Volume 29 The Annual Art & Literary Journal of Stanislaus State
penumbra (pi-num â&#x20AC;&#x2DC;bre): n. 1. A partial shadow, as in an eclipse, between regions of complete shadow and complete illumination. 2. The partly darkened fringe around a sunspot. 3. An outlying, surrounding region; periphery; fringe. [Lat. paene, almost â&#x20AC;&#x201C; Lat. umbra, shadow]
All About Penumbra Since 1991, Penumbra has proudly published poetry, fiction, nonfiction, and visual art by contributors from the Stanislaus region, from throughout the U.S., and from abroad. Our staff is composed entirely of students: they make all editorial decisions, including which submissions are accepted and how the journal is designed. Because new students staff the journal every year, Penumbra constantly evolves. Each year, we receive hundreds of art and literary submissions, and through an anonymous voting process, we decide which works to accept. We then select the top prose, poetry, and art pieces from which the judges select the prizewinners. Every Spring, English 4019: Editing Literary Magazines is open to students with junior or higher academic standing. Students from all majors are welcome: the course offers professional training in areas including art, business, and communications. Annually, we launch the new issue with a reading on the CSU Stanislaus campus, near the end of the Spring term. Thank you to the many contributors to Penumbra 2019. Your talent makes the journal what it is. Please continue sending in your work: submissions will open for Penumbra 2020 at the end of August of this year.
Acknowledgments Penumbra would like to thank Claremont Print and Copy for their exemplary work and support Our gratitude and thanks also go to the English Department for being the foundation from which Penumbra has grown. This publication would not have been possible without the hard work, dedication, and artistic vision of our Co-Editors-in-Chief, Aryana Oâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;Brien and Jarred White. The Penumbra Staff would like to give a special thank you to Dr. Jesse Wolfe for providing guidance, support, and a lot of his time in helping to bring the journal to life. We would also like to thank our graduate students, Heather Simmons and Tabbitha Zepeda, who provided invaluable assistance to our team. We are grateful to the Art Department for partnering with us, and we hope to continue our alliance for many years to come. Thank you to Don Hall, Justin W. Clark, and Judy Halebsky for being our judges. We would like to extend our gratitude to those not mentioned for coninuous support throughout this entire process: thank you for helping to make Penumbra possible. Cover Art: Struck Amanda Trask All rights revert to the contributors. Penumbra is indexed in the Humanities International Index. Content ÂŠ 2019 Penumbra Department of English California State University, Stanislaus One University Circle Turlock, CA 95382
Penumbra Staff Faculty Advisor Dr. Jesse Wolfe
Editors-in-Chief Aryana Oâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;Brien Jarred White
Jazzmine Bustillo Angelica Felt Grasie Franco-CarreĂąo Kalina Fulgentes Arianna Garcia Samantha Grothaus Brittany Groves Noor Miqbel Heather Simmons
Benito D. E. Armenta Alejandro Caballero Hurtado Omar E. Honegger, Jr. Johanna Medina Tabbitha Zepeda
Table of Contents Judge Bios .......................................................................................... 14
Poetry Judy Halebsky (Judge) Flight Pattern ........................................................................... 24 Bird of Prey ............................................................................... 25 Skinny Jeans and the Known Universe .................................. 26 Cherren Givargis Generation ................................................................................. 28 Eric Mariani Behold an Ancient Night .......................................................... 30 Cleo Griffith Dizzy with the Puzzle ............................................................... 31 Iâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;ve Bared .................................................................................. 49 Erasure .................................................................................... 101 Soon the Wind Will Change .................................................... 102 No Blues in Heaven ................................................................ 158 Angelique Arnold In Dreams ................................................................................. 32 Before You Begin ....................................................................... 88 Austin Morrise Tempers Flare ........................................................................... 39
Timothy Dodd Genesis ...................................................................................... 41 A Bag, Hers ............................................................................... 80 Jacalyn Shelley Dance at Plumstead .................................................................. 42 Fatherâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;s Wallet .......................................................................... 45 Robert Beveridge Rain ............................................................................................ 47 Slowkill .................................................................................. 104 O-Ring ...................................................................................... 109 Kayla Wilton This ............................................................................................ 48 Nicholas Reiner Midnight .................................................................................... 50 The Future ................................................................................. 54 Diana Woodcock Swept Away ............................................................................... 52 How to Feel Small ................................................................... 117 Olivia De Leon Comfortable ............................................................................... 55 Diagnosis ................................................................................... 61 Blank Pages ............................................................................... 83 Wife Material? ......................................................................... 126
Jordyn Lynn My Last Stand ........................................................................... 59 David Perez Stowaways ................................................................................. 62 Ann Howells She Persists ............................................................................... 71 Procedure ................................................................................... 73 On His Birthday ...................................................................... 131 Paul Bluestein Heretic ....................................................................................... 72 Loose Change ............................................................................ 76 Recovery .................................................................................... 77 Sacred Space ............................................................................. 79 Casey Giffen Divine Dyslexia ......................................................................... 82 Birds and Lilies ......................................................................... 93 Richard Atwood SHREDS .................................................................................... 85 Brokeback Mountain ............................................................... 123 DEAR CONNOR ..................................................................... 124 IAN ........................................................................................... 125 Mark Fisher Lament ....................................................................................... 89
Christina Nguyen Clouded With Trust ................................................................... 90 Gerard Sarnat Post Myocardial Infarction Haiku ............................................ 92 Best “Friend” ........................................................................... 170 Brett Randich The World to Come .................................................................... 99 Aryana O’Brien one-fifty a.m. ........................................................................... 105 Andrea Wagner Oily Fingers ............................................................................. 106 T.S. Hidalgo Anniversary. She ..................................................................... 110 Peter Smith A Season of Fire ....................................................................... 116 Anthony Persons Of the Soil ................................................................................ 118 Jeffrey MacLachlan Contract Killing ....................................................................... 120 Gary Beck Diminishing Value .................................................................. 122 Tom McFadden Avenues in the Air ................................................................... 130 The Road Beyond .................................................................... 145
Shawn Anto Sculpture of a Runner. ............................................................ 132 Clay Hunt Fragile Branch ........................................................................ 133 Tobi Alfier Annieâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;s Escape ......................................................................... 135 Jane Doe on Page Six .............................................................. 165 Two Dollars a Day ................................................................... 166 Sarah Cash Dance Lesson ........................................................................... 143 Painting on the Kitchen Wall ................................................. 149 Michelle Hartman I Wonder .................................................................................. 144 Everything is Perfectly Fine ................................................... 160 Seneca Basoalto Alive, Lie, Legend ................................................................... 146 Thomas Griffin This Rhythm of Relationship .................................................. 147 We Say the Field Is ................................................................. 159 Marc Janssen River Road ............................................................................... 150 Beauty ...................................................................................... 152 Anthony Watkins In the Pizza Shop .................................................................... 161
D.S. Maolalai Weekend Mornings ................................................................. 162 Bethany Harper Words Behind Love ................................................................. 163 Jeffrey Alfier Atchfalaya River Almanac ...................................................... 168 Matt Duggan A World Beneath My Feet ....................................................... 172 Scott Blackwell Eaten Under A California Sun ............................................... 182 Waiting For Winterâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;s End ....................................................... 184 Tessa Mitchell 2904 .......................................................................................... 183
Prose J.W. Clark (Judge) Crossing Ninety-Nine ............................................................... 16 Jarred White The Flower Mound .................................................................... 34 Kayla Wilton The Guardian ............................................................................ 44 Seth Trovao Locked Doors ............................................................................. 65
Alexandria Hall My Mother ................................................................................ 74 Jon Paul Palma Street Food Criminal ............................................................... 86 James Berry Mitch Mulcahy .......................................................................... 94 OCD ......................................................................................... 136 Blake Kilgore Tight-Ropers ............................................................................ 111 Brendan Todt An Anniversary ....................................................................... 129 Matt Duggan A.I. ........................................................................................... 142 Jacob Moniz Safe Space ............................................................................... 153 Terry Sanville Talk .......................................................................................... 173 A Greater Peace ...................................................................... 178
Art Don Hall (Judge) Saint Frances Preaching to the Animal .................................. 21 Saint George Slaying the Dragon ............................................ 22 Self-Portrait .............................................................................. 23
Christopher Rodriguez Untitled ..................................................................................... 29 Frank Groves Into the Abyss ........................................................................... 33 Amanda Trask Struck ....................................................................................... 40 Sink With Me ............................................................................ 78 Shylah Groves Speak No Evil ............................................................................ 46 Maicel Barsoum Motherâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;s Hands ........................................................................ 51 Drool ....................................................................................... 164 Tula Mattingly Sunny Day! ................................................................................ 58 Tatiana Olivera Overlooking Pinecrest ............................................................... 64 Nieko McDaniel A Common King ........................................................................ 70 I Wish I Was... ........................................................................ 181 Jordyn Lynn Red Skies at Night .................................................................... 84 Birds Eye View ........................................................................ 103 Dottie Lo Bue Rest .......................................................................................... 100
Thomas Mampalam Untitled ................................................................................... 108 Untitled ................................................................................... 148 Stephanie Morales An Invitation ........................................................................... 115 Evan Strope Untitled ................................................................................... 121 Michelle York Blooms ..................................................................................... 128 Fabian Gonzalez Gonzalez Crowning ................................................................................. 134 Oyewole Bukunmi Living in the Shadows ............................................................ 141 Kathleen Gunton Moon Over Morning ................................................................ 157 Lucinda Murphy Aging Wonder .......................................................................... 169
Book Reviews ................................................................................... 186 Contributor Bios .............................................................................. 198
Judge Bios Don Hall has been trained and has worked professionally in both two-dimensional and three-dimensional art most of his adult life. Two recurring motifs in his work are the self-portrait and references to art history. He is currently working on a series of self-portraits in both pastel and acrylic paint on canvas. His work has been shown in many galleries and published in several books and periodicals. Website: donhallworks.com. Art Judge: Don Hall
Prose Judge: J. W. Clark
J.W. Clark is completing his M.A. in English at California State University, Stanislaus this spring. His first short story collection, The Covenant and Other Stories, was published in 2018 by Pronghorn Press, and is available from most online booksellers. He is currently working on two novels, and will be attending a M.F.A. program in creative writing this fall.
Poetry Judge: Judy Halebsky Judy Halebskyâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;s recent book of poems, Tree Line, was a finalist for the California Book Award and the Believer Poetry Award, among others. Her poems have been published in Antioch Review, Field, Zyzzyva and elsewhere. Her honors include fellowships from the MacDowell Colony, the Millay Colony, and the Vermont Studio Center. She chairs the Department of Literature & Languages at Dominican University of California and lives in Oakland.
Crossing Ninety-Nine I saw ‘em crossin’ the freeway yesterday afternoon, right there near the Whitmore Avenue overpass in Ceres. Can you believe it? I mean think about the odds, the timin’ that had to work out. There couldn’t have been more than fifteen, twenty people that seen ‘em. But there I was, passin’ by right at that moment. Or, right before that moment. Close enough to touch it. Strange how the world brings people together at certain times. We live our own lives, walkin’ our own path, just gettin’ from one day to the next, and then—boom. Right there our path crosses with someone else’s. And nothin’ is the same after that. You’re on a whole different path altogether. I been wonderin’ how it was those two came to meet, and what it was that brung ‘em together. Right there to that spot at that time. Seems awful dark to say it was all just leadin’ up to that. You’d have to think that everything in their lives was directin’ ‘em to that place and time, and if that’s the case, well…like I said, that’s a dark way of thinkin’. So I choose to say I don’t know. I don’t have all the answers. For some reason or another they came to be crossin’ that freeway, that’s what I know. And I can only imagine what led to ‘em tryin’ somethin’ so dangerous as that. They came out of the oleander bushes on the shoulder maybe a hundred yards in front of me. Ran across the three northbound lanes, hopped over the median to the southbound side, and that’s when I passed ‘em. Just got a glance as I drove by. I remember she looked kinda sunburnt and was wearin’ a backpack. He was followin’ her, smokin’ a cigarette. He had a black baseball cap on. They looked like people who would cross a freeway. I ain’t judgin’, that’s just how they looked. I took a peek in my rearview and I saw her start runnin’ across the southbound lanes. A few brake lights lit up. Last thing I saw he was still standin’ alone in the median. Probably still smokin’ that cigarette. I hope he enjoyed it. I’ve never ran across a freeway but I’ve driven up and down a million of ‘em. ‘Specially that one. Highway 99. My wife and I work for a company that sells medical equipment, and we’re on the road a bunch. Our territory runs from Sacramento south to Bakersfield, west to the coast and east to the Nevada line. Out of all the roads we drive, we’re on 99 the most. Stockton, Lodi, Merced, Madera, Kingsburg, Tulare.
I could drive that road blindfolded and name the exits for you as we pass by. I’ve knelt on the side of it fixin’ a flat, stood next it to takin’ a call, stretchin’ my legs and back. There’s not a freeway in California with more truck traffic, and those trucks are comin’ fast, man, and loud, and big, and one after another. Big old tractor trailers loaded to the gills haulin’ everything you can think of up and down the west coast. I imagine it would be pretty intimidatin’ to be standin’ there in the median as they fly by, sixty thousand pounds of steel at seventy miles an hour. I bet you’d feel pretty small waitin’ for a moment to sprint across. You know your mother wouldn’t like you doin’ it. Goes against everything you ever tell a child. But then we grow up, get older, and I guess we decide that nobody’s gonna tell us nothin’ no more. That’s most people, anyway. My wife and I, we got a little bit of a different arrangement. We spend a lot of time together. Really we’re together all the time. People ask us, don’t you ever get sick of each other? Together at work, together at home, together on the road and in all those hotel rooms. Doesn’t that get cramped, doesn’t that get old? And I tell ‘em no, it doesn’t. My wife is my best friend. Hell, my only friend if I’m bein’ honest. She’s the only one been with me through thick and thin for fifteen years, almost nine of ‘em as husband and wife. It’s funny how everyone else just kinda faded away. I almost don’t know where they went to. Just slipped out of my life and now they’re as gone as the time. Doesn’t seem fair in a way. But I guess complainin’ that the years have passed me by isn’t takin’ the alternative into consideration. The time is passin’ no matter what, the only question is whether I’m alive to see it go. On that score, I’ve been lucky, because I’ve had someone lookin’ out for me. I’ve known them that weren’t, because they didn’t. Candice, she saved me from that end. I’m not ashamed to say so. She came in and got my life in order, got me wantin’ to wake up in the mornin’ and take care of myself. She gave me a reason to get to the end of the day. I hate thinkin’ about what would’ve become of me without her. The path I was walkin’ down. I get goosebumps when I think about it too long. I know how close it was to gettin’ really bad. Candice was a nurse when I met her. She’s one of those people who enjoys takin’ care of others. She’s good at thinkin’ up a plan for someone and helpin’ ‘em stick to it. And that’s okay with me. I can take instruction. Takes some of the pressure off. When Candice has somethin’ in mind, or an idea or whatever it may be, I say “Sure, babe. Sounds
good.” It’s a hell of a lot easier than tryin’ to figure this damn world out on my own, that’s for sure. I got two kids, both in their twenties now. I don’t see ‘em too often, but when I do they like to complain that I let Candice make too many decisions for me. I tell ‘em, “You don’t remember how I was before. You were too young to realize how bad I was fuckin’ everything up on my own.” I tell ‘em Candice has been a blessing to me, a helpin’ hand when I didn’t have one. Some people just ain’t good at makin’ their own decisions. My kids, they argue with me about that. It might sound harsh, but it’s true. I know because I’m one of ‘em. The first time I saw Candice she was at work. She was cute even in her nurse’s scrubs. I was workin’ with the delivery service then and that day she happened to be the one standin’ there, so I asked her to sign for the delivery. I looked around the place a little bit and when I looked back down she was starin’ straight at me. “What’s your name?” she asked. I told her. “You ever delivered here before?” I said no. “I didn’t think so,” she said. “I would remember a fine piece of ass like you.” That’s what she said. I’ll never forget it. “A fine piece of ass like you.” I must have turned about three shades of pink. I don’t even remember what I said after that. I probably mumbled somethin’, took my pen back, and walked out like some kinda idiot. I do know I started volunteerin’ for deliveries to that hospital whenever I could get ‘em. Sometimes she was there and sometimes she wasn’t. I learned about her a little at a time. I found out she was married, which just about broke my heart. But it turned out okay because she was already plannin’ to leave him. One of the first nights we spent together we broke into her house when her husband was at work and took all the stuff she said was hers. After we had my truck loaded up she told me she wanted to wait and watch him come home. I was worried, but Candice is smart. He didn’t recognize my truck, so he didn’t know it was her sittin’ right there, watchin’ him. We saw him go in the
house, and after a little while here come a couple patrol cars down the street. He came out to meet ‘em, and man, was he mad. Candice got real happy when she saw that. She was excited. She wanted to do it right there in my truck, with the cops right down the street and everything. She started unzippin’ my pants, but I couldn’t do it. The cops made me too nervous. After that we were together a lot. She moved in and really fixed up my place. Got rid of some of the junk I’d had for a while. Stuff I’d had a hard time gettin’ rid of. Sentimental value, I guess you’d call it. But she made some good points. I wasn’t usin’ it. She said she could sell it and make us some money, and I guess she did. For a while there was some hard times between us. There were still a couple guys that liked to hang around her. Sometimes she would even bring ‘em over. I didn’t like that. I’d stay in the bedroom by myself and my head would get dark. Real dark. But I don’t like to think about that. It doesn’t do no good. Like Candice says, it’s best to let the past stay in the past. Funny thing is, it was through one of these guys she knew that we got set up with the deal we got goin’ now. One night she came home and told me we were gonna quit our jobs and get one of these travelin’ gigs sellin’ medical supplies. I told her okay but I didn’t know the first thing about sellin’ nothin’. She said we didn’t need to worry about that. She said there was a way to make some money on the side, some real money, money that would set us up nice if we went about it the right way. The guy she knew, he had connections at certain pharmacies and clinics for all sorts of shit. Percocet, Dilaudid, Xanax, Klonopin. And more, too. Our job was to make the transactions at these particular spots where we had the connections. Candice said it was a great cover, that we were already goin’ to these places in the course of our regular job anyway, so we wouldn’t draw suspicion. So that’s what we did. We’ve got into a pretty good routine by now. Candice sets up the meetin’ and then I make the transport and the deal. She figured it out that if anything ever goes wrong with my end, it’s better to have her in a motel room somewhere. She says she can be more help to me there than locked up. Besides, the thought of her in jail is enough to ruin me. I couldn’t deal with it. I admit I get scared about what I’m doin’ sometimes. I do. But what gives me courage is when I remember what Candice has done for me. I know I ain’t ever gonna let her down.
Seems like Candice is asleep before me just about every night. I lie next to her in these motel rooms and I can’t help thinkin’ about the future. We’ve talked about buyin’ a cabin in the mountains, away from everything and off on our own. I’d like that. I like to think about it when I can’t sleep. But Candice says we should live in the moment, not get caught up in some imaginary future. I guess she’s right. So then I’ll turn on the TV to keep me company. And that’s what I did just last night. Turned on the local news and they were talkin’ about this guy who’d been killed by a truck crossin’ Highway 99 on foot. Southbound lanes. Right near the Whitmore Avenue overpass in Ceres. Said he’d been tryin’ to follow his girlfriend across the road. I sat right up in bed. I knew that was him. I tried to wake Candice but she’s a deep sleeper. She didn’t want to hear nothin’ about it. So I just sat there starin’ at the TV. It was almost hard to believe. I wondered what he was thinkin’ about when he got hit. Did he see the end comin’? What was the last thing he saw? For some reason I have a feelin’ I know what it was. It’s been in my head all day. I feel like I can see it. He sets out across the road, runnin’ with everything he has. The truck driver hits his brakes but there’s nothin’ he can do. The guy is already in the middle of the freeway. And the guy, he sees her, he sees her standin’ there, safely on the other side, and she’s tellin’ him to run, wavin’ him across. And then it’s over.
Saint Francis Preaching to the Animals
Acrylic on Canvas
Saint George Slaying the Dragon
Acrylic on Canvas
Flight Pattern I put my suitcase down see the robins outside on the window, I notice the waxy imprint of tail feathers faint outline of the arc of a wing rose robins sing as if classically trained, as if they are drunk or in a hurry desperately and beautifully my dad beaming that I’ve come to see him I can’t remember a single thing, he says in firethorn bushes males sing a whisper song to mark territory, to sigh defeat I tape squares of colored paper to the glass he sleeps on the couch I sleep in the bed each morning it’s the same how does the stove work? where am I? what is that sound? a bird hitting the window songbirds navigate by the stars but if it’s foggy if the clouds are low they fly into the lights that shine in dark windows
Bird of Prey Should my heart turn fickle at your expense waves would flood the Pine Ridge hills —#1093 from the Kokinshû —as in waves won’t flood these hills—as in—I won’t yield not to this current not to this storm osprey: a fish hawk, a bird of prey, an overly indulgent husband my grandmother writes to my mother: marriage is a business arrangement in class, a woman says, it’s naive to think you can decide to love someone an osprey nest low to the ground with eggs so easily broken even my students know this #42 in Hyakunin Isshu starts, writing back to a woman who has changed her mind (poems so often letters) did we not promise, tears on our sleeves there’s waves breaking over the hills (sleeves like hands meaning the places we touch) osprey: steady wing beats over shallow water not to this current not to this storm
Skinny Jeans and the Known Universe â&#x20AC;&#x201D;after Ilya Kaminaky Wearing a wedding ring and a baseball cap shouting over the music to his buddy I almost shot myself 2 marines drinking, 3 women in skinny jeans at the bar cobbles, gravel, sand, silt, mud it takes years to learn how to read years for rocks to be broken down the sound of letters, syllables, words, tracing lines across the page [a hummingbird = a tea cup] [a human egg = the smallest thing visible to the naked eye] he leans over the space between our tables puts his arm around Jacob leans his head on Jacobâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;s shoulder the way I do [mint vine and ice in a glass] [tracing the line across the page] [we lived happily during the war] [mostly] I was going to do it, he says sounding out the letters 2 Marines, back from Iraq 3 women, drinking [forgive us]
we were eating very small pieces of cake just slivers, really
Everyone is sick. Twisted vision, reality is crooked, Everyone is broken and no one is trying to get better. Because better means stronger, and stronger means okay, and okay means no need for attention to be paid. We are a generation obsessed with looking for a cure that doesnâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;t exist To a problem that we came up with. And we toss and we turn and we long and we yearn and still when we find what we seek we despise what we see. Because better means stronger, and stronger means okay, and okay means no need for attention to be paid. I ask you, I urge you, I beg you, to know that the fire inside you is your responsibility to hold. It is your job to see that this fire grows, this world knows not what it takes and what it owes. So you have to decide, will I let myself die or will I be the one who decides that Iâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;m alive. Because alive is more than a condition or a state, alive is a choice, a decision that we make. To be alive is to look upon ourselves and realize that we are not just a product of this world and all its lies. We are not just a pawn in this treacherous game, we are the ones who say yay or nay. We have minds that are able to open up and crave what we long for really is just to be okay. Stop fighting the cure, stop aiding the villain, free your mind enough to decide to love yourself again. Because better means stronger, and stronger means okay, and okay means no need for attention to be paid. And that, my friend, is okay.
Behold an Ancient Night behold an ancient night blackest endless depths raining haunted starlight behindâ&#x20AC;&#x201D;the cycling cosmos machinations eternal there is no time spectacular mystery of being creation unfurling there is no space endlessness & endlessness & yet we die all returns to the ancient the ancient endless black nothing is lost cycles swirl all back again to be fuel for haunted stars to twirl again through all false space & time behold an ancient mystery the spectacular night of being there is no begin there is no end look up &
Dizzy Within The Puzzle You are the hinge upon which I swing in doubt of balance, dizzy from the drug of you. You are a puzzle with which you expect me to play… Each time I hold myself steady to catch the clue you throw my direction… I do not see it. Perhaps another claims it, opens the golden conclusion with you but no one tells me and I stand silly ‘til I go home.
Yes, she still had life in her eyes. Her body settled in poetry class, black skirt blanketing Doc Martens, and her wolf tat howling from her breast. I cried when I saw her like I still do, selfish with regret and angry with the Fates that stole her. I tell her I miss her, how much her words keep me warm, her voice a sweet addiction of recordings when the world has been cruel. Her body is soft and comforting, ageless as our college days. And in her eyes, swimming in the cosmic afterlife, I see the solace well-deserved and my scolding for wishes that can never come true. Now, I think of the sun that haloed her purple hair, the bounce of her curls as she adjusted herself to forever, allowing the tears to fall and the words to flow.
Into the Abyss
The Flower Mound “OK I get it, you use the Stairmaster more than I do. Now will you come back and give me some of that goddamn water?” Stacy looked back to see August huffing and puffing up the trail. The sweat was visible even from this distance. Stacy crouched, rummaged through her bag, and found the water, still chilled from the hotel’s half-assed mini-fridge. She toyed with the idea of tossing the bottle... but August looked like she might let it roll all the way down the hill. The temptation to make a joke briefly moved through her mind, but Stacy checked herself. This is supposed to be a magical moment, let’s not sour it by having a screaming match up here. She handed the bottle over and August took light sips at first. She must have been dehydrated, because she was testing to see how her stomach would take it. She paused briefly, then took nearly the whole bottle down. Stacy couldn’t help herself. “Good thing I brought a spare; we still got a long way to go.” August was too focused on getting her breath back to care about the remark. Stacy took in the view. Lake Tahoe was a truly magnificent sight. The water rested with a stillness that made it look carved out of lapis lazuli. It somehow transcended the beauty that the brochure had offered. At some point, August had come to stand beside Stacy. August was looking directly into her eyes. “Even though it was a pain in my rump to get here, I’d say the view more than makes up for it.” Stacy felt her collar go warm. It wanted to crawl all the way up her face. She let it. Was this the time to pull her little secret out of the backpack? August’s hair was flowing beautifully in the wind. Stacy deeply wanted to run her hands through that red storm. There’s still another hour to go until you reach the clearing; no time for games yet. She gently held August’s slim hand. “I know it’s not always easy with me, but my cousin told me that the clearing is well worth the walk. It’s very private and perfectly suited for camping. We can stay here the whole weekend if we want. The guy at the hotel said this isn’t a very busy season, so if we get tired of bugs biting our asses, we can get back to those amazing beds.”
August smiled in a way that communicated that the spot wasn’t at all important. It was fine as long as Stacy was there. Normally, the couple was quite particular about their sleeping habits. August had had a disk slip back in high school. While auditioning for the cheerleading squad she had landed flat on her ass and experienced true agony for the first time. Stacy considered herself lucky to simply have a bad case of sleep apnea. The condition caused her periodically to stop breathing while asleep, making her feel dead tired upon waking, even if she had gotten twelve hours of sleep. The only solution was to use a sleep mask that blew air into her throat, which stopped her mini-suffications and gave her a restful night. They had both decided that some discomfort would be an acceptable price to pay for a vacation away from nose-drip Wisconsin. They pushed on. About forty minutes later, when August and Stacy were getting winded, they heard a tremendous crack come from further down their trail. It began as a groan, then climbed to a crescendo. It sounded as if a giant was having its shoulder dislodged. Then slowly ripped off. “Whoooa, that’s awesome! What a creepy-ass sound! I’ll bet you some big ol’ mother just gave up the ghost.” August hopped up on outcrop of rocks to try to see where the tree had fallen. “It’s such a shame; that tree sounded huge and has probably been around longer than even your father.” August snorted. “Please, nobody’s older than Dad. I’m pretty sure God was still in diapers when my dad got his first liver spot. I think I can see where it fell. I see some broken branches near this big clearing. About 500 feet to the right. Gimme the phone, I want to take a picture!” August snapped the picture and the couple headed in the direction of the fallen tree. “I’ll bet it was one of those billion-year-old redwoods! Imagine the jagged stump that sucker left. A freshly fallen California Goliath. There’s a story for back home. Lordy.” Stacy smiled broadly. This was the August she loved the most. A person all her own, moving like a force of nature through the world. Despair couldn’t touch her when she was like this. She made you feel invincible just being close to her. As they pushed through the underbrush, Stacy briefly noticed that the tree coverage was getting thicker. The giant redwoods stood erect and everlasting, a silent counsel.
Suddenly, the forest simply stopped and Stacy was standing alone in unblemished dirt. Everything seemed to push back from the clearing, as if this spot had been burned a few years ago. Stacy paused to examine the tree line. Tall grass and scattered branches immediately gave way to the dirt. Shouldn’t some branches have been blown over by the wind? Maybe they were approaching someone’s cabin. Someone who had a very distinct property line. Someone who had obsessively beaten back the world. Stacy couldn’t see August. “Hey August! Where’d you get to?” There was no sound. No wind. No bugs. Nothing. Stacy suddenly felt watched. The air in the clearing was held like a caught breath. She looked back into the dark underbrush. Her fingers trembled slightly. She felt like a lighting rod in a storm about to be struck. Then came the thunder-crack. “Holy Fucking Moley! Stacy, get your ass over here right now!” She didn’t sound scared; she sounded excited. Stacy ran forward, so relieved at the sound of August’s voice that she missed the sudden slope of the ground and nearly rolled down the hill. It was sharp and deep. She kept her footing, but had to let the momentum of her legs bring her all the way down. She hit a rock just before the bottom, briefly rolled, and landed smack on her face. She slowly raised herself up and saw August standing before an enormous trail of red flowers. They looked as if they had been lightly sprinkled with snow. August was too enraptured with the sight of them to notice Stacy. “Get over here and check these out. I’ve never seen this before.” Her voice was giddy and full of a child’s glee. Stacy picked herself up, resecured her pack, and walked slowly to the foot of the flower path. They weren’t growing out of the ground, but seemed to have been placed. It reminded her of the stereotypical trail of rose petals in cheesy romance movies, only much denser. Instead of petals, they had thin red stalks growing out of a putrid yellow bowl at the center. What she had thought was snow were white tips at the end of each stalk. Looking at this gave Stacy a headache; it was like looking at an enormous sea anemone. Looking further down the trail, she could see a grove of pale twisted trees. They weren’t very tall, maybe nine feet high, but their bare branches were wrapped around their trunks instead of growing upwards. Where had these flowers come from if the branches were bare? It was time for them to leave this creepy hole behind.
“This place gives me the willies, August. Let’s get the heck out of here. It’s going to get dark soon and I don’t want to set up camp—” August had started walking down the trail. “I just want to take a few pictures of these weird-ass trees. You ever see trees hug themselves with their trunks like that?” Her voice was so calm that Stacy’s anxiety came down a bit. Just a bit. “Alright, but I don’t want us to go beyond these trees. I think we might be on private land. The clearing here makes me honestly uncomfortable.” Their voices didn’t carry at all; they just fell dead out of their mouths. The trail of flowers wasn’t as slippery as Stacy had thought it might be, and as they moved, Stacy recognized the pungent smell coming off the trees. They were some kind of eucalyptus. August’s mother had given her a eucalyptus body wash on their third anniversary. The stuff had been strong and lasted her a damn long time. After a few minutes of walking, they saw that the trail came to an end. A bulky pile of the weird flowers slumped against one of the trees. August bent to get a good angle. “This one isn’t as tightly wrapped as the others. Looks like it might be the oldest here, not very healthy looking. Pretty raw.” Indeed, the tree looked as if some of its bark had peeled off, showing a brutally red and pockmarked core. August leaned in for a closer look, gently stepping onto the pile of flowers, when they both heard a crunch. August’s foot had sunk through the mound and into a white bundle underneath. A bone jutted out of the bundle like an accusing finger. August lost her balance, shouting that she had stepped into some animal pile, when she fell face-first into the tree. Into the tree? At some point when they had both looked down at the pile of bones, the scarred eucalyptus had unhinged its branches and was now spread like two giant hands. August had time to turn around, splotchy sap all down her front, when the branches snapped brutally shut. August’s nose fell onto the mound, taking some of the flowers with it, revealing a row of teeth that were recognizably human. Stacy was rooted to the ground by August’s howls of pain. She looked back down the trail and saw the other trees moving now as well. Two of them grabbed each other, writhing like albino snakes, then tightening into a ball that made a furious cracking sound, as if a great tree had fallen. The sound
briefly overwhelmed August’s screams and broke Stacy’s trance. She reached for her phone when she realized that August still had it in her pocket from taking the pictures. For a moment longer, Stacy stood in total comprehension. She couldn’t save August alone, and would only get trapped herself if she moved closer. She would have to make a break for it. Rather than turning to run, she shouted to August and at the same time took her backpack off. “AUGUST! I’m going to go get help! I’m NOT abandoning you; I will be right back honey! I don’t know what these fucking things are, but I swear I’m NOT leaving you to die here!” She grabbed the engagement ring that had been in a special pocket of the pouch and began to run. The branches whipped at her face and legs, trying to cripple her. She could see more skeletons inside the writhing trees, some with flesh loosely flapping, dancing to the sound of tearing wood. At one point, she saw three trees knot their branches into a massive column. If she hadn’t ducked, her head would have been smashed like a pumpkin. She had just reached the foot of the hill when she saw a great shadow rising. The trees had lifted themselves out of the ground like a hand and grabbed her as she tried to move up the hill. As she screamed, they gently carried her back to August’s tree. It was already gorging on her. The old bastard apparently needed more food. Soon, they were closer than ever before.
Tempers Flare My hands become uneasy as my temper rises. A dark flame engulfs my sensibilities in want, Of a vessel to become nothing but smoldering ash. What I once thought to be a comforting hearth Became nothing more than a guise for unrelenting fury. As this volcanic ember continues to breathe life, I lose pieces of myself, crumbling in the inferno. Nerves of steel hastily melt and take new form, Never retaining their once stable foundation. Learned mind and gentle soul drown their pleas In the unintentional consumption of internal pyromania.
I paint with old brushes. Some have bristles falling out. Some have loose crimps. Or are caked in dried paint. My little tubes of oil paint were found in the basement, some almost impossible to open. I have no palette, linseed oil, turpentine. I paint without an easel. On the floor. I have no training. People always laughed at my drawings. And it’s true: I could more easily stop the rain from falling, than sketch a realistic face or hand. But I got tired of so many people asking me, “What do you do for a living?” I don’t know. What does anyone do for a living? Eat, sleep, and drink. Outside, trees are down. Waters are still rising. People scream. People beat each other. They’re trying to take each other’s money and gasoline. I’m on the fourth floor. With my old brushes. And canvas storms.
Dance at Plumstead Nose to nose they breathed the same breath, spoke the silent language, of overheated molecules. To The Rustle of Spring, his knees dipped, his pelvis pressed against her skirt, freed her foot from the ground. She felt like a wisteria vine embracing an oak, a kind of faith written, in an unsanctioned script. But he spoke with a different placement of the lips, the tongue, conjured himself a cloud wandering between horizons. Werenâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;t they whittled from the same block of wood, salvaged from the Valley of Ashes? Before he died, he left her the imprint of his body, gave her
The Book of Musical Knowledge. She tried to unravel the song of the once breathing trees, how their leaves swirled, how their twigs dropped notes into a pool.
The Guardian It’s real. I’m telling you, it’s real. It’s not a story. But you don’t even know the whole story, do you? She was the guardian of the gate, the keeper of the box that held the key. For thousands of years, she stood watch, and the gate never opened. Mortals attempted to bribe her; to seduce her with tales of the great power that lay beyond, but she was stony like the gate itself, and she did not yield. She knew their ways, knew of their greed and stupidity. “It is not for you,” she said to them, always. You see, it was not she who opened the box. It was not she who unleashed the evils of the gate. There are tales of the god of gods, the storm-bringer, the lightning-thrower. He grew jealous of this woman who had such power over the state of the world. So he came down from his throne of clouds, and he killed her. He killed Pandora. It was he who opened her box.
Fatherâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;s Wallet My brown leather hide folds and unfolds for you. I wish you would fill my crevices with dollars. Endlessly. That your fingers would pull the paper skeletons into the living room light. Give allowances. I crave holding one curve of your body, the skin two women knew. Sitting bedside with the blonde secretary, you plucked your family out of my photo pleats, accordion of mute music, cracks in the Earthâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;s crust.
Speak No Evil
for July Christman So beautiful the summer flower that thrusts for the cloud above with its reluctant rain soon the sky will shift and other clouds some new-formed some dissipating might pass over new summer flower this cloud flirts with you the cloud tosses a drop of water here a gallon there always in complete control yet never wanting to be in this summer of innocence in this summer of purity in this summer of desire this cloud can adore you with rain
Hours after midnight. Darkness envelops us like a blanket, gently draped. The dirty white futon, laid flat. Our bodies folded into parallel mountains across a snowy plane. I am drifting, the cycle of sleep at its cusp, consciousness at the brim. Then, gentle hands. Insistent hands. Sweet hands. Your hands. You gather me up, like a bouquet of flowers. You wrap around me like I am a gift. My eyelids lift. We fit like laced fingers. My eyes close again and I smile, because I know that This is what it is to be loved.
I’ve Bared I’ve bared my soul, and it is freezing out here all uncovered, time to wrap it up in personal blankets of excuses, warm it with soothing twists of fate, give it a consoling boost of confidence with “the best you could” murmured in soft tones. I can’t leave it out in the barking wind where it is open to the sight of all, will give it shelter again, pet it back into its cage, it was once wild, remember, unlearned, frail, its education took these many years, hard times, and tears, it is a little ragged from the battles. Not the best-dressed, nor the cleanest, it’s seen a bit of mud in its time, never found the wings it sometimes sought, never fell as deep as sometimes feared, kind of middle-of-the-road among the many, but the only one I have. I’ll clean it up the best I can, put on a little sparkling gel, make it ready for its last journey.
23:59 â&#x2020;&#x2019; 00:00 every day anew or every night is new zero bisects every night zero propels the shy dark through the morning zero harbors the slumbering day like a port say: what is it to begin at nothing again tonight what is it to return at morning to nothing
Now that I’ve floated on the Zambezi and Chobe light and easy as a dragonfly, tell me why I should return to a life of stagnation and strife. Now that I’ve felt the elation of the sighting of 200-plus species of African birds, and heard the rumbling of lions and hippos,
(244 to be exact!)
where could I possibly go from here? Now that I’ve know the exhilaration and fear of entering the sphere of the lion’s gaze, how could I possibly spend my days elsewhere? The Zambezi and Chobe flowing from the source, Victoria Falls thundering, the bush as wild and lush as one could wish— teak trees full of pink blossoms, babies everywhere—baboon warthog impala elephant, cape buffalo banded mongoose. For awhile, I felt footloose, became Africa—its ebony and mahogany, browsing with its animals, the scent of musth, sight of horns and tusks filling me with the lust of the season. Became the predatory eagle owl on its late day prowl, the young lion siblings stalking an impala herd, the refrain of African cranes over a watering hole, and swifts flying through the falls’ billowing mists,
the peacefulness of crocodiles at rest on the banks of the rivers, the ermine richness of papyrus and wooly caperbush. Snug in each luxurious bush camp tent, the rivers so close, rain falling, I was nearly swept away, thrushes in the bulrushes, weavers’ nests dangling precariously over the rising rivers, the vultures poised in flame and umbrella thorns as if they reigned, the blacksmith lapwing like a breath of spring. Every species a world within themselves* Among hornbills and queleas, I became a seed of the baobab, a long pod of the sausage tree, picture of pure contentment, not to be undone by all waiting for me beyond the Zambezi and Chobe. Now back home, I hold in my hand one marula fruit—all that exists, like rifts in time—gifts all mine, each recollected call of an African bird like a beautiful exotic rhyme. *Henry David Thoreau, from “The Bluebirds”
The Future We enter this union to be starshine, to be thunder elemental, we are cast in iron we are cast in circles we cast circles out of ourselves shimmying wind as we sleep & how do we go from here to here, how then shall we proceed? Marriage is ten thousand Tuesdays & chopping lettuce standing over a messy kitchen table rejoicing on the couch when we laugh at each otherâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;s jokes. The future is a hurtling shuttle of nows.
Olivia De Leon
Comfortable I was quiet when I realized We had morphed into one. My loveâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;s voice was mine, and mine his.
We didnâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;t feel like getting fresh air or exercise or sun at the shores, except I know that he did. I know that I should have. But my mind was his, and his mine. Our mind held us still.
I was ashamed when I realized I had been so still. I accepted my pale skin, stretched by months of being stuffed with junk food. I refused to face my dark-circled levee eyes ready to burst, shattering the mirror upon my wince at their asking why I never move except to dodge the truth?
I was weakened when I realized I had gone so far as to let A feeling become the truth. Depressed.
Fitness, sex, and date nights were chores. Books, writing, friendships Exhausted me to hobbylessness.
Blankets, Cheetos, Netflix, Repeat. Homebody. Homebody. Homebody.
I was disgusted when I realized I had gotten sick Being controlled by
my dependence my appetite my fat body
I was panicked when I realized I would suddenly be alone For the time that my love would be away. Back at that damned mirror, I forced my eyes to meet mine. The levees broke, but only my funk shattered when I saw how Iâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;d gotten too comfortable.
I was born when I realized I had gotten too comfortable Not loving me,
Depending on him to love me for us both,
Ignoring my healthâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;s pleas for mercy, Scoffing at those who said I inspire them, Living as if depression were my certain doom.
My body became important again. My mind became mine again. I had been â&#x20AC;&#x153;alive,â&#x20AC;? but now I am living again.
I was born when I realized I had gotten too comfortable
My Last Stand I stand here quiet. I stand here restrained. I stand here idly, wishing, Wasting away. I am lost within my own mind. A fantasyland. A quiet persona, I hide behind layers of smiles, laughs, and Clever remarks. Happiness is only attainable In my dreams. Reality is The vast emptiness eats away at my soul Every Single Day. I stand here quiet. I stand here restrained. I stand here wanting to stand up and Scream! I am what everyone wants to see. I am the epitome of what I am supposed to be. Inside I am wasting away, Hoping and believing that one day it will change. But this despair gnaws away, Pushing me down deeper Every Single Day. I stand here quiet. Why? Because I am afraid. Afraid that every word I say will be taken the Wrong way. Every thought is replayed, until it is too late. Every moment passes in the blink of an eye,
Yet here I am blinking my eyes, Staring blindly ahead Nodding my head, and saying Absolutely nothing. At the end of the day I play it all back, Every missed word. Every missed chance. Everyday. I stand here. Hoping someone will hear me. Hoping someone will understand. Believing that I am not the only one stuck in my head Afraid of the next step. Afraid that one day I will be standing on the edge, Wishing that someone would have heard My silent screams. I stand here today. Hoping and wishing that today Is not My Last Stand.
Olivia De Leon
Wordless tears escape in streams Down to lips that once would curve. The mouth closed, silent, lacks A pair of ears to be heard. Skull cracked by unreleased thoughts, Motionless the body lay. Eyes on fire extinguished: Moist lashes, heavy lids, glazed. A stomach infected by Fatal, fatal attraction. Food untasted by the tongue That yearns for satisfaction. The damaged heart beats slower, A soul unmatched shines dimmer. The lonely mind wanders to A dark place without glimmer.
Stowaways A disquiet surface, though profound stillness in her depths; Glistening from afar, I could not help but admire. We became stowaways the very first day we met. We sail through unfamiliar waters. Language froze over and my reaction would become ice When I failed to translate thoughts into words. I silently kept to myself, content, her warm smile would suffice. We sail through unfamiliar waters. When it comes to adventuring, it is hardly ever a “no.” She is more-so a hugger than a fighter, though she does not hesitate to embrace both. Regardless, every “X” we seek is followed by an “O.” We sail through unfamiliar waters. From the crest to the trough, we are always together, or on the same boat. My type A personality occupies the sail, her type B personality resides by the rudder. Her sporadic nature keeps me on my toes—either way, she has kept me afloat. We sail through unfamiliar waters. Time mocked us; he thought he was wise with his infinite proclamations. Despite unwavering hands and an enticing pendulum demeanor, We learned to play his game. We sail through unfamiliar waters. Our intimacy is like the stars: two points in a constellation connected by something fair; Though not always quite tangible, they are always undoubtedly
presentâ&#x20AC;&#x201D; No matter where, We sail through unfamiliar waters.
Locked Doors Monica flicked the light switch in her kitchen, darkening the room completely. She took a step towards the living room and then wondered if anything was out of place in the kitchen, so she turned around and turned the switch back on. She examined the kitchen for any left-out dishes, the trash bin to see if it was overflowing, and the table to see if the chairs were pushed in. Everything seemed in sorts. She strolled to the door and locked the deadbolt. Unlock, lock. Unlock, lock. Unlock, lock. She shook off a chill and went to her bedroom, where she changed out of her clothes and slipped into a baby blue silk robe. Her next stop was the vanity in her bedroom, at which she sat down and began to brush her hair deliberately. It was a square brush with a birch wood handle, a pleasant Christmas present she had given herself last year for the low price of 120 dollars. She insisted it was worth it, though nobody ever asked. At the end, she ran her fingers through her hair and found it without a tangle. When it was straightened, the strawberry blonde seemed to die down to an almost red-brown color somehow. She set the brush down flat on the desk parallel to the hair straightener and the makeup brushes, and went to bed. She pulled the sheets away from the corner when she heard a knock at her door. It was three knocks, but there was little space between them as to suggest trouble beyond the door. Monica sighed, and restored the sheet to its place at the corner of the bed. “Monica! Come on it’s me sweetheart.” The voice let out a giddy laugh and exchanged whispered jokes with another more distant voice. Three more knocks. “It’s your sister, Liz? You remember me don’t you?” Monica walked to the door, grumbling to herself in sleepy irritation. She unlocked the door and opened it until the chain stopped it. “Liz?” Monica rubbed her eyes. “What’re you doing here? It’s almost midnight.” “Oh come on, Monica. A girl can’t drop by to see her sister every once in a while?”
“Who’s that?” asked Monica, nodding to the man behind Elizabeth. He was tall, a whole head taller than both women. Her sister turned and came back with a schoolgirl smile. “This is Derek, my fiancé. Are you gonna open the door or leave us out in the cold all night?” Monica closed the door, loosened the latch, and let them in. “Fiancé? I didn’t even know you’d met somebody.” Elizabeth and Derek came in with arms wrapped around themselves, shivering away the cold. Elizabeth was in a white concert shirt and a dark blue skirt. “Derek, this is my lovely sister Monica. Monica, this is Derek.” “Jesus Liz, you reek,” Monica said wincing. “You’re hammered.” “Am not!” Elizabeth exclaimed, her eyes wild and unfocused. Derek chuckled and nodded to Monica. “Shitfaced.” Monica rolled her eyes. “What are you doing here Liz?” “I’ve gotta pee!” Elizabeth shouted before turning and stumbling down the hall. Monica rubbed her brow and sighed. Derek turned and found the couch, on which he readily sat down. His butt had avoided a free cushion and landed on a decorative pillow. Monica sighed again, and clenched her fist behind her back. A silence ensued that can only be associated with unwelcome introductions. A dog barked viciously somewhere outside the apartment and the voice of an presumably burly man yelled at it. Monica immediately turned to the doorknob. Lock, unlock. Lock, unlock. Lock. “Yeah, can’t be too safe in New York, can you?” Derek said, followed by a nervous chuckle. Monica didn’t respond, but instead walked to the kitchen to fetch some water. “So what do you do?” Derek asked as she filled her cup at the sink. He didn’t get a response until the tap shut off.
“Huh?” “Are you an architect?” Monica turned the corner into the living room and found Derek staring at the cover of the magazine that had been lying on the coffee table. He thumbed through it for a second and put it back on the table. “I am,” Monica said insincerely, before taking a long sip of water. “Nice. I was watching a documentary about an architect the other day. Gaudi, a Spanish one. They called him God’s architect because he built churches and stuff. He was building a big church when he was seventy-somethin’ years old, then he got hit by a bus.” “Tram,” Monica said bluntly. “Pardon me?” “Antoni Gaudi got hit by a tram, not a bus. And he was building a basilica—doesn’t matter.” “How do you get hit by a tram?” said Derek with a laugh, tossing the magazine back on the table like a frisbee. Monica bent down and picked up the magazine, straightening it at the age of the table. “Not softly, I guess.” Derek laughed and Monica let herself smile a bit. “Do you want to check on her?” asked Monica. “I’m positive that it doesn’t take a girl this long to pee.” “Oh no, I’m sure she’s fine,” responded Derek, waving a dismissive hand in the direction of the bathroom. “Probably just trying to straighten herself out in the mirror. Does this all the time.” “How often is all the time?” “I don’t know. She usually goes out three or four times a week.” “Seriously? She’s twenty-eight years old.” Derek scoffed through his nose. “It’s not like she’s old. Definitely not old enough to stop going out. I’ll hate to get to that age. I mean—” “Is she still working at the firm?” Monica interrupted, setting down
her glass of water. She was standing where the hallway met the living room, facing Derek but repeatedly looking over her shoulder toward the bathroom. “She worked at a firm? She wasn’t working at a firm when I met her. Actually I think she did tell me something about a firm. Hmm.” Monica bent her eyebrow at him. “How long have you been with Liz?” Derek settled down deeper into the couch, then pulled away the pillow he had sat on and tossed it lazily toward the center cushion. He pursed his lips and looked up in thought. “I don’t know, three months?” “And you’re engaged already?” Monica said, as if seeing through some joke. “Yeah, great isn’t it? She really didn’t tell you?” “Nope.” “You are sisters, aren’t you?” Monica turned away and stomped down the hallway to the bathroom, not bothering to knock on the door before pushing her way in. Elizabeth was laying face down beside the toilet, her breathing even and drool slipping out of her mouth. There was a thick stench that overcame Monica. She checked for vomit in the toilet, but there was none. She went to Elizabeth’s head to check if she fell, but she seemed unhurt, but there was what looked like some vomit in her saliva. Monica stood and searched the bathroom, but saw none in the sink or on the floor. Her heart began beating heavily, a layer of sweat building up on her forehead. Her breathing sped up and she could hear it blowing in and out of her nose as if another person was panting in her ear. At last, she pulled back the shower curtain to find what she was looking for, which had clearly clogged her shower drain and infected her shampoo bottle. She immediately felt the urge to gag, and then was overcome by the urge to cry. Her breathing became panicked now, and her hands were shaking. “Oh my god,” Derek said from the doorway. Monica turned to him with wet eyes. Derek began laughing hysterically, looking down at his limp fiance. “She actually pissed herself!” He bent over cackling, then
pulled his phone from his pocket to get photo evidence. Monica looked down and found her sister’s skirt, along with her bathroom floor, to be soaked in urine. She gasped and put her hands over her mouth. She heard the snap sound of Derek’s camera and felt the blood rush to her face. “Get out, Derek,” she said, her tone flat and certain. He looked up at her and straightened himself. “Yeah you’re right, I’m sorry. I’ll take her home before she makes any more mess.” “Get out Derek!” she said, stomping towards him. He backed up and pedalled down the hallway, followed by the enraged Monica. He tried to spit out apologies and defenses but the words couldn’t come to him as he stared into the haunting, dark eyes of Monica, who chased him furiously to the door. At the end, his back hit the door harshly, shaking the wall and rocking a nearby picture frame off of its shelf. “I’m sorry,” he said again as he turned to open the door. He fumbled with it with wild hands before realizing that it was locked, after which he unlocked it and swiftly exited. Monica slammed the door behind him. Lock, unlock. Lock, unlock. Lock.
A Common King
She Persists Yes, she sings from the belly of the beast; fists hammer her melody upon his ribs. She plucks heartstrings, to accompany her protest song. His ambitions are jagged rocks; she trips like stepping stones. Yes, night is deep and dark; bones hang suspended in plunging trenches, but listen: waves come together with a crack. The tide turns. The tide turns.
“Well, I’ll be damned!” and they all agreed. My life was not to their liking. More like striking a match in a tinder-dry field, a weapon to wield in defiance of lies disguised as kindness. In the eyes of those I once called friends, there was disdain for my means and ends. Seeking neither latitude of wrong nor longitude of right, I turned from their lamps and their light, and finding no words to speak and no hymns to sing, I walked slowly away into the deepening night.
Procedure It is not the lamp pulled down close, instrumentsâ&#x20AC;&#x2122; glittering sterility. It is not the thin red line, blue venous removed. (I hear Blue Venus). The familiar hand that treats sprained ankles and sinus infections, today removes a growth. It is not anesthetic worn off, or nurse dismissed as still he stitchesâ&#x20AC;&#x201D; final appointment running late, office dim and filled with echo. Itâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;s ten days later, in Sierra Madres, holding my breath as a friend removes sutures with manicure scissors and a plastic spork
My Mother When I was a little girl I used to sit next to my mother as she would watch whatever looked interesting on the television. I would pretend to understand what was going on, but truthfully, I had no idea, I just loved sitting next to her. Sometimes she would cry, and sometimes she would laugh; other times she would scream at the television as if it were my father. My mother was an interesting woman—some would use the term unique. My mother used to spray my dad down with a hose every time she saw him smoking a cigarette, hoping it would cause him to eventually quit. It didn’t. She once told me that people will look and judge what they don’t understand, so you can either run or you can stand tall and proud and embrace who you are. She was the type of woman who embraced who she was. My mother and father fought a lot, and my mother would always have a cup of wine after a fight with my father claiming it was the miracle juice that came straight from Jesus. By the time I was ten my parents got a divorce, and then a few years later my father married a different woman named Susan. My mother hated Susan. Susan would occasionally pick me up from my mother’s house so I could spend the weekends with my father, and Susan loved to talk about all the things my father bought her that she knew my mother never got. One day Susan made my mother so mad, my mother started smacking her with a broom calling her a rat. Susan never came back to pick me up. As the years went by, my mother claimed that my father was the only one for her and she didn’t believe there was anyone else out there. When it came time for me to leave for school, I grew worried to leave my mother alone, as she had never been without me. She would always reassure me that she would be fine, but I knew deep down she was lying. In college I met my husband, Mike. Mike and I dated six years before he popped the question, and on November fifth, the words “I do” came out of our mouths in the crowded backyard of my father and Susan’s two-story home. My mother sat in the way back, so she could drink wine without anyone judging her. I soon welcomed three children into this world and lived two streets over from my mother’s. My mother was very close with her grandchildren and they spent more time with her than they spent at home with my husband and I. By the time I reached the age of thirty-eight, I received the news that my mother had a brain tumor. Throughout the course of the next year, I spent my time with my mother sitting next to her while she watched whatever looked good
on the television. This time I understood what she was watching; we would cry together, laugh together, and my mother would still scream at the television as if it were my father. My mother spent the last two weeks of her life in her bed. She could hardly move at that point; we were told to expect each day to be the last. I had seen my mother cry many times in her lifetime but in these last two weeks she never once cried. Not even shed a tear. She only ever smiled. I lost my mother a few days before my thirty-ninth birthday. I spent my birthday sitting on my mother’s couch, watching whatever came on the television. I didn’t laugh, I didn’t cry, I didn’t even scream. I just sat there for hours. Missing my mother.
Loose Change You found me like loose change discovered at the bottom of an out-of-style purse. I was worn down, nicked at the edges, tarnishedâ&#x20AC;&#x201D;not worth a nickel to anyone. But you cleaned me off, shined me up and put me in your pocket for safekeeping. How long will it be until Iâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;m spent again, passed from hand to hand or left lying in the street? I am afraid of the question, afraid of the answer and uncertain how to live in the in-between.
The surgeons who had their knife fight with the cancer while you slept, provide pain relievers and platitudes. Acquaintances and colleagues send white light, flowers, and advice... Friends bring food and books to read and listen while you tell your story. The children visit, armed with pictures of grandchildren and family lore that begins, â&#x20AC;&#x153;Remember when?â&#x20AC;? The web connects you to other women, some cured, others hopeful, none hopeless. Even the daily news is delivered to the door. What is there for me to do other than sit by your side and silently hold your hand?
Sink With Me
Sacred Space Between dreamless sleep and the insistent intrusion of the clamor of the day there is a sacred space. It is a time of deep quiet, a time for being still and waiting patiently for better angels to come. To not be seduced by the ticking clock or servant to the demands of an hour. Watch how the rising sun is broken by the imperfections of your windows into rainbows on the sunlit floor, and accept that the whole world can be contained in the coffee cup you hold in your hands.
A Bag, Hers Held out to you and you open, of course; you asked for it, sort of, eager to explore, excited to uncover: to rummage, really frisk, dig around. What do you hope to find? Like most, nothing short of some Shangri-La. On top are tissues, some used, then powders and the mighty cell phone...youâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;ll explore that as well: numbers, photos of friends, parties, a boyfriend too youâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;ll later learn. You get lost fast combing, sifting, hunting, pushing further down into her world of mints, makeup, spare sets of earrings. And what is it you are putting inside? A hand? down to the wrist? down to the elbow? your whole arm? four chambers of your heart? More digging, inspecting, searching with more urgency, desire, even desperation: a gold prospector ready to claim the mine as your own. It gets darker inside: there are more names, more photos of him; and more things falling on top
of you, more confusion, yet you push
deeper still, a willingness to bury yourself.
When will you finally say that which you look and long for isn’t here? When will you finally say...you’ve trailed something else altogether? Something that shines, yes: bright eyes, dimples, and soft, sweet words of affection, the ones to make you wish even more that at the bottom you won’t find your broken soul wondering why you keep plunging so far down into an unnamable place, a pit with no exit, no way out.
Divine Dyslexia My drive to work drives me to look forward, but sometimes I see backwards, the dyslexic in me, within the windows of my soul I long to know—
I an upset word I can’t invert or hear heard— I see a god in the backseat of a Lexus Elite, schnoz sniffing, quirky schnauzer bred for work sensing his elation from creation’s companions; lost and lonely, dog is more than the canine I blindly look for; maybe he’s man’s best friend panting to be found.
Olivia De Leon
Blank Pages sweaty palms smear ink fingers cramp tightly, pressing down, exorcising tears. invisible ink calligraphy pens over my cheeks, salty stains ruin pages drip, ruined. drop, ruinedâ&#x20AC;Ś silence. thoughts subside. sore wrist. pen dried. no need to ponder happy; itâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;s simpler than sad. to write is to feel alive with pain. but blank pages are a miracle, a sign of depression slain.
Red Skies at Night
No miracles here. The deed is dead and done. Love was a figment, a filament, a firmament over water and beneath the galaxies too far to reach. We died. Trying all the while for a moment of eternity, saving a space between the stars for a home that never happened. Alone the pages are blank with white. Age chews the youthful dreams to shreds/bits. We were. We couldnâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;t be. We never are. Now there is only passage to the next level, and the ground so far from even/Eden.
Jon Paul Palma
Street Food Criminal I love homemade Tamales. Imagine your favorite protein rolled about in a cradle of corn meal and then steamed in the embrace of a corn husk; all the while reeking of a Hispanic tradition. Delicious. Unfortunately for me, this is a forbidden love. You can only purchase authentic tamales from street vendors, if you are lucky enough to find them. As of late, the government has, with an unprecedented zeal, been enforcing breathtaking rules tied to doing business with these unlicensed merchants. One such Tamale operation was raided and its operator deported. Needless to say, I have been engaging in some high risk dinner activity. Nowadays, if you would like tamales, you must purchase them from a store. They will typically lack ingredients like passion and are not often made with love (Tamales are a hassle to make, and you can literally taste the pain of the employees fighting over the tedious preparation). I am left with no choice but to go to the streets and purchase this food like a criminal. But how?
THE PROCESS—Overwhelmed by a craving for this delicacy, I drive to one of the most remote grocery stores in the Bay Area—a place whose name will remain anonymous to protect both myself and my source of Tamales. I step out of my car and casually loiter near the front entrance. If I am patient enough, a young child, a scout, will cautiously approach me. “…Tamales?” she will whisper, looking around with practiced eyes. “Claro que sí. Of course.” “Policía? Are you…police?” she will ask me, wary of my square jaw and fluid Spanish. I assure her that I am not a member of the police department. No wire or Glock .22. If I am successful and she is confident I carry no
badge, she will motion for me to follow through the labyrinthine parking lot. Eventually we will reach a van, where the underground street foodâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;s equivalent of a drug lord will vet me further. Such a nice lady. I pay cash, ten dollars in non-sequenced bills, and am handed a black plastic bag. I quickly and carefully check the contents. I nod and walk away slowly, never looking back. Yes, it is worth it.
Before You Begin If you held her with your words, would she meld to the curves of your palms or fall through your fingers in afterthought? Do you tease to taste what she has ripened, volatile and sweet? The bite of her first sip may leave you in drunken accordance. Can you handle the hangover? She will rain diamonds, make no mistake. You can let them cut you or make you rich. But do not stir up her storm and be fooled thinking your overworn umbrella will ever keep you safe.
the flames are gone all thatâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;s left is the silence of ash prelude to the mud when the rains come too late for these forests gone lost memories of an Alzheimered god that shook California when she was young and pretty all green tresses curving hills made up with wildflowers and her naked deserts now timeâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;s lumbered down her mountains and theyâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;ve moved to assisted living
Clouded With Trust One-sided, misguided love I’m a hopeless romantic they say Oh you’re easily swayed I can’t help it I say I try not to get carried away His kisses give me butterflies And his touch takes my breath away Oh but its only summer love they say But when he stumbled into my world He touched my black-and-white canvas and brought it to life Oh I’ve never felt love this way All the anguish and the constant battles It seemed as if there was no one more perfect for me Oh sure he was as imperfect as can be But when I’m in love Your imperfections are not important to me We fell apart because you couldn’t reveal your true parts Summer began to end, and the heat began to simmer So did our affection, it only seemed dimmer Until I wondered if you truly wanted me to stay Or simply go away Because your heart still longed to be with her I wondered if there was even space for me When she was still the ache that took over your mind I guess that’s one of the reasons we fell apart I wasn’t number one in your heart Yet I still love you And now I’m the foolish one The scars are still embedded in my heart Reminding me of a time where I still loved with an innocent spark Oh those were the days when I loved carefree Where pain was a faraway memory for me You tore down the walls that I built I let you into my life All of the weights that I carry All of the memories that I’d like to bury Even so you left
As many before Even my own blood decided I was a bore
Post Myocardial Infarction Haiku Not such a good thing to hear, cardiogenic shockâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;s so depressing. My mocking heart strings resonate like low hums of broken bass cellos.
Birds and Lilies You gotta have birds in the trees to chirp and to warble without worldly woes— when hurricanes hit earthquakes shift races riff people piss off created others, males and females— live like lilies alive on God’s little green earth drawn to sunlight, not to me-first soiled souls weeded with penchants implanted to sprout indifference; oh, divine Ornithologist occupy our ornery birdbrained selves; open, please, ears to hear birds.
Mitch Mulcahy Mitch Mulcahy woke up on the day the world ended, stretched, and rose from bed. He walked to the kitchen and stood at the counter blinking out the remnants of sleep, as he always did; he poured coffee grounds into a filter and began the morning pot. Two or three small cockroaches moved quickly along the back of the counter behind the dish rack. “Good morning,” Mitch said. The cockroaches stopped to investigate a stretch of counter and then disappeared over its back wall. Several other cockroaches appeared and followed the same procedure. Mitch showered, dressed, and walked to the corner store. He saw the television on and the owner sitting half-sideways on his stool behind the counter watching it. Mitch heard the voices of news broadcasters. “Any change?” he asked. The owner shook his head. “Those fools are gonna kill us all.” The country, and the world, had been on high alert for a week. Mitch had listened to the rhetoric, the threats and counter-threats, and realized that one of these days the situation wouldn’t de-escalate. The pushing and shoving would go one step too far. The owner looked at the floor. Mitch followed his gaze and saw a slightly larger cockroach than the ones in his kitchen move across the floor near the stool. The owner nodded toward the cockroach. “They say these fuckers are the ones who’ll survive.” He stepped on the cockroach with his shoe. “Not that one.” He smiled. Mitch smiled uneasily, paid for his newspaper, and returned to his apartment. He sat on his bed and read the newspaper for a few minutes before he set it aside. He picked up the remote from where he had tossed
it the night before and turned on the television news. The tension had increased dramatically. Mitch turned the television off. He picked up the novel he had started a couple of nights before. He looked at the morning light wrapping around his bedroom walls, and then immersed himself in the story. Mitch looked up when he heard voices on the street outside. Neighbors up and down the block were packing as many of their belongings as they could into their cars and preparing to flee, but Mitch thought it was only semi-panic he heard in their voices; everyone seemed to know the crisis was bigger than any flight. They wouldn’t be safe anywhere. Yet they felt they should do something. As Mitch returned to his book, he saw a very small cockroach— just a kid, he thought—crawling along the edge of his night table. Mitch marked his page with a thumb and watched it busy itself here and there along the edge of the table. “If all this goes down, and you do survive, enjoy the sunrise for me, alright?” The cockroach quivered its antennae and made no sign that it heard Mitch or agreed to the terms. Mitch wondered if he should call his ex-girlfriend Debbie. His mind drifted back to that dinner in the kitchen a few weeks before when a similarly-sized cockroach had moved across the table between them. “They’re so cute when they’re little,” he had said. His ex-girlfriend didn’t share his sentiment. “No, they’re not, Mitch,” she replied, and removed the little guy from the face of the earth with one swift dab of her finger. That last week she was there, on the heels of her callous display, cockroaches appeared everywhere she went; they peeked at her from between the bristles of her toothbrush, appeared between lettuce and tomato in the sandwich she was just about to bite, made the spaces between her toes their main thoroughfare when she tried to sleep. “It’s like they’re out to get me!” she complained to Mitch.
Mitch, sipping on some completely cockroach-free soup, had silently agreed.
Mitch returned to the present and sat quietly, his thumb still in his book. He heard neighbors again, but the sound was faint; most of them were already gone. He heard the owner of the corner store pull down the grate in order to close early. Mitch smiled. Old habits die hard. He put on his jacket and walked out to the sidewalk. It was quiet. An overcast sky made it seem later than it was. Mitch saw the great wall of flame hundreds of miles away. It’ll be here in a second, he thought. No use getting aggravated. At that moment, he heard a sound like the clicking together of countless pieces of plastic; in a heartbeat, he found himself encased in a dark sheath of something. It seemed to move, and it itched a little bit. He heard, or thought he heard, a voice inside his head. Relax, it said. Don’t fight. Mitch relaxed. He didn’t fight. A noise like the tearing apart of several galaxies (or so Mitch imagined, never having been present at such an occasion in real life) deafened him. The dark sheath around him rustled like dry leaves on an autumn tree, but held firm. A bright light illuminated the sheath, blinded him for an instant, and then passed. Mitch felt a chill. Lie down, said the voice. You need to get some rest. Mitch did as instructed, the sheath seeming to lay him on the ground as much as he lay himself down. As he drifted off to sleep, he heard the voice say, Ow! He’s on my head! and another voice say, Quit complaining! Mitch remembered nothing more. Mitch came to when a cold breeze struck his face. He opened his eyes with a startled cry and remembered the nightmare. He sat up. The dark sheath was slowly sliding off his body from head to toe, and Mitch realized it was thousands upon thousands of cockroaches of various sizes; they flowed down his body like a cool mountain stream running down a hillside. Mitch looked around and saw nothing but dunes of ash. It hadn’t been a nightmare. No buildings remained. No people remained. No
trees or roads remained. Mitch saw only a plain of gray. He looked at the sky and saw dull light fighting to penetrate low gray clouds. He noticed a lighter gray toward the horizon. What day is it, he thought, and what does that even mean anymore? The cockroaches had finished flowing off his body and now encircled him. Mitch sat silent. More cockroaches arrived from other corners of what had previously been a nice neighborhood. The dark mass swelled to gigantic proportions. A large cockroach with more than a usual amount of intelligence in its eyes approached him. “How are you feeling?” Mitch tested his limbs. “Okay, I guess.” “Your friends think the world of you.” Mitch looked down. His buddies from the kitchen counter beamed at him from the front row a few inches from his feet. He was still here. They were still here. But the kitchen counter was long gone. What a strange world! Mitch thought. He didn’t know what to say. “Is it like this everywhere?” he finally asked. “Let’s just say humans are at a premium right now.” The cockroach paused when it saw Mitch’s look of dismay. “I’m sorry. I shouldn’t have said that.” “Even my girlfriend?” “Ex-girlfriend.” “Ex-girlfriend.” “What do you think?” “Oh.” “Be honest. Do you really care?”
Mitch thought for a moment. “No, not really.” The teeming cockroach mass was respectfully silent. “What happens now?” Mitch asked. “We start moving and we make do. It’ll be tough at first. You guys really messed things up this time.” Mitch nodded and had a horrifying thought. “If we can’t find food, are you going to eat me?” “I won’t even dignify that with a response.” “Sorry.” “Stick with us. We’ve been doing this a long time.” In the gray ashes of a once-proud planet, Mitch Mulcahy, his buddies from the apartment, and the rest of the cockroach horde moved off into the sunset. It was the first day of nuclear winter, and a little chilly for the season. Mitch zipped up his jacket. They would find some grub, a place to hunker down for the night out of the cold, and then wake up in the morning to face the new dawn, the rest of their lives before them to shape in whatever way they wanted. Mitch felt happy to be alive.
The World to Come Echoes of an utterance from the beasts Stir what awakens true natures amid The forces each destiny has released For the life that a greater fortune hid. As purposes of the wonders were there Among the creatures of the sky and grace, A human, as the enigma, was spared From doubt for the signs of another place. For every way of life that remains past What a chosen existence comes to be, What open path in the world must last Where the essence of truth is a journey? What fate of a creature emerges from The soul left before the world to come?
Dottie Lo Bue
I will erase one page it isn’t to go to print just painful ramblings no one needs to see it can help no one, nor bring empathy I will write another page something to convey sorrow over injustice not personal—universal I want to help someone, use sympathy so it will come to me, I suppose, when I stop using “I” as subject may I use you? Will you be my display of sensitivity?
Soon the Wind Will Change Soon the wind will change again, itâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;s what air does, by nature decreed to toss from another side, sweep leaves backward, startle the wrens on the cement-block fence. Winter will arrive. Wednesday. When the wind changes. Soon the trees will be bare, except the many evergreens, and trees are like that, some drop vibrant scarves throughout fall days and nights, some hold tight, and when the leaves fall they are still green. I wonder if there are trees on any other planet, I think not, there will be other things of which we cannot dream and they may not have wind to change, or Wednesdays or winters. Nature, there, will wear a different dress, instruct in different ways, but all will happen as decreed by her.
Birds Eye View
Like a kiss lips separate barely brush skin they know like no other like a kiss passionate rush of lust plunges obliterates rational thought like a kiss a passage to worlds of desire where nothing exists but more more more but after any peak sex must end
one-fifty a.m. you. i held onto you for dear life in between my fingertips, the only way i could, and admired the long hours you put into listening to the sweet, yet desperate, euphoric song that sang deep within my heart. being with you, like this— and only like this— was like living in the midst of an unreachable crystalline utopia. — read at one-fifty a.m.
Oily Fingers How must a painter feel When the vision does not behave so comely With the oil on their fingerprints And the feeble canvas, Not built to hold vast feats of imagination Or so small a remnant of a past memory As a gleam or a flash of something. And, of course, the image comes out Much hazier than anticipated, With the details being a bit wrong And the luster of the mind fading As soon as it withers on its page. But still, we create. I hold my sieve and pour chaos from the dripping pools Nestled behind my blinking eyes and begin to sort coherency. The painter conjures realities with the eyes; The writer curves and coerces the few words known To take others somewhere elsewhere To meander down a never-ending path To remember and forget To forget we come from dust and will soon falter Is such an easy thing to do. But still, we create. The paint leaks and the shading may be off, But as you turn it sideways I think I see it—that thing I must’ve dropped years ago and always seem to get a whiff of But never truly grasp in my hands— So oil continues to drip from fingers of creators, And as I rip open my mind to pour nonsense, sprinkled with Significance,
Ready the sieve. Still, I must create.
The scent of Allspice and Chinese cinnamon on your fingers. You had run them across your breasts the night before and the sweetness stuck only to come off against my tongue.
Anniversary. She Towards the End, time rushes. Someone is thinking about that, but craves the fulfillment of their desire. That someone, dream swimmer, remembers the time of illness and of death. “If I go and die today,” a death is like something given to oneself, isn’t it? And “she still hasn’t come,” is something far off, that comes with the death being thought. The dead remember the death of the living (because they’re not there), and the living remember those absent. Poems curve time, and make “now” a timeless word, a long word, something like “the now in the nowadays.” The gaze focuses then on feet, on the boundary of the abyss and of the leap.
Tight-Ropers The first time I saw Dylan Cole, I got caught staring at her ass. “Dude, are you serious?” Sandra, the other clerk, was giggling at me, her cheeks flushed. “She is pretty hot, though. She’s a regular, comes in here all the time, so you don’t have to take her in all at once. Be cool, man, we can’t go making the customers feeling like we’re stalkers.” Eventually, though, I became a stalker, but I didn’t just stalk Dylan. She was the first. Brunette, tall, athletic, a beautiful winged Valkyrie tattoo covering her left forearm. Hips just wide enough to make you feel awkward with desire, Dylan was hot. And she knew it, carried herself free, her head tilted back and locks swaying, a smile on her lips and the universe in her eye. Two bottles of Red went on the counter. I rang those up, and then I heard the sensual thickness of her voice. “Thanks, hon, and I’ll take a pint of Tullamore Dew from your shelf there.” “Yes, Ma’am,” I replied shyly. She was smiling broadly and my cheeks were burning. Dylan came in every Friday night then for about a year, and I always looked forward to the moment—7:00 like clockwork. After a while, though, she started losing some of that charisma, and the cocky smile started to flatline. So I worked up some courage. “You alright, Ms. Cole?” “Suga’, don’t you worry ‘bout me. Life’s a bitch, but I’m still kickin’ ass pretty steady, so I’ll be just fine.” She winked and left, but her bag was two Jameson fifths fuller than the usual. After that night, Dylan started changing up her routine, coming in more often at unpredictable times. She was still holding it down, but the months passing brought haphazard visits, so that I’d be startled to see her, not just because of the time. She was run-down.
And then she was gone. Didn’t see her for a few weeks. Finally, I asked Sandra. “Hey, you seen Ms. Cole round lately?” Now Sandra was this real bright life kinda person, always laughin’, crackin’ jokes, talkin’ trash. She froze up like a statue, still and gray, almost lifeless with gloom. “Oh baby, she gone. I heard about it last week.” She put her hand on my shoulder. “Sad news, I know. You’ll see it from time to time, babe–they’re what I call the tight-ropers. They’re always walking the cliff. Some of ‘em know it, or maybe let themselves see what’s in their soul, and they try and fight. Most of ‘em don’t, I guess, or maybe they lie to themselves. They just sort of fall off, and then they’re gone. We don’t see ‘em no more. Sorry, buddy boy. Part of the biz. This shit helps some people, but other times it just kills.” Sandra told me the date, and I went online, found the obit:
Dylan Cole, aged 29, passed on June 21, 2010. A veteran and mother of two, Dylan loved deeply and lived life to the fullest. She is survived by her parents, Rich and Lynley Cole and her two adoring daughters,Jenny and Tuck. After that I started stalking all the regulars, noticing how some of the tight-ropers acted. Some knew, and tried to quit. You’d wonder if they were dead, but then they’d show a few days or weeks later and you knew they’d been to rehab or meetings or something, because suddenly it wasn’t Evan Williams; it was O’Doul’s or Buckler or some other dry-drunk beverage. You knew they were about to crack, though. Half-ass beer with no buzz just proves the desperation. Next stage, they’d come in for the little shot bottles. You know, you can only drink what you have at home, so if you only have like three or four drinks, that’s all you can consume. Of course, they’d be buying like ten or twelve of these little things and you’d see them two
days later, and another dozen little Captains or Jacks or Fireballs sitting on the counter. They’d just sort of stare ahead, no eye contact. Paid in cash most times, too, if they had a family. Stupid, as if their family couldn’t see the truth. I learned this watching a regular named Patrick Johnson, a family man who’d come in for years—since the days of Dylan. He even brought his kids in sometimes, but only when they were real small. They’d come in wearing all their baseball gear, him in a jersey too—their coach I guess. He’d be smiling and grinning and hugging all over his three sons, and I couldn’t figure how he could possibly be a tight-roper, but I guess happiness is fickle when it comes to the drink and the sweet lies it tells.
Patrick Johnson, aged 44—artist, father, husband, coach, gentleman—left us on March 20, 2015. He leaves behind a lot of sadness, and a lot of unrequited hope. We will remember his smile, his belly laughs, his singing voice, his thoughtful lessons, and his loving touch. He is survived by his wife Maria and his sons Caleb, Leon, and Jessie. We miss you, Dada. When the old man, Nathanael, crashed, it broke me. A neat man in his seventies, he wore a matching bow tie, vest, and hat every time he came in. Only top shelf for Mr. Nate– Elijah Craig Small Batch Kentucky Bourbon. A real smooth cat, he knew all about jazz, and once he found out I was a drummer, started bringing me records of his favorites—Clyde Stubblefield, Jimmy Cobb, Don Alias. He’d been at all the protests when he was young, back in the sixties. Marched with Dr. King at Birmingham. Freakin’ iconic legend-type dude, and I knew him, he took time to chat with me every time he came in. He’d have the whole place cracking up with his stories and jokes, his crackly deep voice drawing you near where you wanted to just listen for hours. Old Nathanael went down suddenly and fast, and I couldn’t believe it, told myself he wasn’t walking that edge, that he was too good and pure to be a tight-roper. He kept smiling to the end, but his eyes were sagging, and a deep mournful gray settled around his smile, slowly suffocating him. How in the hell could an old dude like this, who’d made it so long, had never torn himself to shreds on the booze,
suddenly fall victim? It made me feel unsafe, man. If Nathanael could sink, anybody could.
Nathanael Bartholomew, aged 76, died December 22, 2016. “That’s it?” “Maybe he didn’t have nobody left? Maybe that’s why he sank; he was all alone.” Sandra was hugging my shoulder while I stared in disbelief at the obituary, my eyes moist. He’d held on for so long, fought off the demon. Then this tragedy, and no one left to mourn. And I didn’t say shit to help him when he needed me. Wiping my eyes on my sleeve, I walked back to the counter and rang up a bottle of Johnny Walker Black for a pretty rotund woman I’d never seen. She smiled real bright, and I wondered if she walked the line, and if that smile would still be shining come spring, or if one day, despite having something good, she’d leap headlong over the cliff.
A Season of Fire When it rains in Death Valley Salt rises from the earth, Like Jesus, And it looks like snow. Wildflowers bloom frantically, majestically, across the expanse. Near Running Springs Seth and I talked music and Iâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;ll give you the short version: No to everything but Phil Ochs. That was the summer before Old Fire, When the smoke was so bad we got out of school and they told us to go home But we went skateboarding, And then Seth disappeared. They held the service before his body was recovered And his Black Bloc comrades were there and I wondered if the wore masks because they didnâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;t want to die from the smoke, Like Seth. If you want to know, His body was never recovered. It took years but they found him, A pile of ash, And identified him from dental records. The president hides in a Paris hotel room, Blaming California for its fires, for its dead. One feels ill at ease When it rains in Death Valley.
How to Feel Small If you’ll envision vibrant flowers of flowing tentacles—sea anemones, predatory faunae— blooming on the seafloor, if you’ll reckon the 4.5 billion years it’s taken such a sensitive biosphere to evolve, you’ll feel small. I believe if you’ll read of giant algae blooms and oil slicks visible from space, of climate change and violent silent conflicts, of capitalist globalization and third-world slave labor, one-third of the world’s people impoverished, malnourished while one-third of food produced worldwide is never consumed,* human subjectivity as endangered (due to mass media’s homogenization) as disappearing rare species, it will indeed—if you have a heart— cause you to grieve. But then, if you’ll envision Arctic poppies unfolding their crumpled petals in the frigid wind, Gentoo penguins preening and carousing all for the sake of a mate, I’ll bet you’ll decide heaven can wait— this side of it, though perilous, too marvelous, mysterious, to voluntarily vacate. * https://www.mercycorps.org/articles/quick-facts-what-you-need-know-aboutglobal-hunger
Of the Soil
He saw it this way: The Body and Earth exist as one - individual – conjoined elements and atoms / carbon and space dust / tree roots and veins / lakes and water-filled cells / blood and magma He exists in all of his parts: body hair, follicles, fingernails, pituitary gland, stomach, synapses, elbow joints, and brain, blue irises around ever adjusting black pearl pupils He exists along with the planet: rainforest liana, lantana, aeol an desert dunes, riparian channels, swamps, evergreens, sandstone, long grass prairies, and mountains – everything commingled to bring harmony – to foster interaction – continuous connections – molecular – electrical – spiritual – organic Visions are of the soil – of sediment and loam Angels and ghosts exist all around him without casting a pall of sorrow – ever present mystic spectators with tickets to the show The CinemaScope reel is fed into the Century JJ projector – the house lights dim and the stereophonic soundtrack of a meadow scene is heard – a meandering stream with diamond sun sparkles off ripples tumbling cascades over granite cobbles – glacial ice water clarity of aqua blue and emerald in and around white washed birch thickets – peeled paint bark, weepy twigs tipped by fluttering eye shaped leaves – a yellow warbler alighting on one waving branch adjusts its foothold – cliché sunbeams through cumulus bolls – cloud quilts backed by Cosmic Blue hues on 70mm celluloid – the curvature of light – the depth of shadows – it’s a movie void of A-list Hollywood actors performing scripts banged out on Royal typers atop cluttered desks littered with
preliminary drafts, ashtrays heaped with crushed cigarette butts, and naked wine bottles – the murky thick scent of cured tobacco leaves ignited by a suffer tipped matchstick pulled swiftly across a friction strip (Oh that mesmerizing Faustian swirl of smoke must be forgiven – the cost was too high – the loss too painful) – There is only one actor cast in this film He lays back in the tall grass and casts all the fears away in a vivid vision of sleep – unmitigated slumber that wraps around him in an embrace of welcomed resolve – TO ABSOLVE – TO LOVE – TO FEEL – earthen contentment – entwined security – a reciprocal relationship that transforms everything back to its most basic form – back to atoms – back to a finite piece of interstellar dust – back to a particle of everything – back to energy
Contract Killing My brother asked to bowl on a February night so howling that you couldn’t deflect stray snow crystals from licking chilled eyes. After two tours in Iraq, he renamed our winters “air-conditioned weeks.” We hadn’t been to an alley since childhood and I mention this but as we laced our shoes he exhaled several ellipses of smoke. He returned with a fistful of bottles. As we passed frame to frame I wondered if my slow, accurate rolls could still top his reckless strikes. They couldn’t. He crippled the pins as if he prepared for this and after the first game replaced the empties. Facing our lane, he said the girl he wished to break up with was late. No more contracts for me. He flame belched the domestics and slipped his fingers lissomely inside the ball, cradling its glossy head before firing it off.
Diminishing Value The wealth of our nation is no longer calculated by the prosperity of our people. Too much has accumulated in the pockets of privilege and the concerns of the rich are not for the struggles of their fellow citizens scheduled for abandonment, except for the utile willing to serve their masters while everyone else is cast aside, no longer of value in the scheme of things.
Brokeback Mountain for Ennis and Jack Home is a lost place if you never found it— a place that doesn’t stick until you want it to, and even then the house like a wrinkled trailer is an empty box, a stack of sticks or unturned cartwheels. Because the sky is forever, and the grass keeps changing to come back trees as heavy a marker as you’ll ever get, like green rocks or a pool. And maybe when the heart has found its empty sleeve, the jacket dangling alone— you’ll feel the breath you always knew a tight silence wide and torn a whisper, yes a piece of snow (you, you, you…). (2009)
DEAR CONNOR Being a lover of love and romance knowing the awful anguish and twists of wanting never having, giving up some losses: some snatched from you —enforced goodbyes— I wanted to say I really loved your poem about when they left: kind of like skidding down a stairway with a wet shoe that missed its traction no chance to catch the rail before hitting bottom; that sudden knock on the head leaving the eyes wide open a silly grin of stupid, the crash still burning and dang, is that ankle going to ache for days or how long must I live with it until the sun shines and I won’t remember next year oh, God, how it hurt— but will… do:
I had the pain, the gift of being near you, the clasp of your hand, your nameâ&#x20AC;Ś brown-red, short-cropped hair open face, shoulders thick brick, muscled to the coreâ&#x20AC;&#x201D; twenty-three. My heart broke. My lips, wondering what your mouth might be like. Your arms, ours. The moon, a dollar-sized orange in a warm sky. Blue-dark. Daylight somewhere.
Olivia De Leon
Wife Material? Smoke rises from the oiled pan, The wisps out of my dissipating reach. Our nostrils fill with acrid fumes. The fire alarm drills into our ears. I turned to throw in the veggies But hadn’t chopped fast enough Before the chicken caught fire And your shame burned me. The sunset’s color disappears from the window. Black shadows move across the white walls. click Your head slowly turns to me, eyes rolling;
That switch turned off your PS4. I thought it was for the lamp. Your eyes strained in the semi-darkness, I tried making it brighter for you. Flies whizz around the work desk, Buzzing annoyingly as they do. It is hot. A breeze blows through the un-screened door. Nice breeze, huh? Thought I’d get the air circulati— You curse the flies, slam the door. On goes the air conditioning. Piles of laundry litter the carpet, Twisted sheets cover the bed, Near-moldy dishes fill the sink, Foul morsels rest in the litter box. You are not bothered By this mess until I don’t Clean it,
Because that’s my job. I thought my job Was to love you? I do, I really do…I do the job right. You’re just not husband material.
An Anniversary Your husband is bothered by the photograph on the brochure that shows the helicopter hovering above the bay, about to land on the cruise ship. “It’s a great shot,” he says, “fantastic, except that each of the helicopter’s rotors looks blurry.” He says that, for the money you’re paying to this company, they could have at least found a better camera or a better photographer; or someone should have done a little bit more research about shutter speeds, apertures, the angles, and intensity of the light in the bay at that time of day. You think maybe your husband has been secretly taking photography courses in the little bit of free time he has—but then you remember that aperture is a word you know too, but like him, probably never have a chance to use. He goes on and on about it. He wants to write to them—one of the properly formatted letters he types up on the computer and then prints on heavy 100% cotton paper. Some of them he makes two copies of, like the letters to the editor he writes. Four of them have been printed in the Saturday edition of the paper. So, in addition to the newspaper copy, you also have the duplicate in the second drawer in the family desk. He wants to write the company and request a discount, but you know that, even more than a discount, he wants them to write back and say, “Thank you for your concern. You’re right, absolutely; it was an oversight—definitely an embarrassment—and we have the best people on our team looking into it.” He wants to be able to smile when the letter comes back on official letterhead and signed in blue ink—real ink by a real hand, Donovan Fincher’s, maybe—according to the information on the website. He wants to be able to take the letter—which he will point out is not printed on 100% cotton paper—and clip it to his copy of the original, which from now on he will call “the original.” He will keep it in a file—probably even make a new file—and label it ANNIVERSARY in his favorite red pen. In this new ANNIVERSARY folder he will keep the two papers, pressed flat against each other in the dark, too-crowded-already file cabinet, in the office—never quite forgotten about, talked about sometimes, but only ever read again, alone, by you, in a likewise crowded dark.
Avenues in the Air “What’s wrong?” Slow, melodic worry, carried on my wife’s voice, traveled toward the old stuffed chair, gently settling onto my unmoving face. She must have feared something had come to an end. But, in truth, I had been quite active, like all such dwellers of the arts, for off had I gone in search of my next poetic theme. I’d been “on the road” again. Adventuring had I gone— yes, leaned back in my stuffed chair— thrilled to free cerebral wander into the unknown, questing after that special thrill of the moment of discovery. “What’s wrong?” Nothing’s wrong. I’ve simply gone on a little trip, on a metaphysical journey, traveling down avenues in the air.
On His Birthday I peruse the album, savor moments with my father, asleep in his big blue chair, newspaper crumpled. Arm draped around his brother, neighbors unable to tell them apart. Shucking oysters at the sink: one for him, one for me, and donâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;t tell Mama. It might have been 14th Street, Fenwick Lane, or Jameson. Always near the back door through which he stepped, limned in sunlight, white hair a nimbus, and was gone.
Sculpture of a Runner an elephant can sense danger alerts the other elephants with tusks, guards a fortress around the babies, only gathering for some water. I think, as I enter into another round, blank canvas, running to forget myself chaos around me, stifled and silent is another ominous feeling as I catch my breath, a torrent of cold wind right at the back, sweat dripping throughout my body what then, is danger, who do I warn where is my herd? I extend my hand in greeting this trunk of doubt new people terrifying brown body terrified of lions, one must run into a shadow as darkness covers oneself in dust or mud to tempering scorching from this dry heat. breathe: one-two, one-two one must forget, through each memory branded hot iron on tough skin the wisest of us will enter gray space reveal its ivory tusk, thick skin charging through this land like I know how careful to be, but if I ran fast enough, no one, nothing can catch me, not even my own fears chasing me everywhere I go, I aim to be the fastest, a tusk of spirit below what I choose never to reveal, no one will poach any truth out of me.
Fragile Branch I borrowed a fruit from an old peach tree. The branches were weak. I took, but I gave. I poured water into the soil to give it some strength. The tree appeared strong, but this fragile branch was not. The weather helped none. The fibers of wood were weathered by wind and woes and termitesâ&#x20AC;&#x2122; teeth marks. The branch made of Clay broke under pressures of life and sank in the soil.
Fabian Gonzalez Gonzalez
Annie’s Escape Annie’s the new barmaid in this podunk town. She’s on shift, wiping happy hour spills, nails clicking against the bar top as she makes it all nice for the dinner rush. There’s a joke for ya— six people on a Friday night, she just hopes one tips good. Her old man thinks he dumped her here and left for good. She’d prayed on many a shooting star for it to happen. Gotta get her things in order before she lets anyone know—mama and daddy can’t see her in old clothes sullied to bled-out gray. And though barns lean into a future they’ll never have, there’s kindness here. Another month or so and the sideways looks will disappear. Annie won’t remember when she didn’t live here, second floor of the boardinghouse, faded beige wallpaper with fat white roses, lovely armoire, no closet, no rules, no boozers creeping around at night, rough hand over her mouth, the smell of breath mints and bourbon, nothing to do but watch the stars spend their last light on her windowpane. Here in this town the days and nights heal, crows weave themselves into autumn reds, circle the alders in winnowing light. Blossoms litter the breezeways, left there for their loveliness, and lovely Annie, also left there, out in the field on break, plaiting clover into crowns.
“OCD.” “What about OCD?” “It’s why I made a terrible garbage man.” “What happened?” “It’s also why I lost my job at the laundromat even though I loved the job.” “You never told me you worked at a laundromat.” “For one proud day. One proud hour, I should say, and during that hour I was pretty anxious because I knew I wasn’t doing a good job.” “Was your boss on you the whole time?” “No, she loved me. Fawned all over me when I finally decided to make the leap from customer to employee. She was heartbroken to let me go.” “What happened?” “She started me off with a bath towel, and it took me forty-five minutes to finish it.” “A forty-five minute towel?” “I couldn’t get the edges right!” “I hate that. Your boss must have hated it, too.” “She loved it, actually.” “What?” “She said it was the most beautifully folded towel she had ever seen. She took me back to her office, and we discussed things over tea, and she explained that, even though she felt that way, she just couldn’t afford to pay me for the number of hours it would take for me to finish the work she needed done.”
“That sucks.” “I offered to work the difference for free, but she wouldn’t hear of it. Very old school. Takes things to heart in a way young people today don’t understand. I ended up patting her hand.” “I wish you had taken a picture of it.” “Her hand?” “No, the towel.” “I didn’t, but she did.” “She did? I wish I could see it!” “You can see it any time you want to. It’s hanging on the wall behind her when she sits at the counter giving out quarters.” “That’s what that is?” “You’ve seen it?” “I’ve felt it. I’ve never known why, but when I walk to the counter, this almost euphoric emotion goes through me, and I feel like the happiest guy in the world.” “Thanks, man.” “I always figured it was because I had a crush on the owner.” “She’s a sweet woman.” “What happened when you were a garbage man?” “Imagine the possibilities of patterns and arrangements when garbage men are returning barrels to the curb.” “I should probably have said ‘when you were a garbage person.’” “Fair enough. Now imagine how difficult it was for me not to tinker with an arrangement of, say, one dented metal barrel and three larger plastic barrels with wheels.” “Temptation, thy name is variety.” “Bingo.”
“Should the metal barrel be in front of three evenly spaced plastic barrels? Should it be a line of four barrels—that kind of thing, right?— and if yes, where in that sequence of four do you place the metal barrel?” “The dented metal barrel, remember?” “Wow…and at what angle do you turn the dent? Are there shadows involved? Do the lids come into play?” “You get the picture. Now imagine plastic bags with slight leaks.” “They would draw lines on the street!” “Not just lines. Beautiful lines.” “What did you do?” “I was trying to mix colors, write my name, and then clean up after myself. By the end of the first block, I was hopelessly behind.” “Your co-workers must have been pissed.” “Garbage people are slow to anger. It hadn’t built up to a pissedoff level yet, but it would have.” “So what actually went down?” “I was wiping the back edge of the truck…” “Where you throw the garbage in?” “Yeah, because there’s always stuff falling out, stains on the rim, that kind of stuff. It was driving me crazy.” “It would drive me crazy, too.” “My mom had told me this kind of thing might happen, so I had an extra towel and some all-purpose cleaner ready to go; when I could—or when I couldn’t—stand it anymore, which was always, I sprayed some cleaner and wiped the whole area down. There was one really tough spot—I think it had been there a while—and I got down on my knees to scrub it more closely. There was a long line of cars behind us, but I didn’t worry about it too much because the guys had said that there would be cars and angry people, but that there was nothing we could do about it, so I shouldn’t pay it any mind, but a woman in the passen-
ger seat of the first car leaned out her window and fired a handgun at me. It ricocheted off the metal right beside my face—I was leaning in pretty close—and went clear through the broom of a woman who was sweeping her front steps nearby.” “Jesus. Did you help the woman sweep her front steps at least?” “I wanted to, believe me, but suddenly everyone was firing. You know how it is. One person fires and the floodgates open wide. The air was singing with bullets, and the block was filling up with acrid smoke, so I ran ahead to my two co-workers and told them it wasn’t going to work out.” “What did they say?” “They didn’t say anything.” “Were you hurt?” “No, but I was somewhat responsible, so I ran down the line of cars toward the end.” “You ran into the line of fire?” “I had to. I’m not a heartless guy, after all.” “I know that.” “I made a mess, and it was my duty to clean it up, so I got to the last car and started directing traffic, helping people back up to the previous cross street so they could go around.” “What a minute. You’re ‘Citizen Hero’?” “You saw the headline.” “Everybody did. I didn’t know it was you! The paper said you saved dozens of lives with your quick thinking.” “That’s a bit of an exaggeration.” “They’re honoring you today!” “That’s right. I’m on my way there now. Speaking of which, look at the time! I knew I shouldn’t have stopped to talk to you. I knew it! I knew it! I knew it!”
“It’s my fault. I should have known it, too. We’ll take a cab. It’s on me.” “But cabs are expensive—and frivolous.” “Today we live like there’s no tomorrow. Don’t worry about a thing.” “I appreciate it. Do you have exact change, though?”
Living in the Shadows
I’m lost in a recurring dream as I’m walking through a post-apocalyptic shopping mall, kicking red cola cans and damp pizza boxes, where the ghosts of human conversation remain. We no longer need social interaction; it seems a personalized A.I. controls our moods—answering all the questions that we might have. Deliver song by voice recognition recognising face disposition by low pitch and skin complexion. We have become aliens to our own species. We acknowledge voices that aren’t real or human, yet can’t converse or connect with those that live outside the door. We are but muted eunuchs suspicious of any sound, movement, shadow, or even a stranger’s social media status.
Have we all become poets?
Dance Lesson Her bare toes balance unsure on leather boots as his heavy feet fall awkward and watchful step to step. Small fingers grasp his weathered thumbs. The room spins, and lamps turn to little lines of light. For him, her smile full with tiny teeth stays steady. Her soft cheek brushes soft flannel, full with the scent of smoke and cedar. And at each turn, a glimpse of grandma, keeping perfect time. Slippered feet pattering gently on wood plank floor.
I wonder if a door prefers to be closed or rather be open used proactively I wonder if the door wants human traffic or the sweet promise of breeze. I wonder what mysteries each door keeps and the ones they are rotting to reveal. Or are they all silently pining to be captured in a photo intoxicating or luring their eternity assured in coffee table book.
The Road Beyond I must say goodbye to a friend today. It feels strange to have reached this place on a road we have shared so long. But we have had to stop together here— here, where my friend must go one way and I must travel the other. But I have decided not to go alone. I will journey with a fine companion, for I will invite valued recall to travel with me— to ride a companion wind so that the essences in felt breezes may be. Yet, against volition, it is time for us both to go. So, true to ourselves, that way we’ll have gone— he, to journey on a road of remembrance, and I, on the road to beyond.
Alive, Lie, Legend Your death is louder All hail the helling of bells, barrage of spinster Spiking coffee with morphine, and no one Can hear it—your death is louder—like lozenge, Louder like bullshit-banter-baculum-brat-buccina, Louder like sun, louder like you have been fawning For breeding, like Nights in White Satin, louder like Gorging on Irish Spring soap, louder like deafness on the Town line of trust in Toronto LOUDER You are every phobia in a compulsive nihility I hear you screaming and it’s louder, stiff Rotten, rouge and alabaster tree spawn— I have worshiped you into a coffin cinder, Alabaster cradles, alabaster follicles, Alabaster dresser drawers, unbleached Alabaster worn out sheets, alabaster bath, L’eau de Mare, alabaster priming pillows, Alabastard, you said it like I can’t hear you, love me like I don’t know it’s you Hounding down my back and rearranging My books, turning on my television four times A spirit feeding on aggravation LOUDER
You are so loud I cannot hear myself falsify belief remember routine pills I cannot recite vernacular in my name determine if I am alive lie or a legend Your death is mine.
This Rhythm of Relationship Breathing her in, she’s exhaling me, and for this moment we inhale each other, drunk on the scent of you fall onto the bed lip-locked, gasping, grasping thru sweat across chest, belly, crotch, guessing where the new sense of you begins, where the former woman or man we were ends. Today, I say I love you a thousand times to your two hundred tomorrow you may trump my bet against loneliness and abandonment with a thousand and one I love you’s. But what are we doing? Children running through a dark house turning on all the lights crying Mama! Papa! Are you here? Are you? If home is the hearth we enflesh are you there? Prove it, you say. I could, I say. But will you remember tomorrow? A minute from now? Or will I have to prove it, will you have to prove it, over and over and over and over? She’s breathing me in, I’m exhaling her gender is the cloth, flesh the fucking promise now is the door that opens out or closes in and we live somewhere in the pause of all motion in the cessation of everything we once were.
Painting on the Kitchen Wall There is a painting of a girl feeding ducks on the wall in a white-brushed frame. She is peaceful, sitting along a riverbank in blue, a red kerchief tied up over her head. I watch her sometimes in the passiveness of the morning when the coffee is hot. The white-brushed frame could be the sill of my window, and I could lift my hand and wave to the girl. She would wave back. The ducks would be startled in this sudden exchange, and would scuttle off, back to their river across the frosted, crunchy morning grass.
River Road Store fronts sleep Their dark windows Are eyes closed Dreaming. Clouds painted blue and pink Slip between buildings Peek around corners Stretching. A few cars rush the street Past pole, building, house, pole The western horizon Winking. Itâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;s Saturday morning And the world is creakily Starting; Beginning its unsteady baby steps Its first awkward kiss That sends lovers Running. In the parking lot you can see The brilliant orange Mist the sky past the grocery store, happily Crying; And the light washes the walls The trees, the grumbling train With shades of Morning.
In a moment it is over The sun, swallowed by clouds The morning swallowed by a typical dayâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;s Beginning.
I remember the girl with the crooked Smile. Who made cakes for her close friends. Who had eyes that didnâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;t quite line up right. But could see pain, and wave it away with A touch on the shoulder. And when roommates Married, she was happy for them, clapped At the reception, and drove home to an Empty apartment, fed the cat, checked The machine, drank a glass of milk, and then... Do flowers know how beautiful they are?
Safe Space “It must be really difficult, being a woman and brushing your teeth.” My resident advisor raises her eyes from the sink and looks at me in the mirror as she spits the toothpaste from her mouth, straightening her back, and wiping the corners of her mouth, silent. I try to explain. “Because you have to hold your hair, I mean. I don’t have to do that. Hold my hair. My hair is short, so it doesn’t get in the way. Like, when women use a drinking fountain, they always have to hold their hair, like this.” I bend over the sink and turn my head, miming the action of holding a ponytail in one hand while pressing a button with the other. I realize as I do this that Marissa knows what this looks like; I’ve seen her drinking from the fountains in our dorm. “You’re funny.” She smiles. I’m relieved. She begins to pack up her supplies in a carry-all, her toothbrush nestled in between disposable pink razors and a travel-sized bottle of mouthwash. “The most difficult part is pulling myself away from the kitchen,” she says. “I get so scared. Like, what if a man needs a sandwich?” I keep the conversation going. “Yeah, right? I don’t know how you do it. I mean, you’ve got your hair bunched up in one hand and your toothbrush in the other. Where are you supposed to keep your spatula? Can’t leave home without that.” She laughs. “I get it though, believe me.” I raise my wrist up to her face and let it go limp. “Brushing as a gay is nearly impossible. Wrist has a mind of its own. Takes a real effort to keep it up.” Marissa laughs again, brushes my arm, then leaves me alone in the dormitory bathroom. This is my first week of college and my seventh attempt at bonding. On a surface-level kind of a way, I’ve made prog-
ress with Marissa, but our joking hasn’t moved beyond this sense of shared degradation: she’s a woman, I’m a gay man. I hope we can find a way to move onto meatier interests like the Anthropocene, or Shawn Mendes. Anything, really. New York has been shitty. Not the city itself, but my experience with it so far. I moved here for school because I thought this was where I might find myself or, y’know, my “community.” I envisioned myself as that classic character in the story we all dream about: “Small Town Gay Kid Finds Himself in Big City; Undeserved Broadway Debut to Follow.” I’m not a singer, a dancer, or an actor. I didn’t move here to pursue theatre. Hell, I haven’t even declared my major yet. I just felt like this was what I was supposed to be doing. So, I did it. This isn’t the first time I’ve done this. The thing with Marissa, I mean. Self-deprecating gay jokes have been my go-to icebreaker since coming out and attempting to make friends. I’ve learned that I can say just about anything and still get away with it, so long as I balance stupid comments with the perfect blend of humor and sass. I can get away with making a sexist comment as long as I laugh and follow-up with the reminder that I’m gay.
We’re in this together! is what limp-wrist jokes communicate. I have to admit, arriving at the dorms to find out that I’d been placed on the LGBTQ floor was frustrating. As I walked off the elevator with my dad and younger sister, my eyes were assaulted by a rainbow banner plastered with the words “SAFE SPACE,” which greeted us in what I imagined to be a loud and irritating voice. The feeling of hot shame immediately crept into my face, manifesting in what I’m sure was a very visible blush.
Welcome to the gay floor, where you’ll be hidden away and protected from the big bad world, you fabulous fucker, you! My sister’s jokes didn’t help. “Oh gee Jake, you’re living on the gay floor? Try not to suck too many dicks.”
I remember my dad saying nothing. In the dormitory bathroom, I take one last look in the mirror to make sure that my hair is okay and leave. The humid atmosphere from the showers, mixed with the noxious stench emanating from one of the stalls, is making me sick. I can only tolerate it for so long. Maybe that was why Marissa left so abruptly? Walking down the halls, I glance at the nametags Marissa has put up for us, marking us as residents of the gay floor. The nametag in front of my door is actually the third she had to make. On my first day in the dorms, only moments after cringing at the rainbow banner, I tore down my nametag and threw it away. Written on a cartoonishly styled cut-out of a Starbucks cup was my name, followed by the name of our building and the letters “L-G-B-T-Q.” Was this Nazi Germany? Was it necessary to mark this room as the residence of the gay kid, inspiring images of sex swings and bondage for the strangers passing by? Go ahead, tattoo a pink triangle onto my face while you’re at it! I tore it down in front of my dad and made a comment about how my sexuality doesn’t wholly define me; what snowflakes. He seemed to approve. Later that day, in the middle of an orientation circle, Marissa asked me why I’d removed my nametag. “Did I get the spelling wrong?” she asked. I suspect she was worried that she had used a dead name. “No, no.” I could feel everyone’s eyes on me, a circle of lesbians and gays ready to educate me on pride and visibility. “I just thought it was temporary. Like a way for us to find our rooms. I’m sorry, I didn’t mean to just throw it away.” She smiled. “Chill, no worries! I’ll make you another.” The second nametag disappeared after a freshman from the gay floor in another building thought I was cute and decided to steal it. I know this because he returned it the next day, attached with a note asking me out to coffee. I kept the note, flattered, but never got coffee with him. We don’t acknowledge each other in public.
I suppose I’ve made myself out to be my own worst enemy, haven’t I? I’m either reminding people that I’m gay gay gay so they’ll like me, or rejecting my sexuality’s social baggage so that, hey, they’ll like me. Maybe I’ve made a mistake. Maybe none of this is right at all. But I made Marissa laugh. That must be progress, right?
Moon Over Morning
No Blues in Heaven No blues in heaven! We don’t allow those sad notes around our graceful clouds. Why wallow in what used to be when this is where you are, now, surely it was all worth it, do say it was. I know it can’t be heaven without music but keep the volume sweet, under control. We need neither rock nor lullaby, music is not needed to soothe the soul, we’re all quite soothed already, ‘though of course you’re always free to play a waltz or a dance tune, everyone here dances, some who never danced before, and no protest songs, ’cause why? Without the stress of life’s hard properties music here is not invented, just perceived. It’s true the nether place is filled with jazz at every hour, but no one gets to play it, to have the fun of exercising talent, one can only criticize and try to hide from constant syncopation and excessively long solos… but down there, there is no hiding. Accordions play by themselves along with the out-of-tune player pianos. Now, there you’ll hear the blues.
We Say the Field Is We say the field is empty when it has no house, no barn nothing that belongs to us. But we are wrong: this field is full of things wilder than will ever belong to any of us. There in the shrubby border a tiny junco the size of a child’s fist fucks its mate under a pair of white pines— they scream, trill, flit in and out of the branches settle on a bottom bough one on top of the other feathers shoved aside, sloppy hats on heads too small for such attire then act as if the event never happened. Brown spiders, bulbous loaded with a hundred eggs crawl through a dozen different grasses some matted, some green tongues the wind whispers with while black flies swirl in dark clouds above— No, I could not begin to tell what fullness, what wildness a field holds in its stillness. One square foot of it is grander than anything one of us might leave in a field somewhere to say There’s something in that field.
Everything is Perfectly Fine It’s time to elect a leader again. There are no cameras in your homes. There are no bugs on your phone. You do not hear your neighbors scream in the night dreaming they are packed into black buses idling in the park. Perfectly fine… your parents were not assigned by the government. No need to be afraid. If you fear go immediately to one of the churches in your area. There is no god but you can be treated converted to a perfectly fine citizen. Of course, you will die but not before your organs are needed for someone much more affluent and you will be one of the glorious dead well mostly glorious many just screaming but don’t listen to them. It’s all perfectly fine…
In the Pizza Shop little girl trails her mother a shaker of parmesan cheese clutched between her small hands occasionally licking the top of the cheese collected there.
Weekend Mornings I can’t help it. my girlfriend is a great way to sleep in. we get tied up on weekend mornings— placid ponds floating with lilies. we are difficult to disturb and difficult to rouse. birds in roosts plumped up with feathers. it’s easy, not having anything to do. so much easier than being single and having to open the curtains.
Words Behind Love I pray that these words echo, I love you My mother, my father, my brother, my sister. Music with language, I love you Those broken, cut up, compromised beyond recognition. Books with age-old plots, I love you Jane Austen, BrontŃ&#x2018; sisters, Lucy Maud Montgomery. Dear darling of my dreams, I love you Hours of restoration, water for my soul. Sugary sweetness, snacks galore, I love you As my mouth wakes up to taste life. Overused phrases taken for granted, meaningless, I donâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;t love you.
Jane Doe on Page Six Her hopes for happiness had the lifespan of a moth caught in a streetlight, ancient as the cobblestones beneath her. She had no expectations, just that the absence of stars on this windless night would not point anyone toward her frozen breath or scarf, knitted in solitude in front of a fire built for twoâ&#x20AC;&#x201D;never to be for her and a partner, her constant and ever-present sadness. Blackened rain drummed a concerto along the curb. Strangers hurried by with dark umbrellas and dinner plans, she had neitherâ&#x20AC;&#x201D;the rain like tears confirmed she was a nothing, as starless as the sky. As seasons aged, so did she. Why not humble herself into the tedium of the river and pray for forgiveness; her bruised, hollow self to be looked at, discussed, thought about for a moment at least, then forgotten, as ice melts into a discarded drink in the fade of winter nightfall.
Two Dollars a Day When Frankie was a kid, anytime he got lower than a “D” on his math homework or tests, he got the strap— if not from the principal, then from his father. They had nightly calls, the principal and his father. Frankie would be on the back porch, wishing the early evening clouds would waver him away. His father would be in the old brown recliner, glass in one hand, phone in the other. Mama would be in the kitchen pretending to ignore everything, a sad sigh caught in her throat for Frankie, her curly-haired baby boy, who could argue the world with Atlas but couldn’t make change. Truth be told, his father couldn’t count more than a four-finger pour anyway, but he did what he thought he was supposed to do. Frankie left home as soon as he could. No matter what, Frankie hid two dollars a day for special secrets. The long summer gone, air cooling into ice through his ancient jacket that wasn’t a jacket, rain drizzling straight down or sideways, it didn’t matter. Two dollars plus the cost of a cup of coffee in his pocket—each morning Frankie stopped at the Church of All Saints, spent a dollar, lit a candle. For mama. For his father. For his strap-numbed hands and for all the people and places far from his small life—anything that needed to be blessed. And a dollar tip for Dinah at the café. No matter that coffee was only 55 cents, Dinah had a son who needed doctors. She wouldn’t take charity but she would take tips. Frankie had money for rent,
sometimes he just ate corn and beans, but every day—a dollar for church, a dollar for Dinah. Nightfall sinks through tenement windows but not through Frankie’s heart, his mama’s sigh blown the way of a gentle breeze.
Atchfalaya River Almanac I. Cold winds off the river dress themselves in sweetgum, nutgrass, and starlings that nest in understoryâ&#x20AC;&#x201D;autumn waking in white oak and bitter pecan. Where johnboats are tethered loosely, a marsh hawk threads the light, alone in the silence. II. Down a levee road that flanks the bayou, a boy in the backseat of a car, toy soldier in each fist, shakes them together in a mock fight. Out the window, he sees a man walk off the shoulder of the road to lie down under an oak, fitting himself to the ground.
Best â&#x20AC;&#x153;Friendâ&#x20AC;? When three I had one, when ten maybe two by twenty there were several who included some girls but they soon married numbers dwindled which later on expanded again so as to
make that has-been concept non-applicable until advanced age started to limit many new acquaintances plus lots of older buddies begin to kickass buckets more and ...
A World Beneath My Feet Finding my sanctity in the shape of wooden spokes when the heart only cared to fall upwards and sideways; the world that I knew beneath my growing feet a land of stormtroopers and dead glue-sniffers; it was beneath the bend in a crooked tree where I rolled in battlements with old friends; splinters in fingers and kneecaps with grass stains how the space that we shared in youth has rarely altered though the surroundings youâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;d hardly recognise; now those eyes of friendship that turned into love despise each other and now on opposite sides; how time can keep rage eclipsed yet fondly remembered.
Glenna and Art spent the afternoon in San Francisco’s Golden Gate Park, listening to the Grateful Dead play for free to a mellow crowd of stoned hippies. Afterward, the couple drove south along Route 101 and stopped at Denny’s in Salinas before continuing their push to Los Angeles. The grass Art had smoked at the concert barely slowed him down. He kept twisting his silver high school ring with such force that his finger reddened. Glenna took his hands in hers. “Relax, baby. Relax. Save your hands for touching me.” Art grinned sheepishly. “I know, I know. I shoulda scored some downers before leaving the City. But that music just trips me out.” Sitting in a Naugahyde booth still sticky from its previous occupants, they gulped sodas and downed cheeseburgers with fries. The dinner crowd of truckers and young and old guys in rumpled suits muttered to each other, or themselves, if they talked at all. “God, didn’t you really dig that concert scene,” Glenna said. “That chick next to me was passing out tabs of acid like they were M&Ms.” “You didn’t drop any, did you?” Art asked. “Nah. I’m too scared of that stuff. Besides, we both have to stay straight for school next week.” “Jeez, nice going. Mentioning college is a sure-fire way to bring me down.” Glenna grinned. “Hey, I’ll be there with you. And USC is still cool, but nothing like Cal.” “Yeah, if we’d lived in Berkeley, we could have gone to concerts every week and really enjoyed this Summer of Love.” Their conversation shifted to the courses they would take during their final year and to marriage, planned adventures in Europe and lucrative jobs, assuming the Vietnam War would be over and done with.
Across the aisle an old man and woman sipped coffee and toyed with their cardboardish pieces of apple pie. They chewed slowly and stared at each other, saying nothing. After finishing, they sat without talking, hands folded in front of them. Their faces showed neither sorrow nor joy. Art motioned for Glenna to lean across the table, then whispered, “Check out the old couple. They haven’t said a word to each other the whole time we’ve been here.” “Yeah, it’s sad, really sad.” “I guess. Maybe they just had an argument.” “Or maybe, ya know, they don’t have anything more to say…with everything in the past.” Art frowned and stared at his grease-saturated fries. “Can’t people that old have new adventures…at least give themselves something to talk about?” “Yeah, maybe. I just hope we don’t end up like that.” Glenna chuckled. “If we do, I’m ditching you for some young hunk.” “Hell, I’ll help push your wheelchair out the door.” Stuffed with heavy food, the couple climbed into Art’s Dodge Dart and headed south. Glenna fell asleep before they reached Paso Robles. Art managed to keep his eyes open and they finally dropped into the El Lay basin with its sea of lights.
One thing Art wouldn’t talk about with Glenna was the year he spent in Vietnam. When he graduated from USC and lost his student deferment, the Selective Service came calling. When he returned to LA after two years in the Army, they got married. Glenna already had a good position with a large advertising firm. Art got a job as a junior designer with an engineering company that planned major waterworks projects around the world.
They bought a house in Brentwood, spent evenings talking about their dumb bosses, tough work assignments, and difficult clients. But their time in the bedroom helped make their frenetic life bearable. In ten years, Glenna gave birth to two girls and a boy, all the while holding onto her job and getting promoted. Art traveled overseas to visit construction sites and came home with stories about his Asian, Latin, and African adventures. They settled into their yuppie routine, bought his and hers SUVs. After their youngest left to attend Stanford, they purchased a house in Manhattan Beach overlooking the Pacific. On a weekend vacation to Santa Barbara, they went for a morning run along East Beach, ending up on Stern’s Wharf. They walked to the end of the pier and watched boats come and go, and talked about retiring in ten years. A gray-haired couple sat on a bench. They had spread newspapers under their butts and stared at the windblown harbor and the passage of sailboats heading out into the channel with its string of barren islands. The old woman ignored the open book in her lap. The man ogled the women passing by, including Glenna. “See that old guy staring at you?” Art asked. Glenna grinned. “Yeah, it’s been a while since somebody undressed me with their eyes.” “It shows ya still got it, babe. Hell, nobody looks at me.” “Well, if you’d lose those love handles, maybe they would.” “Even without them, I look like all of those babes’ fathers.” “In a few more years you’ll look like their grandfathers.” “Hey, whose side are you on?” Art dug Glenna in the ribs, and she let out a girlish squeal. They continued walking along the wharf and checked out the buckets of the straw-hatted fishermen who propped their rods against the railing and sucked beer from cans wrapped in brown paper bags. Glenna said, “It’s sad that old couple aren’t talking to each other.” “I think they just like watching the world. What’s wrong with that?” “Ah come on, Art. None of this means much unless you share your
feelings, especially with your…your spouse.” “Maybe they don’t need to talk. Maybe they already know.” “What do you mean, know?” Glenna put her hands on her hips and smirked. Art twisted his college ring and hesitated before answering. “I…I can tell how you’re feeling sometimes by the way you hold your arms, how you smile or frown, by the way you do that thing with your hips.” “I’m glad you still look at my hips.” “Seriously, don’t you feel sometimes that just being with each other is enough?” Glenna sighed. “Sure, sometimes. But I like to share what I’m feeling…with you.” “But sometimes it doesn’t take words.” “Yeah, I can see your point. But you’re not going to shut me up just yet.” Art grinned. “Remember that Bob Dylan song with the funny title? It has a line in it that says a lot:
And you want somebody you don’t have to speak to Won’t you come see me, Queen Jane?” Glenna pulled away from him, unsmiling. “Is that what you want? Somebody that will shut the hell up?” “No, of course not. But we experience things together now and know what we’re feeling, without having to…to describe it in excruciating detail.” Glenna’s face softened. “I get it, I get it. But I thought that song was all about heroin addiction. That’s who Queen Jane is, right?” “Well, I prefer my interpretation,” Art said and stuck his nose in the
air. “Keep talking. Maybe you’ll convince me.” They walked hand in hand over the pier’s rough planks, while the sea sloshed below them and the wind tossed their thinning hair.
Madison and her girlfriends pushed through Starbucks’ front door in Manhattan Beach and commandeered the largest table they could find. With thumbs stabbing their cell phone screens, their texts flew through cyberspace. When responses came back, peals of laughter, low mutterings, and chirps of amazement sounded. As the women shared their texts, their chatter increased until they sounded like a flock of high-pitched birds that had found a cache of seed. At an adjoining table, an old couple, the wife in a wheelchair, watched the ebb and flow of the Starbucks crowd. They sat with hands folded, their faces showing neither joy nor sorrow. But the man seemed to study them from behind bifocal glasses, all the while twisting a silver ring on his right hand. Madison leaned across the table and whispered to Sarah, “Check out the geezers. They haven’t said anything the whole time we’ve been here…and they don’t even have cell phones.” “Yeah, it’s sad, totally sad.” “I guess. Maybe they just had an argument.” “Or maybe, ya know, they don’t have anything more to say…with everything behind them.” “Can’t people that old do new things…at least give themselves something to text about?” Madison leaned back in her seat and studied the pair. For some indefinable reason, she envied them. Maybe they had something going on that she didn’t. The more she looked, the more they seemed to enjoy their silence.
A Greater Peace Sarge hobbles along the sidewalk next to the Presbyterian Church, keeping to the shadows. The straps of his overstuffed rucksack cut into his sloping shoulders. The scrap cardboard soles he’s inserted into his combat boots have worn through. He groans and stops to inspect his feet, sitting cross-legged with his back against a street-tree. The August heat radiates off the concrete, yet he keeps his Army field jacket zipped shut as if he’s expecting snow. What he doesn’t expect is the bunny. On the top of the stone wall that separates the church from the sidewalk rests a small gray rabbit with shiny black eyes, ears sticking straight up, and a pink nose. Sarge mops his face with a filthy handkerchief and looks again. The stuffed toy seems almost real. He struggles to his feet and retrieves the rabbit while looking up and down the street to see if anyone might claim the prize. He strokes the bunny’s back, enjoying the feel of its soft fur. It reminds him of his cat, Sleazy, a tailless calico that he’d befriended in Afghanistan while stationed in the Garmsir district. He’d fed her milk and table scraps. In winter, the cat followed him on patrol of the river villages, almost like a dog. At night she’d nestle against his neck. One day she disappeared, like a lot of things in that endless war. People passing on the sidewalk stare at Sarge with suspicion. Women cross the street to avoid him. A bicycle cop at the end of the block moves in. Sarge stuffs the rabbit into his jacket and lumbers away. The cop doesn’t follow. That night, Sarge camps under a highway bridge next to a creek. He slides the bunny under the top of his T-shirt and against his neck, lies on the ground and listens to the creek babble, dreams of river towns, ambushes, and the faces of the dead. He wakes in darkness, screaming. But the bunny is there to stroke, to help him remember the softer things in his life.
Sophia sits in the back seat of her mother’s Camry and bawls, her eyes squeezed shut, tears flowing down her four-year-old cheeks, her nose exuding snot bubbles. Her bunny rabbit has disappeared. Sophia wails, “I want bunny. I want bunny. I want my…bunny.” Her litany of cries breaks only when she needs to suck in a breath. Barbara clenches the steering wheel and struggles to control her voice. “Sophia, honey, we’re going to look for bunny right now. Stop crying and sit up. You can help Mommy look.” Sophia’s tears continue flowing. “I want my bunny. It’s my favorite. Daddy gave it to me.” “I know, honey. I know. But even Daddy loses things.” Barbara cruises the town’s business district. Yesterday, she and her daughter had walked the streets window-shopping before attending her weekly coffee with other military wives. Her exhausted daughter must have dropped or laid her bunny down somewhere within a twelve-block area. Barbara knew they probably wouldn’t find it, but her daughter cried herself to sleep the night before and woke up weeping. It tore at Barbara’s heart since her husband had deployed a month before and wasn’t there to comfort his little girl. Weekend shoppers crowd the downtown. After a half hour of driving, Barbara parks the car, slips Sophia into her stroller, and begins walking. She stops at the stores they visited the previous day. The sales clerks remember them but not a gray bunny. Sophia whimpers. After an hour of trudging, they turn down a side street that leads to the parking garage. A large man with long greasy hair and dressed in Army gear sits with his back against a storefront, blocking half the sidewalk. Barbara considers crossing the street to avoid him. I can do this. I can’t be afraid of the homeless in my own town. The man chews greedily on a sandwich. A pint of something alcoholic peeks from one of the pockets of his field jacket. On the sidewalk, his Army cap contains coins and crumpled dollar bills. A Staff Sergeant’s insignia is pinned to the cap’s front, the same rank as her husband. Sophia rides quietly, staring. Barbara picks up the pace and comes abreast of the forgotten soldier. A toy bunny rests on a clean handkerchief next to the man. In front of it is a paper plate with a fork, spoon,
and napkin neatly laid out. The plate holds food scraps from the man’s sandwich. A cup of water stands guard. Sophia’s high-pitched squeal breaks the morning stillness. “Bunny, bunny,” she cries and points. Barbara halts so quickly that Sofia almost falls out the front of the stroller. “He got my bunny.” Sophia leans toward the man, little arms and hands flailing. “Give me my bunny. Give it back.” The man picks up the bunny and holds it to his throat, his eyes squeezed shut, head bowed, body shaking. “Bunny, bunny, I want my bunny.” “Hush, Sophia,” Barbara murmurs into her daughter’s ear. “He got my bunny.” Sophia hiccups, her face red and swollen. The man brings his arms up over his head and rocks back and forth, like a soldier trying to survive incoming mortar rounds. Barbara asks, “Are you all right…Sergeant?” He opens his eyes and stares at her. His lips quiver but he says nothing and gives a quick nod. With her heart pounding, she removes a five-dollar bill from her purse and drops it into his cap. His eyes shift between mother and child. His hands clutch the rabbit. She thinks of her daughter’s sorrow at losing the bunny, the tears, the days of recovery as Barbara tries to regain peace. She wonders what must have happened to this man to make him create a relationship with something so soft, yet so lifeless. With a shudder, she straightens her shoulders, smiles at the Sergeant and pushes Sophia down the street.
I Wish I Was...
Eaten Under A California Sun Even now, I thank the Gods for that little blue car of yours, vehicle of impossible cross-country adventures, but also a well-needed daytrip from the city every now and then. For short escapes it was often Stinson Beach— pay the toll, then free exodus across the Golden Gate— we would sometimes stop at a roadside Mexican grotto along the way, though later, we could always indulge in the French fries and onion rings at the food stand, eaten under a California sun. The memories of those days are so jagged now, like broken pieces of glass left on the beach, sun reflected on rolling waves, or snapshots never quite taken in focus. Vague images of you sunbathing on the sand, well-bred woman from the east, come three thousand miles to marry me and share some of your sizable monthly allowance. Well, it seems I couldn’t go on losing forever. I would run into the ocean a few times for quick, five minute dips—you always refused, too cold. We would linger as long as possible before packing up to drive back through the hills, the woods filled with the sight and smell of eucalyptus and houses we dreamed of living in, happily ever after— though we always managed to return to the shore of that other California and the tiny apartment that grew smaller each time we shook the sand and expectations from our hair and unlocked the door.
The silver cigarette smoke that once lingered through time and past my childhood, down the hall to motherhood, dissipated like an innocent apparition Who was watching it? Who was hearing the cupboards bang at three a.m.? When the doors of my mom, my uncle, of ancestral portals that crept under my bed at night sealed. When my home turned into an abandoned graveyard that prohibited visitorsâ&#x20AC;&#x201D; Would you still be able to find me? Do you know where to look? I would struggle to keep a house full of our dead warm when it was no longer my house to heat. You are farther away than the view down the hall from the corner of my eight-year-old bedroom eye Who will watch me as I watch them? Is there anyone left to watch? When I feel the bump in the earth, the stomp in the energy, when my eyes yearningly drive past 2904, I wonder, if I stopped to knock Would you know I came back? That Iâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;m the only one still here?
Waiting For Winter’s End Silent or screaming, in the end, it’s all aviaries and adversaries, while every sunrise returns or leaves on light blue wings. So hey man, do what you can, put that forefinger up and hitch a free ride to the sky. We’re all going somewhere or nowhere. And I too am only a stranger here— a roll over Beethoven, singing torch songs in some kamikaze karaoke, moody as the mercurial moon, a straw man starving in some Mojave motel, man of the hour, so at least give me your cat’s paw. And after every illusion crystallized, all truth distilled and dispelled, I know I’m only scratching my name on ice, asleep, waiting for the winter to thaw. But there’s an ache echoing in my chest from too many years of too much pain, and it’s mostly on nights like these, when I’m sinking into my third drink, I ask myself: what do we live on? Nothing more than oxygen it often seems, and even less of that with every tree they kill to print one more dollar bill.
So anyway, weâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;re all going somewhere, or anywhere, on a slow boat, to here, forever. The dead never say much, itâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;s one of the few things you can count on, and while the booze is spilled, the love imagined, maligned and destroyed, finally, all of lifeâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;s wisdom is wasted on the young, as old men become children again, and this world plays us like a piano, then cuts the strings.
Book Reviews Kudos by Rachel Cusk ISBN 9780374279868 Published 06/2018 Reviewed by: Heather Simmons
Kudos is the third installment in Rachel Cusk’s acclaimed trilogy of novels about Faye, a British writer adjusting to a recent divorce. Although preceded by Outline (2016) and Transit (2017), this third novel can stand on its own without disorienting readers unfamiliar with Cusk’s work (I had not read the first two works, yet had no trouble immersing myself in the novel). The novel does not have a conventional action-driven plot. Rather, we follow Faye as she travels to and experiences a European writers’ conference. In the tradition of James Joyce’s Ulysses and Virginia Woolf ’s Mrs. Dalloway, the events of the novel take place during a single day, beginning with her plane trip to the conference, and ending with a dip in the sea after dinner. Cusk’s premise is clever: Faye attends the conference in order to be interviewed about her work. However, what readers learn about her is not gleaned either through these interviews or Faye’s first-person narration, but indirectly through her conversations with strangers, colleagues, acquaintances, and family members throughout the day. Themes of freedom and human connection flow as undercurrents throughout the novel. Cusk uniquely captures the paradoxical nature of connection. Sometimes, as she articulates, there is a sense of freedom in uncovering parts of ourselves to people we may never see again. The novel begins, for example, as Faye converses with the busi-
nessman sitting next to her on the plane. He, and her other conversation partners throughout the day, share details about their children, spouses, careers, and insecurities before disappearing from the narrative entirely. Despite their differences, all seem fascinated and troubled by the concept of freedom. Faye’s seatmate on the plane keeps a spreadsheet entitled “Freedom” that tracks the time remaining until he retires. Later, some of the writers at the conference have a conversation about their chosen vocation. Writing, they observe, seems to outsiders like a “free” and reasonably unrestrictive job. However, a financially successful author, in freeing herself from monetary troubles, must write what the public wants, thus giving up at least some of her creative freedom. Writing, they conclude, has its restrictions like any other job. The novel is populated with quirky and interesting characters, brought to life through Cusk’s ability to capture distinct qualities and small details. For example, while we never learn the name of one author at the conference, we know that he is Welsh, likes to escape from required activities to go sightseeing, and during meals, has a tendency to ball up pieces of bread and drop them onto the table. Another writer, rather than graciously accepting “kudos” for her “hilarious” novel, bluntly replies, “It’s not meant to be.” Freedom and connection also inform the novel’s style. The narrative is fluid, not constrained by a conventional plot structure, nor divided into chapters or sections. Readers’ attention drifts from conversation to conversation with Faye’s narration bridging them together. The various interactions are also connected by common objects and motifs. For example, one character describes his daughter’s accomplishments as a cellist, echoed when another describes a failed attempt at writing a story about a cello. Overall, Kudos is a psychological, stylistic, and thought-provoking novel exploring how the various objects, events, and conversations in our daily lives connect with one another and impact us. Cusk’s unique style may not appeal to all readers, especially those drawn to more action-driven stories, but those seeking a contemplative read will likely find this novel compelling. The fluidity and interconnectedness of its style, coupled with its manageable length, make it a perfect “rainy day” read to consume in one sitting.
Educated: A Memoir by Tara Westover ISBN 9780099511021 Published 02/2018 Reviewed by: Heather Simmons
Nominated for several awards, and named one of the New York Times’ ten greatest books of 2018, Educated is the compelling account of Westover’s isolated upbringing in rural Idaho and the culture shock she experienced after deciding to pursue a formal education at odds with her family’s values. Now an author and historian with a doctorate degree, Westover began her life as the youngest of seven children in a family characterized by strict moral convictions and strong suspicions. Young Tara did not attend school, never saw a traditional doctor, and was not issued a birth certificate until she was nine years old. Westover is gifted at writing description and dialogue that immerses readers into her world. Of the vegetation surrounding the family home, she writes, “If the conifers and sagebrush are soloists, the wheat field is a corps de ballet, each stem following all the rest in bursts of movement, a million ballerinas bending, one after the other, as great gales dent their golden heads.” Westover is skilled at recreating dialogue, as well as setting. Each character in her memoir has a distinct voice. Tara’s grandmother’s personality, for example, is established with her first line of dialogue: “I got some pennies in my purse […] You better take them. They’ll be
all the sense you got.” This remark is directed toward her son—Tara’s father—who bans milk from the home based on a possible interpretation of a vague Scripture verse. In response to his action, Tara’s feisty grandmother stocks up on milk for her grandchildren. Westover describes how conflicted she felt as a young girl in this situation. Although she craved milk for her cereal, to partake in the delicacy would be to blatantly disobey her father. The inclusion of this small detail foreshadows Tara’s later conflict as she decides to leave the family home and become conventionally “educated.” The memoir is episodic, yet fluid, as the events described combine both to acquaint readers with Westover’s family, and to contrast their unconventional practices with those of the “gentile” world around them. Her descriptions mix the shocking and poignant with the comical, especially when recounting the family’s numerous experiences with injury and illness, none of which are treated by doctors or medication. Instead, the family takes a self-sufficient approach: injuries either heal on their own, or are treated with concoctions mixed by Tara’s herbalist/midwife mother. After one of Tara’s brothers badly damages his teeth in a car accident, for example, he meticulously constructs and garnishes a taco, nonchalantly places it into a juicer, and drinks it. On another occasion, when Tara has a sore throat, her father advises her to stand outside and open her mouth to let the sun in. Since people rarely get sick in the summer, he reasons, the sun must have its own healing properties that can cure her throat. Although many of the anecdotes are humorous and buoyant in tone, Westover does not gloss over the more physically and psychologically dangerous elements of her upbringing. The second half of the book describes her anxiety and confusion at leaving home and entering academia for the first time while dealing with an abusive family member. In her foreword, Westover carefully states that her book is not an indictment against her family’s faith, but a story of reconstruction. Educated, for all of its humorous details and vividly-described scenes, brings up difficult and important questions. To what degree is each of us a product of our education and upbringing? How does one begin to construct a “self?” The author poignantly suggests that, for each decision we make toward creating a “self,” we risk losing a part of ourselves, as well.
Educated is a fascinating read, and is highly recommended for a general audience.
Unsheltered By Barbara Kingsolver ISBN: 9781635463989 Published 10/2018 Reviewed by: Heather Simmons
Kingsolver’s recent bestseller mixes both contemporary and historical fiction, with its chapters alternating between two narratives: one focusing on Willa Knox and her family in present-day Vineland, New Jersey, and the other on Thatcher Greenwood, a schoolteacher living on the same property in the 1870s. The novel’s title is literal, as well as symbolic, in both narratives. In the present, Willa’s family realizes that the house they’ve moved into is structurally unsound. As the roof literally caves in on her house, Willa’s world is disrupted in other ways, as well. While adjusting to life without a job, for example, she cares for her infant grandson and dying father-in-law. Her crumbling home—failing to deliver the shelter and security it promises— frustrates Willa and reminds her of greater structural problems. In what kind of world, she wonders, is her husband, a successful and liked college instructor, unable to support the family with his income and insurance? Why is it that her son, who is well-educated and committed to doing everything “right,” has so much difficulty finding a stable job? In spite of these frustrations, however, she becomes immersed in researching the history of her property, once inhabited by Thatcher Greenwood.
Thatcher’s house is also unsound, and his story, like Willa’s, is marked by personal, as well as social, change. Thatcher, a schoolteacher, adjusts to a new marriage while trying to convince resistant administration and community members to let him teach the exciting new theories of Charles Darwin to his students. He finds an unlikely friend in Mary Treat, an eccentric but brilliant woman who studies plants, lets insects wander through her home, and directly corresponds with Darwin and other prominent figures of the time. While Thatcher and his family, as well as all of the contemporary characters, are Kingsolver’s creations, Mary Treat was a real correspondent of Charles Darwin who distinguished herself in the fields of both botany and entomology. According to the author’s note, one of the goals of the novel is to bring attention to this overlooked figure. The novel, especially in its contemporary sections set before the 2016 election, does bring up political issues, and while it never names Donald Trump directly, references to him are unmistakable. For this reason, Unsheltered, unlike many works of historical fiction, is not meant for readers who wish to escape their own time. Rather, by setting her work in both the past and the present, Kingsolver seems to reject the idea that the past offered more stability—or “shelter”—than the present. Time will tell whether the novel’s political references unfavorably date the work for future readers, or provide an accurate glimpse into a particular “moment” in the way that Kingsolver’s historical portions do. The novel makes up for its lack of escapism with the inclusion of charming and cleverly humorous details. The characters, for example, are quirky and likable. As a writer and journalist, Willa (fittingly named for the author Willa Cather) is always quick to point out a pun or grammatical anomaly. She finds solace, for example, in wondering whether “grits” is a singular or plural noun. Thatcher, whose wife’s name is Rose, has a habit of comparing people to plants. At one point, for example, he muses that another character “might be a cabbage.” This novel is recommended for readers who enjoy both contemporary and historical fiction, and cannot decide which genre to read next. Unsheltered is, overall, an enjoyable—if not remarkable—novel providing a few laughs, some historical and contemporary ideas to consider, and a takeaway that hope can persist in the midst of change.
Calypso By David Sedaris ISBN: 9780316392389 Published 05/2018 Reviewed by: Heather Simmons
Calypso, written by humorist David Sedaris, best known for Me Talk Pretty One Day (2000), is a collection of 21 hilarious essays covering a wide range of topics. While a few of the essays discuss political and social issues, such as Sedaris’ take on the 2016 election and the legalization of same-sex marriage, his most hilarious essays are those focused on humorous elements of his everyday life. One, for example, relates the story of how he became a slave to his Fitbit. Other topics include Sedaris’ life as a short man, the significance of having two guest rooms, and the minor health problems he and his siblings encounter during their fifties. The breadth of humor represented in this work is impressive, ranging from puns and one-liners to satire. A standout is “Your English is So Good.” Inspired by a program he used to learn Japanese, Sedaris proposes a course in English for business travelers. Here, the author is at his most sarcastic and observant, calling attention to the sometimes bizarre conventions of polite conversation in the United States. For example, “How was your flight?” is a common question for travelers, but ultimately ridiculous. As Sedaris points out, there are only two kinds of flights: “ones in which you die and ones in which you do not.” This essay is highly recommended, even for those who choose not to read the whole book. As some of the work’s humor is quite shocking and irreverent, the collection is not recommended for all readers. For example, in one es-
say, Sedaris, who has never had a driver’s license, presents the argument that profanity and insults uttered by frustrated drivers are the most vicious. He supports this position with a collection of the most vulgar and creative expletives used by drivers across the globe. In another essay, he turns to bodily humor, discussing—in great detail—the discomfort of traveling on a lecture tour while suffering from a gastrointestinal virus. While the essay humorously and embarrassingly captures the fearful possibility of losing control of one’s own body, it may not appeal to everyone. For all of the work’s humor, Sedaris does not shy away from discussing darker elements of his life, such as the recent suicide of a sister. Even these more personal essays, however, are laced with wit. In the piece about his sister, for example, he reveals that his beach house is named the “Sea Section.” Another essay begins with a discussion of his fascination for reality shows, but leads into memories of his mother’s alcohol dependence. The humor in these more serious pieces does not distract from the pathos or tenderness of the essays, but emphasizes the human capacity to smile even in the midst of difficulty. While this collection is fun to read, the audiobook—narrated by the author and nominated for two 2019 Audie awards—is highly recommended. Interspersed with studio-recorded readings are essays that were recorded during the author’s lecture tours. The laughter of the audience almost makes these pieces feel more like stand-up comedy routines than essays. Although each essay can be read on its own, something can be gained by reading them in order. Almost like a continuous narrative, they build upon each other, with essays later in the book referencing motifs and jokes introduced in the earlier pieces. With its conversational tone, sharp humor, and matter-of-fact observations about everyday life, Calypso intimately acquaints readers with its author, who presents himself as a frank, outrageously funny, and often irreverent new friend.
The Adults By Caroline Hulse ISBN: 9781984828606 Published 08/2018 Reviewed by: Heather Simmons
Hulse’s humorous debut novel focuses on Claire and Matt, who, though divorced, decide to spend a long holiday “weekend” together with their significant others and seven-year-old daughter Scarlett in the optimistically named “Happy Forest.” Neither of them remembers whose idea the trip was, but both reluctantly agree that it is important for Scarlett to spend time with both of her parents during Christmas. Although the weekend begins in relative peace, given the awkwardness of the situation, tensions build, and like a taut bowstring, eventually snap, with the novel appropriately culminating in an archery accident. The novel reads like a farcical comedy, and is recommended for readers who enjoy British humor and are looking for a light read. Young Scarlett is predictably precocious. Her best friend is Posey, a large, imaginary purple rabbit who wears silver moon boots and has a “Made in China” tag on his derriere. Scarlett also has a habit of eavesdropping on the adults’ conversations and looking up the (usually inappropriate) words and references she does not understand on an iPad. She fears Matt’s scientist girlfriend, Alex, because she thinks that all scientists hurt animals—including rabbits.
Alex is intimidated by Claire, who is organized and chipper. She feels ill-at-ease, for example, because Claire is almost impossible to dislike. At breakfast, she actually pours the milk into a glass jug, and she generously gifts Alex with an expensive spa voucher. Alex, who is not generally a spa-goer, humorously observes that, with its slow-moving clientele all clothed in bathrobes, the spa resembles a dementia ward. Patrick, Claire’s boyfriend, is a dedicated runner with an insecure streak. His own teenage children generally ignore him, but he gets along well with Scarlett, spending more time with her than her father, Matt, does. However, he feels threatened by Matt’s presence in Scarlett’s and Claire’s lives, especially since Claire and Matt seem particularly convivial during the vacation. In addition to its comedic set-up, the novel is full of humorous dialogue and situations. In one scene, for example, Scarlett, reading a sign, asks her mother what “vivisection” is. Claire outrageously replies that it’s a lot like tennis. In another scene, Alex, desperately looking for someone to watch Scarlett for a while, signs the seven-year-old up for a burlesque dance class. Sandwiched between the chapters are snippets of interviews with the novel’s characters as a police detective tries to unravel how the archery incident (referred to as the “shooting”) occurred. The whole truth of the situation is revealed toward the end of the novel. These accounts are followed by optimistic excerpts from the Happy Forest vacation brochure. These peaceful PR paragraphs contrast nicely with the building tension between the “family” members during their trip. Overall, The Adults is a fun, light novel. It is not a challenging read, and presents no groundbreaking ideas, but its farcical premise, quirky characters, and clever dialogue combine to make it an entertaining book.
Wild Embers: Poems of Rebellion, Fire, and Beauty By Nikita Gill ISBN: 9781409173922 Published 11/2017 Reviewed by: Tabbitha Zepeda
Wild Embers: Poems of Rebellion, Fire, and Beauty by Nikita Gill was my best friendâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;s idea of a party favor. Given out to her most trusted tribe of feminists as a thank you for coming to her birthday, each of us sat around her auntâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;s kitchen table, thumbing through the 150 pages of empowering poetry, nodding our heads in agreement. In earnest, Wild Embers effectively translates the sentiments of most women today, at least in part, and I would be hard pressed to ignore the resonance of the female experience in this 2017 published collection.
Separated into thematic topics, the poems are offered in order by the metaphors that thread them together. The book begins with an opening of celestial happenings, focusing on the vastness of space, the complexity of planets, and pulling meaning out of the systematic elegance of an ever-mobile existence. Through these themes, we see the speaker address matters of innate power, love and relationships, ownership of emotions, disentanglement from codependence, and uplifting encouragement. In particular, “Black Hole” felt like an affirmation for any person who can relate to the pull of love not reciprocated, and its all-consuming nature. The book then goes on to explore magic in relation to power and resilience, among other aspects. It continues in this way, moving through nature and animals, fairytales, mythology, and other subjects. The messages imbued within the poems are consistent and clear throughout, however, calling for an extensive look at the power of the feminine, hardships of love, and evolution and validation of the self. The work does not come without its misgivings, however. While it definitely impresses upon the female collective a sense of overall support in life’s hardships, most of the poems related to relationship dynamics and the difficulties of navigating love are heterocentric, addressing the other party by male pronouns as well as specific trends that are often categorized as challenges faced between men and women. In other places, such as in “Your Trauma,” we see an overuse of simplistic, cliché imagery, likening it more to an amateur piece found on someone’s Facebook wall about feeling “broken” rather than something deserving of professional publication. Still, there is something to be said for a woman’s overpowering need to be heard, and if nothing else, this book speaks from a place of understanding and validation, leaving readers with a note of warmth fanned as each page turns.
Contributor Bios Jeffrey Alfier’s recent books include Fugue for a Desert Mountain, Anthem for Pacific Avenue: California Poems, and The Red Stag at Carrbridge: Scotland Poems. His publication credits include Copper Nickel, The Carolina Quarterly, Hotel Amerika, and Poetry Ireland Review. He is founder and co-editor of Blue Horse Press and San Pedro River Review. Tobi Alfier is a multiple Pushcart nominee and multiple Best of the Net nominee. Her full-length collection Somewhere, Anywhere, Doesn’t Matter Where was published by Kelsay Books. Slices of Alice & Other Character Studies was recently published by Cholla Needles Press. She is co-editor of San Pedro River Review (www.bluehorsepress.com). Shawn Anto is 23 years old and originally from Kerala, India. He is currently pursuing his B.A. in English and Theatre at California State University, Bakersfield. His writing has been featured or is forthcoming in Orpheus, The Paragon Press: Echo; Genre: Urban Arts; Edify Fiction; Susan/The Journal; Internet Void; Ink & Voices; and Mojave Heart Review. Angelique Limatoc Arnold has a B.A. in English with a concentration in Creative Writing from San Francisco State University. Her works have appeared in Penumbra, Song of the San Joaquin, and other publications. Her first chapbook, Mixed Plate, was published in the fall of 2018. Richard Atwood was born in Baltimore and has lived in Los Angeles and Denver; currently he lives in Wichita, Kansas. He has published three books of poetry (available on Amazon). He has also been published in several literary journals, authored three screenplays, two large stage plays, and an m/m erotic-romantic fantasy, with a Game of Thrones ambience. Rick is basically retired (from the healthcare field), sometimes volunteers in little theater, and remains alone with years more poems unsorted in the closet. Maicel Barsoum is a California State University, Stanislaus Alumni who majored in Studio Art with a focus in Graphic Design. He explores life’s natural wonders and mysteries through the mediums of
illustration, photography, and graphic design. Animals and nature are by far his favorite subjects to capture. Seneca Basoalto is a student of Psychology and Philosophy with a background in the backstage music/movie scene, whose Iberian lineage influences her diverse range of works. Her poetry has appeared in Terror House Magazine; Glasgow Review of Books; Words Dance, a love anthology released by Z publishing; and elsewhere. She has worked as a Therapeutic Writing Program Coordinator for women in substance abuse recovery. Currently she is a submission reader for Frontier Poetry. Gary Beck has spent most of his adult life as a theater director. He has fourteen published chapbooks. His poetry collections include Days of Destruction (Skive Press); Expectations (Rogue Scholars Press); and Blossoms of Decay. His novels include Flawed Connections (Black Rose Writing); Call to Valor and Crumbling Ramparts (Gnome on Pig Productions); and Sudden Conflicts (Lillicat Publishers). His short story collections include A Glimpse of Youth (Sweatshoppe Publications) and Dogs Don’t Send Flowers and Other Stories (Wordcatcher Publishing). Feast or Famine and other one-act plays will be published by Wordcatcher Publishing. His original plays and translations of Moliere, Aristophanes, and Sophocles have been produced off Broadway. His poetry, fiction, and essays have appeared in hundreds of magazines. He lives in New York City. Robert Beveridge’s thirtieth anniversary as a publishing poet occured November 2018. When not writing, he makes noise (xterminal. bandcamp.com) in Akron, OH. Recent/upcoming appearances in Pink Litter, Triadæ, and Welter, among others. James Berry teaches guitar in New York City. His poems and short stories appeared in the 2013-2017 issues of Penumbra. He enjoys the relationship he developed with both Penumbra and California State University, Stanislaus over the course of those five years and pleased to be a contributor again in 2019! Scott Blackwell is a former resident of San Francisco and an M.F.A. graduate of the San Francisco Art Institute. He is a Pushcart Prize nominee and has most recently had poetry published in Mudfish, Iconoclast, Avalon Review, Writer’s Block, Straylight, Nerve Cowboy and others. He currently resides in Champaign, Illinois in an old fixer-upper, trying hard to get back to that poetry and novel thing.
Paul Bluestein is a physician (done practicing), a blues musician (still practicing), and a dedicated Scrabble player (yes, ZAX is a word). He writes poetry when The Muse calls, even if it’s during dinner. He lives in Connecticut with his wife and the two dogs who rescued him, near a beach where he can find quiet time to think about the past, wonder about the future, and lose his sunglasses. He is currently putting together his first collection of poems, entitled “The Only Constant …” Oyewole Bukunmi is a documentary cum travel photographer cum picture story-teller with a passion for sustainability. I rep the seventeen GOALS!!! Sarah Cash’s poems can be found on pages 143 and 149. Olivia De Leon is an undergraduate student in her last year of the Literature/Writing program at University of California, San Diego, and she works as a part-time bus driver for Triton Transit. When she’s not reading or writing, you will likely find her playing with (and obsessing over) her adorable cat, Roxy, or jamming to country music in the kitchen as she experiments with new healthy recipes. Timothy B. Dodd is from Mink Shoals, West Virginia. His poetry has appeared in The Roanoke Review, Broad River Review, Ellipsis, The William & Mary Review, and elsewhere. His poems “Alarms” and “Demon Love, Santiago” were included in Penumbra 2017. He is currently in the M.F.A. program at the University of Texas, El Paso. Matt Duggan’s work has appeared in A Restricted View from Under the Hedge, Ghost City Review, The Blue Nib, The Journal, Osiris Poetry Journal, The Dawntreader, and Into the Void. His second full collection, “Woodworm,” will be published in spring 2019 by Hedgehog Poetry Press. Mark A. Fisher is a writer, poet, and playwright living in Tehachapi, California. His poetry has appeared in A Sharp Piece of Awesome, Dragon Poet Review, Altadena Poetry Review, Penumbra, Elegant Rage: A Poetic Tribute to Woody Guthrie, and many other places. His first chapbook, drifter, is available from Amazon. His second, hour of lead, won the 2017 San Gabriel Valley Poetry Chapbook contest. His plays have appeared on California stages in Pine Mountain Club, Tehachapi, Bakersfield, and Hayward. His column “Lost in the Stars” has appeared in Tehachapi’s The Loop newspaper for several yrs. He
was nominated for a Pushcart Prize in 2015. He has also won cooking ribbons at the Kern County Fair. Chereen Givargis’s poem can be found on page 28. Fabián González González (Uriangato, GTO., México, 1987) attended the writing programs at Sonoma State and San Jose State University. His work has appeared in the Río Grande Review, Penumbra (2012-2017), and is forthcoming in Thin Air. Casey Griffen says that writing is a terrific way to right things. As a teacher of writing in his 38th year, he’s been privileged not only to share students’ writings, but also to experience a shared growth with his writings. Poetry appears to be more and more a prayer for him. Along with the prayers of poetry, he discovers nuggets of innocence with prose. Whether to right wrongs or to write insight, he enjoys having readers read his writings. He thanks Penumbra for “writing” things. Thomas Griffin’s poetry has been nominated for the Pushcart Prize, recognized with an Academy of American Poets Prize, and continues to be published widely in journals, magazines, reviews, and anthologies. His most recent chapbook is All That Once Was You (Finishing Line Press, 2018). Thomas has a B.A. in Language, Literature, & Writing, and an M.F.A. in Writing. Cleo Griffith is a poet in Salida and has been in earlier issues of Penumbra where it is an honor to be included. She has been included in many poetry journals, and is one of the editors of Song of the San Joaquin, a Modesto-based poetry quarterly which has been in print for fifteen years. Frank Groves is a San Francisco Bay Area photographer/artist, United States Army veteran (from Kettering, OH)...plus he works at NASA. Shylah Groves is a young, homeschooled artist who is passionate about many different styles of drawing, painting, and sculpting, with a particular focus on photo-realistic graphite drawing. Her dream is for her art to encourage people to use their imaginations and turn their dreams into realities.
Kathleen Gunton is committed to literary publications. Her images have appeared on the cover of Potomac Review, Arts & Letters, and Flint Hills Review—to name a few. Alexandria Hall is an English major in her third year of college. Her short story is based on the love between a mother and a daughter. Some of the references in this short story have to do with her own life, the relationship she shares with her own mother, and the challenges her mother has faced in her time. Bethany Harper is currently an undergraduate student at California State University, Stanislaus who is pursuing her degree in History and English. Her faith in Jesus Christ is important to her, and in her free time, she enjoys reading, writing, and spending time with her family. Michelle Hartman’s fourth book, Wanton Disarray by Old Seventy Creek Press, will appear in the winter of 2019. She just had a chapbook accepted by Red Flag Press and a second accepted by Dancing Girl Press. Her other books include Lost Journal of my Second Trip to Purgatory (Old Seventy Creek Press), Disenchanted and Disgruntled, and Irony and Irreverence (Lamar University Literary Press). Wanton Disarray will be available on Amazon and Barnes & Noble. Besides the above publishing credits, she is the former editor for the online journal, Red River Review. She holds a B.S. in Political Science-PreLaw from Texas Wesleyan University and a Certificate in Paralegal Studies from Tarrant County College, who recently named her a Distinguished Alumna. TS Hidalgo (45) holds a B.B.A. (Universidad Autónoma de Madrid), an M.B.A. (IE Business School), an M.A. in Creative Writing (Hotel Kafka), and a Certificate in Management and the Arts (New York University). His works have been published in magazines in the USA, Brazil, Canada, Mexico, Argentina, Colombia, Chile, Venezuela, Nicaragua, Barbados, Germany, UK, France, Spain, Turkey, Ireland, Portugal, Romania, Nigeria, South Africa, Zambia, Zimbabwe, Botswana, India, Singapore, and Australia. He has been the winner of prizes like the Criaturas feroces (Editorial Destino) in the short story category and a finalist at Festival Eñe in the novel category. He is currently developing his career in finance and the stock market.
Ann Howells edited Illya’s Honey literary journal from 1999-2017. Her books are Under a Lone Star (Village Books Press) and an anthology of D/FW poets she edited, Cattlemen and Cadillacs (Dallas Poets Community Press). Her chapbook, Softly Beating Wings, won the William D. Barney Contest for 2017 (Blackbead Books). She has poems recently published in Chiron Review, Slant, and Perfume River, and a book of Chesapeake Bay poems to be released in spring (Bowen Books). Clay Hunt is a poet, a writing tutor, and a musician with a background in street art. He is also a student at Modesto Junior College completing his Associate’s degree in English with a goal to transfer to California State University, Long Beach in Fall 2019. Marc Janssen is an internationally published poet and poetic activist. His work has appeared haphazardly in printed journals and anthologies such as Off the Coast, Cirque Journal, Penumbra, The Ottawa Arts Review, and Manifest West. He also coordinates poetry events in the Willamette Valley of Oregon, including the Salem Poetry Project, a weekly reading, and Salem Poetry Festival. Blake Kilgore grew up in Tornado Alley, spending most of his first three decades in Texas and Oklahoma. Now, he lives in New Jersey with his wife and four sons, where he’s just commenced his twentieth year teaching history to junior high students. That’s how his love for story began—recounting the (mostly) true stories from olden times. Eventually, he wanted to tell stories of his own, and you can find some of these in Lunch Ticket, Rathalla Review, Midway Journal, Forge, Crack the Spine, and other fine journals. To learn more, go to blakekilgore.com Dottie Lo Bue graduated from San Jose State University with a B.F.A. in Pictorial Art and does mainly figurative work across drawing, painting, and sculpture. She thinks a lot about how people take up space—how they exist within it and create it—and about how that relationship builds, changes, and falls apart (sometimes all at once) in between moments that we recognize. She currently volunteers in the art department at California State University, Stanislaus, where she studied for the first two years of her college career.
Jordyn Lynn graduated with a B.A. in English from California State University, Stanislaus. Jeffrey MacLachlan also has recent work in New Ohio Review, the minnesota review, and Columbia Journal, among others. He teaches literature at Georgia College and State University. Thomas Mampalam is a neurosurgeon in private practice in Northern California. He writes poetry and paints paintings informed by his medical, immigration, and family experiences. He has poems published or forthcoming in the Journal of the American Medical Association, the journal Neurology, The Avalon Literary Review, and California Quarterly. D.S. Maolalai is a poet from Ireland who has been writing and publishing poetry for almost ten years. His first collection, Love is Breaking Plates in the Garden, was published in 2016 by the Encircle Press, and he has a second collection forthcoming from Turas Press in 2019. He has been nominated for Best of the Web and twice for the Pushcart Prize. Eric Mariani is a California State University, Stanislaus alumni who envies serious artists. Tula Mattingly has been crafting for several years, and one day she decided to add painting to her list of challenges to conquer. She says, for her, itâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;s like climbing a mountain: you start walking up the path slowly and realize there may be obstacles to overcome, but you keep going because you know when you reach the top, the feeling of gratification will be worth it. Nieko McDaniel earned his B.F.A. at California State University, Stanislaus and is pursuing his M.F.A. in Studio Art at American University in Washington, D.C. His current artwork uses both material and form to speak in narrative fashion about social injustices and about cultural ties that we can apply to our everyday lives. Cardboard is currently his main material, and he usually creates large works in a series. When not focused on making a social statement, he is interested in manipulating material in an unconventional or irregular manner to show its underlying beauty.
Tom McFadden’s writing has appeared in such venues as Poetry Ireland Review, Poetry Salzburg Review, London Grip, Galway Review, Voices Israel, North Dakota Quarterly, Portland Review, and California Quarterly. He wrote “The Road Beyond” the day Senator John McCain died. Although of a different political party, he considered fellow Irish-American McCain a guardian of the ideals of America the Beautiful, even if required to stand alone. He met his wife when both were journalism students at Penn State University. They now live in Austin, Texas, where they have raised three daughters. Tessa Mitchell likes to drink wine and write about traumatic experiences as part of a self-directed therapy process that may or may not be actually therapeutic. Jacob Anthony Moniz is a graduate of the University of California, Santa Cruz, where he studied Creative Writing and Pre-Law. He previously worked as an editorial assistant with Catamaran Literary Reader, and is currently studying at New York University for an M.A. in Interdisciplinary Studies. He is an associate editor for the NYU-produced arts journal Caustic Frolic. Stephanie Morales is an upperclassmen at California State University, Stanislaus majoring in Studio Art. She currently does not have a focus, as she is still exploring the art realm. However, nature photography is something that really interests her. Austin Morrise is an aspiring educator and professional photographer. An alumnus of California State University, Stanislaus, Austin helped design the 2017 issue of Penumbra and continues to capture precious moments with his camera. He hopes that his future students will be inspired by the world around them and enjoy the wonders literature has to offer in and out of the classroom. Lucinda Murphy is an illustrative artist who believes the creative process is healing for the individual, as well as society as a whole. Christina Nguyen says, “Chaos has never been a stranger to me.” The victim of a dysfunctional family and childhood sexual abuse, she lived with multiple relatives throughout her childhood. But she has found her direction in life and is now pursuing a bachelor’s in nursing.
Aryana O’Brien is a fourth-year English major at California State University, Stanislaus, studying to work in the realm of book publishing. She helped to edit the 2018 edition of Penumbra, and she is happy to be back again this year as one of the editors-in-chief. Edna Ochoa is a biology major. One of her favorite pastimes is to go to the beach and watch the waves, which give her inspiration to keep going like them. Tatiana Olivera is currently a grad student at California State University, Stanislaus, studying Public Administration. She loves puppies, poetry, pancakes, and photography. She also loves alliteration, but she’s not great at it. C’est la vie. Jon Paul Palma is a Bay Area writer focusing on observational humor that reeks of self-aggrandizement and is borderline pretentious. He studied at the University of California, Berkeley and is master to not one, but two small dogs who treat him with nothing but contempt. Anthony Persons grew up in Turlock, California. He now lives in Fresno, California with his wife and two daughters. He works for Fresno Unified School District as a teacher of the Deaf. He has a special place in his heart for typewriters and Blackwing pencils. David Perez is a diligent student at University of California, Berkeley by day and an aspiring poet by night…or at 4 A.M. when one has that small period of complete silence! Amid sleeping roommates, he strives to produce the comfort established from what he calls “the golden lines.” Brett Randich is sometimes a perfectionist when it comes to his poetry, but he doesn’t let that stop him from enjoying the process of writing poetry. His poetry has appeared in the 2014, 2015, and 2017 issues of Penumbra. He collects watches every now and then. Nicholas Reiner is an American poet of Mexican heritage. His work appears or is forthcoming in Spillway, Aquifer, Fourteen Hills, Connotation Press, and Borderlands: Texas Poetry Review. He holds degrees from Stanford University and University of California, Irvine, where he completed an M.F.A. He is Director of Communications at the Anti-Recidivism Coalition (ARC) and lives in Los Angeles, California with his wife and daughter.
Christopher Rodriguez’s art work can be found on page 29. Terry Sanville lives in San Luis Obispo, California with his artist-poet wife (his in-house editor) and two plump cats (his in-house critics). He writes full-time, producing short stories, essays, poems, and novels. Since 2005, his short stories have been accepted more than 340 times by commercial and academic journals, magazines, and anthologies including The Potomac Review, The Bitter Oleander, and Shenandoah. He was nominated twice for Pushcart Prizes and once for inclusion in Best of the Net anthology. His stories have been listed as “The Most Popular Contemporary Fiction of 2017” by the Saturday Evening Post. Terry is a retired urban planner and an accomplished jazz and blues guitarist who once played with a symphony orchestra backing up jazz legend George Shearing. Gerard Sarnat has been nominated for Pushcarts plus Best of the Net Awards, won prizes, and is widely published, including recently by Stanford, Oberlin, Brown, Columbia, Virginia Commonwealth, Harvard, plus in New Ulster, Gargoyle, Main Street Rag, and The New York Times. Kaddish For The Country was selected for nationwide pamphlet distribution for the 2017 Inauguration by Mount Analogue. “Amber Of Memory” was the single poem chosen for his 50th Harvard reunion Dylan symposium. Collections: Homeless Chronicles (2010), Disputes (2012), 17s (2014), Melting the Ice King (2016). Gerry’s a physician who has built/staffed homeless clinics, and a Stanford professor/healthcare CEO who’s been married since 1969. He has three kids, five grandsons, and he is looking forward to future granddaughters. Jacalyn Shelley, as a member of the South Jersey Poets Collective, participates in poetry readings in Atlantic City and hosts the Leap Street Poets Workshop. She’s been published in several journals including Sugar House Review, Dunes Review, DASH, San Pedro River Review, and Pilgrimage’s “Injustice and Protest” Issue. In 2018 she was nominated for a Pushcart Prize. To enjoy more of her poetry, go to JacalynShelley.com. Peter Smith grew up in Southern California, he works for a community college in North Carolina, and he just writes about California. He has published only one poem, a sonnet years ago in the journal Poetica Victorian, and several academic articles that generally focus on representations of race and/or disability in literature and film.
Evan Strope is a first-year art major who just really loves to create. He hopes that his art can get you to think a little, maybe even feel a little disturbed. After all, what’s life without a little grossness? Brendan Todt is the author of the poetry chapbook The Idea of Leaves within the Dying Tree. His poem “At the Particle Accelerator at Krasnoyarsk” was included in Best American Nonrequired Reading 2013. His fiction and poetry can be found elsewhere in print and online. He lives in Sioux City, Iowa with his wife and two sons. Amanda Trask completed her B.F.A. degree and Minor in Art History at California State University, Stanislaus in 2017. Amanda is continuing her personal journey with the arts while working at the Grand Theatre Center for the Arts in Tracy as their Ceramics Technician and an art instructor. Seth Trovao lives in Turlock, CA, and studies Psychology and English. He has written short stories and novels since he was in tenth grade, and was published in Penumbra’s 2018 edition. He has also traveled throughout seven other countries, which he uses to influence some of his writing. Andrea Wagner is a senior attending California State University, Stanislaus. Anthony Watkins, 50 years a poet, publishes Better Than Starbucks in Greenacres, Florida. A thousand years of the south intrudes into his writing. Jarred White works as a substitute teacher in the Central Valley. Cogito Ergo Sum: I think, therefore I am. Kayla Wilton is a senior at California State University, Stanislaus. She is majoring in English and aspires to use her degree to become a successful author. This is her first time submitting work for publication, and she is very excited about this opportunity. Diana Woodcock is the author of six chapbooks and three poetry collections, most recently Tread Softly (FutureCycle Press, 2018). Recipient of the 2011 Vernice Quebodeaux Pathways Poetry Prize for Women, her work appears in Best New Poets 2008 and has been nominated for Best of the Net and the Pushcart Prize. Her grand prize-winning poem, “Music as Scripture,” was performed live on stage
in Lincoln Park, San Francisco at Artists Embassy Internationalâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;s 21st Dancing Poetry Festival. Currently teaching in Qatar at Virginia Commonwealth Universityâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;s branch campus, she worked for nearly eight years in Tibet, Macau, and on the Thai/Cambodian border. Widely published in literary journals and anthologies, she is a doctoral candidate (Creative Writing) at Lancaster University. Michelle York is an amateur artist with a simple and pure passion for self-expression through various arts, with painting at the forefront. Born and raised in Turlock, she left after high school and traveled across many states, returning to Turlock once she was ready to have a family. For ten years, she owned and operated her own makeup artistry services. Venturing into canvassed art has stretched her artistry to another level. Though not formally trained in painting, she is taking a risk in the hopes that her raw expression will provoke and inspire others to feel, express, and create.