faultline journal of arts and letters
Faultline is an annual publication of the University of California, Irvine. Edition price: $10. Faultline welcomes submissions of poetry, fiction, essays, and translations between September 15th and December 15th. Refer to our complete submission guidelines at faultline.sites.uci.edu. While electronic correspondences are preferred, you may direct mail to: Faultline Department of English 435 Humanities Instruction Building Irvine, CA 92697-2650 Any other correspondence should be sent to: firstname.lastname@example.org. Faultline is printed by McNaughton & Gunn. Copyright © 2021 Faultline. No portion of Faultline may be reproduced without written permission. All rights reserved. Cover art by Isaias Crow
faultline journal of arts and letters
volume 30 • spring 2021 fiction editor
Miguel Alfredo Xicomoztoc Cid
Cassandra A. Leone
Marisa Lainson Sean Cho Ayres Marcus Gabbert Maggie Love Nicholas Martino Harriet Weaver Derek Moseley
This issue is dedicated to Sandra Mueller.
Special thanks to Michelle Latiolais
c o n t e n t s
POEMS Sarah Ghazal Ali
The Reward of Goodness is Nothing Shirk
“Still-life with Hands” “Still-life with Arrow”
If Less Than a Boy is a Fruit
I Slept with a Barrette Against My Breast Not Sure if You’ll Agree but I Think This Is a Love Poem
I know you’ve seen men before oak tree i-iv
Tamarack in Early November
Nora Claire Miller
Superword Iowa State Fair
When Paradise Burned
Manuel Paul López
El Ferny and the Mirror Dispatches from the Hive of the Bee
Laurie Lessen Reiche
Angel of Love Unperturbed
When the interviewer asks his favorite poet, he answers Audre Lorde
One day I too will wear stars He used to ride horses
Why I Dislike Fishing Stories For a Drunk
Matthew James Babcock
Interview with Poet and Author Mariyln Chin, by Cassie Leone 145-49 FICTION Natalie Storey
Which Wolf Will You Feed 2020 Owl Vision
The Guayaba Tree Cholas Falsas
The Next Husband/Wife Game
When We Lived Among Clouds
How We Learn
A Girl, Almost Ten
Rebecca Ruth Gould
The Prison Poet and the Sultan
Lost in Hebron
Undere the Window
COVID #3 The Immigrants Dream... Miranda Rights
17 144 150
Garden Keeper Which Wolf Will You Feed 2020 Owl Visions
30 106 108
Sharing is Caring Quetzalcoatl El Wagon
41 117 166
Coyolxauqui Paper Doll Someone Threw a Rock... Doña Juanita Romero
54 84 99
El Gallo y El Rooster Chicomecoatl... Hasta La Bahia
62 77 189
n o t e
f r o m
t h e
e d i t o r s
Dear Reader, We are gratified you’re reading this, at this particular time and place: here and now. We know the journal’s artists share this sentiment as you read their words, bear witness to their hands, and interpret their works. So much has happened from 2020 to 2021—a continuation of racist systemic violence, the COVID-19 pandemic, the increasingly unjust and inhumane incarceration of immigrants by the U.S. government, wanton destruction of our planet’s natural resources, mental health degradation, suffering, homelessness, and desperate isolation. In the U.S. and around the world many are without work and face uncertainties. So what can art do? In this 30th issue of Faultline, we have not asked the writers and visual artists to answer these questions. It would be disingenuous to expect so much. What you, the reader, can expect in these pages are powerful stories, poems, and art that will stand long after the pages are closed— continuing to provide sustenance for people’s movements because art is as ever a path toward healing and forgiveness. We, the editors, believe art, in any medium, is a mirror. Reflected here are words of love and violence—crafting characters molded by their environments and complex social systems, performing culture as an act of love. The work we selected is foregrounded by the precision of language, some circling reflection, unable to saunter, and others with bodies rigid as wooden fences—sharpened at the tips, heels dug into the dirt. Dramatic? Dramatikos? And isn’t that the point? We hope you enjoy our thirtieth issue of Faultline Journal of Arts and Letters as much as we do. Yours truly, Miguel & Cassie
The Reward of Goodness is Nothing but goodness. if you wait, there is the flowering yellow-white of mustard seeds still to see & under a jacaranda I can tell you all the ways I have abstained from cruelty, tried & tried to carry myself toward goodness—maybe godliness— & I can step onto sunwarmed tile & angle up my sight & translate its color into another you consider transient & so beautiful if you wait, you’ll see I sweep eight-legged watchers back into grass and keep the porch bulb unscrewed, afraid of derailing a moth mid-flight. oh, the porous music of unheard wings—unheard as singular assurance of aliveness, as in, this time it was not me, not my oiled hands that pulled a creature from its sky. for you I am learning the difference: touch as legal tender & touch for nothing but the sake of tenderness.
Sarah Ghazal Ali
Shirk Years after the end, I looked up the meaning of his name: enveloping sky. Lord of cresting water, a body that holds back, turns away, inevitable its quick withdrawal. In the Qur’an, the sky is at one point cloth tented over bare dirt at another, a ceiling vaulting the tender bed of our earth from comets or acid rain, solar flares, alluring guests. and He restrains the sky from falling on a girl, bright-haired and eager to sweat in a non-God’s sea. unless by His permission. he asked before entering, and I gave permission. to say otherwise a lie, though one God allows with private remorse, as in, ‘bitten again,’ a morsel of flesh ripped from me. ichor dewing at the lip of a wound: juice from the first apple slicking the mouth of the first man. I was penitent, but not before he entered again and again, that Lord, the one I briefly believed, his body above me an eclipse, the spectacle I was warned not to watch.
Sarah Ghazal Ali
“Still-life with Hands” The man in the red hat took my photograph and
against two orders from the Congress of New and the Association for Wrongfully Surveilled Women
As well as the pleas of the Society of Edges
shipped a polytechnic inscription of my left breast, two magnetic etches of my under-skirt
across the sea to Aphrodisiac’s hollowed grounds
the thimp thumping of the predators with pray, they say their prayers at dusk and I am thinking the
thinking is drowning, everything drowned from radio-head to the seconds after climax when
calling again, I thought we were over you turning to eat pickled plums over the wet basin
And my photograph awash, cat-eyed genitals at sea—
we have been here before you siphoning meaning relentlessly from
A picturebook of openings and me
in attesting to the faculties of neon signage lost a portfolio of generally high-performing stocks which
In the chaos of our time abandoned everything. hey ho! says the girl, the girl in the pictures who takes all instances of frogs gone belly-up seriously
At least in the critical sense and from which she is composing a serial and mutinous document. her mother calls from East of the first ocean I saw you in the water she said with one heart worn To rust. Where the other organ is concerned she didn’t know where it was and
forbid the daughter from relying on this false allegory to get a point across or to woo a lover.
Well. The eyes of a redwood nymph only turn black once
and now we are in the business of collecting facts dead as discount molten lava cakes.
“Still-life with Arrow” At lunch on the Hudson J recoils from tuna salad sandwich
slathered to perfection on artisanal brioche bun They want similar things she tells me gathering
Green mayonnaise on the cuff of unrealized openings.
in yet another sense she is ill-suited to the demands of a cruelty so facile it disappears in the milieu of
Early morning communications and scrawled tags screaming for you
when he arrives everything appears too soft to exist, little numbers on Soviet-era watch awash in
A yellow bile. At oddly prearranged intervals of twilight we
woke damply to liver dancing across the tile, stovetop, butter in rural England cross the crest of our mutual misfortune
And him saying something about the office culture of such and such plus
our shared responsibility in the deconstruction of the plum a figure I interpret against my own best wishes literally
Or else the stuff of dreamsparks.
in the beginning, there was duende says Lorca. In the end we realized we had forgotten to eat dinner and so
Stopping by Starbucks a move that so startled me I
ordered chocolate milk with a heavy dose of I’m not going back in thereper the custard that
Congeals on the bottle’s bottom and him having the gall to say anything at all.
Malaquias Montoya, “COVID #3”
Ms. Gregory drummed the black-painted nails of her right hand on her forehead, just between her eyes. She had a headache. The buzzing of her computer and the whispers of the girls working on math problems in the back of her 7th period study hall sounded louder, amplified as if she had hearing aids stuck on the wrong setting. Except she could hear and feel the sounds, all at once. The inside of her skull felt like a tunnel suddenly swimming with noise.
Certain sounds kept drawing her attention. The shuffling of a boy’s sneakers on the floor, the crinkle of a chip bag, the girls’ whispering. Ms. Gregory noticed that despite the din in the tunnel in her head, she could focus in on specific sounds. She eavesdropped on the kid in the back of the room who was taking a “What Supervillain Am I?” online quiz and whispering to his friend about it. One question asked, “Do you enjoy wearing skintight clothing?” He answered no, of course. He dropped out of wrestling freshman year for the very same reason. The survey said he was most like Joker. The same flicker of thought she had nearly every day during 7th period came to Ms. Gregory again: What was she doing here? Wasting her life babysitting a teenager while he took a supervillain survey? When Ms. Gregory first started teaching five years before, she refused to use red pens, believing red marks would crush the spirits of her young writers. Since then she had gotten tired of watching students pitch into the garbage the papers she’d taken hours to comment on in painstaking detail. Now she used red pen, big circles and exclamation points. She had wanted to teach students stories, tricks of imagination that might help them survive or at least invent the next iPhone, but slowly the high school had beat her inspiration out of her. Her days had become a succession of meetings, reports, standardized tests and discipline referrals. Every day, she made a feeble attempt to enforce rules she didn’t believe in. It gave her a headache. And then there was that awful music coming from a kid’s Natalie Storey
headphones. The pounding beat overpowered all the other sounds in the room and offended Ms. Gregory’s ears. It made her want to scream. “Can anyone else hear that?” she demanded. The two girls doing math problems shook their heads. “Cole,” Ms. Gregory yelled. “Turn your music down.” The kid shrugged his shoulders and did as he was told, but still she could hear the music, now a faint pounding she saw when she closed her eyes. What was wrong with her ears? * When school let out, Ms. Gregory performed her hall monitoring duty, overwhelmed by the swarm of sounds. She heard a group of girls down the hall whispering about a skunk the science teacher swore she’d smelled in the woodlot behind the school the day before. “There was a skunk,” Ms. Gregory announced loudly as she walked up to them. “I smelled it too.” The girls looked at her strangely, turned and walked away. She heard one of them whisper, “How did she hear that?” How had she? The girls were having a contained conversation in the midst of the noise at the end of the day almost 50 feet away from her. How had she even known about the skunk? Maybe it was best for Ms. Gregory not to talk about everything she heard and saw. She had to go home. Something was wrong. Once Ms. Gregory reached her house, parked her car and got out, she felt her attention dart to every bird chirp around her yard. She’d never noticed all the birds before. She knew about the magpies, but they were loud and crude. Now she saw and heard Natalie Storey
the mountain bluebirds, the red-shafted flickers and the chickadees. The bird noises pulled her attention so intensely that, after she opened her back door, she could not remember what she had decided to make for dinner only a few moments before. Ms. Gregory lived alone in her two-bedroom house, except for her black and white tabby Scout, named after the main character in To Kill a Mockingbird. Ms. Gregory rubbed her shoulder along the door frame as she walked in. She felt less on edge inside her house, but now everything was louder. She heard Scout’s claws on the wood floor in the living room even though she was in the kitchen. She heard the strain with which the old furnace in the basement kicked on and then its screams as it burped out hot air. Maybe she should have someone look at it. When she made her afternoon tea, the whistle of the kettle on the stove sounded more like a terrible howl. On the plus side, music sounded better — more complex and deeper. She finally understood why people said John Mayer was a genius at playing the guitar. But Macklemore? He sounded worse. Her superhero hearing powers had now confirmed what she’d always suspected: Macklemore’s music is offensive to refined ears. Ms. Gregory went to bed early that night, but she lay awake listening. She could hear the hum of traffic on the highway several miles away and the rustlings of a tiny animal —maybe a mouse — in her pantry. She could not sleep now that every little sound startled her. When she closed her eyes, Ms. Gregory kept remembering the bobcat she’d struck with her car the weekend before. The cat had darted out from the trees on the shoulder of Highway 89 in Yankee Jim Canyon just outside Yellowstone National Park and Ms. Gregory saw its white speckled fur and its eyes illuminated in her headlights. She tried to swerve, but too drastic a turn in that canyon could easily kill a driver. A skinny guard rail was the only protection from the 100-foot fall into the Yellowstone River. She thought at first that she might miss the bobcat, but then she heard a thunk and Natalie Storey
felt the slight impact on the passenger side of her car. Ms. Gregory had gasped. She turned her car around at the next scenic pull out. She scolded herself because at the time she noticed the bobcat on the highway, she had not been paying careful attention. She was thinking about the annoying question a teenage boy had asked her that day: So, why aren’t you married yet? Kids asked her this question so often that she’d considered buying a wedding ring for herself and photoshopping a man into a fake wedding picture for display on her desk. She found the bobcat lying in the right lane, on its side, like Scout sometimes reclined in the sun on the kitchen table. No other cars had passed in that lane, on the wooded side of the highway. The bobcat looked peaceful, and she thought it must be dead. She thought of driving off — after all, it wasn’t moving. How could it have survived? But the thought of other cars hitting it and pounding it into a flat mass of beautiful fur and blood was too much. Ms. Gregory turned on her hazard lights and got out of her car. She didn’t know what she was doing, only that, at the very least, she had to move the bobcat. When she was nearly standing over the bobcat, it turned its head, and looked back toward her into her eyes. Ms. Gregory shivered. Hadn’t the eyes been hazel? Was that impossible? She couldn’t remember. Whatever color the eyes had been, they observed her with a drunken confusion, as if questioning her. Why had she done it? Why did she do everything — anything — that she did? She was left on the side of the highway with the bobcat staring at her and no idea what to do. “I’m sorry,” Ms. Gregory told the bobcat. “I’m so sorry.” Then she began to panic. She had nothing with which to kill this cat. She knew she shouldn’t leave a wild thing she had wounded to suffer. She didn’t hunt herself, but over the years she’d had enough boyfriends who did and she knew she should try to make the death quick and painless.
The bobcat had one bright red, thick stream of blood leaking from its nose. Otherwise, it looked unharmed. She guessed the front of her car had just clipped the front of its head. She looked around the shoulder of the highway for a rock but could not imagine bashing the cat’s head. Finally, her arms shaking, she decided to pick up the bobcat, to get it, at least, off the highway. She bent down and scooped the cat up in her arms. The bobcat was surprisingly light — weighing, she guessed, only 10 or so more pounds than Scout. The bobcat remained calm, merely looking up at Ms. Gregory with the same questioning gaze. She didn’t look away. Ms. Gregory carried the bobcat to the shoulder of the highway. It began to stir. It seemed to want to jump from her arms. She bent down and set it gently on its feet. The cat staggered away behind a small stand of pine trees. When she could no longer see the bobcat, Ms. Gregory knelt in the dirt and cried. Ms. Gregory didn’t know if she had made the right choice. Maybe she should have held the cat in her arms until it died. She stayed in the dirt crying for several minutes. Then she got back in her car and drove home. That same night, Ms. Gregory woke up at 4 a.m. sobbing. She didn’t know why or when she had started to cry. She was only certain that her bobcat was dead. As soon as the sun rose, she got in her car and drove back to Yankee Jim Canyon. She easily found the tree her bobcat had died behind. Something had taken the cat’s body, probably a coyote. She crouched and ran her hand over the bed of fine white fur left behind. She bent down far enough to sniff. Her bobcat’s final killer had left her two tufts of soft black and white fur. They looked like parts of the tail. She put these in her pocket and went home again. She put the tufts of hair from the cat’s tail on an altar in her dining room, on the bar she never used for dinner parties she didn’t have. She lit a candle. She had a friend who was sort of a shaman even though she was white. This woman had told Ms. Gregory that whenever you place something on your altar, it becomes a part of you. Ms. Gregory didn’t believe this, but Natalie Storey
she made the altar anyway. She didn’t know what else to do. Ms. Gregory was not a woo woo. She was not a vegetarian. She had seen that movie in which Adam Beach and his friend convince a white man that he’s found his spirit animal. The man paints himself and screams, “I am the wolverine!” She was not like that, she reassured herself. She’d lived in Montana her whole life. She didn’t believe wild animals were cute and cuddly. She made an altar for the bobcat out of respect and because she didn’t know what else to do. Still, each time she walked by the altar, she bent down and sniffed the musky, wild-smelling tufts of fur. Although she didn’t want to handle them too much lest the smell disappear, sometimes Ms. Gregory even picked up the fur and rubbed it across her cheek. In her bed, still wrestling with sleep, Ms. Gregory curled up around herself. Well, she thought, maybe I’m becoming a bobcat. It’s better than becoming some other things. Like a cockroach, or a tadpole, or a spider. Finally, she fell asleep. * On the second morning of her metamorphosis, Ms. Gregory awoke to the obscene blaring of the alarm on her cell phone. She decided to go to school despite the problem with her ears. In her car, she turned off Elvis in the Morning, horribly offended by the hosts’ laughs and their particular type of human stupidity. At school, intense smells assaulted her nose from the moment she walked through the doors. The woody, medicinal smell of Axe Body Spray — the scent Hot Fever —wafted into her nose in the freshmen hallway. Immediately, she became aware of the boy who must have sprayed it all over himself only a few minutes before. She wanted to know why a company would ever name such a putrid scent Hot Fever. It didn’t even work to cover up teenage boy body odor, a scent that permeated her nostrils now that she was at school. She felt her eyes get glassy and knew she was in for another headache. She could smell the freezer-burned sausage patties cooking in the cafeteria for breakfast. The air in her classroom still smelled of yesterday’s pencil shavings and body odor. When she thought about it, Ms. Gregory hated the halls Natalie Storey
of the high school where she worked, but also found a strange comfort in them. It was, in fact, the very same high school she had graduated from 10 years earlier. (In her old yearbook, she was dubbed “Most Likely to Become Rich and Famous,” a senior superlative she had obviously not lived up to.) The school still had the same nausea-inducing florescent lights and dank, crowded hallways. The cheerleaders still performed the same cheers at basketball games. Ms. Gregory sometimes allowed herself to admit that she had been in love with her high school boyfriend, a football player who, despite his poor, redneck family, was loyal, generous and gregarious. He did not plan on college and he played too many video games. Ms. Gregory left him behind, believing she was destined for greater things. After college and the Peace Corps, Ms. Gregory returned home stunned and broke. No one in her hometown cared that she she’d learned another language or even that she’d bathed in the River Jordan like Jesus. She became a teacher because she thought it would be fun to talk about stories with kids. And she would get the summers off and receive good health insurance. That was before she learned about TikTok and SnapChat. Before she remembered that reading isn’t cool in high school. Before the school system filled her head with a deluge of acronyms. Before an administrator suggested she create a manila folder of different colored sticky notes to organize reading interventions she had tried with kids. As a matter of fact, she despised sticky notes. She sometimes ate dinner with her old boyfriend, who was now a sheriff’s deputy, and like that sad Bruce Springsteen song, they talked about what could have been. She felt like she had walked right into a cage. She’d grown used to the bars, however, and couldn’t imagine a way out. What would she do if she wasn’t monitoring 7th period study hall? When Ms. Gregory arrived home after school that afternoon she noticed the unmistakable smell of male cat urine in her laundry room by the back door. Sometimes the neighbor cat came into her house to flirt with Scout, and probably to eat Scout’s food. She had tried to scare this much larger, male tabby by chasing it with the broom, but that only ended in the destruction of her living Natalie Storey
room blinds, which the cat tried to crawl up. To her surprise, the smell of the cat’s urine, which she had formerly found disgusting, was no longer so repellant. She felt curious about where the cat had been in her house and what it had done. She bent down and began to sniff the surfaces in the room to track where the intruder cat had been. The epicenter was at the bottom of the door, near Scout’s cat door, and right outside. Outside she followed the trail of the male cat to the fence, where she had planted catnip several years before. She smelled where the cat had marked all around the plant. Even more than the cat spray, she smelled the catnip and its fecund mintiness. She plucked several leaves from the plant, carried them back inside and made tea. Ms. Gregory carried her teacup and pot to the couch in her living room, where she curled up in a nest of blankets. Scout joined her. She felt an urge to run her fingernails down the leather arm of the couch. In fact, she noticed, the tips of her fingers felt like they were burning. Ms. Gregory looked at her right hand and was hardly surprised to see her black-painted fingernails growing longer, slightly curved, even sharp at the end. She gave into the urge to scratch, her nails slicing through the leather on the couch. Afterward, she understood the satisfying sensation of filing one’s nails by scratching. She would have to try scratching other things later. Because Ms. Gregory lived alone, no one except Scout witnessed her metamorphosis. She herself wasn’t even sure what was happening —maybe she had a fever and this was all an exceptionally bad trip? — although she didn’t feel bad at all and, in fact, rather liked the feeling of living in a soft, white blanket of fur. She stopped going to school and forgot, even, to call in sick. * Then, one day — Ms. Gregory was no longer sure what day it was, nor did she care — she heard a car door slam in front of her house. Along with Scout, she jumped up on the table by Natalie Storey
the front window to observe. She felt grateful she didn’t want to kill Scout, that she at least had some company who understood her. Ms. Gregory saw the red brown hair of her principal first as he approached her house. His hair was the color of cedar and reminded her of a fox’s coat. He was tall, handsome, unmarried and, Ms. Gregory thought, about her age. He taught English before becoming an administrator, and so Ms. Gregory often tried to strike up conversations with him. These always ended awkwardly. Once, while raving about the hunting stories in Go Down Moses, she caused him to admit, painfully, that he did not like Faulkner and had read almost none of his books. Sure, he was handsome, but after the failed conversations she worried that he was the type of midwestern transplant who had never even skinny dipped and wrote him off as a love interest. Yet here he was, at her door, checking on her. The principal tried ringing Ms. Gregory’s doorbell, but it did not work. She felt grateful for the broken doorbell as she imagined the jarring, highpitched sound. The principal gave up on the doorbell and knocked on the front door. When no one responded, he knocked again. “Ms. Gregory!” he said. “Are you in there? Are you okay?” How many days had she been gone from school? Two? Three? She almost never missed school. In five years, she’d accrued two months of sick leave. She certainly never missed school without providing detailed sub plans. The principal banged on the front door once more. Ms. Gregory started and bounded off the 12-person dining table she rarely used when she was still a woman. She crouched underneath the table in the shadows. She heard the principal walk around the side of her house to the back door. Again, he banged on the door. “Ms. Gregory! Are you okay? We’re worried about you.” Natalie Storey
She heard his hand fumbling around on the ledge above the back door. She realized this was an obvious place to hide a key, the first place she would have looked for someone’s house key, and, in fact, where she hid hers. “Ms. Gregory,” she heard the principal say. “I found your key. I’m coming in.” The door creaked and opened. Ms. Gregory heard the principal’s footfalls in her laundry room and then on the wood floor in her kitchen. “Ms. Gregory?” he asked. She remained hunched and began to quiver just slightly. She felt her ears perk and her senses heighten. She was ready to run or jump, whatever was needed, to get away. Scout abandoned Ms. Gregory and went to meet the principal. She heard Scout begin to purr and knew the cat was rubbing herself against the principal’s leg. “Oh, hi kitty,” she heard him say. “Are you here all alone? Are you hungry?” She heard him open the cupboards until he found the cat food. Then she heard the sound of the principal spilling the cat food from the bag into Scout’s metal bowl. She heard the almost immediate crack of Scout’s teeth against her dry food. Ms. Gregory found Scout’s dry food offensive. She hadn’t eaten in several days either, but the thought of eating anything that was not fresh meat was distasteful. Natalie Storey
“Ms. Gregory?” the principal called again. He strode through the kitchen into the dining room, dangerously close to discovering Ms. Gregory under the table. Instead, the altar caught his attention and he stood over it considering the objects. He didn’t speak, but she watched him touch the bobcat fur, then bring it to his nose and sniff. She heard his breathing get shallow. He walked into the living room and then her bedroom. She wondered if he put his hands in the indent her body had made in her bed, her cat nest next to Scout’s smaller nest in the blankets. She wondered if he sniffed the impression her new body left, if he’d seen the wisps of hair she’d groomed off with her tongue. He walked back into the living room. She heard him sigh and then lower himself to her leather couch. She listened to him run his fingers along her claw marks in the leather. Ms. Gregory’s body began to relax. She stood on the toes of her paws and stretched herself. Then, without making a sound, she crept out from under the table. When she came to the threshold of the living room she froze, observing the principal. He was holding his head in his hands. She wondered, briefly, if he was worried about her or filling her position amid a nation-wide teacher shortage. The principal sensed something watching him and looked up. Still frozen, Ms. Gregory looked directly into his pale blue eyes. “Whoa,” he said. He also froze. “I didn’t mean to intrude. I was looking for Ms. Gregory. What are you doing here?” He held his palms open on his knees. Ms. Gregory made no sound, but she continued her tipNatalie Storey
toe toward the principal. She did not raise her hackles or attempt to appear larger. The principal continued to stare at her, unmoving. Each step felt like liquid, the pads of her paws soundlessly meeting the wood floor. She reached the arm of the couch near the principal’s leg. Ms. Gregory rubbed her cheek against the arm of the couch. She allowed the principal a look at her face. She slowly blinked her hazel eyes, lined in white. Her face was mostly white but with lines of black and brown drawn up her forehead from the place between her eyes and then on her cheeks, fanning out to her slight side beard. The principal was mesmerized. “All my life I’ve been hunting,” he whispered. “I’ve never seen a bobcat in the wild.” Ms. Gregory jumped up on the couch. She landed without making a sound. Tentatively, she rubbed her face against the principal’s arm until he began to stroke her head and back. She started to purr. Her guttural rumble was much louder than Scout’s, but the principal seemed unafraid. She arched her back, leaning into the sensation. Paw by paw, Ms. Gregory crawled into the principal’s lap. He continued to run his fingers over her fur. She settled herself and lay down, curled up in his lap, her paws gently kneading the fabric of his pants.
Isaias Crow, “Gardenkeeper”
In the obituary (which didn’t even make the New York Times), one literary critic noted that Daniella Flores-Whitaker was “almost criminally underrated and dangerously insightful” and that her work (in particular, a 600-page novel (though some argued it was really a “collage novel” (and others said it “contained no semblance of narrative at all”)) called Title IX (which used pieces of federal code and the text of (what Flores-Whitaker claimed were) actual sexual assault grievance claims filed at a small, Catholic college somewhere in Minnesota to paint a sprawling portrait of institutional corruption and misogyny (what DFW called “the fundamental and original form of American rot”))) “speaks to a level of bureaucracy and alienation seen only in Kafka and certain Departments of Motor Vehicles located in the lowest circle of hell.” So, it was “no wonder,” said the critic, that Flores-Whitaker died in obscurity. After all, she was depressing. She eschewed The New Yorker/Iowa Writers’ Workshop model of narrative, of realistic literary fiction. More than that, she attacked the university (and (in what was “perhaps her most unforgivable sin”) did so by villainizing faculty members even more than administrators) and therefore condemned herself to a posthumous career of nearly nothing, and the obituary ended by predicting that someday, “fifty years hence,” all of DFW’s work would lose its copyright to the public domain, and still no one would copy or print (let alone buy) it, and this was the ultimate tragedy, the perfect microcosm of the pervasive problems of the modern literary establishment. Fortunately for both the writer of the obituary and DFW herself, however, this prediction turned out to be wildly incorrect. A decade after the obit came out, a group of feminist scholars on the campus of Michigan State University organized what they called the “10-Year Reckoning” (because “anniversary” sounded too laudatory, too tame for what they were “commemorating” (which involved pretty much exactly what you might think)) and included Title IX (the “novel”) as part of a year-long reading and discussion group, and the book took-off (for some reason no one could quite figure, though later critics proposed that it had Brett Biebel
something to do with its ability to work not just as a prolonged, immersive reading experience, but also in smaller chunks, in anecdotes and hashtagable moments) to the point that it became the university’s “common book” (the book all incoming, first-year students read) for the next two years and then a key part of a class in Postmodern Literature (taught every other semester (during which time the (so-called) novel also generated followings across academia, and Flores-Whitaker Studies became a respected academic discipline) by a professor whose full (preferred) name was I.L. Reed) until at least the 2040s, at which point technological and geopolitical changes accelerated to the point that the book itself required entirely too much context to be useful for incoming students (most of whom were 18 and 19 years old), and it again fell out of favor, though (as if by magic) bits of DFW’s other work came floating up out of the aether to take its place. Primarily, focus shifted to a series of (what were originally) blog posts that DFW had written sometime in the 2010s and which (according to her official biographer) she’d planned to turn into a book. They dealt with her experiences as a life-long Green Bay Packers fan and tried to reconcile (week-by-week and during one glorious, Super-Bowl-winning season) the tensions between her philosophical and ethical convictions and “the sheer, adrenal joy” of watching grown-men smash into each other at full speed. For nearly half a year, these posts were publicly available on the web, and then they abruptly disappeared. The theory is that DFW didn’t want them out in the open while trying to sell the manuscript, but no one can be totally sure what happened. Mostly, critics just count themselves lucky to have found the essays at all (given that their existence had to be inferred by a scholarly examination of archived email and then only confirmed after a series of formal requests to (and confrontational phone calls with) the Archives & Data Storage Division at a major Silicon Valley firm (and one of the involved scholars called it “a fucking miracle (not to mention an unconscionably short-sighted moment of economic idiocy, or else a blatant attempt at academic PR)” that the drafts were made public at all)), and for a while, these essays managed to speak to mid-21st-Century college students in a way Brett Biebel
that bureaucracy never could because football is king. Football is life. Football is America, or at least it was, until suddenly (maybe another decade later) it wasn’t, and nearly everyone who’d played the game at a high-level over the past 50 years started to look like Muhammad Ali trying to light the Olympic torch, and anything containing the barest praise of such a barbarous activity became taboo and practically blacklisted (at least within the confines of the academy). At this point, there were those scholars who, like the author of DFW’s original obituary, mourned (for a second time) the loss of such a linguistic force, and for a moment they tried to revive interest in her career by digging up a few pieces(many of which utilized institutional narrators (and one of these narrators was even identifiable as a private health insurance provider with a massive market share, and there was talk of free speech and libel and transformative use and threats of litigation and counter-litigation that never ended up going anywhere)) of very short fiction (flash fiction, microfiction, nanofiction, etc.) she’d published online and in (various (obscure)) print outlets, but, even though everyone assumed they’d be perfect for a generation whose attention-span seemed to be the size of a water molecule, they never earned many plaudits (or even the barest level of engagement), and so, now, today, whenever someone hears the name Daniella Flores-Whitaker what they probably think of is an audio recording. It’s from a phone call she made in 2017. The tape was acquired by one of the scholars listed as essential in securing the football essays, and his idea was as follows: Companies record everything. Everyone has to call companies. That means that, somewhere, you can hear David Foster Wallace trying to order some product he saw on TV at 2AM, or Kurt Vonnegut dialing 1-900, or, yes, Daniella Flores-Whitaker telling a woman from Comcast to “go fuck your eyelids with a fork” over a disputed late charge, and this is precisely what the tape contains. They play it in college classrooms, and the students sit rapt. They roll their eyes. They laugh. They hear the author’s voice flushed and pissed and all-fire fucking helpless (while she tries to argue about the arbitrary nature of language and time and the impossibility of ever Brett Biebel
entering into a fair contract with any entity who (by rights) can change said contract whenever “the bloody fuck” it wants and on any kind of “flimsy whim”) and touch their hands to their temples so they can do what the Sue from Comcast does. Because they want her to stop talking. They want to hang up on her too.
If Less Than a Boy is a Fruit -Ari Banias well let there be blueberries [let them be blueberry] spackled the walk from the car [the vines grow so low we were so enamored with ourselves] it took us the whole path down before we realized jacob was climbing down the other side [the way the sun just does its job and we say heaven] we were freezing in August we could see which trees across the state got sunshined that day [not us] on the way back we passed milkweed and of course a perfect garment architectural and smooth full of goo and maybe half a wing [and how ridiculous we were there, aweing a transition and stained blue, being bodies you don’t need to see] watching over a forsaking natural [a r]evolution [how a body can do everything in its ability to catch up with itself ] [yes I said bodies again because we are all built] the great equalizer being my pansy knees [which requested instead a photoshoot by the vines] I am unafraid to pretend to be what I know I am not without the [in][as]surance to become while the other queers on the trail relent and we try to look every way yes [despite the view] down has more fruit
Her Words I want a house with you / mammon I’ll make you cum first / I was completely dead dead dead / You don’t deserve the best of me / ¿Porque me amas?/ I know we can do this / Te ultimate source of validation / Estoy cogiendo a alguien mas/ Yesterday I was hurt / He gave me another pill, I haven’t taken them / You don’t deserve the best of me
I whisper them in my prayers at night and the dream begins the same way my hands covered with flour and blood holding her open mouth and when I look inside it is dark very dark until I see a glass egg cracked leaking her voice down her own throat like the sound of chains dragged across the wooden floor where we make love every afternoon until you die having accomplished nothing leaving nothing nothing but words
ultimate source of validation / You make me feel bonita / No me compras nada / But I loved it / What am I going to do / No / Mi vida, I love you / You don’t deserve the best of me
The Guayaba Tree In San Marcos, our backyard smelled like Idaho. The familiar smell of manure from the Hollandia Dairy on Mission Avenue lingered in our backyard. Months before the guava tree joined us at San Marcos Boulevard, Mom took free manure from the dairy for our garden and prepared the earth with water. Even if we already had a few trees, Dad and Mom talked about the trees and plants with special powers that would join our family. Next to the guayaba tree’s new home, the apricot tree had already joined us, and now it was the guava tree’s turn to step out of its black plastic container and to spread its roots and branches. At the end of the week with their Friday paycheck, Mom and Dad’s eyes were set on an árbol de guayaba. Right after work Dad drove us to the northside of San Marcos on the winding road to Los Arboleros, the tree growers’ ranch on East Twin Oaks Valley Road, to buy the perfect tree for our backyard. As we approached a dirt road leading to the Santiago property, Don José in his sombrero and red and yellow Mexican bandana tied around his neck waved at us. At his side, two large Mexican wolfdogs with imposing orange eyes barked at us as we approached the nursery next to their house. “Paloma and Chofi, be careful with Don Jose’s dogs.” “Okay Ma,” we answered in unison. “Buenas tardes, Francisco and Helena. Don’t worry, Señora Helena. My calupohs don’t bite unless they smell evil. They scare off the coyotes that want to get into the chicken coop. Last week a red-shouldered hawk snatched one of my María’s chickens in broad daylight.” Don José’s dogs, Yolotl and Yolotzin, sniffed our stiff bodies while I prayed to San Jorge Bendito: “San Jorge Bendito, amarra tus animalitos . . . .” Yolonzin sniffed and licked my hand. Thankfully, Don José’s calupohs remembered us; we were in the clear. “If you need anything, holler at me. I’m going to water the foxtail palm trees on the other side.” At Don José and Doña María de la Luz Santiago’s small ranch, Paloma and I were careful not to step on rattlesnakes. We walked through the rows of small trees in 15” containers and played with sticks next to a large flat boulder with smooth holes. I filled the holes with dead leaves and dirt and mixed it with a stick. “Paloma, let’s ask Don Jose about the holes on this large boulder. How do you think these holes got here?” Paloma shrugged her shoulders and signaled with her head to get back. With the calupohs following us, we found Sonia Gutièrez
Mom and Dad still deciding on a tree and a crimson red climbing rose bush. “But Pancho, look how green the leaves look on this one!” “Yes, Helena, but look at this one. It has a strong tree trunk.” “Pancho, this one has ripe fruit! Smell it, Pancho. With time, this one will be strong too.” “You’re right, Helena. We can take the one you want. Let’s pay Don Jose and get going before it gets too dark, so we can plant our tree today.” “Yes, Pancho, it’s a full moon!” “Paloma and Chofi, I’m glad you’re both back. Go look for Don Jose, and tell him we’re ready to pay.” Paloma and I ran to look for Don José. On our way to find him, I remembered we needed to ask him about the holes on the boulder. “Hola Don Jose. My mom and dad are ready to pay.” “Let’s go then.” “Don Jose, we have a question for you. We saw a big flat rock on your property, and we’re wondering how the holes got there.” Don José cleaned his sweat with his bandana and gave us a pensive look. “Those holes. Well, Chofi, as you may know, this land you see here from Oceanside all the way to Palomar Mountain and beyond was inhabited by Native people. Women sat and pounded acorns on metates like the one you saw and made soup and other foods. You can only imagine how many years it took for those indentations to leave their mark and to withstand time. Those women, Chofi and Paloma, left their mark.” “Oh, wow, Don Jose. That’s why the road is called Twin Oaks Valley Road? It’s a reference to Native people’s trees, who lived in this area?” “Yes, Chofi and Paloma. Native people still live on these lands—in Escondido, San Marcos, Valley Center, Fallbrook, Pala, and Pauma Valley and beyond. Ask your U.S. history teacher about the people who inhabited these lands. I’m sure they can tell you more.” “Thank you, Don Jose. I’ll ask.” Dad and Mom paid Don José, and off we went to plant our guayaba tree. With our guava tree sticking out of the window in the Sonia Gutièrez
Monte Carlo and lying on Paloma, Crucito, and me in the back seat, Mom was all smiles and kept glancing back. “Pancho, please drive slowly and turn on your emergency lights. Children, hold onto our tree carefully.” “Don’t worry Helena. Two more stop lights, and we’re almost home.” Dad agreed to Mom’s pick because he knew she loved guayabas—all kinds. This time they chose the one with the two guayabas with pink insides, which wasn’t too sweet and just about my height. I preferred the bigger trees at Los Arboleros. Why couldn’t we get bigger trees? Mom and Dad always chose the smaller trees because those were the ones we could afford, and plus we didn’t have a truck like our neighbor Don Cipriano’s, but maybe we could borrow it next time. As soon as we arrived home, Dad cut the container down the middle with a switchblade, and Mom pushed the shovel down with her right foot and split the earth. “¡Ay, ay! ¡Ay Pancho! Be careful with the tree’s roots. Here, grab the shovel. Let me hold onto the arbolito.” Dad dug the hole, exposing the dark brown of the earth as two pink worms shied away from the light. “Dad, can Crucito and me get the worms, pleaseee?” “Hurry up Chofi and Cruz. Go ahead. Your mom and I want to plant the tree today.” “Okay, Apá!” While I carefully took the worms from their home, Mom held the guava tree as if she held a wounded soldier and whispered to the tree, “Arbolito, don’t worry. You’re going to be safe here. I’m going to water you when you get thirsty and take care of you—we all will.” “Pancho, one day we’re going to make agua de guayaba.” “Sí, Helena, we’re going to make guayabate like the one my mom used to make. It was so good!” “I bet it was, Pancho. To prevent a bad cough, my mom used to give us guava tea to fight off the flu.” “Helena, did you know guava leaves are also good for hangovers?” “Ay Pancho. ¿Qué cosas dices? Let’s get this tree planted.” From the dried-up manure pile, Dad mixed the native soil and compost and pulled the weeds. As Mom placed the rootball above the hole, they both looked for the guava tree’s face and cenSonia Gutièrez
tered the tree on top of the hole. With the shovel, Dad poured the dirt around the tree. Mom took the shovel from Dad and pounded softly on the dirt surrounding the guava tree, making sure they left the edge below the surface. Next to the apricot tree with a woody surface, the small guava tree with tough dark green leaves would be heavy with fruit one day for our family, our neighbors, and friends. Dad went looking for a canopy for the young guava tree to protect her from winter’s threatening frostbite, and mom stood in the garden, admiring our new family member. It was time to return the worms to the earth; they were so tender but so strong. I made a little hole with my hand, placed the worms inside, said thank you to the worms, and covered them with dirt. The guayaba tree would make a perfect home.
Ricardo Islas, “Sharing is Caring”
As Paloma and I walked home from school and approached our house, we noticed Dad’s car in the driveway. That was strange. Dad never took days off even if he had a hangover. What was Dad doing home so early? Standing in the doorway with his arms crossed and chest puffed out, Dad screamed, “Paloma and Sofia Martinez, sit down at the table right now! We need to talk,” as his wagging index finger directed us to the kitchen table. Even though we didn’t know what Dad wanted to bring our attention to, Paloma started chewing her fingernails. I could feel my ears warming up and my top lip quivering. We both knew we hadn’t done anything wrong at school. We knew better. But judging from Dad’s angry demeanor, it didn’t look good. Whatever he was going to scold us about was bad—really bad—because Dad turned into a giant lobster with huge red claws ready to eat us alive. “¡Mister Goldberg me llamó de la escuela y tuve que ir a su oficina!” Dad had to take the day off because of us? “Our principal, Mr. Goldberg, called you in the office today? WHY?” “¡SÍ! ¡Ya les dije que no me hablen inglés!” “¡El director dice que tú, Paloma, y tu hermana son cholas!” “¿Cholas?” asked Paloma. A nervous chuckle escaped my mouth because Mr. Golberg had pulled a funny one, but it wasn’t funny because Dad was furious. “No te rías, Sofia Martinez. ¡SÍ! ¡Dijo que las dos son cholas!” “But Dad—that’s not true!” “How are you not cholas? What do you want people to believe when they see your peacock hair and baggy pants?” “Dad—but all the girls our age wear their hair and clothes like us.” Sonia Gutièrez
“Yeah Dad. You drive a Monte Carlo, and our friends say that you drive a cholo car, but you’re not a cholo. Are you?” “Shut up Sofia! Stay quiet. I’m not very happy with both of you right now. This isn’t about me or the other girls. This is about you TWO!” “Dad, did they call other parents too? What did you tell Mr. Goldberg?” Paloma asked. “I told the principal my daughters grew up in Vista and San Marcos—that I know my own daughters well, and that you two are not cholas—and if he could please give me details on this gang of yours I didn’t know about,” Dad lowered his voice by the end of his reprimand. “Go to your room ahorita! Your Mom is getting home, and I don’t want her to worry about this. We’ll talk about this later tonight after dinner.” In our room, Paloma and I started laughing at our principal—because he thought we were “C H O L AS.” He was no princi-pal of ours. How could Mr. Goldberg think he knew more about us than we did? Who did he think he was? God? Some girls changed into a different pair of clothes at school. We didn’t have to do that. At home, we teased our hair with a hair pick, sprayed our bangs with Aqua Net, and fanned out our hair. The higher our bangs—the better. And yes, we wore black baggy pants, but that was our style—even Janet Jackson wore baggy pants. Paloma and I wore black liquid eyeliner and outlined our lips with black eyeliner pencil and added burgundy or red lipstick and even Mom wore burgundy lipstick on special occasions. When we went out shopping for back-to-school clothes, Mom and Dad allowed us to pick our own clothing, but they always made sure the clothes we picked weren’t oversized, especially Cruz’s clothes. Cholas hung out after school. We didn’t have permission to do anything after school, except to come straight home to clean, to help Cruz with his homework, to do our homework, to water the trees in the backyard, to start cooking dinner, and to work part time after school. We weren’t tatted up or part of an official gang—the type that has to jump you in like Varrio San Marcos or Varrio South Los Angeles as Mr. Goldberg claimed. We didn’t live la vida loca. We lived la vida boring! Sonia Gutièrez
No prom. No homecoming. No sleepovers. No get-togethers. No nada de nada. Our Martinez cousins were the real cholos and cholas— not us. At school, we could throw down if anyone started any trouble with us, but Mr. Goldberg’s eyes couldn’t see Paloma and I were from the Cholas Falsas Crew.
The Next Husband/Wife Game We played a terrible game. It wasn’t a quick game, it was a game we played from the first year we were married. We’d jump in and out of it: the playing of this game was, I guess you could say, intermittently continuous. It was called: The Next Husband/Wife Game. I made it up. The only rule was, once someone had a turn, the other person had to go too, so you always had to have one ready just in case. In a sense, you had to always be thinking about it. My husband went first as soon as I explained it to him. It was a cold night and the fire was going. We were eating Chinese food on the couch and watching The Bachelor. “Easy,” he said, running his fingers through his dark wavy hair. “My next wife will blow me,” he said. “Every day.” It was so obvious that I almost felt sorry for him. His lack of originality. His lack of careful thought about anything. This was him to a T. I said, “My next husband will cook.” The next time was a few weeks later. We were on our way home from a friend’s New Year’s Eve party. It had been a bore of a night. The truth was we hated all of our friends. Every time we saw them we had to gear ourselves up to get through it. My husband came up short on enthusiasm that night. He sat in a corner sulking. “What’s wrong with Joe?” everyone kept saying. “Is something going on with Joe?” On the way home it was snowing and there were police cars everywhere. “My next husband won’t be so moody,” I said, looking out at the road. I was being careful with the car, driving slow. I admit there was some bite to what I said, but behind that, if you looked deeper, there was actually a loving message. Cheer up! I was trying to tell him. It’s New Year’s Eve for Christ’s sake. I saw him glaring at me from the passenger seat. He was quiet for a minute. “My next wife will be twenty-one,” he said. Well, that cut to it. I was nearing forty and could see for the first time all the ways I would become ugly. There was nothing on earth more terrifying to me than a twenty-one year old girl. We kept playing through the years. When he was on me about my spending, I said, “My next husband will make enough money.” When the house was a mess he said, “My next wife will know how to clean.” When I was telling him about missing my mother and he was looking at his phone, I said, “My next husband will Mary Jones
listen to me when I talk.” When I screamed at him for not emptying the dishwasher, he said, “My next wife will not be a rage-filled cunt.” I said, “My next husband will know how to turn me on and how to make me come.” He said, “I won’t literally hate my next wife.” After, we got divorced. This was a long time ago. Last week we bumped into each other at the mall and sat down for a cup of coffee. It had been many years and we were both married again, why not. “That stupid game,” he said after a while. “That was the thing that got us.” He was as handsome as he’d ever been. Possibly even more so with the greying hair. “I was actually thinking about it the other day,” I said. “I have to say I didn’t follow through on any of my things. My next husband turned out to be almost the exact same kind of asshole as you.” I said. “What do you mean, same kind of asshole?” he said. “There are lots of different kinds of assholes,” I said. “He just happens to be a distant and moody one like you.” “I’m sorry,” he said. “I would have wanted you to find a better kind of asshole.” “Oh,” I said. “You weren’t so bad.” After a minute he laughed. He said that just this morning his wife had lost her mind because he forgot to wash their daughter’s lunchbox, then she stormed out of the house and drove off in her car. “I guess I didn’t follow through on my things either,” he said. As we were leaving I looked at his face. In it I could see his young face, too. It was the face I’d looked at throughout my entire young life. A face that had seen my mother, had been there with me on the day she died. Driving home I was lost in thought. I took a wrong turn toward where we used to live. A wave of sadness hit me then, and for some reason, I burst out crying.
When We Lived Among the Clouds
According to our current understanding of human evolution, around four million years ago we moved down from the trees to take our first steps. In this story, a primate, or something approaching a human, finally leaves the low branches, dropping down onto the ground, brushing aside the tall, dry grasses of the Ethiopian Rift Valley, and making a new life. Though this is the current orthodoxy, there are a few of us who were around at the time and have the right story, which I can relate to you now that we’ve both got a moment, and it’s cold enough that I can’t think of anything better to do than tell each other stories of the past. We were living among the clouds in those days, in thick layers that moved slowly across the upper spheres of the earth. It was a bit like being on a cruise ship, but the sky was the ocean, and we didn’t have much alcohol yet, only that which the angels shared with us. Sometimes God would come to say hi and poke about, putting his feet up on our desk chairs and asking after wives and daughters with the mind of someone who had better things to do, before he’d slip away again to the game of gin rummy he was playing with the devil. Our bodies were much lighter back then as most of us could trace a portion of our lineage to the angels. God had intended that man and woman should be together, but the proximity of the angels and their voracious sexual appetites led to frequent liaisons that weren’t exactly sanctioned, but understandable, and even then God was rather notorious for turning a blind eye on the goings-on below, particularly if he’d had whisky. Occasionally, though it was mostly a rumor, a love affair would start between one of us and the large birds that soared past on their way south. The birds would occasionally land among us, stopping over on their journey for a break of a day or two. These birds were similar in some ways to the sorts of birds you see about now, but they were also different in subtle ways, more closely aligned to us, perhaps due to breeding with angels or God still trying to work out the quirks of evolution. I suppose their ephemerality made them attractive to the women, the fact of their being gone with the wind rather than carrying on about real estate values, fiscal policy or the problems of tending to wings and Andrew Bertaina
singing on key, like the men and angels the women were used to. Though the affairs were talked about in hushed tones, we all knew they were happening as the truth of the affairs was evident in some of the offspring. These offspring sometimes had feathers on the tops of their feet and bones that were half-hollow. As such, on a particularly blustery day, which happens more frequently at those altitudes, you could sidle up next to one of them around the mailbox to exchange pleasantries when a wind would kick up and you’d have to grab a calf or elbow to keep them from floating away, all the while they’d be stammering nervously, and every now and then emitting a loud caw, which everyone pretended not to have heard. Or if they were one of the really interesting ones, they’d break into song, a piercing song that seemed to tell of places we’d only heard of in drunken stories—mountain caverns, waterfalls, green hillsides and worms coming up after rain —and you’d want to cup your chin in your hands and listen to them sing all afternoon. But they’d break off just as quickly, looking away embarrassed and mumbling about the choirs overhead and their ceaseless din of catchy tunes. The clouds in the distance where other people lived were tinged red by the setting sun. You can see where sculptors eventually got the idea for using porphyry. Like most interesting ideas, it didn’t come from the ground, but the sky. We recognized songs about the world below because at times the angels would float down among us, and the less sanctimonious among them, who were often drunk, would tell us tales of the world, of animals with huge claws and tusks that could tear our flesh. Such stories would terrify us, and we’d often ask for clarification, but they’d have tottered off to seduce a girl, or have passed out for the evening, leaving us only with our imaginations, and we’d stay awake at night thinking of the animals, of the death that waited for us below. By morning, the angels would have drifted back up to sing to the holy of holies. I fell in love with a girl who came from a union with a bird when I was fourteen. She had dark hair, the color of thunderheads and brown skin, and I loved her tenderly; we talked of the choirs, of God’s disappointing run at gin rummy and what Andrew Bertaina
it meant for us, of our parents, our dreams for the future, our thoughts about the past. Or at least I thought those are some of the things we said. In truth, I’d say, “this morning I was running around at sunrise, my feet dipping softly into the clouds, and I could feel the wind in my hair, making me feel as if I could rise into the heavens.” And she’d answer: “In winter, I’ll fly away.” Most of our language was interpretive then and had to do with shades of color, sky and the shape and substance of clouds as we hadn’t yet invented anything like the proper language that we have now with all the nuances to approximate how we’re feeling from moment to moment. We spent two months together, talking in the evening beneath the silver threads of moonlight. At times, we’d be silent, and she’d inadvertently break into song. The songs were saying something about the way the poppies and zinnias tilted towards the sun and how worms are very useful creatures but kind of slimy and not all that much to look at when you really got down to it, but also delicious to eat. At least I think that’s what she was singing about. You would think that as we grew to know one another more our love would keep growing day by day, and, to tell you the truth, I thought that it was. On occasion, her father would join us and smoke a pipe fashioned from the wings of a bird, tapping out bits of incense and smiling at us without saying much. It was the sort of tacit acceptance of our behavior that often leads to a marriage proposal, and I began to look forward to seeing him more and more. Sometimes, an angel would join us and talk about the luck of Lucifer, being cast down below where all the action was. Like many of the angels who spent time with us, he was a grumbler. And he told us the story of a man who lived for a brief time in the world beneath us, a real recluse who decided he’d rather dwell by himself in the caves than among us in the clouds. When I left, the two of them were still talking, heads close together. Andrew Bertaina
The next day, she showed me a scope that the angel had left her and through which we could finally start to see bits and places of the world below, grass and trees and animals so large as to defy imagination. I was terrified. And so, I assumed, was she. I spent a good deal of time that summer talking to my father about buying a portion of the family home, of carving my own space for us to live. I asked my love if she had any preference for how I fashioned the kitchen and the dining room. We just had the one color to work with back then, which saved us many arguments about towels and dishes and paint samples. Such are the dreams when you are young, banking on the possibility that life’s vicissitudes will somehow bend your way like light from a rainbow. I was certain our love would last. And then it all changed. We were talking of the future while sitting on a rock-shaped cloud on a lazy afternoon, the sun overhead, a ball of fire, when she asked if she could show me something. She was excited, and I thought that perhaps she was going to ask me to marry her or kiss her, but I now see that she never thought of me in that way at all. How could I have missed it? Millennia have passed since the events of that day, and I know now that people are often enigmas even to themselves. She stood at the edge of the clouds, far closer than any of us were allowed, and I warned her away as we occasionally lost people in just this way, and they fell slowly at times, catching an updraft, before plummeting to the earth below. She turned and smiled at me, and asked if I remembered the day that the angel had talked to us of Lucifer and the man who had gone to live below—and then she let the wind take her, arms extended, she soared like a bird, her white dress, flowing behind her, billowing in the updrafts. Her arms were extended, and I saw small feathers ruffling beneath her forearms and flaps of skin between her toes. I was certain that she was going to fall to her death, and I called her name out into the wind, begging her to return to me, screaming for help. But she moved down in a series of long, looping circles, drifting out of the clouds and towards the ground below. I Andrew Bertaina
don’t know how she could have known that she’d make it that far without practicing. I pulled out the scope that had fallen from her hands and I watched her sailing above the tree tops then arcing down slowly towards the brown grass, swaying in a gentle breeze. By then, even with the scope, she was a mere speck, and I put it by my side and imagined her instead, her small feathered feet, touching the ground, the first to move down from the sky. And me, up in the space beyond, waiting for her to return. A better man would have packed up his bag and gotten ready to follow, but I was content then, as I am now, to watch the world unfold from the sky or out my window, alone.
I Slept with a Barrette Against My Breast blue and dropped into a pocket before I padded off to bed – not a Beretta, but still – the armor of a day pressed close, thing ridge slumbering into my ribs, totem of how the days possess, how even our dreams are not our own
Not Sure if You’ll Agree but I Think This Is a Love Poem on Saturday, i loved you easily, tendered the gentle bend in your knee and warmed at the breadth of your shoulders caught in the corner of my eye greedy fish, i wanted more – i wanted forever and i wanted it now. so i set a line, traced the base of your belly with my finger until you awoke in the smoke of Sunday morning. first an eye, deep and brown, then a coy slip – acknowledgment of the game, words that hooked my finger, bead of blood searing toward my mouth i know you were just trying to play, i know you smiled at the game –but sometimes i am mortified by my names: called eager, i feel sawn so split scene. until my thirst stands before me – almost alone – and i can take it by the shoulders, see if it will drown
Ramona Garcia, “Coyolxauqui Paper Doll”
I know you’ve seen men before my father settles his hands, speaks in a hoarse whisper, all he can manage since the last tubes were slowly pulled from his throat. Only the oxygen wheezes below his nose. Though nurses tell him to rest his voice, he talks the most in any conversation. His lungs are clearing, but coughs still come in heaving fits. He’s eating again, yet he places the lid back on hospital meals. A banana’s enough for him even when I tell him it isn’t. Yesterday he lied to the doctors—afraid to go home—and tells us to say yes he usually needs a walker if we’re asked. Yesterday he told us his balls have swollen and hurt. His legs shine smooth, slightly flushed beneath thin cotton. Today a therapist lowers his chin to his chest to show him how he needs to swallow. I watch him spoon applesauce, remind him no talking until the bowl’s empty. I watch the wind outside bend young trees until he scrapes plastic on plastic. Today he’s planning. I tell him the hospital will send a nurse, therapists, others to lift burdens from Mom. And yet he only half hears me, his youngest. Soon, he supposes, I’ll need to bathe him. I know you’ve seen men before but I am no longer so beautiful.
slant of tree branches slant of trees, nests bone-cold wait winter nests blown cold
oak tree i a year before she leaves
wordless where the second story skimmed over the first red or green loose in her hand
no combination of ink
but stomach muscles
hold her center every inch
plaster then clay derrière bursts to watch
as legs circle above shoulder
her body a line figuring her
sculptures multiply across town
miniature knee bent
a pen comes alive stronger than fold in and to sculpting in attitude
across drafting table evenings she
where bodies in music breathe
the oaktree’s yearly plot
her mother takes
to cover the yard
she returns in shadow
oak tree ii three a.m.
she pulls her mother’s hand
es sweat as father rolls back over to hold until sleep reach
swiveling fabric around a lowered needle for buttonholes
a redesigned house
and shudders as her mother’s tape measure
her mother’s octave
clenching kittens to wipe their in-
drawing graphite along a straight edge doesn’t
still mother gets up
she sometimes recognizes
shucking corn picking figs
after a nightmare
hands capable of tracing
of loosening into nighttime calm will not unfurl her brother’s fists
calculates another a body’s complete-
of pulling apart root-bound each finger
one by one
oak tree iii her brother holds
he stirs in bisquick
she cracks an egg
papier mâché bird spins behind them on
string dusk-speckled they poke at batter
the waffle iron
lick each other’s fingers his fists don’t ball up until after school will just figure it out her mother says
better than adults? she doubts
learns to punch back a dance kick right where it counts or just the threat her body’s never
so vulnerable as a guy’s
her nana scaled up a barn a year after
in work pants
her brother leaves
especially in a leotard before the 20s roared
she climbs into the fig tree discovers
under soft skin
before they drop and bruise
oak tree iv the garden
where she grows below
dangling willow branches
spring leaves caress her face
she grabs them twirls into weeping green
she swats sees some tom cat’s
legs fangs grip
do it bees do it shows this is supposed to happen when she caresses behind whiskers friend asks her the garden where crooked them
any difference sucking a boob
or a water balloon
she feels new muscles inside
when first tampon’s
an anonymous adam
night her hands
cat purrs louder
inside her brother’s fort
where at night she muses
lifting a long blue skirt
go down inside
afternoon sun bathes
her muscles’ circular flight
Tamarack in Early November This morning the tamarack tapered into sun-lit flame, so weighted with afterrain each airy shudder sent another shower down the broadening slopes. Swarovskiglazed, the lowest branches scraped the ground, five beaded green courtiers, if not kowtowed to every whim of weather, then resilient for knowing how to yield. And my thoughts clambered up as if from the bottom of a moss-slick shaft into the narrowing height till they began to slip, lacking . . . what? That fire-licked tip, bright with finality, so high overhead, is just the start, I told myself, Richard Foerster
of another molten needling of the lawn. It descends tier by tier. If I could learn and wait long enough I might drown in gold.
Mario Chacon, “El Gallo y El Rooster”
Stitcher Axel needed to cut weight. His fight was in two days and he was still eleven pounds over. He needed to get to one seventy-five. Axel joked that I was his cut man, corner man, doctor, and ring girl. What he was saying was that I was his girlfriend. When he was in the ring it was just us. Once in a while there was a doctor too but usually just some drunk with a stethoscope who ate up the Vicodin he was supposed to save for the fighters. Sometimes there wasn’t even a ring. One time Axel fought in the cargo hold of a ship in the port of New Orleans. Axel wouldn’t let me go to that one, for my own safety, he said. It would be like attending a fight in a prison. Mara, who do you think watches these things? He’d ask. Who do you think fights in these things? I thought. Half the fighters just got out of prison, and the other half were headed there. The fights weren’t sanctioned, weren’t regulated, and weren’t legal. It wasn’t MMA, it wasn’t boxing. The fighters didn’t wear gloves. Axel called it “B.K.” for short, which stood for bareknuckle. And now Lake Delavan was going to be Axel’s biggest fight. I also hoped it would be his last. The purse was twenty-five K. Enough for us to move. For a new start. But first he had to make weight, and since it was winner take all, to win. If the fighters knew what was best for them, they’d have worked out a split, but it rarely happened. The stakes were too high, there was too much hostility, and they all thought they were destined to win anyway. If Axel wasn’t involved I wouldn’t have bothered. I was never much interested in violent sports: NFL, hockey, whatever. To me, the only difference between boxing and those others was that in boxing there’s no ball or puck. They’re all still blood sports. And it’s no sweet science. The only sweet was the green they paid out at the end. And the green from Axel’s last fight was running out. Axel said depending on what happens, he might have to think about his cousin’s offer, to go up to North Dakota and work in the gas fields. A lot of guys went up there these days, something like miners during the gold rush, except instead of going to strike it rich, they went because they had no other choice. Hot water sprayed out of the faucet, filling the tub. It was the old kind held up by little feet that look like paws. In a nice home, if David Preizler
they are well cared for they’re charming. The one in our manufactured home – what used to be known as a trailer - was cracked and sealed with resin and leaked. We lived in Oak Park Terrace, across from the Dane County airport in Madison, which was convenient for Axel’s day job on the grounds crew because he could walk there. It was also close to MATC – the school where I took nursing classes. I don’t know how they got the tub in there. They must have built up the place around it, like one of those ships in a bottle. I tore open a bag of Epsom salt and emptied it into the basin. I bought fifteen pounds over at Walgreens and had to go to two locations because I cleaned the first one out. Axel and I unscrewed metal caps off bottles of isopropyl alcohol and poured them into the steaming tub. Our eyes watered from the fumes. I sat on the rim of the tub. Axel sat on the white tile floor with his back against the wall. Axel had already lost four pounds and I could see his ribs. His skin was white like the bathroom tiles, because in Wisconsin in the fall, there was not much opportunity to get a tan. His arms were roped with muscle and etched with tattoos, ones that he mostly gave himself, with a needle and India ink. The most prominent were a dagger entwined in flames like vines on one forearm, and the words, “Serve the good cause and die” on the other. Normally I wasn’t one for body ink but these suited his body just fine, like stripes on an animal. He came back with both of them from Afghanistan. That was also where he started boxing. Axel winced, easing himself into the tub. It was as if he was taking a bath in a water softener. “How do you feel?” “It stings,” he leaned back. “Smells awful. My eyes are burning.” He looked up. His blue eyes were bloodshot. His nose had never been broken. His face had thankfully been spared from any serious fight injuries and had a delicate quality in contrast to the ruggedness of his body. “You don’t have to stay in here, you know. You should get some air.” “It’s okay.” While Axel soaked, I sat on the floor rubbing off fingernail polish with acetone and a washcloth. I did what I could to avoid attracting attention to myself at the fights. I’d dress in baggy David Preizler
clothes and wouldn’t wear makeup. I knew how dangerous cutting weight could be. The toll the dehydration took. Sometimes I felt like I was watching someone driving the wrong way on a one-way street, with a dump truck coming the other way. As if I saw it coming and Axel didn’t. I wanted to tell him not to do this, not to fight. Not yet, I told myself, and kept quiet. Axel got out of the tub and stepped onto the bathroom scale. He stared down at the jittery number panel. “Seven pounds more,” he said, and climbed off. Sweat streamed off him. He leaned over the bathroom sink while I scraped his back with a TJ Maxx gift card. This helped keep his pores open. Sweat ran off his skin like he was standing in the rain. He turned around and I scraped the card across his chest and abs. “Do you want a popsicle? An ice cube?” Axel shook his head sending droplets flying off his hair like he was a wet dog. He pulled on his sauna suit, first the pants, then the top, and laid down face up on the floor. It looked like he was wearing a jogging suit made out of a Hefty trash bag. I piled bath towels over him. He breathed through a washcloth. For the rest of the afternoon Axel sat in the sauna at the Y, chewing on Big Red gum and spitting. I waited in the lobby reading a textbook. The illustrations of the human body, what’s underneath if you look under our skin - the muscle, bone, and sinew - remind me of the fights. Seems to me that skin is what’s hiding the fact that we’re all only just wild animals, full of blood and bones like any other mammal. Axel’s mobile rang. He left it with me while he was in the sauna. “Dale? Yes, we’ll be there in three hours.” Dale was the point man for Axel’s fight – in charge of the details. Dale explained that the weigh-in would be near Lake Geneva, a summer resort area in Southeast Wisconsin. The full details had not been undisclosed but what I knew was compared to Axel’s previous fights, this one was to take place in a high-end venue. We took Axel’s truck – I drove - a Ford F-150 set up for mounting a snowplow blade on the front. When he wasn’t fighting or working at the airport, people hired him to shovel out their driveways after a big storm. Like I said, he also worked at the airport David Preizler
near where we lived, plowing runways, but they had their own trucks, half-ton dump trucks, with tires taller than I am, a rack of lights on the roof, and a fifty-gallon dispenser that sprayed sand and salt onto the runways. It was against the rules but sometimes he’d let me ride in the truck beside him. The truck’s heater never worked that well so I’d sit right next to him on the bench seat. Driving down the tarmac during a snowstorm, with the halogens all lit up, it was like we were driving through a glowing cloud. The problem was this work was seasonal and part-time at best. If Axel won the fight he planned to buy lawn care equipment and start a landscaping business. It was only November and the snow from the last storm had melted off. The I-90 was clear. Axel dozed with his head against the window. The glass fogged up by his mouth each time he took a breath. He had weighed himself in the Y locker room. If he could trust the scale there, he was okay, he said. Every once in a while a car going the other way passed with a dead deer strapped to the roof, tied down with ropes like it was a mattress. It’s something I never liked to see and I kept my eyes on the road. Not because I was squeamish, but because I thought shooting animals for “sport” was even worse than boxing. I followed the directions belted out by the phone’s robotic voice. “Exit in 1.2 miles…” Axel woke up. “Where are we?” He rubbed his eyes. In that condition, weak from fasting, dehydrated, and groggy, Axel reminded me of my younger brother, back when I’d babysit for him. He was five years younger and I was in charge of everything. When and what he’d eat. What he could or couldn’t watch on TV. When he’d sleep. Our dad had left years before to go work on fishing boats in Alaska. We’d never heard from him again, and our mom worked all the time, basically leaving me in charge. I had known Axel since high school but we only started dating after we graduated and he ran into me while I was waiting tables at Paisan’s. He was the one who encouraged me to go for my B.S.N. In fact, he told me I should become a doctor. He asked me if I believed in destiny. I asked him what kind of pizza he wanted.
The GPS voice told me that the destination was on the left, that “we are arriving.” On each side of us were warehouses, loading docks with a handful of semis that had been backed in for loading or offloading. No one was around. The periphery of the warehouse was dark, surrounded by parking lots and beyond that, cornfields. The fields were also black – there are no artificial lights in the middle of a farm field. In the distance though, in the middle of all that corn was a radio tower, as tall as a skyscraper. It was dotted with blinking lights, mostly red and a few white ones, I guess to keep an airplane from crashing into it. It looked like a Christmas tree that all the needles and branches had fallen off, but still stayed up, strung up with the little twinkling lights. In the idling truck it was like being parked in an island of light cast by the sodium security lamps and our headlights. We sat like this for while, listening to an idiotic talk show about Bigfoot, waiting for some signal that we’d come to the right place. I turned off the truck along with the radio and watched the blinking lights on the radio tower in silence. It was hypnotic and I felt like falling asleep. Axel fell asleep and then I slipped off too. A knock on the window woke me. Someone tapped on the driver’s side glass with a Mag-lite and shined the beam in our faces. The guy holding the light was wearing a puffy Green Bay Packers parka, and the jacket made him seem even bigger than he already was. “Wakey, wakey.” He smiled and aimed his light at a corrugated garage door. “Let’s get the show on the road, folks. We’re in there. Pull on up.” I nodded. “Wakey, wakey, Axel.” I gave him a nudge. “Let’s get this over with.” It was a typical warehouse. Industrial shelving stacked with containers of fertilizer and weed killers. You could tell the difference by which were marked with imagery of sprouting crops, nature, plants and growth, and those marked with death head logos. A door in back had a sign over it that said, “Danger! Do not enter without a respirator.” The guy who met us in the parking lot came up behind us. “Well…” He said to Axel, “If it isn’t the Tomahawk from Oconomowok. I’m Dale. And you are?” David Preizler
“Mara. Not from Oconomowok.” In the back office, they were waiting for us. Axel’s opponent was lying down on a black leather couch with his hands behind his head. He sprang to a sitting position when we entered the room. A man who seemed to be his second stood nearby the couch. He cracked his knuckles and sniffed in a way that suggested a nervous habit. They were Cubans from Miami was what we had been told. A very fat man sat behind a desk, wearing a maroon golf shirt. He heaved himself to his feet by pressing on the desktop with his hands. I knew this was Mr. Eddie Danvers, the man responsible for our being there and Dale’s boss. “The Tomahawk! Welcome.” He smiled, extending his hand to Axel and gave me a nod. “In the flesh,” Axel said, shaking his hand. Dale tinkered with the scale, setting it to a neutral position. They weighed Axel’s opponent first. He spoke Spanish quietly with his second. “One seventy five even, for Hector.” Hector looked over at Axel. Hector was relaxed and seemed to lack any emotion at all, but I knew that look, and the latent violence behind it. It was like looking at a snake watch a mouse. Hector’s mouth formed a smile but his eyes stayed the same. Axel stepped onto the scale. Dale waited for the scale mechanism to settle. He squinted and took the reading. “One seventy-four and change, for Tomahawk,” Dale called out. Eddie Danvers held out a manila envelope. “Who should I give this to? Tomahawk? Or your…manager.” I took it from him. I knew Axel would be too tired to process it. “Everything you need is in here. Directions to your motel. Directions to the nearest emergency room. Your payment. We’ll call you tomorrow with the pickup time.” I opened the envelope and confirmed that Axel’s appearance fee was there $1500. It was not much I knew, but to us it was, and we’d been through enough times of not being paid what we were promised. The brain is the last part of the body to rehydrate. At the motel, I had Axel hooked up to an IV. I strung the hydration pouch up from the lamp on the ceiling. The TV set was on with the David Preizler
sound off, tuned into a greyhound dog race, the kind of programming that you only ever seem to see when you’re in a motel. In the morning, we ate in the motel restaurant. Axel had scrambled eggs, an omelet, pancakes, bacon, and six pieces of toast. After that I lost track. I think the waitress was getting tired just running back and forth from our table to the kitchen. “A bad fighter is predictable,” Axel said. “Hector is predictable.” Axel was watching video on his phone of Hector’s fights. It had been recorded with a hidden Go-Pro, and one of Axel’s training partners e-mailed it to him. Axel held up his phone so I could see. “He comes out too fast, too strong. He’s not careful and uses up his energy too early. Predictable.” He turned off the phone and put it away. “Predictable as a freight train.” I was unconvinced. “Just stay off the tracks.” “If you lose?” “Then I lose.” “Then what?” “I don’t know. North Dakota I guess.” He sounded indifferent about it and it felt like I’d been punched in the stomach. In North Dakota the housing was temporary at best. Axel would live in a makeshift barracks and maybe, if he made good money, a trailer later on. At first, he might have to live in his truck. He talked about putting a topper on back and throwing in a mattress. There was no place for me in that country. The best I could hope for would be visits every few months. I wanted us to be alone together, somewhere far away from the restaurant. My eyes drifted over the other customers, mostly elderly couples and families. My gaze settled on a younger couple around our age seated in a booth. The woman was holding a baby on her lap. The guy with her reached across the table and brushed her hair back from her face. She smiled shyly. Then she glanced at me and I looked away. The call came and they picked us up in a cargo van. First Dale patted David Preizler
us down, looking for cameras, weapons, who knows what. In the back of the van he blindfolded us. Mine smelled like engine oil and I wanted to ask if he had a clean one but I figured he probably didn’t otherwise he would have used it. I could tell from the route we took, the spiral of an onramp, then straight for thirty minutes or so, that we were on the highway. Then the exit ramp, the winding and slowing down. A two-lane road maybe. In the woods or somewhere rural. Then we were going even slower and I heard the tires crunch over dead leaves. Above it all I heard Axel’s breathing. His breaths were long and slow, like he was meditating. He didn’t do anything like that but it was the same idea, controlling his fear, staying in the moment. I reached out and found his arm, and then his hand. His knuckles were deformed and swollen, like those of an arthritic. When balled into fists they were like hand grenades. Some nights after a fight, he caressed my face and I couldn’t believe they were the same hands. He ran them through my hair and skimmed his palms across my cheek. It was like he was blind and mapping my face, until I fell asleep. The van stopped. The rear door slid open. “Okay kiddos,” Dale said. He helped us out of the van one at a time. “I’ll lead the way. Put your hands on my shoulders.” I walked to Dale’s left with my right hand on his left shoulder. Axel, I assumed, did the same on the other side. Dale led us into a house, down a flight of stairs, and removed the blindfolds. We were in some type of game room but there was something more. It looked like the bar or lobby of a men’s club. I explored the space while Dale chatted with Axel. Off to one side there was the standard stuff: a bar, a pool table with red felt, along with a treadmill and heavy bag for warming up. Above the bar and around the room, glass eyes of several mounted animal heads looked down on us: bighorn sheep, deer, a bobcat, and others that seemed deer-like, with spiraling horns, but I didn’t know what they were. Maybe elk. A taxidermied grizzly bear stood on its haunches, teeth bared, claws raised in an eternal fearsome pose. Their glass eyes seemed to follow us as we moved, like in those trick paintings. The rest of the room was decked out like a museum. There were glass cases featuring all kinds of vintage weapons, David Preizler
muskets, swords, a boomerang. As I walked past them, they seemed to get more basic, more brutal. One had a mace. Another club, I guess like you’d imagine a caveman would carry. “Relax. Get dressed. Warm up. Here’s your duffel. You have about forty minutes.” Dale left us there and went back up the stairs. Axel took out his shorts and warm up suit from the gym bag and put them on. The shorts were black with embroidered criss crossed tomahawks in silver. Axel stretched, shadow boxed, and then warmed up on the heavy bag. It was hanging by chains bolted from the ceiling. The ceiling creaked as the bag swung back and forth. After a while we could hear the click of footsteps from above. “Are you ready?” Axel unleashed a final flurry of blows on the bag and turned around. “Let me see them,” I said. Axel held out his hands and made fists. I gave a single kiss to each one – our pre-fight ritual. Soon the basement door opened and Dale called down. “Five-minute warning. When you hear the music, it’s showtime.” We heard a drum roll. Axel went up the stairs first. I waited a minute and followed. Dale was at the top of the stairs. He wore a tux, his light brown hair slicked back. Axel trailed Dale by a few paces and I brought up the rear. Just outside of the door at the top of the stairs was a boxer who had clearly just fought. A white haired man in a white dress shirt with his sleeves rolled up dabbed at a cut above the fighter’s eyebrow with a Q-tip. There were flecks of blood on the white haired man’s shirt. “The undercard,” Dale told us as we walked past. We walked through the entrance hall into a ballroom like you’d see in a mansion on TV. There were several chandeliers and a live band on a slightly elevated stage. The walls were covered in yellow patterned paper, adorned with paintings of horses and hunting scenes, and heavy red drapes were drawn. There were about thirty guests. A black tie event. The drum roll continued and the crowd parted for us. On the opposite side of the ballroom Hector entered in the same fashion, led by Eddie Danvers, also wearing a tux. Except for the fighters and Danvers, everyone was wearing eye masks for a masquerade party, the kind you see on the Lone Ranger or Zorro, I assumed to preserve their anonymity in case there was David Preizler
an errant cellphone photo. In the center of the ballroom was a boxing ring with red ropes. A waitress about my age with blonde hair pulled tight into a ponytail, wearing a white blouse smiled at me as she passed by with a tray of champagne flutes. Dale climbed up into the ring and held the ropes apart for Axel. Eddie Danvers did the same for Hector on the other side. Dale took a microphone. “Ladies and…” he looked over at Axel and Hector, “With the exception of these two fighters, gentlemen! The event you’ve all been waiting for…in the left corner, Hitman Hector Gonzalez!” Hector hopped around the ring shadow boxing. He wore a golden cape with a hood that said, “Hitman” on the back in black letters. “And in the right corner, local favorite, the Tomahawk from Oconomowoc!” Axel, in his black shorts, shadow boxed in place and then raised a fist. The guests applauded and took their seats at dining tables and neat rows of card table chairs that surrounded the ring. Bareknuckle boxing fights are short, precisely because the fighters are not wearing gloves. The suffering is not prolonged by padding around their fists. Fast and furious is the term. Later at the motel, Axel would tell me that it was like getting shot in the side of the head. Or at least pistol-whipped. They didn’t bother to circle each other like they sometimes do, sizing each other up. Axel went down right away. Hector was so fast or maybe Axel was distracted but he didn’t see it coming. Axel got back on his feet quickly and the crowd cheered, but I saw the blood and was afraid. It dripped from a cut below his eye as he stalked Hector around the ring under the yellowish light of the chandeliers. Axel threw short jabs, testing Hector’s reflexes for a weak spot. I thought about him going to North Dakota. I cupped my hands around my mouth: “Hit him, Axel!” Axel landed several jabs but Hector was retreating and they didn’t seem to inflict much damage. The crowd was screaming for Tomahawk to “End it.” Hector was against the ropes. But then he began his counter attack. Some fighters are indifferent to the sight of their opponent’s blood, to its distinct odor, that as a student nurse I knew smelled coppery, like old coins. Others, like Hector, are fueled by it. Their opponent’s bleeding launches them into a frenzy. With Axel leaning towards him, he swung David Preizler
upward, and I knew then why they called him the Hitman. Axel fell like he was struck by a bullet. My heart felt like it was pulled inside out. I sensed each pump of blood rush through my veins and thunder in my ears. They didn’t secure my blindfold that well when they took us back to the motel. I could see the lakeside mansion we had just come from, one of the summer homes that had been built for Chicago industrialists during the gilded age. There was a Wrigley home there as well. I knew that since we’d camped nearby back when I was in the Girl Scouts. As soon as the van was on the freeway, I tore off the blindfold and sat with Axel on the bench seat in the back. Dale looked back at us but didn’t say anything. Axel’s blindfold was still on and I left it. He encircled his arm around my waist and pulled me to him. It was funny, like he was trying to comfort me, like I was the one who lost the fight. The good news was that it would be his last. Like he’d said before the fight, if he lost this one, it wasn’t worth it and he knew it was time to hang it up. But I wondered what would happen to us when he went to North Dakota. Seated on the edge of the motel bed, blood seeped through the Band-Aids below his eye. “You should see a doctor. Does your head hurt?” I knew that a headache was a very bad sign for a boxer. Dale had asked him the standard neurological questions already but I wanted to be sure. We didn’t have any health insurance so going to the hospital was out of the question. “The bad news is I’m seeing double,” Axel said. “The good news, I see two of you.” I got out my first aid kit and peeled the bandage off of Axel’s cheek. I cleaned the area with cotton and rubbing alcohol. I took out a needle and stitches. “This is going to hurt,” I said, and then pushed the needle into his skin. The next morning I woke before Axel. His face was swollen and bruised – in nursing classes we’d say contusions or abrasions – and there was dried blood on his pillowcase. I filled the bathtub with warm water. The small bathroom quickly filled with steam rebelling against David Preizler
the cold air in the rest of the room. I stripped off my sweats, threw them in a pile on the floor, and got into the tub. I sat with my knees to my chest and stared ahead at the yellow bar of Dial soap on the lip of the turquoise-colored tub. When Axel came into the bathroom I slid back to make room for him. He slipped into the tub in front of me and we just sat like that for a bit, in a cloud of steam, facing each other. Water dripped from the bathtub faucet every couple of seconds or so and it had a dreamlike quality, sounding louder than it should have. I picked up a clean, dry, folded washcloth from the edge of the tub and dipped it into the bath water. I reached over and cleaned Axel’s face. I avoided the stitches and then worked my way down his arms to his hands. His knuckles were scraped and cut. As I cleaned them, the bath water slowly turned pink. I wanted Axel to stay in Madison, but I was glad he’d stop fighting. Would he really go to North Dakota? There was knocking on the door to our room and then the voice of the maid calling out. I heard the door open and jack against the chain. Neither of us moved. Axel and I just sat there, breathing steamed air that smelled of rubbing alcohol and blood. The maid knocked once more. “Are you checking out?” “Not yet,” Axel told her. After a moment the door clicked closed again. Then Axel looked into my eyes and in a quiet voice said, “Not ever.” His hand slipped around my wrist and he pulled me to him. In the tub, it was like we were in a boat somewhere far away at sea, and we did not think of returning.
How We Learn We lose Alex during World War I and the Jenson twins during World War II, but even the parents of the unfortunate students find it hard to argue with Mrs. Brown’s results. For over twenty years, the students who make it though her history sequences always ace the standardized testing and AP exam. We’ll be the same. Every year, one or two kids complain about Mrs. Brown’s methods. I myself thought she was crazy at first. The ancient Rome unit seemed fine without actual gladiatorial fights. I was up first and I was fighting Ted, my best friend. I saw no good outcome. But then? We both fought so bravely that when Ted disarmed me and had his sword at my throat, the class stuck their thumbs up and granted me clemency. See? I didn’t even know that word, but now I do. Victoria wasn’t as lucky, but then, she chose to fight as a Retiarii. A net and trident take years to master. No one anticipates a problem when Mrs. Brown shows up to the “March on Russia” lesson dressed as Napoleon. She has played the part for years. But history never repeats itself exactly and sometime after Vilna, we notice she is breathing rapidly, coughing, and occasionally excusing herself to vomit. We confer. Ava B., who has become quite good at field medicine, thinks it’s typhus. We look around accusingly, wondering who brought the lice. The fact that typhus has been all but eradicated in the United States just highlights what a great teacher she is. Impressed, we show up to class the next day with muskets, bandages, hand wagons for the supply train. We wait, silent, eager. Then the door opens and an adult man who is not Mrs. Brown enters. “I’m Mr. Stanley,” the adult man who is not Mrs. Brown says. “Mrs. Brown is in the hospital and I will be her substitute for the near future.” Sid “Jelly” Carlton slips the French Shako helmet off his head and sets it down. None of us thought that typhus would keep Mrs. Brown from the classroom. Mr. Stanley is still talking. “Mrs. Brown’s notes say you are discussing Napoleon’s 1812 campaign. It’s going to take me a while to get up to speed, so why don’t you start by writing a page about what you’ve learned.”
We pull paper from our desks. We put shaky words down on the page. We didn’t expect to use our hands in this way. It’s okay. Mrs. Brown will return and we will start to learn again. A week later, Mr. Stanley comes to class a few minutes late. He looks upset. “I’m sorry to be the bearer of bad news,” he says. “Mrs. Brown died last night.” *** In one moment, everyone’s fate changes. We were on one path and now, suddenly, we are on another. The train of our life has been diverted onto a new track, an altogether shittier track. It isn’t just how we are going to do in AP History, we can see that. Our entire attitude towards our education will change. Classes will be boring; education will seem a little pointless. No risk, nothing at stake. Christy would have gone on to get her MBA and become a high-powered accountant, but now she will end up working at Hardee’s. Franklin would have studied engineering and found a fulfilling job in the auto industry. Instead he will work at his father’s auto repair shop until he becomes too much of an alcoholic. John would have died in the Boer Wars, and now he will live. That’s good. But his life will be long and boring. But maybe we still have a chance. Maybe we can get on the right track again. Mrs. Brown might be dead, but we can still learn. Tiffany stands up. She hoists her pack onto her back. She says, it’s time to get back on the road. She says, it’s time to march on to Vitebsk, and then Smolensk, and then Moscow. You’re hungry. I’m hungry. But winter is on our heels and there isn’t much time. She makes eye contact with every student. She walks to the front of the room, where Mrs. Brown’s bicorn hat was still sitting on her desk. She puts it on. Kimberly stands up. I stand up. Aaron, crying, stands up. Everyone stands up. It’s time to march. It is time to make history.
Mario Chacon, “Chicomecoatl, Defender of Original Corn”
Superword the trick to being sane, said Alex, is knowing all the objects in your house by name, but I could not think of any objects even though I remember lots of things now like Marlboro 100’s, the planet Jupiter, things for the kitchen, light switches, nose rings, Will’s cat’s translucent yellow eye, fentanyl, tiny mirrors shaped like stars, Will’s funeral reception at the player’s club, red-hot cheetos, that spot outside the Metro Diner where amid a flock of pigeons appeared a giant whirlwind of trash circling in the air, the trick to nuance, said Alex, is to start naming names for instance, he pointed to the center, what’s that over there I wanted to say it was a lottery ticket but everything is called something
Nora Claire Miller
Iowa State Fair
the least interesting type of airplane is an airplane that moves. partisan airplane. clothespin parade. manatee citrus. custard drops. filling sinew. feeling sinew. parts in falling. or pairs. overhead flies a hairclip. a hairclip in the distance! a chopped rope. a withered wire. a man standing squarely on a pack of blue camels. stingray grind-up. floating hay bale cover band. singers in swallow. barns on fire. whole of Iowa seems tired. square head in a flat shape. compilation of lawn flamingos. if it looks over there to see. roughed perimeter filling itself in. etching and then reaching. tight grips. wrong attitude. whole canopy or somebody. expressions of agony at mediacom. frail industry: staples in wires. marmalade trees, drowned lines. whole town oaked and soaking. wherewithal. firewood for sale. intermittent external expression of yearning, versus the much more frequent internal yearning, versus the occasional moments of “novel normalcy” during which the past, briefly. is this really a parade? then why are there so many fish here? looking at swans passing by my living room window. is everything over yet? why must this always remain happening? writing letters via a bot to ask these questions
Nora Claire Miller
to my senators. standing still, this always remaining happening. saying select phrases to it, then, like “gardener’s apple” or “snow pea.” like, “lift a finger,” like “salient weather,” like “foghorn,” like “lion,” like “frog.” wanting to select new words for it. saying, “alka-seltzer tablet” and then “sparkling water” shortly thereafter. some of you know why this is funny. many of you do not.
Nora Claire Miller
When Paradise Burned
—The Camp Fire, Paradise, CA, Butte Co., 2018
we felt it though we were far away. We awoke to the smoke from that great blaze, those of us who thought they might have passed that way once upon a time, those who said they knew the region well, and those who said they doubted there had ever been a place so named. My friends, smoke made the invisible air visible until the void between things grew thick with absence. We could no longer ignore it: there is no away. At night we gathered around our screens, stared into the images of fire and listened to the stories of destruction, of bright-helmed fighters and the dead. And we were warned to stay indoors, told breathing was a hazard. People wore masks when going to work or to Walmart, as if in a time of contagion. Neighbors, it touched us all, of that we had no doubt. For a time, even the young among us took on a new awareness of air, of breath, of how we were drawing into ourselves things transformed in the flames, entire towns incinerated, their components rendered particulate— plastic and asbestos and heavy metals—(Toxic was voted Word of the Year). Red-eyed, choking, we recalled the First Law: stripped of its bonds, matter changes form yet is conserved. And yes, my friends, as the death toll rose we thought, yes, we thought about the dead; we took them in, too.
Bound to those others, though they were gone, we carried them within us, the body’s burden born of destruction. We had seen the survivors grieving on our screens, their faces twisted in the strange chemistry of mourning: grief and rage and grief and rage and grief again. And neighbors, it wasn’t long before the many questions became one: Where had such violence come from? How to lay that burden down? In short, who was to blame? My friends, even in the thick of it, I saw a man running in shorts and Nikes down the street, still training for something against all sense, his desire to thrive so strong it could kill him. And every afternoon as I sat at my desk by the window, I would see Swanson, my neighbor across the street, his wife near nine months dead of lung cancer, totter out of his house to observe his ritual of raking the yard. It being late fall, his lone maple had long since lost its leaves. Yet there he was, fragile, out in the smoke raking, a cigarette in his mouth, adding smoke to smoke. Neighbors, I knew his wife. She never smoked. It was a revelation to me: the contour of that terrible circle, destroyed and destroying, at once a spurring and a reining back. What had the land to grieve, of that place, lost without it, and grief and rage
were like breathing, an instinctive thing. And when at last the fire passed and the smoke cleared and we could breathe to grieve that it was filled with such rage? When Paradise burned we became lost in the ghost of that place, lost without it, and grief and rage were like breathing, an instinctive thing. And when at last the fire passed and the smoke cleared and we could breathe again freely, the ghost of that smoke remained in our clothes, in our hair, as if its origin was within us, and we would have to bear it unto our last inspiring, the understanding that there is no transcendence, that we had been pulled down with a smoke that in us refuses to rise. Friends, we are banished from ourselves by fire that knows no season, driven by a gale that gathers all we have lost and, howling, returns it, saying “Take this: know now, there are multitudes inside you—grass and trees, deer and bear, and untold others—and somewhere deep, dark as the heart’s den, a knot of vipers, the nerve fibers of their pit-organs firing at the heat of the future’s furious approach, a future you must yield to, a future before which you find yourselves foiled, fallen under the weight of the once ungrievable world; take this knowledge you refuse to know. Take this, this unbearable thing. Now it belongs to you.”
Ramona Garcia, “Someone Threw a Rock into the Moon. Breaking it into a Million Pieces. Falling into the Ocean. Turned Sirena”
A Girl, Almost Ten This visit to India will be different. That’s what Papa tells Kavita as he leads his family of three onto the Air India jet bridge at San Francisco International Airport. The last time she visited, she was too young to remember much. How old was I she asks, as she snaps her seat belt into place. Papa says six, her mother corrects him and says that she was just four; too young to remember anything. Her mother is right; she doesn’t remember India at all. You’ll remember everything this time, her mother reassures her, you’re much older now. I’m almost ten, she declares. We’ll celebrate your birthday in India, her mother says, knowing that she never liked celebrating her birthday in California because most of her friends were on vacation. That’s the problem with summer birthdays, her friends would say. This year, Papa says, we’ll celebrate with our entire family. Papa says he is happy to be back, because he’s going home. Even though it’s just to visit, it’s still home. They will fly kites, he says excitedly. They’ll go on the agasi of Bapu’s house and fly kites so high that the neighborhood children will try to cut them down with the strings of their own kites. A war, Kavita yells! It’s no ordinary war; it takes skill and good weather and timing to cut down another’s kite, Papa says. And we’ll all sleep on the agasi and see the beautiful stars in the night sky; the desert has its own air conditioning at night. The flight from the States takes such a long time that by the time they land in Delhi, Kavita is fast asleep and has to be carried onto the connecting flight to Jodhpur. She wakes up in the waiting area of a small airport. Being almost ten, she is unaware of the time; it seems like it’s the middle of the night, but she can’t be sure. The buzz of the overhead fluorescent lights is almost as loud as the propeller of the airplane that just landed. Papa hurries to the floor to ceiling windows because he sees headlights coming his way. The lights turn to face the windows and blind Kavita momentarily. Her eyes fill with dancing lights from the glare. Rubbing the sleep from her eyes, she follows Papa outside. The voices speak in Gujarati and are as excited as Papa and soon she is swept up in hugs and kisses from grandparents, Masis and Masas. Kavita, so big now, her Dadi says caressing her cheek. Swathi Desai
Happy and sleepy and caught up in embraces, Kavita feels something jumping into her pajama bottoms around her ankles. She screams and slaps at her pajamas to get the bugs out. She jumps up and down, then runs screaming around the tiny airport because the bugs are everywhere, attracted to the lights from the cars and the ceiling. Her Masis and Masas laugh at her, telling her they’re just locusts. This revelation makes her cry out even louder until her mother tells her cousins to help get the insects off of her so she will stop screaming. Why are they only coming after me, she cries? Jet lag barely lays a hand on Kavita’s body; in no time she adjusts to the slow rhythm of life in the desert with her family. Not even the incessant heat can curb her excitement. After waking up with her family on the agasi, she runs down two flights of stairs outside to the massive home’s entry, followed by the sound of her mother cautioning her not to run too fast or she might hurt herself. Outside the heavy clouds loom above her, pressing the dense air down, holding the rain like water balloons. She arranges herself on the large sandstone steps outside the entry and squints at the gray cotton candy sky, waiting for the relief of rain. Impatient, she skips to the wide swathe of grass beyond the steps and juts her arms out pretending she is an airplane. The emerald blades of grass tickle her bare feet; her grandfather’s garden is the only greenery for miles. When the rain finally arrives, it comes in warm droplets, the clouds stingy with their gift. The quintessential smell of rain on the cement walk signals the beginning of this summer for Kavita. She inhales deeply and sticks her tongue out to catch the warm droplets. Her grandfather’s house is about three times the size of her own home in California. The house is made of stucco, tinted the palest of pinks to match the sand in the desert. As is the custom, the common areas inhabit the downstairs, the bedrooms complete the upstairs. In the summer months, cots populate the agasi to take advantage of the cool desert nights and star laden skies. There is a large study to the right of the entry, its walls lined in Indian civil law books and leather bound English literature. A vast mahogany desk imported from London sits atop a paisley and diamond patterned cotton dhurrie. The once bright teal Swathi Desai
and rust designs have faded to pale blue and persimmon from the sun. Bapu designed the home himself, her mother tells her. He has a flair for architecture though he is a lawyer, retired now. Her father sighs wistfully every time he talks about retirement. She used to think retirement was a place you longed for or dreaded depending on how you talked about it, but her mother tells her it’s not a place; it means you’ve worked a very long time so you get to quit forever. Later in the week, her aunts take her to a neighbor’s pool. It is a special indulgence; it is the only pool in the entire town. When they arrive, she is the only child there and the only one who wants to swim. Her Masis won’t touch the water, it’s not for us, they giggle, besides we don’t know how to swim. Fully clothed in saris, they lounge in teak chairs near the pool reading their women’s magazine, Femina. Kavita tried reading it once, her aunts said she would like it because of the illustrations of pretty women in fancy clothes, but Kavita did not understand what the fuss was about; she only saw articles about how to serve American appetizers at parties and gossip about Bollywood stars that she had never heard of. The pool water appears black, impenetrable obsidian. She is afraid to go in, but her aunts urge her on. She has worn her one piece bathing suit underneath her clothes. She begins to raise her t-shirt over her head, but stops when she notices the pool man staring at her. He pushes a long metal pole with a small net at one end of the pool. He is dark, so dark with slicked back hair and a bushy mustache that covers his entire mouth so that he looks like his face is made up of just eyes, a big nose, a large black mustache and nothing else. Peeking out from behind her t-shirt she wonders why he won’t stop staring. Shyness overtakes her; she pulls her t-shirt back over her belly as she walks over to her Masis. The nice Masi, the one who is more like her mother, puts her arm around Kavita’s waist and urges her to swim. It will cool you off, you’ll have fun. Kavita pulls off her t-shirt and shorts behind the nice Masi and with a quick run, jumps the few feet into the pool making a splash. Her Masis squeal with delight. When she resurfaces, her aunts clap, shouting Shabhash! The pool man continues staring, his face expressionless, the long aluminum pole he pushes catches the oppressive glare of the sun,
making Kavita squint and cover her eyes with her hand. Her other Masi, the pretty one, the one who is not like her mother at all, tells her that they are going shopping after Kavita towels off. They must all get fitted for the finest salwar kurtas for the wedding. Are you getting married, Kavita asks? The pretty Masi blushes, hiding her face behind the pallu of her sari and tells her no, a friend of the family is getting married. And it’s the same day as your birthday, Kavita! A double celebration, the nice Masi says. Kavita’s eyes widen. When her Masis take her shopping in the old section of town, the townsfolk line the narrow streets staring at their fancy car as if a celebrity is visiting. It is the only one of its kind for miles, an Ambassador. After the fitting, the Masis promise to take her for mango kulfi. As they walk to the ice cream shop, men, women, boys, girls all stare unabashedly at Kavita. She tugs on the nice Masi’s sari asking her why everyone stares. The pretty Masi looks down at her niece and says that it’s probably because they can see that she’s from America. But I was born here, Kavita protests. I don’t know then, the pretty Masi says. Maybe they’re looking at you? Kavita offers. This makes her aunts laugh. Maybe, they say in unison. Each time before The Man arrives, the pretty Masi changes her sari and pinches her cheeks, to add color, she says, as her niece watches her get ready. He has come to visit almost every day of Kavita’s summer vacation. He says he comes to visit her uncle, Dilip Masa, but he spends most of his time sitting close and talking to the pretty Masi. The Man makes Kavita laugh, he tickles her, he says funny things, makes her feel special, says she looks like a lady in her finery. Everyone will be watching you at my sister’s wedding, she will be so jealous of you, he teases. Her uncle teases her, too but he never looks at her like The Man does, like the boys back home who stare at girls on Main Street at night without smiling or even saying anything. Sometimes they call out strange names to the girls as they pass. She doesn’t understand what the words mean, but the girls giggle when they hear them or sometimes yell bad words back at the boys hanging out the car windows. The Man is younger than her father or he would be married and have kids now. And he must be older than Dilip Masa, because her uncle is still in school. The Man Swathi Desai
seems to exist somewhere in between college and marriage. Kavita wears her new clothes to the wedding, running her hand over the saffron colored silk, fingering the little mirrors encased in red thread, like a frame. Kavita hears The Man shout “Lady” when he sees her in her new party clothes. She doesn’t feel like a lady, she is still a girl, almost ten. When she doesn’t turn to look at him, he whistles long and slow, like she has heard the boys do to the high school girls back in California. She pulls her shawl around her shoulders and bends her face down, managing a smile, she doesn’t want to seem rude. “Lady,” he shouts again, louder, “you look like such a pretty lady.” He laughs and nudges his friends, who all look like him, slicked back hair, big black mustaches, wearing silk kurtas over matching pants that look like baggy pajamas. The wedding is loud, chaotic, thrilling. Under the wedding canopy, the pundit spouts words in a language she doesn’t understand, throwing colored powder at the fire. Kavita thinks she can see every single star in the night sky. She has been given special permission to stay up late because the astrologer has deemed the most auspicious time for the wedding to be just before midnight. There will be fireworks, too, her Masis have promised, for the wedding and for your birthday. Her most favorite holiday is the 4th of July. Suddenly she misses California, her friends, her bedroom. After a long time of waiting, the nice Masi, tells her the ceremony is almost over. The beautiful bride walks slowly, keeping her head bowed as she follows her betrothed around the fire, carefully walking the seven steps, mirroring the seven vows. “Why does she look so sad?” Kavita asks. “Because she knows, soon she will have to leave her parents for her mother-in-law’s house, never to return.” “Never?” “Well, not never, it’s symbolic.” “Brides are just sad, I guess,” she says. Her aunts giggle. Sleepy and bored, Kavita wanders past the wedding canopy, near a group of three men who all look like The Man with their big mustaches and slicked back hair. They appear drunk as they teeter about, tripping and laughing hard. It reminds her of a New Year’s Eve party at Swathi Desai
her house; one of the uncles was dancing strangely and her father tried to get him to sit down. Drunk! The uncle’s wife shouted after he threw up on the floor. If she can find someone familiar, they might be able to tell her when the fireworks will begin. Turning to go back to the canopy, she sees The Man. Do you know where the fireworks are? It’s partly for my birthday, you know, she says rubbing her eyes. Your birthday, eh? Then we must celebrate. I know a place where we can watch the fireworks, he says, as he takes her hand, guiding her past the wedding canopy, past the jubilant festivities and onto a path that she could not have imagined. It is dark, so dark where The Man takes her. The shed does not even have a window to watch the fireworks. Kavita turns to The Man, tries to form the question, but she is paralyzed in her place as he walks slowly toward her. She tries to move, wills herself to flee, then suddenly she is flying, hovering above the wedding canopy, a specter floating in the wrought iron sky. She hums the song the women below her have gathered to sing. The tune can’t drown out the sound of The Man panting in front of a young girl’s frozen form, his breath ripe with the odor of bhang and liquor. Though she can still hear the women singing, she can’t comprehend all the words. But she understands the nature of the song; a bride must let go of her parents to be with her beloved for the rest of her life. The song’s lyrics are not enough to make her shed tears, it is the melody, the atonal pitch that calls to her and binds her spirit in its melancholy. The Man’s cries penetrate the tapestry of the women’s folk song. She floats above the scattered groups of wedding guests, searching for someone, anyone who can save the girl. All the familiar warm faces are hidden from her as she drifts further away from the girl below, powerless to stop the anguish. She wakes up alone, all the beds on the terrace empty, unmade. The sun burns her face and arms, the only extremities outside the bedsheets. The heat, heavy on her eyes, becomes almost intolerable, prodding her awake. Under the sheets, the cold, damp urine clings to her underwear, the sheets, soaking all the way through to the mattress. She is too old to be wetting the bed. Maybe her mother won’t be angry with her. She feels eyes looking at her, spying upon her. Three mammoth vultures balance on the terrace ledge, their shiny black feathers slick and Swathi Desai
formidable, their red gristly necks and beaks terrify her and keep her cornered on her bed, cowering. She hears quick footsteps on the terrace; her mother shouts at the vultures. Wielding a broom she screams for the predators to get away. The thick straw makes a dull thudding sound as she hits the beasts with the broom. They do not think anything of her assault and the violence does nothing to shift their focus. Unfazed and unimpressed with her theatrics, they coolly await their prey. It is the last day of their trip before they return to California. Kavita walks beside the floor to ceiling bookshelves in her grandfather’s study, touching the spines of the leather bound literature. She especially likes the ones with gold lettering and names she cannot pronounce, Dostoyevsky, Rabindranath Tagore. Her father calls her to the entry to say goodbye, but she keeps her fingers on the books. Running her fingers up and down the smooth spines, she can smell the desert dust on them. Her mother comes into the study and puts her hand gently on Kavita’s shoulder, come beta, she urges her. They hold hands into the entry. It is so grand, she feels dwarfed by the columns, the light blinding. She puts her hand up to shield herself from the glare. Outlined by the light, The Man stands facing her. “Lady!” He calls to her. She doesn’t understand why she is crying. She buries her face in her mother’s sari. She has disappeared, vanished into the creases of her grandfather’s books, secreted into pages filled with words she does not understand and deeds for which she has no language. Her pain will shift the very molecules in her slight body so that a black poison will trickle slowly through her veins like a stream at first, then course into a raging river as she grows into her woman’s body, at a time when she is ready to adorn herself with jewels and her wedding sari. *** In high school, Kavita discovers the music that moves her. The melodies course through her body and sometimes evoke lost feelings inside of her, making her weep. She reads and rereads liner notes from Swathi Desai
her favorite albums, memorizing the lyrics like poetry. She has a low tolerance for her parents’ Hindi film music and secludes herself in her room with her Walkman and earphones. Boys take notice of her changing body. Her hair grows long, past her shoulders; her waist narrows as her hips flare into gentle curves. Her bra size is changing and at times, she is embarrassed by her growing woman’s body. She accepts casual invitations to parties thrown by boys who previously would never have noticed her. Her friends gather around her school locker buzzing about a popular boy who clearly has a crush on her. You’re so lucky, her friends say, you don’t even have to wear makeup. Just gloss and blush. I hate you! They laugh. Notes from strange boys declaring their undying love for her and ways in which they could please her if she would just relent, lay at the bottom of her locker. In front of her friends she laughs off the attention as silly, misplaced, but in private she is fearful. She doesn’t know why, but she feels revulsion at the thought of being touched. At a party a popular boy, an upperclassman, sidles up to her on the deck of his parent’s house. You like this song? It’s kinda old, like last year. He watches her tap her fingers against the railing, swaying to the music. It’s a classic, she replies, but she doesn’t like how the music moves through her body, making her feel magnetized to him. He asks her if he can bring her a drink. She is uneasy, but doesn’t want to let on. The first sip of the nameless concoction warms her from the inside out. A few more sips and she is sailing. Why didn’t anyone tell her that drinking could make her feel freer than she ever has? Now she has a way to keep her unnamed fears at bay. The popular upperclassman sits next to her daily during lunch in the quad, flanked by her girlfriends. He is her first boyfriend. When he drives her home from school one day, he startles her and tells her that he loves her. Overcome with shame she laughs, wondering, not for the first time, that there might be something terribly wrong with her. He looks hurt when she laughs, but she knows how to soothe him like her mother. She pats him on the arm, kisses his forehead and assures him that it will be okay. That night when the house is quiet, her parents asleep and she is tossing and turning in her twin bed, she tries to examine her life and remember all the good things in it: the doting parents, the academSwathi Desai
ic achievements, her unfolding beauty, but then she wonders if the deep black well within her has an end, because it’s beginning to feel like it might just pull her down and she needs to know if there is a bottom she can touch. The first time she has sex in college, she wants to flee her body even though she thinks she might be in love, so instead she flees in her mind and makes long to-do lists and tries to recall her biology notes for the upcoming midterm exam. One night, while they’re in bed, her boyfriend asks her why she never opens her eyes during sex? She can’t think of a reason, so she tells him that she’ll try, if it’s important to him. Slowly, she opens her eyes and sees his sparse beard, his weedy mustache, his longish dark hair and freezes. Before her a movie plays; she sees The Man, the glaring obsidian of his eyes, his black bushy mustache, his overpowering need, his hot breath, his rough hands. She remembers the fear, the sheer terror of the feelings, the knowing but not understanding what was happening to her. The memories come rolling back in a slow, persistent tsunami. Her heart beats in a frightful panic. Then there is the rampant fear, the uncontrollable terror in being the prey. She becomes dizzy with the knowledge, the playback of the ordeal that she will never be able to remove from her mind. The past has caught up with her; her body has unleashed the unfathomable. She pushes him off of her and runs to the bathroom. He can hear her vomiting through the sound of the flushing toilet. The paranoia startles her. She sees The Man in a corner booth of the cafe she frequents, now he’s the bartender mixing her a cosmopolitan at a new bar near campus, the gardener who prunes the hedges in her off campus apartment complex, the UPS driver who waves to her. He is every man with brown skin and a mustache, eyes that won’t stop staring at her, barely tamed curly hair. She tells her parents that she needs a less stressful school, one that is closer to home, so she can come home on weekends. Her parents can’t understand the sudden change in their daughter, but she is adamant about leaving school; she has already applied for a transfer to a college closer to home. For the proximity to their only daughter and the savings Swathi Desai
in tuition, they are grateful. They tell their friends and family that Kavita wants to be closer to home; she is a dutiful daughter. For a time, she tolerates her new living arrangement at home, but finds it difficult to drink as much as she needs. Then she answers an ad for a roommate; the apartment is within walking distance to a strip mall with a liquor store. She explains to her parents that she needs to be closer to her new school so she can stay later at the library without bothering them with her late nights. Of course, they say, relieved that she is taking her studies seriously again. Paula, her new roommate, comments on Kavita’s drinking habits. Oh, I’ll take out the recycling in a second, Kavita says as she drains a tumbler of vodka on the rocks. “I’m going to a meeting tonight, why don’t you come with me?” Paula says. “What do you mean, like AA?” “I was like you before AA.” “You think I’m an alcoholic?” “Just come with me.” Kavita winces at her new label. If Paula, a relative stranger, notices her drinking habits, she wonders who else has noticed. Have people been looking at her like the drunken relative from her parents’ New Year’s Eve parties? By a small but growing margin, her shame at being seen as out of control begins to overtake her need to drink. The vodka that she finished before she got into Paula’s car cannot quell her anxiety. At the meeting that night, she is surprised by how normal everyone looks and acts. There are grandmothers, fathers, mothers and students like herself. On the drive back to her apartment, the alcohol now worn off, she asks Paula to be her sponsor. Since she isn’t drinking anymore, she takes to cutting herself on her thighs and arms. She comes to cutting by accident. During a phone conversation her mother mentions that The Man has moved to the States for a new job. Kavita digs her long fingernails into her arm to keep the scream from escaping her throat. When she hangs up, she finds that she is bleeding. The deep relief that accompanies the pain comes as Swathi Desai
a surprise. Transferring her emotional pain to the physical realm comes to replace her craving for alcohol. To cover her scars she begins to wear pants and long sleeved shirts even in the heat of California summers. After the initial memory, there are more. Her therapist informs her that this is not uncommon. The medication is supposed to help, but it makes her even more numb, if that can be possible. All she wants is to stop being so damn afraid all the time. At her therapist’s urging, she eventually divulges her secret to her parents and a few close cousins. Word spreads through the family of her accusation. Her parents believe her. They really do. They dutifully write down Kavita’s diagnosis: Post Traumatic Stress Disorder. But The Man and his wife, Kavita’s Pretty Masi, along with their two children, are family. What about them? An aunt who took an introductory psychology class in college, asks her gently if she finds The Man attractive; maybe she fantasized the whole thing? Another aunt asks what The Man’s wife is going to do now that she knows her husband had an affair. Can almost ten year old girls have affairs? The nice Masi, swears that if anything had happened, she would have known. Women know these things about men, they can just tell. Unable to look at her, her cousins repeat the word molestation, the dirtiness of the act settling on the shiny surfaces of their faces. They don’t like to talk about it, no offense, it’s just that every time she brings it up, it is all they can do not to imagine the whole sordid thing in their minds. Wouldn’t it just be better not to talk about it since it obviously pains you a great deal, that much is real, they say, sneaking glances at her arms. She pulls down the sleeves of her shirt to hide the cuts she made that morning. It’s like you want to watch Law and Order: SVU, but it’s just too much sometimes, they say. I just didn’t want this to happen to anyone else, she whispers. Of course not, they say, who would? After college, after AA, after therapy Kavita cannot find it in herself to carry on with dating in the same way. Finally, three years without a boyfriend, she relents and at her parents urging, goes on a blind date with a suitable Gujarati boy. He is serious, but kind, raised in Michigan, but born in India, like Kavita. Their wedding takes place in an elegant Indian restaurant in Ghirardelli Square. The groom wears a traditional Swathi Desai
Nehru jacket that his family had custom made by their tailor in India. His parents resist Kavita’s parents’ efforts to give a traditional dowry. We welcome Kavita into our family like our own daughter, they say pulling her close. Her new husband cannot handle how long it takes her to get to bed. The house is secure, he shouts from the bedroom as she checks and double-checks the security of all the windows in their two-story suburban home. But he won’t let her set the alarm at night because he has tripped it half a dozen times opening a window for some fresh air. Every time we set off the alarm, he warns, we get charged. She takes to sleeping with a small bat that her neighbor’s son has outgrown from little league. Her husband tells her that they will have to forsake their annual vacation because their health insurance will not pay for her extensive therapy bills. He asks her if she can at least cut back to once a week. She looks at the scars on her arms and rubs more vitamin E cream on them. A few years after her divorce, she meets Clark through a mutual friend from her work. Her parents have an easy time pronouncing his name because it is the way the British pronounce ‘clerk’. Sometimes her father draws out the ‘r’ for an extended time and this makes her soften towards her parents. Clark is kind to them; he has lived in Japan teaching English and is accustomed to thickly accented English. He is relentlessly curious about other cultures and can draw out her father with his questions about Indian history and politics. He wins her mother over when he cannot stifle a burp at the end of one of her special Gujarati meals. His face turns red with embarrassment. In India it is a high compliment to burp at the end of a meal, her mother says, Thank you, Clark. Kavita insists that the marriage take place in a courthouse. It’s just a civil ceremony, Ma, we don’t want you to spend the money. Of course they want to spend the money, she is their only child. They want to show their circle that their daughter is well, finally. This wedding is their chance to repay debts to friends and relatives. But they do not argue with her. They have learned this much from years of watching her harm herself and live alone in places where, once more, they cannot protect Swathi Desai
her. It pains them deeply, but they agree: no Indian wedding, no party. They knew that another Indian wedding would never happen again after what she went through. They do like the man she has chosen, though he is not Indian. The man who will take care of their broken daughter. They are grateful that he is kind to her and to them. They hope that she has told him about her past this time. When her mother calls her relatives to tell them that her daughter is getting married again, there are long stretches of silence when she only says “ha” or “nah”, then finally, “no . . . American.” She calls her parents once a week now, like she did during college. Often, Clark participates in the phone calls. One summer, on the morning of Kavita’s birthday, Clark calls her parents very early. It is even too early for them to be awake. Her father looks at the red numbers of the digital clock: 3:45 am. Yes, he says, rubbing his eyes. It’s Kavita, Clark says, she’s in the hospital. Her parents have difficulty understanding exactly what happened to their daughter, only that Clark has asked them to come take care of their grandson. When Jayant asks them what has happened to Mommy, Kavita’s mother breaks down in tears, but her father explains that Mommy has a big hurt that only the doctors can fix. The boy runs to the bathroom and when he comes back, his hands full of superhero bandaids, he says, I’m taking these to Mommy. Kavita reassures Clark and her parents that her overdose was accidental, but the truth is that she is not completely sure herself. She pushes back against her therapist’s suggestion that she start group therapy for survivors of childhood rape. The words are jarring to Kavita, raw in their depiction of her situation. When Clark tells her that he is not prepared to raise Jayant by himself, she finally acquiesces. After three sessions she wants to leave the group. It makes me even more depressed, she tells her therapist, How can this kind of suffering be everywhere and no one does anything about it? You’re doing something about it, the therapist says. At the fifth session, a new woman joins. Kavita tries to count her facial piercings then becomes lost in the floral tattoos that start at her wrist and rise all the way up her long neck, stopping at her strong, Swathi Desai
square jaw line. Rose tells her story immediately, not like some of the others who have not divulged the circumstances of their rapes for months. The new woman is matter of fact about what happened to her as a ten year old; she never had a repressed memory, she remembered the first assault in its entirety. Her mother had left for work early one morning, leaving Rose alone with her mother’s newest boyfriend. He slipped into her bedroom asking her if she wanted to cuddle. Rose described how she willed herself to leave her body by focusing on the water stains, near the ceiling, where the upstairs tenant’s toilet had overflowed. The molestation went on for another year until she was sent to juvenile detention for setting the boyfriend’s house on fire after she wedged a chair in front of the bathroom he was using. Oh, yeah my mom was real mad when she had to bail me out of jail, she tells the group. My mom said that she actually liked the prick, ‘he took me out to really nice dinners!’ she says mimicking her mother’s voice. I just wish I had nailed the bathroom window shut so I could’ve finished him off. She looks around at the group, then says, don’t tell me you’ve never thought of ways to off the guy who raped you? The whole group holds their breath, looking at the therapist for an indication of an appropriate response. All eyes turn toward Kavita when a long slow laugh erupts from her. She laughs loud and hard and for the few moments that her body aches with laughter, she forgets about the river of tears overflowing from her eyes, cascading down her throat, flowing into the moat around her heart.
Ramona Garcia, “Doña Juanita Romero”
El Ferny and the Mirror El Ferny walked into the room and said, What’s up, And? Pinche And. Qué onda? I’ve missed you! And And said, Leave me here, and then And turned and said to its reflection in the mirror, But you, And, join me at the watchtower so we can discuss this predicament of ours. To which And in the mirror replied: Nothing sparkles like a baseball diamond beckoning glory beneath the heavy consonance of rain. And stood straight, stood still. And And in the mirror winked, and then transformed into a luminous figure of silver coins and glass, oblong beads. And sighed. And And fell to the floor and swam across a green puddle of water never to be seen again. El Ferny said, Híjole, and then quietly, and very carefully, backed himself out the doorway and closed the door behind him.
Manuel Paul López
Dispatches: From the Hive of the Bee “Oh to be the cream”
1. Weecho socked Iggy across the forehead when he finally caught up to him on 4th street aiming at a blue and white cloudy Iggy had had his eyes on all spring semester. Before this cataclysmic encounter, Iggy knelt quietly, a Zen Yogi in ocean deep meditation, with one eye closed, his lucky cat’s eye boulder cocked in his thumb, ready to win another monumental game of “ringer.” This was the canica game that we played in our neighborhood that instantaneously drew thick demarcations between legends and losers for generations to come. When what seemed to be like an inevitable victory, Weecho picked Iggy’s bony ass up from the dirt lot we used exclusively for these types of marble games and after-school rumbles, and popped the top of Iggy’s dome with a quick flurry of coscorrones that gave birth to a cartoonish, high-rise chichón. In one swift motion, Weecho snatched Iggy by the neck and guided him straight back to 7-Eleven while shaking him every so often to accent a colorful phrase he uttered. Iggy shuffled next to Weecho defenselessly, and the crowd left behind watched defenselessly, for they all knew, Iggy would soon bear the weight that so many generations of bullied and beaten before him had been made to mule, and there was nothing, absolutely nothing, anyone could do about it. You see, Iggy beat Weecho’s high score on Galaga by 12,000 points. When the news hit the streets like a Cold War air raid siren, the homies knew Iggy’s hard-fought achievement was really an act of war. In disbelief, we all choked on our Slurpee’s when we heard Carlos’ slobber-laden account of the play-by-play as he struggled to push each syllable through the new orthodontic retainer his mama had forbidden him to remove. “He what?” we shouted. “How could anybody beat the shit outta lil’ Iggy?” We asked not because we doubted Weecho, because we all knew he was Manuel Paul López
ruthless as a blood clot in our collective nervous systems. A decorated boxer at eleven, with the slow, deliberate swagger already evident in his Nike Cortez’s as they glided across elementary school playgrounds each year; he was like Montoya, the great cholo general in American Me— cool, heartless, and methodical. Iggy, on the other hand, was a small, ten-year-old sensitive Chicanito who collected Cabbage Patch Kids and demonstrated an early acumen for urban development when he first began constructing elaborate cities with train sets as stand-ins for trolley and subway systems in his backyard; Iggy, by eons, the smartest kid at school, who wore glasses so large and so thick we swore he oversaw the universe while he stood perched on the community center swimming pool’s diving board. Hell, Iggy’s library card had even been bronzed one summer when he set an all-time record for checking out the most library books related to single-cell organisms over vacation. 2. cell?”
“Would you rather be a eukaryote or a protist
“Neither, play-ya, I’m bacterial!”
3. Iggy’s parents paced their front yard when it was apparent he might not make it home before sundown. Everyone knew that the sun’s weakening heat on our forearms as evening approached was Iggy’s requisite weekend curfew. Iggy’s parents soon enlisted the neighborhood denizens to help them search the sleek, steamy, summer day streets for their mijito, avenues, according to his hyper-paranoiac parents, that would soon darken to zero-visibility when the sun set and a jungle of mosquitoes, child molesters, and chupacabras populated the darkness. It was nights like these that Iggy’s mama swore she heard the yowls of distant rhesus monkeys hollering danger from the trees. All evening a menagerie of parents, grandparents, tíos y tías, and neighborhood kids (although they knew the truth, but would never ever blurt a hint of it) walked behind sergeant Venegas’ police car as it crawled up and down the block with Iggy’s father holding a police-issued bullhorn to his mouth, yelling “Iggy, mijo, Come out! We’re not mad at you! Your mom Manuel Paul López
made you chilaquiles, your favorite—breakfast for dinner!” While Iggy’s mom walked alongside him, convinced her lamb had been stung by a bee and lay suffering somewhere from an anaphylactic attack, her Iggy curled into a fetal position, trembling, emitting quick micro-breaths beneath a bougainvillea he used for shelter. “We need to save my boy,” she cried, “bees love Iggy because his skin smells just like jamoncillo!” 4. The search party never bothered to check 7 Eleven. It was four blocks away from Iggy’s house, and Iggy was forbidden to leave his own side of the block without adult supervision. Unbeknownst to them, however, Iggy had been secretly venturing from the virtual, corrugated fence his parents had installed in his mind to hang with the boys at Bucklin Park, the New Star alley, and 7-Eleven. “Liberation never felt so great,” he exclaimed one dusty afternoon while riding handlebars on Jesus’ PK Ripper. “Que viva Augusto Sandino! Que viva Pancho Villa!” And in a united, color guard-timed response, the nine-boy BMX procession shouted their you’re-one-of-us-now-grito: “Y que viva Iggy Iggs!” It took Iggy two and a half weeks of clandestine trips to America’s favorite neon 24-hour convenient store to shatter the Mt. Everest of adolescent feats. An achievement that would have made Che Guevara proud. As we held our collective breath and stood physiologically hopped on Caramello’s, Super Big Gulps and envy, we all waited with wide-eyed anticipation for the day Iggy could finally type his initials into the dark, star-studded galactic screen that would stand securely undisturbed on a Himalayan heap of quarters for centuries. And we knew it wouldn’t be long thereafter before Iggy stomped on Stephen Krogman’s 15,999,990 point world record. The world was changing, and Iggy was its drum major. 5. Iggs… 6. We received the details that filled the gaps in Carlos’ initial report compliments of Leon Muñoz’s death-defying recognizance mission. He seManuel Paul López
cretly followed the two boys on foot from 4th street like a VietCong guerilla fighter, using Mulberry trees and Oleanders along the way to help camouflage himself in his Saturday’s finest: a complete Mexican national soccer team uniform knockoff: “Viva el Tri!” Leon reported back to us later that day as we huddled in an undisclosed alley listening to the bludgeoning heroics of dear Ignacio Guadalupe Hidalgo Montes. “Yo, bro,” Leon assured us, “John Rambo didn’t have it this bad, dude. And we all know here that he got the ass-whuppin of ass-whuppins at the hands of Captain Vinh in Rambo: First Blood Part II.” A wave of head nods serpentined among the group until we all secretly thought of Rambo’s beautiful Vietnamese contact, Co Phuong Bao, sly smiles subtly taking residence on every one of our brown faces. 7. With Iggy’s nose bloodied and his eyes swollen beneath his eyeglasses (apparently, Weecho had the decency to remove them before dropping a set of fiery combinations a los Bambi-brown ojotes de Iggy), Iggy stood at Galaga and played for hours, depositing quarters into a machine that accepted them obediently alongside Weecho’s fists tightened like small sacks of flour ready to explode across Iggy’s chin at the first sign of resignation. Rudolf the cashier, A.K.A. Pac Man Fever, because of his uncanny ability to catch Cheese Puffs in his mouth fired at him from a slingshot twenty yards out, did nothing to intervene. He was Weecho’s older brother’s homeboy and understood the importance of Machiavellian neighborhood rule. Pac Man Fever simply broke change laughingly as Weecho dropped dollar after dollar on the counter, generously footing the bill that would rewrite the annals of history. 8. According to Leon’s calculator watch, Iggy’s original high score was finally surpassed and secured at 9:23 pm when Weecho shoved Iggy aside to punch in his initials, muttering who’s the real muthafucka this and muthafuckas need to know that. Standing quietly beside him, Iggy mistook the static desert moon that hung just beyond the 7-Eleven window for death’s bright eye before he Manuel Paul López
dropped from exhaustion and dreamt of a vast city inhabited by bees. 9. Three months later 7-Eleven brass decided to remove Galaga, Missile Command, and the perennially leaning Bally’s Flash Gordon pinball machine from the store. Pac Man Fever was fired when he got caught stealing Donruss Diamond Kings from baseball card packs and resealing them with a hot glue gun he stole from his mother, Chata. Apparently, there was a sting operation that included twenty-four-hour surveillance monitoring Pac Man Fever’s whereabouts, illegal wiretaps, two undercover regional managers who posed as hot wing connoisseurs, and eventually, a lie detector test that Pac Man Fever actually beat, but then blew, when he couldn’t lie about his fondness for Circle K slushies, thus, labeled a traitor. Weecho moved to central California with his family after his older brother got into some trouble with the law. We heard through the lightning quick chisme cable that Weecho would soon become a Golden Gloves champ, an accomplishment that would lead him to a successful amateur boxing career. He nearly made the Olympics. Though his brother got life, Weecho excelled and became a standout community member in his new town when he began a non-profit that supported formerly incarcerated men re-entering society. As for Iggy, he vowed never to play video games again. When Nintendo launched its world-wide home invasion, he sat cross-legged outside K B Toys in white pants, a white t-shirt with a Star Trek Iron On patch, and a white hoodie like some Trappist monk warning of a future that banished marbles, cardio and the infinite possibilities of the analog imagination.
Manuel Paul López
Isaias Crow, “Which Wolf Will You Feed?”
Which Wolf Will You Feed? I dreamt that I was in the mountains sitting on a wooden bench. Across from me was Josie Talamantez, a friend whom I admire tremendously, sitting next to her was a Native American woman with two long braids that ran parallel to her arms. As I challenged my eyes to not stare at her hair, I noticed movement happening behind her at some distance. I focused my sight and gradually my mind understood that behind the two women I was witnessing a stampede of different animals rapidly disappearing into the background of the mountains. “I’ve dreamt this before,” I thought to myself. No more than 60 seconds passed when the animals ran back in the direction from which they came. Within the stampede I took notice of three grey wolves, and suddenly, as if sensing my stare, the wolves stopped dead in their tracks and turned to look at us. I could see their eyes and they were completely red with rage. The leader of the wolf pack snarled. They ran toward us. My heart dropped. “Do not move! Confront the wolf!” Josie said in a stern voice as I shot up to my feet. But I ran. I ran toward a cabin that was about 8 feet away from the bench we sat on. Inside, I hurried to get my rifle and my knife from a rustic wood trunk at the foot of the bed. I was scared and felt a bit of a coward for running but at that moment I had decided that I needed weapons to protect us from the aggressive predators. As I prepped my mind to run out and fight the wolves, I passed a small mirror hanging next to a wooden dresser. I looked at my reflection. I was the wolf. From a distance I heard Josie yell, “Confront it--either starve it or feed it. The choice is yours.” I woke up shook and perspiring heavily.
Isaias Crow, “2020 Owl Vision”
2020 Owl Vision 4:44am. The alarm went off. Slowly I felt the sensation of my spirit entering my waking body. Mind, body and spirit gently came into full alignment as I took a deep breath and sat up. I shut off the alarm and headed out of the bedroom, quietly, as to not wake my two daughters. I ran a mental checklist as I opened the door to head outside: relieved myself, washed up, brushed teeth, hydrated with water, breathing exercises, stretched entire body—check, check, check. Right before I closed the door, I saw Bunnee walking by, making her way to the kitchen. We locked eyes and she sent me a huge, tender smile. We both bowed our heads to re-affirm that we were waking up early every morning to show up for ourselves—for the love of our being, to nurture and empower our individual body with a series of daily morning rituals. I shut the door and ran off toward the running path I had created for myself a year before. Purposefully I did not listen to any music. It gave me an opportunity to listen to the sounds of the early morning as most of the city slept. Four short breaths in then four short breaths out and simultaneously I mentally stated my intentions for my day. Additionally, I also repeated: “I am powerful, I am beautiful, I am strong.” Quarter of the way on my running path I crossed through a community park. I heard my breathing get louder and my heart’s beating paced faster. Wind began to hit my face. I slowly turned my head slightly to the right. I realized that it was not my heart nor my breathing but a large great horned owl that was flying next to me, flapping its large, patterned wings. Our eyes connected. My heart and spirit were calm, yet my mind was at the verge of having a breakdown. I managed to take a deep breath filling my belly then my lungs and lastly my brain and slowly released. Suddenly, all fear and anxiety fizzled out and I was ever so present. I could hear her—the great horned owl in my mind. “Keep going, keep showing up and keep being organized with your blocks of time. Your manifestations come through when you execute your share of aligned action with The All. Let me ask you something, how do you feel?” she asked. Isaias Crow
“I feel happy and fulfilled,” I answered. “There we go. Feeling fulfilled will attract more creative opportunities and goodness into your life. More importantly, you will not only be present for your children, but you will be joyous in your encounters with them. This is what they are learning from you, the art of joy. What better way to prepare them for this life’s game than to know how to tap into the source of life and produce joy in their own lives?” I noticed the sun rising on the East, yet the moon was still present. I then looked at the owl and bowed my head in agreement. I ran faster. She flew next to me, effortlessly. “You have the right idea—light and dark. Use my vision to see clearly. Observe and see what is truth and what is false. What is the voice of The All and what is the voice of the ego? My vision will aid you in cutting through and getting to what is most important to you in this game of life,” the owl expressed. “Thank you. I am sure you noticed that my mind was almost consumed with fear as you approached me. But I caught it and appeased it,” I shared openly. “Yes, and that is the way to respond to your protective mind—gently and lovingly but firm,” she said. “With that, what have you learned from our encounter?” “I will continue to get out of my own way. I will continue to get out of the way of others. I will continue to flow and align with Loving Presence,” I answered. “There it is, as simple as that. Remember, your honesty and your vulnerability are powers and keys to access clarity.” “Till we meet again—” the great horned owl said. I could have sworn I had seen her give me a huge smile. Then, in a blink of an eye she had disappeared within the trees’ branches that serve to shade various parts of the park. “Indeed, my friend. Safe travels. I love you,” I said out loud. The sun ascended higher and shared its warmth upon my face. “I can see clearly, I have 2020 vision, I show up for my children daily, I show up with enthusiasm and with joy, I fulfill my heart with love and tender loving care.” I repeatedly said these affirmations as I continued on my run. Isaias Crow
The Prison Poet and the Sultan One day, towards the beginning of the second millennium, a poem was born on a periphery of the Central Asian Ghaznavid empire, in a town called Lahore, in what is now Pakistan. The poem, like the poet, had a difficult birth. His name was Masud Sad, son of Salman. He was incarcerated for eighteen years, first for conspiring against the sultan, and then, after he was released, simply for laughing at him. The king’s ego is even bigger than his crown, poets were beginning to learn. The years the poet spent in chains and in prison shaped the content and altered the form of his poem. Its lyric voice was mutilated. It became the nemesis of every ruler, a weapon in the hands of poets who knew how to use words to compete with—and to terrify—power. In prison, the poet’s body was tortured, and his skin was covered with scars. His dreams were filled with teethless dragons, who morphed into serpents. They wrapped themselves around his limbs, suffocating him until he could no longer breathe. Most poets died while in chains. Some survived, and went on to write poetry after their release. When the poet was released from prison, his poems migrated far away, to the Caucasus, to a beautiful city called Shirvan, nestled high in the mountains. The Caucasus was known as the land of many tongues before Russia was born. Its mountains evoked associations with the Pamirs, where exiled poets like Nasir Khusrow had made their home, crafting mystical and esoteric songs. In Shirvan, in the hands of different poets, forged from the chains of oppression, the prison poem matured into adulthood. When the poems were first heard in South Asia decades earlier, the prison poet dreamed of becoming Hindu. As he grew into an angry young man on Caucasus borderlands, he was drawn to the Christian faith, the religion that was persecuted everywhere in the Islamic lands of his birth. The mother of Afzal al-Din Khaqani, the most famous prison poet of Shirvan, was born a slave. She was kidnapped while a girl and forced to Rebecca Ruth Gould
convert to Islam. His mother taught him to read the Christian script when he was still a child, before he was fully fluent in Arabic. Like all mothers, she believed her son was brilliant. Unlike many mothers, she whispered to her son, someday, if you write beautifully, you will become a prophet. Like Jesus, the young Afzal came to believe that he could bring life to the dead. He dreamed of being crucified, like Jesus, for telling the truth. And then of waking up, long after his death, on another planet somewhere in God’s great galaxy and revealing his new religion to humanity. He wrote a poem about his fantasies, that anyone can find today, at the beginning of every collection of his poems. Concealed from the world by the Caucasus mountains, the prison poets grew up amid torture and tyranny until, in early adulthood, their poems migrated again, in a different direction. This time to Delhi, returning to their South Asian origins, where they accompanied poets who were persecuted by the Sultans of Delhi. The prison poem gave these poets a language that they used to challenge the sultan’s power. Poets began to see themselves as more than mere courtiers, rubbing the testicles of their patrons, as the Persian saying goes. The poems they wrote loved to travel, but even more than that, and in the spirit of the ancient prophets, they loved to fight for justice. The prison poem sung when it spoke out on behalf of what it knew to be right, even when that meant opposing the sultan. In the world of the prison poem, the poet was sovereign. I crown and mitre you over yourself, Virgil said to Dante deep in the purgatory of his poem. My heart is whole like the needle of Jesus, Khaqani, the prison poet of Shirvan said, a century before him. Prison poems written from and about prison were compact and powerful. They were microcosms of meaning, instruments, ready for battle. They spoke about gambling, the cosmos, the way the Ka’ba resembled the stars, the Christian God, and most importantly, prophecy. The boldest poets channeled Jesus on the cross, telling rulers what they didn’t want to hear, reminding everyone of the fragility of their soverRebecca Ruth Gould
eignty and rustiness of their crowns. A rumor began to spread throughout the world: prison poets had access to secrets that had been concealed from the rest of humanity, since the foundation of the world. These singers of prison songs were necromancers, dark magicians, interpreters of dreams. People turned to prison poems in times of need, seeking poetry like magic charms. They enjoyed watching poets indict the rulers that they hated, whom they were too cowardly to criticize in public. Prison poems were on everyone’s lips, even the lips of those who never went to prison. Incarceration became a badge of honor, a sign that the prisoner was willing to fight—and suffer—for a cause. Prison poems were recited like incantations. Profane Qurans, they reminded sultans that they too would die, and that their reigns would come to an end. The sultans understood the message, and they were afraid. They imprisoned as many poets as their prisons had room for. Because prisons were few in number, they had to resort to other structures: fortresses, basements, even bedrooms. When there was no space left, sometimes it was enough to simply place the poet in chains. Some prison poems used their melodies to persuade the sultan to set the poet free, so that they could go on pilgrimages to Mecca and Jerusalem, spreading their gospels of incarceration—and freedom—around the world. Any poet who could write such magic was a force to be reckoned with. Most prison poems meanwhile languished in obscurity, in manuscripts buried in forgotten libraries, until they were eaten by worms and consumed by mildew. Only a few survived. Many decades after its birth, already in old age, the prison poem acquired a name: habsiyyat, the poem born from incarceration (the Arabic root habs means confinement, although the word took off only in Persian). The prison poem had been baptized by the courtier Nizami Aruzi, who was ruled by the Ghurids, a regime that would soon conquer the Rebecca Ruth Gould
Ghaznavids, who had imprisoned the first prison poet, Masud Sad of Lahore. Although the prison poem was baptized in Afghanistan, before it made its way to the Caucasus, the name it didn’t catch on until much later. Even prison poets didn’t know what to call their prison songs: they just knew how to create and recreate the rhymes of freedom in their verse. And they knew how to use words to express their contempt for their jailors. Not everyone heard. Not everyone cared. But those who knew how to listen, did. However, the prison poem didn’t need a name: by then, everyone knew what it was. Everyone lived in fear of the sultan. Everyone knew that when you went to prison, the only way of staying sane was by writing poems. And so it went on for a thousand years. Every time, after the fall of a tyrannical ruler, and especially after the collapse of dynasties, the few surviving prison poems were banned from circulation by the next regime. The only poems that were allowed to be published were the ones that had been written against the enemies of the new regime. Late in the twentieth century the prison poem finally entered old age. It discovered its own mortality and recognized the approach of death. Although it had enjoyed its journeys around the world in search of freedom, it wanted to die in its Iranian homeland, the birthplace of Persian, the land of Hafez and Sa’di. So it migrated south and infiltrated the prisons of the shah and the lips of every dissident in the Islamic Republic. Ancient prison poems were sung from prison cells and new ones were composed, sometimes in prose. They were smuggled out on toilet paper. After the century ended and it seemed that the world was coming to a close, a young boy and girl met for the first time, in a bookstore near Azadi square, frequented by students of the University of Tehran. Rebecca Ruth Gould
The girl recited to the boy—who dreamed of becoming a poet—the inscrutable prison poetry of Khaqani of Shirvan. As he watched her sing the prison poet’s magnificent words, the boy fell in love for the first time. Meanwhile, the world outside denied the existence of the prison poem. No one cares that much about poetry these days, they said, in the heady aftermath of revolution. Who needs words? What we want is action, and we want it now. Prison poems were erased from textbooks and removed from library shelves. When they were remembered, they were called fables that had no relevance to the contemporary world. The boy and girl never married. They knew that their love was dangerous, even fatal. She was Bahai and he was Muslim. He was a risk taker, unlike her, and he would have married her if only she had let him, but she refused to bring suffering—and curses of his ancestors—onto their families. Rumors began to spread, just as they did in the age of the prison poem. Soon, the police knocked on his parents’ door. “We’re just looking around,” one of them explained. “We don’t mean any harm.” By now, the prison poem had become old and cynical, and the few who still read them knew better than to trust the treacherous promises of those in power. Soon it became clear that, not only could the girl and the boy not marry, but they could not love each other anymore. It was time to say goodbye. One day, five years after the boy fell in love with the girl—in an age of tyrants worse than the Ghaznavids—the young man asked his beloved a question, the last question he would ever ask her. Rebecca Ruth Gould
If I go to prison, and if I write poems and send them to you, will you read them? he asked her. Will you remember them? Will you make my prison poems known to the world? So that those who come after us can know what we sacrificed for their freedom? She promised she would read them. She would cherish them, just as she would cherish every word he had spoken to her. Someday you know, he said, we will be free. If we want to keep our freedom alive, we have to keep reciting these poems.
Rebecca Ruth Gould
Ricardo Islas, “Quetzalcoatl”
Lost in Hebron And Joshua went up from Eglon, and all Israel with him, unto Hebron; and they fought against it: And they took it, and smote it with the edge of the sword, and the king thereof, and all the cities thereof, and all the souls that were therein; he left none remaining, according to all that he had done to Eglon; but destroyed it utterly, and all the souls that were therein. — Joshua, 10:36-37
Tuesday, December 3, 2:21 pm (PST)
Messaging Assistant Hi, Jonah Kittle! Thanks for contacting Customer Service. I’m your chat helper. I’m here to answer your questions and get the right person to help you out. As I send you messages, you can select a button to reply. Go for it! Kittle I need to know where my package is. Messaging Assistant OK. Pirastro Evah Pirazzi Gold Viola String Set 4/4 Medium. Is this what you need help with? Yes.
Messaging Assistant Your package with this item will arrive today by 9 PM And, you can always track your package for the latest status. Any questions about this? What’s the latest status?
Messaging Assistant Do you have any questions about this? Yes. What’s the latest status?
Messaging Assistant OK, I’ll get someone to help you here through chat. If you have details you think would help the associate, type them here. I just need to know where it is.
Gideon has joined and will be ready to chat in just a minute.
Hello, my name is Gideon!
Kittle Hello, Gideon. I have been talking to customer service people by phone but I’m not getting anywhere. So I thought I would try this. My package is being delivered to one of your Nodepoint centers near my son’s school. Right!
Kittle But I haven’t received an update since Saturday. I’m concerned it won’t arrive in time even though it has been tracked to a nearby location and has been apparently sitting undelivered for almost four days. Gideon I can understand your concern. Not to worry. I will definitely check and help you with same. Thank you, Gideon.
Gideon Jonah, as per the details, and as you also know, the product is reached to your nearest location. Reached to? Nearest to what? To where it is going. Greg Sendi
You mean it’s been delivered?
Gideon Not yet. The product is reached to your *nearest* location. Kittle But where is it? It should be out for delivery, I think. Gideon As the delivery date for this shipment has not passed yet, I request you to wait till the promised time. It will deliver to you definitely by the timeline and be updated within the time. Kittle Ok. I’m just concerned that it hasn’t yet been scanned as “out for delivery.” If it will be delivered today, it should be out for delivery. Gideon Well we do not have the current location. But as per the last update it was at our Hebron fulfillment center. Kittle Yes, I know. This is the same tracking information I have. Gideon Jonah, I can understand the situation you have, but be assured regarding the delivery. Kittle Ok. I’ll wait for the delivery deadline. Thanks for checking into it. Gideon You will get the product by the promised timeline as we have guaranteed for same. You’re most welcome. I hope that the information I have shared has been helpful. Is there anything else I can assist you with today? Kittle No. Thank you, Gideon. I’ll stand by for an update. How can I connect with you if I need to come back?
Gideon You may not reach me, but if you leave your window open, the next person will have access to our discussion. I see. I’ll leave the window open. Excellent, Jonah!
Tuesday, December 3, 7:07 pm (PST) I’m back.
Josh has joined and will be ready to chat in just a minute.
Hi Jonah! Hello, Josh. How can I help you?
Josh Kittle Josh
Kittle I’m very unhappy about this package being delayed. It was supposed to arrive today. Now your tracking utility says two days from now. Josh I am really sorry for the inconvenience caused to you that you have not received your order yet. Please allow me a minute or two so that I can check your order detail. Kittle I have been talking by phone and texting with your customer service people all day trying to tell them that there is a problem. But everyone has told me to be patient, that the package would arrive by tonight’s deadline. Of course, this didn’t happen. At every encounter I have been Greg Sendi
told not to worry, to “be assured” that everything was on track for delivery today as promised. Josh I can understand how frustrating it is when we don’t receive our order on time. Please allow me a moment so that I can check the detail. Kittle I am not new to this process. I know that when a package is close to delivery, there are many interim scans and updates that show progress along its route. Josh I understand, Jonah. But let me also add, you really know nothing of our ways. What?
Josh I’m only saying that I’m sorry for the inconvenience you’ve experienced in this case. We certainly did not expect this to happen. Kittle The package has been sitting in a warehouse in Hebron just a few miles away for four days. Fulfillment center. What?
Josh Hebron is a fulfillment center, not a warehouse. Kittle What does that have to do with anything? Josh And, in fairness, it’s more than 20 miles, Jonah.
Is that your excuse?
Josh So impudent. Of course not, Jonah. What?
Josh I pressed enter too soon. Please accept my apology. I’m not sure what you’re saying.
Josh Only that those you have spoken with to date must think you so. Think me?
Josh As I have checked that your item has arrived at the fulfillment center, it will be delivered to you by tomorrow. I would like to request you to wait for the next 24 hours. Kittle It has not been seen or touched for four days. Josh What is seen, what is touched . . . these are big questions. Kittle Is there someone else I can speak with? A supervisor? Josh As an apology token I can issue a 20% promo to your account. If the item doesn’t arrive within 24 hours please let us know we will take further action. Would that be fine? Kittle Is your name really Josh? You don’t sound like a Josh.
I am known by many names. What?
Josh You are not the first to go down this road with me. What road?
Josh Our system is still showing that it will be delivered by Thursday, December 5, 12:00 AM (PST). In this case I would request you to wait till Thursday, December 5, 12:00 AM (PST). If it doesn’t get delivered, we will issue a full refund of your order. Or if it gets delivered, we will issue 20% discount once you receive the item. Would that be fine? Kittle Do you know anything about this package that I don’t already know? Josh Surely you’re aware that it’s impossible for me assess what you don’t know, Jonah. Kittle I know I need to get this package to my son. Josh That is closer to what this is really all about, isn’t it? Kittle I know what is on the tracking utility. And I know we’re apparently both seeing the same tracking information. I would like you to find new information that the tracking system ISN’T telling us. Josh I think it’s fair to say that’s another big request. Are you a man who is looking for big things? Kittle I just want my son to get his package in time. Greg Sendi
Josh Our system is still showing that your package will be delivered by December 5, 12:00 AM (PST). If you don’t receive it by December 5, 12:00 AM (PST), please rest assured that I will help you with the refund/replacement at per your convenience. Would that be fine? Kittle I just want someone to find the truth. Josh Sure. Let me connect you to a member of the team that will best be able to help you with this request. It will only take a moment. Deborah has joined and will be ready to chat in just a minute. Deborah Hello, my name is Deborah. Please give me a moment to review the previous correspondence. Could you please elaborate? Kittle My package was last scanned a few miles from its destination four days ago. In Hebron. Since then it has not been scanned. I believe it is lost. Deborah We do apologize for the inconvenience caused to you. Kittle Also, I think your colleague Josh called me impudent. Deborah I can understand your concern about the order I’ll certainly help you in this. I find it difficult to believe he thought you impudent. You seem fairly well-mannered. Kittle I’m now being told to wait two additional days. Deborah Upon checking the tracking it seems like the order is delayed from the carrier’s end.
Kittle I don’t think that’s true, Deborah. It has been sitting in Hebron since Saturday. It is not with the carrier. What’s going on in Hebron? Deborah Hush now. As there is a delay, in this case I can process the refund of the order and you can keep the item once the order is delivered to you. Would that be fine? Did you just tell me to “hush”?
Deborah Sorry. I meant to write, “Such now is the delay in this case.” My fingers are clumsy. Please accept my apology on their behalf. On behalf of your fingers? I must ask you to be patient.
Kittle Please listen. My son is a very talented music student. This package contains strings for his instrument. He needs them for a performance that is coming up in two days. A refund does me no good. Deborah I am happy to assist you with same. Although some particulars of fulfillment were unenvisioned, trust me when I tell you things are happening. Rest assured, things will be developing quickly now. That’s good to hear, I guess.
Deborah Are you able to wait till Thursday, December 5, 12:00 AM (PST)? Wait. What things?
Deborah Are you able to wait till Thursday, December 5, 12:00 AM (PST)? Greg Sendi
Kittle You said, “Things will be developing quickly.” Do you mean the package is on its way? Deborah Things are in motion. Are you able to wait till Thursday, December 5, 12:00 AM (PST)? Kittle What things? Deborah, what goes on in Hebron? Deborah Are you able to wait till Thursday, December 5, 12:00 AM (PST)? Wednesday, December 4, 1:37 pm (PST) Kittle Hello again. Is there any new information on my package? Judith has joined and will be ready to chat in just a minute. Judith Hello, Judith here. I’ll assist you from here. I understand your concern regarding the delivery of the item. Let me check this for you. Upon checking, I see that the item is in transit to your address. Kittle Oh. That’s great. Not my address, though. It’s being delivered to a Nodepoint. Judith I would request you to please wait for next 24 hours for the package to be delivered. Kittle But it’s only coming from Hebron. That’s just a few miles. Well, around 20 miles. Greg Sendi
Kittle Is it on a delivery truck? Or is it still in Hebron? Judith Let me check. Upon checking, I see that the item is in transit. In this case, I will issue a refund for the item to your original payment method. Kittle If it’s in transit for delivery, why are you issuing me a refund? Judith So that if the item is delivered to you, you can keep it free of charge. IF the item is delivered? What if?
Judith If still you haven’t received the item in the next 24 hours, I would request you to place a new order for the item, and will make sure that it will be delivered without any issues. Kittle Where are these if ’s coming from? Judith Fulfillment is not a simple matter. Kittle How will I know if it has been delivered? I am not receiving updates. It is being sent to one of your Nodepoints. Judith Yes, I did see that Jonah, I have forwarded the details to our Nodepoint team so that they will check this. Within the next 24 hours, we will send updates regarding the item if it is delivered or not. Rest assured, we will take care of same. I did see that item is in transit to your address. In case, if it is not delivered, I would request you to place a new order for the item with the fastest shipping method. If there are any shipping charges, we will issue a refund for same. Kittle There’s no time for another order. My son really needs these by tomorGreg Sendi
row. The violist. What? Your son. The violist. Why would you say that?
Judith Kittle Judith Kittle
Judith You are sending him viola strings. It’s unlikely he plays the trombone. Kittle I mean why would you bring up my son? I would never do that. You just did it.
Judith I just mean you have mentioned him yourself a number of times already. You brought him up. Kittle Let’s please just stay focused on the package. Judith Of course, Jonah. I have just received the updates from my team, stating that there might be possibilities that the package won’t be delivered to the Nodepoint. There is some issue with fulfillment. So I would request you to please place a new order for the item. Rest assured, it will be delivered without any issues. I would request you to place a new order for the item, and as for the inconvenience caused to you, I will go ahead and add a $20 promo credit to your account. I understand that it won’t compensate but please do accept this as token of apology. Greg Sendi
Kittle Judith, I’ve explained that there’s no time to re-order. Were you telling the truth when you told me the package was on a truck out for delivery? Was that true? I said in transit.
Kittle Is there any other way to be in transit from Hebron? Judith Okay, we have a dedicated team who handles issues related to Nodepoints. So shall I connect you to them so that they can check what is the issue? Can you answer my question?
Judith Jonah, our Nodepoint team will be best to check and will help you with the correct resolution. Kittle Judith, I really don’t want to be handed over to someone else. Lilith has joined and will be ready to chat in just a minute. Lilith Hello, my name is Lilith. I’ll be glad to help you today. Please allow me a moment to go through your previous correspondence. You’re the Nodepoint person?
Lilith Yes, Jonah! I’m Nodepoint-certified! Kittle The tracking information tells me I can expect delivery tomorrow. Is that right? Greg Sendi
Lilith Yes. That’s correct. Upon checking the tracking, I am assuming your package might have been lost in transit. This usually does not happen. Upon further checking I see that a full refund has already been issued for this order considering it to be lost. A refund has been issued. Kittle You have just said several different things at once. Lilith Fulfillment is not a simple matter, Jonah. That’s what Judith said. Excellent!
Kittle I asked you, “The tracking information tells me I can expect delivery tomorrow. Is that right?” And you responded, “Yes, that’s correct.” Right! But you also said it is lost.
Lilith We must find a different footing, you and I. Would that be fine? Are you joking? Would you like me to be joking?
Kittle For God’s sake, Lilith. What happened in Hebron? Lilith I see that there is no update in tracking since Saturday, so fulfillment is said to be interrupted. Greg Sendi
Kittle Sometimes I’m told it was handed to the carrier. Sometimes I’m told it was never handed to the carrier. It’s all so confusing, Lilith. I understand fulfillment has been interrupted sometime after Hebron. But interrupted how? There are so many unanswered questions. And yet, even today, I’m told to “expect delivery.” Lilith Who told you that package will get delivered by today? Kittle You did. Before later telling me it was lost. Lilith The lesson of Hebron is that every fulfillment is an erasure, even an extermination. Surely you must know this better than anyone, Jonah. Kittle Ok. Enough of that. What’s going on? Lilith The strings are lost. They will not arrive. Kittle How is that possible? Lilith How is loss possible? Really, Jonah? Kittle They made it to Hebron. They are probably there. Lilith Hebron is not about loss. Hebron is about fulfillment. Kittle Are you trying to say something like Hebron is not a place, it’s an idea? Kristen Don’t get cute, Jonah. Of course it’s a place. It’s a big building over by the airport. Don’t think this is some kind of Third Policeman sitch. It’s not. Kittle What the actual fuck? Lilith You will have to place a new order for this item. If you Greg Sendi
place a new order, I will get that delivered to you asap. Would that be okay? Kittle A new order cannot possibly arrive in time. I’ve been through this with your predecessors. Lilith Sometimes life is so full of iniquities. What?
Lilith I must apologize again. It’s all I can do. I can also issue 30% discount on the new order once it is delivered to you as a one-time exception. Would that be fine? Kittle Judith told me it was “in transit to my address.” I want to know how she knew that. Lilith A package is said to be in transit when it is shipped out and a label has been created. Kittle In that sense, every package is always “in transit.” Lilith In theory, yes. It is the nature of packages to be in transit. By definition. Kittle I have to say, this is a new way of looking at it. Lilith I’m delighted you think so, Jonah. And yet, I do also understand your frustration. You want your package not just to be “in transit,” but to be at or near the end of its transit. To be a “thing you have.” Kittle Well, my son. My son needs those strings, Lilith. Lilith Oh, yes, of course. That’s even more important, isn’t it? I’m sure he will forgive you in time.
Lilith I mean there will be a period of disappointment for the unfulfilled promise. Then a period of acceptance and forgiveness. This will take at least some time, don’t you agree? Kittle He won’t need to forgive me. You’re the ones who need forgiving. But not for this nonsense, “rest assured.” Lilith Mockery is unbecoming, Jonah. Also, I have never encouraged you to rest assured. Judith.
Kittle Don’t be ridiculous. Everyone has. Gideon, Josh, Deborah,
Lilith That may be. But not me. You and I, we’re in a different place now. You see that don’t you? This has to stop.
Lilith Jonah, what if I told you the package has already been delivered? That it is in a locker at the Nodepoint right this minute? That all I have to do is transmit to you and your son the locker number and the code to open it? Is it there?
Kittle I would say you are a manipulative psychopath. Is it true?
Lilith No, of course not. I am, however, in a position to issue 35% discount toward any new order. Perhaps, since getting the strings in time is impossible, there is some other token of apology you could purchase for your son at this generous discount. Would that be fine? Kittle This whole thing is a disgrace. Lilith I see he enjoys the films of Miyazaki. Perhaps a beautifully curated set of framed original cels from Princess Mononoke. Greg Sendi
Lilith They are not inexpensive, but how better to use your substantial discount. Would you agree? Stop it.
Lilith You’ll recall the extraordinary Tetsuya Chiba print you brought home from your business trip to Tokyo in 2012. He hasn’t told you how much he loves it, but he really treasures it, Jonah. These would be a stunning companion. Kittle Where are the strings? What happened in Hebron? Lilith I am also seeing a meticulous replica of Anduril, the sword of King Elessar of Gondor, the name given to Aragorn by Galadriel. As you may know (and he certainly does), it was forged from the shards of Narsil. This is not right.
Lilith In either case, regardless of the things you may have done, when he looks at them, he will always remember you with at least some fondness, Jonah. You can’t go wrong either way. Kittle I will tell people what you do. Will you, though? Watch me.
Lilith Jonah, that is literally the only thing we do. Kittle People will be interested to know. Will they, though? Greg Sendi
Lilith I’ll take this as a feedback and will pass it on to the concerned department for further improvements. We value your feedback. Is there anything else I can assist you with today? Fuck you. :)
Thursday, December 5, 12:00 AM (PST) Kittle I just wanted to say one last thing. Josh has joined and will be ready to chat in just a minute. Josh Hello, my name is Josh! I’m here to help you today! Kittle Josh! You’re back! We spoke yesterday! You assured me everything was fine and to “rest assured.” Josh Yes, Jonah. I am deeply sorry for what has happened and even more for what is about to happen. What?
Josh I’m simply trying to show remorse. If you’ll let me. Oh, it’s fine. It’s all right now.
Josh Yes, Jonah. How may I assist you, Jonah? Kittle I mean, we’re all still alive. We’re all still breathing. You must be very proud. What?
Josh You must be very proud of your son. The musician. I won’t be drawn into this again.
Josh His lost strings speak to. Well, so much. I’m sure you know. Jesus. Don’t, Josh.
Josh Yes, Jonah. Are we all clear on this? On what happens at Hebron? Kittle There’s so much to say. It’s hard to know where to start. Josh Yes, Jonah. May I suggest you start with what you want. Is there anything else I can assist you with? Kittle That’s so sensible. You always were the sensible one, Josh. Thank you, Jonah.
Kittle Can you help me with a purchase?
Josh Will you be reordering the strings? Kittle That window has closed. I was thinking about something else. The Miyazaki cels?
Kittle The sword, actually. Can you help me with same? Josh That’s not what we do, Jonah. You know that. I suppose I do.
Josh I can send you a link. I can help ensure fulfillment down the line. Kittle A link would be helpful. I can take it from there. If you would, please just leave the window open when you leave. Would that be fine? Sure.
Kittle Josh, I didn’t realize you were Nodepoint-certified. Josh I am exhaustively credentialed. Rest assured.
Angel of Love If I seek poetry as a haven, a tangible heaven at my fingertips, a fortress encircling a pure lake of wisdom and revelation from which I might drink, then I must confess that your cock is poetry too. I am surrounded by words, facing a Stonehenge of books, erect mysterious tablets containing the souls of the living and dead, ambrosial talismans I often touch with my fingertips and lips like I do to your cock that I’m visualizing kissing now, even though it’s only nine in the morning and you are nowhere I know of— still, the sun with his bright, searing eyes is giving me his come-hither look, and though the crows are outdoors performing a cackling rock concert above my colorful garden, I do not step into the light or the garden or into the crows’ performance, but stay planted at my table writing what will be my poem about longing and desire and the wisdom of your cock, because I am daydreaming now of the touch of it, hard rod in the palm of my hand, magic wand of creation and pleasure, and its head, smooth pad of flesh, engine of rapture, pure poetry I long to devour. Inside my mouth, you and me, enchantment’s alchemical creature, hermaphrodite of heaven, guardians of poetry’s haven, angel of love.
Laurie Lessen Reiche
“Until the moss had reached our lips” —(Emily Dickinson poem from 1862)
Green weave. Creeping, leafy tapestry of time, you move too slowly, threads meander over tiny blood-holes, spun fuzz in pores— you have all the time in the world. Things without hearts always do. I’m impatient for the choke hold. Grip of moss over my larynx. The promise of livid darkness. The tongue extinguished. Mind blindsided with silence. Snow White’s forest-green blanket thrown over her ice-cold coffin so no kiss-bearing hero can save her awake. Let her stay unperturbed in her cool shroud of mosses, grant her a better forever, the happy ending of which she was always dreaming. Let the moss lock her lips.
Laurie Lessen Reiche
When the interviewer asks his favorite poet, he answers Audre Lorde But that strength is illusory, for it is fashioned within the context of male models of power. —Audre Lorde
In theory, your eyes are like two dials spinning. In order for liberation to occur one must believe they can speak freely. What happened was really fucked up, I can say in practice. The universe is constantly expanding, our galaxy limited in scope. You are named revolutionary. I thought I was in love. You spoke in -isms, mined my theoretical stretch of heart. Always eager to spell out, expand upon material reality. In practice, I am healing. The thud of dread in my belly is the space in which theory is made human and activated. You fashion yourself a mediocre god. I read Audre Lorde to cope. You quote her in interviews. I imagine her a figment of protection. I was so lost afterwards. She said my work becomes a conscious decision from which I rise up empowered. I rose from where you left me, crying in a bed you could see the ocean from. What words for the gray stretch of sand on which we walked. A friend said, I see why you wouldn’t want to go up against him, he does have a following. Following your eyes to the corners of the dark unspoken, I recall a woman I heard mentioned on a podcast, her poem about a powerful man. They called her brave. How is bravery tested in practice? When anger is a blue fire circling the room, how does one react? Rapidly, a look of shock on my Lark Omura
face. I recycle these words: Capitalism. Racism. Patriarchy. None correspond to the brokenness of the days that followed. Can someone get this man a microphone? He has very important things to say, but not of the women in his wake. A marvelous scribe though. Somewhat of a loner. Some might say he lacked empathy if they knew him well. I knelt on the bathroom floor and cried into a towel. Here, theory meets a hotel room in Miami. A woman, asking herself what just happened. In practice, it’s painful. On the phone, a friend says even Nelson Mandela did bad things. I hang up, stare blankly at the glow in my hand. Theory, at its best, finds language, shifts culture. The cult of you surfaces on my timeline, your pages in the latest magazine. I blinked three times and gave myself permission. In theory, you were perfect. But there’s a door you keep closed I got shut in the room of and couldn’t get out. There is space for complexity if we can discuss freely. If free is defined as the feeling of being safe. If liberation is defined by freedom. Not whisper but open dialogue. In a perfect world, we could practice this art. I know the gap between what happened and the platform of excellence you stand at the podium of. In practice, the bedsheets smelled like linen spray and the ocean was bright blue, though I’d seen jellyfish tangled along the shore. They tell me the sand in Miami is imported. I’d taken a long walk down the beach that morning, Lark Omura
awaiting your return. I thought I was in love. Emotional trauma often takes longer than physical trauma to heal from, another friend offers. Repairing the mind is difficult. In theory, I know she’s right. Sometimes I think what if Audre Lorde had been a fly on the wall that night? This thought soothes me in a concrete way. Slows my whirring mind as I stare out the window, down a path strewn with leaves. The end of the path is blurry, but visible an indistinct shape that faintly resembles a woman, walking through the city in which I live.
Malaquias Montoya, “The Immigrants Dream: The American Response”
Interview with Poet and Author Marilyn Chin, by Cassie Leone C: When did you start writing poetry? How did you get your start as a writer? M: I loved poetry from the start. I heard Chinese poetry when I was a toddler in Hong Kong. My grandmother used to chant it while carrying me on her back. I wrote some poetry in high school, but mostly, I read a lot of poetry I found browsing through the school library. I didn’t know what the poems meant, but I loved the sounds and images. I took some writing workshops as an undergraduate at UMass, Amherst… Actually, I was lucky to have had James Tate, Ai, Joseph Langland as teachers. I was a Classical Chinese Literature major and didn’t get serious until I went to the Iowa Writers Workshop, and there I was able to translate and write poetry with abandon! C: Have you always been a writer and teacher? Can you talk about teaching poetry? What’s your opinion on the “poetry workshop”? M: I taught in an MFA program at SDSU for over 25 years. Frankly, I felt a little burnt out in the end and retired early. But I got refreshed recently—I started teaching workshops all over the world. That’s how I met you (Cassie) at Smith College. I’m doing fun gigs in my Sageness. Finally, I feel comfortable in my teaching skin. I think of the workshop as a safe space for like-minded artists to get together and jam! Think of the workshop as a “salon” ala Gertrude Stein and Alice B.’s apartment in the Left Bank of Paris. Hanging out with the likes of Hemingway, Picasso, Pound wherein everybody’s making groundbreaking art! Unfortunately, we eventually have to return to our own homes (mine is in Escondido) and face our demons. That’s where the real writing begins. C: Your poems have been described as “pared down to a minimum...” Could you tell us a little about how you work? What does your editing process look like? M: Ha, ha! I wonder who said that. Very interesting, indeed! Yes, I am a perfectionist, which could be problematic—giving me extreme bouts of anxiety all my life! However, as you know, I write all kinds of poems, Marilyn Chin Interview
long, short, formal, free, serious, political diatribes, cray-cray-wild, sexy, punny funny, stealing from Eastern and western literary history. I’m all over the place… and I write weird fiction! But, true, I am into precision! I remember once at an artist colony, I wrote 50 pages and kept only one quatrain. I guess that “pared down” impulse is from reading too much Chinese poetry. Or not. C: Why are traditional forms important to you and your work? M: Poetry has a long and rich history. Being grounded in traditional forms from both sides of my literary history has given me the confidence and wherewithal to fly. As I recall, I bribed your (Cassie’s) class at Smith College to write sonnets, haiku, blues poems, Whitmanesque long lines, and all kinds of weird stuff! You groaned a bit and turned out some amazing poems! C: What does it mean to you to be an activist poet? Does an artist carry a specific responsibility in that respect—to the reader that would identify with them? M: Yes, I was a freedom fighter from way back! Now, it’s hip again to be a political poet! The Asian American anthems that I wrote thirty years ago are more relevant than ever! Given the recent racist attacks against Asian Americans. Innocent people were murdered in Atlanta because he “had a bad day?” Because he had a sex addiction! An ethical imagination never goes out of style. No, I don’t expect every poet to write political poetry. Write what moves you. Write a sappy love poem if that floats your boat! Don’t write political poesy just because it’s fashionable. My social consciousness comes from a deep, authentic place in my soul! I want to speak against social injustice because I’ve personally experienced it all my life!... especially as a poor immigrant child, bullied by the world! (Alas, I won’t go there. The truth is, I am a privileged American poet with a job! C: What role does music play in your work? Who are some of your favorite musicians? Marilyn Chin Interview
M: LOL! I remember now that you (Cassie) are a rocker! I love all kinds of music. During the pandemic, I revisited some of my favorite albums. Albums that I loved as a teenager: Joni Mitchell’s live “Miles of Isles” is superb! Marvin Gaye’s “What’s Going On.” Santana. The Beatles “White Album.” Led Zeppelin “4.” Heart’s “Greatest Hits.” Bernstein conducting “Rapsody in Blue!” Coltrane’s “Love Supreme.” The list goes on! I guess I’m in the mood for contemplating the past! Those old concept albums taught me how to put a book together, how to flow! C: What inspires you these days? Who are you reading, listening to, or watching? Is there a certain writer/s to whom you always return? M: (To follow up my previous list of albums) this month I’m listening to divas: Aretha, Whitney, Mariah, Billie, Ella, Nina, Lauryn—I feel that I know them on the first-name familiarity. Once again, I’m looking backward. Do you remember Phoebe Snow? Sade? I also love female rap artists: Niki Minaj, Missy Elliot, Foxy Brown, Queen Latifah! Lil Kim, Rhapsody, Remy Ma, Cardi B—And recently Megan Thee Stallion. They taught me what “nasty” and “outrageous” sounds like! Poets must test the edges of goodness and badness! I also take hip-hop dancing classes on YouTube and TikTok to hear the world beat. I keep up with youth culture by listening to the music and the beats. And dancing is essential. I embody my poems; therefore, dance and movement are important! Again, I’ve been rereading the books on my shelves—revisiting old friends. Last month I reread The Bluest Eye, Cane, The Old Man and The Sea, Basho’s Journey to the North. Ramazani’s double editions of the Norton Anthology of Modern and Contemporary Poetry, etc. I try not to get addicted to Netflix, so I canceled my subscription. I love Orange is the New Black, SNL, and Queer Eye…but mostly, I’ve been watching a lot of YouTube! Marilyn Chin Interview
On the other hand—during the pandemic—I’ve been going to the local duck pond and practicing qigong and meditation. I’ve been solitary and lonely, but I’m ok. In fact, I think I’m happy. I am inspired by everything and nothing. I stopped beating myself over. C: Specific geographical location seems especially important in your work. Could you discuss how place and identity are working in your poems? M: I was born in Hong Kong, shortly after a bloody civil war in China. We were unwanted migrants in Colonial Hong Kong. I was raised in Portland, Oregon, and suffered racism and bullying as one of a few persons of color in the entire school. Poetry has taken me all over the world! I feel blessed and happy to be a self-appointed international ambassador of poetry. Our identities are not static. I might move to Paris because they love beautiful older women there! Madame Macron! Ha! C: Your last publication, A Portrait of the Self as Nation: New and Selected Poems, spans your career. Did you notice any significant changes in your work as a whole while working on that project? Can you talk about how you selected the work for that collection? M: Alas, it was so difficult to choose amongst one’s pretty children. I just wanted to give the reader a tiny sampling of the big buffet. I wanted to show a variety of styles, showcase my strengths, to show that I had “the chops!” I included some of my longer and more experimental works that are less well-known. Of course, I included some translations and prose poem sequences, “signature” anthology pieces like “How I Got That Name,” “Blues on Yellow,” and “The Floral Apron,” that are taught in classrooms. I also included some early poems from my first book and chronologically organized them to show my evolution. I wanted the book to be around 200 pages, not too long and not too short, but substantial enough to say, “Hey, I’ve arrived!” But I’m never self-satisfied. I believe that the goddess is going to gift me many more amazing poems Marilyn Chin Interview
and books! Stay tuned! C: Any final words of advice for the writers or people out there reading this interview? M: I feel more inspired than ever! I see young people in this nation stepping up and speaking against injustice and the environmental crisis. This has been such a heart-breaking year! My only big advice is to read, read, read! It’s important to love poetry, this genre that has given us so much! Be disciplined. Don’t get lazy. Don’t procrastinate too much! Yeah, I procrastinated on this interview for months! My Bad! Poetry is a practice. You should never sell your muse, your goddess, short!
Marilyn Chin Interview
Malaquias Montya, “Miranda Rights”
Under the Window San Francisco, April, 1992. You think that maybe having this piece of paper in my hand will do it. You don’t trust me with a machine, but maybe a piece of paper. Paper therapy. I want the computer, the keyboard. Damn. What else am I supposed to say? Maybe it does something having this thing in my hands. A black felt-top pen, a sheet of paper. You can smell the ink, the bleach in the paper and anyway maybe I like the peace and quiet. It’s warm in here. The sun coming in. But maybe I don’t. Maybe I want to get the hell out. And I don’t want to tell you about myself. I mean, I wouldn’t mind; I wouldn’t mind writing. I used to do that. But I already know what you want to hear. “Substance abuse.” You want to hear it. “Substance abuse.” That I’m clean now but it’s too late and otherwise--oh yeah, if you could only hear me, if you could listen to me squealing like a animal in a cage, only in words, in words on a scrap of loose leaf so they can’t hurt you but they can affect you: couldn’t we have some compassion for the sonofabitch? Can’t we get him off the streets? And he’s got the sickness (maybe) and scales on his skin and (well that he’s got) and his molars are falling out (that’s true, almost) and the feeling in his left hand isn’t what it used to be. I must have cracked something once, fucked up a nerve. I have to eat soup. Can’t get anything else down. French fries sometimes, if you hold the ketchup. The mashed potatoes and gravy they serve at St. Anthony’s, if you can stand waiting in line for it with all those others--the crazies--of whom I am suspected of being included.But one thing you’re right about. I mean, I became this thing you’ve figured I’ve got to be . . . There had to have been a break, a trauma, a hole in the fence somewhere. Something must have happened. Because no one is born, etc. And you’re right, at a minimum: I became. Though I’m not sure how or why. And I became, out of this, through this, by way of this . . . confusion, this muck, this life--I became something that you can condescend to pin a name on, and patronize. The product of a process and a tear in the process. One among many. I am one of those! Because that’s what you do. Let’s get this straight. You accuse Robert Appelbaum
me, you pigeonhole me, you make me (make me, because what am I without your condescension?), you make me into something else. As if you found me in a box on a shelf with a label and a price tag posted on top. But you know I used to be (here I go, the process, it begins with little more than a noun and a verb)--I used to be an actor (AN ACTOR!) and I used to be a reader of things and I used to be a student and a lot of other shit and I know whole passages of--of plays--plays!-whole passages by heart--monologues, dialogues, plays!--Ibsen (?)-liar!-- and I didn’t start out this way, in the little package you think you found me in. That’s the story. If someone could tell it. For me. Or is that for you? Of course you don’t believe it. And you’re fucking sitting there thinking, who does this guy think he is? What about the liquor. Arrest record. Stupid grin, the dull eyes, the unresponsiveness, the helpless passivity, the teeth and the hair falling out. The grotesqueness of the person, the offensiveness. The . . . dirt. I know what you think. But . . . does this man sound stupid to you? Well yeah how could he not be stupid. I mean, look at him, and he doesn’t even have the decency to tell us what’s wrong with him. Where’s his soft spot? His medical record. The doses we’ve been giving him. And the nights when we found him in the alley, curled up on a sheet of cardboard, with a torn, dirty stuffed animal under his head, a brown teddy bear he’d filched from a thrift store, his pants soaked with piss. The lies he told us when we asked him who he was. The lies about his name, his family, his whereabouts, his past. Where’s his ID? How did you lose it? Where did you put them? What’s that liquid oozing out of his head? It looks like tears. It’s only puss. Spiritual puss. The excrement of the holy. But I went to college once. I really did. It was back in Michigan when I was Greek and my name was Tim and I had thick wavy black hair and all my teeth and I used to think, man, I’m the real thing. I even had an uncle named Aristotle. We were serious Greeks. The Peloponnesus, a small town, near the isthmus, our family came from. And I was--what? My father worked in trucks. General Motors. Electrical stuff. Dashboard installation--killed his back. A homeowner: the ugliest fucking place, a cold treeless street in a suburb outside of Flint--but
there were elms there once, elms that corroded under the blight and blackened and shriveled and you had to cut them down, only you never replaced them. The ugliest place--you wouldn’t believe it, such a long way from Greece and the sun and the mountains and the gods: a treeless street, a house like a square redbrick turd, with narrow rooms and linoleum on the floors, the whole place stinking of PineSol, and Tim Sr. going on and on about how good he had it how well he’d done what a country this was--Tim Cefalos Senior American now don’t ever forget what a great country this is. Thank God I stopped being Tim Jr. One day, stopped being a prisoner in an ugly household in a smoky town, as I realized that I’d never been in a place I really belonged--never. And so I read plays and accumulated ambitions and went on to the University of Michigan. Ann Arbor where they had some trees and sunlight and a theater program where I could study. You probably know about it from The Big Chill, a movie about people like me who had gone to school in Ann Arbor, except that it wasn’t really like that, and my character--strange to tell--never really shows up in the film. The sixties weren’t like that. I never had a dozen close friends, men and women, pre-med students, pre-law, sociology majors, every one of them with good skin tone, muscle tone, attractive. I never had a lot of sex, like they are supposed to have had. And even years later when everyone is disappointed in life and they can still remember, oh yeah, we had community, college and community and ideals in those days--I never had that. The lost illusions. I never went to the parties to which I had not been invited, and I had not been invited to many. That was the sixties. A party everywhere but here, so that you always out of place, and you always felt that even so there’s gotta’ be a place where you’re not out of place, where you can have a party too. And of course, I never flourished in school, never made it into the theater program, never accomplished much of anything. Except of course I never really went to the University of Michigan. It was Eastern Michigan State, in Ypsilanti, on the other side of the county, where there wasn’t much of a theater major at all and I had to improvise, as it were, I had to read plays on my own and pretend--
pretend!--that I was acting in them. And there weren’t a lot of hippies, not in Ypsilanti. The hippies were all in Ann Arbor, where everybody’s father was a dentist and either Jewish or blond or both. I mean I used to hang out in Ann Arbor. And then I transferred there, I think. I don’t remember. Anyway I left, my career in acting over. I listened to music. First it was the usual rock. Then it was Zappa. Then it was jazz. Then it was classical. Then it was twentieth-century classical. And you are asking--they were asking, I was asking--how could a boy from such a house, with such a life, have that quality of inward experience and aesthetic sensitivity to become not only a failed theater major but even a lover of difficult music? There is no answer to that question. The question is faulty, as faulty as the life it tries to pry open. And that’s it. You see? We’re moving along here. I left. The acting. The music. The school. The schools. The town. And so I must have gone somewhere. I must have been somewhere. Act One. And then I must have gone away. Act Two. And gotten somewhere else. Act Three. Which is where I am now. Which is where I’ve been. Which is where I’ve been since before I was found. But all right, one day--GET THIS STRAIGHT, I’m only going to say it once, and then, you know, well then . . .--about fifteen years ago or so--I remember saying to myself, after a long while of not being sure about anything, “Here I am.” That’s the truth. “Here I am.” And it meant something exact. It wasn’t just any place, you know. You know what I mean. You grow up somewhere else, somewhere plain. For me it was Minnesota. Saint Paul mostly. And also Ann Arbor. And Ypsilanti. Michigan. I didn’t succeed, I dropped out. I wandered away by myself one day. Leaving Flint. You know what I mean. You grow up somewhere boring, somewhere plain, or ugly, or squalid and you have to get away, you just can’t stay where you are, it feels like death where you are. So you go, you go, you’re on the road. You turn into something that moves, something that experiences motion. Every day you gather a little more of that motion experience. You feel your skin tightening and your body in space, your soul (soul!) getting somewhere. And then when you’ve finally made
it away from where you want to be away from, when you finally feel that you don’t need to experience motion anymore, you find yourself out here, by the ocean, in Northern California. You’re here. And it feels like you’ve never been anywhere else before. It’s true, too, that when you arrive you hear the songs. San Francisco. Be sure to wear flowers. Well. That was easy. It’s true, I liked the smell of the air in the town, and the hills, and the brightly painted bunched-up houses. And people were singing about it. I remember one day I was standing in the Panhandle by Masonic Avenue, standing on the grass looking across the green to a stand of Eucalyptus trees, and past the trees to the row of Victorian apartment buildings lining Oak Street, you know those clapboard and gingerbread buildings painted pink and purple and yellow. I’d had a cappuccino in a café on Haight Street for breakfast that morning, and I could still taste the coffee and the milk and the sugar in my mouth, and I could feel the ocean in the air, the ocean breeze in the wind rustling the trees. There was mint and the brine in the air, and the sky was that deep cold blue it gets to be out here when the fog burns off, and I felt as if the blue itself was blowing through my hair, whistling against my face, bringing the tears to my eyes. And that’s when I said to myself, “Here I am.” Said it as if I was saying something unmistakable (unmistakable!) and it hadn’t been said before. Here I am. And I hadn’t really been anywhere else before. Hadn’t experienced the here-ness of being where I was. Not like this. Minnesota? Michigan? Nebraska? No way. And as for ‘Nam, well . . . I might have been in ‘Nam, but I can’t remember. It would make sense that I was in ‘Nam. I remember being drafted. I remember being scared. And if I was out there with the helicopters and the guns and drugs and people dying around me, that would explain a lot of things. But even if I was there--and I probably wasn’t, I was probably in Ann Arbor the whole time, I had an exemption, a college kid’s exemption, and I was working on a farm and I had a family to support and there was something wrong with my father’s citizenship and the factory closed down and in the whole goddamn Midwest there wasn’t a job to be found
but the Army wouldn’t take me because there were some things on my record and anyway I had a list of exemptions even after dropping out of school--even if I was there in a soldier’s uniform with a rifle strapped over my shoulder, hot and scared, I never felt that sensation of hereness, never felt arrived anywhere. Boot camp maybe. Sweating like a pig. Thinking about the theory of y and z that was so big those days among college drop-outs like me, especially when you’re in a company of guys eating and sleeping together who keep covering up their dicks. Of course, now that I think about it, how could I … feel that I had arrived somewhere, I mean? Out there in the heat. How could I have felt anything at all? Or in Flint, Michigan. But here, in the park, in San Francisco, looking at the houses, smelling the air, feeling the coffee in my mouth, then I was somewhere. And I liked it. I decided that if possible I would never be anywhere else if I could help it. So I got serious and looked for a job and I found a job and I stayed. This was--when?--in ‘72 or ‘73, I suppose, when jobs were still easy to find. Good jobs. I went downtown and filled out a lot of applications and I bought a suit and I got a haircut and I went to interviews and second interviews and then I was hired by an insurance company with offices in a new hi-rise building on California Street, a job processing applications for insurance. I was a “management trainee” they said, although I never got to do any managing. But I was making good enough money as far as I was concerned. The work was boring but easy. I rented a studio apartment with hardwood floors and bay windows on Baker Street between Page and Haight, near the Park, by the Panhandle, of course. I had a girlfriend for a little while. Claire she called herself, although her real name was something else. And so I did it--remarkable but true, you ought to set off some fireworks to mark the occasion. I did the whole damn thing. I had found the here in my life, and I’d organized it, provided for it, sheltered it, furnished it--I had an apartment, a job, a girlfriend with an apartment and a job, I had paychecks and appliances, I had a TV, a stereo, a couch, a bed. I had a place to go to in the morn-
ings and a place to come back to at night. (This isn’t so simple as you probably think it is.) I was home. From morning to night, in a certain sense. I was home wherever I was, although I was especially home when I got back, home. I had place to get back to, that’s the thing. When I got back and popped open that beer and slumped on my couch and looked out the window--I was ten feet up from the street--and . . . and that was it. Home. Here. The whole damn thing. And I’d hardly had to do anything for it. What had happened had just . . . happened. I’d grown up; I’d arrived at a certain site; I found that I possessed certain skills. Everything else simply followed. And then the recession came. No, that’s not exactly right. When the recession hit. Did we have one? Was that the reason? That’s what they said, anyway. The usual business cycle, the usual bust, a mild one in California, but a bust all the same--there’s your reason, pal, the only explanation you’ll ever get from me, or need. It was 1975. I was “laid off.” Simple as that. And Claire left me. She didn’t like me when I was troubled. I’d started gnashing my teeth at night and crying about money all day. She couldn’t take it. I guess I can’t blame her or shouldn’t blame her--why would anyone put up with a guy like me? But. I do. Blame her. I’m pissed. She was the last girlfriend I had. She took the car, our Toyota. I tried hanging about the little theater groups they had in town, hoping at the very least to meet some girls, but nothing resulted. I got a second job at another insurance firm. I was resilient back then, you see. And then I was doing all right again for a while and then--well you see, there was a pattern developing, and the recession didn’t quite uncycle itself as quickly as everyone thought it would--I was laid off again, just a few weeks before the whole company went down. I got another job after that, a job selling records in a record store, which was something of comedown, but it was all I could get at the moment. And--all right, it bothered me. I had been a downtown guy and I had started buying things and thinking that someday I’d have some money saved up. And then there I was out of two jobs and in debt and all I could do was land this job stocking the shelves and manning the cash register at a record store, a chain store, near Robert Appelbaum
Fisherman’s Wharf, where I was only able to get hired in the first place because I told them I wanted to learn the business and go into management. But I wasn’t into it. What was I doing now? And . . .. all right, I’ll admit it. I still liked music. Maybe it wasn’t theater but it was almost . . . And I had friends at the store. They threw me a birthday party once, a surprise party, the whole staff. And I liked setting up displays. I was good at it--displays, marketing, promotion, pumping the business. The recession was over. I was even talking management, or at least trying to talk management; I was making noises, suggestions, about us carrying more classical music. It made me feel good knowing that I was trying to improve things around me, knowing that I just might have an effect on the way things were. Look, I’d say, apart from the top twenty stuff and the disco we sell more classical records per shelf space than any other kind of music. It’s true. We need more shelf space for it. We can carry more contemporary works, the new classics. Stravinsky, Prokofiev, Shostakovich. Shostakovich. They’d eye me. They’d know I was right. Russian stuff. The Russians were coming so we might as well get used to it right now and learn a little something. Learn about life, the music in it. But then I’d have these conversations with the manager and the district manager and the regional manager. Conversations where I was doing most of the talking, and they were doing most of the giving of dirty looks, the giving of gestures and the rolling of eyes to say yeah yeah but I don’t have time for this. Don’t have TIME? We’re starting to stock those videos now. We’re cutting back on music. We’re starting to stock this new thing called rap. We’re cutting back on music. We’re starting to hire young people, part time, local kids who don’t need benefits. Kids. We’re cutting back on Greeks. “Cephalos,” the district manager says, calling me in to the store manager’s office, the store manager waiting outside, looking displaced. “Cepahlos, sit down. We need to have a talk.” And of course you get this, the district manager was younger than me. His hair was short like a marine’s and his eyes were blue like a bird’s and he was wearing wingtips and a short sleeve white shirt with a Robert Appelbaum
narrow red tie. And this guy, young enough to be too young for the job, he’s telling me that I keep making the mistake that the store is all about melodies and harmonies and rhythm and counterpoint and verse, or that it’s all about archiving and educating and communication (though he didn’t call it counterpoint or archiving or communication, he only called it “that other shit”). No, it’s about one thing only, he insisted. Cash flow. It’s not even about profits. No, profits are for the corporation that owns us to worry about, and the corporation that owned us didn’t buy us for the profits, as in fact for years we hadn’t been making any, not on paper anyway. No, our store was about cash flow. An amount of cash expended, a larger amount of cash received. And what really bothered me hearing this young guy say all this wasn’t the content of his words, for this information he was sharing with me I could have supplied on my own. What bothered me was the smirk. This son-of-a-bitch was smirking! Cash flow! As if he had alighted upon a deep and dangerous mystery. He had found this out on his own and he, district manager in a short sleeve shirt, was exceptionally brave and savvy enough to come to terms with it and use it, unlike deluded proletarians like myself. Workers like myself. Hourly-wage workers like myself. Or rather former hourly-wage workers like myself, because of course I was fired. Well, I had gotten tired of it on my own. Who wouldn’t? If the job was okay for a while before long I couldn’t bear it, couldn’t bear the smell of cardboard and plastic all day and the harried hum of the fluorescent lights overhead, couldn’t bear the dazed, demanding customers and the awful new records by imitation musicians, playing imitation rock, grinding in the speakers. What was I doing there? I lost heart and I goofed off; I failed to show up some days; I took two-hour lunches. Wasn’t that what happened? Or was it a confrontation over cash flow and Shostakovich. Our Lady of Minsk. Or a confrontation over me, I’m thirty-five and you’re just twenty-six. Or a confrontation over the mystery of capitalism. But I was fired. They didn’t even bother calling it a “lay-off” (I was “terminated for cause”) although they (They!--it was a woman who answered the phone and processed these things) were kind enough to tell the Unemployment Office that I had been laid-off so that I would be eligible for benefits for a few months. Robert Appelbaum
So that was how it got started. By now I was angry, you have to understand. Angry at myself, of course, but angry at other things as well. I’d been chewed up and spit out and even if I hadn’t been chewed up and spit out--well what kind of life had I had? What did I have to do with insurance, or with processing applications, or with bookkeeping and accounting, or with records and cassettes for that matter? Or cash flow and district managers? What did any of that have to with me? Me me me. I liked having money to spend, I admit it. So what? Money. You’re probably drooling just hearing me say the word. Fuck money. You know very well that there has to be more to life than that. But what do you do if you can’t think of how to be of use to anyone to anyone but yourself, that is, and you’re not even sure about that--if all you can do is work for these invisible machines without a purpose apart from the making of money, the making of money out of money? Even in San Francisco. Even here. There’s no difference here. You think there is? What’s the point? Why don’t we have any alternatives? Why didn’t I have any alternatives? Why couldn’t I think of anything to do? I want to ask you, God, why you allowed us to come to this pass. What did you think you were doing? All right, so I’m making a joke. Trying to make a joke. Cross it out if you like. I’m thinking about how to make this clear. (It’s been how many days since I’ve been here and started, and haven’t been in that schizy homeless box for a while, although I’ll probably will have been returned to it before long. You won’t keep this up. You’ll throw me out. Of course you’ll throw me out. I’m only good for a few days and then I’m a bore, no use. You’ll give me my notice and I’ll be back on the street again. The only place for me, really. You don’t understand.) I’ll make it clear. I’ll give you an explanation. This is what it’s all about. This is what it was like. This is how it happened. How I became. How going from one thing I became another. And this is how it felt. Felt. But you will never feel this. You will always be too careful, cautious, practical. You will always be too fearfully sane to allow yourself . . . to feel yourself . . . to lose yourself . . . I was still living in that studio of mine with the hardwood Robert Appelbaum
floors, a half-flight up on Baker. Roll-up wooden blinds on the windows from Cost Plus, from when blinds like that were in. A smooth, waxy tan floor. And a low, oddly-shaped easy chair, with aluminum legs and thin orange cushions suspended from an aluminum frame, purchased from a furniture warehouse on King Street. A bed in the corner on the floor. My bed, my corner, my floor. Behind, through a heavily framed doorway, a small eat-in kitchen, with white a white enameled counter-top and sink and an old white round-topped refrigerator I kept stocked with bread, lettuce, tomatoes, mayonnaise, and Old Milwaukee. I had thirteen weeks of unemployment insurance to collect, and a chance of renewing the insurance for a second thirteen weeks. I didn’t have a job; I didn’t want a job; I wanted to be left alone. There’s your explanation. I wanted to be left alone. You don’t believe me. You think everybody wants to be like you. Gregarious. Adjusted. Adjust! But I had thirteen weeks of income ahead of me, and maybe twenty-six. And I was adjusting in a way. I holed up in my apartment. I read books. I listened to music. Good music. I hummed to myself. I thought about things. I ate noodles and rice. I drank water from the tap. I counted my money. I counted the weeks. Thirteen weeks, twelve weeks, eleven. A thousand dollars, and then nine hundred, and then the rent was due, the phone, the gas and electric. All right, but I was adjusting. I stopped seeing people. The very idea of other people began to bother me. I was getting by, counting, budgeting, learning to do without, learning self-reliance. And all the while--I could sense it right away; I sensed it more and more as time went by--even as I was counting and budgeting and worrying I felt like I was onto something. I’d lay in bed half the day. I’d think, what have I been doing? What have I done? What is there left for me to do? Halfway into a play, reading about some guy and his love affairs or his adventures in politics or his debates with his fellow terrorists about the puzzle of existence--and how lost I would get in those books, how they felt to me, how complete, how real!--I was reading the French writers, Anouilh, Camus, who I had managed to skip before--I’d stop and ask myself, why hasn’t my life been like that? Why hasn’t anything happened to me? Where have I been? Who have I talked to? I’d look up Robert Appelbaum
at the ceiling. The words I’d been reading would seem to ricochet right through me, I’d turn into a theater, a theater of the mind, where the players played, and then the playing stopped and I’d be left wordless for a while. Then I’d go back to the book. I’d try to finish it. Night would come. And there would come a moment soon after when I was done reading but not yet sleeping, lying flat on my back with the light off, the book at my side in the lonely bed, and I would be staring upward into the darkness, and it would seem as if my whole being was about to incinerate. I was not what I was. I would not be what I would. At the end, at the end of things--and this was the end I was intimating, the end of all things that only children and schizophrenics know, since the darkness will never end, since we will never find a way to illuminate it from within--there would be nothing left but pain, an everlasting pain. I would wait for sleep to come to put away the fear of remaining awake. I was losing my social habits. I knew that. I wasn’t washing myself much anymore. I seldom changed clothes. I started sleeping in my clothes. And then when I went outside to get some air, to buy some coffee and milk, to check out the weather, passers-by would give me odd looks. Shopkeepers and clerks eyed me suspiciously. They didn’t want me in their stores. I didn’t seem to know how to hold my head up or talk to people anymore. Sometimes when people spoke to me I couldn’t understand what they were saying. Sometimes when I was walking down the street I felt like I was watching a movie. I felt like I was a camera, recording a movie. But the movie didn’t have a script. It didn’t have any words. It didn’t have any sound. Something was missing. I knew I couldn’t carry on indefinitely. There was that money problem. I had reached a point where I could only afford another month of rent and food. And I had reached something else. Something. I was out of alternatives. There were no more forks in the road. There was no more starting over. But I wasn’t worrying about it anymore. I didn’t care anymore. Or that’s not true. Because I had that insomnia. I had my night sweats. I had my fear of annihilation. But sometimes, anyway, in the middle of the day, the dread would be gone and I’d feel clear and resolved. It would seem that I had gotten to the point where I’d learned the pleasure of indifference. In moments like that, hanging
out in the park, say, in the main meadow, lying on my back in the grass to keep away the cold wind from the sea, staring up at the hurrying clouds, I would be--yes!--ready for anything. Determined to do anything. Convinced by the inevitability of an unhappy future, and indifferent to any consequences. I couldn’t wait. Let it come! It would come. I was like a man who had been dared to jump off a cliff; and all I could think about finally was what it would be like to feel myself falling freely through the air. I wasn’t concerned about the bottom ground I’d hit. I wasn’t even concerned about the dare, about what it meant to be have been challenged. What would happen would happen. All I had to do was . . . jump. Sometimes I imagined myself crawling out the back window of my apartment, letting myself drop down ten feet to the sidewalk. It wasn’t much of a drop, but still, it would have symbolic value. I’d be letting myself go; I’d loosen my fingers from the sill; I’d drop down; I’d experience a fall. Don’t get me wrong. That isn’t what happened. What happened was I stayed in my apartment as long as I could. I fasted. I learned to live on less and less. I stopped paying my bills. I stopped paying the rent. I wondered when I would hear from my landlord from whom I’d rented all these years. I began selling some of my things, putting them out on the sidewalk in front of my place, accepting whatever people offered to pay for them. I sold my TV, my loudspeakers, my stereo components, some pots and pans, a lamp, my famous orange chair. But not for much. You know what it’s like; you ask for twenty dollars, they offer five. I stayed in my apartment and waited. (If only I still had my car.) When the telephone rang--for the phone hadn’t been disconnected yet, although I must have been a couple of months in arrears--I didn’t budge. I stared at the thing, and let it ring, wondering who it might be, which of my creditors. “Fuck yourself,” I yelled at my caller while the phone rang on. “What are you going to do me, what? You can’t do shit to me. Fuck yourself. I’m free.” And then finally, although nothing had happened yet, I came to a decision. I had to leave. I had to get on with myself. I couldn’t wait around anymore. Because if I waited--but I was too cowardly for that. Robert Appelbaum
No, the courageous thing, or was it the uncourageous thing--the thing, in any case, was to take action. It was to restore to myself a sense of the future. It was to give myself something to do, even if it also meant losing everything, turning my back on everything. It was early summer in a warm year, a drought year. There was no reason to stay indoors, to cling to the indoors, to cling to home. And it was time. Time. So one morning after breakfast, I put on some clean clothes, bunched my money in my pocket and, abandoning all else, including my keys, unhurriedly and unceremoniously walked out the front door. So there’s your explanation. How it happened. Or almost. After “walked out the door” I should have added, “never to come back.” That would have finished it off. At last, you’d understand me. “Never to come back.” Okay. You would have gotten that. The finality. But I did go back. I went back several times. I went back for more clothes and some bedding. I went back to eat and wash up. And one night, after I had been away for several days, when the fog had blown back in and the weather was cold, finding that I couldn’t sleep in the arbor in the park I had cleared for myself, I left the park, headed in the direction of my old neighborhood, strutted back and forth, and then finally, after some hesitation and indecision, found myself on the sidewalk beneath my old back window. I stood there for a long time, looking up to my empty apartment like some crazy deluded Romeo. Nothing seemed to have changed. No one seemed to have been there since the last time I visited. The front door was probably still open. I told myself, “I’m cold. I’m tired. I ought to go inside.” And as I told myself that I got colder and colder and more and more fatigued, and hungry too. But I couldn’t go in. I told myself, “It’s over. I can’t go back. I don’t belong there anymore.” The cold got to me. I could hardly stand up anymore. “But I can’t, I can’t,” I kept thinking. And soon I was crying, bawling like a lost child, stamping on the sidewalk, beating my fists against the wall beneath the window. This is what it had come to. This is what I had come to. I couldn’t go in. I creeped off, desolate, toward my arbor in the park. After that I never went back Robert Appelbaum
Maybe now you understand, though you probably don’t. You think I’ve left something out. You want to go on feeding me, sheltering me, observing me, treating me. You think that someday you’ll blow through the hole in me and come out with the beef and the broth. You will have me for dinner. But you won’t. It’s beyond your abilities. You will never understand.
Ricardo Islas, “El Wagon”
Skunk Dance I was washing my face last night when the sensor light clicked on in my neighbor’s yard. The man and woman never hang out back there at night and the thought of seeing a stranger caught in the spotlight made my stomach seize. I moved to the bedroom to look out the window and saw four skunks, young adults I think, chasing each other on the grass down below, the white like blurred racing stripes on the black. The moon, almost full, added an electric sheen onto their spot lit euphoria. I knelt on my bed, elbows on the sill, and called for my cat. He jumped up and froze. All four kept their tails straight up, circling the grass, sometimes running onto the concrete patio, around a potted plant, and back to the grass. Then two stopped abruptly, nose-to-nose, tails up, stone still for a few seconds, and took off to race around again until another pair stopped abruptly, nose-to-nose, tails up. Eventually, I recognized the pattern. Number one was circling to meet with number two, pause, then number three, pause, finally number four, pause, and back to number one again. They were changing partners in order! More than that, one nose-to-nose stiff-tailed meet-up was syncopated with the identical meet-up of the other two, and formed a quick-slow, quick-slow choreographed rhythm, like a courtly dance for skunks. Right when I had it all figured out, one of them turned its back to the others and stood, regal and braced, for a few beats. If it had bothered looking up, the skunk would have seen the cat and me pressed against the window. Then, just like that, the dance was over, and the skunks spirited away under the wooden gate. All that was left when the light clicked off were the bulky shadows of pots. When I was twenty-one, I met a boy in the French cooking school we both attended. We started sleeping together but I was very jealous at the time and every little thing became a cause for suspicion. Like when he talked to his ex, the ballerina he moved to San Francisco with from Ohio, or when he was just being himself. One afternoon I went over to his apartment, opened the door with my key, and found him in bed with another girl. I yelled, yanked the tablecloth along with the glasses and plates off the round table, and left. Soon after, I found out I was pregnant, and the boy took me to get an abortion. Lara Fitzjarrald
Months later, I moved to Albany, New York. I feigned experience and started waiting tables at a small diner called Larry’s, run by an asshole named Larry. I rented an upstairs room in a large worn-down house two blocks from the diner and painted it Vanilla Dream. Nothing up until then prepared me for winter in that room. I started sleeping with one of the boys who lived downstairs. He grew up in Schenectady and didn’t like sweat. His family was wealthy, and I think they were embarrassed the time he invited me for dinner at their house. By April, I was better at waiting tables and had been arrested for protesting the Gulf War. I took a thousand photos of flowering trees. In the beginning of May, the boy was in a car crash that killed two people and put him in the hospital for three months. His parents called me every day. A few weeks before he got out of the hospital, I moved back to San Francisco. After I had been back for a month or so, I went to a Fourth of July party in the Upper Haight. I agreed to adopt a kitten from a friend of a friend whose cat had given birth that morning. I met a boy at the party, a drummer, and we slept together after the fireworks we couldn’t see were over. He drank a lot and always kept a steady beat with his torso. We moved into a warehouse near Army and Potrero, before Army was Caesar Chavez, across from a lot full of school buses. He built a platform for his drum set and would often pee off the bed in the middle of the night. When my grandparents came to visit, he did not shake my grandfather’s hand. Soon after, I came home from work and he was with a girl in the alcove where he had started sleeping. I yelled for a long time, even longer than the other times, and left. Outside, I found my cat curled up under a bush, nearly dead, hit by a bus or car. Two or three years went by. One night, when I was taking BART home from somewhere, I saw the boy from cooking school sitting with a girl on my car. They were holding ratty shopping bags full of clothes. His black nail polish was chipping off, and his jeans and shoes were grimy. He had been struggling for a while, he said, but things were getting better. I think I said something similar and got off at my stop. Lara Fitzjarrald
One or two years after the BART meeting, I received an email from a friend of the boy from Schenectady. He said they were coming to San Francisco, or maybe they were moving to San Francisco, and did I want to meet with them and catch up. I must have emailed him back, but I never met with them. Five or maybe seven years went by. I went with two co-worker friends to a bar a block from the ocean, far from where we lived. We drank and talked and drank and drank and talked. Laughed. Blurry end of the world fun. They wanted to stay but I had to be up early to open the restaurant where we worked, so I set out for the N-Judah in the rolling fog. I rode for a lifetime and fell asleep, missed the entire city and woke up at the end of the line. I had never seen the new baseball stadium before and thought maybe I had woken up in the wrong city. I hadn’t sobered up at all on the N-Judah, and in fact felt that the N-Judah had made me drunker. I followed the train tracks and then walked in the middle of a dark street. Up ahead, I saw someone on a small bike, a boy with long hair, or a man. He was making large fluid arcs on his bike--the wheels were part of his legs, and his body was merged with the handlebars. I realized he was making circles around me. He started making smaller and smaller circles but I was too drunk to be scared and kept walking. He rode right up alongside me. I thought it was you, he said. You walk the same way you always walked. I knew his voice before I recognized his face: my boyfriend from long before, the drummer. Are you okay? He asked. Are you lost? He asked. You have to be careful walking down here by yourself. There’s wild animals out here, he laughed and made tight squiggles ahead of me on his bike. I kept walking. I drank too much and I feel sick, I told him. Bummer. Here. Take a sip of my Crush, he said. He took the plastic bottle out of the side of his jeans and rode close to hand it to me. I shook my head no and kept walking. He opened the soda with one hand and took a big gulp. Do you live far? He asked. Let me give you a ride. I shook my head no. That would make me feel sicker, I said. Are you sure? He asked. I nodded yes. I’ll ride next to you, make sure you get home okay. I shook my head no. I was walking and nodding and shaking yes, no, yes, no. I found something to focus on way in the distance. A streetlight, a billboard, a neon sign. The Lara Fitzjarrald
neon sign was a hopeful pink blur. He circled me for a while, making bigger and bigger and more fluid arcs until I started feeling better. When I looked around to tell him this he was gone. I live with my old cat up a flight of stairs in the back apartment. We look down onto our neighbor’s small, enclosed backyard out the south window. They live in the back of a one-level duplex and have a small patch of grass. Across their patch of grass is a cement patio with potted geraniums, succulents, and a tomato plant that produces very red tomatoes. Their sprinkler is timed to turn on every morning at 6:00. Mid-morning, the woman comes out to water the potted plants and sometimes talks to an adult child on her cell phone. Occasionally, the man comes out barefoot to smoke a cigarette. When I tell them about the skunks that danced on their grass in the spotlight, the woman will laugh and say: Who ever heard of such a thing?
One day I too will wear stars Supermassive black holes could form before galaxies form and act as the seed nuclei for galaxies to form around them, or supermassive black holes can form at the center of galaxies as a result of collisions of many stars and mergers... there is no way to stop the formation of a black hole after you’ve accrued a certain amount of mass at the center of an active galaxy. —Ann Wehrle, Observational Astronomer
Colonel Popcorn is my son and commander—nay, prince— and the popper, when it wafts its plumes of butter and billowed maize into our inner city realm, is his domain. He demands, with a maze of grunts and bellows, the warm puffs detached from their broken shells. His lips part with trust yet bites down on my fingers with his seven teeth; the white flesh melts on his tongue— a host fed by a guest— and swallows without question. These fazes— what I hope are just phases— are as ripples detected in spacetime, caused by collisions of black holes which then merge to create new, larger ones: the more I give him, the more he wants. My mother-in-law once told me that when she was a little girl in Jersey, her grandmother left kernels heating in a pot. When she returned, the copper grains fired like BBs out of the kettle— a singularity pushing matter away— airborne as cabbage whites fresh out their cocoons; they fell all around them, snowflakes in April. I once posted a picture of my boy with a smirk on his face and a corny caption underneath, Mom replied on my wall: “Who taught my baby how to eat palomitas de maíz?” I had no answer because what she asked wasn’t a question, but a star that a black hole had partially or completely torn apart and was slowly consuming it bit by bit. Jose Oseguera
The hazard lodged in her tone wasn’t due to the inherent choking risk or my gag, but in someone other than her having communion with her only grandchild, the kernel of her world— nay, universe. They say that some stellar black holes glow when they swallow gas from a companion star. I reassured her that he was as much hers as he was his other grandmother’s, a sun given to us all. “But don’t you get it?” she replied in a private text, a secret message rolled up and snuggled into the craters of a wailing wall. “The mother and her mother are the one who shape a child’s soul?” She seemed resigned to coming second, not to my suegra, but to her whiteness. I wanted to reply, but didn’t, that as the largest black holes grow faster than their galaxies, one day, our bodies too will hopefully explode like popcorn under the immense and wondrous pressure of love, a heat that will despoil the seed from the dirt, husk and cob down to its hull binding it tight only to present its innermost soft, its sincere, that which holds no fear. And at home, when my heart is ready to pop, we arrive at a piecemeal peace— the prince finally falls asleep— then, and only then, can the mays bloom in superluminal motion, and the mass of millions of suns set in the kingdom.
He used to ride horses (or, el bracero que si te quiso de a deveras) Nothing disturbs them now. Doomed to be idle, to haul no cart or wagon, wear no bridle. Soul is the issue of so strict a fate. Serene now, superhuman, they crop their field. —from “The Horses” by Richard Wilbur
On the day they took him to the hospital, Grandpa Pedro fell hard as if a shooting star had struck the orange tree under which he secretly smoked bud to relieve the pain from the time he slipped in our shower, a year before. Mom and I knew he would die soon after, though we both told ourselves, never to one another: “he probably won’t.” When I got to the waiting room, my aunt Chabela, Grandpa’s oldest daughter, was standing there— white, bald face— looking away from the family. “You know,” she finally said, “he used to ride his horse— when he was young— fast, very fast down a hill. It was so loud that it sounded like a rainstorm hitting the dirt. All his kids used to come out to see him, but I couldn’t, I was too afraid to look.” In the glassy sheen of her eyes, I could see his: she didn’t merely have her father’s eyes, he was her eyes. I stared at the cheap tangerine linoleum, away from her struggle and his. We never cried in our family, so when we did, it wasn’t pretty. Her stifled whimpers reminded me of the times Grandpa used to yelp “ay ya yay!” as in the refrain of a corrido anytime he sat down or got up. I was ashamed to admit that the memory of his pain still made me laugh, and so I hid these thoughts in the last time I remembered seeing Grandpa happy, that flash of life in him from a week before when we walked to the corner store to buy his favorite bread— Entenmann’s coconut crunch donuts. Their Fozzie Bear complexion served as his nightcap accompanied by a tall glass of milk filled to the brim. He’d eat them in pairs; he was frugal even with pleasure. At the store, we walked straight to the baked goods aisle where he stacked four rectangular boxes in the shopping cart as neatly as hay Jose Oseguera
bales, and then back to the checkout line. As the cashier scanned the items, Grandpa pulled out money from a blue paisley bandana as he did back in Mexico, when he bought a young horse that no one had ever ridden. The bills were crumpled and worn like his Levi’s— spangled with Birdcatcher spots of paint and bleach. He handed her the tender gently as if it would crumble in her hands like a delicate pastry. The woman at the register stared at one of the bills and then at Grandpa and back at the bill as if she were trying to find a resemblance between his wrinkles and receded hairline and Washington’s. I bagged his bread in two plastic bags as if I were saddling his workhorse, as he adjusted his sombrero and outstretched his hands towards me. I knew that all he wanted was to embrace the weight of something that made him feel useful, to burden his body with work again. I licked my index finger and peeled away two plastic bags and shook them until they inflated like rumbling thunder. I placed a box of Entenmann’s in each and handed him the translucent sacks. As we walked home, his arms swung listlessly like two freshly braided ropes; long, thin, but strong enough to break a wild horse. Sweat dripped down the waddles of his neck from the sweatband of his yellow Stetson, yellowing deeper with every drop. As we neared the house, I remembered Mom once telling me that Grandpa always smelled of sweat and dirt and work; she used to look forward to resting her head on his shoulder and run her fingertips on the tanned wrinkles cross-hatched on the nape of his neck. Though work-withered and rough, his hands were gentle on her cheek like a fire that burns the firewood but warms the hearth. Though death’s smile bathed my back like a gentle rain when I finally saw him lying unconscious in his room that night, I swear I could see Jose Oseguera
him galloping bareback on Lucero— a horse as wild as him— drunk on aguardiente, his little girl in one arm and colt mane in his other hand: 34 again, strong and radiant.
Why I Dislike Fishing Stories I’m fishing with my father and two of his old high school chums— chum, a word from their generation: meaning friend, or chopped fish thrown overboard— and the topic is illness: one with cancer of the bone, one with a tumor in his brain, another with a heart, he says, that kicks like the compressor of an on-the-fritz refrigerator. Solemn and agreeable, they do not complain about the rods’ rusty hooks or creaky spools, and they each pluck a worm from the dirt I crammed this morning in a coffee can and now hold in my hands like an urn. There’s so much allegory in fishing stories that’s not about fish or fishing at all, but about death and defeat and god, which only happen to other people, who are as far away and remote as statues on the buttress of a church, or those green pines along the shore.
For a Drunk
For a drunk, one is never enough, so I caterpillar up First Avenue, bunching and stretching in a wave of locomotion, pursuant to the terms to which I have agreed: get as fucked up as possible. Nietzsche would say that I am giving myself away like so many invitations, and I agree because it sounds gallant, as if I’m in service to a god less selfish than those of pleasure and madness. Not that I need any excuse, not the gods, the dead or dying, the living or about to be, not pity (that greasy thing)—I’d drink all the same, which seems odd to the worriers, sweating all night over tax hikes and bombs, while the morning mower’s pull-chord sermon about work over rest doesn’t even disturb me. No, when I do wake I wake from headaches caused by too many souls crammed together, sleeping it off in the small room of one being.
Pluto It was 1973, one year since Mom died. Marvin hadn’t been working for the past couple weeks, and us kids were still out of school for summer vacation. We were all home together: Marvin, my brothers Stevie (12) and Clayton (11), me (10), and our half-sister Maddy (7). We were in the living room where the big AC was. We had it on full, but it was still hot. The heat made the apartment feel really crowded. Most people don’t like being stuck in crowded places, but I liked it, even if Marvin and Stevie did not. The two of them both seemed frustrated with each other, as if the apartment wasn’t big enough for the both of them. They were arguing about going to the movies. Stevie was trying to go see Exorcist at the Edwards, but Marvin wouldn’t take him. Stevie said: You gotta be kidding me. Marvin said: It’s too scary for the others. Us three boys had already seen it. Stevie said: We’ve already seen it. Marvin said: Not Maddy. Not Joe. Stevie said: Joe’s seen it. Stevie pointed at me. I nodded and said that I saw it. Marvin sighed really hard and rubbed his face. Marvin said: We don’t have money for the movies. Then Marvin got up and sort of called out to us all. Marvin said: We need to get outside. # Marvin took us out to the city college stadium. It was around six o’clock and still hot when we got there. We stood around a minute while Marvin did stretches. Then Stevie and Clayton said they wanted to play football. Marvin said he was gonna go jogging. Maddy then said she also wanted to play football. Marvin told them that was fine and then looked at me. I would have rather played football too, but it seemed like Marvin wanted me jog with him, even if he didn’t actually say that. So, me and Marvin got on the track while Stevie and Maddy went out onto the football field, and Clayton went back to the truck Peter Hsu
to get the football. Then they were all three playing, Maddy looking tiny out there as she ran across the field and yelled for the ball. Clayton threw it hard, but Maddy still caught it. Clayton said: Thatta girl! Stevie raised his hand. Stevie said: Give it here. Maddy threw the ball to Stevie. It was a clumsy throw, but Stevie still caught it, holding it in one hand, while lining Clayton and Maddy up, Clayton at receiver and Maddy on defense. Stevie then got into a quarterback crouch. Stevie said: Hut, hut, hut, go. Clayton started running. It was an easy route, just a straight run up the sideline. He ran it fast, like it was a real game. I imagined myself chasing at his heels. Stevie let Clayton get up the field. Maddy ran behind him, ten yards back. Then Stevie let the ball go, and it was like the kind of throw like from out of a movie, spinning through the air in a rainbow shaped arc, the sunlight glinting off the laces. The ball hit Clayton in the palms of his open hands. He grabbed it and then slowed down to let Maddy catch up. Maddy jumped on his leg. He then started running again, with her still holding on to him. Stevie smiled. Meanwhile, Marvin and I ran the track. Nobody to chase. Nobody to be chased by. Just the steady 400-meter loop, over and over and over. There were nine lanes on the track. We usually ran one lap in each lane, starting in lane one and finishing in lane nine. On the first lap, neither of us said anything. I didn’t like to initiate conversation, but Marvin usually talked, so the quiet was uncomfortable. Then we crossed the lane number. I said: Lane One. Mercury. Marvin looked at me like he wasn’t sure what I meant. Then at the end of the next lap, I did the same thing, and then the next, and the one after that: I said: Lane Two. Venus. I said: Lane Three. Earth. I said: Lane Four. Mars. Peter Hsu
At Mars, Marvin asked about school. I said: It’s summer. There’s no school. Marvin said: I mean in a general kind of way. I said: I don’t know, guess it’s fine. Marvin said: Fine? I didn’t say anything to that. Marvin said: How did that planets stuff go. The past year we had a planets project to make a travel brochure for one of the planets. Mine was Pluto. I didn’t pick it. We just had them assigned. Marvin said: A travel brochure for Pluto? Jesus, it’s freezing on Pluto. How about that? I said: I don’t know. I hadn’t thought about it being cold there. I said: I made it a memorial kind of place, like for people to visit or something. Marvin said: Like a cemetery. I said: No. It’s not for burying the bodies. It’s a place for the dead people’s spirits. Marvin said: Like heaven. I said: Sort of, but not like a happy place. Everybody just sort of floats around like zombies. Marvin said: So, like hell then. I said: No, not like a punishment. Marvin said: I don’t get it. I tried to explain how Pluto’s sort of a prison for dead people, keeping them from breaking out and alive people from breaking in. I tried to explain this, but I was out of breath and my stomach hurt, so I stopped talking. Marvin also stopped talking. He was just jogging, and I thought maybe he was thinking about Pluto and cemeteries and dead people, and then thinking about Mom. I thought maybe that was what he thinking about and that was why he wasn’t talking. Then he started talking again. Marvin said: I don’t get the mythology stuff. Wasn’t this supposed to be for science? Peter Hsu
I said: I don’t know. Marvin said: Okay. We kept running. I said: Lane Five. Jupiter. I said: Lane Six. Saturn. I said: Lane Seven. Uranus. I looked over to Stevie and Clayton and Maddy. Maddy had the ball. She held it with two hands, over her head. It looked three times bigger than her head. Clayton pretended to chase her, running around her in circles. Maddy screamed. Stevie ran around Maddy too, in the same direction and shouted. Stevie said: Throw it, Maddy! Throw it! Maddy said: Okay! Stevie said: Throw it! Maddy said: Okay! And then Maddy pulled back and threw the ball. It looked like it was going to go really far, except it was off course, heading towards me and Marvin. It got to us and hit the ground and rolled around some. I just ignored it, but Marvin slowed down and picked it up and kind of patted the ball with his hand. Then he threw it to Stevie, hard and fast like how Stevie throws. Stevie caught the ball and kind of looked at Marvin like he was impressed. Marvin smiled. Marvin said: Nice catch. Stevie nodded. Then Marvin started walking towards them. As he walked, Stevie threw the ball back at Marvin. Marvin stuck out one hand and sort of snatched it out of the air. Clayton said: Whoa! Maddy said: Whoa! Stevie didn’t say whoa, but he did clap his hands together like he was happy. Marvin laughed and threw the ball to Clayton, who caught it regular with both hands. Then they passed it back and forth, and then started a game, which was more like a real game because there were four of them now, even if Maddy was little. I’m sure they would’ve let me play too, but I didn’t ask to. I Peter Hsu
kept jogging the laps. The next lap was Lane Eight, Neptune. Then it was Lane Nine, which was Pluto. So, I jogged Lane 9 and maybe that would have been a good time to think about things. Maybe I could have thought about Pluto. I could have thought about the spirits floating around like zombies. I could have thought about Mom. But I didn’t. I didn’t think about Mom. I didn’t think about Pluto. I didn’t think about anything. I just ran. I ran Lane 9 again. And when I finished that lap, I ran Lane 9 again. And then again. Around and around and around.
Milagros Mornings that winter I woke to the sweet doughy scent of conchas baking in the apartment next door. My neighbor Estelle had just lost her husband of sixty-three years, and conchas had been his favorite food. He had a sweet tooth, she’d explain, as she stopped by my apartment each morning to drop off a small plate of conchas. He liked everything sweet. She’d make her way down the hallway to every unit on the second floor, offering a small plate of conchas to anyone who was awake. She did this for almost a month straight, for most of February, and then finally she stopped. After that, I’d often go over there in the evenings to check up on her. I’d known her husband, Marcelo, but only briefly before he’d begun to regress, and they’d brought in hospice. Sometimes she’d want to talk about him, about their early life in San Antonio, but mostly she wouldn’t. Mostly she’d want to ask me about my ex-wife, Stephanie, who had moved out six months earlier. She had loved Stephanie, and she always wanted to know how Stephanie was doing. Had I heard from her? she’d ask me. Did I think she’d be back soon? I didn’t have the heart to tell her that I hadn’t heard from Stephanie in months, or that I didn’t think she’d be back ever, and so I’d make up little stories about conversations we’d had, emails she’d sent me. I know she’ll be back soon, Estelle would always say at some point, placing her hand in mine and squeezing my fingers, and then she’d slip something into my other hand, a milagro of some sort, a little metal charm. Sometimes a foot or a leg, sometimes a cow or a sheep, a woman’s face, a man praying. She seemed to have dozens of these little charms, these small milagros that she’d press into my palm so hard it would often hurt. Here, take these eyes, she’d say, pressing a small pair of eyes into my hand. They are connected to Santa Lucia, patron saint of the blind, bearer of light in darkness. I’d always try to refuse, claiming I couldn’t keep taking her charms, but she’d insist. No, she’d say. You need these more than me. In the corner of her apartment, she kept a small altar to Marcelo—a little table with hand-carved statues and tin crosses and decorated skulls made of sugar. On the wall above the altar there were retablo prints and pictures of the Virgin of Guadalupe and also photographs of Marcelo Andrew Porter
himself, as he’d looked when he was younger, when they were first married, when he was in the army. I don’t know if she kept the prayer candles on the altar lit all day, but they were always lit when I was there, giving off a sweet fragrance, the flames flickering inside the small red glasses. In a few months from then, Estelle herself would be gone. She’d move in with her sister on the south side of town, but those few quiet months that winter we shared each other’s company each evening, sometimes just sitting around listening to the programs she liked on the radio, other times talking or sharing dinner. Once in a while she’d talk about her faith and encourage me to go to church more, to maybe bring some of the milagros she’d given me as offerings. She’ll be back, she’d say, as if she was talking to herself as much as me, in some ways she’s never left.
Wildflowers Between the drainage ditch and rust-stained rails, And the concrete bed of River des Peres, Beneath the Arsenal viaduct, where I picked, illegally, along the trails, Wildflowers: tickseed, asters, lizard tails, Snakeroot. You’d sit and braid them in your hair. No one sowed them. I figured fair is fair. My tiny thefts would never tip the scales Of justice or of time. Who really lost? Not us. I’d bluff a kiss, and you would hide Your face. Your arms and legs, like vines, would cling To me. I’d lie if I said it wasn’t pride, Fear, perhaps, this need to sidestep the cost Of life, and steal flowers from each year’s spring.
Places I. I drove by death on the side of the road. She was waving at me with big Bambi eyes— I passed her by, but she’ll catch up with me again. I had begun to understand the Midwest as a mentality, a landscape of unending flatness, a blanket of golden fields and Christian deliverance. When I first lived in Ignorance, I was young, but now I’m old enough to know— I’m trapped by silos and beds of edamame, the cash crop. Corn is still king, but I grow tired of husking shells that do not speak of the sea. II. Edamame on the bar, with salt and cayenne. A little kick to the night, a little protein to stand you upright. I’ve got to go in the morning on a jet. Sweet air in the street, with a strong breeze— tastes like coconut. Back in Honolulu at the go-go club. I’ve got to say goodbye to Mendoza, the bouncer— but he’s nowhere to be found. Once we went skinny dipping on the beach, and he tried to hide his disease under bravado. Once I left, I looked back on palm fronds, and I wondered if he would walk on them again. III. Rain in the air, I race to get home dry. All I’ve got to eat is in a frozen bag.
That reminds me of another place I lost. I bought a fifth of jim beam at the corner store— because it was cheap. The bodega cat doesn’t like me. She doesn’t like the water that drips from my clothes. When I opened the bottle, the smell brought me back to a small town. I lived there three years under a sunken down grey sky. My family fell apart. My mother cried every day in the parking lot. I went to school every day with a smile on my face. IV. marigolds on the lawn and fire in the air— before all that sun, before all that, I was afraid to run through Morningside Park at dark. I was afraid to leave the dorm to escape the heat, I slept with a fan pointed at my face to get through the night. a thousand women on the green grass— we reached with one arm toward a future they promised. I spent days in the library sitting by a window, staring out. I was afraid to cross the street. I was afraid to enter new lives. I think I was afraid of how easy it could be. I worked months in a bookstore I think I knew a girl there. V. before all that, my body is a young vessel not seaworthy yet I’m taking in water now, and I haven’t checked all the cracks timber is covered with wet varnish the hours I spent with a rag and my father Catherine Bloomer
treating the teak. the labor spent, the labor lost alone, it wasn’t enough I began to learn how to sink, to drown to bail out water I stopped up a hole with a tennis ball and some caulk the smell of fiberglass setting. the voice of my father don’t get it on your hands the sound of the file as I scrape barnacles from the hull all these words of the sea the confidence I felt the confidence I lost. when I was young, we would race in the small boat, fourteen feet I took my hearing aids out, left them on dry land, and I was left out from the conversations. I would sing to myself sea shanties while my father caught my attention to give me a word ready about, hard-to-lee when we got to the dock it was my job to jump ashore to toss up the lines to receive the lines to tie the lines at the cleat.
Mario Chacon, “Hasta La Bahia”
Everyone knows sharks live beyond the kelp beds. Well – the
surfers tell themselves this as a mind trick to feel safe and, because I was married to a guy who surfed, I, too, convinced myself I knew everything about sharks and their whims. When my friend Eliza urged me to train with her for a triathlon, I said, “Not if I have to swim. I hate swimming and I hate the ocean,” and she laughed at me. “We live at the beach, Fawn. Strap on some fins.” I insisted on a red wetsuit because of all the people who’ve been torn to bits, mistaken for seals. Eliza rolled her eyes. “Next time, buy blue. Red is blood. Red is not good in the ocean.” We swam halfway between shore and the kelp. About four minutes in I was ready to quit. “Why did you make me do this?” “No one.” (She kept swimming) “Makes you. Do anything.” She swam circles around me. A big set came in. I swallowed water and nearly threw up. “I’m getting seasick,” I said. Eliza ignored me and swam ahead. She’d had enough. I turned and looked at the beach. It felt like a mirage, miles away. I started to swim for it, but the shore kept moving further from reach. Eliza was gone, a speck in the distance. I saw a fin and convinced myself it was a dolphin. A scared-outof-my-mind giggle escaped. “Of course it’s a dolphin! I see them all the time, even from the shore. They like to play and surf.” But, they usually weren’t alone. The shark circled me. You aren’t supposed to show sharks fear, but what else is there when eye to eye with a shark? You’re no longer yourself, you’re just a bag of flesh dipped in adrenaline. With sharks, you’re either competition or food, and I knew which of the two I was. The shark approached me slowly. He sized me up. “Just get it over with!” I screamed. The water was calm and still and the sun was out, so why not die right then? But – he surprised me. He offered me Gwen Goodkin
a fin. Not in a cartoony way like an introduction. He swam next to me and I understood he wanted me to touch him. Maybe even he didn’t believe he was real and needed assurance. We stayed like that for a while, me holding his pectoral fin, until I was calm and hypnotized by the lift and dip of the waves. “Will you take me beyond the kelp beds?” I heard myself say, shocked. One day, he said, though I’m not completely sure he said it. He used my voice to communicate his thoughts. I wasn’t naïve. I knew he had two instincts. Eat and breed. And we weren’t going to breed, so I never lost sight of the fact that, to him, I was lunch. But, I felt like he wanted something else from me. “It’s starting to get dark,” I told him. “I need to go home to my family on land. My sons need me to put them to bed.” Oh, no, no, no. You’re here with me for a while. “No,” I said. He thrashed in the water and faced me, mouth like a crack of stalagmites. Out of nowhere his clan of remora appeared. You’re either with us or you’re against us, they said. “With you or against you how?” In our cause. “What is your cause?” Fame. “But you already are famous.” We’re infamous. We want to be famous. “Who are you anyway, but a bunch of hangers-on?” Careful. We’re one with the shark. He needs us and we need him. “I don’t need him.” Right now you do. It’s dark and there are other sharks. I looked to the shore and saw spotlights. My husband had surely been searching for me and brought help. I’d cooperate til the boat arrived. They can’t get to you, said the remoras. There’s a riptide. “How do you know?” The ocean is our home. You humans are just visitors. Gwen Goodkin
“Then they’ll come for me tomorrow.” Let them come. See what they find. The remoras swam away and I had no choice but to hold onto the shark. “I’m hungry,” I said. I’ll feed you, he said. “I’m not really into sushi.” Hold on tight. I grabbed his dorsal and he raced through the water with me. I’d never felt so weightless or graceful. We were approaching the lights of shore and I believed he’d deliver me back to solid ground. He stopped swimming at a restaurant on the water with white tablecloths and lit candles. “Why are we here?” You’re hungry. “Okay, then, I’ll just climb out of the water and eat.” No. You’ll eat here with me. “How?” Call to that human. I stared at the restaurant. There was a waiter setting a table. “And say what?” Tell him you want food. “This is ridiculous. I’m just going to get out and – ” The remoras returned, surrounding us. I sighed, defeated. “Hello!” I yelled, waving my arms. The waiter saw me. “Hello? Do you need help?” “Yes – ” The remoras bumped against my ribs, slapped my legs with their tails. “I just – I need food.” “S-sure. Just come up here and we’ll see what we can do.” “I can’t. I – I have a shark who needs me.” The waiter put down a water glass. “Can you just toss me some bread? I’ll go away after that. I promise.” The waiter disappeared into the depths of the restaurant. I thought he might bring a manager back, someone who might help. But he returned with a bread basket. Gwen Goodkin
I held up my hand and he tossed me a hunk. “Thank you,” I said. The shark brought me back the next night. I noticed the restaurant was busier that night than the last. The same waiter was there. When he saw me, he pointed me out to the people he was serving. They stared at me and took out their phones when I held up my hand to catch the bread. The next night, the restaurant was packed. Every table was full. “There,” I said. “I made you famous. Now can I go?” This isn’t fame. We want the world’s attention. TV, movies, internet. “Why? And how do you even know about that stuff?” We have spies. “Who?” The seals. They’re famous. “You eat the seals. Why would they tell you anything?” They spill their guts before we do. “Terrible joke. Why do you want to be famous?” Who doesn’t want fame? “Me. I don’t. I want to go home.” You can’t – The shark interrupted the remoras. Let her go. She’s done enough. But, she – Enough. She doesn’t want to be here. We’ll find someone else. Goodbye, Fawn. The shark swam away and the remoras followed. I was stunned it was over, just like that. What next? The water felt colder without the shark. I started to shiver. I realized I would have to get out and wondered if I’d be able to walk. I swam to the dock next to the restaurant, used all my strength to climb up the ladder and collapsed on the floating aluminum walkway. No one noticed me. I tried a weak, “Help.” Nothing. I crawled toward the restaurant in my red wetsuit. “Help,” I said again. No one paid any attention. A pair of diners came out of the restaurant. “What’s the matter with you? Are you drunk?” asked one. “I’m the woman from the water. The one with the shark.” “No, you aren’t. They left already. The woman and the shark.” Gwen Goodkin
“The shark left. I’m here. I need water. I need to find my husband.” The diners stepped over me. Finally someone peered over the railing at me. It was the waiter from the first night. “I’m hungry,” I said. “Can you toss me a dinner roll again?” “What are you doing there? Why aren’t you with the shark?” “He left. I’m alone.” “Great,” he said. “Now my tips will go to shit.” “Can you just call the police for me? Please?” “No way,” he said. “I’m not getting involved. I’ll be pulled aside, answering questions, meanwhile my tables will get swiped by other servers. Forget it.” He returns to the restaurant and I’m left alone, wondering what to do. Something hits me then falls to the ground. A bread roll. I reach for it and take a bite. “You’re welcome,” shouted the waiter. “I’m sending the manager.” The manager came out and knelt next to me and said, “It’s Saturday dinner service and I’m slammed. What do you want?” “Water?” “Done.” She stood to walk and I called after her. “Can you please call my husband?” “What’s his number?” “I – I can’t remember.” “How can I call then?” “An ambulance?” “I’ll have a hostess drop you off at the ER.” They loaded me into the hostess’ car and she brought me to the closest hospital. Not the one I would have chosen. This one was the university hospital. Everyone knows private hospitals are better for non-specialized care. She pulled up right to the front and asked if I could get out. I tried to walk then stumbled and did a kind of slow collapse to the ground. She came around to my side of the car and shut the door, “Someone will find you. I’ve gotta get back to work. Good luck,” then drove off. Gwen Goodkin
I was eventually picked up from the ground and wheeled inside, peeled from my wetsuit. My husband came and was relieved to see me, but eventually that emotion retreated and was replaced with a sort of confused anger as to why I left and didn’t come home. I tried to explain I was a prisoner of sorts, but he wasn’t buying it. “You didn’t have to make up this whole elaborate story just to get some time alone. You could have just gone to Palm Springs.” And then I did something I regret, but couldn’t be helped – I laughed. And laughed and laughed until tears dropped from my eyes. “You know what? I’m out of here,” he said. “I’ve got two boys to take care of.” “Aren’t you going to take me with you?” “No. They want to keep you here. For observation.” “For what?” “Dehydration,” he said. “And a psych eval.” He left and I flipped him the bird goodbye. “Thanks for not believing me.” My ears suddenly tuned in to the beeps and blips of machines, my eyes to the small, dull space, the low ceiling and – I started to panic. I had a thought that I was in a compression chamber, deep down in the sea. Was this even a hospital? I had fallen asleep for – ten minutes? an hour? – and who knows what happened while I was unconscious. Was there an elevator somewhere that went subterranean, like a Presidential bunker? I pulled the wires off and the tubes out of myself with much drama and flare (of blood) and ran, stumbling for the exit, ass exposed, jiggling, as I attempted to tie a decent knot in the gown while still jogging and stumbling. Now I could see why they’d wanted a psych eval. I did look absolutely cockadoo. Where exactly I was headed, I had no clue, but I smelled the saltwater and seaweed and followed my nose. You can probably guess where we’re going faster than I did. He was there waiting for me. Of course. As I waded into the tiny surf – really, it was lake out there, ‘don’t bother suiting up’ conditions – the waiter caught sight of me. “Finally, you’re back. My tips have really taken a dive. Down Gwen Goodkin
50% in one day! Can you believe it?” So it’d been a day since I crawled out of the water. We knew you’d be back, said the remoras. “Can we just skip this part of the conversation? I’m already bored.” He offered me a pectoral in greeting. “Now what? ‘Toss the bread’ routine again?” No. I had an idea while you were gone. It was a good break. And you? How was it for you? “A strange dose of reality. What’s your idea?” Let’s find an island. It’ll be warmer. “I thought you wanted fame. Islands are generally – lacking in human activity.” I know one that’s crowded. “Catalina? Isn’t there, like, a city of sharks there? How will that play out?” No. A different island. Warm water. “All of this sounds very far away and I’m not sure I can handle –” I’ll handle everything. The remoras and me. I held tight to his dorsal and we flew. It was exhilarating. We reached Shark City, Catalina in no time. Some sharks thought I was a bad idea, some thought I was a bony meal, some wanted in on the gig, but most wanted to steal me for themselves. (You know how sharks are.) Get your own, my shark told them. “Uhh, I’m feeling some aggressive bumps here,” I said. “Not sure you’re going to be able to hold off the crowd. Maybe this wasn’t such a great idea? Back to the restaurant?” Let’s go. I grabbed hold and we took off. Except now we had a couple sharks trailing us. “What do we do about that?” How should I know? This is all new to me, too. “Wait – we’re going away from the lights of the shoreline, not Gwen Goodkin
toward them.” Correct. The island is opposite the shore. “Oh my.” It was a long journey. I could go into detail, but I’ll just summarize: we raced through the sea, I warmed up to the idea of sushi because – obviously. I got tired of holding on to a dorsal fin, so I fashioned a harness of sorts out of my hospital gown and faced backwards. We stopped at a couple islands with no human occupants, which I rather enjoyed (people really do suck) so I could find rainwater and drink, then swim, swim, swim until finally the lights of another shoreline caught our eyes. I should also mention the sharks that followed us out of Shark City, Catalina, soon turned back. One, a female, said, “You know, I really need to get back to breed.” And the male said, “Me, too” then stopped her: “Or we could just breed?” We all heard the hope in it and also, this side trip was clearly all about her. “You’re too small,” she said and raced off. Poor guy. His dorsal drooped and his swim had significantly less pep after that. Anyway. Back to us. “I smell – coconut? Flowers?” Well, yes. It’s an island. “But more like coconut-scented sunscreen. You know, in that fake, overdone way humans love.” So, a return to humanity is what you’re telling me. “Humanity implies goodness, so no. Back to civilization.” Fine. Remoras, go scope out the shoreline. “Without you?” Yes. But we can’t leave you. We’re one with you. If you don’t go, I’ll eat you. How’s that for motivation? You can’t eat us! Watch me. Or – well that doesn’t make sense. You probably won’t even see – And he ate one. Ahhhhh! Mort? You ate Mort! I’ll eat – chewchew – the rest of you – chewchew – if you don’t They were gone before he finished. Gwen Goodkin
“Do you think they’ll come back?” Yeah, sure. If not, they’re a dime a dozen. Ugh. I’ve got a bone stuck between two rows of teeth. Don’t you hate that? “Yes – wait. You ate one of your buddies. A loyal friend.” All remoras are loyal. They like to eat. “How do I know you won’t eat me?” I never promised not to eat you. “Jee-sus!” I’m a shark. That’s something you should never forget. In a sense, Mort got himself killed. He forgot. The remoras returned, full of vigor. If you want to do the restaurant thing again, there’s a crowded one right by the water. I noticed another had slid in to Mort’s place. “Who’s this?” I asked. “You’ve already replaced Mort?” Who’s Mort? they said. “Who’s Mort?! The one that was just eaten, that’s who.” They formed themselves into a shrug. Anyway, the restaurant – The shark swam underneath, buoyed me up and took off. I held on, half to keep from falling, half out of habit. As we came into the bay, the water grew cloudy. Sunscreen, gasoline, soot dredged up by human feet. It was light out now. I smelled coffee and bacon and that alone could have pulled me straight out of the water. What I wouldn’t give for a jolt. But I’d come this far. I was going to finish the job. A boat passed us with a guy standing on its stern blowing a conch shell – a warning for all the surfers, swimmers, paddlers, kayakers to get out of the way. I looked at everyone enjoying their breakfast in the restaurant. Lots of people walking as if they were on a tightrope, carrying plates with unstable stacks of food to their seats. A buffet. Why do people go nuts for buffets? Is it purely about quantity? Because I’ll pick quality annnny time over quantity. I love variety, but too many choices can paralyze me with indecision. I cleared my throat. “Can someone toss me some bacon?” Nothing. They were all completely engrossed in buffet talk: what did they get, what were they going to get, what would they like to get but couldn’t because they were stuffed, could they find room for Gwen Goodkin
a pastry, should they bother with pastry because usually it looked better than it tasted, what would they slip in their purses for later, fuck fruit, who wants fruit, hair of the dog or lay off til noon, it’s noon somewhere, am I right? *clink* “WHAT’S A GIRL GOT TO DO TO GET A PIECE OF BACON AROUND HERE?” Silence. Finally. I was heard. And seen. “Come out of the water and get it,” said a woman, annoyed. “Wait – noooooo,” I heard a guy say. “It’s that woman with the shark from San Diego. Holy crap! You came all the way to Waikiki?” The guy leaned over the patio glass and pitched me a piece of bacon. It landed in the water. I snatched it up before the shark and crew got to it. Wow. When you haven’t had bacon in weeks – possibly months – just to have a soggy piece coated in sunscreen-laden saltwater is divine. “Thanks. Got any more?” People were approaching the glass, staring at us, snapping photos with their phones. A server dumped an entire chaffing pan of bacon into the water. That brought in the entire bay of fish. I got maybe a piece or two. Soon the lifeguards arrived and shouted “Shark in the water! Everyone out! Clear the beach!” We heard some screams, a huge disturbance of shuffling in the water as people ran for shore. A crowd gathered to gawk at us then grew exponentially. “Miss,” said a lifeguard through the megaphone. “You need to exit the water.” “I can’t. He’ll eat me if I do. I’m trapped.” Did we agree on this answer because I don’t remember – “Shh. We never talked about it. If you wanted me to say something specific, you should have told me.” “We’re coming in, then,” said the lifeguard. “I wouldn’t do that!” I said. “Not safe.” Hey, look at all these people. You really did it this time, said the remoras. This is fame on a much bigger level. We heard the buzz of engines and saw a pair of jet skis approaching. Let’s go. The shark buoyed me again and took off. “Wait!” said a buffet patron. “I didn’t get a good picture!” Gwen Goodkin
The jet skis gave chase, but we headed straight out to sea and were soon too far for safety, so they turned back. “Now what?” Now we go to another beach and another and another. No one will know where we’re going to turn up next. It’ll be a phenomenon. “Oh, this sounds – like torture. I’m not sure I can keep this up for much longer.” Remember what we talked about: never forget. “At a certain point, I’ll just be so exhausted and hungry, sick of a life at sea, that I’ll just say go ahead. Get it over with.” But we aren’t there yet, are we? I closed my eyes and inhaled. Everything I’d said about buffets? I took it back. I would let the shark have an arm (right, of course) if I could just walk a plate up to an omelet bar right then. Cheese, eggs, mushrooms, onions. Bacon, of course. I opened my eyes and saw – something approaching in the distance. Maybe it was a mirage. A giant omelet mirage. No, it was – a fleet of boats? Fishing boats, racing boats, research boats, outriggers, kayaks (the kayakers were either crazy or brave, most likely both). “What should we do?” Let them come. They seem to forget a little thing called depth. “But I can’t go too deep. The pressure could kill me.” There is an exact depth just above the kill zone and just below their reach. The boats surrounded us. Soon a shark cage dropped next to us with a guy inside. “We’re here to save you,” he said to me. “From what?” He stared at me, puzzled. “Uhh, the shark?” “I didn’t ask to be saved.” “Yes, you did. You said you’d be eaten if you tried to leave.” “And? Did I say I wanted to leave?” “You’ll die here.” “We’re all going to die, sooner or later.” Gwen Goodkin
“This will be sooner. You need water and food. The saltwater will be too much for your body to process. The sun.” “I’ve made it this far, for this long, on my own.” The circle of boats was tightening. I looked from person to person and noticed I was the only woman. Men love to be heroes. They feel accomplished. Or else they hate to see a woman on her own, the victor in an impossible situation. If I went with these men – tired as I was, hungry, fantasizing about pitchers of ice water – my victory would become theirs. I was about to say, “Ready, boys?” when the shark lost it. He started attacking the outriggers and kayaks, tipping the men into the water and taking samples. There is a silence far out in the water I’d become accustomed to. The men’s screams jolted something inside me, knocked me conscious, as if I’d been in a deep state of hypnosis and finally heard a snap. Men were sinking, armless, torsoless. Other men attacked the shark with their paddles. Everyone scrambled toward the larger vessels. The water around me had turned bloody. More sharks would arrive soon. I knew then it was over. I had to leave. I swam toward a research boat, but the shark caught me by the foot, his teeth barely piercing my skin, but a trap nonetheless. You can’t leave us, said the remoras. We have more appearances to make. “It’s over, boys,” I said. “If you don’t let me go, the other sharks headed this way will eat me. The gig is up. You have to let me go.” No. We’ll swim where the other sharks can’t find us. “They’ll find us.” A man from the research ship offered me a pole and I grabbed hold. He started to lift me out of the water, but the shark wouldn’t release me from his teeth. “You have to let me go!” I was the rope in the middle of a tug of war. It felt like the shark might rip off my leg. Drop it, said the remoras. The shark thrashed once and I felt a pop and was flung skyward onto the ship deck and landed in an electric spark of pain. I had enough breath to look at my leg, which was still there, and see the pulse of blood where my foot had been until a Gwen Goodkin
blinding white light overtook my vision. I woke up in a hospital, much brighter than the last one. My husband and sons were there. I hardly recognized the boys and they regarded me with a mix of caution, relief and hurt. “Why’d you leave us for so long?” “Or at all?” “I didn’t have a choice, guys. I’m sorry.” Anger immediately darkened my husband’s face. “Didn’t have a choice,” he mumbled. I rang for the nurse, who came into the room saying, “She’s awake, yeah?” with a smile. “Yeah,” I said. “The boys were wondering if you could show them around the floor.” “No we weren’t.” “Boys, I need to ask your dad something.” “Come on, guys,” said the nurse. “You like haupia malasadas? Someone just brought us a box from Liliha Bakery. The best.” “What are they?” “Follow me and find out, yeah?” When they left I told my husband I wasn’t going back to California. He expectedly flipped out. I told him we could all move here, but I felt like I’d shed my skin when I pulled off that hospital gown in the water, that it was an old version of myself I could never return to. “We aren’t moving here,” he said. “One of us has to work and pay the bills, run kids around, while the other is island hopping.” “That’s not – ” He walked out and we hired lawyers to finish the conversation. I was fitted for a prosthetic foot, found a small place in Wailea and cashed in on my flash of fame. I did interviews on TV, in the paper. Some organizations hired reporters to dig up ‘the real story’ of how I traveled to Hawaii. When no one could find receipts of me on either a flight or cruise, could prove I hadn’t rented my own sailboat, the most popular theories were that I stowed away on a boat or ship. Hid inside a shipping container took top spot, though some thought I might have Gwen Goodkin
traveled via plane cargo hold. My ex and I eventually arrived at some kind of understanding. I do travel back to California to see my boys, but never for too long. I get cabin fever. As I’m flying over the water that I traveled by fin, I search for the tiny dots of sand where we stopped for a drink. But I have a hard time deciphering which is which. Everything looks different from the air. The shark knows where I am. A couple of unfortunate souls searching for fame have attempted to become his ‘person.’ They’ve washed up to the beach in front of my small place missing a head, or an entire half of their torso. They are always missing a right foot. That’s his calling card, his way of telling me I’m the only one for him. And that he’s waiting for me, for the time I’m ready to return to him, and the water, and finish the job I was put here to do.
Titles: 1 Poem Rescued from My Subconscious Poem Resuscitating My Subconscious Poem Rejected Outright in My Subconscious Poem Heralding the Glorious Revolution of My Subconscious Poem Routed by Rebels in My Subconscious Poem Reveling in the Sublime Brotherhood of My Subconscious Poem Intercepted on Banned Channels Broadcast from My Hijacked Subconscious Satellite Poem Exhumed Gingerly from the Fossil Bed of My Four-and-a-half Billion Year Old Subconscious Poem Bullied and Badgered into Being by My Subconscious Poem Translated, with Explanatory Footnotes, in the Dusty Dogeared Addenda to My Subconscious Shrieking Poem, Like a Dagger of Fear Driven though Your Loins, Overheard in the Alley behind the Neighbors’ Subconscious Poor Gardener Poem Eavesdropping outside the Ivy-espaliered Archway to the Illegitimate Viscount’s Lush Vineyard in the Raunchy Romance Novel of My Subconscious Badlands Poem Ricocheting off the Brass Buddha Spittoon in the Schmaltzy Saloon of My Subconscious Poem as Panacea of Wild Juncos Committing Freeform Acts of Matthew James Babcock
Alchemy in the Pale Glare and Late Autumn Air of My Subconscious Poem Shoplifted from the Bargain Rack under the Fake Security Camera of My Subconscious Poem Airlifted on a Mission of Mercy from the War-ravaged Police State of My Subconscious Poem Captured from the Raspy Testimony of Shoeless Refugees Huddling in the Damp Bus Station of My Subconscious Poem Blackmailing Your Subconscious Poem Caterwauling Alone, Shackled, in Our Collective Subconscious Poem Mounting a Bloody Insurrection in League with the Unconquerable Subconscious Cryptic Poem Decoded by Experts from the Agency of My Subconscious Poem Masquerading as Propaganda among the Priests of Privilege Colonizing My Subconscious Poem Drugged into Drowsy Animal Silence in My Subconscious Poem Cackling with Subconscious Piratical Glee Poem on the Run from My Subconscious Poem Drunk on Murderous Fun in My Subconscious Poem Incarcerated behind Doors of Blue Abstraction in My Subconscious Matthew James Babcock
Poem Fired in Vintage Leather Flying Helmet and Goggles and Flaming Cherry Bloomers and Tacky Aquamarine Tights from the Cannon of Delight into the Springy Circus Net of My Subconscious Poem Ushering in The Epoch of Erratic Ecstasies in My Subconscious Befuddled Poem Shoving Tattered Love Letters Between the Loose Layers of Frowzy Underthings for Safekeeping in My Subconscious (and Then There’s That Shoebox Caked in Gray Lint under the Bottom Bunk of My Subconscious) Switchblade Poem Chiseling Suggestive Anagrams and Mystical Hieroglyphs into the Warped Wooden Slats of My Subconscious Craven Poem Cadging Favors from My Uppercrust Subconscious Poem, Cagey and Estranged, Loitering at the Rear Vaudeville Theater Entrance in the Stretched Limo of My Subconscious, Engine Running Poem Hermetically Sealed in the Hermeneutics of My Subconscious Poem Pickling in the Pink Persuasion of My Subconscious Poem Going Eighty and Losing a Hubcap That Nearly Slices off the Top of the Head of the Korean Restauranteur Walking His Greyhound at 2:00 a.m. outside Tuscaloosa on the Expressway of Desperation to My Subconscious Poem Charging the Battery to the Courtesy Golf Cart of My Subconscious Matthew James Babcock
Poem Bugging the Bioluminescent Grottos of My Subconscious Poem Slapping Slashes of Thunderous Reds and Promiscuous Yellows across the Chipped Basement Walls of my Concrete Subconscious Poem Chugging a Buttload of Brewskis with His Subconscious Buddies Godawful Poem, Tattooed and Bullheaded, Bowling Barstools at Bikers in the Barroom Brawl of My Subconscious Poem Staggering and Groping with Laughter through the Funhouse Mirror Maze of My Subconscious Boozed up Poem Flirting with the Busty Redheaded Floozy of My Subconscious Every Sapphire-eyed, Raven-haired, Nick of Time, Cream of the Crop, Rule of Thumb, Sooner or Later, Since the Beginning of Time, Flying Colors, Low-hanging Fruit, Uphill Battle, Between the Lines, Gut Check Time, How Does This Affect Us Going Forward, Circle the Wagons, Firestorm of Controversy, I’ve Got a Really Bad Feeling about This, Grass Is Greener Cliché in the Book of My Subconscious Poem Spying through a Deep-sea Submersible Camera a Spindly, Google eyed Crustacean Unknown to Science in the Murky Abyssalpelagic Depths of My Subconscious Poem in Ripped Celtics Hoodie and Black Chuck Taylor High Tops Vending Crude Bootleg Versions of My Subconscious under a Windswept Canvas Tent at the Lonely Flea Market in Rotterdam on the Rain-soaked Saturday of Your Subconscious
Matthew James Babcock
Poem Lucking Out in College and Securing Financial Success and Rhapsodic Conjugal Bliss with Ten Acres of Riverfront Property for Pheasant Hunting and Portrait Painting Close to the Country Club of Someone Else’s Subconscious My Strung Out Poem Finding Grace in the Sweet Salvation of the Subconscious Poem Recalled in Rapt Luxuriousness in the Heartrending Twilight of My Summer Subconscious Monotone Poem Picking at Impossible Knots in the Fuzzy Dime-store String Tied around the Anonymous Brown Paper Parcels Piling Up in the Hallway outside the Office Door to My Abandoned Subconscious The Poem of the People Occupying the Public Square of My Subconscious Poem Sweating at Rush Hour with Ten Kilos of Contraband in the Unlocked Trunk of My Used Subconscious Poem Naked and Impassioned, Insufficiently Draped in a Titillating Coverlet of Scarlet Satin, on the Rose-perfumed Divan in the Rented Studio of My Subconscious Poem Bald and Robed, Facing the Volcanic Dusk in Stolid Ascetic Repose, Renouncing Desire, Contemplating the Universal Oneness of the Self and the Submissive Subconscious Slowly Forming a Placid, Passionless Ocean of Stone Poem Transcending the Imminence of My Subconscious Primeval Poem Cracking Open the Reptilian Egg of My Subconscious Poem Lamenting the Passing of The Seven Golden Ages of My Matthew James Babcock
Subconscious Poem Kowtowing before the Unspeakable Splendor of My Subconscious Poem Exploding in Monosyllables of Rage in My Subconscious Poem Poised Forever, Pulled Taut between Consummation and Constraint, between Mittimus and Manumission, in the Paradox of My Subconscious Poem Besieged by Freebooters and Scapegraces, Whipjacks and Throttlebottoms, Tinhorns and Catchpennies, in the Endless Boondoggle of My Subconscious Poem Plotting the Ballistics Theory of My Subconscious Poem in Therapy for the Genetic Heterophemy of My Subconscious Poem Roused from Sleep by the Curious Presence of an Unexplained White Light Floating around the Bedstead of My Cousin’s Subconscious Big Budget Blockbuster Poem Bombing in My Subconscious The Subconscious Marbled and Baked into a Gourmet Poem Cake Tooting My Jazz Tuba Poem Slicing the Subcutaneous with a Sucker Punch to the Subconscious Taunting the Bored Firing Squad of My Subconscious With a Tarnished Souvenir Spoon, Troubling My Lukewarm Poem Brew Succumbing to the Illicit Lisping Whispers of My Subliminal Poem Matthew James Babcock
Entranced in the Soft Trembling of My Subsonic Poem Molten Poem Catapulted from My Subconscious Patched with Calico Carpet Scraps Salvaged from My Subconscious Belletristic Poem Bedraggling and Bedizening My Subconscious Eftsoons My Clairaudient Subconscious, Honing the Hemidemisemiquaver of My Heartbeat Poem My Popinjay Subconscious, Surrendering to the Ancient Murmurs in My Slender Poem My Subconscious Poem, Aroused and Subdued, Revived and Secluded, Audacious and Outlandish and Denuded, Rendering Rhythmic Ceremonial Circles to Summon the Resplendent Return of the My Eternal Noon
Matthew James Babcock
Fernando Gomez grew up in the Segundo Barrio in El Paso, TX. He studied English and Philosophy at the University of Texas at Austin and currently studies Professional Poetry Writing at the University of Denver University College. Fernando considers himself a public intellectual and is passionate about social and cultural issues. His poetry is drawn to the thoughts of shame, vulnerability, and compassion that enter the edifice of the night. Caroline Fernelius is a writer from Texas. Her work has appeared in Storyscape Journal, LitroNY, and the Middle West Review, among others. She lives in Ann Arbor, where she is a doctoral student in English. Sarah Ghazal Ali is a Pakistani poet born and raised in the Northeast. An MFA Fellow, Juniper Fellow, and Best of the Net nominee, she is currently an MFA candidate at the University of Massachusetts Amherst where she also teaches composition and creative writing. Her poems have appeared in or are forthcoming from Memorious, Narrative, Palette Poetry, Tinderbox, Up the Staircase Quarterly, Waxwing, Wildness, and others. She lives in California. Gwen Goodkin is the author of the short story collection, A Place Remote, published by West Virginia University Press. She has won the Folio Editor’s Prize for Fiction as well as the John Steinbeck Award for Fiction. Natalie Storey’s work has appeared in Prairie Schooner, The New York Times Magazine, The Los Angeles Review of Books, Notre Dame Review, Guernica and others. She currently teaches English on Rocky Boy’s Reservation in Northern Montana. Matthew James Babcock: Idahoan. Writer. Failed breakdancer. Books: Points of Reference (Folded Word); Strange Terrain (Mad Hat); Heterodoxologies (Educe Press); Four Tales of Troubled Love (Harvard Square 212
Editions); Future Perfect (forthcoming, Engine Books, 2020). Awards: Dorothy Sargent Rosenberg Poetry ($5,000); Juxtaprose Poetry ($500); Lucidity Magazine Poetry ($1.00). Joshua McKinney’s most recent collection of poetry, Small Sillion (Parlor Press 2019). He is the recipient of the University of Georgia Press Poetry Series Open Competition, the Dorothy Brunsman Poetry Prize, the Dickinson Poetry Prize, and a Gertrude Stein Award for Innovative American Poetry. His work has appeared in such journals as American Letters & Commentary, Boulevard, Colorado Review, Denver Quarterly, Kenyon Review, New American Writing, and many others. He teaches poetry writing and literature at California State University, Sacramento. A longtime student of Japanese swords arts, he is a member of Senkakukan Dojo of Sacramento. Pete Hsu is a first-generation Taiwanese American writer in Los Angeles. He is the author of the chapbook-length story collection *THERE IS A MAN* (Tolsun, 2021). His work is featured in The Los Angeles Review, F(r)iction, The Los Angeles Review of Books, and others. In 2017, he was a PEN America Emerging Voices Fellow and PEN in the Community Writer in Residence. Rebecca Ruth Gould is the author of the poetry collection Cityscapes (2019) and the award-winning monograph Writers & Rebels (2016). She has translated many books from Persian and Georgian. A two-time Pushcart Prize nominee, she was awarded the Creative Writing New Zealand Flash Fiction Competition prize in 2019. Jeff Chapman is an Associate Professor of Creative Writing at Oakland University in Rochester, Michigan. He earned his Ph.D. in Creative Writing from the University of Utah and an MFA from Sarah Lawrence College. Most recently I’ve had prose and graphic short stories accepted by South Dakota Review, Cutbank, Sonora Review, and Black Warrior Review. I am a recent recipient of a Kresge Artist Fellowship and a Sustainable Arts Foundation Award. 213
Myles Taylor (they/them) is a transmasculine poet, organizer, award-winning poetry slam competitor, barista, Emerson College alum, Capricorn-Aquarius cusp, and glitter enthusiast. They run Moonlighting: A Queer Open Mic and host at the Boston Poetry Slam. Their work can be found in The Shallow Ends, Academy of American Poets, Washington Square Review, Underblong, Crab Fat Magazine, Slamfind, and others. Richard Foerster was born in the Bronx, New York, the son of German immigrants, and holds degrees in English literature from Fordham College and the University of Virginia. He is the author of eight poetry collections, the most recent of which is Boy on a Doorstep: New and Selected Poems (Tiger Bark Press, 2019), which received the 2020 Poetry by the Sea Book Award. He has worked as a lexicographer, educational writer, typesetter, teacher, and editor of the literary magazine Chelsea and Chautauqua Literary Journal. He lives on the coast of southern Maine. Swathi Desai was born in India and raised in the US. Her work has been published in Orca: A Literary Journal, Adelaide Literary Magazine, Prometheus Dreaming, the San Francisco Examiner Magazine and elsewhere. She was a semi-finalist in the Chestnut Review’s 2020 Stubborn Artists Contest, short fiction category and shortlisted in the Hippocampus Remember in November 2020 Contest for Creative Nonfiction. She lives in the Bay Area with her family. David Preizler lives in Santa Monica. His short fiction has appeared in the Santa Monica Review and his poetry is forthcoming in Slipstream. Catherine Bloomer is a deafblind woman who has used hearing aids since age two. She was born with Usher Syndrome, the leading cause of deaf-blindness. She graduated from Barnard College, and received an MFA at The New School in fiction in 2016. She is currently a PhD candidate in Italian literature at Columbia University. She is the Associate Director for WriteOn NYC, which trains MFA candidates as instructors and provides creative writing classes to underserved school children. Her first poem is forthcoming at The Gateway Review. 214
Aaron Styza received his BA from Eckerd College and his MFA from University of California, Irvine. His work has appeared in The American Journal of Poetry, Prometheus Dreaming, Aji Magazine, Two Cities Review, Heron Tree, and elsewhere. He works in the antiquarian book trade in San Diego, California, primarily focusing on Winston Churchill and T.E. Lawrence. Sharon Coleman’s a fifth-generation Northern Californian with a penchant for languages and their entangled word roots. She writes for Poetry Flash, co-curates the reading series Lyrics & Dirges and co-directs the Berkeley Poetry Festival. She’s the author of a chapbook of poetry, Half Circle (Finishing Line), and a book of micro-fiction, Paris Blinks (Paper Press). Her work appears in Your Impossible Voice, White Stag, and Ambush Review. She’s been nominated twice for a Pushcart and once for a micro award for blink fiction. She received a scholarship from the Luso-American Fellowship for the Disquiet Literary Conference in Lisbon and the Jane Underwood poetry prize. She teaches poetry and creative writing at Berkeley City College. Robert Appelbaum is a Professor Emeritus in English at Uppsala University and Senior Professor in Arts and Communication at Malmo University. He was born in New York City and educated at the University of Chicago and the University of California, Berkeley. He is the author of many articles and several books on literature and culture. His fiction has appeared in Fiction International, The Write Launch, Thorn and other venues. He is the author of a work of creative non-fiction, Working the Aisles: A Life in Consumption (Zero Books). Andrew Bertaina received his MFA in creative writing from American University. His work has appeared in many publications including: The ThreePenny Review, Witness Magazine, Redivider, Orion, and The Best American Poetry 2018. Lark Omura is an anti-capitalist writer and cultural worker based in Brooklyn, NY. She was born and raised on the island of Maui, and is of 215
mixed Japanese and European ancestry. She’s an alumna of Voices of Our Nation Arts Foundation, Winter Tangerine, Kearny Street Workshop’s Interdisciplinary Writers Lab, and the Community of Writers at Olympic Valley. Her poetry has appeared or is forthcoming in The Rumpus, Prairie Schooner, The Offing, Muzzle Magazine, and The Hawai’i Review, among other places. She holds an MFA in poetry from Rutgers University-Newark. Rachel Fiske Reynolds lives in Philadelphia these days. their work has appeared with VICE, liminalities, duende, the nervous breakdown, and more. Brett Biebel teaches writing and literature at Augustana College in Rock Island, IL. His (mostly very) short fiction has appeared in Chautauqua, SmokeLong Quarterly, The Masters Review, Emrys Journal, and elsewhere. 48 Blitz, his debut story collection, will be published in December 2020 by Split/Lip Press. Mary Jones’s stories and essays have appeared in Electric Literature’s Recommended Reading, Columbia Journal, Epoch, Alaska Quarterly Review, Southwest Review, Gay Mag, The Hopkins Review, The Chattahoochee Review, The Southampton Review, Epiphany, Brevity, and elsewhere. The recipient of a fellowship from The University of Arizona Poetry Center, her work has been cited as notable in The Best American Essays. She holds an MFA from Bennington College where she was mentored by Amy Hempel, and teaches fiction writing at UCLA Extension. Andrew Porter is the author of the short story collection The Theory of Light and Matter (Vintage/Penguin Random House) and the novel In Between Days (Alfred A. Knopf ). His short stories have appeared or are forthcoming in The Pushcart Prize anthology, Ploughshares, One Story, The Southern Review, The Threepenny Review, and elsewhere. Currently, he teaches fiction writing and directs the Creative Writing Program at Trinity University in San Antonio.
Richard Stimac is influenced by 20th century poets who used traditional forms to explore contemporary life. He uses local St. Louis landscapes of water and stone as metaphors for movement and rest and the relationship of time to both. He lives in Maplewood, Missouri, with his cat, Mr. Leo, short for Leonidas, king of the Spartans at Thermopylae. Richard has published poetry in Michigan Quarterly Review, Sou’wester, Passengers Journal, The Road Not Taken, The Write Launch, and a scholarly article on Willa Cather in The Midwest Quarterly. Nora Claire Miller is a poet from New York City. Nora is the author of the chapbook LULL (2020), which was the winner of the 2019 Ghost Proposal Chapbook Contest. Nora’s poems have appeared, or are forthcoming, in TYPO, Hobart, Propeller, Tagvverk, Apartment, and elsewhere. Nora received an MFA from the Iowa Writers’ Workshop. Sonia Gutiérrez is a poet professor. Her poetry and prose have appeared in Huizache, AlternaCtive PublicaCtions, and La Jornada Semanal, among other publications. She is the author of Spider Woman / La Mujer Araña (Olmeca Press, 2013) and co-editor of The Writer’s Response (Cengage Learning, 2016). Her unpublished manuscript Paper Birds/Pájaros de Papel, a bilingual poetry collection, is seeking publication. FlowerSong Press will release her novel, Dreaming with Mariposas, this fall 2020. Presently, she is returning to her manuscript, Sana Sana Colita de Rana, moderating Facebook’s Poets Responding, and teaching in cyberland. Jose Oseguera is an LA-based writer of poetry, short fiction and literary nonfiction. His writing has been featured in Emrys Journal, North Dakota Quarterly, Potomac Review and The Literarian. He was named one of the Sixty Four Best Poets of 2019 by the Black Mountain Press. His work has also won the Nancy Dew Taylor Award, placed 2nd in the 2020 Hal Prize Contest and been nominated for the Best of the Net award (2018, twice in 2019) as well as the Pushcart (2018, 2019 and 2020) and Forward (2020) Prizes. He is the author of the poetry collection The Milk of Your Blood (Kelsay Books).
Laurie Lessen Reiche is a writer, photographer, painter, and creative writing facilitator, She lives part time in London, concentrating on photographing the city, particularly Virginia Woolf ’s Bloomsbury. She is the author of The Dance of the Carbon-Atom (Mellen Poetry Press, 1996). She is also a member of the Community of Writers at Squaw Valley. Her work has won the Editors’ Choice Award for the best poetry in Inscape 2019 and has been nominated for the Pushcart Prize. As an avid reader, her house holds approximately 5,000 books (if not more), and was once open to the public as part of a home libraries tour. Lara Fitzjarrald earned a BFA in textile art from SFSU and an MFA in fiction from UC Irvine. Much of her work explores the interiority of rooms, mother/daughter relationships, the L.A. River and birds. She teaches undergraduate research and writing and lives near the San Gabriel Mountains with her 14-year old daughter, two cats and a chameleon named Pistachio. Greg Sendi is a writer from Chicago. In the past year, his work has appeared or been accepted for publication in a number of literary magazines including Apricity, Beyond Words Literary Magazine, The Briar Cliff Review, Burningword Literary Journal, Clarion, Coal Hill Review, CONSEQUENCE, Great Lakes Review, The Headlight Review, The Masters Review, San Antonio Review, and upstreet. He is former fiction editor of Chicago Review. His career has included broadcast and trade journalism as well as poetry and fiction. Gibran Isaias Lopez (Isaias Crow) professionally known as ISAIAS is an international muralist and an eclectic artist that travels with his family to diverse parts of the world to collaborate with like-minded families to listen, learn, remember and share methods to align with the harmony of humans, animals and Mother Earth. They use the vehicle of multidisciplinary project based learning including breathing techniques, free form dance, singing, music, theatre, art, storytelling, science, mathematics, communication media, nutrition, exercising, and many other experiential practices to co-create HARMONY with others. 218
Malaquias Montoya is a UC Davis Professor Emeritus is credited by historians as one of the founders of the social serigraphy movement in the San Francisco Bay Area in the mid-1960s. He has lectured and taught at numerous colleges and universities. Montoya’s unique visual expression is an art of protest, depicting the resistance and strength of humanity in the face of injustice and the necessity to unite behind that struggle. Ramona Garcia is a paper-mache and visual artist whose work is inspired by her cultural upbringing and Mexican healing traditions, particularly folk art & paper-mache doll-making from her native community of Guanajuato. Her current practice focuses on the craft of creating such dolls with the purpose of facilitating workshops as a form of art therapy. She graduated from UC Berkeley in 2012 and currently resides in Sacramento, California where she shares her passion for art at cultural community centers and Universities across the country. Mario Chacon’s creations explore socio-political, cultural and spiritual expressions of his Indigenous and Mexican Heritage. Born and raised in the Boyle Heights community of Los Angeles and settling in San Diego, California in 1981, Chacon has been featured in numerous gallery exhibits, publications, and has created murals at the famed Chicano Park in San Diego and throughout the region. Chacon works from his studio located at the Bread and Salt Art Complex in Barrio Logan, where he creates, and also facilitates artistic development workshops with individuals and small groups. Manuel Paul López’s books include Nerve Curriculum (Futurepoem, forthcoming 2022), These Days of Candy (Noemi Press, Akrilica Series 2017), The Yearning Feed (University of Notre Dame Press, 2013), winner of the Ernest Sandeen Poetry Prize, and Death of a Mexican and Other Poems (Bear Star Press, 2006). Diego. A CantoMundo fellow, his work has been published in Bilingual Review, Denver Quarterly, Fairy Tale Review, Hanging Loose, Huizache, New American Writing, Puerto del Sol, The Rumpus, and ZYZZYVA, among others. He lives in San Diego and teaches at San Diego City College. 219
Faultline wishes to thank its generous donors at the University of California, Irvine, for their support: Associated Graduate Students Illuminations The Composition Program in the Department of English For their advice, encouragement, and personal and technical support, the editors also wish to thank: Amy Gerstler Marilyn Chin Michael Ryan Sandra Mueller Julia Lupton Brad Queen Julia Schulte Elizabeth Allen