Conceptions Southwest, 2014

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conceptions s o u t hw e st Volume XXXVII Fine Arts and Literary Magazine of the University of New Mexico

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Copyright Š Conceptions Southwest Published by the Student Publications Board University of New Mexico All rights revert to the contributors upon publication issn 1048-8790 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 c/o Student Publications MSC03-2230 University of New Mexico Albuquerque, NM 87131-0001 Printed by Starline Printing 7111 Pan American West Freeway ne Albuquerque, nm 87109 505-345-8900

Cover Art Scorched Paul D. Phillips Page 57

Special Thanks Jim Fisher and Dr. Leslie Donovan for all their support Daven Quelle and the Daily Lobo Advertising Office Carolyn Souther for her financial advice and guidance Becky Maher and Starline Printing asunm and gpsa Every instructor who encouraged their students to submit Every staff member for their dedicated work Every contributor Every reader Without any of you, this issue of Conceptions Southwest would not have been possible. Student Publications Board Members: Dr. Leslie Donovan (Chair), Faculty Senate Representative Miguel Gandert, Faculty Senate Representative Austin Megli, asunm Senate Representative Robert Trapp, New Mexico Press Association Representative Sophie Martin, unm President Representative Lauren Wade, asunm President Representative Erinn Tibbs, Society of Professional Journalists Student Representative Jordan Burk, asunm Presidential Representative Jim Fisher, Associate Director, Student Publications Business Operations Carolyn Souther, Student Publications Administrative Staff Anna Adams, Best Student Essays Editor-in-Chief Gianna May, Conceptions Southwest Editor-in-Chief Antonio Sanchez, Daily Lobo Editor-in-Chief

Staff Members Gianna May Maggie Waring Jordan Burk Melissa Rinkenberger

Editor-in-Chief Managing Editor Design Director Design Director

Mia Casesa Vicky Camarillo Gabrielle Curry Chandra Blue Hughes Rachel Lamb Megan Underwood

Digital Editor Short Fiction Editor Poetry Editor Short Fiction Editor Marketing Director Creative Nonfiction Editor

Ann Christmas Susie Davenport Savanna Duran Caroline Eppers Dani Freeze Mita Keithley Krysta Madrid-Arellano Emilia Azure de Martinez

Staff Member Staff Member Staff Member Staff Member Staff Member Staff Member Staff Member Staff Member

Letter from the Editor This magazine represents the creative community at the University of New Mexico. All contributors are affiliates of the University and the staff who stitched this magazine together are current graduate and undergraduate students. I have been on staff of Conceptions Southwest since my freshman year at unm, four years ago, and consider myself lucky to have been a part of this collaborative process since 2010. Each edition of Conceptions Southwest seems to have its own flair and style as new editors and staff are chosen. My first year of Conceptions consisted of a staff that emphasized the Southwestern identity of the magazine. In 2012, it was about clean professionalism with a dash of desert and artistic influence. Last year, the magazine bloomed with fantastic color and sunflower covers, peppered with zia motifs. It presented enjoyment in the flip-book design and payed homage to the first edition of the magazine. I am sure this year’s magazine will have its own quirks, but as Editor, what I really wanted to emphasize in this edition was the identity of Conceptions Southwest as a collaborative literary and fine arts magazine that embodies the creative community of the University, past, present, and future. I firmly believe that this magazine is a manifestation of these things and is unique as a result; it is this mission that guides Conceptions Southwest as a staff, a magazine, and a community. The compass motif found throughout this edition is significant; like so many great artists and writers who were drawn to New Mexico for its enchanting composition and landscape, so, too, are we drawn and bound to the same land. The Southwest guides our everyday pursuits and the people found here influence and inspire the creation of artistic and literary endeavors. All works presented in this magazine are connected through the Southwest by unm. In spite of different backgrounds and experiences, this link between artists and writers is something to be celebrated and emphasized. I hope you enjoy reading this edition of Conceptions Southwest as much as I enjoyed working on it. There are so many people who contributed to the process that I hold the deepest and sincerest gratitude for. If I could, I would thank every contributor who submitted their work, an overwhelming 411 submissions, as well as my staff, who ensured that this magazine would come into fruition. I also am truly grateful for friends and family, one very supportive fiancÊ, and countless mentors like Dr. Leslie Donovan and Professor Amaris Ketcham who have provided the guidance and support that has allowed me to succeed as Editor. I would also like to thank you, dear reader; your readership is greatly appreciated and it is your creative work, and the work of the unm community, that Conceptions Southwest strives to encapsulate. Gianna May, Editor-in-Chief

Table of Contents Creative Nonfiction Desert Lotus Emperatriz Ung 38 Do Not Urine Here Lauren Hawk 3 Music and a Pearl Janelle Hunt 91 Ok Cupid, That's Enough Jacob Moffitt 73 That Kind of Cold M. Brianna Stallings 66

Photography The Hunt Marcus Zúñiga 88 Luminarias With Ice Michael Foust 35 Old City, New Faces Kelly McCarthy 64 Old Friends Shannon Casey 72 Paperman Anya Kubilus 83 Polychrome Portico Navida Johnson 12 Portrait of the Chimayo Souls 1 Junfu Han 44 Portrait of the Chimayo Souls 2 Junfu Han 45 Portrait of the Chimayo Souls 3 Junfu Han 46 Portrait of the Chimayo Souls 4 Junfu Han 47 Sophie Dillon Cullinan 2 Twins Shannon Casey 61

Poetry After Vegetation Dené Shelton 14 Analyzing Bukowski Naked Amy Zuverink 34 Calderas Tori Cárdenas 1 Created Things Linnea Burleigh 43 Everyday Love Nancy Thomas 8 Garden Riddles Devon Stevens 10 Honestly David M. Castillo 37 Leetso Veronica Chavez 56 Marring Maiden David M. Castillo 82 The Monster Inside Anna Adams 23

Poetry Nobody Just Passes Through Amy Zuverink 99 Northern New Mexico Tori Cárdenas 58 Now I Am Awake Cathy Cook 89 Opium Calls in New Mexico Paula Hughson 70 Simple Knots Linnea Burleigh 22 Sor Juana Devon Stevens 87 the waiting sill Linnea Burleigh 59 Water Dené Shelton 71 Weep a Little Nancy Thomas 63 Winter Cathy Cook 54

Short Fiction Behind the Glass Sarah J. Tario 48 Faceless Anna Adams 84 Glowworms Tori Cárdenas 25 No Magpie Zach Hively 18

Short Film Dive Dillon Cullinan 69

Visual Art Atmospheric Sensibility Marne Elmore 13 crowMagnon Robert Maestas 68 del Sol Breeze Navida Johnson 9 Deltron the Mastermind Yvonne Emiliana Gandert 19 dna Encoded Gift of Gab Yvonne Emiliana Gandert 60 The End of a Shore Dinner Atsuko Sakai 90 Germaphobe Carlene Moya 36 Halo Valerie Rangel 98 Hound Jesse Furr 20 Lonesome Lily Carlene Moya 81 Midnight Clockwork Frank Liebert 17 November Dusk Navida Johnson 65 Of Beak and Bone Frank Liebert 55 Rising Sun in Copper Harold F. Specter 21 Roots Joanna Keane 16 Scorched Paul D. Phillips 57 Smokescreen Erotica Robert Maestas 24 Whale No. 1 Atsuko Sakai 62

Calderas Tori CĂĄrdenas

In these indigo mountains, where witches gather by the liquor store and its flickering neon to weave blankets of found hair, you can hear their chants rise up to the universe or some other old god that was here before the conquistadores and their leather-bound bibles. In this village, where the houses are made of biscochitos and cactus candy, toil and trouble is typical when they have to mix potions with dry rinds, sticky sage, and fingernails and butchered kings. Down these dirt roads, where the windows are full of the liquid from that damned spot, women can turn into sleek, black horses or bathe in powdered bone and glittering methylamine and soar up the chimney as cottony owls. Now the only light spilling on the red earth is from the bonfires in the woods where brujas dance with their red willow wands, and in watching them we try to set ourselves apart from the darkness. This isn’t Scotland. This is New Mexico, and if you eat enough chile and rosaries, maybe you can purge yourself.






Sophie Dillon Cullinan

Conceptions Southwest

Do Not Urine Here Lauren Hawk

The German girl looked upset, holding her hands in her lap and biting her lip. Wincing with every bump of the jolting bus, she exchanged pained looks with her concerned-seeming boyfriend. She stumbled occasionally to the front to ask the driver when we would get to a bathroom. “No bathroom,” he said. “Open air only.” She was going to cry. I thought she was probably sick and how it’s unfortunate that Himalayan roads do not allow for speedy driving and that Indian mountain road infrastructure does not include rest stops. I thought that Indian bus drivers could have more sympathy for Europeans with food poisoning. I thought about a friend who once was sick the same day she had to take a four-hour bus ride from Chennai to the small village she worked in. “I was vomiting when a little boy peed out the window in front of me and into my mouth,” she told me as we ate lukewarm korma and sipped fresh lime soda near the bus station in Trivandrum. “You will get sick here.” I was so terrified I’d have food poisoning on a bus in India that in those first few weeks, I ate only packaged coconut cookies on travel days. But I quickly learned that Indian food is tastiest when eating it is riskiest, and, anyway, I always ignored the five-second rule back home. My friend Niranjan told me later that the girl on the bus with the boyfriend and the eternal


grimace was not, in fact, ill. She needed to pee and eventually decided to do so in a water bottle in the back of the bus — it seemed better to her, I guess, than squatting on the side of a mountain where everyone can see. When I was a kid I wouldn’t pee at school or in department stores, at gas stations or restaurants. I developed a bladder of steel and it stuck with me through high school. It was such a private thing, to pee, and the stalls in public restrooms reeked of bleach and ammonia and metal and there was always someone there listening, judging, never forgetting. The handles on the sinks dripped water from someone else’s hands and the pink soap like molten bubblegum had a suspicious sheen to it. Soap shouldn’t be so shiny and so pink. I made one exception when I was about eight years old and my father took me camping in the Pajarito Mountains. I didn’t yet understand the mechanics of peeing without a toilet. I didn’t know what to sit on or where to put the toilet paper when I was done. I didn’t know what animals or people might be watching me. So I just didn’t. I didn’t pee the two days and one night we were there. My dad grew concerned after a while, so I walked meekly out into the woods and counted to fifty before coming back, whistling nonchalantly like I had done the deed.

Creative Nonfiction



Creative Nonfiction But maybe I should have counted to a hundred or not whistled or maybe I was just a bad liar, because he knew right away that I was pretending. I couldn’t sleep that night, and my dad mercifully decided we should leave the mountains early. At the first truck stop on the way home I finally, for the first time of my own volition, used a public restroom.

When I was twenty-one in AmeriCorps, after a few weeks of experimenting with a couple Urination Stances, I finally learned how to squat to pee. When I was twenty-one in AmeriCorps, after a few weeks of experimenting with a couple Urination Stances, I finally learned how to squat to pee. We lived in hand-me-down Colemanbrand tents at the x9 Ranch, an old ranger station tucked away between the Sonoran Desert and the Rincon Mountains. With no bathrooms or electricity and just some derelict buildings warning us of the risk of hantavirus and lead poisoning, we peed behind mesquite trees or next to buffalo bluegrass. For weeks I stopped drinking water in the early afternoon to avoid waking up in the middle of frosty winter nights. We each staked out our own spot to pee in the mornings. A few hundred meters past the eastern edge of x9 Ranch, mine was a little patch of dirt hidden between a dying tree and a long, flat boulder on the edge of the mesa. Every morning, perched on the precipice facing east, I watched the sun rise over the rolling hills of the desert. The morning air was sweet and light, the desert painted blue and green and purple. The rising

Conceptions Southwest sun cast shadows of the saguaro cacti — the ones from the cartoons with the arms and the sombreros and Speedy Gonzales. They looked like benevolent giants.

Urination Stance 1: The Crab In this posture, you lift yourself up into a tabletop position with your chest facing up toward the sky. There are many drawbacks and few advantages to this posture. For one, it is massively uncomfortable and surprisingly difficult. While it does give you a pretty fantastic shoulder stretch, it’s not easy to control the trajectory of the stream. The risk of peeing on your shoes or pants or socks is greatly increased when holding yourself in this position. Moreover, finding a safe spot on which to place your hands is challenging in the Sonoran Desert; in a best-case scenario, the sand and gravel will dig deep into your palms, leaving a constellation of indentations crawling all the way to the tips of your fingers. When I can’t pee but I need to, I think of waterfalls — the word, though, not the thing. I think waterfallwaterfallwaterfallwaterfall and there’s not even an accompanying image, really. It’s just a mantra, the effectiveness of which is questionable. The morning after the German girl peed in the bottle on the bus in the back, we stopped at a row of tarpaulin snack shops called Darcha to deliver a new tire to a jeep in need. In a dusty, blue tea stall with yin–yang wall tapestries, Niranjan, despite our protests, bought us a round of masala tea and a package of cardamom cashew cookies. “Actually, I’m like JP Morgan,” he said. “Even I have too much money, and I must share it.”

On the bus again an hour later, we all looked upset, holding our hands in our laps and biting our lips. We bumped and rattled our way back and forth and up kilometers of unpaved switchbacks in the frosted desert of the southern Himalayas, but we winced with each bounce and could only pretend to enjoy the view. When we finally stopped to pee — “open air only” — we raced out the door. The women climbed up and the men climbed down and we did what you do when you recently drank a cup of milky black tea but there’s only orange dirt and a smattering of knee-high shrubs like goosebumps on the side of the mountain: We peed. Waterfallwaterfallwaterfall, I thought as I tried not to make eye contact with one of the ten women in a thirty-foot radius of me. Waterfallwaterfall, and it was almost working when the woman nearest me — an older French lady on vacation with her impish husband and his yellow and green jester hat — released, casually, quietly, a stream of liquid poop. She was squatting in profile to me and I didn’t know at all what to do. There was nowhere for me to look except straight ahead or at someone else and so I looked down at the ground and waterfallwaterfallwaterfallwaterfallwater — The Cactus Forest in Saguaro National Park is a maze of eroding horse trails winding in, up, down, and through arroyos, past ancient saguaro cacti and clumps of prickly pear and cholla. The Cactus Forest is falling apart; it is turning to literal dust. There are too many trails and not enough trail signs, too many guided mule tours, and it cannot go on like this anymore. We spent our days digging up cacti and reburying them in old trails. We were landscapers, camouflage artists. We called it re-veg, and it


was difficult work. Slamming pick-axes into hard, compounded, and dried-up dirt, carrying saguaro corpses and prickly pear cacti across mesas and washes, we buried them in the ground and destroyed all evidence that this, once, was a trail that you could walk on.

…we did what you do when you recently drank a cup of milky black tea but there’s only orange dirt and a smattering of kneehigh shrubs like goosebumps on the side of the mountain: We peed. But in deserts you can see for miles, and when trails crisscross every few hundred meters, you will not be able to find a pee-spot that’s not visible to someone somewhere nearby. So you go as fast as you can: You glance furtively around like you’re guilty of some great crime and in one swift movement you’ve pulled down your pants and now you have to multitask. You’re squatting on the side of an arroyo and you hold on to a tree to stay upright; you look around to make sure no one is approaching from the left, from the right, from behind, or in front; and the whole time you also monitor your feet and your pee and you hold up your pants and you must do this fast, fast, as fast as you can so you can pull up your pants — breathe deeply. You look around one more time and then you pick up your shovel from the ground and return to your work.

Urination Stance 2: The Assisted Squat To perform the assisted squat — the easiest of all methods — you need to find a convenient,

Creative Nonfiction



Creative Nonfiction well-rooted object to grasp for stability. Trees are best, though small boulders also work well. The assisted squat will look different for everyone depending on the openness of your hips and the flexibility of your ankles. The important thing in this position is that you bend your knees deeply and place your feet wide enough apart to minimize risk of friendly fire. As we now know, peeing in exposed spaces can be a stressful and complicated experience. This posture is ideal because it eliminates any concerns you might have about balancing, allowing you to focus on whatever else might concern you or make you happy in that moment of release.

I want to talk about the time that I unknowingly walked through a urinal on a downtown Bangalore sidewalk. I want to talk about the time that I unknowingly walked through a urinal on a downtown Bangalore sidewalk. I know because that was the moment I finally traced the nostril-burning smell of other people’s urine and not because there was anything else to denote the urinal’s function: no drain or hole or sign, just two cement blocks and some soggy dirt. I want to talk about the time we smoked cigarettes on the sidewalk outside some Brooklyn apartment and one girl — not even drunk — squatted right where she was standing and, holding her pink leotard to the side, tested how big of a puddle she could make. I want to talk about the trickle of urine winding its way down and then into the cracks in the concrete like a waterfall. Or the time on the subway platform in Brooklyn waiting for the j train to Kosciuszko

Conceptions Southwest Street when my friend climbed on top of a trash can and considerately peed in it, the closest thing to a proper receptacle that she could find. I want to talk about when I peed on the side of a stranger’s house and on the lawn of a government building or all of the times behind dumpsters, trees, bushes, cars, looking up at mountains or down at valleys, in the snow and the dirt and the sand, and even, once, in a public shower on a beach at a dirty lake in Louisiana.

Urination Stance 3: Hands-Free Otherwise known as “The Classic,” this posture is ideal for those seeking to improve their balance, strength, and hip flexibility. To begin, stand with your feet approximately hip-width distance apart. After pulling down your pants/skirt/leggings/ etc., begin to bend at the knees until you reach the desired position. The hands-free stance will markedly improve the range of motion of your hip flexors as well as help build your core strength. It is also fun, challenging, and more satisfying than other methods. Two days ago I went hiking in the Grand Canyon, but I couldn’t stand to look at it. Eric was in awe and said so; Erin was congested and trying to breathe. I looked at my feet or at the people passing by. “It’s too beautiful,” I said because I didn’t want to admit that I wasn’t so impressed. I wanted a better view — I wanted to see to the bottom. I wanted to know what was on the other side of that cliff or below the other one. It looked like a picture of itself except crowded with people wearing homemade t-shirts: “Robinson Family Grand Canyon 2013!”

We camped that night in one of those campgrounds with showers and bathrooms and spots for rvs. We ate veggie burgers and waxy Entenmann’s donuts and drank rye whiskey by the campfire. We fell asleep on the hard ground. In the morning I snuck off early and wandered north through the woods. I walked all the way to the edge of the canyon. Sitting on a rock and dangling my feet over the cliff, I watched the sun rise. I watched the canyon turn from blue to orange, and the Colorado River kept on flowing like nothing interesting was happening at all. Before heading back to the campground, I peed right there on the southern edge of the biggest hole in the ground that I will ever see, and, truly, it’s impressive. In India I saw signs — “Do Not Urine Here” — posted in metro cars, on the sides of buildings or walls, at bus and train stations, and holy temples and ancient ruins, but nobody listened to them


at all. In the slums by the railways, I saw so many men use those tracks as latrines. But what do the women do? I wonder. There are public squat toilets — five rupees only — which they keep immaculately clean. There are others which are free of charge and foul.

Before heading back to the campground, I peed right there on the southern edge of the biggest hole in the ground that I will ever see, and, truly, it’s impressive. Once I rode a camel named Ketchup through the Thar Desert past barren lentil fields and crumbling houses. Enthralled by the desolateness of it all, my British companions never even noticed the graveyard of pastel-colored ceramic toilets, sprawled out in streams of baby blue and pink and yellow across the dusty, dry earth.

Creative Nonfiction




Conceptions Southwest

Everyday Love Nancy Thomas

Everyday love wears like the threads of floral percale sheets bearing figures at rest and unrest enduring laundry’s slosh and sere believing in the comfort of thin softness

Watercolor and Pen on Watercolor Paper, 9" x 11"

del Sol Breeze Navida Johnson Volume XXXVII

Visual Art




Conceptions Southwest

Garden Riddles Devon Stevens


Though you wear silver in winter And gold in the fall, And at times dress in azure, And dance in fog overall, And paint your face red, scorning law, And illuminate the stage white When you sit in your ivory stall — A phase you’re going through.


A bird sings freedom only once Before being crushed And thrown back — An example to the rest.


She’s a monarch of shovels; Her kingdom is cardboard. But of fifty-two people, She rules only eleven others, Unless her husband and herself Are under her own power. Then she rules thirteen.


A perfect metaphor for love: The sweet smell. But if you grab and squeeze, The blood’ll run down your wrist, A spiral bracelet along your arm. And the leaves are too small To stop the bleeding From all those triangle teeth.


When I’m waiting, I’m a very religious man. When I’m waiting, I’ll sway side to side. When I’m waiting, I’m the perfect leaf. When I’m waiting, I’m invisible. Then I strike.






Polychrome Portico Navida Johnson

Conceptions Southwest

Woodcut and Woodblock Prints, 16" x 42" Each

Atmospheric Sensibility Marne Elmore Volume XXXVII

Visual Art




Conceptions Southwest

After Vegetation Dené Shelton

Six years of salads and bean burritos, a belly borne outward from too many carbs and cheese, I submitted, my mouth like a viper, my tongue reaching. Simply put, a stoner took me to the mall and ordered a bacon, egg, and cheese croissant. “Do it,” I said, and he did, gladly. After that, I couldn’t stop kissing him, I mean eating, I mean kissing him. Meat replaced the tender, replaced the belly with lean protein, became the connection between me and my new man. “Meat,” I say, “is what made me love men again.” The stoner agreed. Before him it was ladies only, bean burritos with shrimp.

Then he came along, salt on my tongue, greasy fingers, and permission to eat something so wrong it was so right. I ate the entire thing in five minutes and we went home and fucked and it was glorious. I want to be given these gifts. I want to taste them and in doing so, lean out and eat free and be myself. But only the good kind, the very best. If it doesn’t taste like heaven, I don’t want it in my mouth.





Visual Art

Conceptions Southwest

Paper and Cardboard, 18" x 12"

Roots Joanna Keane

Silver and Topaz

Midnight Clockwork Frank Liebert Volume XXXVII

Visual Art


Short Fiction

Zach Hively

“They’re back! Oh, oh, wow. That flash of white. A poker hand of feathers. Wonderful! One’s cleaning its beak over there. The other one is… there! A new pair for the garden. Listen. They’re already bitching at each other.” “Papa, I called the senior center.” “Shush a moment! We haven’t had a family here in ages. Used to be, your mother and me were just two little magpies out of a dozen around here. Magpies are territorial. And they’re dedicated. When they make a mating pair, it’s for life. Even their scientific name is an inseparable pair. Pica pica. Two picas in a pod. Ha! Unless, if one magpie outlives the other, then it will find a new mate.” “The instructor said you didn’t show for singles tennis.” “Tennis? Oh, right. I’ll go next week. Promise. Just watch. Nothing can touch these birds for playfulness. Anything is a toy to a magpie. A twig for tug of war. A couple of crows to harass. Luke Callahan had a pet magpie, enjoyed playing fetch with a ball. Like a Labrador retriever, only cleverer. Maybe I better set out some things to keep our new friends entertained.” “You promised to go before. First you don’t bother to tell me about Dr. Godwit’s referral, and now this. What else aren’t you telling us?”

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No Magpie

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“Did you see that? Another clumsy landing. These birds. They’re awful interested in the hedge. Maybe they already have a cache in there. Hiding food, tchotchkes, anything. Flowers, pull tabs, coins, clothespins, pebbles. You’d never find them. Magpies are excellent little hoarders.” “Little thieves, more like. I’ll have someone take care of the pests.” “You will not! My magpies are smart, and loving, and quick, and the sweetest creatures left on this planet. They’re almost human. They’re better than humans! They are not — pests! Now look what you did. You frightened them off!” “Come back inside and put your shoes on. You’re coming to dinner with us. June will be there.” “I won’t be going.” “You need to get out of the house. June is a really nice lady.” “I can’t. I’m not a magpie!” “What? I don’t follow —” “You don’t need to follow! You just need to listen. I’m staying here. I can’t do this. I’m — I’m no magpie after all.”

Graphite and Ink, 10.5" x 7.5"

Deltron the Mastermind Yvonne Emiliana Gandert Volume XXXVII

Visual Art



Visual Art

Conceptions Southwest

Pen and Ink on Construction Paper, 8" x 10"

Hound Jesse Furr

Acrylic on Canvas, 18" x 24"

Rising Sun in Copper Harold F. Specter Volume XXXVII

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Conceptions Southwest

Simple Knots Linnea Burleigh

Upon awakening, I thought I’d dreamed of you. We sailed in a crystal boat through the silken blue sky and caught leaping yellow carp in our outstretched arms. Their milky eyes glinted up at us and I wanted to throw them back into the heavens so they could join, rejoin, their flock, but you said to help you string them by their tales with red thread and hang them like mobiles in the rigging. We lay back on the deck, my head on your chest, to marvel as they flattened to thin gold sheets, fluttered with a metallic, winking chime, and held tight by simple knots in the untainted sky.

The Monster Inside Anna Adams

The last thing she said to me was, “Don’t be afraid of what’s to come, Be afraid of what is already here.” I hadn’t been sure what she meant then, But I think I understand now. I looked under my bed For the first time in years Because I thought I heard a sound. And I was right to guess That there would be a monster under there. My mom came into my room To check on me this morning, So she heard and checked under my bed. It was me; I stared out at her, And she screamed. I guess she saw a monster.





Visual Art

Spray Paint, Ink, and Oil on 80-Pound Paper, 18" x 24"

Smokescreen Erotica Robert Maestas

Conceptions Southwest

Glowworms Tori Cárdenas

When Marco came down the stairs in that glittering pink tutu, I just knew there would be trouble. While he stood in front of the hall mirror admiring himself, Patty told him three times to change out of it and get into a nice suit, but he’s always been so contrary with her. She could tell him to use the oven to cook his head and he would use the blender. “Marco, just wear the suit like a good boy. Everyone will think you’re so handsome,” she said. “Just do it already.” “Patty, I wanna wear this,” he shouted. She put up her hands, pretending to be offended. I held up his white suit with the sparkles, but it was really an empty suggestion. He patted me on the shoulder and smiled, “You don’t have to pretend with me, Aly. All nations of the world know that Patty is jealous of my tutus.” “Well, maybe he should stay upstairs during the memorial service, playing with his glowworms and watching the headlights come up and down the drive. He’d like that,” Patty told me after she failed to pry the tutu from Marco’s waist. “It’s not as if he’s some kind of invalid. Let him wear it,” I snapped, and she shut up for a little bit. He didn’t look terrible; he had slicked down his thin brown hair, and he was wearing nice dress clothes underneath the tutu that fit a bit loose on his skinny frame. At least he tried. Patty thought what Marco needed was someone to tell him “No seducing the mailman, Marco,” and “We don’t


reenact the Boston Tea Party in the neighbor’s birdbath.” Marco just does what he feels like doing. But in the end, it was worth it to see Marco stirring salt and pepper into his coffee at dinner, his tutu sticking out triumphantly in every direction, talking about extraterrestrial game shows with a second cousin whose toes didn’t touch the floor. He gets along better with the kids, and I’m glad a couple of them showed up so he didn’t get too nervous. We were having Mom and Dad’s memorial service. It had been about three months since we got news of their death, but they couldn’t ship us the remains until they disinfected them. We’d done the reading of the will and everything after we got the news. Patty showed up to the reading with her lawyer, and we figured she was sleeping with him. He looked like a tight-ass, and Patty looked extra upset with him. I kind of felt bad for the guy because I knew Patty was going to dump him soon for a new sugar daddy. She got a new one every few months to stuff her at all the five-star restaurants in la. If gold-digging was a profession, Patty would be the master of her craft. Patty almost exploded when she heard that Marco inherited everything. There were still the charities that we had to keep up and the company to run. Before she left, Patty threw the executor’s briefcase out of our office window, almost stabbed him with his good pen, and

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Short Fiction threatened to sue Marco. They’re trying to get it brought up in court, but I think they’re having trouble getting a judge to hear the case. Marco’s just not the kind of guy that people want to press charges against. I ended up in control of Enviro-Gentle, Inc., Mom and Dad’s company. Not that I wanted it, mind you. I just want to write my poems and go hiking every once in a while. Taking care of it is a lot of hard work, and I have to answer the phone every hour of the damn day. Now my goofy, unremarkable face is plastered on every shoebox that has a pair of our sandals in it. They didn’t even do two takes; the photographer used the first and only photo with my long, scraggly brown hair and the faint circles under my eyes from working. I guess I understand. It’s not like we’re selling Prada.

“Marco would really benefit from going to that facility down in Atascadero. He would have some other weirdoes to talk to.” It took a while, but eventually we planned out the service and the after party, and it was great to have everyone over at the house. We invited all of the family members in Mom’s old Rolodex — except Patty. We just figured she didn’t want to show up. So we didn’t invite her. And she wasn’t happy about that. Someone must have blabbed, because she showed up at ten that morning, which is about four in the morning in Standard Patty Time. Everyone else wore the traditional black, but her dress was pink and leopard print and stuck to her thighs like a sausage casing. Patty looked chubbier since we’d last seen her. About five minutes after I let her in the house, she got to work putting framed headshots of herself all around the house,

Conceptions Southwest sticking her nose in the caterer’s faces asking if they had any meat, and complaining about the forty percent recycled-content toilet paper giving her a rash. There was nothing that escaped Patty’s complaints once she got going. Dinner was actually pleasant, though. Marco usually has trouble dealing with lots of people around, but it looked like he was having fun. Most of our cousins showed up, which was nice. A lot of them stopped coming around after Marco got to be about thirteen. I overheard Mom and Dad talking about it once, about how everyone had outgrown him. While he pirouetted around the lanai handing out origami turkeys after dinner, Patty started talking about putting Marco in a home. I was sitting by the fire pit minding my own business when she flopped down next to me, silently threatening to talk my head off. She was probably still mad from the reading and maybe the time when he blew up her Coach purse last year. She never gets over stuff like that. “Aly,” she said, “Marco would really benefit from going to that facility down in Atascadero. He would have some other weirdoes to talk to. He could even take his glowworms. They allow animals, right? He can put them on a shelf.” She was tapping her stilettos along to the jazz music pumping out over the backyard. The fire pit crackled in a cheery way, and a few kids roasted marshmallows over it. Patty eyeballed them hungrily. Mom and Dad gave him those glowworms a few months before they left for Africa. Not the enormous colony he has now, just a few dozen in a jar. After we found out Mom and Dad’s eyes were melting out and their livers were hemorrhaging from Ebola, I bought him the terrarium. And he didn’t take as long as I did to stop crying at night. Maybe it was thousands

and thousands of squishy glowing blobs of neon lighting up his room. So I wasn’t about to let her take him away from the only other person he had in the world. Sure, he bugs the hell out of me sometimes, but I’ve got to take care of him. “Come on, Aly,” Patty said, putting her hand on mine. “Aren’t you tired of taking care of him? How many times has he set the house on fire, for God’s sake? Nobody needs that kind of stress, not even you. You know what you need? A cruise to the Bahamas.” She slapped my hand in a friendly way, and that was when I was absolutely sure all of that peroxide had finally leaked into her brain. Marco had never set the house on fire — without a reason. “Well, Patty, here’s the thing, and I know I’ve told you this about fifty thousand times,” I said. “But Marco is fine.” We both watched him steal Uncle Dominic’s champagne and pour it down the front of his tutu. “I mean, I guess you can’t really tell sometimes just by looking at him. But Marco’s not stupid or crazy. He’s really intelligent,” I said, while she lit a cigarette and blew its rough smoke in my face. Through it the party looked hazy and far away, like none of it was even happening. No one else seemed to exist except me and Patty, and there was nowhere for me to escape. “So, why aren’t they kicking the door down to take him?” she asked. “Look, just because you’re his twin does not mean you have to share the womb with him your whole life. It’s time to cut the umbilical cord. Snip, snip.” She moved her fingers in a scissor motion and took another long, unhealthy drag on her cigarette. “There’s nothing wrong with him,” I said. “You just don’t understand him. You never come around enough to even try.” We usually only have to talk to Patty once a year, but that’s more


than enough to make me want to shove her in a crawl space. Her pointy pink fingernails twirled her pearl necklaces as she said, “He’s just not cut out for the real world. I mean, what would Mom and Dad think of him? Would they really tell you, ‘Alison, waste your life taking care of this idiot even though it’s not your fault his cord got tangled. But you should feel guilty anyway because you were in the same womb and you look just like him. Oh, and make sure he gets his organic vitamins.’ Psh. Honey, if I could help you, I would. You should just get rid of him. Just like that.” She snapped her fingers and made a sound in her throat that sounded like brakes locking.

She moved out the minute she turned eighteen, hopped on the first man she saw, and rode him all the way down to la. It’s not like she would ever in a jillion years consider living here with us, so her helping me out is a damn lie. And she refused to ever actually wear our parents’ Enviro-Gentle sandals, so I’m sure just walking a mile in them metaphorically makes her gag. She moved out the minute she turned eighteen, hopped on the first man she saw, and rode him all the way down to la. We were only five, so we never got to know Patty very well, and she doesn’t care about us. There’s no way she could ever understand how much they loved him. I love him too (most days), and she doesn’t understand that either. See, our mom and dad had Patty when they were in business school. She grew up in their corporate business years with high-fructose corn syrup, television, and lots of Barbie dolls. But when they decided to become Buddhists, market environmentally sound footwear, and

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Short Fiction have fraternal twins, she threw fits for months. We still have the home videos. They’re mostly thirteen-year-old Patty screeching, Dad begging her to smile for the camera, and a few shots of Marco and me eating strained pears. Marco likes to watch them while he takes baths. He says the sound of her crying relaxes him. “Well, Patty, it’s been great. I really would like to spend more, um,” I had to force the next words out, “quality time with you. But I better go check on the whiskey,” I said. I got up and went to find a drink.

…the dinner plates had action shots of Spock on them, and the dessert plates had little hedgehogs in bow ties drinking tea. The party planners brought a set-up bar in the shape of a tiki’s head. It was ridiculous for the kind of party we were having, but I didn’t have time to plan out every decoration choice. I think I had to go to the office to fill out forms on tax revenue or some other business shit I don’t understand. The dishware was weird, too; the dinner plates had action shots of Spock on them, and the dessert plates had little hedgehogs in bow ties drinking tea. When I reached the bar I noticed Marco behind me. “Hiya,” he said. “Are you having a great time? I’m having a great time. Just look at all of these little swords I found,” and he held up a dessert plate with a pile of the plastic, neon-colored rapiers that he’d probably been snatching from people’s drinks all evening. “Hey Marco,” I said, “what the heck is up with these plates? I don’t remember mentioning a specific kind or anything, but I wish they would have at least picked matching ones.”

Conceptions Southwest “Yeah, I told them to bring these ones. You took a call on your cell phone, remember, and I got left with the planner so I picked out these ones. I really wanted the ones with dinosaurs in vests, but they’re using those at a bar mitzvah I think. I’m gonna try to keep a couple, but I gotta hide them somewhere though,” he said and smiled at me. “By the way, how much have you had to drink? I think I actually saw you talking to Patty just now.” “Yeah I was. And I can’t fucking stand her,” I said. “I can’t either. Just look at that hair. Everyone can see it doesn’t match her furry, brown armpits,” he said as we both leaned against the bar. “I’m absolutely sure the dye’s all soaked into her brain.” He ordered another drink and slid it over to me. “Y’know, that’s just what I was thinking. Do you think we’re twins?” I asked him. “Hey, that makes a lot of sense. I always felt like I was missing something. Finally, after all these years,” he mocked. We hugged each other and I could feel Patty’s eyes shooting at a little target on the back of my head. “Okay, now take this, Alison. Your breath smells bad,” he said and he handed me one of his cocktail swords. “I’ll be right back, I need to visit the toilet.” And he left, pulling arthritic Aunt Polly into a tango along the way. She looked nervous, but she dealt with him. That’s all most of the family does with Marco — deal with him. A little while later the screeching began. I walked down the hall toward the screaming and bumped into Marco. “Hello,” he said. “What the good gracious was that noise? Oh my stars, I hope someone hasn’t barfed in the fountain.” We laughed all the way out to the driveway and saw Patty rolling around on the ground behind her pink Escalade, screeching her big, blond head off.

There was no one around. I could hear people shuffling around in the backyard, trying to figure out what was going on. Looking at Patty rolling around down there, I kind of felt bad for her. We didn’t spray off the drive before the party, so there were crunchy leaves and bugs and dirt clods sticking to her dress. As she lay down there amassing a nature collection, Marco leaned toward me and whispered, “What’s this Pattytantrum for?” “Hell if I know,” I said. “Maybe her pearls are too heavy.” And we laughed again. Cousins, aunts, uncles, and some people walking their dogs on the street gathered to stare at Patty. “Oh God, help me,” Patty cried. “He hit me! Oh, my neck!” Her long, bejeweled finger quivered at Marco. She was clutching at her chubby neck, but I knew she was faking it. If she had actually broken it, she wouldn’t be writhing or screaming so much. She just loves being the victim, doesn’t she? Well, someone must have dialed the police, because they pulled up into the drive a few minutes later. I told them she was lying there when Marco and I found her, screaming away. But as Patty’s lawyer escorted her into the ambulance, a policeman came up and arrested Marco. I knew she and that scumbag lawyer of hers were up to no good. After they saw that, a lot of the family started to clear out. A few of the aunts came by and offered their condolences for Mom and Dad, and then drove so fast down the road I felt like they’d be back soon, driving around the whole world just to get away from us. The streamers in the backyard trailed on the ground and soggy napkins floated in the pool. Pretty soon I was the only one left at my house, so I went down the road to the station to get Marco.


When I got to the Sheriff’s, Marco was in the back room reciting the Bill of Rights verbatim to a couple of the new officers. He wasn’t in handcuffs and the door to his little gray cell stood open, so I took it as a good sign. I talked to Sheriff Elks at the desk about bail for Marco. He said, “Hey Aly. Marco’s gonna be fine. We don’t think he hurt anybody.” He looked down at a stack of papers near the phone and said, “I’d actually watch out for your sister though. Said he tried to back over her with her car and that we ought to hold him for attempted murder.” He rolled his eyes. “Then her lawyer called. Don’t think I ever heard a story more —”

When I got to the Sheriff’s, Marco was in the back room reciting the Bill of Rights verbatim to a couple of the new officers. I shook my head and said, “Marco wasn’t even near her car. He’s nearly thirty and he hasn’t even been in the driver’s seat of a car. Ever.” One of the officers came through the doorway to the back room. “I can see why,” he said. “Just take him on home and settle him down. He’s getting real afraid for some bugs or something.” “His glowworms,” I said. “He’s got about a million of them.” “Aly,” Elks said, “don’t let Patty push him around, okay? He’s a good boy. He just needs someone to stick up for him. And I’m sorry I couldn’t make it to the service.” Then he called out my brother’s name and said he could leave. Marco stood up, did his special handshake with Sheriff Elks, and told everyone goodbye. We walked back home and he held my hand like he always did. The road was dark. The house felt so empty, so quiet now that everyone was gone all of a sudden. Marco went upstairs to check on

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If Marco were paying attention, I feel like he would have marveled at how graceful she would be if she were a sea cow. We hadn’t been home from the police station for fifteen minutes when Patty burst in the door, looking like the zombie of the Jersey Shore. She stood in the alcove; her car lights leaked in the front door and formed a golden halo around her. A thick blue and white neck brace propped her head straight up and her chin pushed her cheeks up until she looked like a chipmunk. From her teased hair down to her broken stilettos, she looked hilarious. I mean, I really love laughing at how stupid she looks on a normal day. But she looked like she’d just gotten back from the first camping trip of her life. Patty turned with her whole body to look at me and said, “If I can’t get him in jail, I can get him to go to that loony bin. Now get out of my way. You — you slut.” She kicked a bamboo mat across the floor with one stiff leg and crashed into a bodhisattva on her way to the stairs. She said, “Oh God, I hate all this hippie shit!” There’s not a lot of stuff for decoration in our house, but Patty made it a point to destroy whatever she could. “Hey Patty! What’s your problem? You can’t just come in here and trash all our stuff,” I said. I stopped her before she knocked down my framed National Geographics along the length of the stairway.

Conceptions Southwest “Go eat a fucking tofu burger, Aly,” she said. “I got bigger fish to flush.” She hit me with her purse. Swaying her leopard-print hips, she stomped up the stairs to the second floor and toward Marco’s staircase. I walked behind her up the curling, iron steps, higher and higher into the house. They shook under her weight and her anger and I felt sure they would collapse. It had been a while since Marco had allowed Patty into his room. I think the last time was when he still liked Boyz II Men. Since then, he’d hung up a lot of netting that we found down at the marina. He hung shells and pieces of driftwood in it. When the lights were off and the glowworms lit up the room, it looked like it was underwater. We sat in there sometimes, looking at the glow-in-the-dark constellations on his ceiling though the netting. It was a pain to put it all up, but it looked really cool. Patty must not have thought so because she ended up tearing half of it down when she walked in and got tangled up in it. If Marco were paying attention, I feel like he would have marveled at how graceful she would be if she were a sea cow. “Hey Marco. Pack up all your things,” Patty said as she thrust the last of the netting off of her. She snapped her fingers again. I wasn’t entirely sure he heard her. He sat in front of his tank, peering through the glass at his glowworms. They writhed around in the cool breeze from the window, and he scribbled a few numbers down on his clipboard. He was wearing sunglasses and the room smelled like onions. “Look, Sis,” Marco smiled and held up a magnifying glass for me to look through. “My larvae are happy. Look. Hey, Patty. Wanna come look? If you don’t, I understand.” I sat down next to him and looked “No, Marco. You don’t understand. Neither of you do. You both need to get out,” she said.

I couldn’t believe what I was hearing. I said, “What are you talking about? Why?” Patty looked pissed. She shook off some netting that was stuck to her shoe, sending a shell crashing into Marco’s bookshelf. A few of his glass figurines fell off and tinkled into pieces on the wood floor. “Because I was here first and now I’m last in line behind this asshole. Goddammit Marco, when are you going to just fucking die?” She threw off her neck brace, grabbed a corner of his terrarium, and heaved it out the window. It burst into a thousand shards on the driveway below; dirt flew everywhere and the bioluminescent larvae squiggled for their poor little lives in the harsh new habitat. Heaving and frothing, Patty said, “Pack your shit, Marco.” “Patty, what’s your problem? Mom and Dad gave me those,” he said as he leaned out to look at his worms. His skinny butt wiggled in the window frame and I knew she wanted to push him out to land among all of those glass stars. Marco started crying and pulled a duffle bag out of his closet. Everything he loved most in the world went into that bag. Count Hansen, his toy armadillo; birthday, New Year’s, Halloween, Thanksgiving, and Independence Day cards wrapped together with strained rubber bands, some from years before he could even read. A little bag full of our old marbles, marbles that were green and silver and bubbly like Sprite, iron marbles rusted from being left outside in the rain. Thick coloring books heavy with wax, and pictures of Mom and Dad in Nicaragua, India, Africa, handing out Enviro-Gentle sandals to small children with big eyes and thin ribs. While Marco was packing, I said, “All the money Mom and Dad left Marco? That money is all in the fellowships. We’re not using it. We


don’t need it anyway.” I ducked as she threw her purse at me. “You don’t need your millions of dollars, you poor baby. My parents never would have done this to me, dammit. You don’t have to worry about a thing, you don’t have to lift a goddamn finger or suck any dicks because you don’t have any kids, do you Aly? You don’t have anyone to take care of. Just this fuck up and his bugs,” Patty said, and she started crying hot, angry tears. “What are you talking about? Duh, I don’t have kids. I hate kids. And don’t talk about Marco like that,” I said. Marco’s tears stopped for a moment. He went up to her and took her hand. I’d never seen him touch Patty, not even in defense when we were kids and she’d smack him on the head. “Patty,” he said, “you’re pregnant?”

His skinny butt wiggled in the window frame and I knew she wanted to push him out to land among all of those glass stars. She jerked her hand away and she looked ready to strike, so I eased myself in between them. “Oh, come on Marco. Don’t be mean. Patty just put on a little weight, that’s all,” I said. I didn’t want to be mean either, but she didn’t normally look this much like an overstuffed sausage. “Hey, shut up for a second,” he said. “Hey Sis, if you need money, ask Aly, she has a real busy job now. She’ll help you out. And I’ll help you take care of the baby. What are you gonna name her?” “No. No, you’re not gonna help me because Mom and Dad wouldn’t want that, would they? I guess not, or else they would have left something to their firstborn. What man is going to want me when I look like a planet?” she said. If there were another terrarium full of things Marco loved and

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Short Fiction cared for, she would have thrown that out the window, too. “Patty,” I said, “there’s always something… I mean, y’know. If you don’t want the baby —” “I felt it move, Aly,” she said. It was quiet for just a moment. I felt like I could hear the glowworms outside on the driveway, thrashing and begging their father to come and take them home. Patty said, “Even when they saw Mom’s ultrasound and she still only felt one baby, she kept you.”

…a couple of them were still putting off blue light in slow, sad Morse, sending distress signals in their insect language… After that we all shut up. Marco was still crying, the tears dripped off his long nose. Patty watched him in disgust. I put my hand on his arm but he jerked it away. “I need my glowworms before I go. Will you help me save some?” Marco said. A gangly hand wiped his nose. “You’re not going anywhere, bud. Let’s just go downstairs and get them, okay?” I told him. He pulled a jar down from one of his stuffed bookshelves. It had a “To: Marco, From: Mommy and Daddy” sticker on it. All three of us went down the stairs. Patty’s headlights were still on, the light pushing into the house. She was about to make a run for it and take off. She had her keys at the ready, jingling with tiny silver charms. “You need to help us,” I said. “You’re the one who pushed them out the window.” I pulled her by the arm and walked her over to the glowworm massacre. She needed to see what she’d done to Marco.

Conceptions Southwest The glowworms weren’t glowing all that much. I mean, a couple of them were still putting off blue light in slow, sad Morse, sending distress signals in their insect language that Patty and I couldn’t understand. But most of them looked their actual bald color, light brown and boring, completely unremarkable on the driveway. They were nothing but dead, brown larvae, unpopular in the animal kingdom unless you eat that sort of thing. Bending down, ignorant of the glass, Marco started scooping up the ones that were still alive. He lifted them close to his face to see them blink and with delicate fingers tucked them into the jar. The look on his face made me want to cry. His scrawny eyebrows knotted over his concerned eyes, his frown whispering words of comfort. I thought Patty might throw up; I wondered if it was morning sickness, but you get that in the morning. She put her hands on her stomach and clutched it with her long, pink nails. I turned around a while later and she was gone, her Escalade driving down the road, desperate and afraid. She didn’t ask for money or the house or the company. Her lawyer called a week later and dropped the lawsuit. We never heard from Patty again. She left and that was all. We found a fishbowl in the storage shed and the little blue larvae lit it up nicely. Not many of them were still alive, just a few dozen of them, and I wondered if any of the originals had survived. They probably hadn’t. They were probably too old. Marco sat down at the counter, singing his glowworms show tunes. We only had one light and the glowworms to light up the kitchen. It felt cold even though a warm, summer breeze poured in the kitchen window. “Aly,” he said. He sounded so small. His head rested on his arm and the blue light from his

fishbowl made him look sick. So pale. So small. Like the old photos of newborn Marco in the incubator. “What’s up?” I asked. “Well, I — I want to see the baby,” he said. “Will I get to see the baby?” “Marco, I don’t know if that’s going to happen. I don’t know if Patty’s coming back,” I said. “Don’t even worry about her. It’s a waste of time.” “I want someone to hang out with,” he said. “Face it. Your Lego creations have no heart anymore. And your stories suck.” “Come on, cut me a little slack. I have a job now, y’know,” I said. He stared off through the fishbowl’s curved glass, his eyes lingering on something I couldn’t see. “Maybe I do wanna go. Take me tomorrow morning,” he said. “Bud, you don’t have to do anything Patty says. Just ignore her, she’s —” “We gotta grow up, Aly,” he said. “I gotta go.” “Look, Marco,” I said, trying to get him back on my side. “There’s nothing for you there. You could get hurt. There’re only crazy people at that place.” “I don’t want to stay with you anymore,” he yelled at me. The house seemed even emptier when his voice echoed up to the third floor. “We’re twins,” I said. “We gotta stick together. Remember?” I put my hand on his arm but he pulled it away just like before. I wasn’t going to let him decide his life on a whim just because Patty showed up and threatened him. He needed to think it out. And how could Atascadero really be the place for him? He’d hate it exactly the way


he hates every other place that isn’t home. “You can’t leave,” I said. “I don’t want you to.” “You don’t have time for me anyway. Why don’t you just go to your office and work, huh? You’re never gonna have time for me anyway. Just working at your office all the time, Miss Business,” he said. “If I don’t ever leave you’re never going to get a boyfriend and have a baby for me to play with. I don’t want to be the baby anymore, you need to have a baby, so go out for once in your life and get some action. I am declaring martial law here, Aly. Either you go or I go.” He paced around the flagstone floor, waving his hands around his head. His tutu cast a frilly shadow that fluttered on the beige wall behind him. A little blue vein strained against his forehead, thumping in frustration. He threw his hands up and stomped toward the door.

He sounded so small. His head rested on his arm and the blue light from his fishbowl made him look sick. “That is the stupidest idea I’ve ever heard. What is this, Jerry Springer?” I said. “You’re being an idiot.” I’d never called Marco or one of his ideas stupid, and the look on his face nearly broke my heart. If I had knocked over his glowworms, I don’t think he would look as hurt as he did right then. I didn’t know what the house would be like without Marco in it. But Marco just does what he feels like doing. His face was red from shouting and crying and I saw that I couldn’t do what Patty had done to him. I couldn’t force him not to wear his tutus.

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Conceptions Southwest

Analyzing Bukowski Naked Amy Zuverink

Sifting through the madness At the bookstore in the foothills I handed you a used hardback You had been looking for something For the word That would change your whole way Of thinking Opened to page 202 The line The Death of a Hero Jumped out at you from the page You finished the poem The look on your face soft As if Bukowski could soften anything but sobriety The way You said “I like that” I’ll never forget it

Luminarias with Ice Michael Foust Volume XXXVII



Visual Art

Conceptions Southwest

Graphite on Paper, 12" x 12"

Carlene Moya

c choi e a

ard w





Honestly David M. Castillo

As I stood there in the kitchen holding my favorite slicing knife in my right hand, she asked me, “What the fuck are you doing?” “I’m showing you what a metaphor looks like,” I replied. I pressed my left arm down against the cutting board with my palm up as I raised the knife high in the air. “This is honesty,” I told her before bringing the knife down and rushing the blade through my flesh, between the bones, and down into the bit of wood beneath it.





Creative Nonfiction

Conceptions Southwest

Desert Lotus Emperatriz Ung

Lotuses do not naturally blossom in this desert I now call home. Native to tropical Asia, the lotus is a resilient aquatic plant that can generate heat and regulate its body temperature. But in the heart of Albuquerque, within the maze of the botanical garden, you can find several floating in a small pool of water amongst the desert plants. Confucian philosopher Zhou Dunyi once said, “I love the lotus because while growing from mud, it is unstained.” With pride, I carry the character for lotus in my Chinese name — Ng Dai Lin. The traditional characters sprawl across my birth announcement. It was a name given to me by my grandfather, one that I treasured and adapted to its Mandarin pronunciation, despite its Cantonese roots. “Imperial Lotus,” my grandpa would tell me whenever I asked what the characters meant. I remember my grandfather as a large man who loved to eat, wore glasses, and dedicated his life to computers. He knew how to make bao zi filled with pork and dumplings filled with minced veggies and meat. He would start sentences with “In my day…” to tease me. When I was nine years old, gas prices rose to over a dollar a gallon. I gaped at the signs, amazed at how quickly the prices escalated in a few short months. “Grandpa, did you see how gas is now ninety-nine cents?” I asked with my face pressed against the window. “In my day,” Grandpa said, “gas was thirty cents a gallon.” I giggled in response while I sat

in the car beside him, and he drove up to the pump at the gas station. “In my day, computers were the size of houses,” my grandpa would say. There was a section of his house dedicated to computers. Three or four monitors lined up in a row along a large desk in his living room. As I grew up I watched the technology evolve. Computers were everywhere, and it was important to keep up with the latest and greatest. Every six months I watched Grandpa unpack new computers and store the outdated technology in the garage. He worked as a computer engineer most his life. Both his sons took up the same profession and his only daughter married a computer engineer. My grandfather got me one of my first video games. The game came as a cd-rom for Windows 95. It was all in Cantonese characters, and I had little understanding of the language. The computer screen filled with bright colors and loud singing as I guided a little boy to a zoo down a pixelated path. My grandpa beamed down at me when he gave me the game and installed it on a pc designated for my use on weekend visits. The last time I saw my grandpa was at my father’s sentencing. I was twenty-two. My father was pleading guilty to a count of statutory rape, and my interview with police was responsible for an eight-year investigation into the abuse. The morning of the sentencing my grandpa

flinched when I walked down the corridor of the Riverside County Courthouse. He avoided eye contact and turned away from me as I passed — silent treatment as punishment for reporting the molestation and for speaking out against my father, the eldest son in the family. The case forced the matter into local papers and news stations. I brought family shame under the scrutiny of the public eye. An advocate guided me into a conference room. Between the cracks in the blinds I could see strangers scattered around the space, most dressed in professional attire. I spotted my grandfather seated in a row of benches on the defendant’s side. His hair was no longer gray, but a white wisp. He was still round and still wore glasses. But he was no longer the same man. “Do you know what these characters in your name mean?” a Chinese tutor once asked me excitedly. She held up a piece of notebook paper with the three simplified characters of my name scratched on it. “Imperial Lotus,” I said confidently. “My grandpa gave me that name.” I took the paper back and began copying the characters over and over, down the page. I was a junior in college and registered for an introductory course to study Mandarin Chinese. Writing the characters felt unnatural. They looked so familiar, but my hands stumbled to place them on the page. “Oh, but there’s so much more than that!” the tutor exclaimed. She pointed to the second character of my name. “This, before lotus, means emperor. It means the emperor’s lotus!” She nodded to herself as she looked at the page. “Yes, it means lotus picked by the emperor. Your grandfather had big expectations for you,” she went on. She turned to smile at me, and I sunk into my chair.


I imagine my grandfather would have been disappointed to find out I had dropped out of high school for a couple years and had a child out of wedlock at seventeen. I imagine he would have been disappointed to know I later went on to pursue a degree in humanities, not in computer science. Education was important and you were never supposed to make Grandpa mad. I was once told a story about my father coming home from school with a b on his report card in fourth grade. Grandpa beat him and my father never came home with anything lower than an a- from that point on. When memories of my academic struggles during adolescence flood into my mind, I don’t believe I would have had my grandfather’s acceptance had he been around. But I think my son would have loved Grandpa, and in another life Grandpa would have helped give my son a Chinese name.

He avoided eye contact and turned away from me as I passed — silent treatment as punishment for reporting the molestation, for speaking out against my father, the eldest son in the family. I see the ways in which Wu Di Lian isn’t quite a “real” Chinese name — native speakers from mainland China have been quick to point out that the name doesn’t quite sound authentic. But I believe my grandfather picked it with care, and when I hear it in Cantonese, it feels like home and the sounds feel like honey and I see myself bouncing around my grandparents’ house at a young age with little care in the world. My memories of Grandpa Ung are romanticized from childhood. It was mostly my grandmother

Creative Nonfiction



Creative Nonfiction who would greet me at the door while Grandpa sat in the big armchair in their living room to watch tv. There were times I would plop down next to him during those weekend visits and the channel would be changed to Gumby. I couldn’t say if my grandfather did it or if my grandmother told him to, but I would take over the living room on those days. Our branch of the family tree was incredibly sparse due to the fact that I was the only child and the only grandchild in our immediate family. I’d like to think my grandfather loved me, that the pictures from my childhood show a big man who cared. But we were never afforded an opportunity to speak after my father’s arrest or during the jury trial. My grandfather had to make a difficult choice between his eldest son and his granddaughter. There would be no winning either way.

There are days I wish my therapist could be my grandpa. He’s an abc just like my grandfather — American-Born Chinese. When I was sixteen, the detective assigned to the investigation wanted to meet me. The interview took place in an open cubicle at the Moreno Valley Police Department. The walls were gray, and there was a tape recorder set on a small table. He offered me a soda before we started the interview. “So what do you want to do when you grow up?” the detective asked. He placed the soda on the table in front of me and I grabbed the can with both my hands. “Video games,” I told him. “I want to make video games.” I shifted in my seat, anxious about

Conceptions Southwest what he might ask. I was uneasy opening up to a stranger about the molestation. The detective took a seat in front of me. “Yeah, my son loves video games. He’s about your age and talks about making them when he grows up, too. His favorite is Nintendo or something?” I nodded and mumbled, “I like Nintendo.” The detective hit the red record button, folded his hands, and we began. I couldn’t have understood how the interview with the detective that day would compromise my relationship with my father’s side of the family. Reporting the sexual abuse created a rift that I didn’t anticipate and would later have no way of mending. Hours passed, and when we were done, we waited for my mom to come pick me up from the police station. “Your grandparents attend every hearing with your father,” the detective told me. “Any contact with that side of the family?” he asked. I shook my head. “None,” I replied. I still held the unopened can of Sierra Mist he handed me before he started the questioning. “I haven’t heard from them for almost a year.” “Well, it will be best to avoid contact with them while this case is open. Do you understand?” He looked at me from behind a large mustache. I nodded and clutched the can of soda between my hands. A whole segment of my family gone the moment my father was arrested. There are days I wish my therapist could be my grandpa. He’s an abc just like my grandfather — American-Born Chinese. “You sound much stronger,” he told me one afternoon, a week before the sentencing. Both our families emigrated from Toisan, a small city in the Guangdong province in the southern part of mainland China. They came

to the United States in pursuit of the American Dream: to escape war and poverty. Parts of my family immigrated to the United States in the 1870s, but a few continued to come well into the 1950s. A mix of Cantonese and Toisanese hangs on the tongue of that first generation born in North America. I do not speak the dialects of past generations. I take Mandarin and its four tones for myself. Ng Dai Lin becomes Wu Di Lian and I relinquish the complexity of my grandfather’s language. I don’t remember my grandpa’s Chinese name. His English name was Russell. I was taught that it was important to have an Americanlooking name in order to be taken seriously. There was a shame with carrying Chinese names legally, so the whole family adopted names like Dora, Cherry, Harriet, and Doug. I did learn my therapist’s Chinese name though — Wong Cung Ming. He too can pronounce my Chinese name with that special ring of Cantonese in his voice. But unlike my grandpa, my therapist practices Tai Chi, regularly uses his family’s mother tongue, and married an American of Irish descent. My therapist and I do not fit into the structure of the abc community. We found ourselves ostracized from the rest, sometimes uncomfortably immersed in American culture. But we hold our heritage close to our hearts, share moon cakes during the Mid-Autumn Festival, and hunt for the most authentic Chinese food in Albuquerque, our desert home. At the end of the day, my therapist did not watch me grow and is not acquainted with my son, and when our hour is up, we go our separate ways. At the sentencing I sat in the courtroom for what I hoped would be the last time. “Did the victim


prepare a statement?” the judge asked the district attorney. My stomach churned, I felt my fingers go numb, and my arms started to shake. “Yes, she has one prepared,” the district attorney replied. I rose from my seat and followed the advocate who guided me closer to the bench. I held the paper and faced the judge, feeling the eyes of my estranged family members piercing my back. I had recited the words, repeated them over and over out loud for weeks, and worried my voice would fail me. But through the pins and needles, I found strength to meet the judge’s eyes. She nodded, eyes locked on me.

I held the paper and faced the judge, feeling the eyes of my estranged family members piercing my back. I began to read out loud, “Your Honor, two years ago when this case first went to trial, I was told I could write a victim impact statement should the jury find the defendant guilty….” I felt the focus of the room on my words, my energy, my voice. The air electrified, but still, I fought to keep my breath steady. “Take your time,” the advocate whispered. I took several deep breaths and continued speaking. “After this investigation started, I had to reshape my definition of family and find a new place to call home. People I thought cared for me, loved me, people who I thought wanted to watch me grow into the person I have become today left me in radio silence….” I wanted my grandpa to hear me. I wanted him to know I was hurt because I spent years buried in guilt. I wanted him to know I had grown up, that he missed milestones in my life, that I understood our

Creative Nonfiction



Creative Nonfiction bond was severed. The paper felt thin between my fingers, worn from being folded and unfolded countless times in preparation for that day. As I approached the last lines on the page, all the nerves in my body continued to hold on to the shock. The last two sentences were for my grandfather. “Lotuses spring up from the mud and rise above it. Beautiful things can grow from bad places.”

But the lotus flowers fought the winter and emerged above the murky water. Every year in the spring, they blossom. The delivery of the victim impact statement was completed and my eyes met the judge’s once more. “Yes,” she said. She nodded her head vigorously. “You are absolutely right. You can’t pick your family, but you can remake it.”

Conceptions Southwest The pins and needles that pressed my skin disappeared. Feeling returned to my cheeks and palms and toes. “Thank you,” I whispered and bowed my head. I always thought of the lotus as ornamental, a flower placed in gardens and ponds of the wealthy. I never tried growing one, nor truly watched the way they blossom or the way their petals remain untouched from the soil they are planted in. It was at the muddy waters adjacent to the north gate of Sichuan University in Chengdu, China, that I saw lotus flowers grow. For nearly six months, I passed by the pond daily. Littered with trash, at times the pond’s water looked toxic. There was a yellow-green tint to the water. Plastic bottles, paper flyers, and cigarette butts floated along the surface. But the lotus flowers fought the winter and emerged above the murky water. Every year in the spring, they blossom. Each year they stand tall.

Created Things Linnea Burleigh

We are tied by gossamer threads floating softly on tender breezes above purple-hazed alfalfa fields made real by tricks of light. We swing into each other, catch each sigh in glinting strands and string ourselves in veils of beaded dewshine; like silver, our very worth glows in our eyes. Wild things, winds, and wanderers blunder through our delicate weavings, but night provides a gentle cover to stop, renew, and spin again.





Conceptions Southwest

c choi e a

ard w




Portrait of the Chimayo Souls 1 Junfu Han

Portrait of the Chimayo Souls 2 Junfu Han Volume XXXVII





Conceptions Southwest

Portrait of the Chimayo Souls 3 Junfu Han

Portrait of the Chimayo Souls 4 Junfu Han Volume XXXVII




Short Fiction

Conceptions Southwest

Behind the Glass Sarah J. Tario

“So you’ve never told me what actually happened,” said Mags, “not really.” She was sitting with one long, tan leg crossed over the other, her foot swinging free. Instead of answering I looked up into the trees and watched the leaves shudder in the spring air. Mags sighed impatiently. “It’s been three years already!” “I know,” I replied, bringing my eyes back down to her face. She smiled at me, encouraging, her blue eyes curious as she watched me. She was stirring her coffee absently, swirling the foamy milk around and around in time with her swinging leg. “It’s hard to remember everything, sometimes it’s like looking through fog.” She nodded, waiting, her spoon spinning, her red hair fluttering on her shoulders. “I don’t like to talk about it.” I let out a heavy breath before continuing. “But, what I remember best is the washing machine. That funny noise it makes when it’s too full? Knocks it off balance, right? I was leaning against the dryer, listening to see if the washer was going to fix itself or not. I didn’t even hear him come in.” “I’m going now,” he said, just like that. He caught me off guard as I stood with my hip resting against the warm, whirling dryer. I dropped the bit of cloth in my hand and spun around. “What do you mean?” I demanded, raising my voice above the off-balance hum of the washing machine.

“Now don’t make a fuss,” he said. “I got a hotel room in one of those executive places. It has a kitchen and laundry and everything, so I can stay there pretty comfortably for a while.” He nudged the bag next to his foot, a duffel bag stuffed so full that the zipper strained against it. I remember watching his hand tremble while he ran it through his hair — that, and the surprising amount of gray beneath his fingers. I watched his blue eyes dart to the room where the kids were playing and back to my face, his expression strange. My thoughts felt fractured, my hands were sweating and shaking. I think I knocked some of the folded clothes off the dryer. The corners of his mouth seemed hard, set, determined, and I was distracted by the sadness around his eyes. I can still see that sadness now, tucked between every fine line. “I’ve already told them goodbye. I’ll text you,” he said. I think he kissed my cheek before hefting up the bag and walking out the door. But it’s hard to say. During story time later that day, as I sat crosslegged with limp hands resting on my knees, the truth fluttered through my mind — he wasn’t coming back. Not in an hour, not that night, not next week. It wasn’t a business trip, or a night out with the guys, or a quick walk. He was gone. My thoughts were split in two — half of me listening to my kids read Dr. Seuss’s One

Fish, Two Fish, little voices skipping over bubbly, meaningless words. But I was really thinking of that damned duffle bag and the way he told me not to make a fuss. I had to pretend everything was fine? Sitting there, I tried to make sense of the how and why. He must have believed I was going to make the children upset, make them cry or something. He deliberately chose to leave just before lunchtime so that I wouldn’t fight him. He chose to leave while they were laughing and playing, distracted. But there had been something else there, too. Pity — he pitied me! Sitting there, cross-legged on a square of green carpet, I started to feel angry. And stupid, so incredibly stupid that I hadn’t seen it coming. How had I missed this? I can still feel where my nails were biting into my palms, almost drawing blood. Unfolding my hands, I began to really see myself for the first time in years. I remember examining the stranger’s hands on the ends of my arms, surprisingly thin and chalky from doing dishes, with pink nail polish chipping off. I began to see the rest of me, as if pulling back curtains to see the world after a midnight storm. Old, sagging pajamas that didn’t sag thirty pounds ago, flip flops with the soles worn thin, and the scraggly ends of murky blond hair escaping from a hasty nest at the back of my neck. I was a mess, and not just in my head. “Today is gone. Today was fun. Tomorrow is another one. Every day, from here to there, funny things are everywhere.” “That bastard,” Mags said, jolting me back to the present. Her feet were flat on the ground now,


her coffee drained. “I think I would have shot him, snuck over to the hotel or something, I don’t know. He just left you there with the kids?” “Shot him?” I laughed. “I doubt that. Anyhow, he sort of did me a favor,” I said. “A favor!” she snorted and sat back in her chair. “You’re crazy. And he’s an idiot. Leaving you in the middle of the day for no good reason with two little kids —” “Well, that wasn’t a favor,” I laughed wryly. I felt the old heat of anger flickering somewhere deep inside, but it didn’t burn quite so hot anymore. “No, I mean he woke me up. I finally saw myself, and it wasn’t pretty. Literally. I’m not sure when or why I stopped caring or trying —” “Maybe when you had two kids!” she interjected, still indignant. “You’re not seriously trying to suggest he left you because you were tired?”

“I think I would have shot him, snuck over to the hotel or something, I don’t know. He just left you there with the kids?” “Well at the time, I had no idea why he left. He just did. Later I naturally wondered if he was cheating on me.” “Was he?” she sat forward again, nostrils flaring, her voice so loud that the other coffee drinkers turned curious eyes our way. “No, I don’t think so.” “Think?” “Oh stop. It didn’t even cross my mind that day, anyhow, not that I remember. And we’ve never had the conversation. Not that I even trust him anymore. But I sure as hell remember that One Fish, Two Fish book. I threw it away later.” “I’ll bet you did.” “I remember when they stopped reading. I was staring at my nails again, at all the jagged edges,

Short Fiction



Short Fiction and I felt their eyes on my face, waiting for me to do something. I struggled to find the right response, like an actor looking for a line. Funny voices? Laughter? Clapping?” I clapped my hands — a stranger’s hands — in mock applause until, satisfied, they turned to find another book. After a while I got up from the wood floor and crossed to the window. Light was streaming in, brilliant enough I had to squint against the glare. The babble of book reading behind me, I leaned against the glass feeling the smooth, cool surface against my feverish cheek. Strange that this moment is frozen in my memory; I can still see the lawn outside and a black bird with a brilliant blue neck. He skipped across the lawn searching for food while the breeze ruffled his feathers. Abruptly he bent down and jerked back up, a juicy worm in his beak. He looked up at the window, right into my eyes, worm squiggling where it hung from the charcoal beak. Tilting his head to the side, he bit the worm in half.

He smiled proudly, holding up our first child for the camera, a plump baby cheek against his whiskers. They both had blue eyes, pieces of sky. Later still, I sat cautiously on the edge of our bed with my feet barely touching the floor and ran an absent hand over the silk coverlet. From the room next door I could hear the familiar sounds of naptime — chattering, jumping, then slowing down until weary eyes began to slide shut. Behind the wall, two children pushed hard against slumber. My attention drifted to the other side of the room where the sun fell in stripes across the spine

Conceptions Southwest of a white photo album. I hadn’t looked at the album in years, hadn’t really seen it sitting there. It was wallpaper. Standing carefully so that the bed wouldn’t creak, I crossed the floor. The children’s sleepy babble paused to listen, little radars that heard every moan of the wood floor beneath my toes. I remember the pictures on my desk, how they stared up as I reached for the photo album. I paused halfway, staring back. First at his young face pressed up against mine. He was happier behind the glass. No gray at his temples. But then, I was happier too. No rumpled pajamas. Instead I wore a wedding dress, much too flouncy with puffy sleeves and dripping lace. My eyes were drawn to the brilliant, splotchy color of my wedding bouquet. And his arm around my shoulder, his mellow brown skin against my creamy white. He hadn’t smiled like that in a long time. I wondered if I had. Sadness and angry bile welled up in my throat, but I forced it down as my eyes drifted to the contents of another silver frame. His happy face again. He smiled proudly, holding up our first child for the camera, a plump baby cheek against his whiskers. They both had blue eyes, pieces of sky. I was leaning against the desk now, breathing hard. Sadness and anger threatened to spew out onto the silver frames. Slowly I turned the pictures on their faces, blocking out the memories one by one, before sliding the white album off the shelf. Clutching the album to my chest, I crossed carefully back to the bed. The nap time sounds were faded, replaced by breathing so light I had to strain to hear it — a snore, a sigh, and turning over. I held my breath as I flipped to the first page. He was there again, smiling, and so was I. My skin was roses and cream, my hair a bright, thick

wave, my green eyes alive. I traced the strangers’ faces with a shaking finger before turning to the next page. And the next. And the next, barely pausing to see each captured event before moving on. Flipping faster and faster until everything blurred. The sound of my cell phone startled me, and the album slipped from my hands and landed on the floor with a slap of vinyl against wood. It was a text message. “Checked in. Room 214.” For a moment I wondered why he bothered, why I needed to know the room he’d left me for. My hands shook as I replied, “Thanks.” And waited. But nothing came. My anger grew with the silence, grew until it filled my head, filled the stillness, filled the room. All at once I wanted him to hurt, too. I began snapping pictures with my phone, firing them like bullets. Our bed, the photo album, my rings on the bedside table, my lingerie drawer, the overturned silver frames. Picture after picture of our room until I was satisfied he had seen everything important. I tiptoed into the hall and through the house, feeling like a burglar as I stole memories with every click of the button. Pictures on the wall, the bookshelf packed full, toys and drawings, the children’s bedroom door. I almost snapped up their slumbering faces, my finger hovering over the button, but the phone beeped again and I eased their door shut instead. “You’re a hard woman,” it said. The phone trembled in my hand; I wanted to throw it against the wall. “You’re the one who left,” I sent the words flying into the empty space between us. Silence.


“That’s a pretty good idea, the picture thing,” Mags said. She was almost to the bottom of her second cup of coffee. The impatient glance of the waiter indicated that we had overstayed our welcome. “He probably thinks he’s not going to get a very good tip,” I said, inclining my head. “That or he’s listening in and can’t believe how you kept it together. I mean, look how scrunched up his face is, like he’s staring into the sun.” I laughed when she imitated his look. “It probably seems like I held it together, but I don’t remember it that way.” I sat back against the hard wrought iron of the chair, feeling the scrollwork bite into my skin. “Mostly I just felt lost. Like I was drowning.”

I tiptoed into the hall and through the house, feeling like a burglar as I stole memories with every click of the button. In the late afternoon I sat in a ball on the lawn, watching the children play. The apple tree canopy above was covered in rich, sweet-smelling white blossoms that drooped in the fading heat. He fired his return volley as the sun sank low, onesentence fragments of arguments, old and new. “I hate the schedule.” “Me too.” “You used to smile when I came home.” “You used to bring me flowers.” “You never get dressed.” “I can’t even keep up with the laundry.” “You’re always too tired.” “I’m busy, you could help more.” “We don’t talk about anything but kids.” “You never listen.” “Those pjs are disgusting.” “I agree.”

Short Fiction



Short Fiction “You spend too much money.” “Your hair is always in a ponytail.” “You used to wear lingerie.” “I can’t remember what your perfume smells like.” “I can’t remember laughing.” “You never leave the children.” “There used to be something to hold on to.” He was blasting me apart, word by word, hitting me square.

In my bathroom, I lit candles and shut off all the lights, stripped off my pajamas and stepped into a scalding shower. And then another frozen moment, locked forever in my mind. The children came running through the fragrant grass, little bare feet stained green by fresh-cut blades. They tripped over each other, falling down in a tangle of limbs, and bounced back up. Two moon faces turned to see my reaction, and so I laughed, a hollow sound. They laughed and tumbled like apple blossoms into my lap. They were full of questions I couldn’t quite hear, bursting to tell me about little discoveries, clamoring for me to settle disagreements. It sounded like static. What? What did you say? I don’t know. What do you need? I can’t hear you. After a while they stopped asking, resting their golden heads against my chest. “She’s tired,” they nodded wisely to each other. Their soft, straw hair brushed against my skin. “Yes, I’m tired.” The phone beeped again, vibrating against my thigh, “Are you there?”

Conceptions Southwest The summer day was dying, streaks of yellow and orange breaking up the blue. Raw inside, I pulled my children close and we watched the world grow black. A thousand little jobs loomed after dinner. I washed dishes and cleaned up spills. Paid bills. Swept floors. Dusted shelves. Organized papers and crayons. Brushed teeth. Read stories. Checked for monsters under the bed, in the closet, outside the window. Turned out lights. I caught myself checking the door, imagining I heard it swing open, thinking for one brilliant moment he’d come home — knowing it wasn’t true. The door stayed shut; he hadn’t changed his mind. I tried to sleep, but every noise seemed magnified. Dogs barking and the house groaning against its foundation, wind chimes tinkling on the front porch. I tossed and turned, too hot and too cold all at once, and finally left my bed at midnight to wander through the house. In my bathroom, I lit candles and shut off all the lights, stripped off my pajamas and stepped into a scalding shower. Fragrant smoke drifted up with the steam. I stood with my back to the water, letting it burn through my hair and down my bare skin into the drain. No demands, no words, nothing but the back of my eyelids and vapor. I scrubbed my skin raw with scented soap and dug lathered fingers into my scalp. Shampoo and tears slid down the drain together. It felt right to be clean. I stepped out onto the bathmat when the water turned cold, not bothering with a towel, and stared at the stranger’s reflection in the shrouded glass of the mirror. We felt old, the stranger and I, everything sagging. There were fine lines starting to show around my mouth, frown lines. And a crease at the spot above the bridge of my nose. My lips were pale, and my eyes looked gray and bruised. I traced my small c-section scar with a

water-wrinkled thumb, mapping out the changes. I couldn’t remember stumbling into thirty-five, or when the streaks of gray had first appeared in my hair, or when the wrinkles had settled in around my mouth. I don’t know why I grabbed the scissors from the top left drawer and sheared away a chunk of hair. The scissors shivered and protested in my hand, but I cut again and again, sharp slicing sounds followed by thick, uneven sections dropping to the floor. Stray threads clung to my still-wet body. When I was finished, the chunky edges barely brushed the back of my neck. I grabbed my phone from the marble counter next to the sink. It was blinking, his last message unread. “This hotel bed is crap.” It made me laugh, a snorting muffled sound that seemed to come from the stranger in the mirror. I covered my mouth with my hand, but the sound struggled free, rolling out until it filled the whole room. “You deserve it,” I began, but then I deleted the words and snapped a picture of my reflection instead. Glistening bare skin, ragged hair, and steam. “Ha! I bet he loved that!” cried Mags, her hand slapping the tiled tabletop, triumphant. “Probably,” I laughed. “He never said, not really. Just another lame text message that I didn’t even read until the next morning.” “Bastard,” she repeated. I nodded, chewing the end of a coffee swizzle stick. “He’s a bastard. But at least he got me out of those pajamas.”


The morning after began with silver light and an overcast sky. I woke up while the children were still sleeping. No noise, no whispers, no feet against walls banging for my attention. I lay still for a moment, feeling the weight of the blankets against my bare body. Stretching my fingers and pointing my toes, I wondered how far I could stretch before something tore open. My wounds protested. My shortened hair, knotted from sleeping while it was still wet, was splayed across the damp pillow. My phone, blinking green with unread messages, was on his pillow. The blankets and sheets on his side were barely rumpled — a painful reminder. I braced for impact.

I nodded, chewing the end of a coffee swizzle stick. “He’s a bastard. But at least he got me out of those pajamas.” “Wow,” it said. I wasn’t sure how to take that. Wow, you cut your hair off? Wow, you’re naked? Wow, you’ve lost it? It felt like he owed me more. I ran my fingers over the shorn ends, exploring the blunt uneven cuts, while I read the rest of the messages. “Have you gone to bed?” “Can’t sleep.” “Why do hotel clocks have to be so bright?” “I think a fat person slept here last.” “Are you there?” I left the phone on his pillow.

Short Fiction




Conceptions Southwest

Winter Cathy Cook

Last night I went to bed with Dawn Yet still woke up with Morning. With a little coffee and a brisk breeze My shoulders relaxed Loosening like a sigh of relief And my brain was clarity. My step like Spring and my heart light as Summer’s arms Wrapping you in her fragrant embrace Of dandelions and daydreams swept up by the wind. I spread out my fingers and touched my youth. This evening I wandered home Accompanied by aimless Dusk. We stumbled through gutters As well-mannered street lamps averted their gaze. I looked down at my fingers And was surprised to see hands shriveled with cold. Winter has come.

Pen and Ink

Of Beak and Bone Frank Liebert Volume XXXVII

Visual Art




Conceptions Southwest

Leetso Veronica Chavez

Anger which lit up the day and separated the wars Which turned the sand into jade-colored glass And rode in on a wagon through a dusty plume Of promises into an empty isolated land Full of souls ancient and material The ancient people’s anger Which was packaged neatly in colorful tonic and potion bottles Labeled clearly on each, safe for use Anger which gathered the women at the Shiprock And called the men into the depths of the changing woman Where the thunderbird and the star people had been buried The ancient people’s anger Dug up and took shape Of a devil the healer had never known And could not fight, leetso Anger which is yellow, nayee, monster Which kills us with our own homes Built from our walls, laid by our bricks Formed with our tainted dirt The ancient people’s anger Which is a cyclone of paper and laws Written in a language we do not know Anger which made the women too tired to forget and too sad to remember And condensed into a storm cloud over the sacred mountain of the south Spilling out the ancient people’s anger Which seeped into the wind and sickened it And mothers and fathers became shadows and children, bruises

Woodcut, 18" x 24"

Scorched Paul D. Phillips Volume XXXVII

Visual Art




Conceptions Southwest

Northern New Mexico Tori Cรกrdenas

Grandpa told us stories of men that turn into devils when you dance with them during Lent. But all the rest of the time, the men at the bars are just hairy wolves with cloven feet. We dreaded the night when the cocos with long yellow teeth unhinged their slavering jaws, yawning, widening, unfurling their long dry tongues to swallow our small soft feet hanging over the edge of the bed. Finger bones and old tin cans lay scattered along the dirt road to my house and la Llorona haunts the acequias that are lined with concrete.

the waiting sill Linnea Burleigh

this side of the doorway is silence. the cool hallway stretches before into darkness. behind is only a thin, yellow light from under the door. if I could turn around, to peer through the gap, I know I would see dancers leaping in the sunlight, fields of green and rolling hills. but for a little while yet, I am confined to this hallway, a small lamp in hand while I watch friends and family slip one by one through the door.





Visual Art

Conceptions Southwest

Graphite, Ink, and Colored Pencils on Bristol Paper, 7.5" x 10"

DNA Encoded Gift of Gab Yvonne Emiliana Gandert

Twins Shannon Casey Volume XXXVII




Visual Art

Conceptions Southwest

Charcoal on Paper, 18" x 24"

Whale No. 1 Atsuko Sakai

Weep a Little Nancy Thomas

the chopping block for the rooster’s neck has turned to termite dust the wash pot breeds mosquitos where patchwork quilts once boiled the sagging clothesline’s pegs bleached gray place-hold for phantom sheets the garden hoe leans idle where poison ivy thrives the arms that hoisted hatchet and hoe falter at lifting her fork






Old City, New Faces Kelly McCarthy

Conceptions Southwest

Watercolor Paint and Pen on Watercolor Paper, 9" x 11"

November Dusk Navida Johnson Volume XXXVII

Visual Art



Creative Nonfiction

Conceptions Southwest

That Kind of Cold M. Brianna Stallings

When I was six and galloping around in a circle in my living room as Gordon Lightfoot’s “Carefree Highway” spun out on the turntable, you were two years old, probably still stumbling about on those shaky chubby legs that make every toddler walk like a drunkard. I know for a fact that you never outgrew those chubby legs. Granted, they’re stronger now, but still dusted with the fine blond hairs that you simply refused to shave anymore after you’d moved away from home. You’re stronger now, too; you have to be. Yup, you toughened up right quick — with every purse-lipped sneer from the church elders, every girl who switched the last two digits of her phone number after the two of you hooked up in some bar bathroom, every bumpy ridge left in the bridge of your nose by some gin-stinking prick who felt that butches like you were best left bashed in. Still, I often suspect that you remain a child in many ways. There is a simple joy to you. I remember hearing it in that proud snap! as you tucked your thumbs under those suspenders printed with neon-colored dinosaurs and popped them out from your chest that night I poured myself into a floor-length, black lace dress and we strutted into the dance hall. I saw it, too, in your cartoonish doodles of Sharpied cupcakes on construction paper that you’d outline in glitter, then give to your friends as birthday cards.

One unusually cold night in May, you brought me a homemade postcard, complete with a drawn-on spot for postage with perforated edges. You made it out of part of an old Rand McNally road map you’d found under the driver’s seat of a friend’s car. The front of the card included a segment of Manitoba, with the capital city of Winnipeg circled in blue crayon. Written at the bottom of the card were the words, “I want to experience that kind of cold…” Those are my words. I say that whenever I talk about Winnipeg, reputedly one of the coldest cities in North America. See, as with almost every obsession in my life, I can trace my infatuation with Canada back to one of two sources — music and my family. In the case of Gordon Lightfoot, it was both. My mama’s been a fan of both Lightfoot’s hard-livin’ lyrics and the country that made him since before I was born. I sometimes think she passed this passion down to me in the womb, as though she wanted me to come out of her knowing that what we love in this world can be beautiful because it’s hard and cold and far away. Years later, that niggling little lust led me to the films of Guy Maddin, an art house director from Winnipeg. Maddin’s films are almost always in black and white, which makes the snow that melts and re-freezes at the edges of his shots seem to sting that much more.

I’ve never known cold like what I’ve seen Winnipeg cold to be. And so, when I am in love and I talk about all of the faraway things I so childishly dream of doing, I will say, “I want to experience that kind of cold. I want my tears to freeze into ice cubes, like that little blue penguin set adrift on an ice floe I saw once in a cartoon. I want to have to keep my mouth shut when I go outside, for fear of the air creeping in through my lips and chiseling hairline fractures into my teeth. I even daydream of taking my honeymoon to Winnipeg — in February.” And so, because you were in love, you made a postcard just for me, quoting me. You told me you’d planned to mail it, but drove it over because you wanted to see my reaction in person. You made it for me because, in your words, “I love hearing you talk about things that excite you.” Now, when I take it out of the very back of my filing cabinet (where I keep all of your crafty treasures) it strikes me as odd to think that you made me a postcard depicting a place on the map that neither one of us have ever been to. You’ve


gotten closer in your travels than I have in mine, though. Before we’d met, you’d just up and went. Sold everything you owned and took off, hitched rides with whomever you could find who was kind enough to drop you off in Minneapolis or Milwaukee in the middle of winter.

And so, because you were in love, you made a postcard just for me, quoting me. You told me you’d planned to mail it, but drove it over because you wanted to see my reaction in person. That’s you: a chubby-legged androgyne toddling down the road, whistling away with your bindle made from a switch and a red handkerchief propped on your shoulder, like some children’s book illustration of a hobo clown with his ginblossom nose covered in red paint. You could brave that kind of cold a lot better than me.

Creative Nonfiction



Visual Art

Conceptions Southwest

Mixed Media on 98-Pound Paper, 11" x 14"

crowMagnon Robert Maestas

Dive Dillon Cullinan

Three lives converge in a series of ill-timed events involving a letter, a pool, and a gun. “Dive” is a highly conceptual film that addresses selfimposed mental slavery, chaos, and human tendencies toward self-destruction. “Dive” premiered July 2013 at an art show in southern California. It was screened at the 2013 New Mexico Filmmaker’s Showcase at the Guild Cinema. “Dive” was also screened at the unm Film Festival and was awarded first place. “Dive” is heavily inspired by the strange, seemingly meaningless coincidences that happen around the world every day. Dillon Cullinan wrote the film while he was stuck in traffic with featured actor Bobby Howard on their way to the Salton Sea. The film was written, directed, edited, and shot by Cullinan. Shot in Northridge, California, “Dive” is Cullinan’s first directorial effort. To view this film, please go to:


Short Film




Conceptions Southwest

Opium Calls in New Mexico Paula Hughson

Heading to Albuquerque, sunflowers on i-25 still reach from the median and the yellow line, while crows, those young pilots, show off, oblivious to the dulled lines of mountains — Jemez, Sandia, and Sangre de Cristo — stifled by smog under a dirty paintbrush. At the medical meeting, we learn discarded syringes line the acequias in northern towns — Española, Truchas, Chimayó — these are the new flowers. True, hard-won New Mexico art, inviting us to communion — they say: Taste of this blighted earth. This is the body, the new landscape given for you. We shall not sleep while poppies grow.

Water DenĂŠ Shelton

You and I are like water. We ebb and flow and break in great waves against each other, breasts pressed against breasts, chest to chest. We drip and slowly sink to wading pools of lust. We are rain and lie silently twisted and smooth, no distance between us. When you touch me you raise ripples on my skin. They grow against each other, multiply and branch out like rivers from the ocean. I sink inside of you, inside me. I swim and you hold me safe and floating. You hold me high above every moment like a dark cloud breaking open to make rain.






Old Friends Shannon Casey

Conceptions Southwest

Ok Cupid, That’s Enough Jacob Moffitt

It was the summer of 2010, and I was single again. It wasn’t a surprise. I was a collection of bad habits, poor personal grooming, and emotional baggage shaped to resemble a real person. At the time, I did what I’d always done before: I blamed it on her. She’s the one who told me to go smoke pot with the crazy one-legged man, I would think to myself while rotating the milk in the dairy cooler at Walmart. I have a Hunter S. Thompson tattoo. What did she think was going to happen? This thought process, as it always did, eventually gave way to a period of revelation for myself. And, just like revelatory periods in the past, I pulled exactly the wrong assumption from it. This time, it was I should try dating again. Not I should really sort of sit down and think what keeps causing these things to happen, or Maybe I should quit my job and go to college. It was like I had just escaped from being mauled by bears, but decided to go back and pick a fight with them, since I didn’t feel I gave a hundred percent the first time. So I did what I always did: I researched. I read websites about the modern rituals of human courtship, took copious notes, and joined all the big dating websites that happened to be free (I might have been ambitious, but I was still a Walmart employee). I filled out countless surveys asking me about myself, digging deep to find the parts of myself I actually liked and putting them on display. I answered countless questions


about my religion, whether I was a smoker or not, whether or not I believed in monogamy, and what I would do if I could travel through time. I answered them honestly, and I waited. “It’s been about two weeks, I guess,” I said. Tony, who was both my roommate and my best friend, passed me the bottle. The ritual of wandering around at night, drunk and engrossed in conversation, was sacred to us. When we’d have a night off together, we’d pitch a couple of bucks in, buy a bottle of booze, and walk aimlessly through whatever portion of the world we were currently inhabiting. Tonight, we had a bottle of 1800 Gold tequila, wino-style, out of a brown bag, as we wandered across the west side of Albuquerque. “And nothing?” he asked, his stride and gaze both purposeful, the former so much so that every time he would take a step, I would have to take three just to catch up. I found it hard to drink and walk at the same time, so every sip of the bottle put me a little farther behind, struggling to keep up with the legs that his nearly seven feet of height gave him. He was everything I wasn’t. Tall, with steely eyes set above a prominent Roman nose. If you’d have put a cowboy hat on him and let his buzz cut grow out a bit, he wouldn’t look out of place on the poster of a spaghetti western. Add to that his strange charm. Tony could make friends anywhere. He’d once spent a month in a county

Creative Nonfiction



Creative Nonfiction jail, and could still remember all his cellmates by name. They’d even thrown him a birthday party. I pulled from the bottle and quickened my pace momentarily until I was beside him again. “Nothing. Not a damn thing,” I said. “Well, how do you introduce yourself when you talk to these women?” The conversation lagged a bit as the realization dawned on me: I hadn’t ever talked to a single one. I’d been checking my OkCupid profile every night, waiting to hear from some beautiful woman who couldn’t do without my unique combination of useless knowledge and nonexistent charm. “I guess that would help,” I said. “What would?” he asked as we descended into a sandy-bottomed arroyo where we could drink without worrying about being hassled. Below the level of the streetlights, only the moon lit our way, making untrustable shadows of the random pieces of desert detritus that littered the sand. You never knew if you were stepping over a log or a sleeping coyote.

For men, Internet dating is a lot like playing a game called “Don’t Be a Rapist.” “I guess I should actually message someone, I mean.” He laughed the laugh that he used when I would do something funny that wasn’t necessarily funny to me. It’s made of equal parts pity and humor, telling me that even though he’s laughing at me, at least he feels bad about it. “Yeah,” he responded. “I mean, you gotta think, those women probably get ten, fifteen messages a day. They don’t have to look through profiles, the profiles come to them. You have to put yourself out there, man.”

Conceptions Southwest I took another pull from the tequila bottle and changed the subject before I could feel any stupider. For men, Internet dating is a lot like playing a game called “Don’t Be a Rapist.” The object, as the name implies, is not to be a rapist, and furthermore, to seem like you wouldn’t be a rapist either. If you’re a large man, like I am, who sports facial hair, like I do, and are as socially awkward as I can be, this game becomes infinitely hard. You type a few lines on a profile about something innocuous, and you start reading over them again and again. Every time you go over what you wrote, you ask yourself, “Would someone terrible say something like that?” It’s a hard game, especially once you come to the realization that pretty much everything you say might be something someone terrible would say. Those kinds of people aren’t exactly blatant about being assholes. They don’t advertise the fact that they’re terrible people on their OkCupid profiles. When filling out the questionnaires that are the crux of the OkCupid experience, they will answer “no” to any question that might make them sound creepy if they answered “yes.” There are a few key rules to this game. First, don’t be a rapist. That’s pretty easy; just don’t rape people and it probably helps if you don’t murder them either. Still, some people seem to have problems with this, and that’s why we need the rest of the rules. Second, any place that is not a public place is off limits. It might sound nice to take a woman out to a park and have a nice picnic. In the mind of the man, this is exactly the kind of thing that men do in romantic comedies starring Meg Ryan.

You put a blindfold on them (no) and then drive to some place they’ve never been (no again) and then pull the blindfold off to a verdant riverside banquet, where privacy is guaranteed and you can be assured you won’t be interrupted (for the love of God, no). Third, don’t mention sex at all. The exception to this rule is if the woman you’re talking to has mentioned it first. Even then, be careful. To send out a coy, eroticized flirt only to get a picture of a man’s genitals in return is about the worst nightmare for a woman on OkCupid (short of actually being murdered). The best course is to be equally coy and erotic, and then promptly change the subject. I am by no means an expert on how to write an OkCupid profile. I’m not even an expert on tying my shoes. What I am particularly good at, though, is playing this game. I’ve got rule one down like nothing else, and rules two and three come somewhat naturally, though not without a fair bit of striking out either. It’s hard to be a twenty-something-year-old Walmart employee and not consider yourself a poor prospect for dating. By this time, a number of the people I graduated high school with had gone on to do amazing things, or at least adequate things. Two were helicopter pilots (one of whom had an alter-ego as a nuclear engineer) and one was a structural engineer who designed helicopters. At least two more owned their own businesses. Countless more worked at places that were not Walmart, which was a boon to them. It doesn’t help that correspondence on OkCupid is meager at best. You’ll send out maybe five or six messages a day, and if you’re lucky, you’ll get a single reply out of every ten women you talk to.


However this is where it gets both fun and offputting. Due to the nature of the Internet, any one of those women can cease communication at any time. You don’t get a reason; you have no idea what you said or did wrong. One second you’re talking, and then radio silence. You don’t even have the satisfaction of trying to read body language or getting laughed at sarcastically for saying something dumb. Just whiff, and they’re gone. This happened to me more often than I’d care to admit.

I am by no means an expert on how to write an OkCupid profile. I’m not even an expert on tying my shoes. “I don’t get it,” I said. “Did I give the wrong answer? Did I give the right answer in an incorrect way?” Tony stretched out in the faded, threadbare Lazy Boy, his squinted eyes never leaving the tv screen. A quiet ballet of guns and death was taking place on some distant Xbox Live server, engrossing all the primitive parts of his brain. “Well, what was the question?” “I sent her a message saying, ‘Oh, hey, you’re into Doctor Who, that’s awesome.’ We start talking about Doctor Who, and she asks me who my favorite companion is, and I’m like, ‘Rose Tyler.’” Tony, upon hearing this, inhaled sharply through bared teeth. “Oh, man. Really?” “What, is that wrong?” I plopped down on the sagging couch, tossing my phone on the table so the OkCupid app would be unable to confuse me further. “You picked the blonde, dude. Of course that’s wrong. Is this that nurse chick?” As he talked,

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Creative Nonfiction his shoulders rolled this way and that, his body dodging imaginary bullets. “Yeah.” I stood up again. “I need a beer, you want one?” “Sure,” he said. “You’re not supposed to like the dumb blonde, Jake. Come on, she’s the most threatening.” I reached into the fridge and pulled out two cans of Young’s Chocolate Stout. Thick foam slowly rose out of the opening, fizzing with carbon dioxide and nitrogen. I poured mine in a glass and gave the other can to Tony. “How is she threatening?” He dropped the controller in his lap as the game ended, slurping the foam off the top of the beer can. “Because she’s the one who drops everything and leaves when the Doctor shows up,” he said. “She leaves her boyfriend and her family behind and goes off to travel through time with some strange dude who might be crazy.” “Huh, I never thought about that.” “But I bet that’s exactly why you like her,” he said.

She was into radical feminism and postmodern everything; I was an uncultured, uneducated Walmart dairy stocker. “Well, the truth is, I’m only on season three.” I snatched my favorite glass pipe from the table and took a deep, satisfying toke. “Ah,” he said. “Martha Jones. That would have been a good one. She’s a doctor, she’s smart, and she goes on to join unit after Donna Noble shows up.” He held out his hand and I handed him the pipe and lighter. “She’s the smart, independent one.”

Conceptions Southwest “C’mon, man,” I said, exhaling. “Spoilers.” He laughed as he brought the pipe to his lips. “You know I don’t believe in such things.” I had a few near-misses. Despite my complete failure to grasp simple concepts, like introducing myself, making conversation, and flirting in the real world, I flourished in cyberspace. The medium of writing has always been better for me than speaking, probably because I have a delete button when I’m writing. The first was a girl who had the words “chainsaw” and “guts” in her username, which, surprisingly, wasn’t off-putting at all. She was interesting to talk to and was probably one of the only women to message me first. Her message was a short, sweet breath of fresh air. “You sound pretty fucking awesome.” We made plans to go to a museum to see a crazy art exhibit about a time-traveling pirate ship from another dimension, something I’d picked out as the perfect idea for a first date. Public place, food and drinks nearby, and an easy out in case either of us needed to leave early. Of course, that fell through, and a week or so later, her status changed from “single” to “taken.” Conversation ceased. The next was a girl whose first act upon messaging me was to admit she’d lied in her profile. She wasn’t from Albuquerque; she was from Shiprock, about three hours north of where I was. We made plans to meet and grab Ayurvedic vegan food, which, thankfully, fell through. Eventually, we met at a local brewery and shared beer and cheese fries. She was into radical feminism and post-modern everything; I was an uncultured, uneducated Walmart dairy stocker. Our fancies were collectively untickled, but we remained in touch in case that were to ever change.

The third was a cute Starbucks employee who was also a hip-hop dancer. We tried several times to meet up, finally settling on a nearby brewery that had a gluten-free selection, a must have, since she was a celiac. We picked a time and a place and I picked out my least-terrible clothes, waiting for the day to come. Before I entered the brewery, I took a few moments to look myself over in the car mirror. Yep, I said to myself, still got the same bad haircut. Gotta do something about that. As I inspected my clothes for food stains or stray dog hair, I ran through a rapid conversation with myself. Okay, breathe deep. What if she’s allergic to dogs? I might have dog dander all over me and she’ ll spend the entire time being miserable. Just breathe, I said to myself calmly. Go in there, be yourself, and just talk. That’s all you have to do. I opened the car door. The air was getting colder in Albuquerque, so I pulled on a jacket I didn’t need. You never knew when a politely offered jacket would make all the difference on a cold night with a nice young woman. I shuffled my way across the parking lot, nearly oblivious as I tried to talk myself into not turning around and making some excuse as to why I couldn’t show up. I sat in the lobby of the restaurant, assuring the hostess that I was, in fact, here with someone and hadn’t got all gussied up to come drink alone. She walked in not two minutes later. She was short, but she’d said as much on her profile. Her hair was the “after” picture in a commercial for volumizing herbal shampoo and her hazel eyes smiled even though her mouth was a tight line. “Jake?” “Yeah,” I said, masking my nervousness with enthusiasm. “You’re Ali, right?” I stuck my


hand out and she shook it. Her handshake was confident and solid, a man’s handshake. “Let’s grab a table,” she said. “I’m starving.” After we sat down across from each other and gave our drink orders to the waitress, we began the weirdest human courtship ritual: awkward small talk. “So, how’s OkCupid working for you?” I asked. “Oh, you know. Some winners and some losers. How many people have you met through the site?”

What if she’s allergic to dogs? I might have dog dander all over me and she’ll spend the entire time being miserable. I shifted in my seat, anxiously awaiting the beer that would take the edge off my nerves. “Just you and another. For some reason I think the whole ‘overnight shift at Walmart’ thing closes a lot of doors,” I said. She smiled. “Ah, yes. The Mall-Wart.” She took a sip of water. I really liked the shade of lipstick she was wearing — a dark red color that reminded me of my first car. “Yeah, it’s a job,” I responded. A godsend, the waitress returned, put a beer in front of both of us, and asked if we were ready to order. “Do you guys have a gluten-free menu?” Ali asked. “I’m a celiac, so if you’ve just got a side or something, that’d be great.” There were a few moments of deliberation, including a warning that since the kitchen also made pizza, they wouldn’t be able to ensure the food would be one hundred percent gluten-free. She ordered a plate of hummus with no pita. “And you sir?” The waitress turned to me. “I’ll do the fish and chips.”

Creative Nonfiction



Creative Nonfiction The waitress scribbled it down, closed her tiny black notebook, and wandered off to the next table. I took a healthy swallow of beer. “So,” I said, reaching into the document in my brain titled ‘Things to Ask,’ “What’s the worst date you’ve had so far? I need to know how low the bar is so I can make sure I’m at least above the bottom.” “Well, you’re already one step ahead of the curve. He was a juggalo who lived in his mother’s basement.” “Wait, really?” She nodded, her dangly oval earrings swaying back and forth underneath wavy brown hair. “Yeah. He sold plasma so he could take me out.” I guffawed. “Jesus. Sounds like a winner. Did he take you out for Faygo or something?” “I wish,” she said. She smiled and arched her eyebrow. “How about you? Am I better or worse than the other girl you’ve met?”

“I should have backed out when she told me ‘language is a tool of the patriarchy,’ but I figured maybe the real deal didn’t translate well over the phone.” “Well,” I said, fidgeting with a napkin, “she was… interesting.” She raised her eyebrows at me. “Yeah?” “We talked on the phone for a bit before our date. I should have backed out when she told me ‘language is a tool of the patriarchy,’ but I figured maybe the real deal didn’t translate well over the phone.” She opened her mouth and laughed, almost the same laugh that Tony would give me when he felt sorry for me. “Oh, man. How’d that work out?”

Conceptions Southwest I stretched my hands out. “Well here I am, talking with you.” “Oh, man. I mean, I’m pretty feminist myself, but I’m not that feminist. I may have to remember that next time some guy sends me a picture of his dick on OkCupid, though.” I laughed in return. “Get that often?” “You might be the exception.” “Wait, you slept together after your second date?” The morning sun was at my back as I leaned back in the tortured computer chair. “Yeah,” I said, smiling. “How was it?” Tony peeled a banana as he leaned against the kitchen counter, his eyes still half-lidded from sleep. “I mean, you know, the date.” “Well, I drove her home this morning, so I’d guess pretty good.” A cockroach crawled across the kitchen counter. Tony, with ninja-fast reflexes, picked up a magazine, rolled it up, and in a second or less was scraping its carcass into the trash. He spoke around a mouthful of banana mush as he lumbered back to his spot at the counter. “Huh,” was all he said. “How about you? Still talking to that Callie chick?” “Yeah,” he said. He pointed not three feet from where he’d just assassinated the bug, wrinkling his forehead. “Look at that, another fuckin’ cockroach.” He swallowed. “We gotta throw that fuckin’ microwave away, dude. I think they’re nesting in there.” “It’s a perfectly good microwave,” I said. “Just wrap a trash bag around it and put it on the back porch for a while. I doubt they’ll survive in this weather.”

It was either a Wednesday or Thursday night when the Old Rasputin incident happened. For those who might not be as fanatical about beer as I am, let me give you a brief description of Old Rasputin. It’s an Imperial stout, which means it’s creamy, it’s delicious, it goes down easy, and it’s ten percent alcohol. In other words, it’s a bottled disaster waiting to happen. I was a lightweight, and it didn’t take more than three or four normal beers to get me a healthy buzz in the first place. Add in the fact that I’d drunk three of these alcohol monsters, and you can see where this is going. We were sitting in Ali’s living room and had just finished the first episode of Supernatural, a show she’d been dying to get me to watch. Somehow, as we ingested alcohol, we stopped watching the tv and started talking. And then, somehow we started talking about guns. Now, I’m far from your stereotypical Texan, but I do have one that lives inside me. He’s Libertarian as hell, he’s vocal, and he takes every chance he can to strap on a cowboy hat and a pair of leather boots and then tap dance his way out of my skull, firing revolvers in the air. “I don’t understand. You think it’s okay for people to own machine guns?” Ali had wrinkled her brow. Her smile had faded. It all happened fast enough that I still hadn’t picked up the hint that I was on thin ice. I shrugged. “Why not? The Second Amendment says it’s all right. Federal law says as long as you have the permits and pay the taxes on it, it’s fine. I’m not saying that everyone should own one….” “But you’re saying that a machine that has no purpose except to kill people should be available to the general public?”


“Yeah,” I said. I poured another swallow of Old Raz down my throat, and heat bloomed like a flower in my stomach. “As long as they’re willing to go through the proper background checks. And technically, it’s not made to kill people; it’s to scare the shit out of them long enough so someone else can kill them.”

He’s Libertarian as hell, he’s vocal, and he takes every chance he can to strap on a cowboy hat and a pair of leather boots, and then tap dance his way out of my skull, firing revolvers in the air. She ignored my joke, or just didn’t recognize it as one. “Why? That doesn’t make any sense to me.” She was leaning forward off the couch now, like any minute now she might have to get up and run out of the room. “Because a government should be afraid of its people, lest they stop working for them.” The last of my third bottle set off another heat-bomb inside me as I swallowed it. “That’s why it’s in the Constitution. Because the British tried to disarm us in the first place.” She was quiet for a long time. I think she was trying to figure out how best to kick a drunk Texan out of her house after he’d spewed Libertarian vomit all over her nice, clean conversation. During the silence, I got up and pitched my bottle in the trash can. All the while, her eyes never left me, as if I might suddenly kidnap her little gray cat and brainwash it with the secrets of a free market society. It wasn’t until then I realized this wasn’t a political conversation anymore. It had moved from conversation, straight past debate, and into argument.

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Creative Nonfiction “Why don’t we just agree to disagree?” I said. She nodded, finally leaning back and exhaling a breath she’d been holding for who knew how long. “Yeah,” she said. “Let’s do that.”

When I left in the morning, after a brief disaster with a lost contraceptive sponge, it was with the knowledge that this probably wasn’t working as well as I’d hoped. Shortly afterward, we went to bed. When I left in the morning, after a brief disaster with a lost contraceptive sponge, it was with the knowledge that this probably wasn’t working as well as I’d hoped. As I squinted against the morning sun, piloting my Focus and my hangover down the road to my apartment, I came to the same wrong revelation I’d come to a few months earlier. Guess I gotta go see what other fish are in the sea. Two years later, I’d given up on a lot of things. Chiefly among them, dating, my job at Walmart, and a healthy portion of my free time. I traded these for an efficiency apartment and enrollment at the University of New Mexico. I spent nights

Conceptions Southwest at my brother’s house, mooching off his Internet and cooking meals for him and my sister-in-law. My apartment was just for sleeping. It was a roof over my head and a place where occasionally I’d have friends over to brew beer. I’d taken the night off to do some studying and was currently engaged in a healthy piece of procrastination as I thumbed through my iPhone. Reddit had grown boring, the endless tides of pictures with clever captions doing nothing to satiate my boredom. Instead, I opened my contacts, intending to clear some space on my phone, as well as delay my inevitable time with my school books. Right there, under “A” for “Ali,” was her name. Two years it had been there. After a handful of dates ending in awkward sexual encounters, I’d wondered to myself if anything was going to come of us. As I lay on the bed, the memories of the guilt I felt when I’d pulled away began to subsume me. Now I wondered if I should delete her and just save myself the trouble of going through those feelings again. Instead, I thumbed her name and touched the “New Text Message” button. Hey, I wrote. Long time no talk. What’s up?

Graphite on Paper, 11" x 14"

Lonesome Lily Carlene Moya Volume XXXVII

Visual Art


Conceptions Southwest


David M. Castillo

Once a whale has been struck by a harpoon and the hooks are set, the struggle to bring her in has just begun. The men of the sea must bring that massive beast close, take their jagged spears, and thrust them into the flesh around her blowhole so she drowns as blood fills lungs. Transversally, I’ve felt the sharp sting of your harpoon bursting into my body, the rough edges of your spear slicing my flesh with every thrust. That sticky, iron-tasting humor has been filling my perforated organs. As my breaths grow short, I look up to your eyes and notice compassion and fear resonating.

c choi e a

ard w

Marring Maiden




Paperman Anya Kubilus Volume XXXVII




Short Fiction

Conceptions Southwest

Faceless Anna Adams

She did not have a face. That was the most startling thing about her. Arthur was strangely fascinated. He couldn’t stop staring at her, although he knew it was rude and, as other kids might consider it, creepy. But she was fascinating. Some might say she wore a mask, Arthur realized after a while, and this realization came pretty late. He would say she wore multiple masks, if he were so inclined to compare her face to a mask, but he wasn’t. Masks had cultural meaning and artistic significance. Masks worn on Halloween, for example, were originally meant to appease the evil spirits that were thought to visit on that night. This is something that, if it came up, Arthur would explain to anyone willing to listen, of which there were very few. Her missing face had no artistic or cultural meaning, Arthur knew, and at first he was concerned. He noticed her facelessness almost immediately and was shocked. To him, there was no possible way to take in its entirety. He noticed her prominent nose, her blue eyes, and her cute chin, but he could only see them one at a time. Every time he looked at her, it was as if he had to put a puzzle together. What was wrong with Sophie? he wondered. But no one else complained about her lack of a face, and he began to realize that the problem couldn’t possibly be her. The middle-school rumor mill couldn’t possibly

ignore such an obvious flaw as a faceless girl. The problem, unfortunately, had to be him. Arthur freaked out. He turned to his usual resort when something didn’t make sense: research. There was a word for someone who couldn’t see faces, wasn’t there? Once he got home from school that day, he started up his computer almost reverentially. The Internet had all the answers. The result (after a couple of minutes of searching for an answer): prosopagnosia. Face blindness. But it applied to more than one face. Arthur relaxed. For a second there, he had thought he had face blindness! There was no way… wait. There were cases of prosopagnosia being acquired? His pimpled nose pressed as close to the screen as was physically possible without obstructing his view. Arthur read all that he could find. Arthur’s mom, upon arriving home, each arm full of groceries, was unsurprised and exasperated at her son’s upset account of how he had just selfdiagnosed himself with some disease that she didn’t care about and which he described in great, blabbering detail. She put away the groceries, her eyes wanting to roll the entire time Arthur spoke, but she stopped them. “Calm down,” she said. “You don’t have whatever this is. Otherwise, how would you be able to recognize me right now?” She pointed to her hair. “I got a haircut today, see? How would

you know who I was without recognizing my face?” Arthur, who hadn’t noticed his mother’s haircut, unfortunately rolled his eyes very visibly. “Mom, who else would come into my house with groceries?” Honestly, he thought. “Don’t you roll your eyes at me,” his mother snapped. “And don’t bother me anymore about this face-blind nonsense. You self-diagnose yourself with a new condition every minute, and our health insurance won’t cover another pointless trip to the doctor again this year.” But Arthur wasn’t convinced that something wasn’t wrong. He did slowly begin to admit that he did not have face blindness, mostly because it only seemed to be Sophie’s face that was the problem. Her face was the only one that was a mystery to him. He did always recognize her right away, however. How could you not notice someone without a face? It was at this point that he finally considered the possibility of masks. This idea was dismissed pretty quickly. Only after a couple of Internet searches and a trip to the library later did Arthur truly give it up. He just couldn’t seem to find anything about a person with a fake face that wasn’t a mask. He realized he had to be overlooking something and that just made him more furiously determined to discover what it was more than ever. Sophie’s friends noticed his fascination. “Hey, freak,” a girl said to him one day, her tone as condescending and snotty as a teenager can possibly muster. “What’s wrong with you?” “Huh?” Arthur said. He hadn’t realized she was talking at him, and only after she kicked his desk did he look up. “You heard me. Why are you always creeping on Sophie?”


Arthur opened his mouth, flabbergasted. They had noticed? And he wouldn’t call it creeping. He glanced over to Sophie, who was staring at the floor apathetically. For once, he thought he saw her entire face. Wow, he thought. She was gorgeous. She had always been gorgeous. “Do you have a crush on her?” another friend asked. A crush? A crush… the possibility exploded into Arthur’s mind. He had a crush! It made perfect sense. Well, at least it was an interesting idea that he could study…. “Ew,” said the friend who had spoken first.

Her face was the only one that was a mystery to him. He did always recognize her right away, however. How could you not notice someone without a face? Sophie’s friends all laughed. Sophie laughed, too, her face again a jumble of different parts that Arthur couldn’t see as a whole. The boy was heartbroken. It had never occurred to him that Sophie could laugh at him like this and that it would hurt so much. He shut down, and for the rest of the day, no one could get a satisfying response from him, apart from one-syllable answers like “Uh,” “Huh,” “Yeah,” or “No.” And they were all delivered without feeling. Sophie’s coterie lost interest and they left him alone. It wasn’t interesting to taunt an unintelligible robot. But Arthur could feel everything. It was a moment he would look back on and remember cringingly for years to come. He got home that afternoon and looked in the mirror in his hallway and he hated everything about himself at that moment. He hated his red hair, his crooked

Short Fiction



Short Fiction teeth, and his bad skin. He looked just like a kid who would resort to research to explain his first crush. How pathetic. He threw away his library books about prosopagnosia and got fined for them later. When he didn’t want to go to school the next day, his mom thought he was actually sick. “You never miss school,” she said in amazement. “You insisted that you go the last time you had the flu, remember?” If Arthur’s grunt was an affirmative, then he did indeed remember. But it was difficult to tell.

Arthur wasn’t even feeling snarky enough to respond that he would try to drink solid objects, and his mother grew truly worried. “Okay, I’ll let you stay home today,” his mom said. “Keep drinking fluids while I’m gone.” Arthur wasn’t even feeling snarky enough to respond that he would try to drink solid objects, and his mother grew truly worried. The day after next, Arthur had to go to school. His mother wouldn’t let him miss school any longer when he wasn’t really sick. He tried to convince her otherwise, but his stalling only granted him a few minutes and the definite reality that he would be tardy for the first time in his life. He trudged out the door, reluctance in every step.

Conceptions Southwest He had to go to the school office to get a late pass, and by the time he made it to his classroom, classes were well underway. Just before entering his class, he looked down the hallway at the sound of a door opening. Sophie emerged, a hall pass in hand. Arthur saw a glimpse of her entire face again. Just after leaving the classroom, she was smiling, an expression obviously directed at friends inside. The second the door closed and she turned away, the smile was gone. The facelessness dropped off her face, and Arthur saw it. He witnessed the real Sophie, just for a moment, and he would testify to it. But then she looked up and saw him, and she gave him a tiny, acknowledging smile, almost as if she couldn’t remember her friends’ cruelty from two days ago. Maybe she didn’t. Astonished, Arthur quickly entered his classroom and took his seat. What was that? Why had he just been able to see her face? And it came to him. She isn’t real, he thought. Nothing she does is real. And I only noticed because I had a crush on her. Interesting. A very interesting idea. This would be a great topic of possible research in the future. Maybe he would write a book about it himself. The corners of Arthur’s mouth tugged up in an honest, irrepressible smile. And for a moment, just a moment, he was the only one in the room with a face.

Sor Juana Devon Stevens

I worst of all the world Like a noose around a girl From knowledge’s storms directly hurl Burned-out fire’s ashes whirl I the worst of all the world So say I, so say I With the blinding of one eye All is gray, all is gray What an awful price to pay So say I, so say I I the worst of all the world Around whom accusation swirls In whose blood denial’s pearl Disobedient churlish girl I worst of all the world






The Hunt Marcus Zúñiga

Conceptions Southwest

Now I Am Awake Cathy Cook

My body is a vessel. The curve of my waist seeks answers, The bold edges of my hips fill with secrets, The vast landscape of my shoulders and my thighs throbs with anticipation, hope, despair, My lungs expand with wonders and when I breathe out I fertilize the air with magic As my body is filled with dreams. I am suspended in space As the pale dewdrops, the rosy pearls of dawn, morph to Slanting lines etched with gold midday light. Wilderness and home movies are projected on the inside of my skull. The backs of my eyelids are a playhouse, A stage of fantasy. Worlds are born And live, Pressing out against my ribs Until the stream of daylight pierces my brow. Sleep is dried off my eyes And the dreams whisper, Wisp Away. I slide sideways, heels first, into reality.





Visual Art

Conceptions Southwest

Charcoal on Paper, 18" x 24"

The End of a Shore Dinner Atsuko Sakai


ard w

c choi e a


Music and a Pearl

“Maybe I shouldn’t go,” I said quietly, biting my short nails. “Don’t you even say that,” my mom replied, shaking her head and pulling my hand away so I would stop. We talked in harsh, hushed tones. “I don’t want to miss anything,” I said, listening intently to make sure my aunt hadn’t woken up. Her room was next to the kitchen. I breathed evenly, trying to match the tempo I guessed she was breathing as she slept. I always hoped if my breathing was okay it meant hers was too. The kitchen was dark; just the small fluorescent light above the sink was on. My mom and I stood in the middle of the kitchen. I pulled the black sleeves of my jacket over my hands. It was cold. “I’m not letting you miss this. It’s once in a lifetime. You can’t do anything here. Go and experience, she’ll be fine.” No sound came from my aunt’s dark room. I shivered and wrapped my arms around myself. “Will you be?” I asked. My mother didn’t answer right away. I was afraid to leave home on my own for the first time and I hated flying. Those fears paled in comparison to the worry that I wouldn’t get to say a final goodbye to my aunt. It caused a heavy, sinking feeling in my chest. After we landed in New York, I finally got to see the city from ground level. We rode a bus to our hotel, which was a terrifying experience that haunts me to this day. The lanes were so


Janelle Hunt

small it looked like we were about to hit every car we drove by. It was a relief to get off. The hotel we stayed at was breathtaking. There was a black fountain right at the entrance and multiple chandeliers hung from the ceiling casting a soft, low glow over the gigantic lobby. I stayed in a room with three other girls. One was our chaperone, Berta. One was another girl in the choir and the last was my friend, Jamie. Our room was on the sixth floor, which gave us a great view of the busy nyc with taxis and limos passing by constantly and countless people rushing down the sidewalks. That night we would be meeting our choir conductor as well as the other choirs we would be singing with. Our performance in Carnegie Hall was only two days away. We had been one of the choirs chosen by a couple scouts about a year before. They had traveled around the country to find choirs to perform “Mozart’s Mass” at Carnegie Hall. Our choir was one of the nine. Jamie opened her suitcase and complained about all her clothes being wrinkled. I opened mine and offered the bottle of wrinkle guard that my mom had me bring along. I heard my mom and Pat’s giggling from upstairs. As I walked down the steps I listened to the laughter interspersed with speaking. I stood in the doorway, peeking around it into the laundry room.

Creative Nonfiction



Creative Nonfiction “Wait, wait. You missed a spot.” “Oh, did I?” “Yes. Here, let me get it for you,” my aunt said as she took a spray bottle from my mom and sprayed her in the face. I took a step in as Aunt Pat then directed the bottle to herself and sprayed. “What… are you doing?” I asked. They turned to look at me, paused for a moment, and then started giggling. “Becoming young again!” my aunt said, holding up the bottle of laundry wrinkle guard. “It gets rid of wrinkles, see?” My mom pointed it to her face and Pat sprayed her again. “Right in front of your eyes! See it? See it?” Pat asked. She looked at me and smiled. “What?” I asked. She had a mischievous look in her eyes. “Well it doesn’t just get rid of wrinkles… it guards you from them, too.” Pat took a step toward me and sprayed me in the face. I froze for a second before joining in their laughter.

Pat happened after winter break. She got so sick she couldn’t live alone anymore, so she moved in with us early in January. I pulled at my wrinkled shirt. I didn’t have time to use the wrinkle guard before we left. We sat in a huge hall by order of our vocal range. Jamie and I sat together in the soprano section and our conductor, Mr. Thye (‘tee’), led each of the groups in their part. “You and your mom are really close, huh?” Jamie asked. I turned my attention to her from Mr. Thye and nodded. She must’ve noticed our sad goodbye at the airport. “That’s nice,” she said, smiling. “Your mom said something about an aunt?” I turned my face away and nodded. “Is she sick?” I nodded again. Jamie was the first person

Conceptions Southwest to know. I never let anyone know. “What’s wrong with her?” she asked. I looked at Jamie for a second then away. Thankfully, Mr. Thye got to us and I couldn’t answer her. I didn’t know how I would. Pat had hepatitis c, extracted from a dirty needle back when she was heavy into drugs. It wasn’t that I was ashamed to let people know. It was that I didn’t want them to judge her. I wouldn’t let anyone think of her like that. She wasn’t a bad person. She got lost once upon a time in her life — who hadn’t done that? I knew a different side. The funny, vibrant, outspoken side. I didn’t think people would see it the way I did. So I kept quiet about it. “What changed?” Emily asked me during study hall. We never actually studied during study hall. It was more like a break between classes when we would talk and pretend our day was practically over even though we still had history and choir afterward. “What do you mean?” I asked, drawing pictures on the desk with my pencil eraser. “What happened after winter break? We never hang out anymore.” She popped a few potato chips in her mouth, crunching loudly. “Nothing changed. I guess I just got busier,” I lied. Pat happened after winter break. She got so sick she couldn’t live alone anymore, so she moved in with us early in January. Since then, my leaving the house only included going to school and sometimes the store. My mom didn’t have time to take me anywhere because she had to worry about Pat. I loved my aunt, I really did. But sometimes I got tired. I missed being able to talk to her about gardening, traveling, and art instead of hearing stories I knew couldn’t be true, like seeing the

aurora borealis in Arizona. I also missed the time I had with my mom. We would take drives and just talk and listen to music, mostly the Beatles. Mom would come to my room often and say, “Wanna beat me at Scrabble?” We had lots of time together. We had time that I took for granted before Pat moved in and our whole dynamic changed. There wasn’t time to take long drives for no reason. There wasn’t time to wander at the mall or play a game of Scrabble. I was lost in thought and Emily looked at me skeptically. “I’ll make time. I promise.” I looked over and gave her a small smile. “I’ll hold you to that,” she warned, pointing at me with the tip of her pencil. For a split second I wanted to tell her. It had been three months of barely any sleep, waking up to ambulances, not being able to go see that new movie because I either didn’t have a ride or needed to stay with Pat. Escape couldn’t even come with the trip to New York. Jamie and I weaved through the crowds in Grand Central Station with Berta following close behind. We had thirty minutes to find a place, eat, and get back to the rehearsal hall. There were a bunch of vendors downstairs from the main terminal. Jamie was bubbling with excitement because we had gone to Ellis Island and she found ancestors on the Wall of Honor. Her excitement was a good distraction; the whole trip was. I successfully avoided thinking about the heartache I left at home. Before we made it to the stairs that would take us to the food vendors, an elderly man with a briefcase and suit collapsed on the second step from the top. He rolled down the stairs, banging his head on the cement steps. When he hit the bottom, he didn’t move. Jamie and I were frozen,


but a lot of people barely gave a glance. Two people in uniform seemed to come from nowhere. They got to his side, one with a red bag. “Oh my God,” Jamie breathed out. Her hand reached out and grabbed mine tightly. “Let’s go,” Berta said, tugging on the sleeve of my black hoodie. She said it a few times before I relented. But I did wait long enough to see the medics’ expressions. I knew the expression. I had seen it before. He was gone. Berta took Jamie and me away from it and back to the door that connected to our hotel. Jamie was flustered and couldn’t stop talking. I couldn’t speak. I excused myself before we went back to the hall and went to my only refuge. The bathroom.

He rolled down the stairs, banging his head on the cement steps. When he hit the bottom, he didn’t move. I walked into the kitchen after getting home from school. I dropped my backpack on the floor before carefully laying out my dress for Carnegie Hall on the table. I was excited to show Pat. I knew she would be excited, too. I took one step toward her bedroom door which was right next to the kitchen. Right away I could see something was wrong. Her bed was torn apart. Pink pillows and sheets were strewn across the floor. As I slowly approached, I could hear her crying and muttering. When I got to the doorway I saw how trashed the room really was. Besides the bedding, picture frames were off the wall and on the floor, cracked. Her clothes were scattered and hanging out of the drawers. She crouched on the floor. Her pink robe hung off one shoulder. She cried and pulled violently on her dry, sandy blond hair.

Creative Nonfiction



Creative Nonfiction “Auntie?” I said. She jerked her head toward me and stood, her legs shaking. She screamed and threw a pillow that was meant for me but brushed past my legs and out the door. “No!” she responded, shrinking back into her chair, her eyes wide with fear. My legs felt like lead but I took a step closer, forcing myself to stay calm. “Auntie, it’s me,” I said, trying to make my voice soothing.

The emotional hurt manifested itself physically by the ripple of paralyzing dread seeping into every nerve in my body until it felt like I couldn’t move. She shook her head erratically and pulled her swollen legs up to her chest. “No! You can’t take me! No!” she choked out, her tears interfering with her ability to scream at me. She grabbed the chain around her neck and held up the cross that dangled from it. “Go! You can’t have me yet! I’m not ready! I’m not ready….” Her crying started again. Her hands shook. I backed out of the room. Her crazed eyes watched my every move. I backed out until she was out of sight. I could hear her sobbing and sporadic breathing. I waited, fighting all the emotions that would make me lose control. I breathed steadily, hoping her breathing would even out, too. It seemed like forever that I waited. Eventually her sobbing stopped. All I could hear were her labored breaths. I cautiously walked back to the doorway. She was curled up, back on the floor, her body shaking. I took slow steps toward her and yet somehow managed to trip on her tangled sheets. The sound got her attention and she shuddered before looking at me. When she did I knew her

Conceptions Southwest mind was back. Her eyes weren’t crazed anymore. Red and swollen, but calm. When she saw me, her expression crushed me. Suffering. I rushed to her side through the disaster she had created and dropped to my knees before hugging her. Settling her head on my shoulder, she cried harder. I wanted to cry with her but I didn’t. I wouldn’t. “Someone was here,” she cried, gripping my arm. “Who was here?” I asked, stroking her ratted hair. Hair that looked and felt like the straw of a scarecrow. It was dying slowly along with her. “Death. He wanted to take me away.” She gripped me tighter. My heart dropped and it took me a second to respond. Of all the people she thought I was before, that one hit the hardest. The emotional hurt manifested itself physically by the ripple of paralyzing dread seeping into every nerve in my body until it felt like I couldn’t move. It made it hard to keep my emotions in control. The solution was to replace everything with numbness. “You’re safe now,” I said quietly, not sure if I even said it loud enough for her to hear. I made my breathing steady. If mine was, hers would be too. Waiting until she calmed was hard. It meant I had to stay calm. I did. Then I had her move to the chair. She was really swollen, an unfortunate symptom of the infection. It made moving her hard. I sat in front of her on my knees with both my hands in both of hers. She followed my slow breathing until she fell asleep. I quickly but quietly put her room back together the best I could. It was too late for some of the picture frames. I wasn’t sure I wanted to leave her, but the sound of the car door announced my mom was home.

I hurried up the stairs and into the bathroom. I heard the front door open and plastic grocery bags rubbing together. I walked to the wall farthest from the door and sank to the floor. The bathroom was the only place I’d lose my calm. At least for a little while. The performance at Carnegie Hall came faster than any of us could have imagined. We were the finale and sang in front of the biggest audience I’d ever seen. The hall was beautiful. The seats and carpets were red and the ceiling had intricate designs lined in gold. We sang “Mozart’s Mass in C Major” in Latin. Even though our performance was well over thirty minutes, it went by fast. After the unbelievable thunder of applause from our thousand-plus audience, we left the stage. Our teacher clapped for us as we walked backstage, practically jumping up and down with joy. Once everyone was back, Mr. Thye gave a speech on how well we did and how proud he was. My teacher went around to us individually to say how proud she was, too. “What necklace are you wearing?” she asked me. I looked down at the pendant my hand had been, and still was, locked around. I moved my hand so she could see. “Oh! That’s so lovely,” she said, picking it up with her fingers to examine it. I thanked her and looked down at it too. I walked awkwardly in the black, one-inch heels I was supposed to wear when I sang in New York. My mom laughed at my attempts. I wasn’t used to heels. I was terrified of falling on my face at the performance. My mom snapped a few pictures of me in my dress once I found balance. Well, found it for standing still at least. Aunt Pat came hobbling in wearing her pink nightgown


with her hands behind her back. Her skin had started to turn yellow. “You look so beautiful,” she said, smiling. “But you’re missing something.” She brought her hands into view, holding a small box wrapped in silver. I looked at her curiously and carefully removed the paper. I was never one to tear the wrapping paper off gifts. I lifted the top half, and inside the box was a beautiful necklace. I pulled it out of the box by its long, silver chain. Hanging on the chain was a round, silver cage. Inside, a pearl was delicately encased. I didn’t normally do jewelry, but this was beautiful and I could actually see myself wearing it instead of throwing it in the jewelry box I never opened unless I was throwing something new in. “It’s so beautiful,” I said, taking a step forward to gently hug her. “Thank you.”

Hanging on the chain was a round, silver cage. Inside, a pearl was delicately encased. “I’m so proud of you. Think of me when you’re up there singing. You get to do all the things I’ve always wanted to. I’d give anything to be there with you.” She pulled out of our embrace and touched my cheek with her dry, papery hand. I wished that, too. I jolted awake. Every part of my body was fully awake and on edge. It was still dark. I rubbed my eyes and looked over at the clock. 5:57 am. 3:57 back home. Something felt wrong. I was anxious. I carefully got out of bed. I didn’t want to wake Jamie. I grabbed my phone off the nightstand and walked over to the window which had a sill big enough for someone to sit. I sent a text to my mom, asking if everything was okay. I leaned

Creative Nonfiction



Creative Nonfiction my head against the cold window while I waited for her response. It was true that New York never slept. Even then the streets were filled. There was steady traffic and even people were still walking around. My phone lit up in the darkness with a message from my mom. I wondered if I’ d hear from you… On our way to the hospital. Pat’s real sick. I think pneumonia. Pneumonia. That was the killer. In the last year I had lost two relatives. They were elderly, but the cause of death was pneumonia, bringing the count up to five people I’d lost to that wicked infection. I felt my chest close up, like my body was responding to something it was allergic to. The alarm would go off at six-fifteen. We were leaving New York that day. I got off the window sill and grabbed my bag before going into the bathroom. I took a short shower. The showers were loud there. I was thankful for that. When I got out my eyes were swollen and red, not quite dried out yet. I could hear the girls talking through the closed door. I didn’t want them to know. I got out my dark purple and black makeup and applied generously to my eyes. My makeup had been my mask for the last three months. Anyone that asked, I would say my eyes were red from getting makeup in them. That day wouldn’t be an exception.

Conceptions Southwest

I felt my chest close up, like my body was responding to something it was allergic to.

a chord that I had created; I preferred it to the written ending. My aunt clapped behind me. She always liked to listen to me play. I got up from the creaky piano bench and sat in front of her with my legs crossed. She sat on a white chair. The afternoon light spilled through the curtains as she told me to never stop making music. Our conversation fell into a momentary lapse of comfortable silence. Just for a few minutes. “Why do you wear that dark makeup? And so thick on your pretty eyes,” Pat asked, pushing my hair out of my eyes. “I like it that way.” I shrugged. “Besides, I hate my eyes.” “Why would you say such a thing?” she scolded “They’re the color of dog poo.” Her eyes widened at my statement. “They are not!” “What color is dog poo?” “…brown.” “I rest my case.” “They are not, Janelle Rene. They’re dark and mysterious and have a beautiful shape.” “They’re crappy eyes. Like, almost literally.” “I think you’re just hiding them.” “Hiding their crappiness, yes.” “No. Hiding them because they’re windows to the soul and you don’t want anyone seeing that,” she said. I didn’t say anything. She knew me better than I realized, better than most people did. “Well I love them, they calm me,” she said, smiling and pushing my hair aside again.

My fingers went across the keys, harmonizing together into the song that had been my favorite to play for a few years, “Oh the Deep, Deep Love of Jesus.” It wasn’t the exact hymn, but a beautifully dark version of it. I could enjoy it even with my faltering faith at that time. I finished on

Jamie and I walked through the stores in the airport while we waited for the last ten minutes to pass, then we’d be headed home. We stopped in one that had all kinds of souvenirs. Jamie was looking through them all. I walked up and down the aisles, not really looking for anything.

A pile of “I ♥ NY” bears caught my eye. I picked up a tie-dye one that I would never consider. Underneath that was a pink one. I took it to the register. It didn’t leave my sight the entire flight home. “Are you going to get souvenirs?” Pat asked me, her voice shaking. She was in pain. I shrugged and helped her get her legs into bed. “You should get something. Get something that says ‘I ♥ NY’ on it.” “Maybe I will,” I said, pulling her pink comforter over her shaking body. I knelt down next to her bed and took her hand in both of mine. Her hands were papery, yellow, and ice cold. Mine were usually cold too but they had nothing on hers. I set my head on the bed and made my breathing soft, creating a slow tempo. She matched her breathing with mine. I closed my eyes and waited for her to fall asleep. I looked over at her sleeping form. Even in sleep she whimpered in pain. “I’m sorry I can’t make it better,” I whispered, putting my lips to her forehead. I sat in the waiting room of the hospital, hunched over and dangling the New York bear by its arms. It was 4:47 pm, March 12. The bear was for Pat but she wanted me to hold on to it because she was convinced the hospital staff was stealing her things. I had been home for a week. That week had been spent going from school to the hospital. Her pneumonia got worse. At six-twenty, the room was filled with family. The doctor told us this was it. We were circled around the room. My mom sat next to Pat’s bed and held her hand. My mom’s other sister did the same on Pat’s other side. Pat seemed to be


sleeping. My dad prayed. Everyone was crying except my brothers and me. Watching and listening to the monitor only made the anxiety worse but I couldn’t stop. Her breathing went from slow to labored and back again. I kept my breathing with hers but she didn’t keep hers with mine like she had before. I still held a small ounce of hope. The beeps got further and further apart until one didn’t stop. Her breathing stopped. Mine did too. The release of air just brought a release of grief. The doctor came in and pronounced time of death: 6:27 pm, May 12, 2007. Cause of death: cirrhosis of the liver and pneumonia.

I sat at my piano six months after Pat passed. There were notes I had been hearing in my head since I lost her. I sat at my piano six months after Pat passed. There were notes I had been hearing in my head since I lost her. My fingers flew over the keys and made the melody I had become so familiar with. I ended the song and left my hands on the keys. My mom peeked in from the kitchen. “What song was that? You’ve been working on it for a while.” She dried a plastic bowl with a kitchen towel. There was pause before I could respond. “It’s mine.” I looked over at her. She stopped drying the bowl. “It’s lovely… it’s sad.” She smiled at me and walked back into the kitchen. I looked at my piano in the corner of the wood where I used to see a reflection of Pat sitting in the chair behind me. I smiled lightly at the memory and started playing again.

Creative Nonfiction



Visual Art

Conceptions Southwest

Papercut, 7" x 7"

Halo Valerie Rangel

Nobody Just Passes Through Amy Zuverink

Down old Route 66 these days, off San Mateo and Central, Cars flash their headlights at night and no neon flirts back, Only Walmarts and Autozones and drunks Who only flirt with Jack and Mary. A sign behind the #66 bus stop marks the spot Where backward motels begged to pay you to stay. But now the only tenants are tumbleweeds that never pay their tab, Getting kicked up by the wind and shooed back east Toward Texas and Chicago. That rusted-out sign still stands, the papering long since peeled. No more $30 a night with a free continental breakfast. Now all the sign reads is


Striking out in blue, the shade shared by uranium and hospital pajamas, The letters fall down into the dust, Washed out even in color-corrected photos. Glimmering squares of light from the past Filter in through dusty sunlight And grimy public transit windows, Exposing the image of a huddled-down man Looking out across the Sandias at noon.




Contributor Biographies Anna Adams The Monster Inside — Poetry, p.23 Faceless — Short Fiction, p.84 Anna Adams is double majoring in English and German and plans to graduate December 2014. Anna was first inspired to write by her grandmother, Lois Miller Adams.

Cathy Cook Now I Am Awake — Poetry, p.89 Winter — Poetry, p.54 Cathy Cook originally hails from Las Cruces, New Mexico and is in her first year at the University of New Mexico. She is currently pursuing a degree in English.

Linnea Burleigh Simple Knots — Poetry, p.22 Created Things — Poetry, p.43 the waiting sill — Poetry, p.59 Linnea writes for whimsicality and beauty, hoping to make the ordinary extraordinary and the small be great. She has been previously published by Conceptions Southwest.

Dillon Cullinan Sophie — Photography, p.2 Dive — Short Film, p.69 Dillon Cullinan is a writer, director, and video editor from Los Angeles, California. He also works with photography and has curated art shows. His works often focus on detachment, vulnerability, chaos, and the bizarre. He is currently studying film at unm.

Tori Cárdenas Calderas — Poetry, p.1 Northern New Mexico — Poetry, p.58 Glowworms — Short Fiction, p.25 Tori Cárdenas is from Taos, New Mexico. She graduates May 2014 with a double major in history and creative writing. When she isn’t writing, she enjoys giving snacks to her sugar glider, watching Buffy, and playing guitar.

Marne Elmore Atmospheric Sensibility — Visual Art, p.13 Marne Elmore was born in Oregon and grew up in Bellevue, Idaho. She attended Oregon State University where she received a Bachelor of Fine Arts in visual art. Currently, Elmore is finishing up her Master of Fine Arts degree at the University of New Mexico with an emphasis in printmaking.

Shannon Casey Twins — Photography, p.61 Old Friends — Photography, p.72 Shannon Casey is an intermittent traveler, photographer, musician, writer, and, of course, student. Family road trips to over twenty u.s. national parks marked the start of her wanderlust and she has been exploring ever since.

Michael Foust Luminarias with Ice — Photography, p.35 Michael Foust’s photography presents the unique light playing in the Southwest. He incorporates the uniqueness of landscapes, and likes to emphasize the oneness of structures and light. He is influenced by Southwestern architecture, beautiful scenery, and fashion.

David M. Castillo Marring Maiden — Poetry, p.82 Staff Choice Award Honestly — Poetry, p.37 David M. Castillo is a junior at the University of New Mexico majoring in English with a focus in creative writing and a minor in history.

Jesse Furr Hound — Visual Art, p.20 Jesse has been drawing ever since he was able to pick up a pencil, which, in turn, has led him to pursue a career in his two passions, graphic design and illustration. Yvonne Emiliana Gandert Encoded Gift of Gab — Visual Art, p.60 Deltron the Mastermind — Visual Art, p.19 Yvonne Gandert is pursuing a dual ba in strategic communications and studio art. Her media of choice is paper, ink, and graphite, and her work is frequently inspired by surrealism, photorealism, graffiti art, and politically or socially critical artwork. dna

Veronica Chavez Leetso — Poetry, p.56 Veronica was born and raised in Albuquerque. She received her ba in Geography and Environmental Studies from the University of Colorado. She is a second-year graduate student in the Geography and Environmental Studies program at unm.

Junfu Han Portrait of the Chimayo Souls 1 — Photography, p.44 Staff Choice Award Portrait of the Chimayo Souls 2 — Photography, p.45 Portrait of the Chimayo Souls 3 — Photography, p.46 Portrait of the Chimayo Souls 4 — Photography, p.47 Junfu Han graduated from unm with an ma in Art Education December 2013. He is now working on a year—long photojournalism internship with, a large online news organization in Michigan. Han is a native of Hangzhou, China. Lauren Hawk Do Not Urine Here — Creative Nonfiction, p.3 Lauren Hawk is pursuing her undergraduate degree in English and creative writing at unm. She is a co-founder and director of the Albuquerque Aerialist Collective, where she performs and teaches aerial fabrics and stiltwalking. Zach Hively No Magpie — Short Fiction, p.18 Staff Choice Award Zach Hively is a fiction writer, social commentator, craft beer blogger, and work-for-hire editor. His short fiction appears in several publications, and his nonfiction runs regularly in the Durango Telegraph and the New Mexico Mercury. Hively’s work can be found online at and @ZachHively. Paula Hughson Opium Calls in New Mexico — Poetry, p.70 Paula Hughson was born in Barranquilla, Colombia and has lived in Albuquerque since 1985. As she nears completion of a career in psychiatry, she considers herself fortunate to be pursuing an mfa in creative writing, in answer to a long-cherished calling to express the beauty and richness of the world that surrounded her in the tropics and continues to astound her. Her work has been published in Best Student Essays. Janelle Hunt Music and a Pearl — Creative Nonfiction, p.91 Staff Choice Award Janelle graduated from unm December 2013 with a Bachelor’s in biology and English. She plans to go into research and continue writing. She hopes to have more works published in the future. Navida Johnson Polychrome Portico — Photography, p.12 del Sol Breeze — Visual Art, p.9 November Dusk — Visual Art, p.65 Navida Johnson is a junior enrolled in the University of New Mexico’s School of Architecture and Planning. She will complete her Bachelor of Arts in environmental planning and design in 2015. Navida has a simple philosophy: “Design life… shape your environment.”

Joanna Keane Roots — Visual Art, p.16 Joanna Keane is currently a senior at unm acquiring a Bachelor of Arts in art studio and is also involved in the New Mexico Musical Heritage program at unm — making violins and learning traditional New Mexican tunes. Anya Kubilus Paperman — Photography, p.83 Anya Kubilus is a portrait and lifestyle photographer from the small town of Freeport, Illinois, who found herself in the desert landscape five years ago. She is always trying to find her way back home. Frank Liebert Midnight Clockwork — Visual Art, p.17 Of Beak and Bone — Visual Art, p.55 Frank Liebert is a multidisciplinary artist. He describes his creative process as a method of discovery, both internally and externally, and not as an attempt at expression. Robert Maestas Smokescreen Erotica — Visual Art, p.24 crowMagnon — Visual Art, p.68 Robert is a twenty-one-year-old illustrator and painter interested in the juxtaposition of the modern man’s struggle with childlike compositions. He is inspired by everyday problems and the complications of existing sanely in the modern age without losing oneself. Scratching out the final product in a tumultuous but careful way is his chosen method of production. Kelly McCarthy Old City, New Faces — Photography, p.64 Kelly McCarthy is currently working toward her ph d in sociology at the University of New Mexico. Her photographs have been published in several magazines, including the fine art and literary magazines Scribendi and Conceptions Southwest and the Australian magazine Etzcetera. Jacob Moffitt Ok Cupid, That’s Enough — Creative Nonfiction, p.73 Jacob Moffitt is a 3rd year bba marketing student pursuing a minor in professional writing. He spends most of his time fixing his bicycle and brewing beer. This is his first time seeing his creative work in print. Carlene Moya Germaphobe — Visual Art, p.36 Staff Choice Award Lonesome Lily — Visual Art, p.81 Born and raised in Albuquerque, nm, Carlene Moya has pursued her love of art and continues to build up her portfolio whilst attending unm as an undergraduate student. She will graduate with her ba in studio art May 2014.

Paul D. Phillips Scorched — Visual Art, p.57 Cover Art Paul is Diné and lives with his wife and kids in Albuquerque. He attributes his love for the arts and talents to his late mother and father. He enjoys realist art and landscape paintings. Valerie Rangel Halo — Visual Art, p.98 Valerie Rangel enjoys the simplicity of cutting paper and has chosen a silhouette style to create fine-art, hand-crafted papercuts encapsulated between two pieces of glass or plexi; she refers to them as “windows of perception.” Atsuko Sakai The End of a Shore Dinner — Visual Art, p.90 Whale No. 1 — Visual Art, p.62 Atsuko holds an M.Arch. from unm and has worked at architecture firms in dc and nm for ten-plus years. She teaches at unm (the Honors College and School of Architecture) to share the joy of designing with people of all ages! Dené Shelton After Vegetation — Poetry, p.14 Water — Poetry, p.71 Dené Shelton is a graduate student in English at the University of New Mexico, where she teaches as well. Her primary genre is creative nonfiction, and she is currently focused on the publication of a book-length memoir entitled Taut. Harold F. Specter Rising Sun in Copper — Visual Art, p.21 Specter is currently a senior in the College of Fine Arts at the University of New Mexico. He owes special thanks to the mentors who propel him to achieve great things: Valdis Garoza, Michael Ceschiat, and Scott Anderson. He would like to thank them for their support as he pursues his dream of creating meaningful expressions through art. M. Brianna Stallings That Kind of Cold — Creative Nonfiction, p.66 M. Brianna Stallings is a creative writing major at unm. Stallings is the 2013 undergraduate recipient of the Hillerman/McGarrity Endowed Scholarship in creative writing. In addition, she is also a freelance writer for the Weekly Alibi.

Devon Stevens Garden Riddles — Poetry, p.10 Sor Juana — Poetry, p.87 Devon Stevens is an English major. His interests include silly stories and occasional poems about spiders. Sarah J. Tario Behind the Glass — Short Fiction, p.48 Sarah is a full-time mom, wife, student, and wannabe writer living in the East Mountain area with her family. She received a degree in creative writing in 2013 and is currently working on a Master’s in education at unm. Nancy Thomas Weep a Little — Poetry, p.63 Everyday Love — Poetry, p.8 As a retired early childhood educator, Nancy Thomas continues to consult and advocate on behalf of young children. Her poems have appeared in several editions of Conceptions Southwest and in a Harwood anthology. Emperatriz Ung Desert Lotus — Creative Nonfiction, p.38 Emperatriz was born and raised in Southern California and graduated from Central New Mexico Community College in 2010 with a degree in liberal arts. In 2012 she was a recipient of the Benjamin A. Gilman International Scholarship and participated in a Chinese language intensive program at Sichuan University in Chengdu, China. She now studies English literature and creative writing at the University of New Mexico. Marcus Zúñiga The Hunt — Photography, p.88 Marcus Zúñiga was born in 1990 in Silver City, nm. His work investigates the New Mexican space and its relation to the structure and order of the universe in the pursuit of understanding his personal identity and destiny. Amy Zuverink Analyzing Bukowski Naked — Poetry, p.34 Nobody Just Passes Through — Poetry, p.99 Amy Zuverink is currently a junior at the University of New Mexico. She is majoring in theatre and minoring in English with an unofficial emphasis on creative writing. She primarily studies and writes poetry.

Submission Guidelines All submissions will be due by November 17, 2014. We will be accepting submissions for consideration in the 2015 edition of our magazine starting August 2014. For questions, please email us at or go to our website at Who Can Submit: Any unm undergraduate, graduate, or continuing education student; alumni; faculty; or staff. What to Submit: We accept Short Fiction, Creative Nonfiction, Poetry, Scripts and Screenplays, Photography, Visual Art, Music and Composition, and Short Films. Submissions may be in any language, but an English translation must be provided if not in English. All photographs and art submissions must be in 300 dpi. For questions on how to ensure your submission meets these requirements, please contact us at How to Submit: Visit our website,, for guidelines and instructions on how to submit. To submit, go to or contact us at to request a paper copy. Please note that electronic submissions are preferred.

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