Cover Images: Excerpts from photographs taken in various locations by Mae Remme, Justin Hermann, Allison Joseph, & Jon Tribble © 2014
ISSN 1083-5571 $14.00
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Crab Orchard Review
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CR AB ORCH AR D
published by the Department of English
Christine Kitano Karen An-hwei Lee Jeffrey Thomas Leong Terry Lucas Diane Kirsten Martin David Mason Rajiv Mohabir Jed Myers Ife-Chudeni A. Oputa Elizabeth Parsons Candace Pearson Kevin Phan Vanesha Pravin Maxine Scates Martha Silano Kirby Anne Snell Rebecca Starks Kenny Tanemura Lynne Thompson Sevé Torres Marianne Villanueva Waimea Williams Mimi Wong William Kelley Woolfitt Russell Working Maya Jewell Zeller
Volume 19, Number 2 Summer/Fall 2014
Aliki Barnstone Lucy Jane Bledsoe Gloria Brown Lauren Camp April Christiansen Alex Collins-Shotwell Elizabeth Costello Anne Elliott Mirri Glasson-Darling John Glowney Tom Griffen Debra Gwartney Vanessa Hua Leah Huizar Rochelle Hurt Esteban Ismael
Crab Orchard Review
In this volume:
The West Coast
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A B ORCH AR R C D •
A Journal of Creative Works
Vol. 19 No. 2
“Hidden everywhere, a myriad leather seed-cases lie in wait…” —“Crab Orchard Sanctuary: Late October” Thomas Kinsella Editor & Poetry Editor Allison Joseph
Founding Editor Richard Peterson
Prose Editor Carolyn Alessio
Managing Editor Jon Tribble
Editorial Intern Desiree Young
Assistant Editors Emily Rose Cole Loren Elise Foster M. Brett Gaffney Austin Kodra Zach Macholz Philip Martin Alyssha Nelson Staci R. Schoenfeld
SIU Press Interns Austin Kodra Philip Martin Board of Advisors Ellen Gilchrist Charles Johnson Rodney Jones Thomas Kinsella Richard Russo
Summer/Fall 2014 ISSN 1083-5571
Special Projects Assistant Cole Bucciaglia
The Department of English Southern Illinois University Carbondale
Address all correspondence to:
Crab Orchard Review
Department of English Faner Hall 2380 - Mail Code 4503 Southern Illinois University Carbondale 1000 Faner Drive Carbondale, Illinois 62901 Crab Orchard Review (ISSN 1083-5571) is published twice a year by the Department of English, Southern Illinois University Carbondale. Subscription rates in the United States for individuals are $25 for one year, $40 for two years, $50 for three years; the foreign rate for individuals is $40 for one year. Subscription rates for institutions are $28 for one year, $56 for two years, and $84 for three years; the foreign rate for institutions is $48 for one year. Single issues are $12 (please include an additional $10 for international orders). Copies not received will be replaced without charge if notice of nonreceipt is given within four months of publication. Six weeks notice required for change of address. POSTMASTER: Send address changes to Crab Orchard Review, Department of English, Faner Hall 2380 Mail Code 4503, Southern Illinois University Carbondale, 1000 Faner Drive, Carbondale, Illinois 62901. Crab Orchard Review considers submissions from February through April, and August through October of each year. Please visit our website, CrabOrchardReview.siu.edu, for the latest guidelines, calls for submissions, and contest information. Most of our submissions are now through CrabOrchardReview.submittable.com, so please do not send submissions via postal mail unless you are certain we are open for postal submissions at that time. Crab Orchard Review accepts no responsibility for unsolicited submissions and will not enter into correspondence about their loss or delay. Copyright © 2014 Crab Orchard Review Permission to reprint materials from this journal remains the decision of the authors. We request Crab Orchard Review be credited with initial publication. The publication of Crab Orchard Review is made possible with support from the Chancellor, the College of Liberal Arts, and the Department of English of Southern Illinois University Carbondale; and through generous private and corporate donations. “Printed by the authority of the State of Illinois,” 27 June 2014, 3900 copies printed, order number 114043. Lines from Thomas Kinsella’s poem “Crab Orchard Sanctuary: Late October” are reprinted from Thomas Kinsella: Poems 1956-1973 (North Carolina: Wake Forest University Press, 1979) and appear by permission of the author. Crab Orchard Review is indexed in Humanities International Complete. Visit Crab Orchard Review’s website:
Crab Orchard Review and its staff wish to thank these supporters for their generous contributions, aid, expertise, and encouragement: Barb Martin, Karl Kageff, Amy J. Etcheson, Bridget Brown, Lynanne Page, Angela Moore-Swafford, Wayne Larsen, and Kristine Priddy of Southern Illinois University Press Heidi Estel, Patty Norris, Joyce Schemonia, and Kelly Spencer Abby Allen, Shaylin Carlton, Kevin Savoie, and Savannah Broadway Dr. K.K. Collins (chair), Pinckney Benedict, Beth Lordan, Judy Jordan, Scott Blackwood, and the rest of the faculty in the SIUC Department of English Division of Continuing Education SIU Alumni Association The Graduate School The College of Liberal Arts The OfďŹ ce of the Vice Chancellor for Academic Affairs and Provost The Southern Illinois Writers Guild
Crab Orchard Review is supported, in part, by a grant from the Illinois Arts Council, a state agency.
Crab Orchard Review wishes to express its special thanks to our generous Charter Members/Benefactors, Patrons, Donors, and Supporting Subscribers listed on the following page whose contributions make the publication of this journal possible. We invite new Benefactors ($500 or more), Patrons ($200), Donors ($100), and Supporting Subscribers ($50) to join us. Supporting Subscribers receive a one-year subscription; Donors receive a two-year subscription; Patrons receive a three-year subscription; and Benefactors receive a lifetime subscription. Address all contributions to:
Crab Orchard Review Department of English Faner Hall 2380 - Mail Code 4503 Southern Illinois University Carbondale 1000 Faner Drive Carbondale, Illinois 62901
CHARTER MEMBERS*/BENEFACTORS Rodney Jones Richard Jurek Joseph A. Like Greg & Peggy Legan* Beth L. Mohlenbrock* Jane I. Montgomery* Ruth E. Oleson* Richard “Pete” Peterson Peggy Shumaker
Carolyn Alessio & Jeremy Manier Pinckney & Laura Benedict Edward Brunner & Jane Cogie* Linda L. Casebeer Dwayne Dickerson* Jack Dyer* Joan Ferrell* John Guyon* John M. Howell*
PATRONS Diann Blakely Robert E. Hayes Kent Haruf Chris Kelsey Jesse Lee Kercheval Lisa J. McClure
Anita Peterson Eugenie & Roger Robinson Nat Sobel Betty & Ray Tribble David & Laura Tribble Clarisse Zimra
DONORS Lorna Blake Chris Bullard Heidi Czerwiec Charles Fanning Jewell A. Friend John & Nancy Jackson Reamy Jansen Rob & Melissa Jensen Elisabeth & Jon Luther
Charlotte and Gabriel Manier Lee Newton William Notter Lisa Ortiz Ricardo Pau-Llosa Lucia Perillo Angela Rubin Hans H. Rudnick William E. Simeone
SUPPORTING SUBSCRIBERS Serge & Joan Alessio Joanna Christopher K.K. Collins Corrine Frisch John & Robin Haller Zdena Heller Karen Hunsaker Lee Lever
Charlotte McLeod Peggy & Albert Melone Nadia Reimer Lee Robinson Catherine Rudnick Peter Rutkoff Victoria Weisfeld
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Summer/Fall 2014 Allison Joseph and Jon Tribble
Volume 19, Number 2 Editors’ Prologue: Where Are We Going, Where Have We Been?
Fiction Lucy Jane Bledsoe Alex Collins-Shotwell
The House on the Coast
The Pacific Madrona
Vanessa Hua Elizabeth Parsons
Bend Over Backwards
Mimi Wong Russell Working
The Day Job
Nonfiction Prose Debra Gwartney
Sacred Valley, Modern Times
Poetry Aliki Barnstone
In the Workshop
Laying Irrigation Pipe in the Fruit Orchard Before Dawn
Lauren Camp April Christiansen
Riding the Rope Swing on Billy Goat Hill
Kalakala The Great Seattle Fire, June 6, 1889
Twelve Twenty-One Twelve, Nevada City
John Glowney Map Making Protest Out on Turnigan Arm, Resurrection Bay The Whale Skeleton at Long Beach, Washington
35 37 39
Hominy Santa Monica
from The Gold Letters [The evening before you left, I watched you] [Lydia, I wait for gold to spill over] [Another dream, your hands full of gold rocks] [I am still as the stones on the floor]
Esteban Ismael Christine Kitano
Lucky Come Hawaiâ€˜i
49 50 51 52
Karen An-hwei Lee
Horses of War, Horses of Hysteria Meditation on San Joaquin Hills Prayer for a Woman Named Xochitl
80 82 84
Jeffrey Thomas Leong
Browsing the Walls at the Angel Island Immigration Station, I Seek the Lost Tones of the Heungshan Dialect At the Makai Market Food Court
Diane Kirsten Martin
Through Her Lens Amaknak
On the Occasion of Her Majesty Queen Lili‘uokalani’s Birthday Acridotheres tristis Rhincodon typus Indo-Queer Windward-Side
118 119 120 122
Ife-Chudeni A. Oputa
Portrait of Memory with Drought
Outside Tehachapi Prison
Some Things Which Filled Us with a Sense of Loitering
Sleep, Wake, Sleep
This Highway’s a Ribbon,
Kirby Anne Snell
Geography Lesson Island Funeral
Examination of Mono Lake
Evacuation Day Great Depression
Lynne Thompson Red Jasper Shasta
Papi Stands at the San Juan Airport The Blood Back Home Sonnet: Puerto Rican History
204 206 208
William Kelley Woolfitt
Internees at Manzanar, 1942 (iii) Paiute Woman at Manzanar, 1935
Maya Jewell Zeller
Another Dream for Jessica Margaux Magnolia
A Note on Our Cover The ten photographs on the cover are by Mae Remme, Justin Hermann, Allison Joseph, and Jon Tribble. The photographs are of locations in Alaska, California, Oregon, Washington D.C., and Washington State. Details about the photographs are available on Crab Orchard Review’s Facebook Page:
Announcements We would like to congratulate three of our recent contributors, Kristine S. Ervin, Jim Fairhall, and Corey Morris. Kritine S. Ervin’s nonfiction piece “Cleaving To” and Jim Fairhall’s nonfiction piece “Núi Khê Revisited,” which both appeared in Crab Orchard Review, Volume 17, Number 1 (Winter/Spring 2012), and Corey Morris’s nonfiction piece “Carp River,” which appeared in Crab Orchard Review, Volume 17, Number 2 (Summer/Fall 2012), our special issue, “Due North,” were all selected as Notable Essays of 2012 for The Best American Essays 2013, by series editor Robert Atwan.
The 2014 COR Special Issue Feature Awards in Poetry, Fiction, and Literary Nonfiction We are pleased to announce the winners of the 2014 COR Special Issue Feature Awards in Poetry, Fiction, and Literary Nonfiction. The winners were selected by the editors of Crab Orchard Review. In poetry, our winner is Terry Lucas of Mill Valley, California, for his poem “Contra Costa.” In fiction, the winner is Russell Working of Oak Park, Illinois, for his story “The Day Job.” And in literary nonfiction, the winner is Debra Gwartney of Finn Rock, Oregon, for her essay “Her Hair.” The winner in each genre category—Poetry, Fiction, and Literary Nonfiction—is published in this issue and received a $2000.00 award. All entries were asked fit the topic of the Summer/Fall 2014 special issue, “The West Coast & Beyond,” focusing on writing exploring the people, places, history, and changes shaping these U.S. States, Commonwealths, and Territories: California, Oregon, Washington, Alaska, Hawai’i, Puerto Rico, American Samoa, Guam, the Northern Mariana Islands, the United States Virgin Islands, and other areas which have been a part of the United States beyond the Lower 48 States (excepting those States listed here). Visit us online. Crab Orchard Review’s website has information on subscriptions, calls for submissions and guidelines, contest information and results, and past, current, and future issues:
The Winners of the 2014 COR Special Issue Feature Awards in Poetry, Fiction, and Literary Nonfiction
2014 Special Issue Feature Award Winner in Poetry
“Contra Costa” by Terry Lucas (Mill Valley, California)
2014 Special Issue Feature Award Winner in Fiction
“The Day Job” by Russell Working (Oak Park, Illinois)
2014 Special Issue Feature Award Winner in Literary Nonfiction
“Her Hair” by Debra Gwartney (Finn Rock, Oregon)
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Allison Joseph and Jon Tribble
Editors’ Prologue: Where Are We Going, Where Have We Been? This publishing journey began five years ago in Illinois, or,
putting things more accurately, the journey began about Illinois. Crab Orchard Review would reach its fifteenth year of publication in 2010, but the year before was a very challenging time for our university, the state of Illinois, and the arts in general across the country as the effects of the economic downturn of the three preceding years had taken their toll on all levels of funding and fundraising. With an uncertain future ahead of the magazine, our editor-in-chief and poetry editor, Allison Joseph, decided that if 2009 could be the last year we would be able to put together an issue of Crab Orchard Review, then the magazine we would produce would be a tribute to the vitality of contemporary writing about and from the state of Illinois, and our special issue “Land of Lincoln” was conceived. Our prose editor, Carolyn Alessio, was born in the Chicago suburbs and lives in the city itself today, and she wrote in the “Editor’s Prologue” of the issue of two of Chicago’s literary giants, Carl Sandburg and Gwendolyn Brooks, and of the pull the state experiences to this day between the rural and urban visions that shape the people, the politics, and the land itself. She also examined the erasure of both city and country that takes place in the suburbs and wrote of the struggle to continue to preserve history where to fight against a “paved-over sense of place” demands digging beyond the surface of a story. There was great satisfaction in completing our issue “Land of Lincoln: Writing about and from Illinois,” and there was even greater relief as it became apparent that Crab Orchard Review would be able to plan for a future beyond our fifteenth year. The next place that captured our imagination was the American South. At this point, we were still thinking a year at a time in our planning, and the idea for a “Southern” issue was Allison’s Crab Orchard Review
Allison Joseph and Jon Tribble – Editors’ Prologue suggestion. She felt after the immersion in the Midwest that came with working on the “Land of Lincoln” issue that a trip down South would be intriguing and informative, and it would reflect Crab Orchard Review’s mission to publish diverse voices. Our idea of “Old & New: Re-Visions of the American South” brought us just that, and the range of explorations in the work we received and were able to publish refreshed many ideas about the South of the past and the present. Our managing editor, Jon Tribble, was born in Little Rock, Arkansas, and grew up just outside the city only a few years after the unrest at Central High in 1957, when some of the worst of the hatred and cowardice and some of the best of the strength and courage of the South was on display. In his “Editor’s Prologue,” he wrote of this legacy and of the connections through family history to the Confederacy and the way suspicion and landscape and story are as inescapable today in the South as they have ever been. By the midway point of our editorial work on the “Southern” issue, we realized that if we were going to make it to our twentieth year then we only had three more special issues before we had to think about a twentieth-year special issue in 2015. So we considered the possibility of making our 2012, 2013, and 2014 special issues into a kind of anthology exploring the United States of America and its regions as subject. Of course, how those regions could be defined can be endlessly debated—New England, Mid-Atlantic, Appalachian Highlands, Southeast, Midwest, Heartland, Southwest, Mountain, Pacific Coast, Alaska, and Hawai‘i would be just one of many possibilities—and we had three remaining issues to work with for our “American” anthology. After some discussion, we decided the final three issues would encompass what we would title “the North” (roughly a counterpoint to the “South” of the Confederacy), “Prairies, Plains, Mountains, Deserts” (or what we would often refer to as “the Big Middle”), and, finally, “the West Coast & Beyond” (California, Oregon, Washington, Alaska, Hawai‘i, commonwealths, territories, and areas of U.S. occupation, if writers decided to explore those in their works). We knew these were not necessarily traditional regions, but we were curious how these divisions would present us with unexpected discoveries when published together.
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Allison Joseph and Jon Tribble – Editors’ Prologue The “North” presented us with some peculiar problems. It seemed early on in the process of receiving submissions for the “Due North” issue that everyone was defining “North” by the weather and we saw more snowy landscapes in poems, stories, and essays than the worst winter outside of the polar regions. The “North” was also predominantly being defined as purely rural, as if Detroit and Rochester and Cleveland and Milwaukee didn’t exist. To change this among the submissions, we put out specific calls asking for work about the many cities that exist across the region. We also found it helpful to call for submissions about three specific states—Delaware, Connecticut, and Rhode Island— when we realized that we were reading very few submissions which mentioned these states in any way. Our editor and poetry editor, Allison Joseph, explored the challenges that came with putting together the “Due North” issue in her “Editor’s Prologue.” She wrote, “Like many of the writers in this issue, I am a product of this undefined region,” and she went on to detail her particular experiences from growing up in the Bronx, New York, attending college in Gambier, Ohio, and her life in Carbondale, Illinois. As she wrote: Perhaps my personal story illustrates there is no “true North,” which is why this issue is titled “Due North” instead. We wanted to go beyond placid snowy New England landscapes to see what else writers had on their minds. The submissions for the “Prairies, Plains, Mountains, Deserts” issue did not surprise us when, at first, we found ourselves reading quite a bit about all four landscapes usually devoid of people and often in places which, if a particular location’s names or landmarks or flora or fauna were not included, could have been anywhere across the thousands and thousands of square miles of “the Big Middle.” There were two things that became very clear from the earliest subsmissions we read: the prairies and plains were lonely and the desert was dry (we’re still not sure why the mountains weren’t characterized in a similar way). But we had learned from our own editorial experiences on the previous “American” anthology issues and, by communicating with the writers about the diverse possibilities we hoped to see represented in the issue, the unique elements of the people, places, histories, and cultures Crab Orchard Review
Allison Joseph and Jon Tribble – Editors’ Prologue became a part of “Prairies, Plains, Mountains, Deserts” in ways beyond our hopes for the issue. Our managing editor, Jon Tribble, once again wrote the “Editor’s Prologue,” and his piece was an exploration of travel through the “flyover states.” But more importantly, the prologue was also a tribute to a dear friend of Crab Orchard Review, the poet, editor, teacher, and scholar Jake Adam York, who had died suddenly on December 16, 2012. The prologue closed with a poem of Jake’s, “Pilgrimage,” that was first published in our 2003 special issue “Taste the World: Writers on Food.” In its opening lines, “Pilgrimage” speaks to the spirit that brought us forward in the journey these issues have been taking us on, the wonder of discovery that for editors means we turn the next page and the next, knowing that with dedication and good fortune we will find something we didn’t exactly know we were looking for but hoped was there. As Jake Adam York wrote: Well off the map, on roads that branch like capillaries into the blanks, we follow the turns of rumor far beyond the interstate’s shoulders, the travel like prayer, so far gone from any place we know… So this brings us now to “The West Coast & Beyond,” our final issue in this “American” anthology that we have come to realize could go on for many more years and still not exhaust itself—just like any living national literature should. We are pleased to present the final edition in this series, an issue full of unique characters—both native to their places and relocated—; landscapes that are urban, suburban, rural, sublime, distressed, lived-in, and resistant; stories and images and music from moments of ending and beginning; and, most of all, a collection of authors bringing their visions of “the West Coast & Beyond” to life through their stories, poems, and essays. Though we did not set out to do so, the four issues that make up Crab Orchard Review’s 2011–2014 “American” anthology—Volume 16, Number 2, “Old & New: Re-Visions of the American South”; Volume 17, Number 2, “Due North”; Volume 18, Number 2, “Prairies, 4 u Crab Orchard Review
Allison Joseph and Jon Tribble – Editors’ Prologue Plains, Mountains, Deserts”; and Volume 19, Number 2, “The West Coast & Beyond”—include at least one story, poem, or essay about, or work by an author born in or living in every one of the fifty states, the District of Columbia, and Puerto Rico. We have always known there is a talented and diverse community of writers and materials to publish all across this country and we are very happy that our experience publishing these four issues further confirmed what we have known these last nineteen years with Crab Orchard Review.
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Aliki Barnstone In the Workshop That was the September when Berkeley was still novel and I took photos of my new Earth: the crowd of us sprawled on the Plaza’s brick because there on the Mario Savio Steps Allen Ginsberg wore a long golden tie, played his harmonium on a plastic chair, and sang “Tyger, tyger burning bright.” A few chosen poets stood around the sage’s throne, each taking his turn, and our friend from the workshop read the poem we already knew was too beautiful and too lacerating, the tracks on their arms a map of shivers, the no-walls sex they’d have anyplace, their glorious climb to Inspiration Point at dawn— the sun orange enough to eat, uneaten oranges in their hands, unoffered in the temple heroin made of their bodies. Then their stroll downhill was more a free-fall or swan song over the Bay— how mesmerizing the waters’ surface where sun-glare whirled with fathomless blues all the way to the Golden Gate and anywhere they’d find to crash—a mat of redwood needles, some friends’ itchy mattress in the flatlands, cardboard laid on concrete below an underpass near the Marina. When he read aloud, I wanted the high to be metaphor—painlessness is a form of radiance, only words, not the body of the poet wasting away. And if underlying his lines we detected disease, we were helpless to address it. If I wanted, I’d remember what I called him clearly 6 u Crab Orchard Review
Aliki Barnstone as his attentive expression and thin body leaning in close as I read my poem—my forgetfulness won’t disturb his state— and if he heard his name he might turn back to Earth from the high place where the dead go.
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Laying Irrigation Pipe in the Fruit Orchard Before Dawn When bent wings of birds quiver above nested chicks, farmhands bend to groaning, straining, labor. Lengths of steel pipe are lifted onto a battered flatbed trailer coupled to a restless tractor. Even shiver of darkness cannot prevent sweat from soaking cotton shirts that cling and clutch work-strong chests and backs. The idling tractor sputters, chuffs, and coughs its readiness to work. It lurches its burden forward and the men follow, forming a quiet processional in the gray incense of exhaust. Each man intones a silent prayer that his work will serve to quench the brown thirst of the fruit trees that march in mute symmetry toward the worldâ€™s barbed-wire edge. Between the ranks of trees, pipe is laid in deep furrows. Pastel light threatens to breech the lip of sentinel hills at attention on the eastern edge of the valley. The race is to finish this task in half-dark. Weathered hands marry one length of pipe to the next, until all are connected to the one source. And the farmer spins the wheel that spills the water 8 u Crab Orchard Review
Gloria Brown just as the sun spreads across the face of this day. Circling in a ceaseless loop, the seasons with their list of chores etch the epitaph deeper into the granite of the farmerâ€™s life.
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Lauren Camp Riding the Rope Swing on Billy Goat Hill We climb wood steps, slow our pace to fog spray, plunk down on ghosted planks while shadows spill and underfill around us. Light turns just enough to shrink and roll away. It is now or 20 years ago, the last time I saw him. At the top of the hill, he says my name so clearly itâ€™s an invasion of privacy. I look down on the alabaster church sitting slack in the dander of light from our vantage point above tabulated hills. It is autumn, a sensible morning. He bunches his body into a rope slung from a vast eucalyptus, and combusts with fumble and need, a man who expects the earth to come towards him and who knows mending comes later if you fly fast enough. What he would have done back then, in youth, is what he did now: spin through rapture. The city rolled by: Diamond Heights to Glen Park and downtown. Did he see it, so fast? He landed, his feet flaking dry dirt, shirt torn at the elbow and ridges of spine â€”and smiled, the way that is both now, and the way I remembered. He rose in the rocks in the hill, with the plait of the rope still sort of around him. Hiking down, back to his house, he was slightly limp but not whining, and we knew 10 u Crab Orchard Review
Lauren Camp we were lucky to be under this generous sun, finally professing light to everyone. We knew the collision was ours. We were easing back on time, which had made us grownups, turned us around, when what we wanted was what we were, where weâ€™d still go, who we might become.
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April Christiansen Kalakala Beyond the sailboats a submarine-shaped hulk lurks. Rust streaks down to water. When it leaves I will fixate on its ghost: The Peralta, the second to last steamship built in San Francisco Bay, melted. Her steel hull was tugged up the coast. She should be more rounded. Warm evenings on the Sound, ladies dance to Joe Bowen on the flying bird, rest in the lounge as seagulls dip past portholes. Perched on a vibrating red stool at the double horseshoe cafĂŠ, a commuter forks sugar-cured ham and potatoes, buys coffee by the half cup. Towed further north, then beached, men secured her with rock and sand, removed her relics: a shrimp cannery, gutted, stagnant in the Land of the Midnight Sun.
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April Christiansen Then the ephemeral drift further back. Restored beyond the sailboats, the submarine-shaped hulk lurks: a figment, buried in the water.
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The Great Seattle Fire, June 6, 1889 Everything take fire. â€”John Back A fitful wind blew through the open windows as the cabinet makers above the paint shop cut box joints, chiseled oak. On the stove, an unwatched glue pot, a stream of black smoke. Shouts. Pitched water. The surface glazed, boiled over. Glue embers tumbled into shavings littering a turpentine-soaked floor, and men grabbed their coats, flew to the stairwell as flames fastened themselves to the buildingâ€™s walls, inching towards the liquor warehouse next door. Glass shattered, the crisp smell of burnt alcohol and paint filled the sidewalks, and a crowd gathered. Hydrants fizzled out, and in the background, the ominous sound of the Opera House, crackling. Smoke darkened the firmament, thickened. Steamboats backed into the bay. In piano showrooms, ebony and ivory disjoined, spruce curled at the edges, and inside, hammers bent, steel wire snapped, re-shaped. On tracks, cable cars went ablaze. Men chucked burning sidewalk over cliffs, ripped up planking in the roadway, and blew up an entire city block, struck it with gunpowder to obstruct the fire, but blocks kept going, each lighting the next. Coffee houses, cigar shops,
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April Christiansen the Times building: a seething cellar of flame. Horses, wild, unmanageable with fear, raced up steep hills, trampled abandoned spokes and smoldering debris. Even the undertakers were at a loss, shuffling their costliest equipment into carts, racing the flames, leaving the already-dead embalmed in their cloth-covered caskets. Near the bucket brigade, the confectioner stuffed his pockets with gumballs, caramels, placed jars of jawbreakers, brittle, and licorice on the street, left trays of candy apples and fudge cooling on racks, to singe. Disoriented rats trapped on rafters never made it out, suffocated or crisped. By the time the fire reached the wharves, an artificial dusk bathed the sky. In the morning, among a mass of ashes, a list of survivors and where they might be found in the heat and dust. Then, before the embers cooled, the bricking in of the remains.
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Elizabeth Costello Twelve Twenty-One Twelve, Nevada City Here are the shops of dresses like dresses of the past, less the corsets of whalebone. Romance is better than history, which tells us much too clearly that pyrite isn’t gold. Let’s rest our ribs against the lace, but trim away what itches. Let their suffering be our glamour— gathered bodice, crinoline, ruffles at the neck. Take that, starvation and pestilence. Our crocheted half-gloves transmit no ague, and our fingertips are free of filth. Let’s don the bonnets but forget to die in childbirth. Nevada City, let’s light the lamps and bank the fires. Twelve twenty-one twelve isn’t the last day, but at least the wind makes fists and boxes off the hot-tub’s lid, setting the twenty-first century steam against sleet like sleet that struck the miners’ faces chilling them and their women to the bone. At night they trimmed the wicks and
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Elizabeth Costello unbound their ribs, but could not unfix their fortunes. Fearing a boundless breath, hard-handed women wept.
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Lucy Jane Bledsoe The House on the Coast One morning I woke up and realized that I could see the end
of my life. It wasn’t hard and fixed, like the crest of a cityscape, but rather it shimmered like a polar horizon. This view of the end was troubling, to say the least, but the shimmer was hope. I had a chance—for something—if I acted quickly. When I told this to a friend, who happened to be a therapist, she gave me a look, something between pity and mirth. “You could be hit by a car tomorrow,” she offered, and it did help, at least for a few days. But then I woke up again, another morning, and looked forward, straight ahead, and saw the days stacking up, the years like a tower of blocks, and me climbing that tower with agility and care, too much care. The goal was supposed to be to keep the tower from toppling. The urge was to kick the whole thing down. The confusing part was that the urge didn’t come from discontent. I liked my life. It was more a physics thing, the pent-up energy in that tower. Or maybe it was nothing more than gravity. Whatever the force, I found I couldn’t ignore it. “At least you didn’t wake up one morning and decide you’re a cockroach,” my therapist friend said. “I’m not the type to go mad,” I told her. “You know that.” My partner of eleven years assumed that there was someone else. Who wouldn’t? We hadn’t had sex in months. We’d even stopped fighting. We came home from work, smiled at each other, made food, went to meetings and read books, and drank wine. Lots of wine. I left. Not her. I didn’t mean to leave her. Not even our life. I left my life. But of course that included her, and our life, so to her it must have felt like I was leaving her. Since that would be unbearable, I did the deed surreptitiously. I packed a few things in a suitcase and rolled it out the door to my car while she was at work. I made it look as if I were going on a mere business trip. Look to whom, I couldn’t say, since the neighbors weren’t watching, or certainly didn’t care. I lifted the suitcase into my car and drove to the coast.
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Lucy Jane Bledsoe When I was fourteen years old, I made the same ninety-mile journey, from Portland to the ocean, on my bicycle. I almost lost my life on that adventure, several times, to speeding log trucks. I’ve taken other risks in my life. I’ve climbed mountains without the proper gear, ingested hallucinatory narcotics, gone home from bars with strangers. Never, though, had the risk felt so great as it did that morning driving away from our home, suitcase in the trunk, my cell phone left on the kitchen table so I wouldn’t be tempted to call or answer. As I slowed through the speed-trap town of Dundee, it occurred to me that she’d think I’d been in a car accident. She’d be calling the police and hospitals by nine o’clock tonight. Quickly, so I could make the call before she got home from work, I swerved off the highway and into a McDonald’s where I used the crusty pay phone on the outside of the building to call our home phone. I said that she shouldn’t worry, that I’d gone on a trip. I paused for way too long, not wanting to just hang up and yet not having a clue what else I could add. So I placed the handset on its holder and disconnected the call. Our friends would tell her I was cruel. The more thoughtful ones would ask if I’d shown signs of a breakdown. Maybe both were true. What I do know is that this leaving felt necessary. There were hawk’s wings in my chest, flapping hard. I had an overabundance of chi. I’d taken a curve too fast and couldn’t straighten out my course. When I got to a sign that said “Oregon Beaches,” I took the exit. My sinuses felt as if they were opening. I imagined singing when I saw the sea. I don’t know how I found the house. Blind driving. The same way I found my partner, I suppose, it’s just where I arrived. Getting into the house was easy. A sticker on the window next to the door claimed the existence of an alarm, but the house was isolated, on a cliff above the surf, and miles away from any police station. I would just drive away if the alarm threat panned out. I did pause here. The question why slid around in my mind like a bumper car on a slick track, its circuit pole sparking. But the question wouldn’t take hold, refused to join anything that resembled an answer, just bounced off, bounced off hard. Still, I’m a rational being, and I recognized my pending folly and the likely and terrible outcome. Pausing, though, was the best I could do. I walked to the edge of the patio and looked out at the ocean. The blue and white, the vast wetness, the salty breath, these all satisfied me immensely. I felt as if I could see most of the world from here, the Crab Orchard Review
Lucy Jane Bledsoe seventy percent that was water with its lovely trim of sand. This view allowed me to ignore that other thirty percent, the peopled one, the wars and waste. The door was locked. But the window over the kitchen sink pushed in easily. Hoisting myself up to its sill and then fitting my body through the opening was almost impossible. I landed with one foot in the kitchen sink, my crotch slung painfully on the sill, and without the leverage to finish the job. No alarm went off—which at that moment felt like my bad luck because how else was I going to be rescued? I lifted my head and saw the ocean, right there out the front window of the house, and launched myself toward the view. I was in, draped across the countertop and sliding to the floor, bruised but pleased with my accomplishment. That evening I warmed a can of soup and opened what turned out to be a very good bottle of wine. I felt guilty about the latter and noted the label so I could replace it. I slept better than I’d slept in weeks, maybe years, and in the morning I left the door unlocked and walked on the beach. There were lots of very old books in the house, leftovers from people’s childhoods, like Nancy Drews and Laura Ingalls Wilders. Over the course of the next three days, I read these and ate small healthy meals and walked on the beach each morning and evening. On the fourth morning, I awoke to slashing rain and, while I stuck to my schedule, I shortened my walks. Just before dusk, as I was getting ready to open a new bottle of wine, the front door opened. I recognized her from the photo albums. She was the only girl. I’d wondered what it had been like for her, growing up with four brothers. I knew one of them had gotten married in this house, that the parents were both still living, and that she rarely attended family events. Most of the pictures—the boys with their wives and children, the parents who were now grandparents—did not include her. “Oh!” she said without too much alarm. “I didn’t know the house was rented.” “Come in,” I said. “No problem.” She looked around quickly. “Well. No. Of course not. It’s just that usually, when the house is rented, it gets put on the online calendar.” “Please,” I said. I’d almost become lonely by then, and anyway, I liked her messy curls and the serious set of her mouth. “I was just about to have a glass of wine.” 20 u Crab Orchard Review
Lucy Jane Bledsoe She dropped her duffle and took a big breath. She had the appearance of running from something, but then maybe I was projecting. “Are you all right?” I asked. Her name, I knew from the albums, was Henrietta. I was glad I’d cleaned the house so thoroughly the day before. It’d needed it, and it was something I could give back. I’d also, after much searching and finally finding a boutique wine shop, replaced the fancy bottle I’d drunk with two more of the same. I sunk the spiral into the cork and began twisting the handle. Henrietta sat in one of the chairs in front of the window and looked out at the blackening rain. I handed her a glass and sat in the other chair. “I’m not renting the house,” I told her. “I broke in four days ago. I’ve just been staying here.” She stared at me. Then she cracked a small smile. She thought I was joking. “I’ll pack now and go. I haven’t taken anything. In fact, I’m leaving the house in better condition than I found it.” She glanced around, as if to check on the truth in my claim. She was beginning to believe me. “Who are you?” she asked. She really wanted to know, I could see that. I wished I could answer the question the way it’s supposed to be answered, with something clean and simple, like, “My name is Penelope Higgins, I live with my partner Angie Weinstein, and I work as a paralegal in Portland.” Instead, I could only think of shimmering horizons and toppling blocks. I wanted to give her a future answer, which was as preposterous as the impulse that sent me here to the coast in the first place. She had little patience for my stuttering attempt at an answer and she waved the question away, as if it had been rude of her to ask, and said, “Stay.” Then she dropped her face into her hands and began sobbing. I didn’t know her well enough to even pat her back, so I settled into my chair and watched the fat raindrops slosh down the long windows. It was completely dark by now and I couldn’t see out to the ocean, only the reflected images of two women, one doubled over and one sitting upright. I listened to her wet gulps. I even sipped my wine, not callously, just patiently. I envied her long cry. She straightened, blew her nose and wiped her face on the bottom of her T-shirt, bent one leg at the knee and tucked the foot under Crab Orchard Review
Lucy Jane Bledsoe herself, faced me, leaned her shoulder comfortably into the back of the chair, and said, “I was always the fuckup. Cs instead of As. Pregnant at fifteen. It wasn’t the morals they were angry about, it was the stupidity. Abortion. Pregnant again at nineteen. This time I married the guy, who left me a couple of months later without the grace of a divorce. A musician. Yeah, rock. They might have taken my side if he’d been classical, but no one expected anything of this guy from the get-go. Of course they were right. For all I know, he’s dead, never heard from him again and his band definitely did not ever see the light of day. But who cares, because marriage is not something I need to do again.” “You could still get a divorce—” She waved the thought away. “Yeah, sure, of course, I know. Why bother?” “Okay,” I said, a bit ridiculously, as if she cared about my validation. I cared, though, in an intensely spontaneous way, like my wanting to affirm her choices was a giant metal snap popping me into her narrative. Maybe she felt the connection because she delved on. “Once Emma was born, I didn’t need anything else. We were a complete world, all our own. At first I thought I was being the cruel one, keeping the grandparents from her. But then I became convinced they didn’t want to know her, were even afraid, like she was too raw for them. They had other grandchildren, smart ones who learned to read at three, their lives fitted out with all the trappings, and I do use that word purposefully. With us, it was just me and Emma. So I stayed away. We didn’t need anything else. I knew they wouldn’t understand that, and I pitied them their lives so full of stuff. My brothers made partner, got fellowships and promotions, accumulated wealth, sold paintings. Even the gay artist one has made it. “We were fine, me and Emma. I couldn’t explain that to them. They’d never believe it, me with my library shelving jobs and periods of unemployment. Me cashing the checks they sent, which I only did because of Emma. I never would have, if it were only me.” Henrietta unzipped a hard, inscrutable smile and looked behind us, at the worn orange rug. “Twenty-one years ago today, Emma was conceived, right there, on the floor, on this very rug.” I thought she was going to get up and walk to the spot, maybe lie down in it, but instead she shifted in the chair, faced forward with her elbows on her knees and chin in her hands. Henrietta’s body seemed to plump with a briny liquid. “She died when she was three.” 22 u Crab Orchard Review
Lucy Jane Bledsoe In the long silence I wanted to ask, of what? The urge to garble anything into that void was so great. I don’t know how I managed to curb myself. Of what. As if that mattered even a little bit next to the absence of this woman’s little girl. “They all tried,” she said after awhile. “Every single one of them. My father. My mother. All four brothers. They came to our apartment for the first time. They sat with me. They sent more money. But all I could feel was that Emma and I weren’t as valuable, that she wasn’t as great a loss, as anything they could ever lose. I didn’t think they could conceive of the love she and I shared.” After a brief pause, she said, “I’m forty now. How old are you?” “Just a couple of years older.” She nodded. “I’ve decided to come home. Like, capital H. But I don’t know what that means. Dinner with Mom and Dad? An apartment in Portland? Does it mean forgiveness? And who of whom? So I’m starting here. This house is my earliest memory of love. Reading for hours on rainy days. Finding sand dollars and agates on the beach. They had so much hope for me.” She sat in silence for a long time, and again I didn’t speak either. “I’ve had men,” she eventually continued. “One or two who loved me, and one who I loved back. But it was never enough. Losing Emma…she was three…is a gulf that can never be crossed. “I’m still promiscuous.” She savored, took refuge in the word. “I like to fuck.” She held up her wine glass. “Look. I’ve only had three sips. I’m not drunk. It’s just the truth: an orgasm is the most intense pleasure I know, and I’m afraid that if I stop fucking, I’ll start mainlining. I’m a perfect candidate for a crystal meth habit. I’ll do anything to interrupt the—” “Pain,” I said. “Yeah,” she said. She did that hand-waving gesture of hers. “What do you think is the next step? Call my parents?” I didn’t have a clue how to answer. “They never met her,” she said. “They did ask. I just never thought they asked genuinely enough. I have to live with that, that I kept her from them. I’m sorry.” She looked up at me, her eyes flashing and her thin-lipped mouth open with grief. “The two most stupid words in the language.” Then she did drink the glass of wine, and I poured more for both of us. Crab Orchard Review
Lucy Jane Bledsoe “Who are you?” she asked again, and so I told her, but briefly, because it was clear to me that she didn’t need to hear my story—not now, not here—about seeing the end of my life and leaving my partner. Yet she listened with what appeared to be full understanding, and then said, “You need to go home.” I nodded. “Stay tonight. Can I sleep with you? Not like that. But I want—” After waiting for her to finish the sentence, and when she didn’t, I nodded again. We rose out of our chairs then and both put on our flannel pajamas. We climbed into the big bed and silently moved toward one another. I thought I was holding her, but she may have thought she was holding me. The storm outside gathered force throughout the night, and I slept little, but I felt tranquil in our cocoon of chance. At dawn a flush of desire warmed me as the sun pinked up the room. I hurried out of bed and made a pot of coffee. The rain had stopped, and the ocean glittered almost obscenely. I stuffed my things into my suitcase as quietly as I could and rolled it out of the house, leaving the door cracked open because it wouldn’t shut without a noisy thunk. A deer standing on the hillside watched me load the suitcase into my car. I badly wanted to walk back up to the porch, for a last look at the sea, but knew my time was up. Just as I was getting into the driver’s seat, Henrietta came running out of the house, breathless, her hair a tangle of curls and that grim set of her mouth freed in a cry of, “Wait!” I waited, and she walked across the gravel driveway in her bare feet, wincing with the sharp pain in her soles, and put her arms around me. Her flannel pajamas were still warm from the bed. She nestled her face into my neck for a second, and then pulled back and gave me a lickerish kiss on the lips. Still no smile or goodbye as she walked backwards, toward the house, tipping a bit from the kiss throwing her out of balance. I climbed into my car, started the engine, and drove home.
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Alex Collins-Shotwell Strike-Slip You’re up on the roof of a house in the Hollywood Hills and
you’re surrounded by a darkness so palpable you can almost wear it. Against the blackness you can see the Coliseum glowing halide-bright to the south. Light travels farther than you’d think. Southeast is downtown, half the height it used to be. West is a sprinkle of lights from generators and Coleman lanterns before the dark spreads across the ocean, a velvety cave that swallows the light whole. If you turned around and crested the hills, you’d see light on the northern horizon, toward Santa Clarita, where you’ve heard they still have power. There are fifty major fault lines and hundreds of minor ones underneath Southern California. They have beautiful names: the Santa Ynez Fault, the Superstition Mountain Fault, White Wolf, San Jacinto, Rose Canyon. They have names that sound like home: the San Gabriel Fault, the San Andreas Fault, the Santa Monica Fault, Palos Verdes, Malibu Coast, Sierra Madre. People in Kansas live watching the skies for tornadoes, people in Florida live watching for hurricanes, worrying about a disaster that might never happen. But you know this: the ground underneath your feet is impermanent. It’s on its way to somewhere else, just like everyone. You don’t wonder if there will be earthquakes, because you know. You and Sam and Elena got lucky because you were outside when it happened, walking back to your apartment with tacos from the truck that was always parked on Vermont. You remember thinking that the sky was redder than usual, and then you stumbled over something in the sidewalk and landed hard on your hands and knees, carnitas scattering across the ground, and you yelled “Shit!” as you fell but no one heard you. Sam and Elena didn’t hear you because they were also on the ground, and you wondered if you were drunk and you didn’t know why you were suddenly so clumsy and then, almost in slow motion, you watched scaffolding fall from a building Crab Orchard Review
Alex Collins-Shotwell and then you understood that the ground was shaking and it had been shaking for what seemed like so long but couldn’t have been more than three, four seconds. You grabbed for Sam and Elena and the three of you crawled toward each other like kittens and you hung onto them because nothing else was trustworthy: not the street, not the sidewalk, not the cement wall next to you. A crack opened up right down the middle of your apartment building and chunks of drywall started falling out and you stopped looking at anything except the ground that you were absolutely sure would yawn open right there and swallow you. It made the deepest sound you’d ever heard, so low it felt like you heard it with your spine. Asphalt and concrete buckled up around you and every single car alarm was going off and then it stopped and your knees were bruised and your palms were skinned but you were alive. The three of you are as settled as you can be, now, in this house in the hills. It was unlocked when you tried the door one evening, a few days after the earthquake, and since you didn’t have to break in you can lock it behind you. You checked that no one was inside, hiding behind a locked door with a shotgun, and you found a case of wine in the pantry. You sat on the couch and passed a bottle back and forth while you made up a story about the family who lived there, whose pictures were still on the walls: a white woman, an Asian man, their daughter. There was only one car in the garage so you tell each other that they drove away, nevermind that everything in the house is perfectly in place, nevermind that a box clearly labeled EMERGENCY, a box that has ten gallons of water and enough canned food for a week, is still at the bottom of the pantry. They got out, you decided, sitting on their couch, drinking their wine. They didn’t die at school or at work or out running errands. Born in Southern California means born knowing about earthquakes, born under the specter of the Big One that has been coming your entire life. You knew more about it than you did about the moon: you knew the Richter scale; the San Andreas Fault, miles away out in the desert but still a thing to fear; you knew that the northern end of it caused the ground in San Francisco to liquefy in 1906. You knew it was a strike-slip fault, the North American and Pacific plates nuzzling one another at a geologic pace, the ground catching and slipping, catching and slipping, insensible to anything that happened on the surface. You knew, or at least you were always 26 u Crab Orchard Review
Alex Collins-Shotwell told, that strike-slip faults were lateral faults. That California couldn’t sink into the ocean. The earthquake ended and you didn’t believe it. It had been so long—ninety whole seconds, you found out later, staggeringly long for an earthquake—that you thought it never would stop, that you now lived in a world of constant rattling, but it did end and you stood, you looked around, you were okay, you pulled out your phone to call your parents, tell them you were okay, but the network was down and you saw a woman on the corner, one leg trapped in the rubble of her store, garish piñatas and figurines of La Virgen broken everywhere around her, and instead of thinking, you just did. The three of you lifted rubble and pulled people out for hours, you think, and you lost track of where the people went or what time it was. You thought that ambulances and fire trucks would come, and then they didn’t, and then the sun set and they still hadn’t, and that was when you looked up, finally, to see so many buildings crumbled, power lines down, trucks and SUVs rolled over on their sides, asphalt asunder. Then you knew help wasn’t coming, not that night, and it still didn’t occur to you that help might not ever come or that your parents, instead of being worried about you, might not be okay. The sun set over the ocean, over a new shoreline you didn’t know about yet. That night you saw more stars over the city than you’d ever seen before. The next morning, in the house with the door that locks, you find boxes of cereal in the pantry along with evaporated milk and bowls still in the cabinet behind a child lock, probably the reason they’re not smashed on the floor. Sunlight streams in through south-facing floor-to-ceiling windows that aren’t broken for some reason, but you’ve stopped thinking about reasons: some buildings were split in two before they were shaken into rubble and some weathered the quake without a scratch. Some roads are perfectly fine and some crumpled like the icing on a donut. Asking for reasons at this point is useless. Sam walks in and plops a Southern California road atlas onto the kitchen table just as another low rumble starts and everything in the house starts shivering. She puts one hand on the wall and you steady your cereal bowl. You’ve lost count of the aftershocks that have clattered through in the days since the earthquake, these little shifts and adjustments in the earth’s crust. “It was in their car,” Sam says when it finishes. She reaches into the cabinet for her own bowl, fills it with cereal and canned milk. “I Crab Orchard Review
Alex Collins-Shotwell checked it out. The 5 goes right to Santa Clarita. It’s only twenty-five, thirty miles.” “We can’t walk that far,” says Elena from the next room. She walks in and stands in the kitchen doorway. “It’s less than a marathon,” says Sam. “Of course we can walk it. We could walk it in a day. Two if we walk slow.” “I don’t have good shoes for that.” “Are you serious?” Elena says nothing. “Getting to civilization is worth a couple of blisters,” Sam says in that dismissive tone you know Elena hates. “We’ll bring some bandaids with us.” “I’m not going,” Elena says, and leaves again. “Elena,” Sam says, bowl with cereal and canned milk in one hand. “Elena!” You hear a door slam, and there’s a moment of silence in the kitchen and then you start laughing because this is the exact same kind of argument you had when you all lived in the same apartment together, and you’re sitting here, eating cereal in this beautiful kitchen with the sun flowing in. You laugh so hard you snort, and you look over at Sam for confirmation that this is ludicrous. Instead she watches you suspiciously. The Los Angeles basin sank seventeen feet in sixty seconds. That’s a little over three inches a second; blazingly, scorchingly fast for the earth to move but imperceptible to the people standing on it, already distracted by an earthquake. Even near the ocean, in the beach cities, in Venice or Santa Monica, people wouldn’t notice—not until the water rushed in, not until they were already under, buoyed against the ceiling of a condo near the beach bought after an only daughter graduated from college, a lifelong dream. No one would know until it happened, because it wasn’t going to happen, because the San Andreas is a strike-slip fault. Elena wants you to come to the Observatory with her because she’s too mad at Sam, so you bike over with bikes you’ve found in abandoned houses. It’s on this bluff at the edge of the hills, a perfect view of vast Los Angeles to the south, built in the 1930s before there was so much light, when people could still see the stars. You’re a little surprised it’s standing at all, though it looks like the east wing has 28 u Crab Orchard Review
Alex Collins-Shotwell collapsed. You walk in through the front doors, turn on the flashlight you brought and come face to face with a man wearing a Mayan headdress. He used to be part of the ceiling, pointing to a circular calendar that’s now in pieces around the floor. You remember when you took Sam and Elena there for the first time. Neither had ever been. Sam was new to LA, an eighteen-yearold from North Carolina on scholarship with a convert’s fervor for the city, and Elena had grown up by the beach in Venice with a housekeeper and designer handbags. The three of you walked up from the parking lot at the bottom of the hill and stood looking over the city, the perfect view straight down Normandie Avenue. You stayed for the sunset and you watched the neon in Koreatown flicker to life one sign at a time. When no one was looking, the three of you sat on the railing and dangled your feet over, flip flops hanging down, Los Angeles twinkling between your toes. “I hope the gift shop is okay,” Elena says now. Your flashlight picks out other painted faces and then you move past them, down a staircase, down a sloping hallway, praying that there’s not an aftershock while you’re in here. You and Elena hold hands in the dark because there’s only one flashlight, and you walk through the Gallery of Planets—dead TV screens and orbs on the floor—toward the light and shattered glass that’s the cafe and gift shop. As you step back into the sunlight you hear a click that you’ve only ever heard before in movies. “Stop,” says a male voice. You obey. “Okay, now, just, turn around slowly.” Your heart slams against your ribs and your hands float up almost of their own accord in a universal gesture of surrender, and you turn to find a kid maybe ten feet away, blocking the cafe entrance, with a shock of curly hair and wide eyes, pointing a handgun at you, both arms straight out. He can’t be more than seventeen. “You can’t stay here,” he says. “This is our place.” “We’re just here for a telescope,” Elena whispers. This catches the kid off-guard. “What?” he says. “A telescope.” “Are you fucking with me?” the kid asks. He frowns. “She wants to see if her parents’ house is underwater,” you say, impossibly audible over the sound of your heart. The kid swallows and shifts his weight from one foot to the other. Crab Orchard Review
Alex Collins-Shotwell Something moves in the back of the cafe, another kid you didn’t see before, his arm held oddly stiff and wrapped in t-shirts. “We can’t give you any food,” the kid with the gun says. “Just the telescope,” says Elena. The kid looks from you to her and back, then turns to the door to the outside and very carefully puts the safety back on, pointing the gun away from everyone. “Sorry,” he says. “You can take a telescope.” “Thanks,” Elena says, and you both turn into the gift shop. You find an unbroken kids’ telescope in the jumble on the floor, and you take some binoculars and a map of the night sky just for the hell of it. When you turn to go the two kids are sitting at a table, talking, the kid with the arm pale and sweaty and miserable-looking. “Is your arm broken?” Elena asks him. “I think so,” he says. He has floppy black hair and caramel-colored skin. She reaches into the backpack she’s carrying and takes out a bottle of Advil. “Here,” she says. You look at her. What if Sam gets a migraine, what if someone sprains an ankle? He takes it, slowly. “Thanks, man,” he says. “There was some here but I went through all of it already. It helps.” The first night after the earthquake, you found emergency services by the lights. Hospitals and fire stations had generators, if they were working, if they weren’t totally destroyed. The Kaiser Permanente hospital in Hollywood was okay and the three of you went there. The absolute human chaos was worse than the minutes after the earthquake: the screaming, the blood, the bones poking out of flesh. You remember one woman so clearly, sitting on the ground against a wall, right side covered in blood and right arm useless, hugging a crying toddler with her left arm, both eyes closed. You felt nauseatingly helpless. That’s where you felt the first aftershock, in the big entrance hall of the hospital, hoping for food or water. This time you knew what it was right away, and you squeezed your eyes shut and held onto a wall, telling yourself it couldn’t get worse, and when the lights went out for a moment you thought maybe you’d died. Next to you at the wall was a bearded guy, maybe in his twenties too, and when the shaking stopped he told you how much Los Angeles had sunk, that Beverly Hills was the beach now. “Great for property values,” you joked, and to your relief he laughed, and then he disappeared in the crowd again. It took you a 30 u Crab Orchard Review
Alex Collins-Shotwell minute to realize what that meant, Beverly Hills on the oceanfront now, all that land west of it underwater. Elena’s been on the roof for an hour with the telescope, looking west. Sam’s inside, packing three backpacks full of water and granola bars from the pantry and cans of baked beans. You walk up behind Elena, and you know she hears you, you’ve made plenty of noise, but she doesn’t move at all, not until you walk over and put a hand on her shoulder. Without looking she hands you the telescope and points. “There,” she says. You look and don’t know what you’re looking for. “From where the 405 is, look a little up and west. Sunset is still above the water, and right before Temescal goes into the ocean, do you see that?” You’re looking and you don’t answer. “The Village School,” she says, her voice rising. You can’t follow her directions and you know it’s impossible to see the high school from where you are. The angle of you and the mountains and the valleys are all wrong. You already went on that goose chase with her that morning—you had a gun in your face too. You don’t see why she gets to pretend that her family is alive. “I don’t think I’m looking at the right spot,” you say. She takes the telescope back. “That’s it,” she says quietly to herself. You take it again and look through, follow the street that she says and you still don’t see anything. “That’s not Temescal,” you say. “Temescal’s underwater.” She grabs the telescope so hard it hurts your eye. “It’s right there,” she says. “That’s just some building,” you say, and you think again of water rushing in, up to the ceiling, and you can’t believe she’s being so stupid. “That’s not the school.” “Yes it is.” “They’re dead, Elena,” you say. “Your parents are dead. Your sister is dead. You’re not. Come inside and help pack. We’re walking to Santa Clarita tomorrow.” She doesn’t look at you, she doesn’t turn, she keeps looking through that damn telescope even though you can see tears falling down her right cheek. There’s silence. “Fuck off,” she finally says.
Crab Orchard Review
Alex Collins-Shotwell After the quake you didn’t see the ocean for two days, until the three of you were heading north, climbing into the hills, and then you were afraid of it, afraid of how you would react to the sight: Santa Monica, Venice, Marina Del Rey, Malibu, Westwood, most of Culver City, gone, but you looked anyway. Another you thought how beautiful it was, the top of the Mormon temple still shining bright gold in the sun, the tops of every building in the glassy water, the freeways skimming over it like bridges between mountains, the landscape you had always known become new and alien. But at the same time you thought of the water rushing in as the ground shook, and you thought of how you could never do anything about it. After Kaiser Permanente the three of you decided to strike out on your own. There were far fewer people around than you had assumed there would be, and you tried not to think about it. You didn’t make eye contact with the piles of rubble that were the unlucky, old buildings. Anyone in them could still have been alive and you knew you couldn’t do anything to help them. Elena wanted to go back to the hospital, sure that someone was in charge and working on getting everyone out of Los Angeles, but you couldn’t stomach the idea. Sam was the first to break into a house, wrapping her arm in a Dodgers T-shirt she’d found and breaking the window on a front door with a rock and then reaching through to unlock the door like she’d been doing it her whole life. An alarm that didn’t matter went off, and you went inside and found bottled water and blankets and cans of food and no sign of the owners. The nice houses were the most deserted. Sam said that the rich probably got out somehow, since the rich always seem to manage that, but Elena started crying and you didn’t bring it up again. That night you all go to bed in the locked house, Sam in the master bedroom, Elena in the guest, and you in the kid’s bedroom. You and Sam have decided you’re leaving the next morning, and Elena said nothing so you assumed she’d come, she was just still angry with you. You lie wide awake under the pink and purple comforter that belonged to a dead little girl, trying to fall asleep, but instead you’re thinking about your friend Melissa who was a waitress at a sushi restaurant near the beach. She lived in Koreatown, though, so where was she that afternoon? At work or at home? Then you’re thinking about it again, the earth trembling beneath you and then the lights going out, thinking of the water rushing in and pushing you to the 32 u Crab Orchard Review
Alex Collins-Shotwell ceiling. You might never see Los Angeles again. No one might ever see Los Angeles again. You don’t realize you fell asleep until the aftershock wakes you up, a sudden jolt when the earth shifts and then a slow wobble that feels like being on a ship on the ocean. You let it rock you back to sleep. Elena’s gone in the morning. You check every room twice, check that she’s not just hiding in a closet for some reason unknown to you. Finally you sit on the couch, shaking and nauseous. Sam is next to you, staring at the wall across the room. Her eyes are red-rimmed and bloodshot. Yours feel like sandpaper in their sockets. You take her hand. “We should still go,” she says in a voice that is not Sam, that is primal and deep and echoes from somewhere far away. You know she’s right. It will be impossible to find Elena and impossible to get her to leave with you. You know this, but you’re tired of losing people, tired of giving in to the earthquake and accepting this new life, this new Los Angeles. “We should find her,” you say anyway. “We can’t find her.” “She’ll come back.” Sam swallows and you see her jaw clench and unclench. “My parents are still alive,” she says. You say nothing. You imagine water rushing in. “I need to call them, I need to tell them I’m okay.” “We can’t leave Elena,” you say. “She doesn’t have parents. She wouldn’t leave us.” “She did leave us,” Sam says. “We’re probably never going to see her again, and so now I need to walk to Santa Clarita so I can contact my parents and my family who are still alive and then I can go home.” “Give her a day,” you say. You lean forward and put both hands in your dirty hair and lean your elbows on your knees. “No,” Sam says. “Today. We’re leaving today.” “You’re leaving today.” Sam swivels her head toward you and gives you a long look, nothing but her eyes moving over your face. Then she gets up without saying anything, walks into the bedroom she’s been using, walks back out with a pack on her back. She buckles a strap around her waist. “Don’t,” you say. “Give her a day, just give her a day and then I’ll come.” “You’re never going to come.” “We can’t leave her here, not like this, not alone.” Crab Orchard Review
Alex Collins-Shotwell “You’re letting me go alone.” “You’re not her,” you say. “You’ll be fine, you can handle yourself.” “Yeah,” she says. She looks at you for a long, long moment. “I should have known,” she says. “Known what?” “You wouldn’t leave LA.” You have no response. You suspect she might be right, she might have dug her way to the truth, but the sun is glaring through the windows and Sam is leaving and the city is destroyed and you don’t know a thing right now except that you’re not going with her, which is such a solid fact you could hold it in your hands. “Don’t leave,” you say again. Sam gives you a long, hard hug, and then she walks out the door. You go back to the couch, you lie down, you let the sun come in the windows and shine all over you lying there, for hours. Elena is gone and now Sam is gone and you don’t know what to do, you don’t want to be alone but you couldn’t leave Elena to go with Sam and Elena didn’t even ask you, she just went. The sun slowly rises over the roof of the house so it’s no longer on you, and you think of the boys at the Observatory. They’re someone, at least. You bike over and pull into the parking lot, the sun right overhead, and even from far away it looks different. You don’t know how. The east side is still folded in on itself, the central dome and the west wing still okay, but something else is missing, something’s happened. You go in and see the same Mayan painting, the man who used to point to the calendar, and you look for the long ramp downwards but it’s blocked now, the ceiling caved in. The cafe, you think. You go back outside and walk around the perimeter, in the sunlight, and as soon as you go around the corner you can see that the whole cafe and gift shop are fallen in, shattered glass and 1930s masonry everywhere. You can’t even begin to move the rubble. There’s no way inside and there is nothing except the eerie silence of a city destroyed. The Southern California sun is insistent on your skin, covering you, pressing you down, and you stare and stare at the rubble. You turn and walk to the railing. You sit on it, dangle your feet over, Los Angeles below.
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John Glowney Map Making Geography is blue mostly. Serene sheet, azure mirror, the ink bottle the map-maker capsized across his table: Arabian Sea, Puget Sound. The rest is color-by-border, sovereignty streaked by migrations of refugees. Massachusetts, for example, the color of the paper on which they wrote the Declaration of Independence, China the crimson of communist hordes, India a potterâ€™s clay of beggars, dust, and cow dung. So why this end, among all the ends of the earth, why the thumbtack of destination stabbed here as if by a blindfolded man? Itâ€™s the rule of surveys:
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John Glowney errors are thrown to the North and the West. I fled the plains, the color of the Bible and a mouseâ€™s tail, and L.A., when you looked back, glowed like a motel light in hues of palms and foolâ€™s gold. No banana trees for us, no cornfields unrolled like rugs, only this green estate of steady rain. Only beaches of moss hanging from the spill of an ocean.
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Protest WTO, Seattle, November 30, 1999 It’s a stand-off, and nobody is giving in. The full block of Sixth Avenue in front of the Sheraton is swimming with college students, some dressed as turtles or butterflies, as if in a kindergarten pageant, some carrying signs, banners, flags, everything from Earth First to Free Tibet. A misting rain mounts its own rally and uniformed cops in heavy black shoes and black helmets make a barricade of bodies across the Union St. intersection. So when a scrawl of smoke from a teargas canister hisses up, intense and white as silk, the entire crowd turns like a school of fish —you can see the reflective rain jackets, the bright colors flashing like wind-stirred leaves in a maple— and retreats fifty feet, then turns and again holds its ground. The smoke makes a white dissolving wave high and cold in damp sunlight on the brick cornices and glass facades like the ghost wake that marks our journey from here to there
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John Glowney sweeping along the bare, wet corridor of pavement between the line of cops and the protesters, shining, then fading, the gulf between them crossed with the slogans of rebellion that boil out of the riotous protest that is their hearts, the lingua franca of the young, stray words, mere breath.
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Out on Turnigan Arm, Resurrection Bay Ptarmigan grouse limp the rutted gravel road, dumb as loaves of bread, a Denali red fox slinking fireweed a few yards behind, showing, like an iceberg, only 10% of his guile. The mud flats glisten in the massive tidal retreat, glitter like sequined dresses, and from the tourist turnout above the shutters of Kodak and Canon blink and click at the great exposed bottom. In the Anchorage Zoo the sad llamas chew the cold edges of the rain and ponder their curious fate. The cliff-nesters’ eggs wobble like tops above the long plunge into Resurrection Bay, and it’s all plunge—off the rocky promontories, the cormorants and the common murres, the bedizened puffins hurling themselves into the gray-blue waters—all chop, churn, surge, thrash. The Dall sheep on the steep hillsides, born to this damp white cloudiness, are perhaps on their way to heaven and light-toed as ballerinas Crab Orchard Review
John Glowney answering the perilous question of the narrow path. Bald eagles mate for life and beyond any vow we care to voice, the broad nests sometimes so built and overbuilt the tree limb splinters, and still the pair returns, year upon year, to repair and live amid the precarious, accumulating wreckage.
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The Whale Skeleton at Long Beach, Washington Now would I give a thousand furlongs of sea for an acre of barren ground… —The Tempest I. I. 44 They’ve roped him off with a rusting anchor chain, a museum of one, resurrected from the warbling surf-song that buried forty-five feet of whale under stiff sand out of reach of the bleaching sun in homage to William Clark’s 1806 journal entry noting the bones of a gray whale run aground in the cold fog of an unnamed coast. So now he’s back on the beach, one of the tribe that turned its back on land turned back again, long skeleton, missing ribs, the vaults of those enormous lungs that once held a squall of breath for hours, the grayish, warm-blooded body, scarred by parasites, the broad lips for benthic feeding, fluke, flippers, the great cloak of blubber we sawed off to light our rooms,
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John Glowney the great, four-chambered heart—heavy, like ours—all gone. A shaggy, many-stemmed dandelion plant blooms where the cavernous stomach processed tons of plankton. The empty brain-socket flutters with shreds of dune-grass. Every summer the local merchants host a kite festival on the whale’s beach, the sky for a week sprayed with colorful plastic or cloth sails that twitch and throb in the high sea-breezes, almost out of sight. And season after season the convoys of pods tack south, long voyages along far, dusty trails so secret and old only the whales can imagine them.
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Tom Griffen Homer Stevedore I drive up the dirt road after a twenty-four hour shift pitching fish on Kachemak docks, unloading angry boats swollen with the salmon I’ve gotten so good at sorting. Pink, silver, king and red— I can swipe them off the conveyor and chuck them in metal bins faster than guys half my age. My Jeep floats past foggy halibut outlined in lodgepole pines. I smell of fish rot and skunk from the junky old weed I smoked with fugitives from the lower 48. We hurl snowballs at forklifts and at guys with clean overalls until the echoing horn of a trawler zaps us sober. Back to work. We scatter and wave our hats, then draw straws to see who’s going in the hold to get covered in guts with no breaks all day. There’s a guy who always volunteers and is known for putting a flounder’s eye, big as a peach pit into his mouth— then pretend to swallow it
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Tom Griffen and sometimes doing so but not on purpose. It’s morning. I think. I should have passed on the beers and gotten some sleep instead. I speed fifteen miles per hour past glowing views of the Spit up the pitch to my cousin’s cabin. I stop only to pick up a dirty guy needing a lift. He asks me to drop him at a church some five miles ahead. He’s been hitching since Anchorage, but Ohio before that. He says I look tired but I can’t be as tired as him. He says he’s having trouble with allergies or something. He snaps into a fit of scratching, says his eyes are filling up with tiny, flesh-eating worms. He asks if God can help. I tell him that’s impossible, the worms anyhow. He covers his face with his hands and I tell him I don’t know much about God. His weeping keeps me awake.
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Leah Huizar Hominy Consider menudo—a word like mundo which suggests a world or, in this bowl, many spinning bodies. Glistening intestines float over tender heaps of the unadorned hominy—de-hulled, lye-bathed, and boiled bare corn-cousin—anchoring the depths of deep crimson chile broth. The stew appears Sundays in San Diego taquerias where a sung homiletic of gut against spongy gut rises in the patter and heave of slurping on slippery organs; red stains like visible veins flow; swollen seeds burst in the cheek; we eat. My father tells me of a place deep in Mexico’s gut where everyone looks like us—hard tuft eyebrows like slabs of cheap meat heavily cut, the kind made soft over heat and time. Oh, infinitely variable Mexican supper of substitution: Trade tripe for carnitas—the diminutive flesh, the affectionate -ita, as in carinita, little loved one, little brown bouquets cinched by an effervescent rub of fat. Call this one pozole—another bowl of hominy. In California’s Inland Empire, my aunt’s stove simmers a drum-pot of soup, hums an incantation older than the New World, a pre-Columbian stock bubbling at lips lately made. In Mesoamerican myth, man was created
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Leah Huizar three times. The mud of earth made man mute and motionless; wood turned him forgetful and soulless. Only the pliant dough of two types of cornmeal could shape the knots and joints, the twisted limbs of this human flesh.
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Santa Monica In the Golden Age of carousels, Charles Looff planted pleasure piers down each coast through the Roaring Twenties, the national diversion. Santa Monica’s Hippodrome upholds her amusement pier’s promontory tip, a music box sculpted eclectic in Byzantine, Californian and Moorish lines. The carousel inside the arena swirls in circles, and hand-cut wooden horses run round and round, lift and slide down. Each thick mane rides in the wind of perpetual motion. Marilyn Monroe lingered for weeks to watch the spinning; she wore shades and a wig, and the conductor mentioned to her she might get a job. The horses mesmerize even the Stars with their limbs and bodies in shapely contours rubbed into a buffed shine. Passengers still cling to palominos in spiraling races going nowhere but right where they are. Band organs, twinkling and brassy, chime from above. Always, the light streaks and blurs until the whole pier wades in billowing golden haze. And in that cloud, pier-goers float above the water like cherubs, ruby-cheeked and glistening. The pier’s Ferris wheel revolves like a water mill filling its buckets with sun. A few blocks inland, pedestrians parade on Third Street’s promenade: psychic cats, soap-boxers, magicians and rave-light dancers perform for the swarm of evening walkers strolling in bare legs Crab Orchard Review
Leah Huizar bronzed and chiseled in city shadow and light. When the Spanish first landed on this bay, they christened and blessed and named it for the day’s feast, Saint Monica of Hippo. St. Augustine’s mother wept as he swirled through philosophies for living: hedonist, neo-Platonist, Manichean; she awaited our Western father’s final conversion, believed a bishop that it’s not possible the son of all these tears should perish. Now, Santa Monica offers her name to a city bathed in ocean water saltier than tears; her sons and daughters in that golden light, turning and turning.
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Rochelle Hurt from The Gold Letters Thousands of men leave home and family in search of gold and find their graves. —from a letter written by John Van Hoose, a coal miner who left Kentucky for California in 1849 in search of gold
[The evening before you left, I watched you]
Russell, Kentucky: August 16, 1849
The evening before you left, I watched you as you stood at the cherrywood-framed window in our bedroom. Ahead, the copper lake, cut by a path of gold laid down by the sun. You held your back to me, your waist tapered— a black silhouette sliced from the orange, the glare eclipsed. You packed your eyes with evening light, and refused to turn your head away from that beauty. Now you don’t have to. You can press those flecks of gold you find into your pupils and bring them home, pretend God won’t notice if you pray with eyes closed. John. In dreams, gold fills me— white blood. I wake feeling for my eyes, lashes crusted under my fingertips, so sure that platinum light is spilling out, dribbling from the corners. I’m afraid it will blind me before I get word you’ve arrived alive.
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[Lydia, I wait for gold to spill over]
Sacramento City: October 15, 1849
Lydia, I wait for gold to spill over the banks of the river. I watch the yellow weeds in the grass for sprouts of brassy petals pushing at last through the wet soil. I would bring back seeds of gold for you if I knew they would grow. But Lydia, God has hidden all the gold. At home mines clog at the mouth with His best dead men. In dreams I see black walls circling our children. Pray for our boys down in the cellar of the earth.
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[Another dream, your hands full of gold rocks]
Russell, Kentucky: November 20, 1849
Another dream, your hands full of gold rocks held out to the boys, who laughed until their mouths grinned up into their eyes, faces twisted into fat dimpled patches of flesh. But the weight of the gold was so great that you fell to your knees. Lord help us, I cried, and He did: the gold grew soft and black as rotten figs in your hand, and you stood up again. But the boys were not savedâ€”their eye sockets turned black and sooty with coal. Coal crumbled down from their little black tongues. John. If you scoop the sacred out of Godâ€™s earth, you must bring home enough to feed us for a lifetime. If our boys are sent down into the mines, I fear God in His anger will forever tuck them inside.
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[I am still as the stones on the floor]
Sacramento City: December 24, 1850
I am still as the stones on the floor of the frantic river. Moreâ€” I am still as stones in the ocean. I lie just beneath the flood, a fish, my mouth open for gold. It escapes me, as voice escapes me in dreams when your head is turned and I cannot see the angle of your jaw where face meets ear, the tiny hairs. I do not remember a freckle there, though I know there must have been one. I catch freckles of gold now and keep them in my jar like fireflies, but only to guide me through the mines when I get home.
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Anne Elliott The Pacific Madrona Cherie Watson owned this patch of concrete, this queue, was
the queen of it. She rubbed one hand—short nails, chipped pink polish—over her fresh braids and gleaming scalp, looked me up and down with a slow shake of the head, then sucked her teeth. “Frankie, why you even here? White girls can’t get in. You have to cornrow your hair.” “So? White people can get braids too.” “Who’s gonna do yours? Cos I ain’t.” Lareese Johnson, behind me in line, let out a loud laugh. Heads turned. He kept a pick in his back pocket, the kind with the clenched plastic fist. Hair was everyone’s business but mine. Mine was a short, straight bob, and maybe a once a day brush. “Frankie in French braids. Now, that I got to see,” said Lareese. It was 1977. It was the Music and Dance portable building. We were waiting to audition for the Madrona Middle School African Drum ensemble. I did not feel very African. I had never hit a drum. I had no business. I was ready to step away when the door opened and a small group of hopefuls exploded onto the cramped playground, followed by Ms. Goodin, the music teacher. Beautiful, slim, yellow dashiki and bellbottom jeans, large, natural Afro held back from her face with a clip. “Lareese, cut it out. Okay, next group. You, you, you, you, you.” She ushered us in. The room was funky with Pacific Northwest mildew, like all of the portables. It was me, Lareese, Cherie, and a half a dozen kids I didn’t know. We sat on the dirty carpeted floor. Too late to back out now. “Okay. I’ll play this cadence on the cowbell, you listen.” Ms. Goodin tapped the double bell. I concentrated: nine syncopated dings on the high tone, a single punctuating dong on the low. She repeated it several times. I thought I had it, but it was hard to remember. I practiced with my finger on my sneaker, where no one could see. Crab Orchard Review
Anne Elliott “Cherie. You first.” Cherie seemed nervous. She tapped at least twenty hesitant tones on the high bell, let the beat compete with her bubblegum. Ms. Goodin took the bell, played the cadence again correctly. I tapped along on my shoe. She handed the bell back to Cherie. “It’s not fair. I’m first,” Cherie said. “That’s why I’m giving you another try.” Cherie glared right at me and whacked the bell hard, her fist against my head. Even I could tell she lost the cadence completely. “Okay. Lareese.” Lareese, confident, clear, tapped the pattern clean with a cocky grin. I could tell he got it exact, though I couldn’t quite repeat it in my head. The look on Ms. Goodin’s face confirmed his accuracy. “Excellent, Lareese. Everyone hear that?” The bell was suddenly in my hands. Cherie cold clocked me with her eyes. “Go ahead,” urged Ms. Goodin. I froze. I closed my eyes, tried to transport myself to a place of pure rhythm, and felt the stick in my hand moving, striking the bell on its own. I opened my eyes. Ms. Goodin nodded with surprise. “Nice, Francesca. Not exact, but very close.” I tried, repeatedly, to tap the cadence on the school bus seat the whole way back home. We were the white kids, the city’s cultural experiment, heading uptown to our Slumurbia, as Mom called it. Mr. Sean, the only black person on this bus, shouted for quiet. He was the bus supervisor. His job was to hold us off the driver in the Seattle snarl of cars. He was also a Christian. I knew this because he kept on telling me. Mine was the last stop, and we often ended up talking, just him and me. “Say, Frankie, you know the story of the fellow who built his house on sand?” “Sure, I know it.” I was Episcopalian. I’d read all the Arch books, those colorful paperbacks with Jesus stories and cartoons. He leaned over the green vinyl seatback. “You kids aren’t getting this in school.” “They can’t teach religion. It’s separation of church and state.” I think he liked talking to me because I talked back. “But you kids really need this. A foundation. It’s all right here.” Laid his big hand on the Book, leatherbound and dogeared. “You know what they are afraid to teach now? Morals. Kids need to know right from wrong.” 54 u Crab Orchard Review
Anne Elliott “Okay, but who decides what’s right?” He looked at me like I misheard him. “You don’t decide. Right is right. Wrong is wrong.” “What about mitigating factors?” I didn’t even know what mitigating meant, but it sounded good. I felt hot. That feeling I always got when I said something stupid. He looked ready to laugh. “I suppose you know a lot about mitigating factors?” I got his meaning: are you aware that you are an eleven-year-old white girl? Yes, I was aware. Boy was I. “What if a boy hits a girl, is that right or wrong?” “Depends on who the boy and the girl are,” I said. His smile was condescending, but gentle. Teacher mode. “It’s wrong. It’s wrong to hit a girl.” “I disagree. What if the girl is bigger? What if she hurt his feelings?” I had never contradicted an adult so directly, except Mom. I couldn’t unsay it. The bus stopped at the end of my block. “We’ll take it up again tomorrow,” I said, putting my backpack on. “What if she hurt his feelings?” Mr. Sean said, laughing under his breath. “Bye, Socrates,” said the driver as he opened the door. I had no idea what he meant. Something to do with soccer, which was not my best sport. “Lareese, stop!” Cherie shouted over the table. He was flicking paper footballs at her face. We were supposed to be making a model of the Volta Dam, using sheets of cardboard and a topographical map. “Stop! I’m not playing.” “Lareese, field goal,” said Juan Smith across from him. Held his fingers in an H for goalposts. They did this all darn day. Why did I have to be assigned to the Blue Cluster? “Juan, Fat Albert, man, your breath stinks,” Lareese replied. True, Juan did resemble Fat Albert, only nattier. He was always showing up in brand new jeans. Probably busted through the waistband on the old ones. But I’d been sitting across from him for weeks and never noticed his breath before. “Dragonbreath. I’m telling you. Right, Cherie?” She ignored Lareese, focused on a curved cut of her cardboard. She was good at arts and crafts. The only time her mouth stayed shut. “Right, Frankie? Poop breath.” I really wished he wouldn’t ask my opinion. Juan retaliated with the best weapon at his disposal: he took a full-cheeked breath like that Crab Orchard Review
Anne Elliott picture of Dizzy Gillespie on the bulletin board, then blew it all over the three of us, hot as smoke, powerful, putrid. Cherie held her nose and sidled away from him. Lareese fell to the floor gasping, and I giggled into my hand. I couldn’t help it. It was so logical—someone complains about your breath, then blow it right back. But Juan wasn’t trying to be funny. He gave me a cool glare over the table, like, I’ll deal with you later. “People. People, listen up.” Mr. Feinberg raised his arms, seemed to be trying to check his temper. Sixty fifth and sixth graders sprinting with scissors, pulling hair, standing on chairs. “People. I’m serious. One. Two. Three. Three and a half.” Ms. Peterson, his co-teacher, turned off the lights, which usually shut us up. “Okay, guys, we need to clean up. Don’t forget, your permission slips for camp Sealth by tomorrow. Lareese, what are you doing?” He was lying on the floor under our table, under Cherie’s denim skirt. “I’m looking at Cherie’s grits,” he said, prompting a peal of laughter through the room, and a kick to the chest from Cherie’s sandal. If I were her, I would wither. As if it would ever happen. I owned one skirt, for Easter and Christmas. Mostly I wore my brother’s hand-me-down jeans. At lunchtime, Ms. Goodin posted the names of the new African drummers and dancers on the door of her portable. Kids swarmed the steps like mosquitoes. I held back. The list wasn’t going anywhere. Cherie looked at the sheet, then scowled at me as she walked back to her friends, so I had an inkling what I would see. After everyone else was gone, I took a look. Ten boys, Lareese Johnson at the top. Two girls at the bottom, like an afterthought. Me, and some girl Tina Zelenski, who I didn’t know. I should have felt elated, but I was scared. I stood on the porch of the classroom, not ready to go back to my cluster, the Volta Dam and Juan’s fire breath and Cherie armed with blue-handled scissors. The door opened, startling me, and Ms. Goodin stepped out. “Francesca! Congratulations!” She touched my shoulder like she meant it. “Look, Ms. Goodin, maybe it’s not such a good idea. I live up at Northgate. I’ll miss my bus if I stay for practice.” “Nonsense. You got in fair and square. You can take the activity bus home. I’ll make the arrangements.” Then I got it. I was the token, 56 u Crab Orchard Review
Anne Elliott filling the city’s quota. Like the one white kid in each of the clusters back in our classroom. It was so obvious. I packed for Camp Sealth like it was really about camping: hiking boots and a down mummy bag, strapped to my brother’s aluminum backpack frame. When I got to school I felt like a fool. Everyone else had normal suitcases and duffel bags. Except Lareese, who showed up with a black, heavy-duty garbage bag filled with clothes and sleeping bag and a pillow. Camping with a pillow—my brother would laugh. Juan had a new designer suitcase with wheels and a telescoping handle. “It’s just going to get dirty,” Cherie said. On the bus, the kids split up, like we always did when adults didn’t engineer it—straight down the racial divide, boys with boys, girls with girls. No one would sit with me but one of the parents, a white mom, who looked terrified. I decided she was on her own. Let her freak out while boys bragged and punched and Cherie complained about somebody pinching her boob. I looked out the window. Misty rain hung in gray blobs around the Cascade Mountains. Hemlock trees bowed their heads in the thick air, embarrassed for being so tall. They put me in Snoqualmie, same cabin as Cherie, with eight other girls and Ms. Petersen. The others nested immediately, claiming bunks and rolling out Snoopy sleeping bags, as if we weren’t just staying one night. Ms. Petersen was outside talking to the moms. Cherie stood in the center of the floor with the new girl, the one known as Light-Skinned Donelle. I didn’t know Donelle well. She was in the Red Cluster. They were practicing cheers: Hey Cherie! Huh? Hey Cherie! Huh? Introduce yourself. Say what? Introduce yourself. Right on. My mama’s name is Mary and my daddy’s name is Darius And my name is Cherie cos I’m a sexy Saggitarius I watched from my invisible upper bunk. I’d never noticed this before, but Cherie was right. She really was sexy—confidently sticking Crab Orchard Review
Anne Elliott out her boobs, which were bigger than anybody else’s, as if the rest of us had any at all—shaking her round booty in time with her rhyme. Silly, but not totally. Working it. She had power. “Fuck you looking at?” Cherie said, and it took a moment to realize she was talking to me. “That was good, Cherie,” I said, feeling a blush. “What are you, gay?” “No,” I said. “You think you’re hot shit, don’t you?” “No. I am not hot shit.” Donelle laughed behind her hand. Cherie walked over to my bunk, parked her face inches from mine, eyes fiery. She was tall. “You better watch out, Frankie,” she hissed. Her braids shone in the dim light of the cabin. Her breath reeked of sour apple bubblegum. “Acting like you’re such hot shit. I heard the guys talking. Tonight, when Ms. Petersen is asleep, they gonna sneak in here and try to hump you.” Donelle stopped laughing, looked straight at me too, confirming Cherie’s warning. “Whatever you do, don’t fall asleep,” Cherie singsonged. In the Longhouse later, I sat alone over my dinner and looked around, at the boys Cherie warned about. Lareese: skinny as a rubber band, strutting around his table. Juan: massive; his weight would crush anyone. Juan looked right at me, two tables away, hatred and bile near the surface. I felt my neck going hot. Cherie was flirting with Derrick, a large boy who only came to school half the time. She chewed her gum and stuck out her chest. He leered. He looked older than everyone, muscular and unstoppable, like this wasn’t his first try at sixth grade. I felt the tears come, unstoppable too, as I lifted macaroni and cheese to my mouth. I wanted to go home. I had never wanted it more, to be with Mom and my brother in our dirty kitchen, eating tofu or bran or whatever horrid health food she put in front of me, listening to public radio. I felt a hand on my shoulder—Ms. Petersen. “Frankie, you okay?” I tried to pull it together, but it was hopeless. I couldn’t breathe. Snot collected in my stomach. I felt sick. “Frankie, come with me.” She led me outside, under a hemlock tree, in the misty air. “Take a breath. Frankie, breathe. What happened?” I could barely speak. “Cherie said…” choking now, “the boys are going to come into our cabin tonight and try to…” a complete mess, “try to hump me.” Ms. Petersen didn’t laugh. “Cherie said that?” She gave me a wrinkled 58 u Crab Orchard Review
Anne Elliott tissue from her pocket. It was inadequate, snot streaming like a faucet, but I was grateful. She lifted my face to look into her blue eyes. “Cherie’s bark is worse than her bite. Don’t you think maybe she was trying to scare you?” “Well, it worked.” “Frankie, think. I’ll be in the cabin. I’ll lock the door. Nobody will get in.” The rational part of me knew she was right. That night, I cried quietly in my mummy bag, in the musty Northwest dark of the cabin, wishing I had brought my pillow. And a snore, quiet at first, then a steady rhythm, like a slow drum cadence, filled the room. Ms. Petersen, or Donelle, or even Cherie—I did not care. It was the lullaby I needed. On our hike the next day, Mr. Feinberg pointed out the peeling brown bark of a tree. “The Pacific Madrona. Like our school!” Kids groaned at the obvious, those who were listening. “It’s a real native treasure of our region. And the wood is excellent for furniture making. It makes a gorgeous veneer.” He seemed focused on the pale wood, but I found the bark more interesting, and held back for a moment to peel some of its curly brown roughness off for a souvenir. Crisp, papery, fragile. “I think they’re just dirty,” said the same white mom who had sat next to me on the bus. She was confiding in me, certain I would agree. “That bark falls all over the place. I’ve got one in my front yard and I’m dying to get rid of it. My tree-hugging neighbors are trying to stop me.” I touched the soft pale wood revealed by the bark I had just lifted. “I like it,” I said, hoping to make my message clear: we have less in common than you think. She looked at me like a puzzle, then turned and walked up the trail. Lareese hung behind too. We were alone. His face turned serious. “Hey, Frankie, why were you crying last night?” His pants were grassstained and his hair was uncombed. “You okay?” Here, one of the boys Cherie warned about. I wasn’t scared. I picked apart the piece of bark in my hands. I couldn’t tell him the truth. “I had low blood sugar,” I said. “It hurt?” “No, it just makes me emotional is all.” The group was around the bend, invisible now. “Maybe we should catch up,” I said. He nodded and walked up the hill. I tagged behind, trying to match his stride. Crab Orchard Review
Anne Elliott At the end of the trail was a small alpine lake. The adults distributed sack lunches. Cherie and Donelle took off their shoes and socks and wetted their feet in the icy water, squealing and splashing each other. I sat on a log and opened my lunch: PBJ sandwich, a sugar cookie, and an apple. I took a bite of the apple. It was mealy and soft. I must have been making a face because Juan, standing a few feet away, pointed at me and laughed. “Whatsa matter, don’t like your apple? Are you gonna cry?” “Fat Albert, shut up. She got low blood sugar,” Lareese said, using his royal pull. I wondered why I deserved it. Juan sneered and walked away. Lareese waded in the water after the girls. I sat alone on the log and took a bite of the sandwich, grape jelly and pillowy white bread. Back at school, we had our first drumming rehearsal. The drums were homemade, animal skin stretched over wine barrels. Four big ones, to stand behind. Three medium-sized, with stools behind them. And four tiny ones for kneeling on the floor. I got one of the little ones, next to Tina Zelenski, a petite white girl with dark hair and glasses. I recognized something in her. She wore tomboyish clothes and had curly short hair, unstyled, without shame or apology. She listened with a sincere expression, chewing her fingernail, while Ms. Goodin taught us the parts. Lareese got the starring role, the cowbell, the same cadence we played in the audition, the one I’d been attempting on the bus seat and my shoe and the side of my bed at night. “This is a West African beat,” Ms. Goodin said, as if any of us knew the geography. The cowbell came first, then the big drums, filling in the lower end with a syncopated bassline, then us, the little drums, a simple, high filler. Then the medium drums threw a staggered melody on top of everything. She showed us how to use the edge of the skin to create a higher pitch, the middle to bring out the deep end. The cowbell called us to ceremony and there was a moment, after the final drum melody came in, and all of us were in sync, following Lareese’s lead, when Ms. Goodin closed her eyes and listened, transporting herself to a place where drums weren’t wine barrels, and drummers weren’t students, but a true tribe, her tribe, and she was the reigning princess. On the activity bus, which was just a van, Tina and I were high on rhythm, practicing all the parts together on the seat, probably making the driver crazy. Tina gave a counterpoint to my constant tapping, and now I didn’t have to hide it anymore. She lived on Queen Anne 60 u Crab Orchard Review
Anne Elliott Hill, a big detour, but I didn’t care. She studied jazz piano. Her father was a cellist with the Seattle Symphony. Her mother taught voice. We decided that Ms. Goodin was our favorite teacher. Before we reached her stop, I asked her what I had been afraid to ask myself: “Why did you try out?” “You mean because we’re white? Is that weird? I don’t know why.” “Me neither. But now I’m glad I did.” “Me too.” Freckled skin and a pixyish smile. She got off the bus in front of a big brown house with frenzied shrubbery and a peeling, messy Madrona in the front yard. I sighed into the seat, warm with belonging and purpose, and relaxed into the long ride to Slumurbia. Tina and I gravitated to each other on the playground at lunch. We tapped beats on the domed jungle gym, our own private tribal hut. She wore a macramé necklace and a plastic mood ring from a gumball machine. The ring clicked against the bar. “Hey,” I said. “That sounds cool.” “Here, you can try.” I put it on the tip of my thumb, then tapped the now-easy cowbell cadence on the bar. She put her ear against the metal, a few feet away. “Hey Frankie, try this.” She tapped on the bar near her with a pebble. I put my ear to the cool steel. Tina’s tapping resonated throughout the hut, straight into my head. I saw Juan Smith approaching our private domain, but we were safe inside, protected by the web of the bars. He was too fat to get in. “Don’t look now,” I whispered. She giggled, climbed the underside of the bars, then dangled upside-down from her knees. I joined her, hung by my hands, whispered, “The kids in my class call him Fat Albert.” She laughed, freckled face flushed from inversion. “I would hate to be his chair.” Juan surprised me by climbing onto the top of the dome and perching just above us. “Frankie, I see you have a mood ring,” he said, in a friendly tone. “What color is it?” “Maybe that’s none of your business.” I didn’t move away. His expression turned. “It looks yellow to me. I think that means you’re gonna cry.” He peered close to the ring, stealing its power. Tina flipped right side up again, then stood defiantly on the sand below, looking up at Juan. “She’s not going to cry.” Her saying it made it true. I held my ground, hanging from the bar. Juan looked down at me like a disease. “Hey Frankie, I hear Crab Orchard Review
Anne Elliott your mama got three teeth, and they crooked.” Then he did what I never anticipated, he lowered his fleshy bulk onto my hands and sat. Trapping me. The mood ring cut into my thumb and I was losing circulation. Again, Juan used the best weapon at his disposal, the very thing for which he was ridiculed. “Yeah, your mama got three titties, and they point in different directions.” “You don’t know a thing about my mom.” He leaned down, looked hard in my eyes. “Oh, but I do. Your mama’s nothing but a poor white trash hippy.” Maybe he could feel my hammering heartbeat through his pants. He knew he was not far from the truth. “Juan, please get up.” My fingers were really hurting. I might have to go to the nurse. Tina looked scared. Juan wasn’t playing. “I’ll go get the supervisor,” she said, squeezed through the bars, and ran off. She was only trying to help. But now I was alone with Juan. “I’m gonna kill you,” Juan said quietly, so only I could hear him. “I’m gonna come to your house, and I’m gonna kill you and your white trash mama and your drunk-ass daddy.” “I don’t have a daddy.” I could feel the tears coming now. His goal was nearly accomplished. “Oh, poor baby, whatsa matter? You gonna cry?” “You’re hurting my hands.” “What?” he said with an innocent air, then he started whistling. I twisted my body to look for Tina. Instead, Lareese strutted to the jungle gym, followed by Cherie and Donelle. “Look!” said Cherie, with a whoop. “Look at Fat Boy sitting on her hands!” “Hey Juan,” Lareese said, gripping the bars. His hair was perfectly combed, his clothes neat, nothing like that day in the woods. “I hear when your mama was pregnant with you, she got so big they had to put her in a elephant hospital.” He laughed at his own joke, looking over his shoulder for the girls’ reaction. Then back at Juan, who was blushing now. “I saw a elephant running after her one day, going mama, mama, mama. When she go to Woodland Park Zoo, they got to take out the tranquilizer guns.” “Shut up, Lareese. Your mama so skinny, she swallow a grape and it look like she pregnant.” Juan moved to face his opponent, releasing my hands, and I dropped to the ground. “She so black, she close her eyes at night, she disappears.” 62 u Crab Orchard Review
Anne Elliott Lareese was unruffled. “Your mama so fat, she shop at the Ringling Brother’s tent store.” He looked over his shoulder. Not at Cherie, I noticed, but at Donelle. Pretty Donelle, pale freckled nose and Afropuff pigtails. Cherie noticed too, held her bosom out defiantly, but the sexy Sagittarius was reduced to a shadow. One thing was certain: this wasn’t about me at all. “Here come the fuzz,” Lareese said. Tina approached, with Mr. Sean, my favorite bus supervisor, in tow. Juan hopped off the jungle gym, ran off, and the others dispersed. Mr. Sean leaned through the bars and looked at me like an old friend. “Frankie!” He smiled big, crinkles at the corners of his eyes. “You okay?” “Yeah.” The mood ring was still on my finger. The pearly stone had turned black. “We’ve missed you on the bus,” Mr. Sean said. “Well, I’ve missed you. I miss our little talks.” Mr. Sean and his good old foundation. Is it wrong for a boy to hit a girl? Too bad he didn’t see Juan threaten to kill my family. “Yeah, I’m on the activity bus now. I’m in the drum ensemble. Tina too.” “Girls playing African drums…” he mused. Not white girls, just girls. “Well, I’ll have to come see your performance.” Home, washing the dinner dishes, I told Mom what Juan did. “He said he was going to kill us. He sat on my hands.” “Do you really think he can kill us?” She wasn’t worried. Hands deep in the suds, like any other night. She blew a long gray hair out of her face. I took a plate from her to dry. “Maybe he has a switchblade.” “He doesn’t have a switchblade.” “It’s starting!” my brother called from the living room. Roots was on TV. All the kids had been talking about it. Big enough that Mom would actually let us watch our dusty black and white set. “Juan’s huge, Mom. Really huge.” Mom looked at me, getting a clue. “Huge as in fat?” “Yeah, he’s fat. And strong. And his breath is a lethal weapon.” Still, she registered no alarm. “Did it ever occur to you that he might have a harder time at school than you? Did you ever think he might like you? Maybe he has a crush on you? Maybe you hurt his feelings?” Crab Orchard Review
Anne Elliott “It’s starting!” my brother shouted. “Go watch,” Mom said. “I’ll finish up.” In the gray glow of the TV, I watched the whip against Kunta Kinte’s back. They were making him change his name. Everything was at stake: his pride, his history, his family. He was defiant, endured the blows until he couldn’t. I cried into the couch pillow. “My name is Toby,” he finally said, giving in to the pain. Weeks later, I thought back to this moment, of lying on the couch with my brother, heartbroken at the idea of a man giving up his name. It was the night of Open House, the African Drum and Dance concert, with parents and teachers and even Mr. Sean the supervisor, beaming at Tina and me from his front row seat. We took the stage with our drums. We hadn’t cornrowed our hair, Tina and I, and in our new yellow dashikis we looked stark white and preposterous. But we rolled with it, growing used to our oddity. The boy drummers had their shirts off, even Lareese, who had initially refused. Why not? Be proud of your body, Ms. Goodin had said. I am proud, Lareese had replied. It’s too beautiful to be shown. He wasn’t wrong. It was beautiful, Lareese’s back and all the others, gleaming dark and scarless in the stagelight of the Madrona Middle School auditorium. I thought of Kunta Kinte, having the African beat out of him, his back crisscrossed with evidence. And I thought things must be better now, with people like Ms. Goodin working to reclaim the lost thing, the precious, ancient treasure. Lareese played the cowbell cadence and the rest of us, full of nervous energy, beat our drums furiously, exorcising something, calling back the names of lost mothers and fathers. In the audience, proud parents smiled, black and brown hands snapping photographs, heads bobbing in time with our infectious beat. It felt right, in Mr. Sean’s sense of the word. But then the dancers entered, from the wings, and I noticed Lareese’s eyes zero in on Donelle, pretty, Light-Skinned Donelle, her naked back glowing in a bright printed halter top, her head sleek with newly braided hair. She was lithe and sexualized, and all the boys in the ensemble were in love with her. And a heavy reality became clearer to me: that maybe some ancient treasures are harder to claim. Donelle arched her back with an easy confidence I’d never quite seen in her pal Cherie: a smug, quiet certainty that she was the true prize, the valued pale veneer. 64 u Crab Orchard Review
Anne Elliott Cherie Watson was not in attendance, she who I thought was queen. I dreaded her scowling face in the audience, then realized, with a hard blue feeling, that I missed her, that without her scowl the room was not complete. Years later, after the schools quit busing and Slumurbia got gentrified and Kunta Kinte became somebody’s punch line, that blue feeling sticks with me. That, and the cadence. I’ll never lose the cadence—hard to learn, hard to unlearn—the hollow ring of my hand slapping skin.
Crab Orchard Review
Mirri Glasson-Darling True North Arguably, this all began with a compass. The day before I moved
to Alaska my little sister gave me a mariner’s compass, the kind with a mirror for signaling and a ruler’s edge. It has a bright orange flip top and letters in Russian, which isn’t a problem because a compass only needs to have four letters and everyone knows what they stand for. The word for “North” in Russian apparently starts with a “C.” Barrow, Alaska, is in the top ten most northern communities in the world and the northernmost place in the United States. In Inupiaq, the native language of the peoples of Barrow, the frozen ocean stretching uninterrupted by land, clear to the North Pole, is referred to as the “front” of the world. Everything else is the “back” or “behind.” About every few years or so, Search and Rescue has to go bring back some idiot who wanders out onto the ice and gets trapped on the moving ice out in the ocean. Nobody from here would dream of walking out on the ice in winter alone unless they intended on killing themselves. That said: I do not intend to pretend I understand what it means to live here or be Inupiaq. I am a twenty-seven-year-old Midwestern, Caucasian male, floating on an iceberg in the middle of the Arctic Ocean. It must be understood that this is not just a suicide. The eventual results will be the same, but I find my death more of an unfortunate side-effect; you don’t come to the end of the world in order to better understand yourself—you come to step off the edge. All across history you have explorers heading out blindly in one direction or another, driven by riches, isolation, or general madness. A search for direction and something which cannot be satisfied, even if you circled the world twice over. The magnetic North Pole itself is now moving at a rate of over 40 miles per year, toward Barrow, at record speeds. It is possible that sometime in the future my body might cross points with the magnetic pole on its migration toward Russia, but with all the sea ice, I will never reach the geographic North Pole.
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Mirri Glasson-Darling It is winter in the Arctic and the sun has gone down for the last time until February, so I have already accepted that I will never see it again. The moon is now my constant. It circles overhead at all hours, pale and bulging as the hollowed-out joint of a knee, groaning in its rotation through the socket of sky. It is a constant concern that the ice overhead might come crashing down, but I did not come to survive. If nothing else, I will eventually starve to death or die of thirst. Heating my water with a fire is likely to melt the ground I’m floating on, and to eat snow will result in certain death from hypothermia. The reality is once the white gas tank runs out in my camping stove, I will die. Unless, of course, something else kills me first. I am as well outfitted for this kind of exposure as I could manage. My friend Nanauq offered me the seal-skin parka his aapa used to use, but I knew the emotional weight of it so I refused. Instead I opted for Antarctic gear off eBay: parka, bunny boots, long underwear, and an Antarctic-expedition grade tent. I also have seal-skin mittens with wool liners, reconstituted military rations, and a high-grade camping stove. Nanauq saw me off himself on his snow machine. “I’ll give it one more year,” he said as we each took a last pull of whiskey. “Then I’ll see you on the other side.” “The other side of what?” I asked. “Of the world, you dumb tanik,” he said. “Heaven or some shit.” I laughed and he laughed with me. When he drove off into the darkness, I wondered how he knew which way was home. I first met Nanauq at the library when I got into town about three weeks ago. We have what some people might call a suicide pact. For the meantime, he works at the library as a security guard, telling middle school kids not to chew tobacco and kicking them out when they spit it all over the carpets and bathrooms. When I first came up to Barrow, I planned to camp outside a few days in my brand new Antarctic-weather-tested tent. I carted it in my backpack like a great, slow-moving turtle. On my way out to find a spot to set up camp I stopped at the library as they were closing, for a few minutes of warmth. Nanauq was coming off his shift and I asked him if he knew of anywhere good to set up for the night. “Find a real place to sleep,” he said. “Bears are hungry.” Crab Orchard Review
Mirri Glasson-Darling “I know how to take care of myself,” I told him. “You know polar bears will hunt humans? They’re not like other bears. You can’t play dead with them or look scary.” I had heard something similar, but not given it much thought. I hadn’t even been out to Point Barrow yet. Getting torn to pieces by a polar bear before I even got on the ice was not what I had in mind. Nanauq laughed as he watched me think. He was a little drunk; at the time I hadn’t known the water bottle he carried contained vodka. “Makes you think,” he said. “I’ve got a snow machine. I can take you to a hotel while you think about it.” He drove me across the lagoon to the King Eider, but I had blown through most of my cash on gear and it was too expensive. I ended up crashing with Nanauq on the floor of his wood-paneled closet-sized apartment, where I remained until a few days ago. It is Nanauq’s plan to follow me out onto the ice a year from now, in order to give himself one more year to try to make it work. He will try to be better with his family. He will go to gatherings where he does not feel accepted and try to get to know his nieces. His refusal to attend church alienated him from the family early on, and it got worse when he developed a drinking problem. The only person with whom Nanauq feels a kinship is long dead. When Nanauq was twelve or so, his aapa committed suicide by taking off his coat and walking out onto the tundra. Nanauq calls that going “true north.” As far as I can tell, he’s the only one who calls it that. The phrase has his personal ring to it—a touch of bitterness and black humor. Nanauq’s grandfather is not the only person to have killed himself that way. There are a couple “true north” suicides in Arctic regions every few years. Though Nanauq’s extended family is Inupiaq and has lived on the North Slope for ages, Nanauq himself was born in Fresno, California. His mother moved him back up here to be with her family when her father went “true north” in ’99. “Tourists like to ask me all sorts of shit when they find out I’m Native,” Nanauq told me the night we met. “Don’t you know about it though?” I asked. “I mean, you’ve been here since you were twelve. And it is your culture.” “Sure it’s my culture,” Nanauq said. “I mean, my uncles go whaling. My cousins know the language and everyone and their auntie is in a dance troupe. I can’t pronounce my own name and I grew up just as 68 u Crab Orchard Review
Mirri Glasson-Darling much here as California, but it’s still my culture. I feel it in everything— everything but me.” Nanauq’s name is the same as his aapa, the man who went “true north” years ago, leaving his seal skin parka behind. “You have it,” Nanauq told me later when he was helping me revise my plan. “You’re trying to get on an ice floe. You know how crazy that is? You’ll freeze to death if the berg doesn’t roll you over.” “No,” I said. “I’ve got my own coat. If you still want to follow me in a year, you wear it yourself.” “What use do I have with my aapa’s jacket?” he asked. “I’ll run my snow machine out on bad ice and drown the drunk half-breed way.” “I’m not taking your grandpa’s coat,” I said. “Ah,” he said and waved his hand. “You wouldn’t know what to do with it anyway.” When you stand on the ice, the darkness has its own sound. A silent waiting, like sitting next to someone who is thinking. A dim blue light trickles across the southern horizon at around noon in place of a sunrise and is gone an hour later. This is how I count the days. There have been four so far. My iceberg is shaped like a closed fist with the thumb stuck to the side. The part right above the thumb is vaguely climbable, bouldering with blue ice that flattens out before heightening into a sheer cliff. I call that landing below the cliff my lookout post. When I see the light from a distant “sunrise” coming, I climb up and watch the blue-pink line widen. I try to eat right afterwards down at my camp at the base of the fist, in order to give some semblance of schedule. My meals consist of reconstituted military rations on a white gas camping stove. I have more of them than I am likely to ever need. When I get too cold, I boil water, but the more I drink the more I urinate and that can cause problems. The heat from my urine melts the ice and the last time I peed I heard the ice crack. I’m afraid to pee off the side of the berg—its edges are thin and I’m worried it might roll over on me. I try never to pee in the same place twice and go in different spots so as to not weaken its structural integrity. It is night right now, or at least I think it would be. The world around me shifts and I can no longer tell if it’s the ocean or just the liquid in my eyes. My limbs ache and cramp often from the cold and the skin on my cheeks has hardened from frostbite. It’s nothing serious yet. Despite the darkness, I find it very hard to sleep. When I do sleep, it seems like it is only fifteen-minute intervals. I wake up feeling I Crab Orchard Review
Mirri Glasson-Darling have dreamed something I cannot remember, an old memory in some child-like sense of watery fear. When we were young, my sister and I used to make up dreams to tell each other. We wove the storylines together with images from real dreams or TV shows until they became so abstract the only constant was our place in them. I’ve tried to play the game with various girlfriends, but they never seem to get the point. Out here, I’ve been making dreams up for myself. It’s disturbing to always be in such darkness and never dream. Like standing in front of a boarded-up house you used to live in, unable to remember what’s inside.
Tonight’s dream: Nanauq and I are out in his aapa’s old whaling boat. It is summertime in the Arctic with 24-7 sunlight, much like there is 24-7 darkness now. In the dream, Nanauq is the whaling captain and I am the harpooner. His aapa steers the boat by sitting in back, the position that requires the most skill. I cannot get a clear look at either of their faces. We are heading north, away from the point. In front of me I see the gray mound of a bowhead whale, rising up out of the water. I look back at Nanauq, but the only person I see in the boat is my sister. She holds the Russian compass out in front of her. The texture of the floor beneath my feet seems to change and I look down to see a carpet of red. The boat has turned into a skeleton of ribs and soft spongy flesh. We are trapped together in the bowhead’s belly, like Jonah in the Bible or Disney’s Pinocchio. My sister says nothing. She looks angry. I wake up.
“Sometimes I feel this pressure in my chest, all shook up like a bottle of soda,” Nanauq said to me once in his closet-sized apartment. “What do you mean?” I asked. “You mean you need get out of Barrow?” “No. I keep having this dream that I’m trapped in a well. In the ring of sky above I can see the sun and clouds, but I know I’ll never reach them. I get this feeling of hopelessness, so deep and dark it’s like I’ll never get out. The first time I dreamed it, I thought the well was Barrow, but now I’ve begun to think that the well is me. I have nothing left to distract me from myself. This place, Barrow, is spiritual. The tundra in 70 u Crab Orchard Review
Mirri Glasson-Darling the summer covered in cotton and the water trapped in between the ice floes, so still the reflection of the sky looks like glass. If you tilt your head it feels like falling—very beautiful. But while everyone else is here to live, I feel like I am here to die. I look at the frozen ocean, swelling out in an endless beach and it’s maddening. The end of the world should not look like a place you can walk to.” I put my hand on his shoulder. “I need to do this by myself,” I told him. “I don’t want to be the reason you die.” He laughed at me. “You self-absorbed idiot,” Nanauq said. “You couldn’t be the reason if you tried.” A green river of light shifts through the stars overhead, pointing northwards like a road. My iceberg drifts soundlessly below it. Earlier it creaked in the wind, but for now everything is silent. I wonder how many people have felt this kind of silence. The discovery of the North Pole itself is still debated. Two men: Frederick Cook and Robert Peary, once classmates, both claimed to have been there first. There is no land at the pole, only moving ice, so it is impossible to know for sure. Historians think it might have been Cook, who died after being released from years of prison for mail fraud, thinking his discovery had been stolen by Peary. Cook had lived a whole year on the ice, struggling to endure with only two companions, Native Greenlanders, who were the reason he survived. I wonder if, in his later years, he wished he hadn’t. Sometimes I imagine the iceberg cracking and rolling over, throwing me into the sea. I go down into black, crushed for a moment under the tremendous pressure of the ice and waves, wracked with shock from the cold and then—nothing. I try to stay away from the edges, but there is something about that vast blackness that draws me. It melds with the sky into a deep, infinite sea of dark—the underside of the world, devoid of stars. My right ear is no longer mine. I touched it without my gloves in the tent earlier and thought something must be stuck to it, but then realized that “thing” was my ear. I tried to rub the blood back into it but my fingertips lost feeling in them before I could finish. That ear will be the first part of me to die. The blue light from the sun, far in the south, scatters across the infinite horizon. It is noon at last. I imagine my sister and Nanauq Crab Orchard Review
Mirri Glasson-Darling in their separate spaces, going about their days. Nanauq will have just gotten up and be getting ready for work. His shift starts at one. He showers, cooks eggs in a tiny cast iron skillet and eats them with ketchup. He does not season his food. “Does your mother cook with only ketchup too?” I asked him once. “Are you kidding?” he said. “My mother puts spices on everything. She loves pepper and thyme. She also doesn’t drink, goes to church, and loves classic rock and soap operas on the BBC channel.” Sitting out on the ice beside my camping stove, I try to picture Nanauq’s mother. I imagine her as a light-skinned Native woman with long black hair, sitting on a sofa in an Aerosmith T-shirt and slipper socks in front of a fifty-six-inch flat screen, watching Downton Abbey. Though it may be noon for Nanauq and his mother in Barrow, my sister is three hours ahead of Alaska Time. For her it is three and soon she will be getting off work. She works at a preschool and, by now, her bright-colored clothes most likely contain residue of snot, applesauce, vomit, and pureed bananas. She may be angry with me for not returning her emails. Or she may not have noticed. I don’t blame her. My choice to her would seem like gruesome chance. An easy out. All my problems solved by a magnet. Mechanical. An arrow pointing the way. Soon the trickle of light in the southeast will be gone. The snow in my pot has melted and roars with bubbles. I pour it into a cup and wait for it to cool. The hot water pouring into my stomach is warm. The brightest stars are behind me now.
Dream: I am Christopher Columbus sailing west with the Niña, the Pinta, and the Santa Maria. I have come to the End of the World. Turns out it was flat after all. Around me the oceans of the world pour over the edge in an endless waterfall. The stars rain in a meteoric curtain. Beyond the edge there is only blackness. I am caught in a maelstrom along the water’s surface and the wooden ship twists beneath me, groaning in defeat. I watch the two other ships, the Niña and the Pinta, tip over the edge of the world and plummet into infinity. Only the Santa Maria remains. The wheel at the stern is in my hands and I can feel splinters from it embedded deep and burning in my palms.
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Mirri Glasson-Darling I try to turn the ship around but it will not turn, instead it lurches sideways. I am now approaching the waterfall horizontally, like a corpse. Blackness lies below. It is storming. I thought earlier today around noon I might have seen a polar bear in the distance and began to panic, but a powerful wind overtook the iceberg. I had just begun cooking my meal and spotted the bear out in the water, paddling like a dog. It looked oddly harmless there, even silly, as it slid through the waves. The wind came up so strong that it rocked the iceberg and it tilted forward as if it might roll over. I scrambled on my hands and knees toward the lookout point, but was too late to save my stove. It fell into the water with a pitiful plop. As I watched it go, the wind picked up again, pushing me and my iceberg away from the bear. Now I am alone again, trapped in my tent by the storm. The wind is a wild animal that whips the canvas of the tent back and forth in endless attack. The Russian compass says the wind comes from the east, pushing me toward Russia. I try to picture islands I have seen on maps: Wrangel, the Medvezhyi Islands, and Severnaya Zemlya. I have read their names on maps but donâ€™t know the translations. Ragged shorelines trace through my mind in images of rock and waves. A low moan comes from the ice below. The storm has wakened a terrible animal at the icebergâ€™s heart. I imagine frozen mammoths beneath the ice. Sea Serpents. Dragons. Spray from the ocean pelts the tent. I could just as easily fall to my death on the way up to the lookout point as reach safety from the waves. It is too risky. I cannot force myself to move. The ice creature beneath me groans again. My iceberg is not a dragon, but a house, sliding on its foundation. I think of all the spots I have urinated in the last few days where the ice might have weakened. I survive the storm, but without my stove I have no safe way to heat water. I tried to eat a frozen packet of military rations earlier today Crab Orchard Review
Mirri Glasson-Darling and nearly cracked my teeth. I managed to chip off a piece and have been keeping it close to my body in hopes that it will melt. I would put it in my mouth, but I know that is the path to hypothermia. Without fresh water, I have maybe a day or two left. My best chance is to put snow in my water bottle and keep it close to my body, but who knows if it will thaw quickly enough to drink and make it worth the drop in body temperature. For the moment, I am still relatively comfortable. I can’t feel my face or feet, but there is no pain. I am dying in pieces. Both ears and my nose have long lost their sense of feeling. My head keeps getting lighter and lighter, as if I am turning into air. I take my sleeping bag and bring it to the lookout point. My feet move like two giant clubs. It takes a long time to reach the landing. The night sky spreads out overhead and a yellow moon is waning. I remember last year when my sister got married and I sneaked away from the reception to lie in the wet grass. The moon looked the same. Laughter rolled out from the wedding tent somewhere to my left and I allowed myself to feel lonely. I had been living in south-central Alaska for three years and everything had changed in spite of me. My sister had found and married a douchebag, whose greatest accomplishment as far as I could tell was possessing overachiever sperm that got her pregnant. I tried to talk to her at the reception, but she didn’t seem very interested in anything I had to say. I told her I felt lost. Far away from everyone and everything, and I didn’t know what I was doing anymore. “It doesn’t matter what kind of direction you take,” she told me, looking somewhere over my right shoulder as if there were something more deserving of her attention. “Even the wrong direction can be better than none at all.” The night before I left for Alaska, she and I sat up after our parents went to bed, talking to fill the space between our separation. I promised her I would email her every week and she gave me a compass she found in a thrift store. “What’s up with these letters on it?” I asked her. “What does ‘C’ mean? What direction is ‘C’?” “The ‘C’ stands for North. It’s Russian. I tried to find you an English one, but they didn’t have any.” “That’s okay,” I said. “I kind of like it this way.” “Yeah,” she said. “I thought you might.” I could sense her slipping away, the two of us floating apart on the infinite tide of adulthood. Gone were the days when we would meet in 74 u Crab Orchard Review
Mirri Glasson-Darling the window by the stairway and spend our nights looking out at the starscape over darkened fields, creating dreams for each other. All that seemed to remain were two long and separate roads, winding through the world while we watched each other getting further and further apart. Dream: It is next December. Nanauq does not follow me onto the ice. He drinks less and spends more time with his nieces. He takes his snow machine and rifle and goes hunting out on the tundra with his uncles. He wears his aapa’s parka. For the most part, he is happy. My sister writes him a letter asking about me. A strange panic wakes me. I am alone on an iceberg in the middle of the Arctic Ocean. The moon circles overhead. I am very tired now. Too tired to climb down from the lookout point. On the horizon, a tiny glint of blue glows as somewhere far south from here the sun peaks out over the rest of the world. My body is tired, my lungs are tired, my heart is tired, and my mind doesn’t seem to be working. None of it matters anymore because I am not really human. I am following a magnet, and that is not the action of a person, but of a machine. I repeat the thought to myself. Somewhere Nanauq is getting ready for work. Somewhere there is ketchup on his eggs. Somewhere his mother already ate her eggs this morning, seasoned with pepper and thyme. Somewhere my sister is taking care of children who are not her own, feeding them a snack of applesauce and bananas. Somewhere Peary’s American flag and Cook’s note in a brass tube are buried in ice near the North Pole or at the bottom of the sea. But I am here on the Arctic Ocean, floating on an iceberg. And I am no longer human, but a lit match—a sheen of streaming light, splitting the world open by the ceiling. Until the sun and moon are caught in their eclipses above a bone-white earth, stricken with leprosy and frozen flesh. And, as a lit match, I will burn that earth, spearing it with my hands until the world flips over and our ocean is our sky, filled with flickering embers of ice and luminescent algae; the northern lights drowned in a hail of St. Elmo’s fire. Until all light is gone and the yellow moon swims below in sunken depths of sky, reflection circling overhead. Crab Orchard Review
Esteban Ismael Bay Park in the rain smeared edge of this skyline’s mauve throb calm glass baywater rolling in a lift of fog sheets like steam in a mouth that can’t unroll the tongue in a cold dive thru cups of these backwater Bay nights that go with no end ever in sight until we’re here at 6am under marine layer thick as gray matter of a brain, barely split by a weak curvature of light still too distant to matter as winter loosens grip to spring & all this wet takes to new air. as we pass a menthol between the group of us, in this haze of afterthought & vodka, we live in the mist of this moment—cold bench on bare skin still lukewarm on Four Lok’s & adrenaline, dropped thizzles. my skin stretched bag paper around a pulse of lit propane lamps & last night’s blue strobe, my hands over this damp concrete table to you as I watch your eyes shift whole constellations, the pale blur of night’s motion: a slow gleam on dark canvas. as I stammer some Nerudian nonsense (lost somewhere in the storm 76 u Crab Orchard Review
Esteban Ismael clouds of your hair), you grip me by the neck & pull me out this crowd of friends, from crowds of thoughts like dark knots on a noose. I could do this for the rest of my life, splitting tablets in half & scrawling psalms on a half-pill watching you swallow yours whole. even the universe trembles under your undulant bob of throat.
Crab Orchard Review
Christine Kitano Lucky Come Hawai‘i Why settle for 35 cents a day Stripping cane When I can sleep with a Chinaman And make a dollar? —Translation of a Japanese field song, sung by plantation workers in Hawai‘i When night arrives in camp, you offer the men your white body: their calloused hands root through the humid dark for flesh untouched by sun. They crave your breath, your cool hands smooth as abalone shell, your fine feet two slim canoes. While their wives sleep, blistered from stripping cane in the sun swathed fields, robes slip with a shiver from your slender shoulders. Shoulders like slices of white melon from back home, your cheeks the pink blossoms from their childhood trees. Night moves close, the web of stars encircles the island, and onshore, waves continue to rise and break. The rush of water like the sound of a skirt gathering in a fist. Lucky come, they say, lucky come Hawai‘i, Honolulu, Waialua, but the new vowel-thick names hollow when you say them aloud. You know better, that this hissing is not rain, but rats rustling the clustered
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Christine Kitano hearts of the banyan trees. Alone tonight, you watch moths swirl through the cut cane, their paper-wings attempting to beat their way free of the fields, their lit bodies glistening like water. Those that disappear behind the hills take the light with them.
Crab Orchard Review
Karen An-hwei Lee Horses of War, Horses of Hysteria for the Japanese American National Museum In this space no writing desk, shelves, or furniture. You are in a labor camp alive and equine not human. I taste the internment through my skin, chains in the light over barbed wire of euphemisms in a box. No spruce for a coffin or a violin with a flame and curl hewn to sing. Residents not evacuees. Safety council not internal police. Relocation not incarceration. In shafts of light drumming hope we know we are not invisible. Our long hair is untrimmed in the hay. In this space one stable wide, women sewed beauty out of nothing. We are not Issei Nisei or Sansei yet in a stall at the Japanese American National Museum we hear wind shriek over water troughs.
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Karen An-hwei Lee Shake our hair once and weep although no one is there. In a termite shed of blasting heat or bitter cold
we imagine ourselves as hummingbirds nearly human flying through stalls into light to keep warring in that light.
Crab Orchard Review
Karen An-hwei Lee
Meditation on San Joaquin Hills
These hills were an inland sea. Eons ago, a violent coastal uplift shoved a bed of marine fossils to light— oysters and charred plants shaken after a temblor last week. This fault runs under Laguna Niguel and the San Joaquin Hills. Once, no one knew about this zone, quieter than the San Andreas. Sage mingles with silk-tassel— yet this fault is dangerous. It lies so far under the hills, no one sees
where it begins.
I imagine in my mind’s eye— Low hills at a distance from the coast, black sage with silk-tassel.
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Karen An-hwei Lee I see a marriage with faultlines running under a bedâ€” quarreling spouses drift apart. Miles under the crust, rugged fern evidence exists for once-loved bones. Wedded lives on a mantle exposed to harsh weatherâ€” How to heal the invisible rifts as Los Angeles
slides past San Francisco
and Santa Ana drops into the sea thirty million years from now?
Crab Orchard Review
Karen An-hwei Lee
Prayer for a Woman Named Xochitl Core lessons from la vida in greater Los Angeles— On Sundays, Latino males wait outside the buildings on South San Pedro. Over a hundred men loiter not far from the Fashion District. It is not a church. It is not prison. I learned a woman’s name, Xochitl, is pronounced So-chee. Water-flower. This woman traveled far south alone to the borderlands where she hand-painted images of the mother of Christ on bottles of water and gave them to the immigrant families. The locked entrance to a bank remodeled as a bookstore is not on Spring Street but Fifth, on a corner where a farmer’s market sells honeycombs, anise orange-flavored pan dulce, bolillos, y los duraznos from peach orchards up north. Santa Monica Freeway is called I–10 east all the way to Arizona. For a minute my names in Mandarin and Spanish are Xochitl and peace fragrant orchid. In Los Angeles, I pray these blessings already exist for single women. May the dust of la vida in this city bless our automotive feast of repentance, our coughed mortality in the ash of burning sago-palms.
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Jeffrey Thomas Leong
Browsing the Walls at the Angel Island Immigration Station, I Seek the Lost Tones of the Heungshan Dialect And search for Hoishan hippy wah, the bumpkin knobs of Namhoi village, or hoity-toity timbres of Shekki City. But on the Google Translate program, unwaveringly read in “Mandarin” tenor, set in romanized Hanyu Pinyin text, its standard computerese, a pulverizing digital. I know it’s there, what carved characters cannot say in peruse of that silent, bitten score of wood, though plainly held, hurt inflection, a young man’s anger and sorrowful tune, dripping sarcasm, or a kind of wisdom set into grain. Yet more what I want, to hear my father, a would-be ah baahk, elder village uncle, again demonstrate how he could take on nuance, his mockingbird rend of where another’s lived or gone, from the slur and aspirant held inside a tongue.
Crab Orchard Review
Jeffrey Thomas Leong
At the Makai Market Food Court I choose the laulau plate, lomi lomi and haupia, each dish set in its separate well of styrofoam, paid the Mandarin-speaking lady, new owners of the old Poi Bowl where 40 years ago I first ate the deep green of taro leaf wrapped around a heart, salt fish or fatty pork. Back then, Ala Moana’s food court, smaller, more intimate, like that twenty-year-old on break from begging the stubborn look that’s first love to be true to some pure rule. Today, all upscale, huge, but for my 8-year-old and wife of 10 years sitting across. There are things I’ve wanted again my whole life: a first steamed laulau, or an ice-cold guava nectar gulped at the pineapple cannery cafeteria, on break from tin cans screaming overhead, acidy slop souring leather boots for good. I saw it simple then, faithfulness or want of skin, an inflection of nasal Chinese in a girl’s Nu’uana Valley. Absence glimmered, scattered these many years. Yet, here I am in it another, though that long again will never be here, I am.
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Jeffrey Thomas Leong A new mat of luau leaf, sea saltâ€™s wealth, sweet coconut yet slithers down the throat at end of meal, truths I feared never once more to swallow, back in a form both square and jiggly, and still, it tastes good.
Crab Orchard Review
Vanessa Hua Accepted It occurred to me that I’d become too comfortable with breaking and entering. Back from field training, I’d leapt onto the windowsill in a single bound, no awkward scrambling, as though onto a pommel horse, despite my combat boots and my Kevlar. I crouched, resting my hands lightly on the frame. My ponytail bobbed and then went still. In perfect balance, I could have carried a stack of books on my head, a debutante but for the stench of dirt and sweat. I tiptoed in the dark until realizing my roommates were out. As I set down my ruck, an RA in the lounge shouted an invitation to join a group headed to Flicks. A door slammed, and a basketball thudded down the hallway. From the floor above, reggae blasted, competing with the howl of a blow-dryer. No sign of the dorm settling down Sunday night, not with the last of the weekend to enjoy. Too tired to shower, I collapsed onto the futon for a nap before my all-nighter. A sudden, strange lull descended, so complete it seemed like I was in one of those sensory deprivation chambers that drive test subjects insane. I couldn’t shake the feeling that everyone in the world had disappeared. “Hello?” I called out. “Hello, hello.” No one answered, and I fired up Julia’s laptop to fill the void with light and noise. We met fall quarter, after I studied her for a half hour while she sunbathed, her body long and lean in a black sports bra and board shorts. On the lawn outside her dorm, the new one with spacious lounges and nooks for studying, and where I wanted to live most. Julia seemed like the kind of girl who adopted wounded birds and stray puppies, willing to help a newcomer in need. My bet paid off after I told her I had nowhere to stay because of a mix-up in Housing. Officials said they might find something within a week or two, but until then I’d be sleeping in the 24-hour room at the library. What a way to start freshman year! Julia, a sophomore, invited me to crash in the room she shared with her best friend. One night turned into a week, another and another and then we were at 88 u Crab Orchard Review
Vanessa Hua the end of the quarter, Dead Week, finals, and saying our goodbyes for the holidays. Without their knowledge, my roommates had aided and abetted me. My classmates considered me no different than them, these student body presidents, valedictorians, salutatorians, National Merit Scholars, Model U.N. reps, Academic Decathletes, All-State swimmers and wrestlers, and other shining exemplars of America’s youth. The rejection from Admissions was a mistake. That’s what I told myself, after I clicked on the link and logged onto the portal last spring. Stanford had denied another Elaine Kim, another in Irvine who’d also applied. I waited for a phone call of apology, along with an e-mail with the correct link. I hadn’t meant to lie, not at first, but when Jack Min donned his Stanford sweatshirt, after receiving his acceptance (a senior tradition)—I yanked my Cardinal red hoodie out of my locker. When my AP English teacher, Ms. Banks, stopped to congratulate me, I couldn’t bring myself to say, not yet. She’d worked with me on a dozen revisions of my college essay and written a generous letter of rec, and I didn’t want to disappoint her. Another week passed, and I posed with Jack for the school paper. A banner year for the church our families both attended, and for Sparta High, with two students in a single class admitted to Stanford. When I showed my parents the article as proof of my acceptance, Oppa held the newspaper with his fingertips, as if it were bridal lace he was preserving on a special order. He reeked of chemicals from the cleaners, the stink of exhaustion and servility. “Assiduous,” he said, praise for my hard work. My vocab drills, which began nightly when I was in kindergarten, had fallen to him. For years, he’d been reading the dictionary for self-improvement, and the words we’d studied together coded what otherwise might remain unsaid. “Sagacity,” I replied, thanking my father for his wisdom. In June, with graduation approaching, I politely alerted Admissions of its error. “You haven’t received any notification?” the woman asked on the other end of the line. “A rejection. For another Elaine Kim,” I said, and only then did I realize how ridiculous I sounded. Could I appeal the decision, or get on the wait list? Ignoble. No, she gently said, and explained that those chosen off the wait-list had been notified two weeks ago, and she wished me the best of luck. Crab Orchard Review
Vanessa Hua All those hours, all that money. The after-school academic cram programs. The cost kept us from moving out of our tiny two-bedroom apartment, whose only amenity was its location in a desirable school district and the stagnant pool where I taught myself to swim. Other sacrifices: Oppa put off visiting the doctor until his colds turned into bronchitis and then pneumonia. Umma’s eyes going bad, squinting at the alterations she did for extra cash at the dry cleaners where they both worked. Stanford was the only school to which I’d applied, the only school my parents imagined me attending. Other Korean families aimed for Hah-bah-duh, Harvard, or Yae-il, Yale, but we wanted Suh-ten-porduh, Ivy of the West. On our sole family vacation, before my junior year, we piled into the car and drove to Stanford and back in a single day, a seven-hour trip each way—enough time to eat our gimbap rolls in the parking lot, snap photos of Hoover Tower, buy a sweatshirt, and pick up a course catalogue and a copy of the Stanford Daily, all of which I studied as closely as an archeologist trying to crack ancient runes. I was supposed to become a doctor, and buy my parents a sedan and a house in a gated community. A doctor had a title, respect, and would never be brushed off like them, never berated by customers, and never snubbed by salesclerks. My sister, who sulked the entire ride to campus, wasn’t to be counted on. Five years younger than me, a chola in the making, with Cleopatra eyeliner and teased bangs, she’d turned rebellious in junior high. She could take care of herself, and I’d take care of our parents. When I asked the admissions officer if I could send additional letters of rec, her tone turned icy. “We never reverse a decision officially rendered,” she said, and hung up. The problem, I came to understand, was that my story was too typical. My scores, my accomplishments, and my volunteer work were identical to hundreds, maybe thousands of other applicants, and Admissions had reached its quota of hard-luck, hard-working children of immigrants. I’d been too honest, straightforward where I should have embellished, ordinary where I should have been fanciful. My classmate Jack had launched his own startup, sending used cell phones to Africa. If only I’d been a homeless teen or knit socks and mittens for orphans in China. If only I’d had cancer. I couldn’t tell my parents the truth, not after my pastor announced my Stanford acceptance at church. If my high school classmates found out, I’d become a joke. But if I spent time on the Farm, I’d discover the secret of how to talk, how to act, how to be. When I became a 90 u Crab Orchard Review
Vanessa Hua full-fledged student, no one had to know I had been anything but. I searched Facebook to see what incoming freshman said about forms, housing, tuition, and classes, and told my parents I’d been awarded a government scholarship, and a work-study job to cover the rest. At the bus station, Umma pressed her papery cheek against mine, and gave me a sack of snacks, puffed rice and dried seaweed. My parents wanted to caravan up with Jack’s family, but I told them not waste a day’s pay by taking time off. Angela wished me luck, less surly upon realizing she’d get my room after I left. Oppa handed me a prepaid cell phone and gruffly reminded me to call on Sundays. “Cogent,” he said. Other words described me more aptly, that I didn’t dare say: legerdemain, reprobate. Early Monday morning, the room phone rang, Julia’s mother. I was still up, typing notes for Hum Bio on her laptop, preparing for a test I’d never take. Not strange at all, considering there was a word for it—auditing—learning, but without credit. Covering for Julia, I told Mrs. Ramirez she was at practice. She had probably spent the night at Scott’s, from the men’s crew team. They’d been hooking up, but he was also hanging out with other girls. Scott. He couldn’t be trusted. Not after last night, when he’d come by looking for Julia. It was late, late for her, usually asleep after dinner, on the water at first light for crew practice. I expected him to leave, but he’d sprawled onto the futon—my bed—and asked about my weekend. “At the pool,” I said. I’d learned how to turn my pants into a personal flotation device. Wriggling out, knotting each leg like a sausage, my fingers cramped and slippery. Jerking the pants overhead in a single motion, to fill the legs with air. How to swim on my side, raising my dummy rifle out of the water. The calm I felt, as splashes ricocheted around me. “Water combat training,” I said. “Bad ass,” he said. Then I had realized he wasn’t making fun of me. He was checking me out, his eyes following the line of my legs, up to the powerful curve of my thighs in a pair of running shorts. My body had changed under PT, turned harder, stronger, faster and the hours I used to devote to studying I now spent jogging on Campus Drive and lifting weights in Arrillaga. I blushed, trying to fasten the buttons of the shirt I’d tossed over my sport bra. Scott had long eyelashes, so lush he could have been wearing Crab Orchard Review
Vanessa Hua mascara. The air between us had thickened. His deodorant had a woodsy, musky smell that made me think of plaid and lumberjacks. His phone had buzzed, a text from Julia. She was waiting for him at his place, he’d said, and loped off. Although I’d dreamed I would find lifelong friends at Stanford, women who would be my bridesmaids and men to pal around with and maybe date, I remained apart as ever. Not nerdy enough for the nerds, not Asian enough for the Asians, not enough of anything for anyone. Except for Julia. Because I was a cul-de-sac, not in her circle of jock friends, she trusted me with her secrets. Her fears about Scott, her complaints about our roommate Tina, so spoiled, so careless with her money. I pushed Tina’s mess away from my corner. She’d begun encroaching, her textbooks, her crumpled jeans, her energy bar wrappers, and hairballs swirling like the Pacific garbage patch. Tina was Chinese American, the daughter of immigrants too. From Grosse Pointe, she was used to being the only Asian and had run with a popular crowd in high school, the sort who totaled their BMWs while driving drunk or high and had their replacement rides the very next week. Before break, I told them that Housing found a spot for me, though when the new quarter began, I said it fell through. A few times, I’d walked into the room and the conversation stopped, and I knew they’d been talking about me. Although it might seem strange that they never locked me out, they were too polite, too trusting of a fellow classmate in need. My stomach growled. Security was lax on campus, but the dining hall at this hour wasn’t busy enough to sneak through the exit for breakfast. Freeloading didn’t seem like stealing, not exactly, with more than enough food and classroom seats to go around. I only took what would go to waste. I dug through my ruck, searching for my ROTC assignment due that afternoon. Although the corps had been banned on campus during Vietnam War protests, Stanford students took classes and trained with battalions at other local colleges. I’d slipped through a loophole, easily able to sign up because of the lack of formal communication between schools. I hitched a ride three times a week to ROTC, with a pair of Stanford seniors, who’d both committed to serving eight years in the Army. Friendly but not looking to make another friend, not with graduation and a likely deployment to the Middle East looming. Still, I was grateful for the assignments in military history and equipment 92 u Crab Orchard Review
Vanessa Hua some treated as a joke, and grateful for the rank of cadet. Grateful for the ruck, and the Kevlar that gave me a look of purpose, compared to the Stanford students dressed in shorts and sandals all the time, like they were going to the beach. BDU—battle dress uniform. LBE—load bearing equipment, harness, canteen, first aid kit, and ammo pouch. I was proud to speak the language of ROTC, proud I could navigate in the dark, armed with a map, compass, and a piece of paper. Finding the point, finding the code, finding the pirate’s buried treasure. Flipping open my binder, I found a flyer urging Stanford cadets to apply for the ROTC honor roll with the attached form and an unofficial transcript. A reminder I didn’t have grades, and wasn’t enrolled, a reminder I should give up and go home. Surviving day-to-day brought me no closer to becoming an official student. I imagined my father’s disappointment, my father’s words: ignominious, mendacious. After re-applying, I was waiting for my acceptance from Stanford. Sometimes in lecture hall, biking through White Plaza, shuffling through the dining hall, and at my café job, I sank into the illusion that I belonged here. No different, common among the uncommon. My fingers moved over the keyboard, typing out my classes from first quarter and a grade for each. Three A-s, and a B+ and a B: I wasn’t greedy. If only I’d been given the chance, it would have been my transcript. If—no. The problem sets were impossible and I probably would have flunked out of pre-med. I hurled the binder across the room, hitting Julia’s dresser, knocking over a corkboard plastered with photos of her friends and family. Propping it up, I tried to straighten the crooked pictures of us goofing around, wearing sunglasses and singing into hairbrushes. Julia burst into the room, back from crew practice. With her broad teeth, broad smile, and glossy chestnut hair, she’d make a good show horse. She swept past me, reaching for her birth control pills. As she broke the foil and tipped one into her mouth, I shoved fallen photos under the futon with my foot. When she reached for her laptop, I slid it away, snapping the lid shut. She reached again. “Sorry,” I said, but didn’t hand it over. I said her mother called, hoping Julia might thank me for covering for her. She didn’t. She didn’t thank me for resisting Scott’s considerable charms. She hovered as I restarted her laptop, its hard drive whirring and hanging. “Never mind,” she said, grabbed her dining hall pass and left. The day had barely begun, and I’d pissed off the one person who cared about me here. The laptop woke up, and the file popped open to my fantasy list of grades. If only those could be my marks. That’s Crab Orchard Review
Vanessa Hua when it hit me: an unofficial transcript would be easy to fake, without requiring a watermark or school seal, Courier font in Microsoft Word. With it, I’d apply for the ROTC honor roll. I’d never become Dr. Kim, but with a resume listing my honors and awards, I’d get an internship, and later on, a job to support my parents. A back-up plan. Weren’t tech startups full of dropouts? I hit delete and dropped my A to a B+ in Hum Bio. It didn’t seem fair to give myself an F for a class I wasn’t enrolled in. I decided the grades should reflect my efforts and no one, knowing the lengths I’d gone to, could question mine. Over the next few weeks, my luck began to turn. With my faked transcript, I made the ROTC honor roll, received a ribbon for my uniform, and sent the newsletter listing my award to my parents. It wouldn’t be long until I received my acceptance from Admissions after re-applying, I told myself. Scott was coming around more often, too. Flirting, when he brushed a leaf out of my hair. When he helped himself to dry cereal from a bowl in my lap. The first guy to pay this kind of attention to me. His casual touching, as if I were a prized possession. Nothing could happen between us, not if I wanted a roof over my head, and yet I found myself hoping that each knock at the door meant him. When Julia tried to tell him she loved him, he’d acted weird and left in a hurry, she’d confided. Just before I left for weekend field training, I found the futon folded up, heaped with dirty laundry, sweat-stained athletic bras and balled-up panties, a move territorial as a dog pissing on a fire hydrant, potent as a radiation symbol not to touch. I turned to find Julia in the doorway, Scott standing behind her. She drew herself up, and told me I had to be out by next Friday, when their families were visiting for Parents’ Weekend. What if I spent those nights away and returned after the weekend? “From now on, I’ll stay out one night a week,” I pleaded. She bit her lip. “Two nights. Please. I’ll keep out of Tina’s way.” Mentioning our roommate seemed to remind her of their arguments against me. Julia straightened. “It’s Housing’s responsibility. Not ours.” I tried to catch Scott’s eye—she’d listen to him—but he was suddenly intent on his texts. Had I imagined his attraction? For him, a game, a reflex. “I could pay,” I said. I had a couple hundred dollars saved from my job at the café. Although their room and board had been covered at the beginning of the quarter, I could give them spending money. “I have no choice,” she said. 94 u Crab Orchard Review
Vanessa Hua “You have more choices than me,” I said, shouldered my ruck and left. On the drive to field training, my head ached, tender as an overinflated balloon. I stumbled through the mission, to clear an abandoned house on the training course. First the squad leader forced us into a ditch. Soaked, our BDUs clung and chafed, then stiffened in the rising heat of the day. “Cover me while I’m moving!” “You got covered!” “Moving!” I shouted, running flat out for three seconds, my heart pounding in my ears. I wanted to go on and on, to clear my head of everything but the task ahead. Hurling myself into the dirt, into the rocks and burrs, a hard landing that stole my breath. When I swiveled my dummy rifle, scanning for enemies, Julia appeared beneath a tree. I aimed. Her life, in my hands. I’d never felt so bright, like ten thousand flashbulbs going off and then she vanished, quicker than I could have pulled a trigger. When I returned to campus late Sunday afternoon, red-andwhite balloons had sprouted, along with vinyl banners, temporary stages, and areas cordoned off for Parents’ Weekend. The window to our room was locked, the shades down. I jogged around to the dorm entrance and waited for someone to let me in. I fidgeted in my muddy boots. If I were a cartoon, a gray cloud of stink would have trailed me. At our room, I reached for the doorknob and then dropped my hand. From now on, I had to knock first. When I entered, I discovered the futon remained folded up and my belongings were missing. I sank to the floor, everything I’d been carrying these past months crushing me. Julia rushed towards me, her arms out, with the same concern that had welcomed me to campus, a concern that I’d have to kindle if I wanted to remain her charity case. “There’s been a fire,” I said. The cleaners burnt down earlier this month, I added, the lie turning more real with each detail. I could almost smell the burnt remnants of the shop, see the collapsed roof and charred timbers and smashed glass, and the melted plastic bags. Taste the sickly-sweet ash floating in the sunshine. My parents were out of work, and sticking them for the bill for room and board would bankrupt them. She hugged me, enveloping me with the scent of laundry detergent and clean-living. I felt guilty for aiming at Julia’s mirage during field training, even if I hadn’t meant to, even if near heat-stroke had put me in a trance. I became aware of my stench, its density, crowding out the air in Crab Orchard Review
Vanessa Hua the room. Julia said she would take up a collection around the dorm, to help my family get back on our feet. Tina hadn’t budged from her bunk. Bullshit, her expression said. “We can talk to the RA in your new dorm, too,” Julia said. Stiffening, I drew away from her. She was wearing an over-sized Stanford crew sweatshirt—Scott’s. The song ended and in the silence, Julia added that my sister had friended her online. “She wanted directions to our dorm.” My sister and I had never been close. Umma had promised me a baby brother and when Angela arrived, sickly and translucent as a tadpole, I had been disappointed. I jumped up. “What did you tell her? Did you tell her I was moving?” “For Parents’ Weekend,” Julia said. How easily Julia thought she could get rid of me, how little I mattered. She’d showered me with goodwill until she lost interest in me, as if I were an Easter chick sprouting scraggly feathers. Tina opened the window, breathing through her mouth, making no effort to hide her disgust at my reek. Both their sisters were going to spend the night here, she said. “We’ll be on top of each other. But we’re used to that.” “I didn’t think you’d be psyched to see Tina’s family,” I said. “Doesn’t she get whiny around them?” Julia opened her mouth, speechless. The secrets she’d whispered to me in the dark were on fire, sticky and searing as napalm. Fighting back, I felt as exhilarated and terrified as I had been on the training mission. As Tina lit into her, I fled outside. My weekly calls home had dwindled to once or twice a month, from a half hour to a few minutes. My sister answered on the first ring. “Don’t do this to them,” I said. “To them?” Angela asked. “You think I want to spend all weekend in the car with them?” Bedsprings creaked and I pictured my sister on her back, her narrow feet propped up on the wall. “They bragged at church about the honor roll and Jack’s parents asked if they were going to Parents’ Weekend. Got them excited about visiting No. 1 daughter.” “I have midterms,” I said. Gas prices. The expense. The drive. The hassle of registration. Each excuse sounded flimsier than the last. “I get it now,” she said. “Why I couldn’t find you in the school directory.” 96 u Crab Orchard Review
Vanessa Hua I had nothing to negotiate with, nothing but the threat of what would happen if the lies came to an end. “If I move home, you’d be back on the fold-out,” I said. Silence. “Maybe they’ll stick you there. Or kick you out.” She paused. “It’s time they stopped thinking you’ll save them.” Time I stopped thinking it too. When I returned to the dorm, I found my stuff in the lobby. I wouldn’t have a chance to apologize. It took a couple hours, dozens of trips with an overstuffed backpack to the library—carrying all my books and clothes at once would make the clerk at the front desk suspicious— but I managed to hide everything deep within the stacks. I was a mess, drenched in sweat, and my hair matted against my scalp, and still filthy from field training. In the restroom, I splashed water onto my face and into my armpits. My shirt became soaked, and after I leaned against the sink, the crotch of my pants too, as though I’d peed myself. When the door swung open, I hid in a stall, trembling. Opprobrium. My sister had relented and promised to keep quiet, but I had to find another place to live within a few days, before Parents’ Weekend started on Friday. When I canvassed dorms in search of roommates, people weren’t as friendly to strangers, not like the beginning of the year. Cliques had formed. Eventually, I might find a way in, though not before my family arrived. My routine saved me. Although I could have stopped going to class and ROTC, I would have had too much time to think about Julia, and how she’d turned her back on me. Blessed with so much, she’d accomplish everything she set out to do while I’d slip into insignificance, a footnote, if anyone remembered me at all. I saw her once, by an ATM at Tresidder, and debated whether if I should confront her, or convince her to take me back in. When Scott showed up with smoothies, we locked eyes. After he kissed the top of her head, I bolted. Her—his—their rejection felt like Stanford rejecting me all over again. Everything here was sunnier and brighter, with an ease that blinded people, that made them forget about imperfection and turned them heartless. The day before Parents’ Weekend began, the notification arrived from Admissions. I logged onto the portal, feeling as though no time had passed, as if I were a high school senior on the cusp. The screen flashed. “It is with great regret that we are unable to offer you admission…you are a fine student.…want to thank you for your interest.…” Crab Orchard Review
Vanessa Hua Denied. Everything, everything, for nothing. I didn’t belong at Stanford, never did and never would, in limbo, not here or anywhere, not of the present and lacking a future. Denied. I must have logged off, must have exited the library but what I remembered next was Jack, my classmate from high school, calling my name. He rolled up on his bike. I hadn’t seen him much, except in big pre-med classes, and by mutual unspoken agreement we never sat together. He’d gone preppy, with floppy bangs, khakis and untucked button-downs, after joining an Asian frat. He mentioned our parents were caravanning up, and would take us to lunch at a Korean restaurant tomorrow. The news of my deceit would spread through the church, among the only people my parents trusted. I gasped. “You can wait a day, can’t you?” he said, and grinned. “I haven’t had Korean food since winter break,” I said weakly. After we parted, I narrowly avoided a collision with another cyclist and a wooden bollard. No one loved me like my parents, and I’d returned their love with lies. I collapsed in the grass, watching students and professors zooming by on their bikes, and joggers in sunglasses in tight, shiny workout gear pounding past. I couldn’t stop my parents. But I could stop Parents’ Weekend. Though people here pretended to be laid-back, they couldn’t, wouldn’t be stopped from reaching their destination. Calling in a bomb threat wouldn’t be enough. The situation called for something bigger, something louder, a credible threat, of the kind we’d been studying in ROTC: insurgency. Everything fell into place, except for one detail, one that had nothing to do with what I planned but explained everything I’d been driven to do. Minutes before dawn, I crept outside my old dorm, where I found the window cracked open and the room empty. After crawling inside, I searched for the picture on the corkboard of me and Julia lip-syncing, the only evidence of my months here. Gone. Trashed, like she’d trashed me. The room phone rang and rang, but I didn’t answer. Julia’s cell phone began buzzing, forgotten and left charging on the floor, and when I noticed the caller ID indicating her mother, I answered. I’d been making excuses for Julia for so long, I couldn’t stop. Mrs. Ramirez said they were starting their drive and wanted to know if Julia needed anything. For a second, I almost said she was at Scott’s. Mrs. Ramirez didn’t know her daughter was hooking up with Scott, who Scott was, 98 u Crab Orchard Review
Vanessa Hua or that he wasn’t much for relationships, but I said Julia was on the water, and promised to leave a note. I stared at the background photo on the phone, her and Tina, their heads tilted together, eyes crossed, sticking out their tongues. Friends, best friends. Julia was certain of her love, and her family’s, certain about everything, everyone but Scott. The tighter she clung, the more he pulled away, and if she lost him, then she might begin to feel as abandoned as me. I texted Scott, “I love you.” Now we were even. The sky was starting to lighten. In the center of campus, nothing stirred but squirrels. At the base of a palm tree outside the Registrar’s, I planted a liter bottle of gasoline stuffed with strips of a tee shirt. The golden gasoline sloshed back and forth, a storm in a bottle. Back home, palm trees were common, but not like the ones on campus, which were rumored to cost a year’s tuition. The fronds were lush, a country club’s, and fallen fronds seemed whisked away before they hit the ground. When I heard the whine of an electric cart, I ducked behind a post and a groundskeeper went by. I’d have to hurry. I set down the letter, sealed in a Ziploc and held in place with a brick. Though I’d written it at the end of a very long night, the words had rushed out, with the inspiration I wished for in my college entrance essays. I ranted against rich kids and the parents who spoiled them, acting like they owned the world. Like they were the world itself. I taunted them, implying I’d scattered booby traps and bombs around campus. Dousing the tree with gasoline, I lit the wick, which sputtered with the delicious hiss of a lawn sprinkler. The syrupy fumes made me giddy with the happiness I once thought I might achieve here. In White Plaza, I left another copy of the letter and lit another firebomb. I might have predicted the investigation, news stories, the Facebook fan pages—“Elaine Kim rocks!” My mother in nearcollapse, propped up by my sister, at the county jail. Her face, awful and old, marked by grief as all her hard years had never marked her. My father asking why, not in Korean, not in SAT words, but in the plain English he reserved for customers. For strangers. His hope—his hope in me—would do me in. “I can’t,” I would say, my voice breaking. “I can’t lie anymore.” His caved-in expression. “You have to tell everyone the truth. Telling me won’t help.” Crab Orchard Review
Vanessa Hua Yet if I had been thinking clearly and stopped, if I had retreated, I would have missed the moment when I became mighty and billowing as the smoke drifted into the stratosphere, with the crackle and roar of a wildfire. The dizzying smell of gasoline, of charcoal, of ash come alive. The flaming palm tree the most spectacular of all. An enormous Fourth of July sparkler, a gold-orange celebration burning on and on, a monument, a memory that would far outlast my time here.
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Elizabeth Parsons Bend Over Backwards It started with a cigarette girl, you know; we saw that girl stumbling out the Eye-and-Eye bar on Haight Street, about to kiss asphalt just as we turned the corner. I’ve lived in this neighborhood under rent control for twenty years. These kinda girls started back up in the 80s, maybe. It was the idea of some dot.com smartass no doubt: revive the strolling cigarette girls of the twenties. Make them modern and campy with chocolates, condoms, junk toys, (and cigarettes); let them loose on the unsuspecting drunks and watch the money roll in. “Peachy Puffs,” they called them, and the kid was right. No drunken yuppie hipster would flinch at paying ten bucks for smokes when the seller was a pretty girl in a purple wig and a tight skirt. So in they swarmed, pink and painted and ruffled, most of them looking like a cross between a Bettie Page, Shirley Temple, and a rock ‘n roller type, what with all the tattoos and piercings and all. Sal and I had just finished a 10-hour shift in the warehouse, and were still in our work grubs. “C’mon, man,” he told me, slapping my back. “Need a drink.” It was only Wednesday, I thought, but what the hell: it had been a long day, all right; I’d torn my hands all to shit and my temples were pounding from the steady stream of sawdust and paint thinner. So I counted the bills in my wallet, and we headed out. Enough for one or two, at least, and Sal promised to buy the first round. It all happened in a matter of seconds, of course, but I remember it in slow motion: we were turning, were taking that right from Fillmore. Me, I was a little dizzy still, and I hit my shoulder against the brick side of another damned realtor joint. When I looked up, there she was, not twenty feet in front of us: a swarm of ruffles and pink and cellophane lifting up as if on a wave, arching, twisting, then crashing into the gum and piss-stained pavement. And it was like some heavenly piñata had up and exploded above her head: a rainstorm of lollipops, Marlboros, pixie sticks, and those fuzzy-ended light-up things—the ones that look like psychedelic dust mops. Crab Orchard Review
Elizabeth Parsons And there was the gangly guy—sitting on his usual stool outside, checking IDs, beneath the old-fashioned neon sign (“Eye-and-Eye Club: Wide Open at 6 am”). With his frozen hair, the way it shined blue-black, I always thought he looked like an older, longer Elvis, if Elvis were tattooed and made of pale and ruddy clay. That guy didn’t seem surprised. He looked down at that clump of girl face down on the pavement—her fingers outstretched, grasping at it, gently, as if soothing a baby to sleep—and he switched the stub of cigarette to his left hand. “So guess you don’t want that candy, then, girl?” said Elvis, sucking in a breath and hacking out a laugh that rang too loud, in spite of the chatter and music that spilled from the bar into the outdoors. No response from the pavement. At that point, one of the regulars who had stepped outside for a smoke tossed aside his cigarette to kneel down beside her. He was in coveralls, an electrician I guess, or a mechanic. I watched as he lifted the hair from her face, gingerly, as if lifting a blanket from a sleeping child. “Damn,” he said. “Well, shit. Get ’er up,” Elvis said, resigned. “Don’t think that’s gonna happen, Buddy,” the electrician replied, his voice a little higher than I would have expected. “Grab that $5 over there for me, will you?” Elvis bent down and picked up the bill from the foot of his stool. He glared at the electrician for a moment, and handed it over. Until then, we were just staring, Sal and I, because the last thing we expected was to see this tumbling, big-chested Vegas-type nearly kill herself with her graceless gymnastics act. But when the patron said “dollar,” I blinked and saw the bills that spread out from her tinseled body like offerings, and I saw Elvis was looking now too, counting, probably, wondering if the spread was bigger than what he had collected tonight. The girl was gurgling into the pavement—what sounded like a sad and terrible yodel—so I bent down to help collect too, and Sal followed my lead. The wind had already died down, and it was a Wednesday so the street was relatively sedate. Lucky for Peachy, we weren’t crackheads or speed freaks and we both just got paid, so when she came to—if she came to—she’d be able to pay off her boss and maybe keep a little for herself. Maybe the night wouldn’t be a total bust. And I’d done my good deed for the year. The electrician took a full seat at the curb and, lulling the girl’s head on his tattooed forearm, he scooted it so that it rested on his thigh. She moaned, drew her knees closer to her breasts—there’s a 102 u Crab Orchard Review
Elizabeth Parsons sign, I thought—and a sliver of drool slid from her lips, making a dark circle on his leg. Sal and I busied ourselves pooling the money together as the electrician watched us from the ground. We weren’t damned thieves, I thought. We counted it, $43 and change. “Here,” I said to him. His thin fingers reached up and that’s when I realized my mistake—the electrician was a woman, a manly one, sure, but not that unlike anyone I’d seen around the neighborhood, guy or girl: tattooed, short, greased hair, a silver-studded ring that dangled from an eyebrow. But those were breasts between her shoulders. A woman, all right. I placed the wad in the electrician-woman’s hand, looking her in the eye so she’d know I meant it. “We’ve gotta get going.” “You should stay,” the electrician said. “Gotta wait til the EMT gets here.” “What?” I spat. “We were just passing by.” Sal was peering down the street at the Tornado now, at the cluster of smokers lingering outside—the usual suspects: Tony Day, Jay with his hat on backwards. That kid who started coming around last month with the medical grade, the one they called Doc. Between the buildings, the sky had faded to gray. The bar’s “Open” sign seared into it. “Gotta stay,” she repeated, her voice deep and sure, resting her hand on the girl’s head like a pet. “You’re witnesses. This girl is hurt. They’ll want statements.” “Fuck,” Sal exhaled, like he’d been holding it in all this time. “And here I just wanted a beer.” “Yeah. Just another day,” Sal offered, glancing at his feet. He seemed to be contemplating a run. The man had a mortal fear of cops, anyone who wore the badge, in fact. We’d only worked together three months but the first time he came through, his cheek all bandaged up and he was walking with a limp. He looked straight at us boys huddling over our lunches and said, “Never trust a badge.” It wasn’t long after that he was joining us for happy hour. He wasn’t the nicest guy, but we respected him for that—he didn’t speak much, and when he did, it counted for something. I slipped a cigarette from my pocket, lit it, and turned to him. “Go on ahead, Sal. I’ll talk to the damned cops. Get your beer at Tornado. Tell ‘em I’ll be down in a few.” “I don’t think that’s a good idea—” started the lady, but I interrupted her. “Hey, we don’t need to both be here. You want someone to make a Crab Orchard Review
Elizabeth Parsons statement, I’ll stay. But let my friend go. Him and cops have a funny history.” She looked at Sal, then at me, and then something seemed to click in Sal’s head, that he wasn’t going to stick around to get permission from this bitch, and at the same time, the lady seemed to realize it too, so she dropped her dark eyes and went back to the girl. Peachy had gone quiet now but for the occasional hmmm. Sal slapped me on the shoulder and started to shuffle off. He didn’t look back at us: not at me or at the lady or the girl, not at the skinny Elvis, who had scooted his stool a little further away from us and was staring out at the street intently. I took a moment to shoot the electrician-lady a look, then pressed my back into the wall. Now it was just us and Elvis, although business was picking up and he was busying himself with IDs and taking covers. Just us and that sorry mess of girl, the people who walked by, circling us, sometimes stepping over her, that heap of broken candy. All this for a beer, I thought. That’s what I get for leaving the house. Welcome to the fucking neighborhood. Right, Sal? I imagined we had kept walking; I saw us settled into the red vinyl stools at the Tornado, talking about the fucked up Peachy girl and what a strange way to start the night. I drew in on my smoke, moving my head slowly back and forth so that the grain of the brick scratched against my skull. I was tired of this shit. I hope this lady doesn’t try small talk to make the time pass, because fuck knows when the cops would get around to responding. The girl didn’t seem to be dying; they’d give her some fluids, pump her stomach maybe. I busied myself with the traffic whizzing by, trying to guess the make and model of each car: Chevy Impala, Honda Accord, a refurbished Mustang. I could still feel her without looking, though, the electrician-lady’s eyes grazing me up and down, doubting me. I’m a simple man, lady, I thought. All I want is a beer with my buddies. It must have been fifteen minutes until the ambulance showed up, and the cops rolled in a minute or so later. I saw the cruiser easing its way up Haight—lights without sirens always seemed funny to me, like the street was on mute—and finally double-parking next to the Impala, just in front of the bar. Elvis eased himself off his stool and slipped casually inside. The next few minutes the EMTs hovered around the couple on the ground. “Tell me what happened.” “How do you know this woman?” 104 u Crab Orchard Review
Elizabeth Parsons “Is she on any medication?” I lit another cigarette, waited my turn. The cruiser sat motionless, its lights still fluttering over the walls of the building, until finally the doors opened and out stepped two cops: a white guy, skinny, with a typical cop’s haircut and swagger; a black dude, older, who, judging by the lines around his mouth, had seen his share. The white guy seemed to be chewing something as he approached. Is that why they sat so long in the car, I thought. Eating a fucking sandwich? I felt my forehead getting warm. Cops were always buzzing around where they weren’t wanted— but when you actually needed them, they were busy stuffing their faces. The cops joined the EMTs, who had removed the Peachy from the lap of the stranger, lifting her gently from the pavement to a stretcher, easing her head into some sort of metal contraption. “It’s in case there was a spinal injury,” the electrician-lady said to me, looking at me, but I kept on looking straight ahead, thinking, I didn’t ask. The stretcher was rolled up to the ambulance, loaded inside, the doors shut. A moment later, the van was pulling into traffic, and there goes my evening, I thought. Just like that, a whole night wasted. It was the fuzz’s turn to ask the questions. The black one hung back as the white guy approached. He looked too young, I thought. And not so much different to any of the asshole jockeys I went to school with: too comfortable in his stride, which wasn’t a stride at all, but sort of a graceful waddle, on account of his muscled thighs. “Ma’am,” he said, speaking to the electrician-lady. “You first. Tell me what happened.” “Sure,” the woman responded, standing up to watch the ambulance turn a corner. “This girl—” “How you know her?” interrupted the cop. “I don’t.” “Go on.” “This girl, she stumbled out the door here. I had stepped outside for a smoke; all I saw was the girl come flying out the doorway, her cigarettes and candy and shit going everywhere.” “And?” “And that’s it. I guess she took some bad stuff or something. Or took too much; she looked pretty messed up—” “Why don’t you leave that for us to decide.” “Sure,” the woman said, her voice a bit uncertain. “‘Yeah sure?’ How about ‘yes sir’?” he said, pulling a small notebook from his breast pocket. Crab Orchard Review
Elizabeth Parsons “Sorry—?” “Sir,” I stepped up, not wanting this to go on any longer than it already had. “This lady here was trying to help. She sat with that girl for fifteen minutes or so while we waited on you.” “Waiting for me?” The cop looked up from his notebook, raising an eyebrow. “Was I talking to you? I was talking to the lady here.” “I know, Officer. But— ” “Sir,” the electrician-lady said, seeming to regain her resolve. “Excuse me, but we were just trying to help.” “Why were you bothering her?” “Sorry?” “Were you bothering that girl? Why was she laying on you like that? You two girlfriends or something?” He smiled at that, made a clicking sound with his tongue. I knew where this was going. I had dealt with this type of cop before: the type that never got enough respect in the neighborhood and came back to take that respect. You couldn’t argue with these types. Not in San Francisco, not in this neighborhood, anyway. I prayed the lady would go along too. “What do you mean, Officer? I was trying to help.” “You talking back to me, lady?” “What? Sorry?” “Quit saying sorry. I said, you talking back.” It wasn’t a question. I tried to peer over the cop’s shoulder to see what his partner was doing. Wasn’t this why they had partners? To keep the assholes in line? But the black dude was just leaning up against the cruiser, staring straight ahead. “Sorry, sir, I was just trying—” “I said quit saying sorry, Dyke.” Oh God, I thought. Please let me get to Sal. Shut up, lady. Just take it; let it be. Let the asshole think he has the upper hand. “Officer—” I pleaded. “Get the fuck out of here, you. I don’t want to hear anything else out of you. Leave this to me.” I looked around again, but the black cop had retreated to the cruiser. His gaze was downward, as if reading a book. “But Sir—” “Get the fuck out of here unless you want to come downtown like your dyke friend.” I didn’t need to hear any more. She wasn’t no friend to me, and 106 u Crab Orchard Review
Elizabeth Parsons besides, Sal was waiting. Maybe some of the boys too. This wasn’t my business. Not the thousands of asshole cops, not the thousands of good Samaritans who stick their noses in when they shouldn’t. I nodded, shoved my hands in my pocket and gave the electrician-lady one last look. She’d probably be O.K., I thought. But she wasn’t looking my way, she was stepping backwards as the jock cop slid two thick hands around her elbows. “What?” she was saying. “What?” God that beer would taste so good. I wanted to feel it sliding down, freezing up in my chest. Maybe I’d still be able to catch a bit of happy hour. I hustled faster, the cold licking though my pants. I pressed my elbows in tighter. It was getting cooler, all right; a fogless day meant a freezing night, my dad used to say—you gotta dress for four seasons in one day in this damned city. I stepped up to the silver doors of the Tornado, and felt the air slice my cheeks as the cruiser raced down Haight.
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Terry Lucas Contra Costa …I will make the wilderness a pool of water, and the dry land springs of water. …the streams whereof shall make glad the city. —Isaiah 41:18 Psalms 46:4 Imagine no San Francisco Bay. Only golden fur hills shedding rainwater to the river, methodically emptying an inland sea in the east into the nameless ocean, beached a long day’s journey west. Imagine cliffs not yet formed that will separate northern tribes from the peninsula left when the earth lifts itself up and the valley cracks and sinks like the center of a cake taken from the oven too early, before the guests arrive. Instead of a skyscraperscape pinned to the horizon, mammoths, camels, giant sloth along the riverbank in herds, a cloud of dust, not yet stuck to moist creases in a human face or the palm of a hand as it grips a spear or cradles a baby’s head after it passes from a mother. Imagine ten thousand years later, sitting in circle, bearing witness to the birth of the bay, glaciers melting, the ocean rising enough to reverse the river and flood the valley with sponges, jellyfish, sea squirt, sharks. Imagine
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Terry Lucas the surprise of a camouflaged, saber-toothed tiger circling the first village, flint piercing its side, smoke curling through the still air like the shed skin of a snake. ✴ ✴ ✴
Every morning painters climb single file up the catenaries: climb to the top of each tower, where the cradles rock between the peninsula and the headlands, the Pacific and the cool gray city. Bussed by salt and fog, the bridge’s vermilion lipstick smears and fades by sublimation directly into the gaseous state. They apply PMS 173 continually—the anchorage, abutments, bowstrings—paint occasionally dripping, splattering five hundred feet below onto the cement balustrades at seventy-five miles an hour— a bicyclist’s helmet, a tourist’s wrist, splashes of flame, stains on sidewalks, marks on flesh that turn black and then a permanent gray: proof that they were here, proof that they crossed through the Golden Gate. ✴ ✴ ✴
Some fold their laundry the night before, place lambskin sweaters chest down on the bed, cross sleeves behind backs, turn ribbed cuffs up, sides in, bend cotton bodies into thirds or halves, stack them neatly into cedar drawers. Some line up ponies and riders on polo shirts,
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Terry Lucas underwear devoted totally to bottom shelves. Some never touch heaps of dirty clothing, leave everything for lovers or parents to dispose of… Some type up notes in Times New Roman: poems, diatribes or bizarre encomiums. Some make videos in drag, drugged on popular culture. Some merely hum as they climb over the railing and stand on the ledge, gaze at the piled-up city, the waves that suck life in under the bridge, then out to the ocean again. ✴ ✴ ✴
At the top of the ramp in my parking garage, I wave my plastic card with electromagnetic strip. The mechanical arm faithfully bends at the elbow, then lifts. The pedestrian warning blares, but I honk, just to make sure, before I turn right, then left on Columbus, and North Beach is aswarm with pleasure seekers. The Purple Onion, The Stinking Rose, Specs, Cafés Divine and Trieste. Through the Marina with the black diamond bay off to the right, a lone runner, reflective tape on hands and legs. Disembodied bones thrashing the air. Golden spots beneath the span appear, footlights to an empty stage, before the play begins. Then the curtain of trees in the park rises and the bridge appears, the claret towers square, the further one resting inside the near, both sights on a mile-long rifle, the flashing gunmetal rain behind the rain, blowing sideways across the fiery barrel. I speed through in the center lane. Am I drifting or is it the swinging deck beneath the smoke-filled sky, above the kneeling waves?
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Terry Lucas ✴ ✴ ✴
High on the hills above Niles Canyon, fog collects horse silhouettes. An infinite number of ways to say this gathering of flesh, huddled above the silver river, cleaving golden hills to the east, fresh waters flowing west to the brackish south bay, then north where they meet the sea: a rip tide opens up the shoreline, page by torn page, mud sucks at mossed-over beams of piers swaying with the tides, red-winged blackbirds singing sunrise: electric blossoms scattered, thistles. And Mt. Diablo rises, rises, the Pacific plate continues feeding the continent through its faults, spitting out greywacke, chert and shale piled up for bobcat and kit fox to stalk a stray lamb or fawn, an occasional concolor cougar taking down a full-grown doe before the sun warms its riffling coat: deep beneath the still surface waters roil inside the machinery of the estuary, move toward the saline gate, thickening like muscled hindquarters hitched to a plow, leaning into its harness as it passes under the Dumbarton, the San Mateo, the Bay bridges, past Alcatraz, Angel Island, San Quentin: the waters Crab Orchard Review
Terry Lucas make their final approach, where kite surfers are flying beneath the bridge, catching the wind, lifting the chop, spinning before landing in illegible white caps, beside a steeply-keeled Coast Guard boat, figures in orange decontamination suits lined up on the deck, circling an imagined point of entry, the black diesel smoke drifting toward the fog, a lugubrious shadow rising, the cutter completing its final circle, then angling back to perpendicular, as the waters break through their harness and rush through the gate.
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Diane Kirsten Martin Contiguous Don’t you wonder about the panhandler on Fremont and Market, sharing his day’s proceeds with his pink-nosed pit? Or Frank Chu, with his sign of 12 Galaxies? What about the World-Famous Bushman, hiding behind the branch he shakes at passers-by, or the matching—from pumps to pillbox hats—Marian and Vivian Brown. Who are they and who are you, staring out from the glass eyes of your apartment? Do you wake in a sweat on an October night with stars, the moon a fat orange and the temperature pushing 90° and remember a silver filigree ring buried under the azalea, the mute orphan who lived with his uncle, your father who gave you the back of his hand? Do you, like Frank, dream of aliens? I’ll bet the man on Fremont dreams about Thunderbird and wakes up as if he drank a whole bottle of fortified wine. Nights like this, with windows wide, you can hear the rush of the freeway, like the sound of whitewater Ronald Reagan had piped into his bedroom for insomnia. Nights like this
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Diane Kirsten Martin we lie naked, contiguous in this warm ocean that flows around our backs and breasts our arms our throats our lips, necks, thighs.
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David Mason Through Her Lens The eye seeing becomes not I but seen leaf, raft of tiny sticks in the cold dark brew of a pond. I stand outside of her and see her seeing, so become not I. A rain not rain enough to wet soft light on hawthorn bark, on moss, on dune grass where the muffled surf like conversation to the deaf makes distant comprehendingness. Is that a word? Oh, never mind, but watch the spotlit mercury waves, the boulder breakwater curving out. She aims and goes out with it, far into the story of the world, and what she would come back to, here, would be a lover loving her for looking outward into there. Move out through the dissolving lens, the rain not rain upon your skin, the eye not I, the going gone.
Crab Orchard Review
Amaknak After a shift of killing crab by thousands you punch out in the dark companionway and walk the plank from hull to gravel quay to make good use of the last rain of the day for squinting into, booting it by the sea. The lives you held in your hands were split in two, but were they really mute when legs and claws went into the boiling bins, when brain and back were ground to a fine powder? You walk the thought off, leaning into the wind as onto the rocks the surf pounds harder and harder. Death is never remote. It follows you like a brother in ptarmigan hills. Death in the ruined bunker of somebody’s war where shattered glass and condoms strew the floor, the whistling wind and tapping strand of wire. Death in the drunken fisherman’s stony stare and the storm of mewling gulls. Death in the open stench of a rotting seal. Death in the bleached tangle of driftwood limbs. Death in the sunken fleet in Captain’s Bay and the bay itself where schools of sockeye swim. Death in the weather having its rainy way, the way you learn to fail.
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David Mason For sooner or later the shore will turn you around. You follow its edge to the steaming barge where you work, rain in the work-lights, beams in a driven cloud, death in the daylight, death in the coming dark, death in the song you forgetfully sing aloud over the shell-covered ground.
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On the Occasion of Her Majesty Queen Lili‘uokalani’s Birthday Dear Lydia Lili‘u Loloku Walania Wewehi Kamaka‘eha, Dear imprisoned poet, First the crown flower garlands on your bronze hands, then Kumulipo translated for English lips. First, the nation and then the grace of refusal to entreat treason. Next the sea change. Next the annexation. Next the angry 21,169 fingers and a sea of ink. Then the broken feathers of the ‘Ō‘ō and Mamo. Then the Americans with guns. Today in Ray-Bans and Jersey Shore eyebrows: I kū mau mau. I kū huluhulu. Today Elderts gunned down on the street, today Deedy wet with whiskey walks free. Today the ‘Ō‘ō and Mamo are extinct. Today: Stand together. Haul with all your might. Dear Queen of this nation, Dear Queen of Pacific salt and tears, Dear scepter and fragment of cushion, Dear just Lili of heaven, From you, true love shall never depart.
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Acridotheres tristis The quarrelsome bird is a poet named “mynah.” His tongue roves the world over, this homeless mynah. Kanchan stole Popo’s songs we dance to in London. For his each coolie chord she instead struck a minor. In her Brampton project Aji dreamt of Guyana, her bones sown in a field like the story “Cow-Minah.” Afta’ me book come me cousin dem a-vex. Dem bin wan hear dis story befo’ me mek ’em mine? Na. In Mānoa, a Kanaka Maoli woman claims, “Haole are invasive, it’s just pretend this term ‘kama‘āina.’” kalapani ke par wali kasturi sirf eke ki nahin. zamin hile, barf pighale kiska chehera dikayega aina?
(Ambergris from across seven seas is not just of one. When land shifts and ice caps melt whose face is in the mirror?)
Cast off, Paul Raimie Rajiv, your each name a shipscrape, the horizon entices and your moorings are minor.
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Rhincodon typus Once you swallowed a man and the earth followed. It poured out a placenta of knotted clots and krill in a birthing ceremony. This skin is a sieve. Once a man jumped into the coral and rode your dorsal into darkness and you held the sun pelagic in your chest to chart the gouge across the abyss burning in your own gold. You dove into silence you could not break, gripping wonder between your lattice of daggers, until the sun dusked and you sank beneath the sheet of horizon. There is joy in night. It summons you between continents to whisper prayers into its ink. Once a fisherman took off his face; mistook himself for a shadow, and plunged his hook into your new moon night to implant his false god of fear into your liver until you surfaced 120 u Crab Orchard Review
Rajiv Mohabir gasping, Let there be light. And what flared from you, scattering as a herring shoal, shot in beams through your skin, as you took his hand and kissed it? Now every voyager looks over the bow to see you. What darkness endures if this body is a lantern?
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Indo-Queer Windward-Side barsaat mein samandar dagariya bhaiye behet nadiya bhala kaun rok paibe Against the trade winds Your Aji teaches you the force of her songs; you sing in her voice but your family still disowns you. Your Puas roost around a table and black tongue you with curses like marbles thrown to trip you, to split your head on the cement. They are vexed you survive; that you pick yourself up from the pavement to voice strains on how to be expelled, cross the black waters of uncertainty, how to thrive in Diaspora, the sun flaring in your chest. In this time of fading binaries their hate is cockeyed and witless; yours is a throat that will not abide silence.
In the monsoon the river floods into a sea, who can possibly arrest a riverâ€™s flow?
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Marianne Villanueva Crackers In December 2012, I finally emerged from the wild mountain fastness of the Philippines. My left shoulder had a tattoo of a python, my right a tattoo of a kris, the blade of choice of the mountain tribes. I wore a necklace of red parrot beaks. I spoke only in monosyllables. They said I was crackers. They made me register at the Palo Alto VA for a psychiatric evaluation. The attendant asked my age, and though I had not thought about it for many years, I replied that I might be 41 or 42. My mother, God rest her soul, was a saint. She passed away when I was still in grade school. My father was the kind of man whose idea of spoiling us was to give us Happy Meals, every single day. While I was “away,” my father died, my sister inherited all his money, and there was nothing left for me. My first night back in America, I couldn’t sleep. The quiet made me jumpy. People don’t realize how noisy the jungle is. When you know what to listen for, you can tell who is next to you, who is a few feet away, who is just on the other side of that bamboo thicket. Night is for hunting. It’s an active time. Here, though, the night is so quiet, it’s like being dead. Just before dawn, I would fall asleep surrounded by my women— Tapia and Tota and Naca—who liked to sleep curled up around or on top of me. Tapia was the smallest. She couldn’t quite get her arms around my waist, so it was she who was usually on top. Tota and Naca happily settled for sleeping on either side. I fell asleep feeling their soft breath against my chest and my shoulders. Vines would open their milky white flowers in the warm night air, and the scent was heavy and sweet. Here in the U.S., the strongest smells are the ones that come with the cleaning ladies: ammonia and Lysol. I think it’s these smells that cause my nightmares. They flew me home. All I asked for was a seat by the window. I looked at the green earth vanishing, I looked until there was nothing below but clouds. To calm myself, I made a list of the things I had learned while I was in the mountain fastness: Crab Orchard Review
Marianne Villanueva 1. I learned how to speak to birds, lizards, bats and many other wild animals. 2. I learned that sickness is caused by evil spirits. 3. I learned that the best time for hunting is one or two days before the full moon. 4. I learned that a strong man has many wives. 5. I learned to banish loneliness. The forest abounded with a tiny species of monkey, Tarsius pumilus, whose eyes and ears were regarded by my tribe as a particular delicacy. The doctor asked if I had seen any other Americans during my time in the wild mountain fastness. Perhaps missionaries? I said that I had not, but my tribe told stories of a man named Father Nal-Buan, whose skin was white and whose thighs were as wide as tree trunks. He had died in the long-ago time before Jesus. But he could still be seen, from time to time. He was very tall, almost seven feet, and very hairy, and was said to favor Marlboros. Even when he wasn’t visible, the cigarette smoke was a dead giveaway. I knew that they would come for me eventually. The night before my captors arrived, the crickets were louder than usual. My wives were restless. Naca wept, for no apparent reason. In Palo Alto, freeways stitched the hills, full of angry, buzzing cars (cars had given birth to monsters: huge SUVs that reared up suddenly, from various directions). I longed to possess one of these machines: they seemed to harness so much power. The people driving were like sky spirits, moving fast as lightning bolts. “You must pass a California driving test,” they told me. They said there were other machines, big as whales (though I had to ponder this: I couldn’t be sure I knew how big whales were, any longer), and these were called buses and ran day and night, at regular intervals. They offered to have one of the nurses accompany me to the corner of El Camino and Page Mill Road, and show me how to board one. But anyway, why bother with cars, the doctors said. Your head is too full of other things right now. Besides, there are so many new driving regulations. Finally, they had to spit it out: the psychiatric evaluation alone would be enough to prevent me from getting a driver’s license. The evaluation said that I posed a danger, not only to others, but to myself. “Post-traumatic stress disorder” was the term they used. 124 u Crab Orchard Review
Marianne Villanueva I asked for my notebooks. They said that all my belongings from the time before had been placed in storage, in the Army Street Facility in Potrero Hill. I protested that I was not in the Army. They refused to respond to this. Instead they told me there was a man who kept careful tallies of the amount I owed the government. The storage rental fee would probably run, they said, close to a hundred dollars a month. But they would forgive that, if I would just promise never to fraternize. Fraternize with whom, I asked. Who do you think I might be fraternizing with? Nurses, they said. And doctors. Outside of your counseling sessions. And anyone from the wild mountain fastness. They added, You might become agitated. And you know what happens when you become agitated. I was confused. I could not understand why they thought anyone from over there would be in Palo Alto. America was too far for any of them to walk to, and they had no planes. No one wanted to leave the wild mountain fastness for a place where the Paper God ruled all. Furthermore, you could not land on American soil without documents, and the I-Na-Ko had no birth certificates and no passports and might be stopped at Customs for things like having plant spores sticking to their flesh. The biggest problem was convincing the doctors at the VA that I was an ordinary person. And that such an ordinary person as myself did indeed fall in love with the wild mountain fastness. That was the one true explanation. Cut it out, the doctors said. Stop talking about love. What do you know about love? Your relatives say you never wrote. No need to sneer at me, I said. Love means children. Who I love unconditionally. Love means intense sex. For as long as three days (I observed a blonde nurse, from the corner of my eye, wrinkle her nose at that last one!) at a time. I told them I had fallen in love 162 times and that each of my three wives had produced children. In all, I had 31 children, all of whom were born perfect, with warm skin and hazel eyes and abundant hair and ten fingers and ten toes and the little nub in the belly that signaled power. You had no right, they said. No right to father those children. The ideaâ€”! They curled their lips scornfully, as if seeing, in their minds, the little black angels. It was great, I said. A man must have company. Who needs company, they said. Ridiculous! Call someone. Crab Orchard Review
Marianne Villanueva Who? I asked. Who should I call? The Pentagon? Besides, there was no cell phone reception in the wild mountain fastness. “This one’s a joker,” the doctor said. And I realized that he was talking to someone who was not in the room. I remembered, from before, that people were usually deceitful. The ones with you in the room would smile; but the ones watching through little peepholes would be shaking their heads. How could they speak of duty, when all they did was talk and make scribbles on pads of yellow ruled paper? In the wild mountain fastness I was happy. Every year, a child or two or three was born. I lost one wife to another man, but the tribe chased that man away and returned my wife to me. My other wives were much more loyal: they said they were content, living with me. The VA doctors said: The Director-General has forbidden it. It says so right there, in your official recruitment letter. Look at the bottom of p. 6. I couldn’t help thinking of the children I had left behind. If I could only have been assured of their welfare. During the rainy season, typhoons and the resultant mud slides were a constant preoccupation in the wild mountain fastness. The young doctor, the one with four eyes, continued: In Bangkok, where you were stationed for three years— —? You filed only two reports in three years. I became furious. I began to sputter: So, so, so? The government paid the rent of your apartment and what did you do? Brought in whores. There was a girl named Ericha—You remember her? The one who worked at “Wild Things?” The one who sniffed glue— I became hot, and cold. Then hot again. Fraternizing with the locals is a violation of the terms of your contract! Ericha was a member of Thailand’s most notorious underworld gang! She also passed information to the Chinese! Information that was used to deceive the American government! Those words doused my spirit. I realized I would have to take a hard look at all my remaining assets. In the VA Hospital, I had my own private room. The walls were painted a pale yellow, there was a TV bolted to the wall, and bed that could go up and down and fold in the middle. But I couldn’t understand the straps on my arms and feet. They gave me injections, night and day. I loved these injections. 126 u Crab Orchard Review
Marianne Villanueva They gave me beautiful dreams of my people in the wild mountain fastness. I was there once again, in Kalawitan. Where the jungle bounded my valley on all sides. Whenever I happened to open my eyes, the tall, dark nurse, the one who looked like he was from Mumbai, or some Indian city, would be sitting in the chair next to my bed. He was always doing crossword puzzles. Every time I opened my eyes, his hand would begin to shake. I knew he was aware that I was watching him. Without looking up, his right eyebrow would rise, ever so slightly. Or he would start stretching his legs, as if they’d gotten cramped from sitting so long in the chair. One day, I let it be known how much I liked peanut butter and jelly sandwiches, I hadn’t had one in so long. A nurse with a pug nose brought in a steel tray that contained one slice of bread on a white plate, one tiny jar of peanut butter, a small, square packet of blueberry jam, and a plastic knife. I requested that she unscrew the lid of the peanut butter jar, and said that I would be glad to do the rest. For some reason, this made her angry, and she stalked out of the room. What was I supposed to think, looking at all these ingredients? Peanut butter is simply peanut butter, a slice of bread is simply a slice of bread. One cannot say Abracadabra and expect a peanut butter and jelly sandwich to materialize. Did they think I was a magician? There were two men wearing lab coats who patroled the corridor outside, at all hours. I would request tea, and my request would be delivered to the hospital commandant. They said that if I didn’t cut it out, I would be sent to Fort Leavenworth, which I later found out was in Kansas. It would take many days to get there. I didn’t believe them. They wanted to know whether the I-Na-Ko (which was the name the Americans called my tribe, but was not the name the tribe used to refer to themselves, yet another cause for confusion) could be persuaded to work with the CIA, and were the women really as beautiful and as wanton as they had heard? Actually, I said, the women are not beautiful at all. Because of inbreeding, a majority of them are cross-eyed. I pretended to give them directions to the precise location of the wild mountain fastness, but when I should have said North I said South, and when they asked which road they should take from the coast, I made up a plausible sounding name: Hagbayon. The true road was named Akdula, which means “heart” in their language. One of the career paths they encouraged me to explore was Forensics School. During periods between injections, the counselor Crab Orchard Review
Marianne Villanueva said, I could go to dances or play bridge, which was what all Forensics students did; it apparently helped them to relax. This, if I remember correctly, was how they put it: A career in Forensic Science offers many possibilities. I had seen enough forensics on CSI. I watched CSI all the time, the year before I disappeared into the wild mountain fastness. I even remember the name of the older actress, the one with lovely, reddish hair: Marg. After a while, from having to answer so many questions, my memories became jumbled up. Sometimes, I even forgot how many years I had spent in the wild mountain fastness. Sometimes I thought it had been two years, but at other times I thought it might have been closer to seven or even ten. These were the things I missed: the strange clicking sounds the women made in their throats when they were aroused. I had formulated a theory that this was vestigial evidence of the time the people had been lizards. I missed fireside chats, and hanging by my thumbs from tall trees. I missed watching the tails of blue-breasted birds flickering in the jungle half-light. Things I did NOT miss: mosquitoes the size of Labrador retrievers and the furry black beetles that crawled all over my face at night when I was trying to sleep. And chiggers. And leeches. And how hard it rained when it did rain, and how I would wake in the middle of the night because of the monotonous sound of the rain dripping from the leaves. It can drive you crazy, that drip drip drip. There were fearsome creatures on the other side of the mountain. The I-Na-Ko talked about them constantly: CIA. See-yah, See-yah. See you? They could make fire at will, from the ends of a stick. The fire could be aimed like an arrow. It was impossible to run from these things. I saw the burn marks on the peopleâ€™s shoulders, backs, and thighs. Big birds come, they said. And whoosh whoosh, the trees go flat. Americans? Big men? Shades? Yes. See-yah was CIA. They called Americans the Sky People, because they always arrived on big, gray birds with curling blades of iron that went round and round and round. It was hard in the beginning. My first weeks in the wild mountain fastness, I developed a severe case of dysentery. Then the I-Na-Ko showed me how to use a plant with fan-shaped yellow leaves that grew by 128 u Crab Orchard Review
Marianne Villanueva a mountain spring. They swore that the leaves had medicinal properties. After I began the leaf-smoking regimen, I could hang from the branches of trees as they did, exactly like one of the screaming monkeys that launched themselves from tree to tree, high in the forest canopy. During one of my VA sessions, a doctor showed me a very large book that he said was a dictionary: the Merriam-Webster, 12th edition. He placed it on the table between us, turned it so that the words faced me, and opened it very slowly. With his right index finger (I might add: a rather long yellowish fingernail), he scrolled down the page and finally stopped at a word: “Hemisphere.” What is this word, he would ask me. Do you know what it means? I could not tell him. The doctor was Middle Eastern—either Iranian or Iraqi, I couldn’t tell for sure. Beneath the white lab coat, I knew what he was hiding: fur, metal, perhaps even an AK-47. When I first met him, it was the exact middle of July. Why would any sane person wear a lab coat in such heat? Peeking from beneath the hem of his gray trousers were green alligator shoes. A smell wafted upwards: rank, like decay. Like forest earth. Like the ooze between tree roots in the jungle. Do I want this, do I want this, do I want this. Later, later, later. Talk, they said. Talk to us. As soon as you have given us the information, you will be at liberty. You may enroll in any California State University (They suggested Cal State Hayward, for the Forensics School. Or for the Viticulture). You do not even have to take an entrance exam. The doctor told me to memorize as many definitions as I could. Luckily, I had an excellent memory, which served me well when I had to learn the language of the I-Na-Ko. Now, in front of my doctor, I had only to glance at a page before I had memorized all its contents, down to the last syllable. One day, a doctor confessed that he had been instructed to spy on me, and to inculcate propaganda about American benevolence, with the sole purpose of spiriting me back to the wild mountain fastness, where I would be expected to infiltrate an offshoot of Al Qaeda called the As Jemaah. The doctor began to cry. He said he felt great pity for me. The As Jemaah had taken root in the wild mountain fastness because Osama bin Laden’s brother had married Miliyanah, a member Crab Orchard Review
Marianne Villanueva of a Philippine tribe called the Teduray. The Teduray lived in a deep valley, just on the other side of the I-Na-Koâ€™s wild mountain fastness. To emphasize the importance of my mission, I was given newspaper clippings which described the torture and beheading of American missionaries. The rape of brides. The enslavement of native children. Look, I said to them, I emerged from the wild mountain fastness on my own volition. I was taken to Manila by a ship called the General Larry D. Lawton. Whenever I stood on deck and saw the Stars and Stripes above the brig, I saluted. The manner in which the VA doctors attempted to break my will was both devious and strange. In the pre-dawn darkness, I would be hauled out of bed and given a cold shower. Then I would be handed the dictionary. I would be instructed to read and memorize. And so forth. In the end, I was coerced into admitting the error of my ways. I was forced to deliver a videotaped confession. Some time passed. Then, one day, a squad of soldiers came and forced me into a helicopter. I couldnâ€™t believe it: they air-dropped me back into the wild mountain fastness. But the I-Na-Ko were hiding. Either that or they had abandoned their usual territory. For three days I wandered, weak and weeping, through the jungle. I could not understand how an entire tribe of over a thousand people could disappear, just like that. I discovered, tangled among the branches of the baobabs, piles of American leaflets, dumped from helicopters in preparation of my return, urging, in big black letters: SURRENDER SURRENDER SURRENDER. I radioed to the military base in Cotabato, and a helicopter pilot came to retrieve me. I climbed aboard, my heart breaking. I did many things to pass the time in America: I sold Tupperware. I answered phones for a cell phone company. I even worked, for a few months, as a salesman at Barnes & Noble. I acquired carnal knowledge of women of all shapes and sizes, though my favorites were the loud women I met in bars, the ones whose eyes sometimes, like my own, leaked sadness. After a long while, the government left me alone. I was still required to see a doctor at the VA Hospital, twice a month, but they let me keep the dictionary and eventually I got a job as a reference librarian for the Palo Alto Public Library. One day I noticed that the pages of some of the books in the fiction section were being eaten away 130 u Crab Orchard Review
Marianne Villanueva by the small black beetles that people around here call Dollar Bugs. The White Troll, otherwise known as the Head Librarian, peered at me over her bi-focals and said the bugs were “perfectly harmless.” Then she added: Surely you wouldn’t let little bugs like that scare you. I didn’t know why she used the word “perfectly” and I did not like her tone. As I explained to the authorities later, her speech struck me as condescending. Even, insulting. I had not intended to strike her. There was a sudden crack, a sound like that of a car engine starting. The Troll fell backwards and I don’t know where she went to. To this day, I can’t tell you what happened. Perhaps she realized she was late for another appointment and had taken a shortcut? People transform all the time. Ask the I-Na-Ko. I must get back to compiling my dictionary. I told my psychiatrist about my mother, who was from the Philippines. I didn’t know her well, though I am sure that she was an excellent mother. She died when I was five. She left behind, in addition to my father and me, her parents and nine younger brothers and sisters. They all lived together in a thatched hut by a river. The Americans who were friends of the other tribe, and who provided them with the guns, would frequently repair to the river and stare openly at the women who were playing and splashing around in the water. I told the doctors this: My father was a private in the 124th Infantry Regiment, the one that fought in Mindanao in 1945. He wrote a 15-page memoir about the experience, which I found under his bed one day, while I was searching for the place where he kept his rolled-up dollar bills. On the title page was a dedication to “My Commander in Chief, General Douglas MacArthur.” My father wrote about crocodiles sunning themselves on the riverbanks, and piranha churning the water, which he said was brown like roast coffee or molasses, except for the silvery flashes made by circling piranha. “I have bite marks,” my father wrote, “from the time when a school of piranha attacked. Absolutely vicious creatures, piranha. I was lucky to escape with my limbs intact. A local girl who happened to be washing her husband’s clothes was just a few yards away and heard my anguished shrieks. She pulled me out of the water.” The rest—my mother was pregnant soon after. To escape the wrath of my mother’s husband, who was the son of a local chieftain, Crab Orchard Review
Marianne Villanueva my father took his native bride and fled the islands, forever. I was born in California a few months later. I remembered my father sometimes opening a long, rectangular box inside of which lay a kris. The kris had a nasty, heavy, dark-colored blade, serrated like a bread knife, and an ivory handle. It was, however, dull as a butter knife. Was that a memento of my mother’s first (native) husband? I liked to think so. My father let me think so. My father said that my mother’s first husband used the kris to cut sugar cane. I see him in my dreams, but always from behind. My view of him is powerfully mysterious: the man has broad shoulders. His shoulders are slick with sweat. The knobs down his spine are prominent and hard, like a column of small marbles. The dreams always end the same way: Just when the man seems about to turn, just when I think I am about to see his face, I wake up. They named me Lucifer. Why that name? I didn’t want to be a Lucifer, but the woman, my mother—whose name was Matilda, whose mother had named her that because she liked the Australian song— Well, Lucifer is my name. A strange name, one that ensured I would have no friends. Ever. The parish priest refused to baptize me, because he was superstitious and afraid. After all, I had been named after the Devil, the King of Evil. So I grew up Lucifer, loveless and friendless—enslaved by a name that conjured subterranean forces, temptation, worldly evil. The psychiatrist asked me if I was still in touch with my mother’s family. I retorted: Do I seem crazy to you? My mother, I suspect, had me out of sheer contrariness. And I can never quite forgive her for giving me that name, which almost killed me. I met a patient at the VA whose name was Loki. His hair was curly and dark and skimmed his shoulders. His eyes were enormous— tarsier eyes. Upon first hearing each other’s names, we cried and fell on each other, embracing like brothers. His eyes were really amazing, the pupils ringed with grayish aureola. He was from Texas. His parents were artists and made their living by selling paintings of the Sulphur River. That river has water that is yellow, yellow as the Yangtze, which is another river filled (according to my father) with lovely maidens, all scattered along the riverbank, washing their husbands’ clothes. Have I told you about the giant fish—five times bigger than a shark, who crawls into the shallows with flippers shaped like human hands? In evading the clutches of one 132 u Crab Orchard Review
Marianne Villanueva such river monster, my father was forced to cry out for help. A lovely maiden, hair as dark as night, arms as white as pigeon feathers— On the riverbank, that was where my father sired my brother, whose name was Archangel. Why Archangel? Who knows? Everyone in Santa Ynez wanted to be my brother’s godparents. My Filipina mother stood with her eyes cast demurely downwards. Where did she acquire such a white baby? My father, of course, was what she told everyone. His family genes were strong. She didn’t know what happened with her first-born, me, but this second one was definitely in the family line, a line that stretched all the way back to the first wagon train to cross the western plains, it had taken six months to reach their destination, the city of hills. The parish priest, the very same one who had refused to baptize me, anointed my brother the Archangel’s forehead with great care. The priest’s eyes seemed to burn as he lowered the back of my brother’s head into the font. My brother’s eyes rolled directly back into his head. What? Why? Someone had pinched him, hard? He squawled and my mother had to spend the next half hour rocking him in her arms and going, “Shhh, shhh.” Crackers, this was what they called me. This is a word that is hard to explain. On the one hand, I used to have the things just before bedtime, my dear mother would bring me the plate with a few slices of cheddar cheese, a few crackers, and a glass of the purest white milk. She had milked the cow herself. She would show me her veined hands, large and sore and slick from working the cow’s udders…. Her face was always wreathed in shadow. All I remember clearly was her brown hands, extending the plate with the crackers and slices of cheese. I don’t even remember her voice, though I imagine it must have been melodious. Of course, my mother is long departed. She never knew of my desire to visit the Philippines. She might have tried to talk me out of it. That country? BAH! She would say. And she’d spit. She was a great one for spitting. She said everyone did it, back in her home country. My father tried to cure her of the nasty habit. Once, with his belt. But, BAH, BAH, she kept going. Eventually, my father gave up. Or he had a stroke. He was paralyzed, he couldn’t move a muscle below his neck. My mother was bringing strange men home at night. I would hear them in the guest bedroom. I would go to my father and hold his hand. We both cried. My Crab Orchard Review
Marianne Villanueva brother the Archangel burbled happiness from his crib. My forehead burned with the mark of that Evil One. “My father!” I cried. “Please, turn your face away! Do not look! Spare yourself!” Out of stubbornness, or perhaps pride, he insisted on keeping his eyes wide open, he insisted on listening to every second of my mother’s perfidy. I married when I was 18, and my son was born six months later. Luke was not even a year old when my wife left. She had been suffering from postpartum depression and I thought it in her best interests to hide all sharp objects from her, even one as innocuous as a letter opener. I came home from my dreary job as a checkout clerk at Safeway, and for the first time, our apartment felt huge. I felt the difference right away, even before I heard Luke crying. He had been strapped into his stroller, which my wife had positioned in front of the TV, which was on VH-1. There was a bottle of sour milk next to him. She had insisted he wasn’t too old for the bottle, but I knew she was simply lazy. I stopped taking evening classes at the community college because I couldn’t handle everything: the Safeway checkout job, the homework, Luke. And the guilt of what had happened: that he might have been alone for hours. I didn’t like to think of my wife that way, but I hated her. When we used to talk about our dreams, she said she’d always wanted to be an Early Childhood educator. I asked her what that meant, and she said she wanted to operate her own preschool someday. Now I comb the newspapers, the classifieds about this or that preschool. Because if I find her, I will tell what she did to Luke. I will demand that she be fired. A woman who could do that to her own son doesn’t deserve to be with children, ever. When Luke is older, and can be entrusted to a day care center, I plan to take up folk singing. If there is one thing I hope to pass on to my son, it is that he must bring joy and enthusiasm to everything he does. As soon as he gets a little taller, I will take him hunting for wild boar and teach him how to weave a fine thatched hut.
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Mimi Wong Model Minority Sanie Lam walked to her beat-up, once-silver-now-gray Acura, which was located neither on the White Side nor the Yellow Side—as the two halves of The Valley High School parking lot were colloquially called—both of which were packed with Benzes, Beemers, and SUVs. Here, the sixty-forty split between the white and the Asian American student body manifested in a literal divide. As Sanie was not involved in any after-school sports, she had no need to park on the White Side, which was conveniently located closest to the gym and locker room entrances. Positioned nearer to the school office and main academic buildings, the Yellow Side (aka the “Asian Side”) usually filled up first. Having overslept and consequently missed first period, Sanie had been left to find a spot on the old basketball courts by the football field, now used as a makeshift lot by the smokers and potheads, whose ethnic backgrounds were evenly spread. As Sanie turned onto the main road, she drove past the firehouse, police station, and small commercial strip that constituted the scenic Old Downtown. The restaurants there were the kinds with white linen napkins (meaning they were overpriced). The stores consisted of consignment shops selling clothes for old ladies and boutiques filled with decorative knick-knacks and rococo antiques. Suffice it to say, it wasn’t the kind of place for a teenager. The only marginally “cool” hangout spot was the coffeehouse, which also served sandwiches and gelato, and had a pool table downstairs. At the intersection, a crossing guard waved forward a line of kindergartners, accompanied by mothers and nannies, heading home for the day. Passing her old elementary school at the foot of the hill, Sanie turned onto a steep, one-lane road. She shifted gears and felt her car hug each curve, which she could now anticipate almost without looking. Sometimes a deer, unfazed by its human neighbors, would calmly meander into the middle of the road. She had been a passenger in the car with her dad for more than one scare. She pulled into the driveway and parked the car at the top of Crab Orchard Review
Mimi Wong the hill, where the panoramic view was admittedly spectacular. The house overlooked the flat expanse of Silicon Valley. Rolling hills and woodland stretched on behind the house. Once part of an orchard, a lone crab apple tree and some sort of citrus-bearing fruit tree were all that remained in their yard. The house itself was old, consisting of only one story and a carport, no garage. Her parents’ updates had included building a pool in the backyard, slapping on a fresh coat of paint and trim, and planting a garden in the front. Sanie’s mother had originally elected to grow roses, but the deer kept getting at them. So her dad started a vegetable garden instead, using chicken wire to keep hungry critters out. Dependent upon the season, he rotated various crops of tomatoes, zucchini, cabbage, radishes, and chayote. She found him crouched in the dirt, surveying his work. “You’re home early.” “It’s a…minimum day.” “What was that?” “A half-day.” “That’s nice. You want lunch? The squash is ripe. They’re going to rot if we don’t eat them. How about I stir fry them with pork and heat up some rice? I’ll call you when it’s ready. Keep your door open.” “Okay.” “Ah, Sanie? Your mother keeps calling. You should call her back.” She had already gone inside the house. It was not like her to cut class, then lie about it. She was normally a good student, if somewhat unmotivated. She was what Harvard University admissions officers jauntily referred to as a “happy middler,” satisfied with performing just well enough. Yet, despite the fact that she did not see herself in the same league as the other Advanced Placement students competing for the top spot, the fear of failing was still a persistent anxiety for her. It was precisely this selective pool of students—with their unimaginable load of AP courses, obscenely elevated GPAs, and 1600 SAT scores, the school’s proudly admitted applicants to Berkeley, Stanford, Cal Tech—the crèmede-la-crème, that made her uneasy. Every parent knew what a diploma from the “Number Two Public High School in the State” was worth. The exorbitant amount of money in property taxes they paid annually to live in the affluent neighborhood afforded them the luxury of being able to send their kids to receive the finest education that outranked even the most expensive private institutions in the Bay Area. The numbers don’t lie: “Highest standardized testing scores in Santa Clara County three years in a row” read the bulletin on the school’s front lawn. 136 u Crab Orchard Review
Mimi Wong Sanie thought about her best friend, Lynn, who had been forced to transfer schools at the beginning of the spring semester owing to the fact that her parents could no longer afford to live in the neighborhood after Lynn’s father lost his job. The bubble that was the economic boom of the Internet start-ups had at last burst, leaving many Silicon Valley residents out of work. Sanie, whose parents were both in real estate and therefore in the clear—that is, until the market imploded a few years later—was secured in her enrollment at VHS for the time being. She had never been more miserable. The kitchen filled with the smoke of green peppers that her father had burnt in the frying pan. The spicy air made her throat burn and her eyes leak hot tears. She was forced to abandon her backpack and books in the hallway so that her hands could freely shield her face as she made her way toward her father. Humming jauntily at the kitchen counter, Arnold “Arnie” Lam, aged 63, had grown wider over the years as he shrank in height. Still, he liked to think of himself as a looker, as he had been in his army days, and he thanked his maternal grandfather for the full head of hair that remained. Standing on a wooden crate, which served as a makeshift step stool, he hovered over a cutting board full of sliced daikon radishes he was in the process of pickling. Into the jars filled with murky green juice and scraps of onions and jalapeños, he would dump the daikon chips before applying a vacuum seal—his most recent purchase from the QVC home shopping network, which Sanie blamed for all the useless hobbies her father had taken up since her mother left. “Daddy.” He remained unmoved from the chopping block. “Daddy, the tutor is coming at five.” Setting down the knife, Arnie wiped his hands clean with a dishtowel and turned to face his daughter. “What’s that?” “The tutor is coming today,” she repeated. “The checkbook is over there,” he grunted before returning to his vegetables. Sanie would never have claimed that she and her father were particularly close. He subscribed to an old-fashioned style of Chinese parenting—that is, raising a child from a distance. At least she was lucky that he never hit her, as she sometimes heard of other Chinese Crab Orchard Review
Mimi Wong fathers doing. The only time she could remember being punished was for crying too much when she was two or three years old. Instead of comforting Sanie, Arnie locked her in the bathroom. Well, technically, he closed the bathroom door on her without locking it, but she was too short to reach the handle by herself. Alone in the bathroom, she continued wailing until her mother came home, got her out of there, and unleashed a fury upon her father. From then on, she assumed the role of Parent Number One responsible for disciplining Sanie, in addition to managing her education and general upbringing. She didn’t believe in punishing children with timeouts or grounding them. Instead, not unlike the cliché of a Jewish mother, she raised her daughter with a healthy dose of guilt to discourage bad behavior. Sanie shuffled over to the kitchen table, whose surface had not touched a warm plate since the family’s last dinner together a little over three months ago. Since then, Sanie had grown accustomed to her father taking his meals in front of the television, and hers at her desk, usually with a Japanese manga open in front of her. At the present moment, the table supported nothing but the piles and piles of paperwork her father brought back with him from the office now that he was working from home. She sifted through a week’s worth of unread mail before she found the slim, leather-bound book. Behind a Tupperware container full of loose change, Sanie fished for a pen, which she used to make out the weakly sum of $180.00 owed to her tutor. As costly as it was, the three-hour session at what Sanie calculated to be $1/minute was a small price to pay to secure a place at a top-tier school, her mother had reasoned, especially since the money was coming out of her husband’s account and not hers. It was the least he could do after the years she devoted to their unhappy marriage and to their daughter who had never seemed to need her, anyway. But she had extricated herself from those responsibilities now, hadn’t she? As usual, Sanie signed the check herself under her father’s name. His signature came as naturally as her own after the countless number of checks, tardy slips, and the occasional parent-teacher conference exemption form she filled out on his behalf. After tearing it neatly along the perforated edge, she tucked away the check for safekeeping in its usual place by the telephone under the naked, fat-bellied Buddha— one of many figurines collected by her mother that overlooked various rooms in the house. Her mother wasn’t religious, Sanie would explain to guests. She was merely a hoarder.
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Mimi Wong At 5:06, she heard Jimmy Poonawalla’s bright red Mazda pull into the driveway. She was there to intercept the door before her father, now stripped to his undershirt and boxers in the den watching a WWII special on the History Channel, had a chance to hear the doorbell. “Sorry, I’m late.” He barreled through the front door with his binders, book bag, and study guides. Sanie directed him to their regular study area in the dining room where her homework, textbooks, and flash cards lay waiting. The typical session ran as follows: an hour Trig, an hour Physics, and the last hour devoted to the SATs. “What do we have this week?” A mélange of origins nested in Jimmy’s hard-to-place accent—a reflection of his birthplace in Lahore, a childhood spent in Surrey, and university education in Boston. He was all business as he seated himself perpendicular to Sanie, who enjoyed the small pleasure of being able to sit at the head of the table when she studied. Like a coach assessing the game plan, he listened attentively as she rattled off a list of upcoming tests, problem sets, and labs due. After a moment of consideration, he clapped his hands and rubbed them together, signaling that the play was in motion. “Have you ever been accused of doing something wrong? I mean, something really bad?” An hour later, her tutor looked up from her problem set he was correcting. He frowned. “I beg your pardon?” Regretting the question, she remembered one time when he had left one of his black binders at their house after a session. He called the next day inquiring after its disappearance. There was no sense of urgency in his voice that she could detect. She recalled that he had been very pleasant and chatty over the phone, nothing out of the ordinary. She reassured him that she did, in fact, find his binder and that she would leave it for him the next time he came over. After hanging up, she had gone over to the table just to double check that the binder was not one of hers. As she leafed through, opening the binder to a couple pages at random, she was surprised by its contents. She had expected the usual test prep materials, maybe some SAT vocabulary lists or Quantitative Reasoning math equations. Instead, what she found seemed to be pages copied from an operational manual for flying a small, single-engine plane, flight diagrams and velocity Crab Orchard Review
Mimi Wong charts and so forth. The events of September 11th were still fresh in everybody’s mind, though perhaps somewhat mitigated by the fact that California was some three thousand miles away from the Twin Towers. There was no rubble to sift through in the Bay Area, no toxic dust to be concerned about. She recalled how on the day that it happened, one sophomore girl had burst into tears because she thought her father was on a business trip in New York, but the scare was short-lived when she found out he was actually in Boston. Later it came out that one of the victims from the Pennsylvania crash had been a resident of the neighboring town. But apart from that isolated story of heroism, the community surrounding VHS remained, for the most part, untouched by tragedy. Distance helped to lessen relevance, it seemed. Sanie never confronted Jimmy about what she found in his binder. She simply closed the cover, left it, and waited until it could be returned to its proper owner. A while later, she may have mentioned her discovery to her best friend, who returned with some sarcastic remark, over which they both laughed. For her own selfish purposes, Sanie reasoned that she wasn’t about to turn her tutor over to the feds. Regardless of whether he may or may not be a terrorist, he had helped improve her SAT score by almost two hundred points, and that’s what mattered. He handed her homework back to her. “This last answer is wrong. Check your math.” When war broke out in China, Sanie’s grandparents were forced to flee the province of Hunan. Gong Gong, as Sanie was to have called her mother’s father, came from a well-to-do family. Po Po had worked at a bank—a rare accomplishment for a woman back then and a sign of good education. They would not be able to carry their wealth with them as they ran, and so they buried their gold in hopes of recovering it one day when they could safely return home. They also bid goodbye to the other members of their families, assuring each other they would be reunited in the future. They died without ever setting foot in China again. This was a story imprinted upon Sanie since childhood by her mother, Iris. She had only the vaguest memories of her grandfather, who had passed away when she was a baby. Her grandmother had been regarded as the family matriarch. Sanie remembered that her health had been poor in the years preceding her death, which made her seem older than she actually was. But even as her spirit diminished, Sanie intuited her grandmother’s familial importance, observing how she was beloved 140 u Crab Orchard Review
Mimi Wong by uncles, her one aunt, her many cousins, and of course her mother. Iris, often with Sanie in tow, paid frequent visits to Hong Kong, where she had grown up and where most of the Tams still resided. “Your mother was a great beauty,” Second Uncle liked to reminisce. “Prettiest girl in the village.” Sanie absorbed this information very thoughtfully. Like many young girls, she worshipped her mother until the age she began to resent her. Her father’s family she knew less about since his parents had passed away before she was even born. Arnie was a good deal older than her mother. When out with her father, just the two of them, usually either accompanying him to the grocery store or bank, Sanie was often mistaken for his granddaughter. Iris Tam was just out of graduate school when she met Sanie’s father. With her master’s degree in early childhood education, she had landed a job as teacher at a Montessori preschool. Her employer, Mr. Lam, was not in the business of education but rather land. He owned the property and the school, but most of his money was in cheap residential properties he had acquired in the 1980s and now rented to lower-income immigrants families. From these tenants, he also recruited some of his best workers—all Mexican. Arnie liked to brag about how good his Spanish was. Of course, he only hired them as contractors, construction site managers, and builders. He left the bookkeeping and secretarial work to a small staff of young Chinese women. And that’s where Iris came in, as he was looking to expand the preschool to a second location. Thanks to the rise of yuppie parents willing to drop a small fortune to ensure their young toddlers’ head start, the pre-K business was booming. Now, it wasn’t hard for Iris to hold Arnie’s attention once she cornered him in his office. Her eyes twinkled as she laughed at his attempts show off his wit. But what kept him interested was that— unlike the other girls he took on who flitted about his office filing papers and who were generally reliable when it came to executing tasks with clear instructions, but otherwise were completely lost when left to their own devices—Iris came to him with ideas. She had suggestions for how to operate the program more efficiently, how to hire more qualified and less expensive teachers. This woman was no dummy, Arnie liked to joke. He initially promoted Iris to run the second location, but eventually she was overseeing both schools. Then, next thing he knew, over dinner, Crab Orchard Review
Mimi Wong she was offering him suggestions for how to expand his other businesses. Again, it didn’t hurt that she was a knockout. But more importantly, she didn’t seem like the run-of-the-mill, wide-eyed provincial girl who had just moved to the states looking for a green card. She was educated. She was ambitious. And a few months later, she was pregnant with Arnie’s child. The room was dark, the winter sun already dipping toward the coastal mountain peaks. The phone stirred Sanie from her Saturday afternoon nap. She was sleeping all the time, it seemed. Her mother thought it was because she wasn’t getting enough vitamins. “Hello?” “Oh my god, get up already.” “What for?” “Just hurry up and come over. My sister is driving everyone crazy. I need to NOT be in the same room as her. You have to help keep me distracted before we get into a BIG fight.” “Okay.” Twenty minutes later, Sanie was lying on top of Lynn’s twin bed in a room that she shared with her younger sister. One side of the room was decorated with posters of old movie musicals and porcelain figurines of ballerinas. The other, soccer paraphernalia and field hockey sticks crossed like an X on the wall. The door was closed, but they could hear her older sister, home for the weekend, making a scene downstairs. Lynn rolled her eyes. “She has, like, a martyr complex or something.” Sanie was picking balls of lint off of Lynn’s pilling comforter. “How is it over there, not being at VHS?” Lynn shrugged. “It’s fine. Way less stressful.” “I still can’t believe they kicked you out.” “Oh no, they didn’t just kick me out. Some crazy bitch followed me home after school, found out where we had moved and shamed me for breaking the law. Fuck that school.” “I miss your old house. Remember when we used to walk home, like, literally running, afraid we would miss Sailor Moon when it came on after school?” “God, we were such dorks.” “You were such an egg.” “Well, you’re a banana.” 142 u Crab Orchard Review
Mimi Wong Sanie was in sixth grade the first time somebody had called her that. It might have been another Asian classmate who had said it. At the time, it was a slap in the face, implying that she was some sort of wannabe— yellow on the outside, white on the inside. The rationale being that she 1) didn’t speak Chinese at home, 2) didn’t play an instrument, and 3) followed the white girls around at recess. Which was a stupid thing to say because she didn’t follow the white girls around. It was only one girl, Lynn. They had joined the middle school choir together. “Didn’t that guy, whatshisname—he had that high voice—Edison, Erwin or something like that—have a crush on you?” “Edward Yee. And no.” “It’s true. Everybody knew it.” Sanie wrinkled her nose. “Are there any cute guys in your classes?” “Nah. They’re all dumb jocks or whatever.” Below, more yelling ensued. “Have you talked to your mom?” “No.” “Aren’t you even a little bit curious?” “No.” “If it were me, I’d want to know…” The slamming of the front door rattled the ballerinas pirouetting on Lynn’s shelf, which was followed by the squeal of car tires peeling out of the driveway. From the kitchen they heard Lynn’s mother preparing dinner. It was assumed that Sanie would be staying. They watched as the household cat—a fat, longhaired tabby with chocolate brown swirls—rubbed himself against the doorframe. Lynn cooed. “Come here, my little Cocoa Puff. Come here. That’s a good boy.” The familial pet bounded over onto Lynn’s lap and settled in for a good scratching. Before Iris’s disappearance, the usual mom-and-dad bickering had morphed into something darker, angrier. The fighting had a reached a boiling point, and from both sides came a spew of accusations, from their mouths the hissing of base words Sanie had yet to learn how to use. But when the strident voices and frequent slamming of doors eventually did subside, she discovered the silence that followed even more disturbing. Marital strife and family drama was supposed to be the stuff of TV and salacious town gossip. She recalled that while in the 7th grade the Crab Orchard Review
Mimi Wong middle school had hired two new administrators. The new principal was a humorless, balding British man by the name of Mr. Walker, which the kids pronounced “Mr. Wah-kuh” as a way of mocking his stuffy style of speech. The new vice principal Ms. de la Rosa was in her early thirties but might as well have been in her eighties with her newly instated dress code forbidding girls to wear tank tops (a disappointment to both male and female students alike). Only recently did Sanie hear the tale of how a student caught the pair emerging from the bathroom at the same time, and next thing everyone knew, Mr. Walker had left his wife and run off with Ms. de la Rosa in one of the most glorious scandals ever come to pass in their affluent, suburban bubble. Otherwise, Sanie didn’t know many other kids with separated or divorced parents, especially not any from an Asian family. Divorce may have been a typical part of life in an American culture so accustomed to disposable goods, but it represented a level of excess no decent Chinese family—with their strong sense of filial piety and class snobbery—would permit. A stable family unit was standard currency for bragging rights, not just a trivial stereotype externally constructed, along with straight A’s and a Mercedes in the garage. At the age of sixteen, Sanie had long known the world she was expected to live up to. The first thing she noticed was the kitchen table. It had been cleared. She found her father outside with a net skimming leaves out of the pool. He was meticulous about cleaning the pool. Although he never hesitated to bring one of his guys over to fix a leaky roof, replace the boiler, or prune the branches of a tree swaying too close to the house, he insisted on maintaining the pool himself. He swept the leaves. He checked the chlorine levels. He cleaned the filters. It was at the deep end of this pool that a deer had once fallen into and found himself trapped early one morning during Sanie’s elementary school years. The nonstop sound of splashing from the struggling deer had finally alerted her parents to the trouble. From the kitchen window, Sanie had watched as firefighters arrived on the scene, only to stand around scratching their heads. How were they to lift a full-grown stag out of the pool? It had been Sanie’s father who grabbed his trusty net and herded the exhausted animal to swim to the shallow end, where he could not have run any faster up those steps, out of the pool, and back into the woods. One could still find hoof-shaped holes on the concrete steps in the pool. “Daddy?” 144 u Crab Orchard Review
Mimi Wong He seemed to not hear her. She called for him again. “Yes?” “What’s going on?” He looked up at her. She glanced at an old duffel bag that she could only recall ever being used to pack for ski trips now sitting outside the backdoor. “Your mother is coming home. She doesn’t want to see me, so I’m leaving before she gets here. Just wanted to do one last sweep. You know your mother won’t do it…” He trailed off, as he finished with the net and set it down. “When did you guys decide this arrangement?” “Yesterday.” “When were you going to tell me?” “I’m telling you now.” Sanie followed her father out to the carport as he placed his bag in the trunk. “So you’re leaving?” “Your mother will be home soon.” After watching her father drive away, Sanie went back into the house and waited. An only child, she had grown accustomed to being by herself, though she was secretly afraid of the dark. It was almost midnight when she reemerged from her room. She brushed her teeth, took out her contacts, and changed into pajamas. She remembered that she had left the lights turned on in the kitchen and dining room. She went to the window, peering past the underbellies of clamoring moths and abandoned spider webs, into the darkness. There was no sign of Iris’ car. It occurred to her that someone could be out there, watching her. Feeling paranoid, she flipped off all the switches except one, before running back into her room. The one by the front door she left on, just in case, to light the way home.
Crab Orchard Review
Jed Myers Coho Run The tall estuary grass bends low toward the rocky mouth of the river— a weave of broad green bands left wet and aglow where the braided ebb current swept hours ago. Each swath its own shade, true to its own ghost of a snaking channel, each ribbon of blades a glancing incidence and reflection under the gray of clouds. The water’s pull has painted its flag on the low-tide hours, ragged stripes the greens of spring and summer—shadowy, silver, and blue greens, all the brushstrokes stalks and thin strips of exposed river-grass that bows and bows in repose, as in reverence, as if it knows the next flood tide will rise. The sea will invade the river again—these stems fresh-immersed by the millions will stand and dance, undulant in the ripple matrix, glad to hide the homecoming silvers who must pass under the eagles’ gaze. We’d come to watch these great birds gather in the overhanging alders, see them arc down wide and seize live shimmers from the shallows. What we’ve found, arriving in cloudy quiet between the shows, in the slack time of memory and imminence,
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Jed Myers all the long grass flat on the stonesâ€” no word for such act in our mouths, no hope for such bow in our bones.
Crab Orchard Review
Ife-Chudeni A. Oputa Portrait of Memory with Drought We were fourteen when the city declared an embargo on rain, shut off the valves and drained the town—toilet bowls, waterparks, birthing pools: anything too slick with wet. No one would name the threat, but we’d catch our parents whispering to each other about war. Some of the water went renegade, rushed through forgotten pipes and sprung up wherever the ground gave way—often in high schools and girls’ bedrooms, where heels were already digging for a way out. Our classroom flooded, and Mr. L’s algebra was annexed to isolation in a trailer at the far end of a dusty field. The walk there was long, longer on the way back, and sometimes we’d linger to avoid the dry noon heat. At night, we’d gird ourselves against the parched air and rub our faces with Vaseline. We’d walk miles to abandoned canals, creep past the caution tape and PENALTY FOR LOOTING signs to collect fossils: mostly fragments of glass, unmatched shoes, the occasional bedpost, dulled blades, keys. Then, we’d load our bodies into tubs, packing our bounty around us, and soak in the substance of found things. We’d come to school bruised and chafed, with splinters embedded in our shins, badges of our transgressions. Girls had been taken away for less, but this is not why Mr. L asked me to stay behind that day. The floods kept coming. The city used the last of its assets to erect a water tower as tall as the Rockies to the east. I stopped scavenging for the solid, took instead to scooping water into jars I hid under the bed. I had seen what war made bloom in a man, could still feel the tip of the feather caress my feet until giggles turned terror, see his fixed grin, hear him tell me how dismantled wings could unlock in the skin a hunger so vast it gorges itself, devours touch until everything turns fire. All around the town, men strapped with vacuums sucked up guerrilla lakes and fed the liquid to the tower like sacrifice. 148 u Crab Orchard Review
Ife-Chudeni A. Oputa Everywhere I looked I could see hunger creep into the corners of these menâ€™s mouths. I followed to rescue the droplets they missed, would gather whatever water I could. Found strands of hair and bits of bone in the absence left by every pool. I stacked jars under my bed. High enough to lift the mattress to the ceiling. I slept among the glass. They wanted to see the city on fire. I hoarded puddles like secrets. Trapped a tsunami under my bed. They fed girls to the tower like sacrifice. I gathered myself into glass. They set us all on fire. Cracked every jar. Unleashed a tsunami. We let the city drown.
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Candace Pearson Outside Tehachapi Prison Giant posters in the Tehachapi High School gym promise Blue Hawaii, imagined by inmates of the men’s correctional facility. Amid crooked palm trees and threat of lava, I look for secret messages, pleas for escape, while the boy I came with speaks to anyone but me. Something happened between the time he invited me to the prom, this boy I barely knew, and my arrival at his house twenty miles from home. An old girlfriend reappeared, perhaps, as old girlfriends will do. She may even be in this cavernous room watching me, as I stand alone, encased in taffeta blue as a mythical sea. Sometimes you say yes on impulse; in a quickening heart, you hold up 7-Eleven with a toy gun, walk out of a store wearing cashmere no one will miss or dance with a stranger because fireflies formed a nimbus around his hair and you couldn’t admit that it was a trick of light and dark. My date trolls the edges of center court, huddled in whispers with his friends. This is what I know about men: they speak in a code of shrugs and silences, of odd-long glances and laughter like the throwing of bones. I study a life-sized poster of a surfer. In one curling corner, the artist’s signature: Lonelyboy.
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Candace Pearson I picture rolls of paper and paints laid out in the yard where men earn points making prom decor. Asked by the parole board, how did you spend your time, will Lonelyboy (meth addict, car jacker, thief) say, I have been redeemed by gentle deceit? Outside, the Tehachapi mountains send off sparks, a phenomenon of granite and contracted heat, revealing for a moment places where it might be possible to hide.
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Some Things Which Filled Us with a Sense of Loitering Rose bushes we failed to water died in rows. In wheelbarrows we stacked hundreds for the compost. A drift of pigs on the loose crashed the apple orchard— our sweetness, plundered. The economy of bruises. “Eyes for an eye” or “karmic debt.” A country dog flagpole-chained on a tight ligature at the vineyard— her water bowl chipped, in dust. Orson’s ingrown toe suddenly pulsed green viscous, & Doctor Whoever hoisted the snipped toe between forceps. Pigs trucked along Highway 1. 5 a.m. Pink snouts jabbed through half-rotted planks. The instant the hillside eroded our temple backslid, gold-leaf & statues peppered the hillock.
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Kevin Phan 85-hour work weeks. My spine compacted under brick loadsâ€” bloody stools dyed the toilet water.
Crab Orchard Review
Vanesha Pravin Sleep, Wake, Sleep Central Valley, CA 2009 Now you know to separate intuition from paranoia. This is why you look down or look away reflexively. Down lies the earth, the trusted repository. Away is a country with spectacle so seductive, you become a voyeur, forgetting the self, forgetting a self is even there to be forged. It is a strange time, a strange new race: the pundit sharing platitudes, the surgery-face over-shares—their fifteen minutes continue to be renewed. So many, in their silence, absorbing trivia about people they’ve never met. The throat is dry and the mare at ease. In a fenced field, grass shorn, soft and white. So much joy in this world. The curved horns of the goat. The beavers’ gazebo, built of saplings gnawed to stumps. One day, a rare gift: a kit fox in daylight turns around, stares right through you. Or does it? Do you discount your way of knowing, of telling, assume it has failed? A life burns, crystals form in its char. Sometimes living filaments cut through— the sky becomes a meadow, the world playfully inverted. You run barefoot and your arches rise below the brush of cumulus. Hills are cloudy with scrub and starred with cattle. The teats swollen, the udders inflamed. You float into the slow and steady rise of methane and the milk is drunk, and the cheese hardens in its rind and you sleep, wake, sleep.
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Maxine Scates Speed Back to the task of cutting each withered rose into its bucket, jay screeching, warbler trilling, someone hammering in the distance. Back to the still life wondering if we ever left though the family gathers to remind us of the container out of which we spill yet are most surely held by or so say the aunts of the twenty year old who got the engineering gene from a long dead great uncle. But, toasts given, the party was fine and there was time for dinner with an old friend, a trip to the Getty Villa featuring a classical garden though as we read about Getty we were struck by how the biographers left out the part about the kidnappers who cut off his grandson’s ear when the old man would not pay the ransom. But didn’t he love art, and haven’t they given back most of what they stole, and isn’t the museum free, the garden wonderful, planted with pomegranate, peach and plum, with lemon-scented thyme, sea pink, lamb’s ear and fig trees? These were the stillest moments, these and those spent in front of a bust of Polyphemus, his one gaping eye, and lest we think things had not always been as they are, a Roman Bronze, A.D. 25, of a “Coin Bank Shaped as a Beggar Girl,” coin slot cut above her breast, hand outstretched. The next day we took my mother, whose 95th birthday we’d celebrated, back to downtown where she said the streets had been moved and the hills grown smaller and this was true of Bunker Hill, shaved away for its towers, Angel’s Flight climbing its gentled slopes which we came upon after we drove the route she’d walked to school and found the same school and the two vacant lots she’d cut through to get there that had stayed vacant all Crab Orchard Review
Maxine Scates of these years. Heading north a day later we passed through the James Dean Memorial Junction and as I’ve just found, got the facts wrong. He was not alone. His and another car met head-on. He was twenty four and though Giant’s plot had hurled him into a swaggering middle age, nothing imagined the old man he’d be had he lived. Soon, a motorcycle raced beside us on a frontage road, a train roared from the opposite direction, our parallel lives meeting and lasting only a second as we sped on to our motel where the day before a flash fire had burned 110 acres between I–5 and it, right up to the pool, singeing the trees but sparing the caged parakeets, and started, said the nine months pregnant receptionist who had fled and not gone into labor, by the usual suspects, either a homeless man or three boys out behind the Del Taco.
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Russell Working The Day Job Heh. Showed him, Won McManigal thought, glancing at his
boss for the day, who was steering the van out of a customer’s driveway onto the switchbacked street toward the San Fernando Valley floor. In the side mirror he checked out his coworkers in back, Mexicans in paint-splattered white coveralls thumbing their wages, one of them in a cowboy hat. Showed their asses, too, he thought. Won was a thirty-six-year-old American with a strong Korean face, a gymnast’s build, and long hair spilling out of a bandana knotted pirate-style in back. He wore a plaid shirt with the sleeves torn off to show off his tattoos of a USA flag, a Raiders logo, a howling wolf, and the head of Tommy Trojan. As fate would have it, he was crippled in one leg, and when he walked any distance, he used crutches, the aluminum kind with C-shaped metal cuffs encircling his forearms. But his leg brace allowed him to move around without crutches, hands free, so he had found work for today as an interior housepainter. It was his first honest day’s labor (albeit off-the-books) since he’d gotten out of jail, a case that involved some chump who’d shown up late for a rendezvous at a tavern only to find his girlfriend making out with Won, the lucky recipient of her congeniality because he happened to be sitting next to her at the bar. The guy had drawn a buck knife he’d carried in case the occasion presented itself to gut a moose in suburban L.A. Won had had no choice but to take the blade away and offer a demonstration in turkey carving. Naturally, this act of self defense had landed Won, not his assailant, in Men’s Central, since the chick sided with the boyfriend. Homeless and jobless, he’d been recycling bottles and cans until last week, when he had heard about the day labor site here in Woodland Hills. Since then he’d been showing up every morning at sunrise on Fallbrook Avenue, between Ventura and Del Valle. He stood with a hundred Mexicans and Guatemalans and God only knew what other day laborers ( jornaleros was apparently the Crab Orchard Review
Russell Working term, English being outlawed for normal communications in L.A. anymore). The men swarmed every car that pulled up, even a Prius driven by some girl who’d obviously taken a wrong turn and was bug-eyed with terror. As who could blame her? The workers hollered and thumped their chests with their stubby fingers to indicate: Pick me! They all knew the names of the crew bosses, the remodelers, the construction foremen. The men shouted, “Hey, Jimmy, remember me?” “Tim, I work for you!” Often the transaction was in Spanish, rendering Won the alien in his homeland. Of course, nobody chose him. When the bosses saw his crutches, they looked away. He moved to the back of the crowd, but that put him at a competitive disadvantage. The other laborers mostly ignored him, or glanced at him with pitying looks, as if asking, What trail of misfortune brings you here, gringo? His eyes replied, Who the fuck’s asking, Juan Valdez?—and they looked away. Once he was offered half an egg salad sandwich from 7-Eleven. Down the hatch. Until today, that was all he had to show for a week’s worth of hustling. But today a red van marked DECKER INTERIORS had pulled up and the boss stepped out into the crush of men: a tall white guy who looked around uneasily and asked for three men. Won spoke up: “Hey, mister, I speak English.” “You’re not Mexican?” “Hell, no! U.S. citizen.” “What’s your name?” “Won.” “All right then, Juan. You for starters.” “No, not Hwon, W-O-N. It’s Korean.” “Got it. I’m Paul Decker. Get in.” As Won hobbled up, the crowd grumbled, and somebody, maybe the guy in the cowboy hat, who they called Sebastián, muttered something that probably meant crippled. He was a squat man with an Eskimo’s goatee and a face kneaded out of river mud. His eyes were turned down at the outer corners. When Won held his gaze, the vaquero blinked. Paul’s eyes took in Won’s crutches. Clearly, he was having second thoughts, but he did not know how to back out. “How come you’re doing day labor if you’re a citizen?” “Beats McDonald’s,” Won said. “There’s a lot of climbing on ladders, and you’ll need your hands.” 158 u Crab Orchard Review
Russell Working “I can get around without the crutches,” Won said. “Look, I been out here every day for a week, and nobody’ll take me. I done construction before, painted houses.” This was a lie, but he was good with his hands, knew how to repair plumbing or fix just about anything that went wrong with a car. “Them wetbacks won’t be able to keep up.” The hardening around the other men’s eyes showed they understood, but having alluded to Won’s disability, Herr Decker apparently felt unable to worm out of hiring him. “All right, but I don’t want to hear that word on the job,” Paul said. “I don’t need conflict on my crew.” “You da man.” Paul selected two others: Sebastián and a gawky man with sideburns, both of whom wore tool belts that indicated construction experience. Won grabbed the front, and the others sat in back, amid the brushes and stepladders and buckets of paint. As they drove, he vowed he would show them all. Which he had. Even volunteered to paint the ceiling, the roller flicking in his eyes all day. Refused all breaks, worked through lunch, even when Paul said, “Dude, you proved your point. Sit down for a minute.” Heh. Afterwards, his neck was crimped and his back hurt. As they zigzagged down Cerrillos, they passed palms with plaited trunks, Hondas and Volvos parked flush against houses on stilts, a wall topped by plaster lions sporting the hairstyles of 1970s pop stars. Obviously a rich neighborhood. Not Hollywood rich, all right, but fat and sassy for sure: pharmacists, lawyers, and dentists, like the couple Won had worked for today, a husband-wife outfit who thanks to the miracle of tooth decay could afford a hillside home with a pool table and a deck out back and a sex Jacuzzi overlooking the smog bowl of L.A. The dental duo even had a housekeeper (Mexican, like everybody else in California), a plump girl in a uniform the color of a spanked bottom, who refused to speak to the crew when they showed up to spread out tarps. Somebody had forgotten to tell Her Hispanic Majesty about the repainting, and she was upset. Never mind, Won’s mood today was unspoilable. The jornaleros laughed at a joke they chose not to share with mere gringos. Won’s crutches lay on the floor between the front seats. Was that amusing? Tell me about it, he thought. Beats crippled brains, amigos. Look Crab Orchard Review
Russell Working at them, dragging things down for everybody including their own dumbass selves. What’s wrong with May-hee-co, where you got a cornfield and a burro and can shoot tequila poppers at the cantina Friday night with some señorita? Sounded like a nice setup to Won, especially when you factored in the fishing, two thousand miles of coastline up and down Baja. But instead they blow their savings to get to this smoghole to work one-day gigs that didn’t pay jack thanks to an endless supply of men similarly desperate for work and ignorant of constitutional rights. Which, come to think of it, there weren’t any no more. As for Mr. Paul Decker of Decker Interiors? Preoccupied, not an asshole, didn’t try to short you on your pay or be the best friend of the working man. But Won smelled a phony like everyone else on earth. Driving a Ford E-Series van with his name on the side like some celebrity DJ doing live broadcasts from a shopping mall. Won would’ve bet a hundred dollars Paul had never slept in it. Fuck him. Fuck them all, these “struggling small businessmen.” Paul’s foot was working the brake, brow furrowed. Probably ruminating on what shade of white was whitest of all. Clearly, the dude had never suffered a day in his life. You saw guys like him everywhere, miserable about the hand life had dealt them but oblivious to the gift of two healthy legs as they jaywalked through traffic, sprinted for a bus, swung at a softball pitch, jogged a mile in steps no bigger than their shoe size, or kicked their buddy sidelong in the ass while carrying a tuba home from middle school band practice. But instead of being grateful for his legs, dancing his ass off every goddamned day, he probably never played a sport and only clanked weights three times a week on a Universal machine. Won had been born Song Won-ki in Taegu, South Korea, and his birth parents had dumped him in an orphanage after he contracted polio as a baby. He retained only a single memory of the orphanage, of a girl playing with a red ball. He hit her and took it away. That set the pattern. He was always taking and hurting. When he was five he had been brought to the States (legally!) by a childless couple named McManigal, who owned a gas station in West Hills. But he could not be good, no matter how hard he tried. Smart-assed his teachers, fought on the school bus, shoplifted candy and MAD magazines. His dad kicked him out of the house when he was eighteen after he stole their best friends’ jewelry during their Fourth of July barbecue. He still felt bad 160 u Crab Orchard Review
Russell Working about that, because the Davises had been like second parents, giving him presents every birthday and Christmas. These days he didn’t complain about his lot in life, but he bore on his shoulders a boulder of rage and grief for the Won McManigal who had never been given the chance to be. He had an athlete’s gift, he felt it in his arms and chest and hips, the parts of him that worked, in his mind, even, in his gut, in the way he read football plays on TV. He would have been one of the greats. People gave him pitying looks when he spouted off his I coulda been a contenda spiel, so he kept it to himself nowadays, but it was true. He would have been quarterbacking his team, the Raiders. But as it was, in high school he had been one of the managers, popular among the athletes, most of whom he could beat arm wrestling, having muscled up with every step he took on his crutches. He knew the playbook as well as the coaches. One day, the first- and second-string quarterbacks were warming up on the practice field, each heaving the ball to a receiver, who caught it and handed it to the other passer to fire back. Won grabbed a football from a net bag and rocketed it, knocking their ball out of the sky. Everyone looked around for the culprit, their glances passing over Won and moving on to likelier suspects, then returning in disbelief to the crippled kid slapping the dirt from his hands. “Jesus, Won,” Coach O’Connor called. “Too bad you can’t scramble, you’d beat these jokers out of a job.” Heh. A taste of the glory that should have been his. They pulled into the parking lot of the 7-Eleven at Fallbrook and Ventura, and Won’s triumphant mood faded as he thought ahead to the night on the streets and the hustle for work tomorrow. The Mexicans piled out of the back and headed off, but Won remained where he sat. “So, how’d I do?” he said. “Gotta admit, you showed us all up,” Paul said. “So you’d hire me again?” “Obviously, if I needed— I mean, I don’t have a job going every day.” Paul glanced at the passenger door, willing him to clear out. But Won persisted, “Don’t we need to finish the job on Cerrillos?” “I’m not trying to be cagey, but it’s one day at a time.” Paul scratched at a drip of seagull crap on the windshield beyond the smeary arc left by the wipers. It was outside the glass, dimrod. “I’m dealing with some serious shit,” he added. “My wife’s disappeared.” “I hear you. Girl dumped me, once. Gotta pick up the pieces and move on. But next time you need a crew, I’m in, right?” Crab Orchard Review
Russell Working Paul’s face tightened. “No, see, she vanished. Kidnapped, or—” He shook himself. “Sorry, I’m—Yeah, you earned it.” Only then did Won shake his hand and get out. Before heading to his campsite nearby, he entered a phone kiosk in the parking lot, the plastic hood crusty with dried puke. (Where better to projectile-vomit than a phone booth?) He plugged in the quarters and called Janey, his ex. Today was the third time since his release from Men’s Central that he’d tried to speak to his seven-yearold daughter, Carroll, named after Pete Carroll, former coach of the USC Trojans, although Janey insisted on calling her by her middle name, Amber. So far he hadn’t succeeded in getting the girl on the phone. But with eighty dollars in his wallet, he felt confident enough to call again. Won had not held a regular job in two years, since the sheet metal factory, where half the employees were illegals. (Undocumented, my ass. They had plenty of documentation the bosses were happy to accept: Social Security cards, birth certificates, driver’s licenses—all of them forged.) After a mishap in which Won bolted a piece of steel to his hand, a doctor said Won qualified for a SSI benefit of $674 a month. He signed up, although a quarter of the total was deducted to cover his overdue child support. He didn’t begrudge Carroll the money, but Janey was getting welfare even though she was living with a guy named Tim who ran a Safeway produce department, a matter she concealed from the authorities. Meanwhile, Won was sleeping in his 1995 Dodge van. Two years ago, things had taken a turn for the worse: he was arrested for the bar fight, and he lost his SSI benefits while in jail. Now he needed to figure out how to get them reinstated. Trouble was, his documents had been in the van when it was forfeited, prosecutors arguing that he had been drugrunning because they had found marijuana residue from a previous owner in a floor mat. This was infuriating, since they never did file narcotics charges, and of all the mistakes he’d made in life, drug abuse was not among them. Doping was not the way of Pete Carroll, the Trojans. Lacking the use of his legs, he did not wish to fry his brains as well. Tough shit: the prosecutors kept the fucking van. So now he had no home, no wheels, and no SSI. And no employer would hire an ex-con and a bum. He hoped Carroll would answer the phone, but he heard Janey’s fat voice. “Hey,” he said. “Me. Can I talk to Carroll?” 162 u Crab Orchard Review
Russell Working “My answer hasn’t changed.” “Come on, she’s my daughter.” “Neglect your child support for a year, and suddenly you want to chitchat?” Janey said. “I told her you’re behind in your payments. She needs to know what her daddy thinks of her.” Best he knew, he was legally entitled to visitation, but now that Janey refused him access, he had no idea where to turn. The cops wouldn’t give a shit. He couldn’t afford a lawyer. If there was a document he needed to fill out to get some judge to consider the matter, he had no idea what it was. He was left to plead: “Why are you poisoning her against me?” “Tim’s a better dad than you’ll ever be,” Janey said. “You should see the presents he buys her: Breyer horses, a cowgirl outfit. She adores that man.” “Before you go on the warpath, I got good news. I found a job.” She snorted. “Doing what, armed robbery?” “Housepainting. I started this morning. I can send you fifty bucks today.” “You got paid already? What is this, day labor?” “No, the guy hires Mexicans, but with me, it’s a supervisory position.” “Ha!” Janey said. “Won McManigal doing day labor with a bunch of beaners. Fitting irony. I bet you’re sleeping on the streets, aren’t you?” “What ‘fitting irony?’” said Won. “I’m bossing them, not working with them. Come on, can’t I at least say hi to Carroll?” “No, she thinks you’re still in prison, and I say—” “So tell her I’m out,” he said. “And it wasn’t prison. Men’s Central.” “—and I say—all right: jail, prison: she don’t know the goddamned distinction. I say, let her think that. She gets upset after you call. Last time, she threw a tantrum with Tim, and things got out of hand with her hiding under the bed and him having to drag her out. If I ever see some of that cash, I’ll feel different.” “I told you, I’m sending it today.” “We’ll talk when it gets here.” Bitch. Won slammed down the receiver. He headed uphill on Fallbrook, planting his crutches, swinging his legs and body forward. Pain shot down his spine. The weakness leaving the body, is all. At Del Valle, paralleling the freeway, he turned left and headed east past a line of stucco houses and apartments on this side and, on across Crab Orchard Review
Russell Working the street, a strip of dry brush and trees and a chainlink fence that buffered US 101. Two blocks ahead, some men were standing there, bums like himself. A burnt smell reached Won’s nostrils. He could see a charred mattress was leaning against the chainlink. With a sick feeling, he began galloping, legs-crutches, legs-crutches. Where Sale Avenue T-boned into 101, a pedestrian walkway crossed under the freeway. Won pushed through the Mexicans gathered there and entered the tunnel. The air smelled of burnt lighter fluid, and the tunnel was filled with scorched bedrolls and mattresses. Some asshole had come through and ignited their belongings. Won had taken his daypack with him, so he still had his clothes, but he had lost his blanket and mattress. “Fuck,” he said. The others had followed him in. Sebastián, the guy in the cowboy hat from today’s crew, said, “Maybe it is the cops. They no like us.” A furious discussion followed, juro fidelidad a la bandera de los Estados Unidos de América. In fourth grade, Won had been required to memorize the Pledge of Allegiance in Spanish, and whenever Mexicans jabbered, it took him back to a classroom full of children placing their hands over their heart and speaking in tongues. He used to remember this in Men’s Central, where the muttered schemes of the Latinos were not so innocent, all those Mexican Mafia and Nuestra Familia with their tattoos of an eagle on a cactus or a blue hand with a white M on the palm. Won had hung with the whites, who accepted him as an honorary honky, even those with IRISH PRIDE or bladed swastikas inked on their pimply chests. Between the Mexicans and Salvadorans and Asians and Crips and Bloods, the whites were outgunned, and Won was a good man to have on your side. As far as his own race, the Vietnamese and Cambodians and whatnot were foreigners to him, with their cultic taboos and ching-how-dow kind of talk. They regarded Won as a banana. The whites themselves (crackas, the blacks called them, a term that hilariously reminded him of a kindergarten snack of saltines and peanut butter) were a sorry-assed band of Übermenschen: scrawny crank addicts with dirt-colored teeth, shirtless fatsos wearing sleeves of ink, muscleheads making Churchillian declarations about what the White People Shall Not Stand For, but comporting themselves meekly when led past a cell full of Niggaz With Attitude. They would have laughed to see him now, standing in the dark with a bunch of “Hispanics.” 164 u Crab Orchard Review
Russell Working Who were sizing up Won as they spoke. He heard, “No, no, no,” and “gringo.” But then Sebastián, talking rapidly, mimed a pair of crutches paddling like oars, and they looked down at their own sootprints. Fuck them, he had better things to do than serve as a freak show for illegals. He lunged out into the dayblind. Sebastián called, “Hey, Juan, wait.” “It’s Won. W-O-N.” “OK, man, but listen: they know some guys who got the apartment. Maybe room for us, sleep on a floor couple nights if we give some little money. You want to come?” “Your friends didn’t look too happy about that,” Won said. “Ignore those hombres,” Sebastián said. “I say them, ‘We are on crew together, Juan and me. He is OK guy.’” There was nothing threatening in Sebastián’s melancholy eyes, but if they were planning to mess with Won McManigal, bring it on. These dwarves were in for a surprise if they thought the crippled guy would be a pushover. Anyhow, he couldn’t resist the opportunity to sleep indoors and maybe get a shower. Won followed the men to a two-bedroom apartment on Woodlake in which seven others were already staying. The place smelled of beans and tortillas and stewing carnitas and sweated wine and beer. After a discussion, Sebastián asked Won for ten dollars. “Is OK, we stay here a couple nights.” That evening Won seized the opportunity to wash up. The place wasn’t the Hilton, for sure. A box of used toilet paper sat by the can (you guys planning to Fed-Ex it home?), and the shower curtain bar was covered with drying socks, which he piled on the back of the toilet. He wrenched open the louvered glass window and aired the room of its diaperish fug, reminiscent of Carroll’s toddlerhood. Won pulled off his shirt and scrubbed it in the sink with a bar of soap, admiring his reflection—the powerful shoulders and slim waist and long hair and handsome face that made chicks hit on him in bars, God love them. Knife marks crisscrossed his chest, lines and Vs and gouges that girls loved to kiss, unlike the ugly surgery scars on his legs, which he never let anyone see, for he removed his pants in the dark. From the waist up, you could’ve mistaken him for a pro athlete. Won McManigal, tell me about that series. Three heartstopping throws right through the defenders. Touchdown scramble on fourth and goal. Did you ever doubt you could pull it off? He’d reply, Troy, it’s not about me. I knew my teammates would come through. Crab Orchard Review
Russell Working Something classy like that. He flexed for the mirror, fists over his shoulders. Those pecs and deltoids, those abs a heavyweight could hammer away at. Maybe it was gay, but it turned him on to look at his own torso, seeing himself through the eyes of a gorgeous woman. He slopped his shirt in the suds, rinsed it, wrung it out. He would dry it overnight on the balcony. Now for your filthy hide, McManigal. He sat on the closed toilet seat and untied the shoelaces of his right shoe, on his good leg. Just as he was kicking it off, the doorknob rattled. Any fool could tell somebody was in here. Won called, “Occupied!” His left leg took more effort. The twin bars of the brace were attached to the sole of his shoe. He peeled the leg of his jeans down from the top and ripped open the Velcro straps on the brace; only then did he untie and loosen the shoe and crawl back out of the whole unit, pants and brace. He stood it in a corner. Beneath the brace he wore long underwear in all weather, to prevent it from chaffing his skin. He peeled off the underwear—graying and frayed—and scrutinized his legs. Quite frankly, they stank, of sweat and the grime of homelessness and something deeper—a crippled odor, as he thought of it, the stink of polio, or its lingering aftercurse in the muscles of this useless leg, with its puny foot like that of a Chinese concubine. On his good leg, the scars were thin pink lines dating from when they’d shortened it to match the other. On the left, however, the scars were pink and puffy thanks to the dumbfuck doctors. The night he’d come home from the hospital he had woken up screaming. Mom had held him while Dad called the doctor, who said post-op pain was normal. It was Won’s first surgery, and his parents sat up with him holding his hands and praying with him. Only when the cast came off did the doctors see: big freaking scars like pink tapeworms. He could see guilt and anger in the faces of his parents, shock of his “medical team.” Oops. Oh, well, you’re crippled, who gives a shit how ugly you look? Nobody thought to apologize to Won. He washed the long underwear, too. Without his brace he was helpless. He hopped on his good leg into the shower. In jail the shower was his most vulnerable time, but due to his ferocity and his alliance with the whites, he had avoided assaults and rape. Keeping a hand on the wall for balance, he soaped himself—the powerful torso, the uncircumcised dick, the legs that diminished the further down you 166 u Crab Orchard Review
Russell Working went. His soapy hand awakened a ticking in his loins. It had been a long time since he had gotten laid, not since before jail, when he’d had a van he could bring girls home to. He would have appreciated the chance to jerk off, thanks very much, but the bonehead in the hall pounded on the door again. Probably dancing around holding his crotch like a preschooler. Won finished up, dried himself on the hand towel, and dressed in the same stinking jeans. But he quickly washed the spare pair of Levis and underwear from his backpack. The banging intensified. He opened up to find Sebastián and two others lined up outside. “Is you, Juan? What is wrong with you, you washing clothes? I almost piss my pants.” “Sorry, Sebastián, didn’t know it was you.” Slam. That night they ate carnitas and beans and corn tortillas. (Strange, though: no guac or nacho cheese.) As they sat in the living room, several men declaimed toasts, and Sebastián, who had forgiven Won, asked him for one. “I don’t speak Spanish,” he objected, but Sebastián said, “Say in English. I translate.” So Won cleared his throat and looked around at the expectant faces, and goddamn it all to hell if he didn’t feel a beery sense of the brotherhood of all fucking men. He had to hand it to these guys, taking in a homeless gringo like him. He thought of saying this, but to preserve his position, it was necessary to act as if this was his due. After all, he had paid for his space on the carpet. So he said, “To the senoritas!” No translation was needed; the men roared their approval. Afterwards was a poker game in which Won cleaned everyone out, winning $163 toward his deadbeat dad debt. A great evening in all, even if his success at cards spoiled the mood of the others. Sore losers was all. Late that night, six men, Won included, crashed in the living room, sleeping in their clothes. Beside him, Sebastián crossed himself and prayed silently. This sparked a pang of memory for Won: of praying with his father who sat on the edge of his bed. Our Father, who aren’t in heaven. Most of the others nodded off right away, by the sound of it, but his back and neck hurt too much to sleep. Sebastián shifted and cleared his throat. Finally Won whispered, “Hey, Sebastián, how come you guys come to L.A.? Why not find work in Mexico instead of this shithole?” “Oh, this is not shithole, man,” Sebastián said. “You should see where I live in Mexico, that is shithole.” Crab Orchard Review
Russell Working “Heh. But it ain’t fair. You’re taking our jobs.” “No American want the jobs we work,” Sebastián said. “I do.” “You are the exception.” “Others would, too,” Won said, “if the bosses didn’t use you guys to keep the wages down.” “You want to argue me, man, but you cannot because I no disagree,” said Sebastián. “The bosses, they are advantaging us. What else can I do? Is very bad at home.” “Well, at least you got two good legs.” “True,” Sebastian said gravely. “I am lucky.” Sebastián had migrated from Mexico City, where he supported a family of six. His wife also laundered clothes and cleaned houses. But there was no way to make ends meet, whereas here in L.A. he earned enough to wire money home. He had come alone, and he missed his family, especially the youngest, Efrain, who was nine. For a time he had shared an apartment, but when the day jobs became scarce he was forced out. “So it’s better living on the street than in your own bed in Mexico?” “Oh, no. Living under a bridge is the most bad. Sometimes you can’t asleep, you sitting with your eyes open all night, because you think, maybe somebody come to look for trouble. You know what I mean, you live the same. Maybe gangs coming and shoot, shoot, shoot your body. Back in Mexico City, I got a home. But like I say, no way to support.” “I got a kid I’m supporting, too, a girl,” Won said, “but my wife never lets me see her.” “So you know what is to miss someone.” “That’s for sure.” “What is her name, your girl?” “Carroll,” said Won. “Named after Pete Carroll of the USC Trojans, greatest coach in college football. But they forced him out. It’s a racket, the NCAA. This is real football I’m talking about, not that pussy-footin’ soccer shit you guys watch.” “American football? This is the sport I no comprehend. Big men: boom! These hats they wear, crashing.” “Maybe someday we can watch a game on TV, and I’ll learn you the rules. You’re in America, man.” “Yeah, I curious this sport very much.” Nearby, somebody spoke, probably telling them to shut up. Sebastián 168 u Crab Orchard Review
Russell Working yawned and settled down, but Won lay sleepless in a room fumigated by beery snores. So Sebastián was a dad, too, the poor bastard. It was always the dads who missed out on seeing their kids, who had to work in faraway cities or were deployed in Iraq or were denied visitation because they were bums living under a freeway. As he slipped toward sleepfulness, he remembered how Carroll had been back when they were still living together. A total brat, tantrums every time you told her to put on her shoes or stop confiscating some girl’s doll in the sandbox. A lot like her dad, truth be told. She was a tomboy, and the McManigals were always stopping their little monkey from falling off jungle gyms or dashing into the street or yanking the ear of their neighbor’s beagle. Nowadays she was into horses. While surviving on SSI, Won would go out at night, raiding Dumpsters for bottles and cans, tossing aside the smelly plastic packets that he was disgusted to discover contained globs of dog shit (who the hell packaged up dog shit?)—all to save up and buy her a Groovy Girl Midnight Star Horse. It was a stuffed pony, mostly black, with a flowing purple mane and sparkly hooves and a saddle detailed in white, pink, purple, and green. What Janey had said on the phone today had stung: that what’s-hisface was a better daddy than Won. Won yawned and rolled on his side, his backpack under his head. In Men’s Central he’d been sustained by memories of Carroll, like the time they’d gone horseback riding, Won sitting behind, the girl in front holding the saddle horn, singing her “pony song.” A rip-off: three dollars for three minutes, but she loved it. The nag, shivering off flies, had plodded in a circle, head down, and when the ride ended Carroll and Won tried to hand her down to Janey, she’d screamed and clung to the mane. She’d been what, three? No doubt, a daddy’s girl. Hated the doll parties that Janey staged, the pink dresses. She’d rather go out on the lawn with Daddy and play catch, scampering this way and that on her pudgy legs. My daughter can run, he would think. This body of mine has fathered a child who can walk and jump and skip, like practically every other human on the planet. He never envied her. He rejoiced. It redeemed his ruined physicality. Sebastián began pledging allegiance in his sleep, juro fidelidad a la bandera. Funny. You see them out on Fallbrook, elbowing out the guy on crutches, and it never occurs to you they’d left families back home, had borne sorrows of their own. Well, solly, Challie, Won McManigal wouldn’t be painting Crab Orchard Review
Russell Working houses for long. The next time he saw Carroll, he’d have a wad of cash in his pocket, a thousand bucks in the bank. A million, heh. The lottery. He’d slip her a hundred and say, “This is for horse stuff. Clothes, toys, bed sheets: whatever you want. Don’t let Mom know.” If only he could hold onto this job. What if housepainting did turn into a regular gig? You could always hope. If he worked hard, if Decker Interiors grew, maybe Mr. Celebrity Housepainter really would need a fulltime foreman, keep these jokers in line. The job wouldn’t be bad if it weren’t for the pain in Won’s spine. But pain was a phantom, a nothing, a nada, was the weakness leaving the body. If it hurt, it meant he was earning. Which in turn meant he had a chance of seeing Carroll again. He stretched, and his hand brushed Sebastián’s rolled-up jacket, which Señor Howdy Doody had moved off of. Won’s fingers found their way into a pocket and discovered a smooth bulky thing. A wallet! Dipshit, don’t you realize these jokers might rob you? He removed it from the pocket and traced his finger along the opening. Fat with cash. How much? No telling in the dark. A righteous anger boiled up in Won. He plunged the wallet into his pocket. And froze, mortified at himself. Then quietly he gathered his crutches and backpack and slipped out the front door. He descended the stairs, cut down the alley in back and turned at the corner under the L.A. nightglow, where he paused under a streetlamp in front of an ivy-covered house to count his take. More than three hundred bucks. Also a California driver’s license with the name Sebastián Ramirez on it. How’d he get that? Won pocketed the cash and the license. Maybe he could sell it. A plastic picture holder fell out of the wallet. Won picked it up. The only photo was a family portrait. Didn’t look like Mama Cass Ramirez was starving to death, no matter what Sebastián said. The youngest child, maybe five, was sitting on Sebastián’s lap. The happiness in his eyes caused a stiletto of remorse to stab up under Won’s sternum. Should’ve robbed somebody more deserving, he thought. But this is American money, amigo, capisce? Not yours. Our money. Mine. He flung the wallet and the photo into the ivy. Let the prosecution now call multitudes of witnesses confirming that Won McManigal is a prick. No contest, your honor. But I got to see Carroll again. She was the only one in this whole whirligig world who gave a rat’s ass about Won McManigal. If he didn’t fight to see her, she’d think Daddy didn’t love her. 170 u Crab Orchard Review
Russell Working Then it hit him that the sole person on earth who would understand this was the cowboy sawing logs up there on the floor of that stinking apartment. Fitting irony though it may be.
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Martha Silano This Highway’s a Ribbon, and this is where the ribbon ends, oily and slick, gray bridge over gray water. This is where the ribbon frays, bumper to bumper to 7A, Shoulder Closed and every leaf in flames. In this asphalt forest, rubus made for you and me, laced with butadiene, paradox and illusion intertwining like these brambles with the English Ivy. Yellow poplars yell at the dog with its head out the window, at the lumber-lumbering trucks, while a sign announces, with arrows in three directions, Only, Only, Only. Me-n-my blinker; you-n-your lane, all of us Legacies because we’re the thread in the fabric of America’s freeway system, a golden valley dreamed up by GMC, all of us American Dream drupes too poisonous to eat. As I was driving I saw those endless brake lights, saw you joining the bloodorange maples, tailpipes wagging for the goop extracted, spewed into lakes, sounds, seas; sulfur and silicates sloughing from tires 172 u Crab Orchard Review
Martha Silano into creeks. All of us messing with the pH, screwing up the salmon’s gumption to spawn, while scattered on the median, impossibly magenta, innumerable spent-butterfly wings. This land Tacoma-choked, Rubiconriddled, XLT, 370Z. From the .com castle to the PCB-laden waters, this land is made for making time, good time. For Focus and Fusion. For Escape.
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Kirby Anne Snell Geography Lesson Chuuk, Micronesia Here, there is no word for green. Just six thousand miles of blue Pacific to reach anywhere with a name I knew on my childhood’s classroom globe. Here, children ask me where I’m from and then ask what kind of an island Illinois is. They have no name for those brown grass horizons, highways, any borders but the tide’s pressing lines, the beach’s drifting sands—in any direction, a ten-minute walk to crash into waves. We paint a map on the school’s wall, colors and continents spreading across cinderblock like fantasy. They’ve never seen this before, don’t understand how colors equal countries and black lines mark borders between one place and the next. They don’t know how you can stand in the middle of green or yellow or pink, walk for days and weeks and never dream of ocean, never imagine the pull of the tides
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Kirby Anne Snell on your heartbeat. All they know is this forever rising blue, the waves that stop their lives short. They ask where they are in this rainbow mystery. I point to the speck of black on the far right edge, almost invisible, an afterthought dot of marker on this painted panorama. They go quiet, cover their home with fingers, fit their whole world beneath a thumb.
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Kirby Anne Snell
Island Funeral Chuuk, Micronesia Our uncle dies in the morning while we walk to school. Drinking his coffee thick with sugar when we leave home— fallen on the cookhouse floor with stopped heart before we’ve reached the far end of the island. The news is there before us. Children, dismissed and bored, steal chalk and scrawl their names compulsively on blackboards, empty desks, cinderblock walls. Classes are canceled. On this small island, he is everyone’s uncle. We turn home, tide chasing us back through the taro patch. He is already laid out. Limbs separated from the concrete floor by a woven mat, sagging jaw draped in a rag. Outside, his brothers craft a hasty coffin with boards from his own hut— chasing the work of tropical heat on stilled flesh. Women swell the house in weeping waves. Men brace the walls, cross-legged, silent. Children, brought to pay
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Kirby Anne Snell respects, press his wilting hands. Together we sing the night away from his body. We cannot be alone. Morningâ€™s silence kills the echo of nails hammered into the coffinâ€™s warped lidâ€”covering the body of a man whose name we will no longer say. Shallow sand behind the house receives the box. Children, freed and bored, chase each other compulsively across the narrow beach into the sea.
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Rebecca Starks Examination of Mono Lake When the war is over, there will be time enough to pull through the thread. —the Sewing Machine Historian of Vilna
1. If lakes rise to patch where the land’s rubbed thin as the Paiutes tell it, then when your level falls does it mean the land’s begun to heal, like skin? The brine-fly eaters were worth the salt they seasoned with. By thin they dealt no judgment, no wound, but the common weal—they saw with each haul how the land changes hands that work its easement beyond all recognition as their own, until it shrugs them off, indifferent. Mending has meant tearing old seams open, wrecked passable gettings-by, themselves traumas: the shy migration of Wilson’s Phalarope denied vistas through the Sierra Nevada, springs that once cemented clouds of limestone diverted to steam L.A. fitness saunas, the pattern foraging beaks dart and sew in screens of brine shrimp, dilated and diluted— California Gulls, more poor historians.
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2. Given that the recent ruling against pollution wind-blown your way may have reversed this trend, how long a view should we take of these uprootings? As long as you have a new frontier, you’ll defend to the death of what you meant to improve the slide from short-sighted to cosmic end.
Late-combers of my shores who come to root and thread among these stranded tufa staves, blind to their futile prairie dog salute, with each step send up swarms of flies in waves that set, magnetic, in newsprint, raising a screen between them and the lives it keeps at bay. Pore too close, the letters start to bleed. Tufa, light as loofa and opera buffa, scrubs history clean. It isn’t travertine— curried and pounded to a smooth bouquet by the palms and feet of a blind crush of pilgrims— or sand that’s pedaled into drifts, but beautycum-junk. Beside the protean Colosseum— gone from circus, fortress, monastery, to shrine, quarry, cemetery; misuse to museum; shroud to drop-scene clouds slip to change behind— I’m nothing more than a rusted colander, relict, in which what’s been poured in remains.
3. Rodin once famously called sculpture ‘l’art du trou et de la bosse.’ The art of the lump and hole. Do you consider yourself an artist, a sculptor? Crab Orchard Review
Rebecca Starks More a vessel, if a lake can be a vessel of what it spurns, and drop without breaking. The towers, though, could be my Gates of Hell: castles of sand crumbling up, rude and vacant; pitted, ragged crusts of sun-bleached plaster poured over the muffled profile of the mason— its dense, congested, oncogenic vapor lacks the bluster of skin or muscle, bone. It has the look of pathos without nerves. A witness to its menagerie—iguanas and saints, koalas and hurrahs, jeers and ghouls— glosses all but the Sirenic yawns that give him pause, like the skull-and-bone chapel mortared as Évora’s memento mori under the epigraph: Time Immemorial.
4. The more you pause, the further on your journey you’ll be, the priest’s grim poem ends—meaning near Death. Who is this witness of whom you speak? He’s in a long hall of a thousand years. Dragged to the light, his eyes track interstitial holes in the round, each despairing as it appears— none are copies, none originals; curios, scraps of Darwin’s il-fa-presto pressed punctuated into quasi-fossils whose Braille ripples with the account of a ghetto sewn by a man with open-eyed needle— make it quick. But all the wrongs he embedded
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Rebecca Starks never threaded their way out of the cradle he harrowed into the light, forgetting that paper, like all that’s lived, is biodegradable. Though within each shifting cell the inverse is true: had he rigged the twisting ladders’ rungs its exiled DNA would have been preserved.
5. That binary record of life and its extinction assumes a mind to read it in the future. If we don’t colonize space, will there be one? Single cell-fossils found entombed in the tufa give you clues where to look for life on Mars: in basins like mine where minerals intrude and concentrate, until the hope they harbor of a less common fate evaporates— the same sun and meteorites bombard us both. What’s certain in this twilight age? Coyotes running along the land’s new scars gorge on Eared Grebes where they once safely staged; green rabbit brush takes cover, tipping its fur in salt. Beneath me, bubbles of impatience form testaments to what endures, while mirrored on the surface hands lined like nets, or nests, skim larvae quick as spirits, before they rise. Gathering clouds, unsecured, as if to test a long red thread pulls through another sunrise.
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Kenny Tanemura Evacuation Day This area was ordinarily lonely and deserted but now it was gradually filling up with silent, labeled Japanese, standing self-consciously among their seabags and suitcases. Everyone was dressed…each according to his idea of where he was going. —Monica Sone, from Nisei Daughter I think I would have worn a sack suit, planning my Ivy League career after the war, & who knows if there would be dances in camp. Nisei swung like Goodman & Parker & Dorsey & Ellington, jitterbugged & quarterturned in quick steps. Takes some learning to turn a lady too & the men did study up, Lindy Hopped, knew what was to be known. I’d at least look like a free man in a sack suit even if I wasn’t, might make me feel some inner liberty with those 3 buttons on my jacket, with a single vent in the back. Cuffed pants holding me up like crutches might, heavy, thick cuffs keeping me straight & neat & not suspect. Grandma wore 182 u Crab Orchard Review
Kenny Tanemura a blueprint shirt dress like a shield, as if hateful gazes could bounce off the shoulder pads, clink off the wooden buttons, get snagged in the sash belt. Suffocate there. As if the puffed sleeve could blow it right back to the offender like a poisoned kiss. She was like that, tough even in crepe. Look at the way she dressed her son that day, in a thick gray wool suit, as if the bulk & fiber of it would keep the freezing sentiments from his skin, would retain enough air to keep him alive. She put him in a starched shirt, refusing to let a wrinkle show. Like the way she used to cover his head with a hat in the heat, & hold his hand walking from one farm to the other for work.
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Great Depression In the Great Depression, there was dust in your hair and in your shoes, your sleeves were rolled up with it and there was dust in your squinting glare, as if you were watching someone or someone was watching you. My father tried to eat the dirt and it covered his face, making him darker than the sun’s stain on his skin. But he didn’t know the frayed denim of his suspenders were unraveling, didn’t know the calluses on his feet were a response to pressure. You protected him from it and he doesn’t know. Your sodium level has gone up again, like the weather yesterday, and your son won’t let the doctors give you more electrolytes, has sent you back to the hospice where you can be comfortable. I tell you this because you don’t know where you are. It’s the bitterness most will remember you for. Why didn’t you ever tell them you were a tenant farmer and still saved to buy a house, learn and teach the art of tea, collect kimonos? You guided your son safely through the long roads between farms, put a hat on his head and held his hand, and you never told him the contract with the landowner could be broken by anything, that anything can be broken.
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Debra Gwartney Her Hair A few years ago, I got an email from a stranger who’d discovered
I have a thing for a long-dead missionary named Narcissa Prentiss Whitman. She wrote to tell me that an Oregon university had a piece of Narcissa’s hair in its archives. The school she mentioned, Pacific University near Portland, was one where I, it happened, taught summer writing workshops, and where I’d sat many times on the hard pews in the chapel of Old College Hall to listen to student readings without an inkling that above my head in a storage room, and contained in what I imagined to be an innocuous box or cloth bag of some sort, was hair off Narcissa Whitman’s very head. That is, if the stranger was correct and this piece of hair had been wrapped up and preserved for posterity, a stinky strand, a spiderinfested wad matted in its slow decomposition to dust. Why was I chomping to see it? Why was I so eager to study what I assumed had been unkindly whacked from the woman’s skull? Narcissa Prentiss Whitman was a protestant believer who’d traveled three thousand miles to do God’s work in 1836, the first woman missionary in the West, the first—so they say—white woman to cross the Rocky Mountains, the first white woman to give birth to a white baby in what was then Oregon Territory. On November 29, 1847, she was also the only woman to be killed during a massacre that ended thirteen other lives, an attack perpetrated by those she and her husband had come to save, the Cayuse people. After she was dead, her body crumpled in an irrigation ditch, the band of marauders who’d torn through the mission near current day Walla Walla smashed her head with rifle butts and tomahawks to, under tribal tradition, keep her from moving on to the after life. That’s how much they loathed her. The hacking of her skull must have released her hair into the wind. Is that what happened? There are plenty of apocryphal reports about strands of hair strewn about bloody Waiilatpu, and plenty of Crab Orchard Review
Debra Gwartney tales about men who visited the mission to tuck a lock of Narcissa’s strawberry-blond hair in their shirt pockets for good luck. Stored upstairs in the Pacific museum—was it a nineteenth-century mountain man’s memento mori? I’d already seen one curl of Narcissa hair, picked from the fields of Waiilatpu. A strand of blond, clean, bloodless hair, looped into a circle, tied with a ribbon and glued to hearty cardstock in an ornate frame. This hair sits inside an antique cabinet in the archives of Whitman College, an institution named after the dead missionaries, Narcissa and her husband Marcus, in Walla Walla. “A lock of Mrs. Whitman’s hair found at Whitman Mission March 1848 by James Ballieu presented to Whitman College in 1888 by Mrs. America Grant.” So says an inscription, beneath the oval of hair, printed in intricate scroll. Ballieu had tromped through Waiilatpu some months after the massacre, after the rescue of the survivors, after the chasing off/killing of the Cayuse by Oregon’s newly formed militia. Ballieu retrieved the hair and held it as a souvenir until he died and his family turned it over to the college. A single pale curl, yellow as fresh butter, behind glass, which frankly failed to disclose a single thing about who Narcissa was even after I stared at it; even after I waited for this wisp of protein to cough up some sense of her. (What did get to me was the color—whimsical, a sun-kissed blond, and I think of Narcissa as anything but whimsical.) What did I think another unloosed hank would tell me about Narcissa Whitman that I didn’t already know? Still, I was determined to see Pacific’s twist of hair. It’s a mystery why Clarissa Prentiss named her temperamental first daughter Narcissa. The other girls were Harriet and Jane and Mary, and there was another Clarissa born there at the end. Why Narcissa? Because of the trite rhyme with the mother’s name? Or the flower? It had to be the latter. Mother Clarissa did not usually go in for trite though perhaps she had a fondness for this cousin to the iris. Neither Clarissa nor the Judge, Narcissa’s father—not exactly educated people—were likely to have read the Narcissus myth, and if they had they would have condemned it as pagan storytelling: the beautiful boy, dearly loved, could not return affection, so Artemis cursed the callous child to be entranced by his own image in a pond. Self-adoration to the point that Narcissus lost contact with all others and even with his own bodily needs until he could neither eat nor drink and died of starvation (though some versions of the myth have him stabbing 186 u Crab Orchard Review
Debra Gwartney himself, his spilled blood providing the nourishment for the spring flower with a spot of red at its center). If Narcissus’s vanities were legendary, so were—to the handful who knew her well—Narcissa’s: she prized her long blond hair with a tinge of red, yes, but she was especially proud of her singing voice. People jammed into the Prentiss living room, some riding over from the far corners of New York’s Steuben County, if Narcissa was putting on a performance. Even as a child, every song she belted out was in celebration of God. “Christians were melted to tears, and hardened sinners bowed their heads and wept bitterly,” wrote a man from her village of Prattsburgh, who’d squeezed into the house for a concert. Clarissa, whose religious fervor bordered on fanaticism, didn’t much like the concerts. Mother Prentiss wouldn’t allow herself to grin or to laugh: a reflection of her piety. She urged her daughter to contain her pleasure in kind. “I wish Narcissa would not always have so much company,” the mother is said to have muttered often to her husband. Clarissa had been swept into a movement that consumed New England—sinners tumbled to their knees to beg for God’s mercy and to open their hearts to Christ throughout what was soon called The Burned Over District. This was the Second Great Awakening, and Clarissa was a devoted servant to its newly espoused ideals: “all who exercise repentance towards God, and faith in our Lord Jesus will be immediately pardoned and justified…through the merits of the Redeemer.” Mother Clarissa was born again, and soon led Narcissa to a revival meeting—where those who accepted Christ as a personal savior, a relationship unsanctioned by organized religion before this time, wept and moaned and threw themselves to the ground. The experience exploded like a cannon in eleven-year-old Narcissa’s breast. Narcissa had lifted her face toward God since infancy (with Clarissa’s aid; at Clarissa’s bidding). After the revival, the girl excluded most thoughts and relationships but this one with the Father and with the Son. And, well, with the mother. By age fifteen, Narcissa was committed to getting herself a missionary post no matter what, and Clarissa was keen on this very shape for her daughter’s future. The girl would give herself up to a spiritual life rather than settle for an ordinary marriage and child-raising. No house full of squalling babies and delicate vases and furniture for Narcissa—this daughter was destined for bigger things. Despite the Good Works done by their sister, though, the BostonCrab Orchard Review
Debra Gwartney based missionary board refused Narcissa when she first applied. If she was to go West, as she desired, the board wanted Narcissa to be married. You’d think they’d worry about some other matters, as well: Narcissa’s complete lack of contact outside her cozy New England town, for one, or her stunningly naïve notion of others’ desire for her religion. But, marriage was the board’s sole concern. The aim was to send out married couples to bend and mold the natives into productive citizens and members of the faithful flock. But Narcissa showed little interest in marriage. Instead, she went to school to learn to be a teacher, a necessary skill for a missionary. Some afternoons after classes, after prayers, lovely Narcissa sat talking with a certain young man, a sniveler, a whiner, who probably gave off a putrid stench in the only dark suit he owned, but a man who, she was certain, needed her counsel and her strict views on faith. He was soft, round-faced, pissy when there was no apparent cause to mope, and ostracized from the others because he’d been born to a mother who wasn’t married—unforgiveable back then. The man his mother later wed loathed the boy, whipped the bastard boy, and cast him out of the house as soon as the boy could possibly make it on his own. Henry Spalding used this unhappy childhood to turn himself into a complaining and manipulative man. Everyone said so. Here at their school was the enchanting (and bossy: everybody said so) Narcissa giving him her attention. Because of his unfortunate birth, a benefactor had provided for Henry’s education, money to attend seminary and become ordained as a minister. (The irony being that Narcissa’s future husband, whom she had not yet met during the school years, was doing all he could to raise funds for seminary. His heart’s desire since he was a child was to be the Reverend Whitman, this Marcus who hadn’t exactly had a grand childhood, either. After his father died, Marcus was sent to Massachusetts to live with Uncle Freedom Whitman, who spent the next ten years ensuring that Marcus was a “pious boy,” a life of rigid worship that led to a missionary life. However, there was no money for expensive seminary and no benefactors in the wings; the family could spare funds only for medical school. Disappointing! And yet with no other choice, Marcus had to settle for Dr. before his Whitman, a lesser title that Spalding never let him forget.) Back to school days: Henry Spalding was completely taken with the generous-hearted and unyielding-in-her-faith young woman— all that kittenish, flowing hair, all those pretty songs from her pretty throat—who often listened to his carping and urged him in his 188 u Crab Orchard Review
Debra Gwartney prayerful quests. Maybe she was surprised, but no one else was, that he was smitten and could accept no other, not ever, for his wife. Henry Spalding, who desired a missionary post as much as the object of his affection, proposed to Narcissa. He proposed marriage as well as a journey across the country to the Dark West, where they would bring enlightenment to the heathens and be together, apart from friends and family, relying devotedly and exclusively on each other. When Narcissa refused this smelly young man, flat out, no question, no need to think it over, he was furious. He wouldn’t let her rejection lie, and thus began to hound her. With letters, missives, with visits she didn’t want. He came around to the Prentiss house; he begged for her attentions at school. No, no, Mr. Spalding. Leave me alone. Finally the father told the suitor to get lost. And at that point, his beloved, the darling Narcissa, became Henry’s enemy. The darkest of evil and selfish women. The one to be squashed, the one to be condemned. As one biographer writes of Henry Spalding, “He would not forgive her until she was dead.” How could Narcissa have known that eight years after meeting and spurning Henry Spalding—a period during which he wrote to the mission board to defame her, urging members to reject the flighty Narcissa for any mission, she is a horrible woman!—and also a period during which he married a well-grounded but mousey and frail woman named Eliza Hart—he would be the only acceptable board choice for the journey to the frontier? Narcissa had briefly met, and quickly gotten hitched to, Marcus around her twenty-sixth birthday, and she did so only because this doctor—who seemed nice enough, docile, a little sickly with a pain in his side he couldn’t selfdiagnose and yet able to build her a decent house while filling native souls with God’s love—could get her assigned to a post in the West. The two couples, neither one happy about the pairing, would, their bosses instructed, travel side by side for three thousand miles, for five months, little fresh food, one chance to do laundry, their only bed the hard ground. No reality show producer could have planned it better. Over here, the spurned and ugly Henry ladling on the insults every day; on the other side of the camp, Marcus too distracted and perhaps overly kind, a man unaccustomed to the level of nastiness spewing from an ordained minister, to slug Henry in the paunchy gut. Eliza was busy doing everything she could not to keel over and die (the rest thought for sure that she would. Pretty much daily). And morningsick Narcissa was left to wonder—I just have to believe she did—why Crab Orchard Review
Debra Gwartney her God had stuck her in a cauldron of unhappiness with this ugly, bitter man. “He is one who never ought to have come,” Narcissa wrote her mother about Spalding in one of her heavy letters home (loads of letters home, many with carefully worded complaints about her lonely existence, her friendless days). “My dear husband has suffered more from him in consequence of his wicked jealousy, and his great pique toward me, than can be known in this world.” He would not forgive her until she was dead. The Pacific archivist was kind and young and, it turned out, tantalized by the story passed on by the stranger and my description of what I had decided had happened (the tale in my mind being that Narcissa’s hair was off her murdered head, transported from the burned ruins of Waiilatpu by someone who’d been there, stored these one hundred sixty years later in a closet in Forest Grove, Oregon). She was up for spending an hour or so searching for that creepy hank of hair—we’d both agreed that hair from a person long dead is creepy, though neither of us could say what creeped us out about it. Once the archivist had unlocked the closet door in the far corner of the second floor, and we’d both squeezed into the narrow space, she began pulling down boxes, apologizing for the mish-mash of stuffupon-stuff and for the lack of organization. The university was the first to be established west of the Continental Divide, packed to its gills with history of the frontier. The young archivist set a box promising a nugget of such history on a center table and opened the lid to a hill of cracked and yellow human teeth piled against one side. In the corner of the room, a horsehair coat hung from a jerry-rigged rack. Another container held an early optometrist’s display of glass eyeballs. But no strawberry blond hair. No tangled wad—or so I had it in my mind— scooped up from the gravel of Narcissa’s death place. I got antsy and I squeezed past the archivist, sneezing from things-grown-dank-andmusty dust, and pointing to high shelves. I stepped on a stool to reach for boxes myself, wanting to see everything, the whole of it. The young woman held up a hand. That was enough, she said. Give her time. She’d do some investigation, she told me as she ushered me out, and would get back to me. I drove home disappointed about not seeing the hair, but working on the mystery of from there to here. My connect-the-dots game wasn’t yet connecting. Let’s say someone had picked up a handful 190 u Crab Orchard Review
Debra Gwartney of hair off the bloody Palouse plains around Waiilatpu a day or two after Narcissa’s death—I was guessing one of Narcissa’s adopted daughters, the Sager girls, though they don’t mention their new mother’s hair in accounts of the massacre and that seems a strange omission. But stick with this idea, that one of the four Sagers who’d survived the massacre had retrieved the hair. Not the youngest, who was a toddler, but the others who were fond of this woman who’d taken them in after their parents died on the Oregon Trail. In my mind, Catharine Sager, the eldest—or maybe Elizabeth, the second—wound and tied and transported the hair with her when she was finally rescued from Cayuse captivity on a freezing cold night in 1848. Which leads to the question of how the hair got out of a Sager girl pocket and onto the shelves of this little museum in Forest Grove. Pacific, first called the Tualatin Academy, was founded in the late 1840s, chartered by a brand new legislature (a full ten years before statehood) as the first university of the West. The school’s founder meant to house and feed and educate orphans off the Oregon Trail, all those kids who found themselves in the middle of the vast nowhere with nobody to care for them and no place to settle (the Sagers were far from the only ones to suffer this fate). Once the school got the nod from a most nascent government, it needed trustees and one of the first trustees, a man most eager to take on the role, was named Alanson Hinman. It took me a while to figure it out, but here was my lynchpin. Hinman had arrived in Oregon Territory at the height of the mad rush of emigration: he was a single man in one of the several wagon trains to roll through Waiilatpu in 1844. He decided not to press on to the Willamette Valley with the others; he’d stay at the mission and find a good post with the Whitmans, who’d had eight years to create comforts and the assurance of food. After the death of their one daughter, who drowned in the nearby river, Marcus and Narcissa had packed their house to its studs with abandoned, orphaned children— twelve total, including the recent arrival of the gang of Sagers, seven weary, sick children who’d never before even stepped foot in a church, let alone lived a God-centered existence. Marcus hired Hinman to serve as religious guide and teacher to the children. What did Hinman know about religious pedagogy? Nothing. Yet he expressed a willingness to instruct the youngsters of the compound and, perhaps more thrilling to the Whitmans, he was ready to convert to their faith. Hinman was first in line when Marcus offered a day of Crab Orchard Review
Debra Gwartney river baptisms that spring. Sure, save his soul, dry him off and give the man a teaching job. In the schoolroom—originally built to educate the Cayuse, a scheme that had been abandoned—Hinman made up for his lack of skills by bullying the children. He was downright awful and, with some of the boys, the verbal ire became slaps, kicks, whippings. He was, according to Catharine Sager, “one of those small-souled tyrants that could take delight in torturing helpless children, and who, under a cloak of religion, hid a black licentious heart.” But when the children complained to the Whitmans about Hinman’s pointed boot and rod, they were told that, “whatever the teacher did was right.” Hinman moved on after less than a year—to the relief of every child at Waiilatpu—though only because he was ready to seek a different kind of fortune and not because the adults had finally decided to protect their children from daily corporal punishment. The Whitmans were fond of their newly converted friend and apparently sorry to see him leave—he took his new teaching credentials, such as they were, and went to work for a different school. Two years later, Marcus convinced the Boston board to set up a mission for Hinman near The Dalles. Marcus sent his nephew, Perrin Whitman, to help. How teenaged Perrin fared at the hand of this quick-to-violence man isn’t known, but at least the young man was away from Waiilatpu, from certain death, when the Cayuse attacked and killed every male (over the age of twelve) in the compound. When he heard about the Whitmans’ deaths, Hinman hurried far away from any hint of unsettled Indian tribes, somehow landing a position for himself as trustee of Pacific University. The location of one piece of Narcissa’s hair. Here my version of the story suffered a gap. Narcissa dies, head is crushed, hair flies about, someone picks up a strand, probably a Sager daughter, and…passes it on to Hinman? Unlikely. The Sager girls had no affection for the man. Once he left, they didn’t want to see him again, ever. Hinman didn’t stop by Waiilatpu on his way out; like Spalding, he left it to others to rescue the fifty women and children held hostage by the Cayuse. There’s no indication that Hinman even saw the four surviving Sagers again, nor did he arrange to have any of the twiceorphaned girls—who had nowhere to go after their second set of parents, as well as their brothers and a sister, died in front of them—brought to the school created expressly for Oregon Trail orphans. Jerk. So how did he come by Narcissa’s hair?
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Debra Gwartney About a year after my first visit to the Pacific archives, I contacted the new archivist at the university and asked if I could search again for the strand off Narcissa’s head. This time the answer was no, I wouldn’t be granted access to the room. The archivist would do her best to locate the hair and would contact me when she had. I waited. I wrote her again. I waited some more. I arranged to drive to Pacific, three hours from where I live—if I was standing in front of her, she’d have to let me look through boxes, right? She suggested we cancel the appointment, because she hadn’t yet located any hair. Then, a week or two later, I got an email from the archivist with a photo attached. Narcissa’s hair. I printed out the photo and sat on the soft chair in my studio, staring. There it was, the piece of Narcissa I’d been looking for. To what end, I still don’t know. In fact, the blackand-white image in my hands brought up more questions, solving not a single riddle, about Narcissa Prentiss Whitman. Pacific’s piece of Narcissa was not a loose lock of hair—not in the least like the curl I’d seen at Whitman College, tied with a ribbon. This was not a strand picked up off the desolate grounds of Waiilatpu as I’d thought. The picture in front of me was of a wreath. Maybe two inches across. A complex, skilled bit of art constructed entirely from human hair. “Narcissa Whitman’s hair, braided by her and sent in a note to Alanson Hinman who spent the winter of 1844 at the Whitman Station, and was in charge of the Dalles Station in 1847 at time of massacre.” So states that anonymous note—shaky handwriting—accompanying the pale, blond wreath of human hair. So. It was mailed by Narcissa to that wretched man Hinman as a gift. The discovery of the wreath of hair spurred me to contact the newly hired archivist at Whitman College. Might you have any other pieces of Narcissa Whitman’s hair? That was my note to her, and she responded that in fact, yes, in the archives at Whitman College—and despite my visit to that room years earlier when I had been told that James Ballieu’s souvenir was the one and only—she had five. As soon as I could manage, I got to Walla Walla, into the basement of the Whitman library, to sit at a large table in the archives where the kind assistant archivist, Bill, had already piled five envelopes, each of which held a strand of Narcissa Whitman’s hair: 1) Out of the first envelope came a loose strand of brown hair, not even close to blond, and looped onto a piece of paper, on which is written this note: “This is supposed to be a lock of Crab Orchard Review
Debra Gwartney Mrs. Dr. Whitman’s hair. It was in this book in 1867 when Reverend Cushing Eells gave this book to Mrs. Martha Jane Bessy. Signed, Marion B. Bessy.” Dated May 22, 1929. 2) A slight strand of yellow hair, loose, without the adornment of a ribbon or even twine, along with this letter: Escondido, California, 9/29/1899 President S.B.L. Penrose, Walla Walla, Washington Dear Sir: I have in my possession what is said to be,- [sic] a lock of Mrs. Mark Whitman’s hair. Mrs. Rector, a former resident of Washington, tells this story concerning it. As Mr. Rector and another soldier who had known Mr. and Mrs. Whitman were assisting near the spot where the unfortunate victims fell, at the time of that fearful Massacre of the Missionaries in 1845, a lock of golden hair lying on the ground before them caught their attention. On closer examination, the soldier whose name she had forgotten said ‘There lies a lock of Mrs. Whitman’s hair.’ Then gave it to Mr. Rector, who gave it to his wife, who recently gave me a small part of it when I told her I thought I could find some surviving friend who would cherish so sacred a relic. Can you ascertain through some of her friends whether her hair was golden or if this probably belonged to some other victim of the massacre? If this can be identified, I shall be happy to send it to her nearest relative or convey it to the college at Walla Walla as a relic. Hoping to hear from you soon, I will close this note of peculiar import. Sincerely, (Mrs.) Sarah M. Wyckoff
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Debra Gwartney Escondido, California 10/12 Pres. S.B.L. Penrose Dear Sir, I am happy to return this lock of hair to the place that holds so dear the missiary [sic] and devotion of Mr. and Mrs. Marcus Whitman. No doubt the cruel ax that ‘cut their quivering flesh’ as they lay dying severed this lock from her head and it laid concealed for nearly two years—as I think it was in 1849 that it was found by the two soldiers of the war with the Indians of that time. I have retained but a small part of the lock I send you. When we think of your college we can but pray that its future usefulness may be commensurate with the sacrifice it cost this sainted couple who gave their lives for it. Sincerely yours, Sarah M. Wyckoff 3) In the third envelope, a folded black square of card stock and a letter: Narcissa Whitman’s Hair Hopefully this will remain with a sentimentalist for I am one when it comes to things like this. Inside is part of a single hair from a curl of Narcissa’s, which she gave to a girlfriend prior to her departure in 1836 for Old Oregon. The curl is normally at this time on display at the Rushville, N.Y., Central School with Marcus Whitman’s 1826 license to practice medicine. One short hair, which had become loose, was saved and divided into three pieces, of which this is one. Be Careful Please. Signed, Ross Woodbridge, Pittsford, N.Y., December 12, 1970
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Debra Gwartney I opened the black card stock and promptly called Bill over from his desk. “Someone took it! You’ve been robbed,” I insisted, jerking the card toward him. He studied the surface in his quiet way, and then pointed out the faintest evidence of a human hair. I peered in closer: and there, on the black card, I saw it—stapled and then scotch taped. One-third of one single hair. 4) In the fourth envelope, two letters and, clearly, the oldest strand of hair. A tight circle of gray—maybe just dusty and aged to a color that’s nothing like the others—tied with a ribbon, glued to a thin piece of paper, on which is written, “Mrs. Whitman’s hair.” San Luis Obispo, Ca. July 2000 Dear Mr. Dodd, I sent you a lock of Narcissa Whitman’s hair and I want to tell you how I understand it came to me. When my parents, Roy Whitman and Kathryn Eells had to dismantle their home, I inherited the writing desk of my grandmother and the lock of hair I sent you was in the small drawer.…At Sarah’s death, the desk was acquired by my parents and subsequently came to me. According to the book “Father Eells” by Myron Eells, Cushing Eells arrived at Waiilatpu a day after the massacre and therefore he probably would have acquired the lock of hair at that time. This information is partly from “Father Eells” and partly from my parents. Sincerely, Florence Eells McLennan The first four envelopes laid open in front of me, the letters folded out on the table, each strand of hair sitting on top of the note that described its origins. Bill left me alone unless I called him over in 196 u Crab Orchard Review
Debra Gwartney mistaken panic. The young woman archivist stayed in her office. They let me handle the letters, even the ones over a hundred years old. They let me touch the hair. They let me touch the hair! It turns out we all had a Narcissa Whitman hair story, those people who’d donated their strands of hair and me. They had their stories, I had mine. We all yearned in our own ways to make Narcissa what we needed her to be, to serve the causes we needed her to serve. Hair all around me, tied, untied, stapled and taped, on the table, unsheathed, mine to absorb and ponder on this one afternoon, cells from her body—blond hair and brown hair and one piece with a reddish tint, and one piece gray. The donors wanted to believe the hair came off of Narcissa’s head. But how could it? The blond so blond, the brown so brown. Snipped from the same person’s head? I don’t think so. I read over the letters again, beginning to notice more mistakes, the ways in which these people got their facts wrong; the ways in which they were desperate to hold to their own notions of who she was, owning her somehow because they held a smidge—one-third of one single hair!—of what was once (maybe) attached to her. The Eells great-granddaughter who’d found the ring of hair in her desk, for instance: no, the Spokane-based missionary Cushing Eells had not gone to Waiilatpu the day after the massacre. Nowhere, in any survivor’s account, is he mentioned. If he’d gone to Waiilatpu he could have buried his friends and prayed for their souls—instead, to the great consternation of Henry Spalding (who was on the border of Waiilatpu on the day of the killings, but ran away as soon as he got word of the attack, leaving his nine-year-old daughter to fend for herself), a nearby Catholic priest prayed over the slaughtered bodies as they were put in the ground. Why was Cushing celebrated as someone who showed up to Waiilatpu to help the survivors? Because in fact he had done no such thing. And what of the Wyckoff woman, who had no idea about the Whitmans (Mark!), and who was not acquainted with the men who’d found the hair at Waiilatpu. She’d strong-armed the Rector woman to hand over part of the memento carried away from the mission, that’s all. “The ax that cut their quivering fleshes”? Where’d she get that? No ax was used to kill anyone. Marcus died of a tomahawk to the skull and a bullet to his neck. Narcissa was shot. And as much as Mrs. Wyckoff wished for the college to live up to the saints who’d died for it, the Whitmans had not, at least in my research, planned or dreamed of an eponymous institution of higher education. They wanted only to convert native souls to their God. Crab Orchard Review
Debra Gwartney Who did this Wyckoff woman think she was to make up her own version of how things went down? But of course, I’d done the same. I’d been sure, for so long, that the Pacific hair had come from Waiilatpu, post-attack. I told others that very story about the hair stored in Pacific’s archives, describing how the strand had been retrieved after the killings, pried from the bloody ground, and somehow, by someone who’d been to Waiilatpu, eventually made its way to the Pacific U. Wrong. I’d been certain one of the Sager girls had saved the hair, and it gave me comfort to think that they had at least some remnant of their new mother. Wrong. My version had nothing to do with a woven wreath of pale hair, intricately designed. Nothing at all to do with a tender gift sent to a man I had condemned, Alanson Hinman. When I opened packet number five at the archival table in the basement of Whitman College, I discovered a second wreath of Narcissa’s hair, not dissimilar to the one stored at Pacific. Except. Except the hair is dark brown. Except the weave is neither as skilled nor as intricate—nowhere near as elegant. This one, the accompanying note claims, Narcissa made for her husband’s nephew, Perrin Whitman. For her own reasons, Narcissa spent precious free hours squinting her eyes, her bent and overworked fingers holding taut a long strand of hair, folding it around a set of pegs, shaping a wreath. But, wait, had she woven her blond hair into a perfect wreath for Hinman? Or had she woven her brown hair into a less-than-perfect emulation of the original wreath for Perrin? (And in this case, who in the world made the original?) And why is the distinction important to me? Perhaps because, from the very minute she died, Narcissa became the property of others. Even her hair. Her death has been used as leverage, excuse, justification; she became one of the central icons of the frontier West because she died horribly, because her hair was strewn hither and yon. The violence of her demise spurred more violence: nearly every Cayuse person dead—shot, hung, starved—in the years that followed. The martyr’s dome of light, cast on Narcissa with particular brilliance, gave countless others a truth to cling to. The Sarah Wyckoffs of the world cannot allow Narcissa to be real. The Sarah Wyckoffs want a saint dumped in the dirt, quivering flesh and all. It seems that I’m equally set on viewing her as a woman who made a string of mistakes, a woman who’d do anything to please her 198 u Crab Orchard Review
Debra Gwartney mother, who volunteered for a mission she was completely unfit for. She was a woman who longed for friends, for connections, a woman who sent out wreaths of hair to lonely men, as if to say, do you see me here? She was real to the Sager girls, Mrs. Whitman, and maybe that’s why I—in my conjuring of a story that suited my sensibilities, that I clung to for too long—decided that one of the young girls had ventured out onto the frosty meadow for the hair. Elizabeth or Catharine, sent by the Cayuse to gather bones of the dead dragged from the shallow grave by animals. She’d bent down to pick up yellow hair from the crisp rye grass. She held that hair tight in her fist, and later shared it—the last bit of their adopted mother—with her sisters to carry away from Waiilatpu. The Sager girls were sent out to gather scattered bones, but there’s not a whit of evidence that they returned with any hair. A few years after they were rescued from Waiilatpu, scattered from each other now, the Sager girls heard from their dead father’s brother. He sent Catharine a letter, informing her that he existed and that his father, their grandfather, was still alive. Catharine shipped the letter to Elizabeth, who cherished the link to her past more than perhaps the other girls. In a long letter to a relative she’d never met, the second of the Sager daughters pours out her soul. Why wouldn’t she? After the massacre, Elizabeth and her sisters were abandoned by the adults who’d survived the attack of Waiilatpu. They heard nothing from their adopted parents’ relatives, nor were they taken in by other missionaries. No offer of succor from Spalding. Instead, they were dumped on the doorsteps of those who did not want them, turned into washerwomen, unpaid house servants. Elizabeth was separated from the last of her family, her sisters, as alone as she’d ever been in her life. No mother, no father, no Dr. or Mrs. Whitman, no brothers. Could there be a more plaintive letter than the one she wrote her uncle? Elizabeth begs him to continue their exchange, to be her friend. She shares gory details of the massacre, the blood, of the every-minute fear and promise of death; witnessing the killing of both brothers, the burial of her little sister. She does not refer to Narcissa’s hair. However, she offers to share a piece of herself with those she would fiercely love if only she could meet them. What did she have on this earth to offer except for her hair? I have a great many questions to ask and I expect you will think them silly but I have such a curiosity to know everything. When you write to me I want you to answer them Crab Orchard Review
Debra Gwartney if you can. I want to know if you are a married man and who you married and if you have any children and what their names are. How many brothers Father had and their wives names if they are married and I want to know what my father’s mother’s name was before she married. I want to know what my father’s age would be if he had lived and my mother’s. What state he was born in and what month and what day of the month. If you have a lock of his hair please send me a piece and a piece of Mother’s if you have any. Send me a lock of yours and dear Grandfather’s too. Sister Catharine sent you a lock of all of our hair. And if you could send us Grandfather’s Daguerreotype we would prize it as highly as if it was Grandpa’s own self. I don’t know what I would give to see him. I always said if I had a Grandpa I would be so happy. I thought he was dead. I was surprised when you wrote us that he was still alive. I will send you three pieces of my hair. Please give one to Grandpa and give one lock to your oldest daughter, if you have one. If you have none keep it yourself. Give the other to my other Cousins if I have any. Write me as soon as you get this letter if you please and give me all of the particulars. Your affectionate niece, Elizabeth Sager
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Lynne Thompson Red Jasper Swift Coronas and vintage Mercedes-Benzes serenade—piston strumming piston—as they cruise Highway 134. Radios blare the twin talk-talk of the born again and arena football. James the Godfather croons this is a man’s world for the lady boomers who still believe it as they veer south onto the 5, skirt Chavez Ravine (and every displaced Ruiz, Ramos & Rodriguez) built into fields of faux diamonds for every boy who prays to play past summer. Every driver slows for the cops or eighteen-wheelers, loops the River Los Angeles with its confessions buried in concrete under a stubborn scent of smog, last bloom of jacarandas, and can’t-squeeze-a-dropof-rain-until-tomorrow. Some of us turn north onto the 110 and head for our weekend so there’s simply no reason for all this horsepower to come to such a hard stop just south of the arroyo seco except that yesterday, minutes fell back into the groove they came from and today, rush hour finds itself shrouded in a dark so black all we can see in the early November sky is a hunter’s moon, that orange-red gem, that highwayman gathering up our lost seasons.
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Shasta Echoes are real—not imaginary. We call out—and the land calls back. —Terry Tempest Williams, An Unspoken Hunger Even on a hillside covered with narcissus, day opens its throat to sing to the constellations: of thunder and its lover, lightning; of the wing-swoop of a Cooper’s Hawk. Every light has its own melody: dark in places not yet shadowed, a full palette for the artist who thinks she is if she could only recall the last time she told herself that it is true. Day’s song returns again and again whether or not we listen. We are calmed by it. We are reminded. Perhaps you remember the song of Castle Crags whose granite spires look down on Úytaahkoo— the White Mountain re-named Shasta? The mountain—formed by the fury of a volcano two hundred million years ago—was the site (like almost every other whose native name has been erased) of a battle between inhabitants and settlers who drove the locals away. No matter. If you climb from the trailhead and go through the mix of pine and fir and cedar, you will pass Root Creek Trail and its eponymous watery bed. Climb a little more, a little more. Amble among 202 u Crab Orchard Review
Lynne Thompson the boulders, over the flat rocks. Listen for a soft breeze through manzanita as you gain elevation. Call out Ăšytaahkoo until nothingâ€™s left but the timbre of voices. Call her name; she will not resist you.
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SevĂŠ Torres Papi Stands at the San Juan Airport the ticket in his left hand the time to go on his right wrist left leg rhythm ready he stands shifting weight across the axis of his hips the airbus to the U.S. foreign like the sound of Santos on American lips his speech a bilingual blend English and Spanish accent heavy he fixed houses and railings opened pool halls and restaurants ran numbers and took brown bags of money to Chinatown summers he sent my dad and uncles out to slang snow cones on the corner of Lincoln and Claim the money for food to feed family pork chops like butter wholesale rice and beans and in the pitch black of night he would mix split pea with chicken noodle a story my father would tell me the world was fixture in his memory as they drove he pointed left then right
over there where you get your engine fixed
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SevĂŠ Torres here if you need someone to paint your house he owes me, he will never forget in the backyard he would bury liquor ferment into strong throat burn and he would sing hum Puerto Rico into his house his eyes and hands like ceiba roots stand face-to-face with HuracĂĄn tropical even drunk they run ground Torres strong stubborn big vision where even an angry sunovabich becomes the music we live by
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The Blood Back Home When the sky shreds itself open in a fit of lightning and the rain that’s pouring from the heights begins to shake and careen toward my outstretched hand that is how I know I am from this place called home. When the roofed wooden beams sweat into my palm and the shadows cast by candlelight flicker onto walls the sound of a coquí call brings me my mother tongue translates an entire island in sound whistles home. Sometimes I swear I hear the Spanish in me rear up on a clad horse in the sun reflecting Christ’s cross into the eyes of the Taíno man that crouches to his side one hand on his knife the other over his heart and home. The African boy ripped from his island my Grandfather’s kin captured and hauled up out of his land’s belly the slit across his ankle finishing the wood hull of the Galleon sparkling a weathered bronze color into its new home. The sound of all the machetes swinging into sugar cane a swoosh and crack grasping at the fallen sweet between sun stroke and desperate will, en la casa there is only salt soaking into the fat of a pig roasting a temporary home. Sometimes I wonder if we are all nomads ripped out of our mother’s hands and left to fend for ourselves in strange lands where no one cares if we find the men who fight inside of our flesh clawing their way back to home.
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SevĂŠ Torres And when we get there finally after all that struggle and we kiss the ground bent double over our history and our present what will we find at the end of our longing will it be a blade cutting sharp into our tongue our language spilling out onto another battlefield where we will have to fight through the blood back home.
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Sonnet: Puerto Rican History after Jack Agüeros The turtle longs to claim the island it left smoldering In the clutches of countries that burn people like cheap tobacco Wants to reconstruct itself with a hard shell painted Taíno red Suck the earthly paradise back into the Pumpkin’s oblivion. Now there are walls with guards that keep vampires at bay The crucifix replaced by shadows that wear dollar signs From the bodega to the old brick streets of San Juan From the national bank to the dirt-packed roads of Caguas The piraguas man selling passion fruit syrup on ice shaved fine The brown man in blue police uniform heeling a dog with jackboots There are people here now whose hands conjure magic In coffee fields tobacco rolling tomorrow’s sweet fire There is struggle sharp enough to chisel a machete into paper In blood the steel earns the right to call itself Borikén.
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William Kelley Woolfitt Internees at Manzanar, 1942 (iii) That winter, needles and the ink-brush drop from her dumb hands, she spits out juniper tea, and her lips are the color of tin. She burrows under the rough blanket. Nobu saves the last mesquite branch, decides to burn the spindly twigs instead. Curled around her on their cot, he tells her he’s seen a branch shaped like a snake, he can draw out the head and rattles, a few knife-strokes, then he’ll sand, rub, and wax the body, expose its grains, and add nail-eyes, a wire-snip for a tongue. She mumbles some reply. Pressed between his feet, her feet are ice he can’t heat. He tells her he’ll grow spinach and radishes in the spring, give her mesquite’s reddish-brown heartwood held within the cream of sapwood, its encircling rings.
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William Kelley Woolfitt
Paiute Woman at Manzanar, 1935 On her back, she carries the mass of willow shoots. She cuts them young, bearing few leaf-scars, not yet come to branch or bud. With clamped teeth, pinched fingers, she frets each shoot, tears it in three. Boiled until supple, the snarled yucca-roots dye her fingertips a deep maroon. Devil’s claws— black seedpods that curl like tails— these she plucks from thorny shrubs, soaks in water five days, then must bury in damp earth five more days, before the claws soften, can be peeled into strips. Thin as smoke, she finds new willows weeding up along the creek, crowding other trees. She makes more withes, a rising pile of splints. The chaparral and the gullies give her materials that she needs. She has known willows to grow near ditch-leaks, a trickle, a bed that’s all but dry. What looks meager can fill her, overflow her seed-beater and bowl, her mouth and eye.
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Maya Jewell Zeller Another Dream for Jessica The space beneath your porch was haunted by a dead baby named Willard whose grave stone we found in the cellar and hauled up so we could read the dates. He knew what pain was. Heâ€™d lived only a few months and he was watching when we spilled things on the floor, he was listening when we told each other the secrets of growing up, of history lessons and the changes of girls. After these twenty years, I still think of your place on that hill across the fields and lonely cottonwood trees where a paint-peeled saw horse sits between the house and an outbuilding, where your father hung and beat the dirt basement out of the carpet, his crow bar riding its burgundy and white flower pattern so the morning glories bloomed and bloomed again while it buckled under metal. This is your father who, after bending all day, pounding nails into someone elseâ€™s roof, came home to put a pot in the corner Crab Orchard Review
Maya Jewell Zeller to catch the rain. You loved him. You thought he was the only man for you, his arms thick with their work and scooping you, still at twelve, to throw over his shoulder. Your mother stood in the kitchen smoking her cigarettes, thinking of how to make her hair more blond. She bought you bras for fifty cents at the thrift store in Astoria, and you wore them until the straps grew thin and gray, then passed them on to me. I burned them in our barrel because I did not yet have breasts and anyway, if I had, I’d want something white and new to cover them with, or black as that damp gap under your porch where I’d keep Willard company while we waited for you, until your body’s movement across warped boards sent flecks of light through the darkness like the sky between our houses where we could see thousands of stars and, beyond the wood smoke of our valley, each other’s bedroom lights blinking, holding the night in, keeping it safe.
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Margaux Magnolia The week of your birth, the freeway bridge collapses into the Skagit River and your parents name you for the band and the street and the sweetness that comes from those trees in spring, their heavy blossoms opening like mouths, like yours even in sleep when you dream of milk and mystery. When the metal and concrete fail, that bridge takes with it a gold pickup I picture transporting tulips, hay, and canola across this wide green valley where today my friend and I stop at the Rexville Gas and Grocery, having driven from Spokane to Bellingham to meet you, briefly, and now return to the east. Wet rhododendrons sit sticky and freckled, and clouds hang heavy like breasts or like hungry babies lying on this lap of land where lichened barns and spired churches interrupt the expanse of planted food. On our way out of town we drive Chuckanut past this incline of sword fern and the lovely canopy Crab Orchard Review
Maya Jewell Zeller of bent trees, outcrops of sandstone, this whole old mountain of fossils you canâ€™t see unless you know where to look. Even then, you stop your car and put away your camera, as you should when you first meet a new baby. Her cells are millions of years of stone, that mountain of fish bone and birdâ€™s feet, the trunks of tropical palms and fanning leaves from the Eocene. She knows secrets the river knows, and no human language to speak.
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Waimea Williams Sacred Valley, Modern Times Our weekly Hawaiian chant class concluded with an announcement that traditional Easter Island stone carvers had created a fifty-ton statue in the mountains outside Honolulu. It was ready to be “walked” down to the coast. Could we provide chants to address the ancestors, the winds and rains, and protect the workers? Every month our kahuna group received all sorts of requests, and Hala and I decided this sounded pretty interesting. Creating and moving a statue was a serious project, not another hotel opening. He’s thirty, I’m sixty, both of us passionate about hanging onto Polynesian authenticity before it slips away. In the last decades Pacific Islanders have reestablished their ancient links: twenty-six nations and three billion people scattered over the world’s largest ocean, connected by language, religion, and the coconut. We agreed to go, even though for him it meant a drive half way around O‘ahu to get to the North Shore. Neither of us could imagine moving such a large statue even a short distance. How long had it taken the carvers to make? Whose idea was it? All we got were directions to a cattle gate on private property in Kualoa. Bring your chanter’s regalia. And don’t be late because everything will be filmed. Early Saturday morning I went to meet Hala, in my mind now referring to Rapa Nui rather than Easter Island. He was a step ahead of me in having been there—a tiny, rocky triangle fifteen miles by seven in a distant, cold part of the Pacific. On his visit several years ago, he said native residents had composed welcome songs on the spot and danced in a no-shame style that put the raciest hula in the shade. Many women went topless but thighs were always covered. On the North Shore coast I was let through a locked gate by an employee of the former ranch that still owned the area. Once a sacred landing site for ocean-going canoes, all local fishing crafts had lowered their sails in respect when passing by. Hala already waited inside the gate, so I followed his truck over dirt roads twisting into a valley backed by a U-shaped curve of mountains. Soon we were lost Crab Orchard Review
Waimea Williams until he spotted a hand-drawn sign flapping in the breeze. FILM, and N GEO, with an arrow to the right. His truck bumped ahead toward an open-sided building left over from the days of raising beef. Farther inland, wide grassy meadows were lined by green cliffs ranging back at least a mile, narrowing and coming together in peaks. Thick clouds and sheets of mist shifted their colors from white to violet to gray to deep purple. Hala laughed and called out that the carvers and the statue were back there, getting drenched. We parked in bright sunshine amidst about fifty people in black polo shirts. A film class from mainland America, one of them told us. They milled around with a camera, sound booms, a clap board, lists and schedules, shouting directions, questions. On the ground lay a coil of thick rope a yard high. A group surrounded two older white men who were apparently in charge. Six chanters had come and our leader told us to get ready. We went off to do the local-style change room: Open both doors on one side of your car, slide off T-shirts and shorts, duck if you’re a woman, shed underwear and tie on full-length fabric printed with traditional designs, add seed necklaces, and a feather headband of bright yellow that imitated the plumage of an extinct bird. A one-hour delay was announced. In the meantime, who could help farther back in the valley? Hala and I were eager to see the carvers and the statue, and went off in a jeep driven by one of the film crew. We stared up at the cliffs on either side on the valley, free of power lines and cell phone towers. The heights gave off a sense of mesmerizing stillness; lush, with the vague remains of ancient terraces for farming, clusters of pale green medicinal kukui trees, patches of silvery gray pili grass used for thatching houses. In the distance white strips of waterfalls fed meandering streams. We were in Ka‘a‘awa Valley, named for a fish, or an insect, or our favorite version, “rolling ‘awa,” for the intoxicating drink, once so abundant that heaps of harvested roots were rolled downhill. The entire area, we decided, had many abandoned temple sites. And burial caves high on the cliffs. Perhaps some were untouched. Hala nudged me as the jeep approached a large sign. On our right in black, red and yellow, the familiar logo of a tyrannosaurus—big jaw full of jagged teeth and the title, Jurassic Park. The driver slowed to let us take it in and said we were in Hawai‘i’s backlot. It was a goal for movie fans from all over the world. A little farther on another sign stood below a dirt bunker, for Windtalkers, then another for Mighty Joe Young, set in front of a tall cage with additional text, Here 216 u Crab Orchard Review
Waimea Williams the great ape….There were eight or ten signs, also for hit TV shows. We stopped counting and stared ahead. The ground became muddier as rain sifted down from the peaks half a mile closer. The jeep reached its goal, an open tent piled with boxes of Costco snacks and drinks. Hala and I got out to help load everything. He asked about the statue. The driver said it was being trucked in from Honolulu; otherwise he didn’t know much, everything was in the hands of the two men from the magazine. Back at the staging area more people had gathered, including a dozen members of an extended Rapa Nui family. They were young parents, slim and attractive, soft-spoken, their children well-behaved. Our leader chanted a personal greeting for each of them. Then everybody dug into the Fritos and Pepsi while waiting for what came next. Hala circulated and came back with more information: last year the two older white men had gone to Rapa Nui with theories about how the statues were moved from the stone quarries to positions all over the island. One was an archeologist, the other a historian. The pair became convinced that instead of using rollers, Rapa Nui’s ancient inhabitants had raised a finished statue upright and laboriously rocked it back and forth, “walking” it to its final location. They returned to the States, commissioned a replica, alerted the leading Rapa Nui family (who now lived mainly in Minnesota), and decided to film an experiment in Hawai‘i (for practical reasons). A truck with a crane arrived. Half an hour later, a bulldozer drove in. No one could quite explain what either piece of equipment was for, but the replica had been made in Seattle and put on a container ship. This was confusing, although Hala and I thought maybe Northwest Coast tribes that made huge traditional sculptures had been involved. So much for Rapa Nui carvers creating a statue in the mountains here. Now we waited for the replica to be delivered over the mountains from the dock in Honolulu. By midmorning the film students became restless—too many people with too little to do—and they fussed over digital readings and speculated about the weather. The peaks at the end of the valley remained overcast. Above us, brief pounding rain showers alternated with breezes that drove off scattered clouds and let in stark sunshine. A minute later there were sprinkles, then more brightness that reflected off the wet grass. The camera crew agonized about lighting angles. On the nearby road an orderly line of ATVs appeared, all the riders wearing identical red helmets. Hala and I exchanged puzzled looks, Crab Orchard Review
Waimea Williams then another group followed in a bus, on its side a large advertisement for movie tours. The tourists waved as they headed up the valley. The bored film class waved back. I began to feel strange, disconnected. Few Americans outside the Pacific had been aware of Rapa Nui until fifteen years ago when Kevin Costner made a well-intentioned, expensive flop of the same name. During the nineteenth century slavers sold most of the population to South American plantations 1500 miles away. Now the native people had sympathizers. Maybe that was why the leading family lived in such an odd place as Minnesota, for its schools, hospitals, easily available food. From there to Rapa Nui meant a twentyhour plane trip with four stops, but in modern terms the island was only borderline habitable—tiny, wind-whipped, fierce ocean, one little beach. A 1980s resort hotel had gone bankrupt, was sold, resold, then occupied by activists, who were jailed in Chile, which still claimed the island. Families uprooted long ago had hung onto genealogical chants that established land ownership being fought out in a Santiago court. Finally a flatbed truck drove in from the main road. The film crew cheered its approach. Hala remarked that the boxed load looked pretty small for a full-sized statue weighing fifty tons. We still anticipated a majestic image in black lava rock. Three men using power tools took half an hour to demolish the wooden crate. The figure lay on its back and was made of pale gray cement. From top to bottom a vertical casting seam ran down the middle. No brow line. The eyes were shallow indentations as round as pie plates; the nose a stub resembling a beak rather than the prow of a war canoe; the mouth a crooked scratch; a vague chin. The two men in charge beamed. One chanter who embraced every religion in the world murmured that this was indeed an ancestor. “Made of marine cement,” Hala whispered. “What the highway department uses to patch potholes.” The weather at the end of the valley continued to change every few minutes. Filming would take place here, we were told, because the crew could count on at least some sunshine. The bulldozer cut a walking path that allowed for a background of misty mountain peaks. Chains were wrapped around the figure’s neck. There was a roar as the crane slowly hoisted it upright. At about seven feet tall, it was maybe half the size of an original, and so flat and featureless it resembled a gigantic gingerbread cookie. “Three tons tops,” Hala estimated. The pile of rope was unwound and passed to volunteers standing 218 u Crab Orchard Review
Waimea Williams ready to walk the figure half a mile to the coast. I pictured them harnessed like Ten Commandments slaves hauling pharaoh’s statue. The figure straightened up, then swayed forward ominously. Everybody fell back several yards. The crane operator raised and lowered the statue twice more. Each time it tilted at a forty-five degree angle when it touched down. Discussions broke out. If the chains were removed, the figure would fall on its face. The rear part of the base was level, but the front portion curved inward according to tradition, but this statue was too flat to stand on its own. The chanters were told to go ahead anyway. We lined up in front of the crowd that had backed away. The camera was aimed on us and our leader began a series of blessings in Hawaiian. Some people bowed their heads as if uncertain how to respond. Everybody else stared solemnly, listening to ancient prayers none of them understood. When we finished, the head of the Rapa Nui family slipped away and returned with a heap of steaming chicken meat on sleek green banana leaves. Smoked in a stone oven and stripped from the bones, this special dish was offered to symbolically feed the statue. Hala eyed me with a smile, looking pleased by such an authentic rite of hospitality. This was extended to the crowd and everyone got a moist, tasty bite. Additional blessings for the volunteers and their pathway were chanted. The statue remained in place at an angle, the chains still around its neck. With initial ceremonies concluded, the two men in charge discussed how to proceed. One insisted there was nothing wrong with the design, or the casting. The curved front of the base was the correct “rocking mechanism,” which would allow the statue to be walked. Their voices became tense and they withdrew for privacy. By then catered lunch had arrived and everybody else gathered at the old, open-sided ranch building. The chanters put away their regalia, changed, signed releases, and ate. Hala told me many Rapa Nui people said that over centuries, the statues had been moved or knocked down by tsunamis or earthquakes. Others believed the ancestors had simply walked by themselves from the stone quarries to line up above the ocean, or to stand alone on a hill. “That makes the most sense,” I said. After lunch every one waited for further developments but the men in charge were still arguing. Hala and I decided our part in this was over. We couldn’t even guess how much the entire project cost, but figured it was probably a lot more than both of us together earned in a year. He regretted having taken a day off work. Crab Orchard Review
Waimea Williams “See you in chant class,” he said with a huff of disappointment. We walked to our separate vehicles. I drove away to await whatever film version of the walking statues might appear a year from now. Something felt as if it had been wrong from the start, the original description of the event no more than a fantasy. Maybe as the request for chanters was passed on, it had turned into what cultural practitioners wanted to hear: that traditional Rapa Nui carvers had been found, and they’d created a fifty-ton stone replica in these mountains, and knew how to get it to the coast using a technique no one in modern times had figured out. Or it simply came down to those haunting statues that exist as a kind of mystery to nag foreigners who can afford such fascinations. Slavery and Catholicism had crushed out the old Rapa Nui culture so links to other parts of Polynesia were now faint, although there. Yet if the men who commissioned the cement figure couldn’t get it moving without a crane, the film would end up on a shelf. At the exit I stopped for a convoy of trucks going past on the main road. They were loaded with construction equipment, and the fellow at the old ranch gate said all were headed for the Polynesian Cultural Center. Farther up the coast, the enormously profitable theme park owned by a wealthy church was getting a multi-million dollar renovation. It had been designed by the architects who built Disneyland. I wondered if the cement statue might end up there, a practical solution for something so large and unwieldy. It would stand straight if sunk into the ground. Then a new show could feature a Rapa Nui birdwoman dancing in a palm grove and singing to a flock of butterflies. Before the official reopening, invitations were sure go out to chanters throughout Honolulu to participate in an elaborate dedication. A good time would be had by people of all ages. The last trucks passed on and I headed in the opposite direction.
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Contributors’ Notes Aliki Barnstone is a poet, translator, critic, and editor. She is the author of seven books of poetry, most recently, Dear God Dear, Dr. Heartbreak: New and Selected Poems (Sheep Meadow Press), Bright Body (White Pine Press), and the reissue of her book, Madly in Love, as a Carnegie-Mellon Classic Contemporary in 2014. She is Professor of English and Creative Writing at the University of Missouri–Columbia, where she serves as Series Editor of the Cliff Becker Book Prize in Translation. Lucy Jane Bledsoe is the author of the novel, The Big Bang Symphony, and the forthcoming novel, A Thin Bright Line. Her recent fiction has won the Saturday Evening Post Great American Fiction Contest, the Arts & Letters Fiction Prize, a Pushcart nomination, a California Arts Council Fellowship, and a Yaddo residency. Gloria Brown is a native of California who lives in Vacaville. She is a student in the low-residency MFA program at Ashland University in Ohio. She works for a nonprofit college scholarship foundation. Lauren Camp is the author of three volumes of poetry, including The Dailiness (Edwin E. Smith Publishing), selected by World Literature Today as an “Editor’s Pick”; and One Hundred Hungers, forthcoming from Tupelo Press as the winner of the 2014 Dorset Prize. She hosts “Audio Saucepan,” a global music/poetry program on Santa Fe Public Radio KSFR101.1FM, and writes the poetry blog, Which Silk Shirt. She can be found online at www.laurencamp.com. April Christiansen earned her MFA from the University of Arkansas. Her poetry and criticism have appeared in Pebble Lake Review, and she won third prize in Two Review’s Poetry Contest. In 2012, she was selected to present poems at the Southern Writers Conference in Oxford, Mississippi, and she is a grant writer in northwest Arkansas. Alex Collins-Shotwell has been published in Mixed Fruit and CRATE, and she is working on her first novel. She received her MFA from the University of Virginia and lives in Los Angeles, California. Crab Orchard Review
Contributors’ Notes Elizabeth Costello’s work has appeared in publications including Fourteen Hills and The Promise of Berkeley, and she was a finalist for the James Jones First Novel Fellowship. Last year, she composed poetry for and performed in the experimental dance-theater piece hOPPhomage in San Francisco, California. She writes about art (in 350 words or fewer) at www.elizabethscostello.com. Anne Elliott’s fiction has been or will be featured in Fugue, Hobart, Witness, The Normal School, and other journals. Her novella, The Beginning of the End of the Beginning, is forthcoming from Ploughshares Solos in Fall 2014. She lives with her husband and many pets in Brooklyn, New York, and works by day in the financial industry. Mirri Glasson-Darling lives and writes in Barrow, Alaska. Her short fiction has appeared recently in The Doctor T.J. Eckleburg Review and bosque (the magazine). John Glowney is an attorney practicing in Seattle, Washington. His poems have appeared in the Southeast Review, ZYZZYVA, Poetry Northwest, Crab Creek Review, River Styx, Green Mountains Review, Connecticut Review, Alaska Quarterly Review, Mid-American Review, Northwest Review, and Michigan Quarterly Review. Tom Griffen is an MFA student at Pacific University, and “Homer Stevedore” is his first published poem. He lives in Carrboro, North Carolina, where he curates the “We Are Carrboro” photography project. Debra Gwartney is the winner of Crab Orchard Review’s 2014 Special Issue Feature Award in Literary Nonfiction. She is the author of the memoir Live Through This, a finalist for the National Book Critics Circle Award and the Pacific Northwest Booksellers Award. She is coeditor, with Barry Lopez, of Home Ground: Language for an American Landscape. Her recent work has appeared in Prairie Schooner, The American Scholar, and The Normal School. She lives in western Oregon, and she teaches in the low-residency MFA program at Pacific University. Vanessa Hua is a Steinbeck Fellow in Creative Writing. An awardwinning writer and journalist, her work has appeared in the New York Times, The Atlantic, ZYZZYVA, The New Yorker, Salon.com, and 222 u Crab Orchard Review
Contributors’ Notes elsewhere. A former staff writer for the San Francisco Chronicle, she has reported from China, South Korea, and Panama. Leah Huizar is a Mexican-American writer and native Southern Californian. She received an MFA from the Pennsylvania State University and her work has appeared in the Acentos Review, Nashville Review, Christianity & Literature, and other journals. She also runs Aestel & Acanthus Press, a traditional handset type printing studio. Rochelle Hurt is the author of The Rusted City, a novel in poems published by White Pine Press. Her work has been included in Best New Poets 2013, and she is the winner of the 2013 Richard Peterson Poetry Prize from Crab Orchard Review, the 2011 Rumi Poetry Prize from Arts & Letters, and the 2011 Ruth Stone Poetry Prize from Hunger Mountain. Her work has also been also published in Mid-American Review, Kenyon Review Online, and elsewhere. She is a PhD candidate in Creative Writing and Literature at the University of Cincinnati. Esteban Ismael was born in National City, California, and raised two blocks away in San Diego. He has received university awards and fellowships, including a Rackham International Research Award to various cities in Yucatan, Mexico. His poems have appeared in Verse Wisconsin, Kweli Journal, and the Acentos Review. Christine Kitano is the author of Birds of Paradise, published by Lynx House Press. Her poetry has earned several awards, most recently an Emerging Writer Fellowship from The Writer’s Center of Bethesda, Maryland. She lives in Lubbock, Texas, where she teaches literature and creative writing at Texas Tech University. Recent poems are forthcoming in Tar River Poetry, Atticus Review, and Miramar. Karen An-hwei Lee is the author of Phyla of Joy and Ardor (both from Tupelo Press); and In Medias Res (Sarabande Books), winner of the Norma Farber First Book Award. Her book of literary criticism, Anglophone Literatures in the Asian Diaspora: Literary Transnationalism and Translingual Migrations was selected for the Cambria Sinophone World Series from Cambria Press. She earned an MFA from Brown University and PhD in English from the University of California, Berkeley. The recipient of a National Endowment for the Arts Grant, she lives and teaches in greater Los Angeles, where she is a novice harpist. Crab Orchard Review
Contributors’ Notes Jeffrey Thomas Leong’s poems have appeared in Cimarron Review, Flyway, Bamboo Ridge, Asian Pacific American Journal, and other publications. He received his BA in Asian American Studies and his JD, both from the University of California, Berkeley. He received his MFA in Writing from the Vermont College of Fine Arts in June 2014. He lives with his wife and daughter in the San Francisco Bay Area. Terry Lucas is the winner of Crab Orchard Review’s 2014 Special Issue Feature Award in Poetry. He is the author of If They Have Ears To Hear, winner of the 2012 Copperdome Chapbook Award, published by Southeast Missouri State University Press. His poems have appeared in numerous journals and anthologies, including Best New Poets 2012, Great River Review, Green Mountains Review, and MiPOesias. He is a poet, editor, and writing consultant, living in Mill Valley, California. Diane Kirsten Martin’s work has appeared in or is forthcoming in FIELD, New England Review, Poetry Daily, ZYZZYVA, Harvard Review, Narrative, and Cutthroat. Her work won the Erskine J. Poetry Prize from Smartish Pace, was included in Best New Poets 2005, and has received a Pushcart Special Mention. Her first collection of poems, Conjugated Visits, was published by Dream Horse Press. David Mason served as Poet Laureate of Colorado from 2010 to 2014. His latest books are Sea Salt: Poems of a Decade and Davey McGravy, tales in verse for children and adult children. A native of Washington state, he divides his time between Oregon and Colorado. Rajiv Mohabir, a VONA and Kundiman fellow, is the author of the chapbooks na bad-eye me (Pudding House Publications) and na mash me bone (Finishing Line Press). His poetry appears in or is forthcoming from Drunken Boat and Lantern Review. He received his MFA from Queens College–CUNY, where he was editor-in-chief of Ozone Park Journal. He is pursuing a PhD at the University of Hawai‘i at Mānoa. Jed Myers is a Philadelphian living in Seattle, Washington. His collections The Nameless (Finishing Line Press) and Watching the Perseids (Sacramento Poetry Center Press) are forthcoming. He has won the 2012 Mary C. Mohr Editors’ Award from Southern Indiana Review and the 2013 Literal Latte Poetry Award. His poems have appeared in Prairie Schooner, Nimrod International Journal, Atlanta Review, and elsewhere. 224 u Crab Orchard Review
Contributors’ Notes Ife-Chudeni A. Oputa is currently pursuing an MFA in Poetry and an MA in African American and African Diaspora Studies at Indiana University Bloomington. She is a Cave Canem and Callaloo fellow. Her work has appeared or is forthcoming in [PANK], Muzzle, Kinfolks Quarterly, and Callaloo. She is a native of Fresno, California. Elizabeth Parsons is a writer working in southwest Virginia. She is a graduate of Hollins University Creative Writing MA program. Her work, primarily in journalism and creative nonfiction, has been published widely. Candace Pearson’s Hour of Unfolding won the 2010 Liam Rector First Book Prize for Poetry from Briery Creek Press. Her poems have been published in fine journals nationwide and in several anthologies. She lives in the Los Angeles hills. Kevin Phan’s poetry has recently been accepted for publication in Hayden’s Ferry Review, Cider Press Review, Subtropics, Fence, and elsewhere. In 2013, his first poetry manuscript was a semifinalist for the Crab Orchard Series in Poetry Open Competition and as a finalist in the Colorado Review Book Prize. Vanesha Pravin is a lecturer in the Merritt Writing Program at the University of California, Merced, where she teaches creative writing and composition. Her poetry has appeared or is forthcoming in Slate, Callaloo, and Many Mountains Moving. Her first book, Disorder, is forthcoming from the University of Chicago Press in the Phoenix Poets Series. Maxine Scates is the author of Undone (New Issues Poetry & Prose), Black Loam (Cherry Grove Collections), and Toluca Street (University of Pittsburgh Press). She is also co-editor, with David Trinidad, of Holding Our Own: The Selected Poems of Ann Stanford. She lives in Eugene, Oregon. Martha Silano’s most recent books are Reckless Lovely (Saturnalia Books) and The Daily Poet: Day-By-Day Prompts for Your Writing Practice (Two Sylvias Press). Her recent awards include the James Hearst Poetry Prize from North American Review and the Robert and Adele Schiff Poetry Award from Cincinnati Review.
Crab Orchard Review
Contributors’ Notes Kirby Anne Snell is currently an MFA candidate in poetry at the University of North Carolina Wilmington. Her work has appeared or is forthcoming in Measure, Think Journal, Unsplendid, and other journals. From 2009 to 2011, she served as a Peace Corps Volunteer in the Federated States of Micronesia. Rebecca Starks’s poems have appeared or are forthcoming in Slice Magazine, Carolina Quarterly, Raintown Review, Poetry Northwest and Grey Sparrow Journal, among other journals. She has a PhD in English from Stanford University and currently teaches in the Osher Institute of Lifelong Learning program at the University of Vermont. She lives in Burlington with her spouse and sons. Kenny Tanemura has an MFA from Purdue University. His poems have appeared in Best New Poets 2013, the Iowa Review, Rattle, Chicago Quarterly Review, Willow Springs, and elsewhere. He teaches ESL at Apple, Facebook, and other companies in Silicon Valley. Lynne Thompson’s latest poetry collection Start With A Small Guitar was published by What Books Press. She has new poems forthcoming in Prairie Schooner, Weave, and an anthology scheduled to be published in 2014 by the Pacific Coast Poetry Series. Sevé Torres lives in New Jersey, where he makes his living as an adjunct professor of English and Creative Writing at Camden County College and Rutgers University–Camden. His work has appeared in Stay Solid! A Radical Handbook for Youth and Dismantle: An Anthology of Writing from the VONA/Voices Workshop. Marianne Villanueva is a writer from the Philippines and the author of the short story collections Ginseng and Other Tales from Manila, Mayor of the Roses, and The Lost Language. Her work has appeared in the anthologies Charlie Chan is Dead, Manila Noir, Another Kind of Paradise, and Philippine Speculative Fiction. She has also co-edited an anthology of prose and poetry by Filipino women, Going Home to a Landscape. Waimea Williams was raised in rural Hawai‘i. Her debut novel, Aloha, Mozart, was published by Luminis Books and received an Honorable Mention (2nd place) judges’ citation, for Excellence in the “Aloha 226 u Crab Orchard Review
Contributors’ Notes from Across the Sea” category of the 2013 Hawai‘i Book Publisher’s Association Ka Palapala Po‘okela Awards. Williams has also received scholarships to the Bread Loaf, Squaw Valley, and Napa Valley Writers’ Conferences and a Ragdale Foundation residency. She has published three nonfiction books about Hawai‘i and was the 2012 winner of the Chariton Review Short Fiction Prize. Mimi Wong was born and raised in Northern California. She graduated from New York University with a BA in English and American Literature and a minor in Creative Writing. Having completed a first novel, she is currently at work on her second. She lives in Brooklyn, New York. William Kelley Woolfitt is the author of Beauty Strip (Texas Review Press). His poems and short stories have appeared in the Threepenny Review, Michigan Quarterly Review, Water~Stone Review, Shenandoah, and Ninth Letter. He is an assistant professor of English at Lee University in Cleveland, Tennessee. Russell Working is the winner of Crab Orchard Review’s 2014 Special Issue Feature Award in Fiction. He was born in Long Beach, California, and he is author of two short story collections—Resurrectionists, winner of the Iowa Short Fiction Award from the University of Iowa Press; and The Irish Martyr, winner of the 2006 Richard Sullivan Prize in Short Fiction from the Univerity of Notre Dame Press. He and his wife, a Russian journalist, have two sons. Maya Jewell Zeller’s first book, Rust Fish, is available from Lost Horse Press. Her poems have appeared in New Madrid, Floating Bridge Review, Chattahoochee Review, Southern Humanities Review, and Squalorly. She lives in Spokane, Washington, with her husband and two small children and she teaches English at Gonzaga University.
Crab Orchard Review
the Crab Orchard Series in Poetry 2010 Editor’s Selection
Series Editor, Jon Tribble
Heavenly Bodies Poems by Cynthia Huntington “This is a poetry of woundedness and defiance. Heavenly Bodies has a stark integrity in its refusals to beguile or comfort; no one could call it uplifting. Yet there is something bracing, even encouraging, in the hungry survival of this sister of Sylvia Plath and in her self-insistence: I do not give up my strangeness for anyone.” —Mark Halliday
“Cynthia Huntington’s Heavenly Bodies is the most searing and frightening book of poetry I have read in years. The poems arise from pain and illness, from the body’s rebellions and betrayals, and yet they are also curiously exhilarating, even redemptive: perhaps because they are utterly free of selfpity, and find the means—through the sustained ferocity and invention of their language—to transform suffering into a vision so bold it must be called prophetic. Heavenly Bodies is a remarkable collection, on every level.” —David Wojahn, author of World Tree
2012 National Book Award Finalist! Copublished with Crab Orchard Review
88 pages, $15.95 paper, ISBN 0-8093-3063-6 978-0-8093-3063-8
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the Crab Orchard Series in Poetry Series Editor, Jon Tribble
2013 Special Selection
Abide Poems by Jake Adam York “In his body of work, poems of sheer beauty, grace, precision of image, and technical skill, we find a profound intervention into our ongoing conversations about race and social justice, a bold and necessary challenge to our historical amnesia. Jake Adam York is one of our most indispensible American poets, and the presence of his work in the world—his vision, his enduring spirit—is for me, and I think for us all, a guiding light.” —Natasha Trethewey, United States Poet Laureate 2012–2014 “Jake Adam York was the finest elegist of his generation, and his ongoing project, an intricately layered threnody for the martyrs of the civil rights movement, also made him one of the most ambitious poets of that generation.… It is thus bittersweet to observe that this posthumous collection is his finest… Abide is, in short, a marvel.” —David Wojahn Copublished with Crab Orchard Review 96 pages, $15.95 paper ISBN 0-8093-3327-9 978-0-8093-3327-1
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the Crab Orchard Series in Poetry 2013 Open Competition Award
Series Editor, Jon Tribble
Millennial Teeth Poems by Dan Albergotti “Albergotti’s poems are passionate and yet skeptical of the things they are passionate about. He writes of family, love, poetry, and the world around us from the perspective of history, even the perspective of the cosmos, and that knowledge imbues his poems with a cool understanding of the limitations and strengths of his warm heart. Millennial Teeth is a wonderfully ambitious collection of poems that soar while still remaining grounded in the world…” —Andrew Hudgins, author of A Clown at Midnight
“Albergotti… is by turns a religious poet, a formalist of great inventiveness, and a subtle wit.… Even heartbroken, even schooled by loss, Albergotti sings of love. In an age of flash and chatter, this is a book of soulful, serious poems.” —Patrick Phillips, author of Boy
Copublished with Crab Orchard Review 88 pages, $15.95 paper ISBN 0-8093-3353-8 978-0-8093-3353-0
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the Crab Orchard Series in Poetry Series Editor, Jon Tribble
2013 Open Competition Award
Zion Poems by TJ Jarrett “In Zion, TJ Jarrett maps a new language for reconciling racial and cultural tensions that few poets would have the courage to approach, much less subvert and transform into a conversation of equals. She has a compelling story, she has the ear to make the language sing, the alertness to metaphor to make it interesting, and the drama to make it stick.… TJ Jarrett is a name that we should remember.” —Rodney Jones, author of Imaginary Logic “One simply must relish the superb light and a captured sense of darkness as avenues of lyric survival, the exemplary wealth of both human suffering and wise knowing in these poems that make reading Zion as much a warding off of spirits as it is a celebration of language and remembrance.” —Major Jackson, author of Holding Company Copublished with Crab Orchard Review 88 pages, $15.95 paper ISBN 0-8093-3356-2 978-0-8093-3356-1
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the Crab Orchard Series in Poetry 2012 Editor’s Selection
Series Editor, Jon Tribble
From The Fire Hills Poems by Chad Davidson “These lovely, complex poems are the notebooks of a cultural commuter, written during his journeys back and forth across the Gothic Lines that divide present from past, memory from experience, private from public. They are bravura performances, full of the nimbleness of mind and form that I have long admired in Davidson’s work.” —Geoffrey Brock, author of Weighing Light
“Italy is the origin of so much that we take for granted in our art, architecture, cuisine, literature, politics, religion, history, language. In From the Fire Hills— part pop-cultural Virgilian Guide Book, part twenty-first-century Grand Tour Baedeker—Davidson traverses this storied, incendiary terrain with what he has elsewhere called his signature ‘Bigfoot Poetics,’ as comfortable among the supper talk of cryptozoologists as it is among the pages of supermarket tabloids.” —Lisa Russ Spaar, author of Vanitas, Rough: Poems and The Hide-and-Seek Muse: Annotations of Contemporary Poetry
Copublished with Crab Orchard Review
88 pages, $15.95 paper, ISBN 0-8093-3323-6 978-0-8093-3323-3
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the Crab Orchard Series in Poetry 2012 First Book Award
Series Editor, Jon Tribble
“How thin the seam between this fierce book and all the poet’s countrypeople who haven’t lived to read it. Faizullah has made a courageous and shaming book. I hope this book will be translated everywhere.” —Jean Valentine, author of Break the Glass
Poems by Tarfia Faizullah
“Seam reaffirms that imagination is the backbone of memory, the muscular fiber that enables us to re-grasp our humanity. Raised in West Texas, Faizullah examines the catastrophe that haunted her parents’ life in America and in turn haunted her: the sisters, aunts, and grandmothers raped in Bangladesh in the 1971 liberation war.… Faizullah twines a seam where the wounds are remembered, fingers quivering, spooling, and unspooling what we know of healing. This is a powerful debut…” —Khaled Mattawa, author of Tocqueville
Copublished with Crab Orchard Review 80 pages, $15.95 paper ISBN 0-8093-3325-2 978-0-8093-3325-7
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"The West Coast & Beyond"