking. Just the golden light that turned a deep red and the uniform, rust-shingled rooftops, like sand dunes in the desert, diminishing in scale as they spread west without variety all the way to the horizon. It was quiet; no cars or children or even singing birds broke the rooftop desert’s spell. Then it was dark, and the moon rose and the stars burned to life above me. I’d stay up there until the wine and the day’s warmth were gone, then I’d make my way back down into the house by the cold light remaining. Randy would get home around eight, and I’d have dinner ready. We’d eat; he would tell me about his day, and try to hide his disappointment in my lack of progress unpacking. He’d help me finish off the last bottle of wine and ask me if I was all right.


“I’m fine,” I’d tell him. “It’s just taking me a while to get a feel for it.” We’d kiss. I’d smile a lot. Then we’d brush our teeth and go to bed. Sometimes we’d make love. If my day went well, I’d be sober enough to feed Randy, to tell Randy I was fine. I could smile, kiss Randy, make love to Randy. Then I’d be drunk enough to collapse into sleep without dreaming. If my day went badly, it was because I didn’t drink enough the day before and dreamed of the upsidedown girl, remembered her when I woke. On those mornings I got up early, just as Randy was leaving. I didn’t take the aspirin. I didn’t drink the water and I threw away his note without reading it. I’d find the leftover pint and get started early. Some days I’d bring home white wine instead of red. I’d order a delivery pizza instead of buying frozen. The cable man came and hooked up our big flat-screen television and internet. He told me they were all set before he left; I never used them. Apart from those tiny variations, all my days were the same. It was hard on Randy, I knew. The way he knew everything was wrong, even though I told him I was fine. I’d pass out at night knowing he was lying beside me, wide awake, thinking. The worst thing for people like Randy, for all the doers in the world, are the problems they can’t figure out, can’t solve. He tried to fix me; that’s what you do for people you love. He started by offering to take me out to places, showing me listings for movies and

SOME DAYS I’D BRING HOME WHITE WINE INSTEAD OF RED. I’D ORDER A DELIVERY PIZZA INSTEAD OF BUYING FROZEN. restaurant reviews. “Let’s go into Denver and just find something to do when I get home tomorrow,” he’d say. I’d refuse. I didn’t want to go anywhere. He started buying me things, bringing them home to me after work. First there was the necklace, silver with a small diamond pendant. Very expensive. “It’s beautiful, thank you,” I said while he stood behind me and fastened it around my neck. I smiled. We made love. Then he brought home the picture. It was my college graduation picture, before I went to ocs. I was wearing my rotc uniform. There was an American flag behind me. Beautifully framed. He set it on the box by the mattresses. “I thought…if you remembered how things were. I don’t know…I just…you used to smile like….” Randy started crying. I didn’t. I smiled. We made love. I finished off the wine all by myself that night. After Randy fell asleep I went downstairs and polished off the rest of the whiskey before I passed out in the living room. Still, the upside down girl came to me again that night. Last night, Randy came back from work with a cardboard box and set it down by the front door. He invited me over to see while he took off his coat and unpacked it. “I stopped by the hardware store on the way home today,” he said. There was a plastic tarp, shrink-wrapped paint rollers, and a shiny tray. And at the bottom of the box there were two gallon cans of outdoor paint, robin’s egg blue.



“I thought maybe you just needed the right place to get started. Did I get the color right?” I smiled. We made love. The upside-down girl came to me during my last tour in Iraq. I was assigned to the 86th Combat Support Hospital in Baghdad. It was late, and it was quiet. I didn’t know how the old man got his granddaughter through the checkpoints until we saw what had been done to her; no one had the heart to turn them away. I overheard the old man’s story, picked out what I could from the Arabic I’d managed to learn in country, while we laid her unconscious form on a gurney and worked our triage assessment. Her fiancé and his family believed she had been unfaithful. They tried to stone her to death, and when that didn’t kill her they set on her with knives. They left her for dead, told the grandfather where he could find the body. He had taken her home and waited for her to die. It had been two days, so finally the old man brought her to us. Three of us worked over her while I pushed the gurney down the hall to the operating room. The diagnosis was bleak; no one knew how she’d lived this long. Her pulse was the faintest I’d ever heard and it was hard to know if her wounds had stopped bleeding because they’d clotted or because there was nothing left in her to spill out. Somewhere along the way, somehow, she woke. The eye she had left split open and a tiny well of tears ran down the side of her dirty, crushed face, across dry channels left by old blood. Behind it, her dark, almond eye looked up at me. Upside down and framed by the gurney’s white linens, she looked up at me while I pushed and the others worked over her. A heart-shaped face buried beneath swollen bruises, scabs, dirt, and the garden of clear plastic

tubes we’d planted in her distended nostrils, between her split and blood-caked lips. There was nothing behind the eye, nothing deeper. No judgment or sorrow, not even an animal confusion or a primal pain. She was past all of that. She was beautiful and perfect, the way the statues and paintings and stainedglass faces in the little church where I was married were beautiful. Simple and, despite her total ruin, pure. If anyone ever asked me if I’d seen God, I’d remember the upsidedown girl and say yes. She just looked up at me for a moment, as though she had hung on, come all this way, only long enough to see something other than the young man she had promised to love crush and cut her, or the old man who had laid her out in their little apartment and waited for her to die. Her eye didn’t dull and her body didn’t issue one final convulsion or even a sigh. There was no sensation of some soul rising out of her. Just a fluttering staccato from the ekg, ending with a high, droning flatline that roared away all other sound. Then she was floating, flying, gone. I woke up early; Randy hadn’t left yet. I listened to him walk around the house, heard him come in to leave his note and the water and the aspirin. I kept my eyes closed and covered my face so he wouldn’t see my


jaw move from clenching my teeth. When I heard him close the front door, heard his car drive off, I got out of bed. The house was freezing. I looked around the upstairs office and unpacked my laptop. True to the cableman’s word, our internet connection was working. I did a little research, made the appointment. The pint was empty. I looked at the cardboard box with the tarp and the paint, thought about that magnificent front door, how beautiful and strange it would be. How it would stand out in the neighborhood, stand apart and alone. I got so far as to lay out the tarp before I was getting dressed, grabbing my backpack, and heading for the market. It was cold, and even after the sun had risen the sky was dim, low, and gray with impending snow. I went back in, tore open one of the boxes in our bedroom, and found one of Randy’s wool topcoats to wear. The wind was strong and wet; it stripped the leaves from the trees and blew them in rustling, migrating heaps along the street. It twisted and pulled at the tails of the oversized coat. It blew my hair around, whipped it across my face, into the corners of my mouth, and over my eyes. By the time I made it to the bathroom stall at the supermarket, I was numb from the cold. I drowned a quarter of my pint of whiskey in huge gulps, then got out of there before the drunk took hold. I’d be good and warm before long. There’s a little coffee shop beside the market, and as I passed it there was a loud knock against its storefront window. Inside,

I KEPT MY HANDS JAMMED DOWN INTO THE COAT’S POCKETS TO DISCOURAGE THE HUG HE WANTED TO ATTEMPT. a man at a table had rapped the glass and was smiling at me, waving, gesturing for me to come in. Fit and in his early thirties. White T-shirt, jeans. Black peacoat on the back of his chair, bluetooth in his ear, laptop and a cup of something hot on his table. It took a second…Chuck. “Hey, Cheryl,” he said while he stood to greet me. I kept my hands jammed down into the coat’s pockets to discourage the hug he wanted to attempt. “Chuck. Hi.” I think I was smiling. The whiskey was coming on fast. The heat was cranked up in the little shop, smothering me. “What brings you here?” “Oh, the weather. First really cold day of the year, and I had a hankering for some hot chai. Anne took the kids up to South Dakota to visit their grandparents. I had a job interview this week, so I had to pass. Nice to get out of the house. What brings you out on a day like this?” “Oh, you know,” I shrugged toward my backpack. “Groceries.” Long pause. Chuck looked away, at his cup, his laptop. I stared at him, evaluating through the warm blur. “Do you want some coffee or something?” he finally said. “No, I should be going.” “Are you walking? Do you want a ride?” “Sure. Actually, I kind of need some help with something at home. Wanna help me paint my front door?” We drove home without talking. His car was nice; he obeyed all traffic laws and kept his hands ten-and-two on the steering wheel. He parked his car in his driveway and we walked down the street to my house. “Here we are,” I said as I opened the front door and we stepped in over the tarp.



Chuck took in the stacked boxes, all of it more or less the same as it had been the night of the housewarming two weeks ago. “Jeez, Cheryl. I’d say I love what you’ve done with the place, but….” “Hey,” I laughed. “The cable works now. Do you want the tour before we get started?” Another little silence. This time he kept his eyes on mine, evaluating. “Sure,” he finally said with a little smile. Randy had already given Chuck and everyone else a tour of the house two weeks ago. It was on; we both knew it. It was just a matter of how much small talk he would need before it happened. I let him lead. With theatrical nonchalance, pretending to regard the empty and unpacked place as if for the first time, he made his way upstairs toward the bedroom. I followed, pulling the pint of whiskey from Randy’s coat pocket and slipping out of it behind him. In the bedroom he picked up the picture on the box by the mattress. “Is this you? Wow, you look so different, so much more…I don’t know….” “I was younger.” “I didn’t know you were in the military,” he said. “I really appreciate what you did over there.” “What I did?” “Sure, you know. Protecting us. Spreading democracy. Giving people over there a chance at making things more like they are here.” He set the picture down and I moved behind him, put my hand on his shoulder and spoke softly into his ear. “Shut up, Chuck.” He turned, took in my nakedness suddenly against him. I’d had all the small talk I could stand. We kissed

and he moaned, a high and achy whine. I held the bottle to his mouth, tilted it back and made him drink until he sputtered. Then I kissed him again. I pushed him down onto the mattress and, after I got him out of his jeans, rode him like I wished he’d kill me. Chuck, the only other man I’d ever slept with, the man with whom I betrayed the two-month old marriage I’d always wanted, wasn’t the killing type. More achy whining, and he kept talking: on and on about how he’d always wanted this and did I want this as bad as he did and how did I know how much he wanted this and how wrong this was and how he didn’t care. How he’d watch me through his window while I sat on my roof at sunset and hope I was looking for him, wanting this as much as he did. I put the bottle to his lips and made him drink, if only to make him quiet. I drank more myself, then him, then me again until the bottle was empty. I haven’t slept with enough men to know if he was good or not, but I know I felt good. It felt good to fuck and feel angry at the same time, to not have to smile. When it was over, I got up and put my pants back on, my sweater. Chuck laid there for a minute as if he were going to fall asleep. “Hey,” I said, loudly. He opened his eyes, came around, and sat up.


“Right. I should probably go. Do you still, I mean…your door?” “I’ll manage.” He dressed in silence, and I followed him downstairs. It was cold; the wind had blown the front door open. We must not have closed it all the way. I watched Chuck stagger drunk through the snow that had started to fall, back to his and Anne’s house on the corner. Dead leaves and white dots of snow whistled in the open door. The plastic tarp I’d laid out earlier crackled and danced with each new gust of wind that came through. I should have been cold, but I wasn’t. I opened a can of paint.





Sabrina Alderete Sabrina is currently a unm student studying creative writing and evolutionary anthropology. As an aspiring writer, she finds herself most interested in experimental literature and those small moments that not only define us, but unite us. 60 Muna Alain Antoine Alain hails from France but became an American citizen in 2000. He lives in Santa Fe with his wife. 24 May the Force Be with You

Kerry Bergen Kerry is an art studio major in the College of Fine Arts at unm. Her past studies have been at the Art Institute of Pittsburgh, the Art Center Design College, and Central New Mexico Community College. She is a freelance artist and teaches cultural arts in museums, cultural centers, and schools. 25 Marlena Lyndsey Broyles Lyndsey is a junior majoring in English with an emphasis in creative writing. She hopes to go on to graduate school and earn her PhD in creative writing. 69 Party Games Vicky Camarillo Vicky is a senior and a creative writing major. She is from Texas. 26 Does It Make You Feel Better?


Caitlin Carcerano Caitlin is a sophomore studying art studio with a concentration in painting and drawing and a minor in Honors. Beside art, Caitlin likes dogs, space, and David Bowie. 70 Float Away Mia Casesa Mia is an undergraduate student majoring in Interdisciplinary Film and Digital Media at the University of New Mexico. She is a full-time student and works part time while pursuing her artistic endeavors. Her hobbies include doodling and drinking tea. She enjoys multimedia experimentation that adheres to traditional formal principles such as line, value, color, and composition. She has been published in Best Student Essays as well as Bound Magazine. 3 Evanesce David M. Castillo David is an undergraduate student studying English at the University of New Mexico. 12 I Awoke Some Time in 2010 from a Dream Q. Clemente Chirdon Quentin is a student of English literature at the University of New Mexico. 49 From the Hands of Thieves 80 Robin’s Egg Blue



Dawn Davis Dawn uses drawing as a way to process life’s challenges. Though a lifelong creative, she has only been drawing on a regular basis for the past three years, primarily for herself and her friends. Dawn has contributed illustrations to Dr. David E. Stuart’s Anasazi America: Seventeen Centuries on the Road from Center Place, a widely respected study of a lost civilization. 6 Ellerp Chooses Her Mood for the Day Taylor Brooke Denton Brooke aspires to be an artist, with her focus in painting and photography. She is currently a junior at unm, where she is majoring in art studio. She has previously been published in New Mexico Magazine. 10 Afternoon 33 Bath 2 Starla and Heather 11 Starla (III) Jennifer Dixon Jennifer is an an undergraduate art studio major. She originally worked in traditional graphite, but has since moved most of her work into the digital studio. She finds most of her inspiration in online artists, video games, and the ocean. 76 Man’s Disguise Michaela Dolly Michaela is a writing enthusiast from Las Cruces, New Mexico. She is currently attending the University of New Mexico, where she studies biology and English. 68 Lineage John Fatemi John is a queer and genderqueer artist who has lived most of their life in Albuquerque, New Mexico. They intend to become a therapist as well as a freelance artist. 74 Some Semblance of Order

Jesse Furr Jesse is a second-year student in the art studio program at unm. He enjoys making art, thinking, and wandering aimlessly about. 58 No Man Is an Island 59 Rods 71 Sonny Yvonne Gandert Yvonne defines her artistic style as a juxtaposition of natural, almost photo-realistic portraiture complemented by bold, graphic patterns and symbols that make up the clothing and accessories of the portrait subjects. 36 Lady Day Justin Guthrie Justin is a skateboarder from the Westside of Albuquerque. He died in the Vietnam War in a past life maybe. Aliens might exist, he thinks. 67 Perfecto Sarah Haak Sarah is a senior at the University of New Mexico, originally from Austin, Texas. This spring she will receive her ba in English with a concentration in creative writing. She has a degree in natural therapeutics and works as a chef and a writing tutor. She currently lives in Albuquerque, New Mexico. 16 Aphasia Derrick Heisey Derrick has been published in Asylum Ink magazine and has two short stories on Amazon Kindle. He lives with his dachshunds, Charlie Marlow and Jojo Stalin, and his ashtrays are always full. 38 Day Twenty-Something

YooJung Hong Hong is an art studio major at the University of New Mexico who is interested in traditional art cultures and rituals. Her art involves Korean traditional art culture and its philosophy as a concept of her work, but this concept is reinterpreted and recreated in her own style and expression. Her art practice aims to examine the value of continuing traditional rituals in a contemporary way. 7 A New Uh-byun-sung-ryong-do 48 Sip-jang-saeng: Ten Symbols of Longevity Chi Lan Huynh As a Lomography and iPhoneography fan, Chi Lan Huynh has never consider themselves an artist or a photographer. They shoot everything with their iPhone just in order to capture moments they live, they like, they see, they walk by. They don’t have a dslr or point-and-shoot camera, and they don’t know how to use them, either. 32 Street Artist Julia Lambright Julia was born and raised in Russia. After immigrating to the United States, she received a bfa (with honors) in painting from the University of New Mexico. Currently she is finishing her mfa at unm, focusing on new possibilities in the field of painting and drawing. She frames contemporary issues through the laborious and sensual lens of traditional process, painstakingly layering gold leaf, egg tempera, and oils in evocative paintings intended to startle the viewer as much with careful gaps and silences as with declarative statements. 44 700000 in 1 37 K-1 45 Lady of Kurskaya Station 41 Limbo 14 Tetris

Bree Lamb Bree is a third-year Master of Fine Arts candidate in photography who will graduate from unm in the spring of 2015. 8 Microcosm Kelly McCarthy Kelly is currently pursuing her PhD in sociology at the University of New Mexico. Beyond her academic career, photography presents an outlet through which she can express herself artistically. She has had photographs published in the literary art magazines Conceptions Southwest and Scribendi, an international publication in the Australian magazine Etzcetera, and a publication in the online magazine Honey Be Natural. 66 Affection Confection Kimberly Mitchell Kimberly is a sophomore. Most of the time she lives in an imaginary world. It keeps things interesting. 72 Another Thursday Jesse Montoya Jesse Montoya is a senior at unm. He writes poems, absurdist fiction, and essays. He plans to attend law school because real poets need to suffer. 42 Cada Cabeza es un Mundo 1 Española Astronaut Stephanie Nahua Stephanie is currently an undergraduate senior at the University of New Mexico pursuing a Bachelor’s degree in English with a concentration in creative writing. She enjoys writing because of the challenge, and because she is fascinated by the ways in which language can be used to convey and create other worlds. 65 In the Tides 77 May Evening in Wichita

Jordan Parro Jordan graduated from the University of New Mexico in 2010 where he studied philosophy and mathematics. He currently lives in Boston, Massachusetts, with his wife, where he is working on a Master of Divinity. Jordan’s photography and writing have previously been published in Scribendi and Conceptions Southwest. 4 I Swear to God This Doesn’t Usually Happen

Brianna Tapia From a very young age, Brianna has always found interest in art. Although she is not a visual artist herself, she holds close the passion of poetry and music. Having played drums since the age of six, many of her influences come from punk rock bands such as Fugazi, Bad Brains, Minor Threat, Black Flag, and Ceremony. 34 Terra Firma Corpus

Liliana Rehorn Liliana is a junior studying foreign languages (Spanish and French). She is originally from California and enjoys cooking, running, mountain biking, and traveling. 13 This Man’s Hands

Katherine Weinberg Katherine is a recent alumna of unm. After receiving her ba in linguistics with a focus on American Sign Language, she moved to England to complete her ms and PhD in forensic speech science. She writes in what little free time grad school allows. 55 Slow-Dancing with My Anxieties

Jocelyn Richards Jocelyn is an Albuquerque native, full-time Presidential Scholar, and graphic design artist at the University of New Mexico. Art is her one true passion and best means of connecting and communicating with others. While charcoal and paint are her primary mediums, she is also currently exploring body art as a means of expression. 40 Home Sweet Hippocampal Kacie Erin Smith A California native, Kacie earned her bfa in printmaking and drawing at Washington University in St. Louis. She has worked as a Waldorf teacher and farm manager/educator. She is currently pursuing her mfa at the University of New Mexico, Albuquerque. 15 Funston Brandon Straus Brandon is an aesthete obsessed with painting, drawing, and art history. Design, contemporary aesthetics, and conceptual painting merge in his practice. 79 Getaway, L.A. 75 Loft, Williamsburg 78 Winter Cabin, Aspen

Amy Zuverink Amy is a senior at the University of New Mexico. She is pursuing a dual degree in theatre and English with a minor in history. Two of her poems were published in the 2014 issue of Conceptions Southwest. 46 For Amythest 35 Love, Daedalus

SUBMIT YOUR WORK TO CSW Want to see Conceptions Southwest publish your work in the 2016 edition? Send it in for consideration! How to Submit Head to to submit your work. We’ll begin accepting submissions in August 2015, and all submissions will be due by Monday, November 16. What to Submit We accept creative works of all varieties: prose, poetry, visual art, photography, screenplays, short film, and more. Submissions may be in any language, but non-English submissions must be accompanied by a translation. All photography and art images must be at least seven inches (on their longer side) at 300 ppi.


Turn static files into dynamic content formats.

Create a flipbook
Issuu converts static files into: digital portfolios, online yearbooks, online catalogs, digital photo albums and more. Sign up and create your flipbook.