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selected writings from oakland word

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in your ear

Selected Writings from Oakland Word

editor Kenji C. Liu

associate editors Oscar Bermeo Ching-In Chen Sharline Chiang LeConte Dill Rona Fernandez Linda González Vickie Vértiz Natalia Vigil

photographers Leslie Mah of SNAPS Jilchristina Vest of SNAPS

oakland public library  oakland, ca 2010


Copyright Š Oakland Public Library, 2010

isbn-10: 0-615-38321-1 isbn-13: 978-0-615-38321-7

No part of this book may be reproduced or utilized in any form or by any means, electronic or mechanical, including photocopying or recording, or by any information storage or retrieval system, without permission in writing from the publisher.

Published June 2010 in the United States of America Designer: Kenji C. Liu

oakland public library www.oaklandlibrary.org Oakland Word’s mission is to provoke dialogue and encourage creativity, literacy and self-sufficiency by providing opportunities for underrepresented youth and adults to write, publish and perform works about their lives. Oakland Word was made possible by a generous grant from the California State Library.


contents

acknowledgments............................................................................. i introduction  Kenji C. Liu................................................................. ii Foreword: a city of stories  Daniel Alarcón................................ iv prose i house of birds  HyeJin Yu................................................................... 1 uncle h’s 1968 buick riviera  Cathlin Goulding................... 6 french toast  Tracy Held Potter....................................................... 9 Excerpt from enta omri  Samuel González.................................... 13 acupuncture clinic, may i help you?  Jennifer Ling..... 17 empty rooms  Windy Ross................................................................. 21 where you’ll find her  Camille Peters..................................... 24 una esperanza de vida  Ana Martinez................................... 27 Excerpt from dog’s dogs  Gwendolyn Bikis................................... 30 clipping shadows, pasting fog  Gleoria Bradley-Sapp... 34 coming home  Marijane Castillo..................................................... 39 war brides and homelands  Fredrick Cloyd........................ 41 the fights we don’t have  Marc Lombardo........................... 45 leaving oakland  Imogene Tondre............................................... 48 the purchase  Funmilayo Tyler..................................................... 52 nuts  Vickie Vértiz................................................................................... 54 poetry childhood  Hanh Nguyen................................................................ 60 muddled in a puddle  Leticia Garcia Bradford........................ 61 she and i  Tinbete Ermyas................................................................... 63 summer is a mix tape  Gwendolyn Bikis................................... 65


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mi nicaragua  Karla Perez-Cordero............................................... 68 connection  Tracy Held Potter....................................................... 69 the seasons, colors and bicycles of my life  Vincent Corbett, Jr......................................................................................... 71 no questions asked  Lai-San Seto............................................... 72 good advice  Christina Marable..................................................... 76 prose ii Excerpt from schutzwall  Andrea Gutierrez............................... 82 dj’s story Linda Goering-Hutcher..................................................... 85 i have an accent  Debayani Kar.................................................... 89 ready  Samuel González........................................................................ 93 the coal pot  Kuukua Dzigbordi Yomekpe................................... 97 linger  Marc Hernandez..................................................................... 101 an ancestral calling  Laura Ortiz Guillén.......................... 105 coming home  Christia Mulvey.................................................... 108 1985  HyeJin Yu.......................................................................................... 112 a walk in the park  Camille Peters............................................. 117 my american dream  Pamela Kruse-Buckingham................ 121 socorro reyes quintana, abuelita de mina jophrey-reyes  Erika Padilla-Morales........................................ 125 they call it the bottoms  Angela Roberts.......................... 128 who lived in the old gray house?  Joyce Mayzck......... 131 not often aggrieved  Matt Nelson......................................... 135 on blood and beauty  Joy Tang................................................. 137 tall tale  Jenny Yap............................................................................ 140 introduction: second start poets  Amy Prevedel...... 147 contributor bios................................................................. 160


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acknowledgments

Any collection like this requires the support and assistance of more people than can be named. Sincere gratitude goes to the California State Library and Friends of the Oakland Public Library for their generosity and support of the Oakland Word program. Special thanks to Library Director Carmen Martínez and Nicole De Ayora for having the unique vision of a free creative writing program housed in the Libraries. Of course, our writing classes would not have been possible without skilled and dedicated instructors—Linda González, Jian Hong, Claire Light, Carrie Leilam Love, Bisola Marignay, Amy Prevedel and Aida Salazar took the vision and turned it into a reality that attracted over three hundred aspiring and emerging writers. Executive assistant Rosalia Romo always made sure equipment, food and resources got to the right people at the right time. PEN Oakland, Unity Council and especially Oakland Local and Oakland Asian Cultural Center provided invaluable support, outreach, and partnership. Special thanks goes to Pete Villaseñor, Vicky Chen and Jamie Turbak for opening their libraries to our classes and the extra efforts they took towards their success. Arigato to Vickie Vértiz for her eagle-eyed proofreading. Oakland Word gave residents in Oakland and beyond a chance to learn, write, express and perform, many for the first time. May our efforts strengthen community-based literary arts and ultimately benefit all.


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introduction Kenji C. Liu

oakland word program coordinator

I once took a Black Panther Party tour of Oakland. On a gray day, David Hilliard, founding member and Chief of Staff of the Panthers, pulled up to DeFremery Park (also known as Bobby Hutton Park) in a full-size van. For the next few hours, we visited every major landmark in the Party’s struggle for Black self-determination. Flashes: A traffic light they fought tooth and nail to get installed near a school at a dangerous intersection (55th and Market). The Party’s first office on Martin Luther King, Jr. Way (formerly Grove Street) where we bought pastries from its current bakery tenants. The house where L’il Bobby Hutton was fatally shot by Oakland police. It was on this tour that I began to understand Oakland. Before, it was only a place I lived in. Afterward, I saw history layered over every block. Not just Black history, but also American Indian, Asian American, Chicana/o, European, working-class, women’s, queer, and many others. I started to feel connected to the city because I could sense these histories around me. Oakland is full of stories. How could it not be, when its people come from every continent, pushing and jostling, mixing and fighting, working and building together? I’m interested in them all. Oakland also has a long history of writers. Some may know that Jack London and Gertrude Stein lived here. But


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many other writers are part of this city, representing a literary legacy and present reality that is deeply multicultural and poly-vocal. Enter Oakland Word. The idea was simple—a series of twenty free creative writing workshops and seminars, at Oakland Public Library sites, in some of the most underresourced Oakland communities. Local writers and poets, some bilingual, taught short fiction, poetry, memoir, blogging, and song-writing. New and emerging writers signed up en masse, filling almost all classes to capacity, with waitlists for most. The majority were Oaklanders, women, people of color, and in their 20s, 30s, and 40s. Most agreed that the zero dollar price tag was a significant factor in their ability to participate. Well-known adult educator Paolo Freire has said that to read and write the word is to read and write the world. Language is more than communication. It’s a way of negotiating and asserting meaning—a process of becoming. Through creative writing we can tell stories about how the world was, is, or could be, and about the limitations and possibilities of our present society. Through stories we can imagine, self-reflect, and act. This liberatory understanding of literacy was the basis for Oakland Word’s curriculum—writing the word, writing the world. Seventy-five years ago during the New Deal, the Works Progress Administration’s Federal Writers’ Project (FWP) employed writers and poets in California, to whom a memorial was built in Oakland in 1939-40. If the FWP had not existed, many important voices might be absent today—among them Richard Wright, Zora Neale Hurston, and Ralph Ellison. How many all over the world have been influenced by them? In this spirit, I hope that everyone touched by Oakland Word will go on to touch others. Keep telling stories. They’re on every block.


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Foreword: a city of stories Daniel Alarcón

Years ago, when I’d just moved to Oakland, I met a friend in Fruitvale for dinner. Toward the end, we noticed a young man sitting alone, crying. He had a half-empty bottle of beer in front of him, and a look of utter defeat on his face. He tried to hide his watery eyes beneath the brim of his cap, but it was no use. He couldn’t have been more than twenty-five. My friend left soon after, but I decided to stay. I’m not sure why, but I had to talk to this man, so I bought a couple of beers and walked over. I asked him, in Spanish, what was wrong. He’d just arrived in California ten days before, from Guadalajara. He was living in East Oakland, and though his sense of the area was vague, he felt certain it wasn’t far from here. The first days had been difficult—he missed his family intensely—but he’d finally found work, light construction on a big home somewhere in the hills. He was supposed to earn fifteen an hour, and be paid at the end of the week. Friday came, and the foreman offered to drive him home. He was brawny, and spoke enough Spanish to make himself understood. The van stopped abruptly. “No money for you, now get out,” the foreman said. He wasn’t sure he’d heard correctly, but when this giant man pulled him out by his neck—the message was received. There was no recourse and nothing to show for


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his hours of work. He knew no one and didn’t even know where he was. He had seven dollars in his pocket. This had happened no more than an hour ago. I listened in horror. Later, I offered to drive him home, only neither of us had any real idea where we were going. I’d been in Oakland only a few months; he’d been there no more than ten days. He knew a few landmarks, but it was dark, and nothing and everything looked familiar. We drove on pure instinct, stopping, starting, making u-turns, until he was sure he’d found it. To me, every building looked like a replica of the one beside it. There was no one waiting for him, and it occurred to me that he didn’t want to get out of the car. He was talking, and someone was listening. If he disappeared, the other hard-working men who shared the house would barely take notice. He thanked me and got out, walking up a dark street. “Are you sure you know where you’re going?” I called. The voice came from the dark. “Yes,” he said, but he didn’t sound very sure at all.  When I was asked to write a foreword for this collection, I thought back to that night, and the importance of stories. If we can make ourselves real to a stranger, then we have hope, we feel less alone. I’ve lived in different parts of Oakland. Over the years, the city and its stories have become real in my mind, such that the blocks no longer look identical. Oakland Word is special because it allows us to read one another. In this diverse and polyglot metropolitan area, we must get to know our neighbors’ stories. As I went through this collection, I found to my delight that each text revealed another part of this unique city. I was moved and inspired, as I hope you will be too. I never saw that young man again, of course; but I do hope to read his stories one day.


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house of birds HyeJin Yu

“Hang on!” said the policeman, looking over his shoulder. I wrapped my arms tighter around his waist as we sped along a narrow winding street up the hills of OnChun-Dong. Cold wind whipped my short hair around and I burrowed my face deeper into the warmth of his back. Last night’s events played out in my head. I was huddling under a desk inside a concierge office in an apartment building where I’ve been living with Nam-ChunDong ajumma (“older woman from Nam-Chun-Dong” in Korean) and her family for past six months. The concierge office was no more than an enclosed glass stall big enough to fit a desk where a concierge sat guarding the entrance. Every day after elementary school, I would run into the apartment, throw down my backpack, and leave to hang out at a nearby playground until it got dark and ajumma came home. Then came the winter; I could not keep warm at the playground no matter how many pairs of socks I put on. Our building concierge, God bless him, took pity on me. He let me crawl under his desk and keep him company with my endless childish chatter until ajumma came home. Truth be told, I’d been hiding out mainly from ajumma’s thirteen-year-old son who always liked to play rough with me, calling it tae-kwon-do or judo and flipping me around like a sack of potatoes. Afterward, I would always find a bruise or two creeping up on my body. I

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knew he did not like me; as a matter of fact, nobody liked me here except ajumma, and that’s because she was dating my dad behind her husband’s back. She even lied to her husband about my real identity so I could live with her. I would not like me either if I was one of them. Sitting under the desk, I heard a car pull up so I peeked through the slightly ajar office door to find my dad sitting in the front passenger seat of a taxi and ajumma getting out from the back. I scrambled out from under the desk and broke into a run, trying to catch the taxi before it took off. As soon as I got near, I gripped the half-opened passenger window with my little stubby fingers and said breathlessly, “Daddy, let me come live with you, please!” Taken aback by my appearance and outburst, he leaned away from the car door, giving me a surprised yet stern look. “HyeJin, I’m not in a financial situation to have you come live with me right now. Be a good girl and stay here with ajumma, okay?” “Daddy, please, I don’t like it here, I can’t stay here, let me go with you.” “Why are you being a disobedient child! Stop crying and go with ajumma.” He pried my fingers off the window and motioned curtly to the driver. The taxi sped off into the night. I felt a comforting hand on my shoulder. I looked up and saw through my tears a blurry face with worry crinkling her forehead. “Let’s go. You are making it hard for him, you know. Besides, what is so terrible about living with me? I take good care of you. Now stop crying. When we go inside, I’m going to pretend to punish you for being out late in front of my family so you just run into your room and sit in the corner with your hands held up high, okay? And leave the door open so everyone can see you.” I nodded silently, wiping my wet face on my shirt sleeve. As soon as we walked in the door, I bolted for my room. I did


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not bother turning on the light, headed straight for the corner of the room, and sat facing slightly away from the door, so the family could only see my shadow. While sitting there, all I could think over and over was, “My dad won’t take me, I can’t live here, I need to get out of here, even if I have to live in an orphanage.” I don’t know how long I sat like that, but I snapped out of my mantra when ajumma came into my room and turned on the light. As soon as she closed the door, I crawled over to her on my hands and knees and whispered desperately, “Please, take me somewhere, anywhere. I don’t want to be here anymore. How about an orphanage? You could take me there, couldn’t you?” The policeman slowed his motorcycle to a full stop, bringing me back to the present. I looked up from his back to see a rather nondescript rectangular sign by the entrance of another road where he made a turn. The sign read “Seh-Dhl-Won” (“House of Birds” in Korean). As we drove up, I took in my future surroundings with a childish curiosity and delight. I thought excitedly, “So this is to be my home.” The road we were on started at the bottom of a hill, ending up at a two-story modern building sitting atop the hill. Rows of cosmos lined either side of the road and danced gently in the wind. On the right, trees canopied narrow dirt paths disappearing into the woods. On the contrary, on the left side of the road beyond the flowers lay an expansive field where rows of vegetables were planted in steps up the hill. I spied green and red tomatoes growing in vines and rows of Napa cabbage too. As we sped by, I thought, “Those vegetables must be for children who live here.” When we reached the top, we drove around to the back of the building where the entrance was. The policeman parked right in front of wide stairs leading up to a large set of wooden doors. He picked me up off the bike, put me down gently on the ground, and then proceeded to

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walk up the stairs, so I followed him eagerly. Once in the building, we entered a narrow dark hallway, and he motioned for me to follow him down the corridor which dead-ended at a door. His rapid double knock was answered by a muffled “Come in.” My heart pounded in my ears with anticipation. Trailing behind, I walked through the door in to a well-lit office. I peeked around the policeman’s stocky frame to spy a middle aged man sitting behind a glass topped desk with papers stacked up in neat piles. The man looked up from what he was doing, stood up and introduced himself as Mr. Park. Then he turned to me with a kind smile and exclaimed cheerfully, “So this must be our new bird!” At my quick smiling nod, the police officer responded officially, “Mr. Park, this is the girl I was telling you about over the phone. A lady brought her into a police station this morning, reported this girl as a missing child, and asked that she be brought to this orphanage specifically, so here she is.” After the policeman left, Mr. Park grabbed my hand, leading me out of the office. “Now, shall we go meet your new family?” We walked toward a road no more than a hundred feet away from the office building. As soon as we turned a corner, I saw, up ahead, a traditional Korean house with a separate kitchen entrance outside. There was a giant rock slab jutting over a hill and facing the house from the opposite side of the road. I had an urge to run down the hill to jump on that rock, but I held back. As we approached, I noticed that the front door of the house was open. Mr. Park, also seeing the door, called out, “Hello, Mrs. Kim, are you in there? Your new daughter is here!” A girl’s sing-song voice called out from inside, “Mom, Mr. Park is here to see you!” Soon, a woman emerged, followed by a horde of children, boys and girls, fighting


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to get a glimpse of the new girl from the doorway. With round glasses atop her nose, Mrs. Kim was a middle-aged woman with short curly hair surrounding her head like a halo. She greeted us with a big smile. Then something made her frown; she walked over and squatted down in front of me to touch my cheek gently, her fingers pressing ever so lightly on the bruise there. “You poor thing, does it hurt?” Tears welled up in my eyes and I nodded slowly to keep the tears from spilling down. She grabbed and squeezed my hand, all the while patting my head lovingly. “You are fine now, nobody will hurt you here.” Looking at curious smiling faces crowding the doorway, I knew I had finally found a home. I smiled up at my new mother, we walked in, hand-inhand, and were soon swallowed up by children’s excited chatter and laughter.

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uncle h’s 1968 buick riviera Cathlin Goulding

The Buick Riviera belonged to my Uncle “H” Hata, my grandmother Mizuko Ojiri’s oldest brother. Uncle H was in the gardening business and had a mustard-colored Chevrolet pick-up truck for carting the lawn mowers, shears, and shovels he used to trim and tidy the gardens of the wealthy white people in Whittier. But his Buick was for the weekends. It was reserved for his bi-monthly rides to Vegas, where he stayed at an aquamarine-colored motel called Luck Be a Lady, which had thirty rooms with paintings of Native American warriors riding mustang horses, a pool with algae growths, and a maid named Lula that Uncle H had a crush on. Uncle H made only two stops along the 15 to Vegas: one in Barstow and the other in Roach to fill up the gas guzzling Buick. A tank of a vehicle, it held six passengers comfortably in jet-black vinyl seats that seared the bare legs of passengers during the scorching summer months. The driver had to look over the enormous hood housing the V8 engine such that it felt like one was at the helm of a tugboat. The front grill of the vehicle smiled like a baleen whale; the body was two-toned, the roof covered in a textured black material and the rest painted a dark, avocado green. The Buick announced its bulky arrival from a threemile distance, and on those Vegas-bound weekends, it


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rumbled through the suburban streets of Los Angeles, onto the 15, and sped through the Mojave Desert, an unexpectedly smooth ride within that roaring behemoth of a car. Uncle H sat at the wheel, elbow hanging out the window, aviator sunglasses shielding his eyes from the white-hot desert highway, and five hundred dollars in his pocket for the tables at the Sahara. When Uncle H died in 1983 from heart failure, my grandparents took the Buick, covered it in white cloth, and let it quietly remain in the garage behind their shack of a house in Whittier. The Buick was one more piece of property that they, as Japanese-Americans who lost everything in the war, could not refuse. So they added the Buick to their collection of three cars, junk furniture they found on the sidewalk when walking home from the Norwalk Senior Center, cardboard boxes of Mason canning jars, and back issues of the Los Angeles Times and Good Housekeeping. My parents, who had three children clawing at each other in a tiny, two-bedroom bungalow in Westchester, decided to adopt the Buick and “take it off ” my grandparents’ hands. “My god!” hissed my mother to my father, in another round of complaints about her parents. “As if they didn’t already have enough crap!” This sentiment was rather ironic; my mother had also inherited her parents’ habit of junk collection, stuffing the bungalow with her crafting supplies, article clippings, and kitchen gadgetry. There was a pasta-making machine, for instance, that she used once and never again did we eat fresh linguine for dinner. Besides, my parents already had a VW bus to carry us on visitations of the national parks and to and from the grocery store. But they, in same way that Uncle H did, wanted to own the ultimate American luxury vehicle. The Buick was a get-

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away from their lives as van-driving mediators of their children’s squabbling over He-Man toys and Lincoln Logs. One day, growling down La Tijera to our house on Airlane Avenue, the airplanes from the nearby Los Angeles International Airport swooping over the rooftops, my parents rolled up in the Buick Riviera. My brothers and I banged on the windows, despite the hushed reprimands from our elderly babysitter, Mrs. Wintermyers, and sprinted out of the house towards my mother. In her usual way, my mother was haphazardly glamorous. She wore a magenta short-sleeved sweater, a long denim skirt, and an enormous silver concho belt paired with a squash blossom necklace procured from a Navajo trading post in New Mexico. My father, always more understated than his wife, wore his grey Members Only jacket and looked sheepishly proud of their purloined possession. My brothers and I hung our arms through the open windows and pulled ourselves up to peer at the chrome covered steering wheel, the embossing on the vinyl seats, and the heavy GM seat belt buckles that were like the accoutrements of an astronaut. We were accustomed to the ripped seats of the yellow and brown VW, its floors sticky with spilled Slurpies, and the decapitated heads of Lego figures rolling around on the floor. We climbed over and through the seats of Uncle H’s former joyride, pushing the buttons for the radio and searching underneath the seat for loose change. We had never been inside of a car as splendidly lavish as the Buick Riviera. We were moving on up.


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french toast Tracy Held Potter

Last night, Sola’s dreams came true. Sola’s one-bedroom sanctuary lives on the third floor of a Berkeley apartment complex, half a mile from campus. The twenty-eight-year-old grad student of half Japanese and half Caucasian descent is wearing an oversized red men’s shirt and women’s pajama shorts. Her long dark hair is tied loosely with a piece of ribbon she saved from an old birthday gift. Her skin is lightly tanned from collecting soil samples in Southern California. Fresh coffee and the sweetness of sizzling French toast warm the room that blends the kitchen and main living space into one. The late morning sun shines onto the table hoarding notes on everything she’s learned about the effects of carbon on atmospheric climate change. A worn romance novel is tucked behind the laptop crooning with the sensuous John Mayer. Sola cheerily hums along to the music as she sets two places at the crowded table. Scott, a fair-skinned labmate with fiery hair, enters sleepily, wearing only a pair of pants. Sola’s eyes sparkle with recognition. She runs around the loveseat to give him a hug. “Morning!” he yawns. “Mmm … you look good in my shirt!” He nuzzles Sola’s neck and she laughs like a teenager. “Not that I haven’t noticed how good you usually

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look.” “Right, like you’d ever notice me when Jessica was around,” she says, regretting it instantly. “Well, she’s not anymore … so I guess we have nothing to worry about,” he responds coolly. Sola smiles weakly, becoming very aware of the chilly draft from the window. She suddenly realizes she doesn’t understand what the new rules are. The old ones were tossed out sometime after he caressed the small of her back and sometime before she saw the flowery birthmark on his inner thigh. After last night, when nothing was off-limits—neither angry tears nor passionate groping—the sudden awkwardness felt like ice-water on her skin. “Sola,” he says while tucking loose strands of hair behind her ear, “I’m done with Jess. I can’t trust her—not like I can trust you. Do you trust me?” Sola nods. “Good—let’s go back to bed.” Scott starts pulling her back to the bedroom. “I would,” Sola retreats, “but I’ve gotta get back to the lab.” “Working on Saturdays is lame.” “Yeah, well, it’s not like I normally have anything better to do on a Saturday.” “That’s no longer a valid excuse. I can’t have my girl wasting her Saturdays in a lab.” Sola’s cheeks blush at the thought of being “his girl.” Scott’s phone vibrates in his pocket. They know instantly who it is. It continues to vibrate, unraveling the dream that Scott has starred in for the past eight months that they have been working together. Sola finally speaks up, “You should check it.” “Really?” Sola nods.


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“I’ll just be a second,” Scott assures as he takes the call. Sola stares out the window, noticing the way the light dances through the leaves of the old redwood trees. Jolted by the smell of burning butter and cinnamon, Sola hacks at the toast in a panic, the metal spatula scraping against the stainless steal pan. “Seriously? You mean that?” Scott asks the phone. “Of course I’m surprised. You’ve been ignoring my texts for the past three days.” Another draft blows in from the window and, chilled, Sola closes it. Scott continues talking on the phone. Sola plunks the burnt chunks of toast onto plates and sets it on the table, picking at the charred remains. She avoids looking at Scott. She already knows too much about the way his pectoral muscles flex and the way the hairs on his chest tickle her cheek. “Okay. Be there in half an hour.” Scott returns the phone back to his pocket. “What’d she say?” Sola asks. “She wants to meet up with me. We’re just going to talk. She’s ready to apologize.” Sola remembers that he originally came over just to talk last night. “Hey, Sola?” Sola turns toward him, fixating on his chiseled nose. “Can I get my shirt back? It’s the only one I have with me …” “Of course.” Sola unbuttons the red shirt, revealing a lacey tank underneath. As she passes the red shirt back to Scott, cooking grease smears against her delicate top. Jeremy dresses hastily. He doesn’t bother putting his socks on. “I’ll give you a call later, okay?” Scott says while grab-

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bing his keys and wallet. He doesn’t wait for her to respond before leaving. The slam of the door closing reverberates in Sola’s ears. Sola fantasizes about going into the lab and uncapping all sixty of Scott’s petri dishes—the ones he needs to defend his dissertation in three months. But instead, she packs her lab bag, making sure her dancing heels don’t wrinkle the cute dress she’s still planning to use later that night.


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Excerpt from enta omri Samuel González

I’m really freaked out. I wasn’t able to concentrate all day, not even in my dance class, and that’s my favorite. “Let’s do a dance for Día de los Muertos,” you said with your cavalier attitude. Día de los Muertos scares me, being in love with you is worth the fright. Your mom and mine just lit up at the mention of it. They loved the idea. I was outnumbered. “Hi. My name is Samad. I’m Arab. My people come from the desert. We have this thing called Islam. Our dead don’t come back to visit us.” You didn’t care. You looked into my apprehension and melted my resolve. We grew up together. I can’t say no to you. I never could. I never would. It’s not that I don’t want to dance. Dancing is one of my favorite things. And to have the chance to dance with you, to be close to you, well, “duh” goes right there. I mean, really. Everyone says, “Those two brown boys are one soul in two bodies.” I think you already know. How could you not. As our mothers tell it, we practically jumped out of their bellies when they met. It’s just that Día de los Muertos freaks me the fuck out. All the stories my Ommy tells me about the dreams she has where her dead grandfather comes to give her guidance just make me nervous. At night, and sometimes during the day, I even think I hear whispers when

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no one is around. I tell you everything, but I feel like if I don’t mention this, then it will eventually go away. My Ommy, despite her Islamic upbringing or possibly because of it, embraces the concept of ancestors and their guidance and continual presence in our lives. She has always had visitations and was fine with them, but I’m getting goose bumps just thinking about it. So all day I have been anxious, my activities a blur. While driving, I forget where I am going and miss my turn. I can hear the song we are going to dance to playing in my head. I start to think of how sexy you look when you move to the music. The musculature of your legs propels you up, down, and side to side. The sinewy arms of an indigenous warrior hold me sure. The howling siren interrupts my growing erection as an ambulance shoots by. Talk about cock blocking. I feel the sun on my back as I walk through the plaza, as if it were patting me on the back for comfort. I feel my anxiety calm with the warmth. This is what I’ve been readying myself for all day. “You can do this. It’s just a rehearsal,” I mutter as I sit on the bench next to the fountain of a sirena frolicking in the water. “Samad.” My body goes rigid with fear. For a second I think it’s my ancestors calling out to me, but slowly and thankfully, I realize it’s you. I’m relieved, but my face doesn’t convey the relief yet. “Are you ok, mi amor?” you say with genuine concern. I must look pale with fright. “I’m fine Illanipi, Habibi. You just scared me. I wasn’t expecting to see you. I’m kind of scattered today.” Your look of confusion is followed by, “Umm, you told me to meet you right here before our rehearsal, which is now. The note you left for me at work said you had something for me.” A smile takes command of my face. Your presence


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brings me back to earth, to terra firma. As always, when we are together I feel at ease and my heart beats true. I reach into my coat pocket and pretend to retrieve something in my hand. I extend my clenched fist as I say, “Here you go.” You reach to take my hand and I grab it and pull you close to me and plant a token of my affection on your sweet lips. “That’s all I wanted to give you.” You return the affection with a lot of enthusiasm. We share stories about our day as we walk hand in hand into the rehearsal space at the Valle de las Chispas community center. The room’s mirrors refract light in all directions, making it impossible for any lingering anxiety to remain. The music begins and we take our places. Instinctually we are in sync. Each movement anticipated by the other. The music begins to crescendo. I hear the flutter of wings and the rustling of feathers or possibly whispers. My focus is a bit jarred, but we continue. We move to the rhythms and chords of a passed era. I begin to smell black Arab tea with mint. I’m not fazed and we proceed. As our movement intensifies, I begin to see faces of my deceased relatives. You notice that my hands go cold and we stop. “Are you ok, querido?” “I don’t know if I can keep going, Albi. Some really strange things are happening.” The concern framing your face lets me know that I have to tell you. You need to know. “This is what I was afraid of, Illanipi. I think this Día de los Muertos thing is out of control. I see dead people.” “I know, mi amor. I see them too. Don’t be afraid. They are honoring our dance with their presence. It is a blessing.” I’m comforted by the fact that I’m sharing this experience with you. This is a good thing. I still have an ugly

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feeling that they are here for more than to honor our dance. The feeling simmering in my soul foretells a different message.


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acupuncture clinic, may i help you? Jennifer Ling

My sisters and I spent Saturdays at our parents’ acupuncture clinic. My parents enlisted us to do minor tasks like refilling dispensers for the cotton balls, which they used with a dab of rubbing alcohol to disinfect patients’ skin before the needles were inserted and after they were removed. We often rearranged the glass moxibustion cups on the bedside tables after playing with them by stamping each other’s arms with big red circles. We liked to look under the patient beds that my parents had made themselves with two-by-fours, plywood, foam pads, and yards of synthetic leather. Under the beds they stored old Chinese acupuncture journals and empty cookie tins, but we always checked to see if my parents had hidden any new or interesting things there. The clinic was always an exciting place to visit—it was nothing like home or school. It was a completely adult world, which made it precisely the most excellent place to play. When the clinic was not too busy, we had a whole small patient room to ourselves. We liked the room with the two beds because it gave us more space to spread out our toys and papers. Each of the beds was a continent for our troll dolls and the space between was an enormous canyon. The Chinese watercolor paintings and woodcut panels on the walls were backdrops for our plastic bear family saga. We looked out the window of

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the office building at the freeway below and stuck our bare feet on the glass, daring drivers to look at our toes. But when we had exhausted all play in the little room, or our parents needed the room for patients, we all piled into the small reception area and sat behind the big desk. We three sisters tried our best to avoid talking to patients. We politely answered questions about how old we were and where we went to school, but mostly we played under the desk and on the floor in hopes that they would not notice us. Unfortunately, staying in the front meant that we had to answer the phones. Callers were greeted with a little girl’s voice saying, “Acupuncture clinic, may I help you?” When the caller needed more than to make an appointment, we placed the telephone receiver facedown on the desk and ran to find one of our parents. We peeked into the rooms and saw patients in various degrees of undress with needles prickling from their waists, knees, or eyebrows. No one ever appeared too surprised to see us stealing glances at their peachy bellies and waxy legs. My father loved to tell stories and we always found him deep in conversation with patients. There was one room in the clinic that was lined with chairs and devoted to people trying to quit smoking. My father liked to brag about the very particular technique of ear acupuncture he had discovered to take away patients’ tolerance for nicotine. He told one story about demonstrating the technique in China to a group of acupuncturists. None could find the right spot in one Communist official’s ear, but when my father tapped it, the man had to throw up immediately because his body could not tolerate the cigarettes he had just smoked. My father said that the room was designed to encourage patients to share their experiences kicking their addictions, but in effect he created a captive audience for his talks on how his patients needed


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to make changes for healthier living. He had placed a poster in the room that charted different foods as positive or negative. Sweet potatoes had huge positive points and my father liked to recount how he had survived as a child on sweet potatoes grown by my grandmother during the Japanese occupation of Malaysia, when all food was scarce. Much to my mother’s chagrin, he thought the few positive points for pizza also justified his love of barbeque pizza. When we were tired or hungry we sought out our mother. She still had her mother smell even in her white doctor’s coat. She maintained order where my father left chaos. He never kept track of when patients were ready to have their needles removed or who needed to pay for their treatments. My mother took care of her own patients in addition to his and I don’t know how he managed on the Saturdays he went to the clinic alone. My mother found us paper to draw on and snacks to eat. She showed us the little balls and pins that they taped to the earlobes of their quit smoking patients and taped the little balls into our ears to treat our sinus problems and headaches. I used to get stomach aches, for which my mother gave me heat treatments with burning moxa sticks that she waved over the skin of my stomach. The sticks looked like smoldering cigars and had a sweet incense smell. My mother’s heat treatments were some of the few regular times that I had her all to myself; I recall constantly having stomach aches. When we needed to go to the bathroom, the three of us went together. We hoped to avoid running across other adults. Most of the time we never saw the attorneys, dentists, and insurance agents that occupied the neighboring suites to the acupuncture clinic. We saw them as strangers, who were unknowingly dangerous. We made our rounds together from the bathroom, to the water

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fountain, and to the vending machine where we picked out what chips we would buy if we had money. The building was six-stories high, with the suites arranged around the periphery of open space on every floor, thus allowing a clear view of every door from the floor to the ceiling. After the security guard called our parents, we couldn’t ride the glass elevators from floor to floor anymore, but we still trampled the cold metal stairs with the dim fire escape lighting. We found the hallways not visible from the bottom floor and used our hidden passage ways to make our way back to the clinic. At closing time, my mother tried to drop my father subtle hints to wrap up his conversations so we could go to lunch, but he never seemed to notice. Usually my sisters and I became so squirmy that the patients themselves knew it was time to say their final words and leave. At last, my father held up the day’s stack of checks and twenty-dollar bills, boasted about how much he’d made, and took us out for dim sum.


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empty rooms Windy Ross

It was moving day. Again. We had to move pretty quick this time, even for us. This was the third time since I turned twelve, which was only eight months ago. I was mad because I knew I would miss a whole bunch of school. Probably summer would come and Mom still wouldn’t get us in school. Probably I would be thirteen before I got to go again. “My God, Paul, you have got to be the only elevenyear-old on the planet who’s so concerned about school on a Saturday. Just stop it about the school talk already and help me get this car loaded.” “Yeah, except I’m twelve,” I muttered under my breath. I lugged the cardboard box off the front steps and trudged to the car. This just wasn’t fair. Of course I was concerned about school. It’s already May and if my mom messed around again, summer was going to be bad. She might have been right about my whole concern thing, I might have even backed off, but when she got my age wrong it made me mad all over again. “Why are we even taking all this stuff ? You don’t even cook, why do we need this strainer and this wok? I’ve never even had stir-fry.” My box was from the kitchen, but it had other stuff in it too. Some of Becca’s stuffed animals, the change jar my mom had emptied the day

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before at the Coinstar machine, and some high-heel shoes I had never even seen her wear. Why were they in the kitchen? We were just going to lose this. Just like everything else. I didn’t care about losing stuff anymore. When I was eight I got my emergency box together. It had all the things that had go with me in one place. I made it out of a cigar box somebody left in our apartment, and me and my little sister decorated it so it stood out. It didn’t need to be decorated, but that’s the kind of stuff that ended up happening when you were trying to keep Becca from bothering Mom while her bedroom door was shut. I knew not to go in there, but Becca still didn’t get it, so I just played games with her until she forgot. I kept our birth certificates and shot records in the box; also there was a green Corvette Hot Wheels car my friend Demarcus gave me. I didn’t know why I kept that car. I was too old to play with it, but I just liked to have it. The last thing in my emergency box was two old tickets from a circus. I didn’t even remember the circus, but it had to have been me who went, because the date on the stubs was from before Becca was born. We went to a roadside produce stand on one of our moves once, and the farmer let us taste this red celerylooking stuff called rhubarb. We didn’t like it, but the farmer let me keep the thick purple rubber band that had been around it when I asked him. That’s what kept my emergency box closed. That rubber band was serious! I never messed with it unless I needed to, so it was as strong and tight as the day I got it. That’s why I knew I didn’t need to worry about losing stuff in the move. Even though moving meant I was going to miss a bunch of school, sometimes I didn’t mind. Usually we were leaving a bad situation my mom had gotten us into. Sometimes we ended up in an even worse place, but


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mostly we made a fresh start. I liked empty apartments, before our junk got in there and ruined everything. When a place was empty, it echoed when you talked and the kitchen cabinets smelled like ammonia and moth balls, and you thought, This place is full of possibilities. I just hoped we got into school before summer break. Once we moved in the middle of summer and it was the worst ever. It was bad, but also good, because that was the time I met Demarcus. Man I was lucky to meet him, because nobody else would play with me. I was really good at kickball, and there were all these kids at the playground across from our place playing. They wouldn’t let me play, told me, Go away, white boy. Demarcus was at the park too. He had something wrong with his leg and I guess they wouldn’t let him play either. When I met him he was on one of those elephants on the gigantic springs in the kiddie area. He was pushing that thing as far back and front as it would go, and he was looking up at the sky. He stopped long enough to look me in the eye and pat the spring giraffe next to him, then he started rocking again. That’s how I met Demarcus. That Corvette I had, he didn’t really give to me, he left it in my front yard one night when he had to go because the street lights came on and we weren’t paying attention, and he said he would get a whippin’ if he didn’t get home. The next morning we had to move. That was back before I could read the signs and I got surprised every time we had to go. I never got to say goodbye to Demarcus, but I grabbed the Corvette and shoved it in my pocket right before I left that front yard for the last time.

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where you’ll find her Camille Peters

My partner spends most of her time in four places, and three of them look strikingly similar. The area by her bedside is dusty, piled with books, and littered with tissues that somehow got lost on their way to the small wastebasket sitting nearby. The area by the home computer also tends toward disorder. The many glasses and bowls that build up after even brief periods of inattention show how much time is spent here, eating meals in solitude and silence while digesting information pixel by pixel. Her desk at work can be mapped out in piles of paper, and just like the books on the nightstand, only the very top levels move. Items on the bottoms of the piles wait expectantly to be called into use, changing only at a glacial pace. Tiny Post-It notes cover surfaces like confetti, their adhesive eventually giving up weeks after they were needed to record a phone number or remind her of an address. Most of the myriad pens, pencils, and markers in the supply cup work. Most, but not all. Despite the apparent clutter in all three spaces, she marshals the forces of technology adeptly to maintain her own kind of organization. The ever-present Blackberry sounds alarms for emails, meetings, phone calls, and waking. Her personal cell phone, the Blackberry’s usual sidekick, keeps record of practically everyone she has ever met—ordered by surname, of course! The office


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computer holds scores of spreadsheets, her preferred means of ordering data. Sometimes I wonder if she thinks in spreadsheets as well, blinking owlishly behind squared frames as she calls up the proper row, column, or cell. She has never forgotten my birthday or our anniversary, and I don’t think she ever will. Every piece of information has a place, and she can always find it. It might seem like magic when she plucks a vital document from pile #6 without looking up. Perhaps the same magic is at work when she retrieves her glasses from the nightstand every morning, zeroing in on their location amidst books and the occasional glass whose water has long since evaporated. Wheat and chaff are easily distinguished, despite the presence of so much chaff. Maybe the slow-moving clutter serves as a neutral backdrop, with salient items easily noticeable against an irregular landscape of paper and binding. The fourth place is completely different. Our small kitchen, with its cheerful yellow walls, refrigerator covered with magnets and postcards, and small appliances lining the counter, is far from a sterile operating theater. But it is the one place where my partner insists on external, visible order as she works. Before food can be prepared, dishes must be washed, the sink and counters cleared of stray glasses, spoons, or plates. She wipes the tall stainless steel table until it gleams in readiness. Then she assembles ingredients, cookware, and utensils, tasting and tidying as she goes. I enjoy the time we spend together here, me playing hapless sous-chef to her master, or perhaps baking bread while she toasts spices for a curry, fragrance filling the air as I muscle through cool, elastic dough. Sometimes I watch her surreptitiously, admiring the skill and sureness with which she dices, seasons, sautÊs, creates. We might exchange stories about our respective days or lis-

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ten to a radio program while preparing a meal just as we will eat it: comfortable, together, content. My partner grew up in a restaurant, the child of restaurateurs, and she takes cooking very seriously. And more importantly, cooking brings her joy. To call her love of cooking uncomplicated might be incorrect; she often struggles to recreate dishes as her father made them, at times feeling insecure about the authenticity of her offerings in her native cuisine. Even so, the pleasure she takes in cooking, eating, and feeding loved ones is undeniable; it shows in the way she occupies the space of our kitchen. And unlike the other three places one is mostly likely to find her, the kitchen is the one she is happy to share with me.


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una esperanza de vida Ana Martinez

Era una mañana fría y me levanté nerviosa, me abrigé bien y me puse una chalina para salir a la calle. Iba a mi cita con el doctor. Cuando estuve en su consultorio, él me sentenció: -Los resultados de la biopsia muestran que son celulas malignas. En ese momento no pude gritar ni llorar, y mis ojos se me nublaron. Por primera vez en mi vida no sabía que hacer, pensar, o encontrar una solución a lo que me estaba pasando. Tomando un poco de aire, respiré profundamente, y le pregunté: -Está muy avanzado? Me van a extirpar el seno? El me dijo: -No, sólo se va a hacer una laptocomía de casi la mitad, pero en el momento de la operación si está esparcido, tendremos que extirparlo completamente. Sólo pensé: -No, Dios mio, por favor, que no sea todo. Puse mi mano en mi seno izquierdo, y balbuceaba: -Diosito lindo, ayudame, no me dejes sola otra vez. Buscaba ansiosamente una palabra de amor que me confortara, o tal vez alguien que me abrazara y me dijera no te preocupes, yo voy a cuidar de ti. Pero nadie estaba junto a mi. Sólo estaba el doctor conmigo quién me dijo: -Llene todos los documentos necesarios para la operación y haga una cita con el anestesiólogo, la operaremos en dos

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semanas. Era el amanecer del día 15 de noviembre del 2004 cuando el dueño de la casa donde rento un studio, me tocó la puerta y me dijo: -Esta lista? Salí y le contesté: -Si, ya podemos irnos. Ibamos en su carro y él, tratando de animarme, me decía: -Todo va a salir bien. Miraba atentamente a mi vecino. El lucía una cabellera blanca y una piel muy quemada. Me preguntaba: -Llegaré a ver el sol a esa edad? Aúnque no estaba en mis veintes primaverales, me miraba todavia joven. Y yo pensaba: -No quiero perder mi seno y ser una mujer anormal, no quiero desprenderme de esa parte de mi ser. Me resistía a verme mutilada. Estaba en la sala de operaciones y una enfermera muy amablemente me ponia una inyección y de allí ya no supe más. Cuando desperté una enfermera estaba al frente mio y me dijo: -Cómo se siente? Le contesté: -Bien, ya salí de la operación? Ella me dijo: -Si, tiene dolor? -No. Y ella me respondió: -El doctor vendrá a verla. Y cuando él vino me dijo: -Sólo hicimos una laptocomia. Descanse dos semanas y luego tiene que venir hacer una cita con el oncólogo para su tratamiento de quimioterapia y radiación. Desde que me dieron la noticia de mi enfermedad había contenido dentro de mi toda mi tristeza, pero en ese momento no pude contener el llanto. Dios me había hecho el milagro de salvar mi seno y las lagrimas corrían abundantemente por mis mejillas. En mi interior decía: Gracias Papito lindo, lo peor ya pasó. Sólo me falta pasar el tratamiento con el oncólogo. Desde que conocí a mamá Teresita, así la llaman sus nietos, me invitaba siempre a su congregación. Y así


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fue que una tarde nos fuimos a ese lugar. En la entrada habían unas personas que nos recibian con una sonrisa, bienvenida, bienvenida. En el altar estaban unos jóvenes quienes tocaban y cantaban. Mientras los escuchaba sus voces me sonaban como melodias de ángeles. Las luces que iluminaban el lugar me hacían sentir en casa, con mucho calor y alegría. Me sentía viva. Era maravilloso verme rodeada de muchas personas. Una vez que terminó la música todos nos sentamos y se acercó al podium un hombre de tez trigueña clara y delgado. En su mano sostenía una Biblia y lo tenía junto a su pecho, su rostro parecía al de un ángel y sus ojos dos estrellas relucientes. Se paró al frente de todos y leyó un pasaje bíblico. Entonces dijo: -Para Dios no hay nada imposible, todo es posible para él que cree. Todo lo que pidais, se os dará si tuvieras fé como un grano de mostaza. Sus palabras me transmitían paz y fortaleza. Y sentía que iban dirigidas a mi, como si él supiera lo que estaba pasando en mi vida. El seguía hablando: -Dios es nuestro Padre que conoce todas nuestras necesidades si le clamas, El te responderá, El es quién nos da la vida, El siempre te cuidará. Yo necesitaba escuchar eso y saber que sí había alguien quién me podía ayudar. Salí de ese Paraíso como una mujer nueva, llena de esperanzas, con alegría, con ganas de volver, y así lo hice semana a semana. Todo había cambiado dentro de mi, se me habían ido mis temores a la enfermedad, aúnque tendría que pasar por la quimioterapia ya no estaba tan asustada. No tenía a mi familia conmigo, pero tenía a mis vecinos, a mis amistades de la iglesia y a mis compañeros de trabajo que me dieron mucho aliento. Lo importante era afrontar mi realidad con fé y valentía.

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Excerpt from dog’s dogs a novella about oakland Gwendolyn Bikis

Do you know me? I am Madame Divinia. Everybody in East Oakland knows of Madame Divinia, like they know of Walter, Edwin, and Lynette of The Hawkins Family (our own gospel royalty); or Chuck Jackson, “Mayor of East Oakland” and once-owner of Soul Beat TV; or Della, of Della’s Teacup Cafe, with her once-famous teacakes; or Felix Mitchell, assassinated crack kingpin; or Beeda Weeda, Keak da Sneak and Yukmouth, famous rappers all (or so I’m told—I’m only nominally a rap fan). All of us are from here; all are known and talked about here, all the way up and down Foothill Bancroft MacArthur and International Boulevards, and all these numbered crossavenues (5th through 105th), and all the tree-named side streets (Apricot, Peach, Holly, Birch); and even all the lettered streets, A through D, all deep “in the cuts,” in the heart of Far East Oakland. Everybody knows of me—especially those who claim most certainly not to. I am the seventh daughter of a seventh daughter, born with a caul, child apprentice to Big Mama, mother of the original seventh. My mother and my father couldn’t have any but female children, nor could my grandmother and my grandfather (on my mother’s side), nor my mother and father on my mother’s mother’s side. Nobody talks about that power she has, that seven times itself—that exponential increase to the seventh power. Big Mama


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knew, and named me accordingly. I’m the one, I’m the one, I’m the one they call more powerful than that famous seventh son: I am Madame Divinia. Though I’m known and spoken of, like all the other neighborhood celebrities, am I known to worldly fame? Not at all. I am the queen of rumor control. Nobody knows any more about me than they need to … than I want them to. In fact, no people in my Divine life have known me beyond the smoke screen of rumor, clouding and cushioning me, that I have had my legion perpetrate. Those few people who have known me are either on their way to graveyard dust; or they’re living, but down a long, long rutted road in Louisiana. Unless they’re Edna Varnedoe; Edna being the only woman alive in this whole town who personally knew me coming up; Edna also being the woman in this town who is least likely to admit to knowing me at all. Yet, that Edna is the one who knew my early works, back in St. Landry Parish, when my gifts were yet new and raw. Unrefined. Insufficiently leavened by Spirit. So few know me, but I can tell you what I am, and I can tell you what I’m not. I’m not that child’s-play Magic 8-Ball, shake it up and ask a question, and get an instant one or two-word answer, floating straight up to the dark water’s surface. I’m not that, and I am not a fortuneteller, look into that crystal ball and see a secret. No, I won’t tell you what you want to hear, unless you need to hear it; and I won’t tell you what you’re scared to hear, unless you need to fear something. Sometimes I do envy that easy-answer 8-ball; because with my gifts there has been much burden. That’s because I am something else, moreover something more: I am Divine Intervention. I am Tomorrow’s Hope today. I am all-a-dat and a bag of chips and a soda to go, as the youth used to say. (I do have clients among the youth, and so I do know some of the

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slang.) Yes, I have even been modern in my time—my gifts have made me such. Yet, if people knew how ordinary I am in my day-today, how much like everybody else—how much like they, themselves—then they probably wouldn’t come to see me. For example: I am ageless, don’t you know. You would expect that, though, wouldn’t you? What you wouldn’t expect is that my spa membership’s responsible for that. I have a façade, it’s true, it’s completely self-devised and chosen; and it’s one that works for everybody. It’s not that I give my clientele, the neighborhood, what they want, it’s that I give them what I’ve dreamed—and they might not want that dream, but they surely need to see it. That One Who Thinks She is My Rival, hunkered up in her little house not far enough from here, must think I want to know about all the doings of this neighborhood—she, must think I poke around to find these things out. No, “these things” come to me in two forms: talk and gossip and innuendo being one; and dreams and visions being the other. Nobody can tell how much of my knowledge flows from which source—and sometimes I forget myself. My clients are always looking for signs and for their meanings. There must be some kind of explanation, they figure, for their high degree of misfortune. What does it mean, they want to know, when you step outside and see a neck-twisted, sludge-colored, six-inch lizard lying dead three feet from your doorstep? What does it mean when you dream you’re tangled up in rotting swamp root? What does it mean when you’re having all kinds of leaks, water streaks, puddles, and undetectable drippings in your house? What does it mean when you can’t stop having stupid petty accidents, all with sharp things? It means that you got enemies, I’ll tell them. I’ll give it to them, just the short and sweet of it. It’s the way


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of this world for a person to have enemies, all of Us know that. Even me, I have a few; and the few I have are powerful—but only in the worldly sense. My enemies are not much of a stumbling block for me. All of my enemies, they all can be defeated, easily.

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clipping shadows, pasting fog Gleoria Bradley-Sapp

A week ago my assistant Mei had left the message in a stack of my morning mail. It lay as just another routine message. It had the date, time, a call back number and these words hastily scrawled in the note area—Spencer died last night. Please call. I dialed the phone number. After several rings a somber voice said, “Hello, Stone residence.” I replied with a “Hello” and stated my name. “Hello Mr. Alston, this is Stacey, Spencer’s daughter. Dad had your name and phone number in his address book and it had an asterisk by it so I knew you would want to know of his passing.” How did she know that? My life had gone on for more than two decades without contact with Spencer. She went on to say, “Dad had mentioned your name to me while I was in high school. You were one of his mentees that he was very proud of. Dad had followed your career through business publications. I was hoping that you would come to Long Beach and say a few words.” Say a few words? Miles and time had clipped the bond that had existed between Spencer and me. I wouldn’t know what to say, yet I couldn’t come up with a trite response that would first express my deepest sympathy to this stranger on the phone and then follow it up by sending a large floral arrangement in my place. “When is the service?” I asked. “It is in three days. I


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hope that you can come a day early.” I hesitated before answering. I am always sure of what to say but at this time—I wanted to say no, yet there was a faint chord softly urging me to say yes. My lips finally said, “ I will be there.” I told Mei that would be out of the office for a few days on business. I was obviously on autopilot that night because when I found myself pulling into my driveway I couldn’t recall how I had gotten there. I unlocked my front door, and proceed up the short flight of stairs to my bedroom. I felt more tired than usual. I hadn’t planned to go to sleep right away; my mind was too agitated. But while I sat on my bed the mattress lulled my body into a state of slumber. I could see foggy images of my face and Spencer’s. I dreamed like a character from a Dickens novel looking through a foggy window on scenes from my past. My eyes flew open. It was 9:00 a.m. I needed to pack for a trip—not a business trip but a trip to say words about Spencer. I telephoned Stacey to tell her that I had gotten off to a late start and would not arrive until after 6:00 p.m. When I got there Stacey greeted me with damp sparkling eyes. “Dad was in LA getting ready to facilitate a mentorship weekend with a group of teenagers from the neighborhood. He had a heart attack, according to his doctor.” Without stopping she continued, “We will have a memorial in two days. I have chartered three buses so some of the people from the LA Success Center can come to the service. My brothers will be arriving tomorrow.” I woke up the next morning to the smell of coffee and sausage. Stacey and her son, Branton were already in the kitchen. We exchanged good morning greetings, ate and left for the airport. Stacey introduced me to her brothers and as the family chauffeur, she told me we needed to make one stop. When we reached the Neptune Society,

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Stacey hopped out of the car and returned, with a box, which she carefully set on her lap. We picked up something to eat and drove to Spencer’s home. Stacey gave me permission to tour the house on my own. I wandered down the hallway and opened the double doors to Spencer’s office. The room had warm, cherry wood paneled walls furnished with Spencer’s desk, his chair, a lot of file cabinets, a visitor’s chair and a well-used couch. There were pictures and certificates of appreciation mounted on the walls. A stack of photo albums and scrapbooks set on top of a long coffee table in front of the couch. I sat down in the cozy visitor’s chair and eyed the pictures on the walls. My eyes stopped at a picture of two men with large smiles. One arm was wrapped around the other’s back and their right hands were clasped in a strong handshake. A box sat at their feet. It was Spencer and me. I was twenty years younger. As I studied the photo I could see Spencer’s face, the face that I had not been able to make out in my fog-enshrouded dream. After looking at the picture I moved to the couch so that I could thumb through some of clippings in his scrapbooks. I saw several articles that had my name in them. Spencer had indeed followed my career. As I looked at myself on the browning pages, I noticed how lackluster my eyes were becoming with each passing years’ successes. I wondered if Spencer had noticed this too? I got up from the couch and walked over to the file cabinets and noticed that they had dates on the outside. I found one labeled 1975–1980. I pulled open several drawers and found a faded file folder with my name on it. As I read I rubbed my tired eyes and a tear dropped onto a faded page. The next morning I walked through Spencer’s garden. Dew was glistening on the flowers. The sounds of dawn


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entered my ears, as the birds began a slow response to the sun’s soothing wake-up call. I felt the serenity of morning like I had not felt in a long time. Just like clockwork the food arrived, followed by the buses. No one seemed to be dressed for a funeral. No one was dressed in black—except for me. When Stacey saw me she apologized saying, “Oh Marvin I am so sorry I forgot to tell you Dad wanted an ocean-side service. I went back to my room to change into something more appropriate for Spencer’s service. When the buses and our car arrived, we joined about eighty other people of varying ages and ethnicities on the beach. I listened to the words of praise that people said about Spencer. Finally it was my turn to speak. “Hello everyone, my name is Marvin Alston. I am here today because Spencer Stone knew me. We met when I was a young, bright-eyed college student. Like many of you here he was my mentor. Spencer kept me in his sights for over twenty years but I let time and distance clip my relationship with him. During these last three days I have had the opportunity to paste back together twenty years that had become unglued. Now, I have come to better understand what it means to be a success, not just as a businessman but also as a caring human. Spencer, thank you. I will not forget you.” When I finished speaking Stacey handed Branton, the box that she had lovingly carried. He gently opened it and walked with his mother and uncles toward the ocean. He sprinkled some of the ashes as he walked. Once they reached the water he scattered the remaining ashes. They were carried out to sea on a rippling wave. Spencer’s family stood arm-in-arm at the water’s edge. Those of us on the shore watched them as the sun set. When we got back to Spencer’s house, we ate some of the food that the caterer had left and talked about the

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service. Stacey gave me the picture of Spencer and me. We said our goodbyes and I left. When I got home, I immediately went into my garage and found the gift box that Spencer had given me. It had remained unopened all these years. I tore off the wrapping paper and opened the box. I found a small gift card that read, “Success has many measures, Spencer.� Inside I found a sculpture of two hands clasped together. I put the box in the trunk of my car. I took the picture of us inside. I placed it on my nightstand and went to bed. When I returned to work Mei brought me up to speed about things that had happened during my absence. While she sat in my office she noticed the new sculpture on my desk and I pasted together my story about Spencer for her to hear and for me to remember.


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coming home Marijane Castillo

“Think?!!” My father’s broad shoulders pivoted on his crutches and paused just long enough for me to get a 3⁄4 profile of his broad face. “Now, who told you to THINK?” “But daddy, 40¢ doesn’t buy anything.” I sulked, staring morosely at the tiny silver discs that were already dwarfed by my tiny nine-year-old hands. “Nonsense. You can go to the movies for a quarter and then get a burger, fries and a coke before you come home.” My father was born in 1924. This was my family in 1994. The future had already come and gone, and left us wedged deeply and permanently in the past. Our English Tudor had been built in 1917 and to look at it now you would think that only 15 years had passed and that we were in the 30s. Old monster appliances, passageways and old cabinets that people had long since lost the keys to littered the home in abundance, lending it a perpetual twilight and darkness. We grew up with ghosts. Yes, the ghosts of the gaping past, or sadness from all of the furniture whose age went back as far as the late 1800s, but also real ghosts. To hear footsteps wandering the house just out of sight, or someone knocking an old tune on your bedroom wall, and to have things go missing only to ap-

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pear again just where you left it was commonplace. I once came home, wrapped in grief because of a school fight, only to find that nobody was home and the lights were out. I waited on the porch for hours. Day turned into night. The night froze up and the wind picked up. It had been four hours and now at seven pm I couldn’t contain myself anymore and I began to cry: “Someone, please open the door!” And just like that, I heard the click of someone unlocking the door and turning the knob. I ran into the house to hug my mom or dad, only to find it completely dark. Ghosts were our constant companions. Our home was full of loud clocks that chimed haunting dongs, melodies, but never chimed on time. A grandfather clock in the living room marked the slow passage of time, doggedly marking the new hour every 25 minutes. When you were busy you hardly noticed it. It passed you like an afterthought. But if you were ever in a moment of doubt, disappointment or sadness, its sound made you pause and impregnated the moment with great poignancy. You felt as though father time was just behind your shadow, waiting for the day of reckoning.


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war brides and homelands Fredrick Cloyd

Mothers come from places. We cohabitate with these places. Places called: ‘history’ or ‘heritage’ or ‘homelands’ place gulfs between mothers and ourselves, even as there is no separation. My mother married my already-father—an Occupation soldier during the US Occupation of Japan after World War II. My mother had to wait until I was four years old when US military law changed allowing their marriage. We moved to Albuquerque, New Mexico in 1962 where my mother raised me by herself while my father toiled in the war fields of Vietnam. I finished high school there and then moved to Long Beach, California in 1977 to play college volleyball while my father was sent by the Air Force to Texas. My mother was with her friends in Albuquerque, left alone. In the brown and red of desert New Mexico, USA, there was enough confusion, loneliness and uncertainty for most of the war brides. Even as they wanted leave from the grasp of caste/clan hierarchies as women of Japan, performances of hierarchies, judged from both their ancestral family in Japan, as well as the military rank and consequent levels of wealth associated with their American military husbands, continued. As an African American staff-sergeant, my father was a middle-man in the military. Japanese wives of white colonels and lieutenants looked down on my mother and

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her kind, even as they tried to live the egalitarian lives that they longed for—away from the tight caste system of their former homes. My mother’s friends were from the ‘middle positions of rank,’ even while she came from one of the wealthiest government families in Japan. They married men from the nations that killed many of their loved ones in the war. Dominations and oppressions are hard leeches to wash off. What do cultural and familial displacement, the devastation of war killings, and raising children in the victor’s land without good knowledge of the local language, bring for the war brides of Japan? In 1979, after being in California for two years, I eagerly returned to my childhood Albuquerque home for a visit with Mama. The fragrance of miso shiru (soup), gohan (steamed rice), and gyoza, filled the air as I stepped into the house. While sipping Mama and I’s favorite genmai-cha, I wanted to know more about the women that I had grown up with in America. Like Rie, who shared a love of volleyball with me and was quite a player in Japan in her day. “Her husband left her,” my mother says to me with her hand on my forearm. Rie then found a job as a barmaid. Her English wasn’t fluent and she was not in her twenties anymore. The work pained her feet. One of her two children had to continually be bailed out of jail since then, draining Rie of her savings. Another of my mother’s friends was Toshiko. She was a beautiful woman who seemingly had an ideal life, married to a nice white American high-ranked military man. I remember always joking with her that I wanted to marry her. I loved it when she used to visit. She was a graceful, smiling woman who treated everyone well and did not believe in the rigid rules of gender and class behavior so often enforced as tradition in the Japan of those days. I liked that she did not engage in speaking ill of others like most of the other women did, includ-


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ing my mother. There were always interesting conversations with Toshiko around, leaving my Mom to bring up seedy things while Toshiko would gracefully say something compassionate about it all. I missed being around her. Mother told me that many of the other women were jealous of Toshiko. On this one particular day, as told to me by my mother and Rie over genmai-cha, a group of the women gathered at one of the other friend’s homes for the monthly food and gossip get-together. Some harsh words are exchanged between two women. Toshiko, then, attempts to calm the argument down. Soon the argument is over and we feel there is nothing more that could be done. Later, as the get-together is winding down and the dishes had been done, Toshiko excuses herself to go back to her house, about six blocks away. After Toshiko arrives home and begins to get settled in, there is a knock at the door. Toshiko opens the door and one of the women from the get-together is there. So Toshiko opens the screen door to let her in. Then a large butcher knife appears from behind this woman’s back and she slashes Toshiko’s face across her left cheek. Blood spurts and Toshiko screams. There is an ensuing struggle and a passerby notices and gets out of the car and the struggle stops as Toshiko slumps on the porch, the blood everywhere. No other parts of her body were cut. Later, “M” let’s call her, supposedly told the police and a few of the women who visited her in prison, that she just wanted to ‘maim Toshiko’s face forever so she couldn’t think that she was better than everyone else.’ Now her wish had been fulfilled. I was sad. Dumbfounded. Heartbroken. Perhaps a bit confused. “M” was now in jail for attempted murder. Toshiko had not been seen by anyone since. One day, a few years back, my mother had told me about the woman who had taken a knife to Toshiko. “M” was the daughter of a struggling farmer in Japan. After the war, the family became des-

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titute. She began selling her body to US servicemen at the local US military men hang-out around the corner from her home. This helped bring food to her brothers and sisters and parents. When she was twelve, she was raped by a family relative and was ashamed. At the bar, she met an American soldier, eventually getting married and moving to America. Soon this husband left her while she barely spoke anything but the Pidgin-US military/ Japanese slang-English that she knew from bars. After that she eventually met another American man that abused her sexually and beat her. My mother said “M” was always speaking badly about everyone and nobody liked her. But my mother also mentioned that she could relate to her more than anyone else in the group, even though she did not feel sorry for “M” being in jail. In what ways do the women of war and devastation and cultural displacement find solace and empowerment? Life was complicated for the war bride living in the victor’s country. Where the mere presence of their husbands reminds them of their status in life, in many cases, as is the case of my mother and most of her friends of the same rank, the husband is hardly present and they go it alone. As my mother drove me by Toshiko’s house where the screen door was still torn from that horrific moment of heightened reckoning and violence, I thought of this community of women who struggled to find time for healing, or perhaps do not think of its need. In our everyday greetings with them, they smile. They hold … They sometimes survive. This is a segment of a chapter from a larger in-progress auto-ethnobiographical work. Thanks to Annie Paradise and Amanda McBride for their inspiration and valuable assistance in this piece. This is dedicated to all of the war-brides of all cultures from all occupations following all wars, who remain largely invisible in cultural writings.


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the fights we don’t have Marc Lombardo

Most of the stuff that you notice is stuff. You don’t really notice the stuff that’s not stuff. But without the stuff that’s not stuff there’d be no stuff at all. “This is so good, baby. Thank you for making it for me.” “I’m glad you liked it, sweet.” “I just keep thinking how good it is to have you here. How are you feeling about being back?” “I’m just so happy to see you and your beautiful, smiling face.” “Ahh, that’s sweet, baby. But, you’re sure you’re settling in all right? You’re not too cold here? You have enough warm clothes and everything?” “Yeah, I think so. For the time being anyway.” At this point, there was a pause in conversation as he thought about his clothing and being back, and this person whom he had come back for. He was reveling at the small facts of the life they were building. Fried Yukon Gold potatoes. Sitting in bed together and reading separate books. Her college sweatshirt and how warm and comfortable it made him feel. Being apart, it became essential that they learn to communicate their feelings for one another exclusively through language. Not being able to do things for each other meant having to rely upon saying things to one another. Though the result of

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a forced experiment, it was in its own way a great discovery to see just how much could be said and how many different ways of saying there were. But now, being together, living together, they had language but they also had something else: the ability to show their feelings through physical acts of kindness and care. In fact, it was almost as if there was no difference between saying “I love you” and “I think we should have pork chops for dinner.” The latter statement could mean much the same thing as the former because of the accompanying action which served as a kind of guarantee. “You know what, sweet? Now that I think of it, one of my favorite shirts lost a button. Can I get you to sew it back on for me?” “Baby! You need to know how to do things like that for yourself ! I’ll teach you how to sew sometime.” “But, I want you to do it for me.” He was immediately hurt by her reaction. She had been hurt by his question. How could she think I’m trying to take advantage of her and confine her to a role of domestic gender slavery, he thought. How could he be asking me to fulfill a role of domestic gender slavery, she thought. Regardless of its intentions, both he and she understood the question’s implications. It was this understanding that had hurt them both, though in different ways. Understanding is a matter of habit and, as such, we understand on the basis of what we are accustomed to. When we are slaves to our understanding, then we have no choice but to be slaves to our past. And so, we fight. Not because we don’t understand each other, but because all we do is understand each other. “Baby, why are you so hurt?” “Because, baby. I asked you to do it for me because it just seems sweet to me the way that we do things like that for each other. You know, helping each other in little


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ways. I love to do little things like that for you. It just seems to me that that’s a way for us to express our love for one another.” “Oh baby, I know. And, that’s why I wanted to teach you how to sew, too. I love it when we can share what we know with each other and that’s all I was saying is that I wanted to share that with you.” Though they had each been hurt by what they had understood, he and she still had something more than that understanding, that hurt. As quickly as hurt had come over them, just as quickly it was gone. If it was understanding that had caused hurt, then what had made it go away? Courage. When we say how it is that we really feel and what it is that we really want, we put ourselves at risk. Laying claim to your feelings and your desires makes you accountable for them. I feel this. I want this. But why? The truth is that you can never really say. Can there really be any final reason for feeling one way and not another or wanting one thing more than another? And yet, reason or not, we do. This is why it takes guts to say what we want and what we feel. And, it’s also why telling someone the contents of our feelings and desires is the first step toward feeling and desiring other better things. Like so many times before, there was no fight. Why together he and she had this courage—the courage it takes not to fight—was something that neither one could say. Why did they have it when so many others, just as wise, just as good, just as in love did not? Though they could not explain it, they could trust it, they could expect it to be there. They were lucky.

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leaving oakland Imogene Tondre

Yesenia remembers the last evening her family spent in their home in Oakland as an especially warm night. It is close to dinnertime, but it’s still light out and the warmth of the low sun feels good on her back, as she plays with her hula-hoop in the driveway. She is dressed in jeans and a bright green t-shirt, because she is not one of those girls who refuses to wear anything but pink. Yesenia feels like she is chasing the sun, because she periodically moves down the driveway to stay in it, while simultaneously continuing to hula-hoop. Her seven-year-old sister Leilani is sitting on the brick ledge by the garden, admiring the steady rhythm of her older sister’s hips. Leilani is small for her age, and very beautiful even though she is so hairy. The family loves to tease her about being Frida Kahlo’s look-alike with her thick uni-brow and little bigote. Leilani is not as out-going as Yesenia, but the two girls definitely have fun getting silly together. Their older brother, Diego, is very handsome and ever since turning thirteen, is starting to get very interested in girls— girls besides his little sisters. He acts goofy with them sometimes, but ignores them more now that he is a teenager. He has been nicer to them lately though, because of all the changes their family is going through. Yesenia looks at her family’s house and thinks it’s beautiful. She knows that the light green paint is chip-


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ping, but she barely notices that at this moment because the house is already in the shade. Yesenia is worried about her mother, who is inside, packing up the rest of the family’s belongings. She thinks that her mom is probably crying again, like she has been so much lately. Leilani looks up at her sister and asks “What’s a foreclosure mean?” “It just means we have to leave,” says Yesenia, “and we’re gonna go stay with Aunt Viviana and our cousins for a little while.” Yesenia doesn’t really want to talk about this anymore, and she definitely does not want to think about how the four of them are all going to fit in her Auntie’s two-bedroom apartment with her and her three kids. Yesenia knows Hayward is not too far from Oakland, but thinks it must be too far to stay at her school. They haven’t really talked about this though, because it’s about to be summer and so much has been going on. “Leilani, do me a favor and go check on Mama. Make sure she’s okay.” Leilani, who is generally agreeable, jumps up and skips down the driveway to the three wooden steps that lead to the kitchen. Yesenia, still hula-hooping, absent-mindedly watches her sister walk inside as she un-does and then re-braids her long, dark hair. “I hope Mama isn’t crying again,” she thinks to herself. Suddenly, Yesenia grabs the hula-hoop, interrupting its steady rotation around her hips, and drops it to the ground around her feet. She jumps out of the hula-hoop and walks quickly to the edge of the driveway. She looks down the street and sees Diego standing on the corner with a group of his friends. They mostly speak in hushed tones, with occasional outbursts of laughter, usually inspired by teasing each other. Diego is usually the animated one telling stories with his friends, but today he stands there quietly, barely participating in the

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conversation. As Yesenia walks up the street toward her brother and his friends, she notices that there are more people than usual out in the street enjoying the warm evening. She loves her neighborhood, and the realization that they are leaving their home hits her again as she smiles shyly at the men she knows two doors down who are outside working on their cars; a ‘72 Impala and a ’68 Ford Fairlane. Yesenia says hello to the boys who are playing catch in the street, and approaches the group of her brother and his friends. Yesenia really likes her brother and his friends, but she is mature and observant enough to notice how hard they try to be cool and she is aware of their awkward adolescence. As she approaches the group, Diego breaks away and starts walking toward her. “Hey, Yesi. You okay?” She tells him, “Mama wanted me to ask you if you could try to borrow a truck from one of your friends. She said all our stuff won’t fit in the U-Haul.” Diego nods and says “Yeah—I can probably get one. I’ll see what I can do. Go tell her I’ll be in for dinner in 20 minutes.” Yesenia turns and walks back down the street toward their house. At the entrance to the driveway, she pauses. She stands there remembering how she and her dad used to play with the soccer ball in the driveway before he got sent away, and how she helped him put all the beautiful tiles in the bathroom. She stands there, allowing her mind to be flooded with the many memories of her entire childhood in that home. Her earliest memory is when she was three years old, trying as hard as she could to stay awake with her older brother and Aunt Vivi to welcome her new baby sister home from the hospital. Aunt Vivi kept trying to coax Yesenia to bed, but Yesenia had been determined to wait up for her family and greet them when they arrived. Yesenia’s mind is full with many


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other memories, but her thoughts are interrupted by her mom calling her into the house to help with dinner. Yesenia walks up the driveway and the three creaky stairs to the kitchen. Her mom is standing near the sink, supporting some of her weight with her elbows resting on the counter. She is looking absent-mindedly out the window, her eyes swollen from the crying and exhaustion of the last weeks, or maybe months. Yesenia stays silent, not because she doesn’t know what to say, but because she knows she doesn’t need to say anything. She simply walks over to her mother, puts her slender arm around her waist, and stands on her tip-toes to rest her head on her mother’s shoulder. They stand like that for several minutes, until Yesenia steps away to set the table.

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the purchase Funmilayo Tyler

They walked on the grounds and were immediately overwhelmed with metal in shades of blue, brown, and … what color is that one? Who knew cars came in so many colors. “Which color do you like?” She asked bringing her husband out of his daze. He paused. Glanced at her and turned his gaze, as he pointed with a stretch of his arm, his index finger pinpointing his target. “That one way over there. The one you can’t miss. I can hear it calling my name.” She glared at him over her glasses, with an arched brow. “You’re kidding? Right? He returned her gaze, unflinching. Yet, his look was accompanied with a sheepish grin, “Nope.” “Oh come on, red?” “Yep, red. Always wanted a red car. My mom wouldn’t let me have one.” “Uh, yeah, good reason. Cops stop you more in a red car. We’re getting a nice blue one, dark blue, light blue or blue green. I know one thing, it won’t attract any attention.” She paused to briefly rest one hand on her hip. “Come on, let’s go pick out our car,” she continued in an exacerbated tone. He hesitated, giving a longing look at the red car. He turned just in time to see his wife quickly walking toward the business office.


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Four hours later they drove out of the lot. “Well, might as well see what kind of power this baby has,” he said. “It’s new,” she replied. “Correction, it’s almost new,” he said in a smug tone. He took off. And in three minutes there were lights and sirens behind them. They pulled over. As they waited for the officer to approach the car, he slumped in his seat. His hands lazily gripped the steering wheel. His words resonant as though reaching for a dream once again deferred, he said, “I wish we had gone for the red one instead. Then this ticket would be oh, oh, so worth it.”

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nuts

Vickie Vértiz

Ten thuggish squirrels surrounded you, some waving tiny crowbars, others cracking furry knuckles. You skittered to the left, testing their intent; they moved with you. Whatever. I’m the human, you thought, What’re they going to do, jump me? You kept walking toward the agaves ignoring your predators, just like you did when you were walking to school and that viejo showed you his shriveled worm of a dick from his Buick Regal. The muscular squirrels had come out of a hung jury in the redwood grove where a hawk went free—a trial involving a crime you witnessed in winter. You should’ve known they would come. You had not been back to the garden since that hawk dragged the screeching squirrel out of the quinceañera in her poofy carnation dress. That morning, no one else was there. People in San Francisco only go outside when it’s sweaty-hot enough to wear gold lamé boy shorts. You, however, will take any silence you can get. Nature, you thought, What can I do? The hawk’s gotta eat. I didn’t make the rules. You went about your quiet, sunned your pale nose in the native Californian garden, after all, you are a native Californian. Besides, you’d been to many squirrel quinceañeras back in LA; some of your best friends are squirrels.


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Now these squirrels want to jump you with tiny crowbars. You recognized a few of them from your walks, but you know how they all look alike. The botanical garden never interferes in these deaths—“let nature take its course,” they say. This way, squirrels will die out and stop overcrowding the park, taking precious school and hospital resources from the rightful citizens of the garden: sheepish quails. (Had I known the cuteness of the quails, I never would have eaten so many over my life at carne asadas, but I digress). The five kept walking after you. They began chirping and screeching, Hey, girl! Why didn’t you stop that hawk? I thought we were your friends, holmes, huh? Answer us! You sped your pace. You could get away. But those little fools kept up until you were well into the aloe. You go to the park to be safe. To get away from mothers telling their kids to shut the fuck up on the 14 Mission bus, away from dudes on sixteenth street showing you more wrinkled pee-straws when you’re trying to get to work, from cops pulling over your bald boyfriend in the Excelsior. How could you tell the squirrels you knew what they were feeling? How could you tell them you are them? You had run behind the pigs and ICE officers, thrown rocks at Pete Wilson’s limo, just like them. Couldn’t they see your brown skin like theirs, past the polartec fleece and your velcro Tevas? Then one of them jumped out in front of you and launched the worst thing of all: an acorn, right between the eyes, Here, cabrona, no que muy down with the people? You sobbed. You had to face them. You hunkered low into their path and said, It wasn’t my fault! I’m sorry I couldn’t save your sister. She didn’t deserve to die that way and not that day. I’m just like you, puny and brown, and I don’t have wings to stop the things that take us away in our

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best hours. Pshhhhh, they scorned, throwing little hands of shame at you. One finally spoke—he wore a green bomber jacket and a pompadour like Morrissey in the 80s. He said, You’re brown, yes, more like tawny. But you’re tall and have thumbs, you can type and make phone calls; organize protesters on Excel spreadsheets. You humans think you’re so powerless, especially in this country. Stop standing by and watching! You could have called us, sent a text! See this cell phone? Next time one of us gets dragged away, you call me. We’ll take care of everything. You stood there wondering if the next time another brown body gets pushed on by a cop, if these guys would appear to jump in front of the 250-pound swing, gnashing the kid’s head skull against a tree. Really—that was it? You promised you would call. You watched them scurry into the new world cloud forest, the air around you small and winged. You noticed the miniature crowbars on the floor, leaving vague number shapes. And what do you know? That Morrisseyactivist squirrel—his area code was a 213, just like yours.


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childhood Hanh Nguyen

We sit on the steps Enjoying the day My brother and I Smiling

Eating ice cream Having fun. I wonder

Who took our picture.


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muddled in a puddle Leticia Garcia Bradford

I’m muddled in a puddle It’s been raining again I’m muddled in a puddle When will the sun shine again?

I’m singing every rain song Yearning and hoping to feel better How can you be so happy with umbrella Tap-dancing wherever you go? I’m muddled in a puddle It’s been raining again I’m muddled in a puddle When will the sun shine again?

I like Mondays and don’t mind Feeling raindrops on my head Now I know how Noah felt Bobbing and searching for the rainbow’s end I’m muddled in a puddle It’s been raining again I’m muddled in a puddle When will the sun shine again?

Roses and kittens get me through the dark days Bumps on my head and a short bed make me feel blue

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I don’t want the rain to go away Without it there wouldn’t be roses and rainbows No crying, no complaining, no worrying Roses and rainbows, the sun shines again


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she and i Tinbete Ermyas

We inched our way towards the checkout register. She and I. Standing there in the supermarket of our gentrifying neighborhood: she and me knew we did not belong. And I knew it was the wrong kind of flour. She, my grandmother, an elderly Ethiopian woman, to whom history had not been kind; And me, an impossible four-year-old, anointed to be my grandmother’s pulse to the world because I knew more English than she. And they … the normal ones, staring at us …

They said to us, “you don’t belong here,” and “you’re what’s making this town go to hell … with your loud parties and terrible smell. You are not like us.” We do not belong here … She and I. Us.

Their stares were so stern, they conditioned me to find safety—even liberation—in my silence.

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And all for the wrong flour, an ingredient she had to have to make this Ethiopian dish with all her heart to nourish she and I … us … We edged our final steps towards the cashier, and we still did not belong. Knowing this, we paid for our goods and went on our way. And now, She and I knew well the hell that they swore this town was destined for. She, my grandmother, afraid but trying to be strong for me, for us. She, wondering if this is what happens to all Third World women who crossed oceans and borders to be with their families. And me, the anointed one, not knowing enough of any language to express myself, or to belong. And we marched on … us, the ones allegedly placed on this earth to create a hell for them, because we were not like them, the normal ones. But then she, my grandmother, clutched my hand as we approached our home, with a tear coming down her cheek. And I, knowing that something had just happened.

And we, at that moment, knowing that it was the wrong kind of flour, but that right here, with our hands held tight, was exactly where we belonged.


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summer is a mix tape Gwendolyn Bikis

mix 1 One summer, I lived alone above the Hi-Fi Pizza, across the street from the Easybeat Lounge and the Line of March Leninist Bookstore, in a building wedged between the Hatha Yoga Haven, and the Golden Pawn and Gift Shop. My block was half a block away from Dee Jay’s Disc-orama, and every summer day the dee jay turned the sidewalk speakers way up, up so far the music splashed and played across the square with the sun. If traffic was light, I could hear it in the afternoon while I sat in front of my window and tried to write a poem; but I always gave up and made a tape instead— I guess that summer’s just a mix tape. Reading or sleeping, cleaning or cooking, I left my windows open all day and into the night, to catch breezes and the Ornette Coleman cacophony of the street. I spent a lot of time on the fire escape that summer, just listening, sometimes till the haze-shrouded skyline glowed

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in the twilight like the sun’s tangerine dream. Just listening, all through the day: while every morning from the sidewalk shoeshine a cheap transistor popped and spurted bits of funk; and every afternoon the juke downstairs at Hi-Fi Pizza thumped the throbbed and pulsated, and every evening in the Easybeat Lounge the band called Greased Lightning played the blues so raw the guitar licks struck sparks on the sidewalk. Just listening, on through a Saturday night, while, in and out the Easybeat, people swayed and shimmied, hummed and bopped, and popped their fingers all in time, and the subway ran beneath them like a boogie-woogie bass line. That summer I wanted my street to be a poem; but it turned out to be a tape instead— Everyone knows that summer is a mix tape. mix 2 Some nights I lay awake, listening, through empty hours that turned untouched into cool blue morning. Other nights I listened as I slept on dry white sheets spread around me like cold white moonlight over vacant cement. I even listened as I dreamed— Because one arid night I dreamed about a street like mine as it stretched away, barren and gray, into shadows lit only by bleak humming neon— And I heard a saxophone. I dreamt with the bare sidewalk and the empty subway and the golden rows of dusty jazz horns


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hung in a dark barred pawnshop window— while that sax wailed, through the back alleys of a street I might have known; surging, running down to a dark street that must have been mine. That was the night I might have heard my poem; But summer night turned, toneless, to summer day and I woke and heard a tape instead. Even down this secluded street Summer is a mix tape. Some mornings, I emerged from the echo tunnel of night into yawning stillness. Some mornings, I went out to buy my cream and paper, and left a dark moldy hallway to step onto a sidewalk steeped, deep, in azure shadow. Out beyond my blue horizon the streets were swept, the sidewalk damp, the grates still locked over stores. I saw grates and bars over the Golden Gift and Pawn Shop: Over windows gleaming softly of sunlit dust and silent golden horns. That was the day I may have heard my poem; but the store stayed dark and closed all day So I passed again, and heard my tape instead. Even in the trapped horn’s soul summertime still swings— Summer’s still a mix tape.

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mi nicaragua Karla Perez-Cordero

She opened her womb and gave birth to me— Nourished me with her passion and infused her fighting spirit into my core. Growing amid her emerald jungles, sapphire oceans, and sizzling volcanoes I learned to respect and become one with her. Forever in my memories are her mornings of humid showers and sunsets calming sky with red and blue. Forever in my memories are her humble people sharing their last bread, so that we all could eat. Her beauty unparalleled and Her freshly cut Guyava smell is unforgettable. But, destiny had me leave her. Our faith had nothing to do with our hearts. Turmoil pushed her into the sea. We couldn’t take no more. Her people fled. We never looked back for a decade or more. Until we meet again, I will always sing to you, and pray for you and hope that you Never forget me. For you will always be, mi Nicaragua.


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connection Tracy Held Potter

With bands that match on our left hands, Processing in parallel on twin computers, We chat with the avatars of friends we’ve met and friends we haven’t And monitor the stream of status updates.

Processing in parallel on twin computers, We download videos or LOL at people’s comments And monitor the stream of status updates. Syncopated laughter initializes.

We download videos or LOL at people’s comments. Testing our lines with each other before committing to “send.” Syncopated laughter initializes. Sometimes we censor and keep the jokes between us. Testing our lines with each other before committing to “send,” We find the web is a wide world and the code is encrypted. Sometimes we censor and keep the jokes between us, Having this understanding audience of one is plenty.

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We find the web is a wide world and the code is encrypted. We chat with the avatars of friends we’ve met and friends we haven’t, Having this understanding audience of one is plenty With bands that match on our left hands.


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the seasons, colors and bicycles of my life Vincent Corbett, Jr.

Spring, green, is a child at play. A kid on a BMX bike Doing tricks on a sunny day. Red and yellow summer is a fast run On an 18-speed with friends, Picnic, camping and families having fun. Autumn tan, a colorful bike ride meandering through the woods. It’s all good. Winter white and gray, an old codger Pedaling a soft seated three wheeler on a cold day. His faithful, happy hound by his side. These are the colors and seasons of my life. Slow down, look around, have a cool ride and a safe trip potato chip!

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no questions asked Lai-San Seto

i. “Dubiously ethnic” is how a friend described me once, to explain why people eyeballed me as Native in Laramie, Latina in Carson City, why the state trooper in Oregon checked off “unknown” on my speeding ticket before I slid through the redwoods over the border to return to California.

My friend, well, he wanted me to understand why people drew back so often during our drives back and forth across the country. People—he pointed out— are confused by you, they think you’re hostile because you’re quiet, then they decide you’re whoever they don’t want wherever it is they live. Don’t worry, he whispered, It’s not about you.


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ii. Have you taken a second look yet? Go ahead—drag your thumb down my nose’s stunted slope, pinch an earlobe, pry open my left eye to decide— brownish black or blackish brown?

Examine my skin or this hair of mine. Pick apart my syllables—do I round out my vowels as I read out loud? Is this a puzzle put together of ill-fitting pieces and ragged edges? Am I a catalyst for your skepticism?

iii. My friend, you see, enjoyed his explanation enough to repeat it again to further elucidate why some folks struggle with recognizing me as Asian, as Chinese American, as third-generation anything. There isn’t much doubt though in Chinatown. When I order gawn chow ngau haw

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on Stockton Street, I am always handed a fork.

But when I decide to shake out a few words of my fifth-grader Cantonese across the formica, the server will compliment me on my Chinese —and so will the bakery clerk who hands me my bao —the boba booth lady who blends my drink —the grocery store cashier who bags my gai lan and oysters. Dim sum ladies love me the most— just imagine, your pet monkey wakes up one morning points at all the tiny dishes on your table, mumbles through their names more or less correctly. Who wouldn’t invite over the neighbors to watch that? I would be a prodigy, If only I were age three.

iv. What my friend doesn’t know, the secret I’ll share now, is my true identity, a thrice-folded note I pocket before I walk outside every morning now—


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—these are the directions to myself.

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I’ve decided to become a spy, to trade on silence—childhood’s deadliest weapon—I shall speak no more, but I will learn all your languages— and I do mean everyone’s.

I will master your native inflections, mimic your intonations, spidercrawl up your syntax, and reimagine your sidewalk slang.

I will slurp up your songs your chants and hymns, sharpen my incisors on your pledges, your promises, digest your debates, grow mighty and swallow the globe even as I shrink— and disappear into silence. After I am finally gone, after everything’s hushed and I’ve sunk into the soil beneath your feet, inside your walls, that is the day you’ll hear of my return. Don’t bother searching. I’ll be hidden everywhere. Just listen, just listen. I’ll be whispering your secrets inside your ear.

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good advice Christina Marable

Parts of the problems are the answers. They are easy to find, because they are so present. In bookstores, at Issues on Piedmont, on the graffiti by Grungy, leaking through vents at school sites when the AC’s stopped working. Answers spill out in well meaning friends and kind strangers talking loudly, always using models— you should do this, you could do that … and in telling their own stories—when I was younger, I had the same problem too— they might say. Silence sounds so much better. So silence soundtracks your life. Substitute those answers with questions, and maybe the right one will come along. Don’t worry. This is easy. Just take the following steps: visit Lake Temescal, with its sandy floors or eat at that pizza place in Rockridge, savor their tomato-moon shaped faces. Have dinner at a doctor’s house in the Hills, stare at the Skyline, where the city becomes a constellation of lights, ant-small. Watch an independent movie at the Parkway—


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but hold on—it is closed, no longer an option. Carry on. Lisa will read your palm, reading that you seek happiness, but she pushes your hand away. I cannot help you she says. Stumble through the Artists Walk on Telegraph, with its outrageous art and dirty hipsters, succumb to a minty chocolate chip cupcake. Finally, take the romantic approach. Skip stones by moonlight on Lake Merritt, feel pensive and heavy, but each rock in the water falls, crashes shatters like glass. Perhaps it’s all in the wrist. In the hands, that each year feel like paper, the way you imagine your Grandma’s hands would feel less decorated with topaz and heart shaped rings blue veins now course through. In the wrist, in the hands is where all of the fetching, throwing and writing come from, where weight suspends from a watch when searching for lost time. Try drinking midnight espresso in a milk white cup, looping a thumb and index finger through, pinky skywards, expecting sweetness, reality bitter. this is not tea. Why be surprised? stack the joints in a side arm balance, reach for a toe and grab. Joints bend, pop, fold underneath. Return to Earth, limbs unbroken. Still feel unsure? Don’t be. Try to feel thankful.

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Feel thankful for the city you live in (though not The City) and the place you live in (though not The Place but it is yours, roommate free). Touch the cool colorful beads of the curtain, even feel grateful for roaches fearless that stroll across the floor. Try to emulate their cavalier style and get in touch with old friends from The Past. Listen to their stories, of one who is leaving for Michigan to complete his PhD, and another in law school. An old roommate still lives in her childhood home, but hang on. she is getting married. Perhaps the question is in those old guilty pleasures. In talk shows and trashy romance novels from the library—or maybe it is in take out from the place run by the Vietnamese Vegan Straightedge Cult. Look up Dan Savage and think crazy thoughts. About breath. Or is it breadth? (for that matter?). The answer is easy. Five and a half. Infinite answers to go with infinite questions, swimming about, tottering through a sea of information. This is easy. Don’t worry too much. about the life, the machine, the happiness or the way that would just interfere with work and play. It’s perfectly acceptable to think of cherry, blazing soft sunsets, and biking down Broadway Containing a scream,


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tongue glued to the pallet.

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Excerpt from schutzwall Andrea Gutierrez

If Donald Rumsfeld could have kept his mouth shut for one more goddamn day, I wouldn’t have been standing in front of a stern, mustachioed immigration officer trying to explain why I didn’t have a student visa. “But I don’t need a visa.” “You’re here to study?” “Yes.” “Zen I need to see a veezuh.” “I just told you. Das hab’ ich nicht. I don’t have one. You don’t give them. I’m supposed to go to the Auslandsamt when I get to Heidelberg.” Sixteen hours of travel from LAX and I was in no mood for these shenanigans. Danijela was waiting for me, and I needed to sleep. “I’ll just give you a tourist visa.” He stared at me, unamused, as he unceremoniously stamped my passport and sent me on my way. “Why would he do that? Germany doesn’t even have student visas,” I asked Danijela­­—“Dani” we called her— as we climbed into her car, my two overladen suitcases in the back of her cramped hatchback. We swirled down through the parking structure and lunged towards the highway for the hour-long drive to my home for the next six months. It was then that I looked around and noticed where I was, the realization that I was finally in Germany sinking in. I had been working so long towards this mo-


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ment, the culmination of my high school and college years spent learning German at last realized. “Rumsfeld. He threatened to withdraw the US military from Germany. Everyone’s talking about it, and everyone’s upset,” Dani said, annoyed. Why would they be upset? I wondered. Why wouldn’t they want the military to leave? I imagined loud, brash, cocky Americans taunting the locals and driving gasguzzling American cars all over the German countryside. I don’t even want them back in the States. “What’s the big deal?” I finally asked. “Germany makes a lot of money from the military. They just want to punish us, because we took a stand against them about Iraq.” Heidelberg is one of the biggest cities in Germany to have survived World War II relatively intact. Theories abound as to why it was spared the drubbing that befell larger cities. Perhaps it was because it wasn’t a major transport or manufacturing hub, or that there was an unspoken respect for Heidelberg as an long-renowned university town, or that the US Army already knew they wanted to plunk themselves down there after the war. Whatever the reason, it’s hard for Americans to truly appreciate the full scope of war’s destruction if they don’t experience firsthand its affect on a city’s architectural history like one does in Germany. Neighboring Mannheim maintains only one full block of buildings that survived the war; other than that and the university, everything else was destroyed. There was no Penn Station to destroy with reckless abandon in Germany; Penn Station had long ago been bombed. Yet through some mixture of fate and strategic planning, Heidelberg maintained its distinctly German architectural history while seamlessly integrating the conveniences of the modern era.

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With only a few more days remaining before my language class started, I met up in the Altstadt with Jill, a college classmate who was also studying at the university and had just arrived in town. In the middle of Bismarckplatz, near the ticket booth, circumscribed by the chaos of buses and trams, a folding table and chairs stood quietly alone. As we inched closer, I noticed tiny wooden blocks the size of two fingers stacked and strung together to form a five-foot long wall. Names and phrases and sketches were etched on the sides of these blocks with markers. Stefan. Ingrid. Katja. Pax. Friede. Pace. Peace. NO WAR. “Was ist das?” What is that? I asked the woman at the table. “It’s the Schutzwall,” she replied in German. “Against invading Iraq. Do you want to add a brick?” She gestured to the pile of wooden blocks on the table, colorful markers dotting their landscape. There was something very romantic to me about opposing a war, like Dad being there—there! In Laguna Park! In East LA!—during the Chicano Moratorium of 1970. Its mythology rather than the reality informed and inspired me at that moment. It was for this reason only that I stopped to scribble my name in blue and dropped the block onto the sticks that held the wall together. Jill simply watched.


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dj’s story

Linda Goering-Hutcher

I woke up on the bedroom floor, opened one eye and waited for it to focus before I tried the other one. My head was hella pounding but I was used to that. The curtains were closed and the room was dim but the clouds must have shifted because it got brighter all of a sudden. That’s when I saw the blood. It was caked on a hunk of hair that had fallen into my face when I tried to raise my head. I didn’t know what it was at first until I touched it and, still damp, it stuck dark and viscous to my hand. I thought, “Oh my god, I must be hurt, seriously.” A rush of adrenaline, strong as Stoli, jolted me upright. There were bloodstains all over my top and jeans. I reeled, retched, covered my mouth to hold it in, smelled the stuff on my hand and retched again before I made it to the bathroom. The cold water on my face helped, but then I got a good look in the mirror. Not so long ago, I was beautiful. Not Britney or Lindsay Lohan “Hollywood” beautiful, but pretty enough to get away with murder. You know, the sweet, girl-next-door type. I had a rich boyfriend who took me out to the best restaurants, weekends in Wine Country, trips to Santa Monica. He set me up in a little studio on Lakeshore so I could work on my art and get away from my crazy, pill-popping pothead mother. He got me high-paying photography jobs, even put money in my account every

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month so I could pay my bills. All I had to do was not fuck it up. But I digress. What a sight I was that morning: puffy eyes, blood-caked hair, wine-chapped lips and a sweat breaking out on my upper lip. Sore and on the verge of panic, I stripped and searched for open wounds. There was a small bump on my temple and a tender spot turning to bruise on my right shoulder, but no cuts, scrapes or broken bones. I sat on the toilet and tried to think. What happened last night? I didn’t remember much after arriving at the party. I drank a bottle of wine before I even went out the door. I couldn’t piece anything together. How did I get home? Was my car downstairs? I threw on some sweats, hid my hair in a wooly hat and went down to the garage. The car was pulled into its spot against the wall. The front bumper dented, headlight shattered, blood on the seats, too. I must have hit someone. Did I kill them? I started thinking all kinds of crazy things. Like, I was praying to God, Goddess, Buddha, the Universe, please don’t let me go to jail. I was full of selfish prayers and promises, “I’ll never drink again, I’ll go to church every Sunday, heck, I’ll even join a convent, only please don’t let me go to jail.” I ran upstairs, thought about calling the friend who had the party. What would I say? “Hey Shay, do you happen to know if I ran over anyone last night?” I phoned her, lied and said I lost my car keys, hoping she’d be able to tell me something. She didn’t have any info, but she did have a few choice words: “‘Sup DJ? Lost your keys? Lost your mind, more like it. Ask Beedie, he took you outta here last night. Damn, DJ, why you get so whacked? Next time you’re goin’ to the liquor store, save that money and buy yourself some sense.”


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I tried texting Beedie but he didn’t respond. I phoned him then, every five minutes, until he finally answered, his voice chilly as glass, “Yeah, DJ, you were a real treat. I wasn’t going to talk to you at all. Let you stew in it. Blood? What, you don’t remember? I’m so shocked. I think you broke my nose, DJ. I was tryin’ to drive you home, took that bottle away from you, like you needed any more to drink, all the time you’re reaching across me tryin’ to get it back. So don’t blame me ‘cause your car’s dented, you’re the one yanked the steering wheel, made me hit that pole. Ya know, it coulda been a kid or something. I’ve got a big gash on my nose from the rear-view. It bled for frickin’ ever. I had to walk home lookin’ like a’ axe murderer. Stay at your house? Oh, hell no, I’m done takin’ care of you. Fuck! Now I’ve got two black eyes. You’re gonna have to get your sugar daddy to pay for it if my nose is broken. Oh yeah, I forgot, he dumped you, too. Forget it, DJ, sorry don’t cut it anymore.” I’d like to say my first thought was how sorry I was that I hurt my best friend, the last one to give up on me. But my first thought was, “I wonder if that bottle is still in the car.” I did feel awful, but more because I needed a drink than anything. And there it was under the front seat—BOOYA! Most of a pint of vodka left in the bottle. I took it upstairs, set it on the counter … and then I did something unusual. I started thinking. I thought about my father dying of cirrhosis when I was twelve, how I blamed my mother for it, though they hadn’t been married for years. I thought about stealing money from her, losing my job, my friends, blaming her for that, too. I thought about my selfish, fucked-up life and cried. I took that bottle, unscrewed the cap and poured it down the sink. Then I picked up the phone and called my mother. Well, that was how the story ended in my imagina-

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tion. Truth is, I drank that vodka. I shoulda joined a convent like I promised ‘cause later I got pulled over for the busted headlight and landed in jail on a DUI. And that’s when I really started thinking. No money, car impounded, creditors calling, camera in the pawnshop, my sorry ass on cold cement in a holding cell. I didn’t have a dime, but going to jail bought me some sense. These days, I am happy with small victories: a phone call from Beedie, a hug from my Mom, my glass of plastic sobriety medallions. When I tell my story I’m not afraid. It is ever-changing, the end unknown, one thread indelibly woven through all the chapters, beginning: “My name is Dina Jeannette Johnson and I’m an alcoholic …”


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i have an accent Debayani Kar

I have an accent. The way my skin color defines me here in the US, my accent seems to define me in South Asia, in my homeland, in Bangladesh. A south Indian woman recently bragged to me about being Bengali in spirit. “I am a Bengali,” I replied, enthusiastically. “Oh yeah, right, Bengali, but more American really, born here.” It set me back in my tracks. Yes, that’s right, I was born here, in Amreeka. But is that the entire definition of me? What about the fact my first language was Bengali, that I wasn’t allowed to speak English in my house until age 12, because my father forbid it. Or that I barely spoke English when I first entered kindergarten—I pronounced ‘the’ ‘th-hee,’ and tried to correct other children for their apparent mispronunciations. Traveling through Bangladesh, I was happiest when my accent didn’t stand out, when I had perfected my Bengali accent well enough that you would have to talk to me for awhile and hear my story, to know I was not a Bangladeshi citizen or a visitor from somewhere else in South Asia; that in fact I lived “outside.” Sometimes it feels like I have to defend myself, my simple right to be and to embrace my ancestral culture, the country where my father was born and all my

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grandparents, no matter where I am. In the US, I am an American, just not American enough, the convenient other depending on when and where my presence turns up. In South Asia, I am again the other, needing to defend my language skills, my cultural sensitivities, my knowledge of South Asian history, my familial ties to the continent, my tolerance of the heat, spicy food and general living conditions. I wonder when I’ll have to stop explaining myself, defending myself. When I can just be, and not some stereotypical version of me. But then I am home. Home. And all the rest fades away. Swati, my youngest niece, jumps on my lap. My husband and I spend the rest of the day with her, taking pictures with his camera. More expensive, I am ashamed to admit, than anything in their household. It had taken the entire day to reach the house. The directions were vague, a grandmother’s chicken scratch, transcribed and edited by my uncle in India. She helped him draw her family tree, explaining the names of the relatives I would hopefully meet, over and over, to ensure I would not screw up, arriving at the wrong place. The last time anyone on our side of the family had visited Bangladesh was fifty-three years before, the day my grandmother arrived at her childhood home for the last time, reaching too late and learning that her mother had already died. Since then, the Britishers’ Partition had left deep scars, created nearly insurmountable religious divisions. We set out by bus early in the morning. At the station, we were mobbed by bus drivers, ticket-takers and touts, ready to steer us to wherever they were going. And it certainly didn’t help that Konrad stood out like a white thumb. I tripped and fell into a mud puddle attempting


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to flee the crowds. If I had to say one thing I didn’t like about my homeland, it’s that Bengalis are the damn nosiest people on earth, and strangers loved to crowd around and listen as I recounted my family’s story of fifty-year-long estrangement from Bangladesh and Konrad’s subsequent role as the bideshi foreigner in my life; I suspect some liked hearing him say in his soft, self-conscious Bangla: “amar bo,” my wife, representing about one-third of his vocabulary. As soon as we entered the bus, the driver could not contain his curiosity. “Where are you going?” I told him my story. “Don’t worry, we will get you to your ancestral home.” The way there was mesmerizing. Emerald green paddy fields stretching into the horizon. The landscape interrupted only by small fish ponds, with water so stagnant, the fish swam to the surface every few minutes, gasping for breath. Goats everywhere. Their heads always down, chewing grass, as if there were only that lone patch left in the world. Some of these goats were traveling on the roof of our bus. The bus stopped what seemed like every few feet, to pick up a never-ending flow of passengers. It was not only people that came on board, but goats, chickens, ducks—rural people traveling with their livestock from one village to another, maybe from a smaller village to a larger town. Perhaps to sell their animals, to feed their own families. The traffic brought us to a standstill with frequency. As we faced a roadblock of people in a busy market working their way across the street, a man in a cycle rickshaw began arguing with another rickshaw driver who had apparently cut him off. He was shouting in his loudest, shrillest Bangla, epithets that if translated

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to English would sound more like poetry than insults, when a strong wind lifted his dhoti revealing his manly parts. The man sat down at once, retreating from combat, laughing. Later, the bus driver turned left at a fork in the road. A cry went up, “What are you doing, we are supposed to turn right!� But the people sitting at the front of the bus already knew: a young woman was being taken to reunite with her family.


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ready

Samuel González

I placed a second phone call to this really cute librarian I met at a local food spot called the Tamale Queen. When we met, I told him about the vegan tamales I sold with a friend at the Berkeley farmer’s market, and asked him to come by so that I could treat him to a free plate. He came by that very next Saturday and we talked for a good minute. He came from Oakland to Berkeley, and I believed that it wasn’t just for a vegan tamal. We ended our conversation after his meal with: “Let’s do dinner this week.” He never returned my phone calls. It had been eight years since I had been entangled in a web of love and desire, at least with an actual person. Like an out of work professional looking for a gig, I had leads, but I never seemed to make it to the second interview. I understood why on a warm summer evening, while I sat listening to the wind. The epiphany came. It whispered: “You have offended the Spirit of Love.” Of course I had. Memories of past relationships began to materialize. Stretching all the way back to high school, I could see the times that I had committed offenses against the Spirit of Love. Each time, I had said “Love is not worth this much pain,” which only made my offense worse. It had progressed to the point where seeing couples showing affection made me say, “Get a room.” Committing these offenses became routine. I

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no longer noticed or cared about my responses to others who were expressing their love. Honestly, what I really wanted was to have love in my life again. I listened to the wind to gather my thoughts and get more direction. In its gusts, I deciphered instructions for the steps I should take to make amends with the Spirit of Love. The following night, I took action. I bought a scented candle in a decorative tin, and wrote my intentions for my ceremonia. Be careful when performing this ceremonia. It is powerful magic and you must be aware of its consequences. With all the lights off, I began by lighting the candle; then, spoke through the darkness to the Spirit of Love. “I apologize to you, Spirit of Love. I apologize for the times that I offended you with my hurtful words. I apologize for the thoughts I entertained that disregarded the joy of Love in my life. Most of all I apologize for pretending that Love does not matter. If you will receive this song as my offering to you, I will be content. My only intention for this is to show you, Spirit of Love, that I am deeply sorry for disrespecting you.� After the recitation, I closed my eyes and sang. I sang from my most sincere place. I serenaded Love with my song of absolution. My neck reverberated with a melody that carried my offering of contrition to my altar of loneliness. I sang until my song felt complete. The candle burned completely out as I sat wrapped in the warmth of forgiveness. The next week was summer solstice. My dear friend Linda had invited me to a solstice ceremony at Ocean Beach, and to solidify my repentant attitude, I decided to participate. As part of the ceremony, we were asked to bring something we could throw into the bonfire as a symbol of what we wanted to let go. I listened to the wind again to determine what I should give to the fire. After


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getting my answer, I called my best friend Tania. “Whatcha doin?” she said in her Minnie Mouse voice. “I’ve been trying to figure out what to bring for the ceremonia.” We were going together. “I’m going to cut my hair.” “What!?” she responded in her Mariah Carey shrill. For over a decade I had long hair. It had become my calling card of sorts. But at the suggestion of the wind, I decided to change it all and cut it down to my scalp. “Oh my God! I want to be there when you do it.” This meant more to her than it did to me. To me my hair represented many years of old habits and wrong thinking. I was ready to wrap it in a paper bag and bring it to the ceremony. Tania was the first to take a chunk out when the clippers went buzz. She cried. I got impatient and took the clippers from her and buzzed it very quickly. I sat in the bathtub surrounded by my past, black as the fear that lived within my heart behind the wall I had built. It felt amazing! The next evening we made our way to Ocean Beach. Many sacred brown folks busied themselves lighting fires, arranging accoutrements and building a holy place in which to have our ceremonia. Prayers to the four directions were read. I read one after being saged and cleansed by the Curandera. The atmosphere was teeming with spiritual energy. When the time came for everyone to throw their objects into the fire, I was eager. In one swift motion, the bag that represented frustration and confusion was tossed into the fire and consumed in a flutter of bright orange flames. It took less than a minute to rid myself of decades of baggage. Afterward, romantic scenes on TV or in movies gave me hope. I smiled at couples in love that I saw, and qui-

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etly said prayers of happiness and joy for them. I met someone. It happened like a flash of lightning. We met; we talked for hours and fell in love. The Spirit of Love had heard my supplication for forgiveness, and in turn granted me the desire of my heart. I took it unto myself and savored the joy and the pain and all that came in-between.


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the coal pot

Kuukua Dzigbordi Yomekpe

The kitchen stove, which we called the coal pot, was of the utmost importance in my house. We used it at least twice a day. It was often the center of the day’s activities and sometimes the cause of disagreement among family members and house-helps. It only used coal and had to be lit in the courtyard to prevent the first puffs of smoke from choking everyone in the house. We would have to ball up old newspapers in the lower part of the stove and light these with a match, then fan the flames from the lower part to allow the coals on the upper bowl to ignite. Once the coals caught fire and the smoke evened out, we would return the stove to the main kitchen. This chore was almost always handled by the resident cook. When we children handled the stove, it was under careful watch of whichever house-help we had at the time. Every meal I had as a child was prepared or heated on this stove. Most of my classmates’ families had long switched to electric or gas stove imported from abroad, but Grandmother refused to cave in to modernity. Besides, the coal pot needed to be monitored more closely than an electric or gas stove because it did not have an internal regulator. This was perfect for her because it meant we didn’t ever leave the kitchen (or her sight) for too long. It was not until well into my teens when she finally consented and got first, a kerosene stove, and then an electric two-burner

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hot plate. Cooking was a major affair in our household. We usually cooked massive amounts of food to store for several days. Although we didn’t have a large household, my Grandmother was quite busy as school principal during the week days, and church leader on the weekends, and preferred not to spend a lot of time supervising the cooking each day. The stove needed to be replenished every so often because the original chunks of coal would eventually turn to ashes under such heavy cooking. New coal had to be added before the entire spread of coal turned to ash, otherwise we would have to begin the whole process of lighting the stove anew. As I recall, this happened a couple times. It didn’t bode well for whoever was on kitchen duty when this occurred. I recall an occasion when one particular house-help was working—Aunty Mercy. She took coals out to begin a new fire for another coal pot and ended up losing the original one on which the main family meal was being prepared. Grandmother had a few choice words for her, but Aunty Mercy, quite immune to Grandmother’s harsh words, just nodded and began the whole process over. Aunty Mercy was the oldest of all the house-helps we ever had. She came to stay for a few years, earlier on in my life, and then left for a while because of a disagreement with the matriarch of the family, Grandmother. She returned when I was much older and stayed for a long while again. Aunty Mercy was from Asinmansu and had had her share of life’s challenges. Her son had been jailed for theft and she had spent her life savings bailing him out, only to have him flee the country. She had been hit by a bicycle a few times so she hobbled along almost precariously as if at any moment she would topple over. She had been hit by lightning and this had given her a twitch in addition to the hobble. Despite all these, she


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was full of life and had many stories to share. She was also warm and cuddly; she was quite the character and my sister and I loved her. She was the antithesis of all Grandmother was. As I came to later learn, Grandmother, who was of Scottish and English heritage, could not bring herself to break the tradition of the “stoic” English women who had gone before her. We interacted with her peripherally while doing homework, taking tea, or when being chastised or punished. I recall spending a great deal of my time with Aunty Mercy or whoever the househelp at the time was; we changed them so often, I have quite a few in my memory. Grandmother, as a three-quarter mulatto, was extremely prejudiced so that it took a thick-skinned person to live with her and take the constant barrage of derogatory comments. My first experience of extreme prejudice came when she punished my sister and me for eating Aunty Mercy’s food, which was not to be mistaken for food prepared by Aunty Mercy. This was ironic because she prepared all our meals. Since Grandmother set our menu each week, Aunty Mercy would occasionally cook her own tribal delicacies. My sister and I, being the curious kids we were, were always ready to try something different. On this one occasion, Aunty Mercy served us dinner and then left to clean up and eat her own dinner, because she ate her meals apart from the family. Sheela and I went looking for her later and found her cleaning up the main coal pot, and tending to her saucepan of freshly prepared koobi stew and ampesi, a local delicacy of salted (tilapia) fish stew with boiled green plantains and yams. She invited us but warned us about the wrath of my grandmother; she agreed to be on the lookout for her. Unfortunately, that night luck was not on our side and Grandmother did find us eating Aunty Mercy’s food. Grandmother stood guard over the point where her race

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discriminations met our childish curiosity and being the adult, she always won. We were sent to brush our teeth and given a good talking to about the results of mingling with servants and what Grandmother used to term “familiarity breeds contempt.” For her, the more interaction we had with the house-helps outside of duties, the more they felt closer to us and this blurred the boundaries she worked so had to keep. Although Aunty Mercy did not care for being in trouble with Grandmother, she also felt it her calling to prepare us for the real world where we did not have this bubble of protection that Grandmother’s skin privilege afforded us.


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linger

Marc Hernandez

I didn’t believe in life after death. It almost seems amusing to acknowledge to myself that I do now. However, it is the old plot in which our home once stood that now makes me want to believe in spirits. I walk by staring through cheap glasses, with eyes too worn to see clearly, at an empty lot whose rampaging weeds have pierced concrete skin and wave in the wind with sentient life mockingly. This is our lot now, they whisper. The house was brought down in 2009, an old Victorian with a stunning ivory color that no one in the neighborhood had ever seen. A house we were proud of and cherished despite the empty silence it held for us. A child’s laughter was something you could not give me and I knew it was your one regret in our life adventure. The years rushed by like a book’s pages caught in the wind, and when your book closed, mine kept going. The house then became a tomb of complete dead silence. Shortly after, visitors became less frequent as they complained of the cold spot in and around the nursery room that we had created for our phantom baby; it was a zone of penetrating chill. In the end the silence was too unbearable and I left. It was sad to walk past our former home in those first weeks. The windows were shattered glass and two by fours, its skin tattooed with graffiti, and the once proud, unique paint had dulled away like wallpaper that was

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exposed to too much sun and lost its splendor. I hated imagining what was happening within walls that once had been our armor. I pictured the walls decaying like a rotten apple infested with maggots, an echoing empty space, rat droppings in the corners, dust dominating every possible surface. The homeless and teens must have used it as a decadent breeding ground; I pictured broken bottles of cheap liquor, crumpled fast food wrappers, an army of repellent, used condoms in what had been our nursery. I saw the abandoned and desolate place where the last remnants of our dreams faded. Somehow I find it easier to believe that our old home still lingers on after its death than just your actual ghost. After all, the house was built long before us, and lived longer than you or I could hope to have ever lived. I picture it, living there absorbing a piece of the soul of those who dwelled within its walls, and vice versa the inhabitants taking in a piece of the home into their souls. It is like you always said, isn’t it? After your death I heard you, dusting the piano keys or putting away books that I had left carelessly out. I heard you and yet chose not to accept that you still lingered. Now I find myself believing myself as I stare at the barren lot where a non-living creature once stood. If it didn’t know it was alive then how could it know that it had been killed—that a construction crew had torn apart its fragile body and carried off the remains? It was years after when I first saw the apparition like a mirage in the midst of a dying day. The cane that held my weakening frame slipped from my hands and rolled away silently to pursue the dusk wind. Silver strands of my thinning hair perched themselves before my eyes but I didn’t notice. It was not fear or shock but gratifying warmth that surged through my worn body, giving me a new sense of life, with which I took the first steps I had


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in years without a cane. I told people, of course I would, but their eyes told me they thought it was a trick of my mind that they assumed was not as sharp as it had been. Perhaps they are right and I am just hallucinating; the light dimming in my mind is making me see something that truly isn’t there. But if that is so then I am glad because I feel a peace I have not known since I lost you. It is like you always said, isn’t it? I walk past every evening now, when the night meets with the day and exchanges a pleasantry or two before trading places at opposite sides of the globe. I walk with an aluminum cane whose rubber soul has been covered by a faded, dead green tennis ball. The shady characters that family and friends have warned me about do not bother me. I am but an old relic that lingers in a young world that, rather than bother me, chooses to let me walk through its chaos. Some of the block kids have gotten used to me so that they smile and wave, then turn back to dealing whatever new drugs this generation has produced. Still I walk the city streets—that in a dying memory had been calm and serene—because I hope that what you said was true. If it is true, then I hope that someday I will catch a glimpse of something more through those translucent walls that exist in twilight visions. That perhaps one day I will be able to see your figure within the incorporeal mirage that seems to rise from the nether. You see, when the sky becomes adorned with a wondrous array of red, blues, and purples—as the sun retreats into slumber—I see our old home like one would see themselves reflected in a window, choosing to linger on after its death and radiating that warm embracing feeling that only you could surge in me. I like to think that it is because there’s a part of you that wants to let me know that you were right. Now as time marches and I become more and more of a nostalgic afterthought, I find a

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deep peace because I know that you were right and that I will see you again. I just pray that you choose to linger until my final day and that when that day comes I will be able to see you again. It is like you said, isn’t it? If you live somewhere long enough you become that place.


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an ancestral calling Laura Ortiz Guillén

Cri, cri, cri … it was the main sonido coming from the grillos in the oscuridad. There was a faint whizzing of the cars from the distant 10 freeway. The temperature had dropped a few degrees but the hot summer air still lingered, creating a stickiness on my skin. This weather was usual for San Bernardino County in Southern California. The savory aroma of the pollo and arroz continued to make their way from the kitchen window and out into the patio. What was I doing there? Why did I agree to go? I love my Uncle Tito and Aunt Perla but coming with them to this healer’s home was not in my plans. I caught a glimpse of myself in the small window where I was standing. My reflection was taller than those near me. I could barely make out my medium brown length hair, and then the lights were off. I looked around and saw the mujeres hurrying to turn on the last of the candles on the altar. It reminded me of the womyn who helped my family in 2004 during that difficult time just two years ago. I had never cried myself to sleep for so many nights. There’s no doubt that a part of me also died during that time. The wounding of my heart was so profound that I couldn’t bear to see the exchanges of mother’s and daughter’s smiles and laughter. With all my ganas, I hated God and all of life. I was rapidly drowning in the

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lagrimas and endless sorrow and quite frankly, I didn’t want to be saved. The crinkling of the music sheets got louder and louder as we were about to start the ceremony. The healers, mostly middle-aged and a few elders began to clear their throats and the tosidos were almost done in a simultaneous fashion. We were getting ready para los cantos. The opening rezo began, “En el nombre del Padre, del Hijo y del Espíritu Santo …” Our padrino was making sure that the universe would hear us and our intentions. The purpose? To remember our ancestors and to ask for continued guidance and protection as we all walk during this lifetime. The copal crackled loudly, filling the air with its potent sweetness. The gotas de agua splashed onto the gray cracked cement floor. The cantos started off a bit shaky and a bit of laughter mixed in with it. There was the ringing of the metal bells, the wind instruments and the rattling from the maracas. The sacred palo was thumped fiercely onto the floor resulting in a pervasive rumbling that rippled into the air and underneath my feet. The rumbling continued up my legs, in my hands, chest and to my head. The shaking of the metal bells made me suspirar. El coro had now fallen into a beautiful harmony that the cantos became alive not only in my ears but in my corazón. I had never imaged that my mother would become an ancestor so quickly in my young adult life. Her joyful risa and singing still echo in my ears. Her hands were miracle workers; the best sazón in her dishes, the precise cutting of meat at work and during those moments of enfermedades, she always had the cure. She was mostly an optimist, but don’t catch her on a bad day. Regaños and the intermittent “¡Maldita sea!” would echo in the house. She had a rapid death. One minute she was talk-


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ing and laughing in her bedroom, the next minute she was being rushed into an ambulance on a sunny afternoon. I believe she didn’t suffer much because it happened so quickly. I wonder what she was feeling and thinking when she took that last breath? Sometimes in moments of silence and oscuridad I sense her around me, hovering in a protective fashion. “Lo que tú quieras mi hija,” she would say. Mom mostly supported me in whatever choices I would make with my amistades, going off to college and yes, even with the novios. “¡No mas fíjate bien!” she would say with a tone of warning in her voice. Mi madre, my ancestor. On those days that I miss her hugs y sus cariños, me pongo a llorar. Podre llegar hasta vieja but I imagine I will miss her until I too cross over. Until then, she lives in me and in my ancestral altar where I have las cositas que le gustaban. Tonight I was surrounded by her and my other ancestors, mis abuelos, bisabuelos, primos and others. I stood in the circle; left hand holding music sheet, right hand holding candle. The warm drippings fell onto my fingertips and gently onto my flat-heeled shoes. “¡Que locuras!” she might have said seeing me there tonight, questioning why instead I didn’t make my way to the church to pray. With a familiar feeling of knowing I was supposed to be there, I wondered—What came next for me in this healing circle? Was my participation today leading me to more of these rituals? I didn’t know, but for that moment, I closed my eyes. I breathed in and embraced the mysteriousness and magical feeling that had already unfolded, and only with that precise unison of cantos and música did we begin the ancestral night.

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coming home Christia Mulvey

I’ve come back to visit the Berkshires, eight years after leaving for not-so-sunny-as-they-claim California. I’m a city girl at heart, but I lived here for six years during and after college and consider its small mountains, quaint towns and winding roads my second real home. And I still have lots of friends here. My first and only real relationship had ended in June, or July, depending on when you called it. I am 32, single for the first time in over twelve years and I am back here, in the only place where I have spent even some amount of time as an adult living on my own. I am staying with my friends Ethan and Rachel in their big mountaintop house, which bears an old-timey sign advertising “Lodging for Transients” and much-needed coddling for me. It is unseasonably warm for October in Western Massachusetts, hitting the 80s during the daytime. I’m a bit bummed that I’ve miscalculated the timing for hitting fall foliage. I was looking forward to being one of the leaf peepers I’d often mocked, and we just don’t get autumn the same way in Northern California. However, the warmth provides good weather for a ramble with Rachel, and when Ethan and I head to the community-supported agriculture farm, we find that it’s still possible to pick raspberries in October. This is both nifty, and a little unsettling—we should be picking apples


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and pumpkins, not these unnatural (but tasty) summer berries. I also visit the college campus and my old dorms, and have tea and cookies and a catch-up with Sandy, the secretary in the Environmental Studies department, where I used to work in the summers. I drive past our old apartment behind the buildings and grounds department. Or is it my old apartment now? I’m not sure—this break-up has made pronoun choice problematic. Being in this place with people who I love and who love me is one of the keys to my recovery. I’m in mourning, but let’s face it, I’m also relieved about the break-up, because living with someone who was so angry so often for so long was wearying, even if he was only rarely ever angry at me. And the thought of being able to sleep with someone else is becoming more of an exciting idea than a frightening one all the time, way earlier than I thought. So, I’m still prone to crying fits about the break-up on one hand, and at the same time freaking out about the date I went on the previous month, where the guy propositioned me gleefully after our first date, while I was still trying to decide whether my attraction to him outweighed my repulsion. Both attraction and repulsion were definitely simultaneous there—I was expecting one or the other, but not both. I feel ill-equipped for dating, having missed it entirely in my twenties. In December, I will meet the sweet and nerdy fellow I am to eventually marry, but the October version of myself has no way of knowing this, and is overwhelmed by all of the swirl of contradictory emotions, the potential for pleasure and the reality of pain. These are seriously strange times. And so I am sobbing again while Ethan hugs me on their massive cream-colored living room couch. This becomes a familiar position during these first

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months after the break-up. Ethan travels a lot for business, and several times he comes to California to visit, and makes sure I’m okay. I know I’ll be okay eventually; I knew that even during the intense mourning surrounding both rounds of the break-up, even when I cried so much one of my tear ducts clogged shut. But these visits are much appreciated. All the same, it will be a relief the following June when I am visiting again for Ethan and Rachel’s tenth wedding anniversary and I don’t wind up sobbing on Ethan’s lap.  On the last day of my October visit, I have some spare time on my own before I’m due back at the house. I decide to take a quick hike, and steer the rental car towards the Hopkins Memorial Forest, over in the northwest corner of the campus. From here, it’s possible to walk to New York, or Vermont. You can literally alter your state, at least physically, just by walking west, or north. But today I only have time for the simple loop trail, which will keep me within state lines. It’s still unseasonably warm, so I’m hiking wearing a lavender tank top. If I had shorts with me, I’d wear them too. This “natural” environment bears the touch of thousands of human hands once you know where and how to look. It’s a research forest for the students and staff, and in addition to the weather station on my left, somewhere to my right is where I once dug a sample pit (through gravel, in a stream, in wintertime) for an Envi class, about a month after breaking a vertebra sledding my freshman year. My freshman entry had a sleepover party in the cabin over there. There is a sheep-shearing demonstration during the annual harvest festival. In the late winter, maple sap is collected and boiled down to syrup that is then sold back in the office by Sandy, who also handles the arrangements for the deer hunting permits


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in the late fall. A century ago, these hills were covered with small working farms—trees and other vegetation have since reclaimed the various farmsteads, although the occasional stone wall and Japanese barberry plant remain. However, in aerial photographs taken when a light snow has fallen, you can still see the crop furrows across the landscape. I finish the loop, inhale deeply to take in the deep earthy smell of decaying leaves (because the leaves have started falling, even if it is 80 degrees right now). Like this forest, I’ll be fine—a little different, but with the same underlying bedrock. There will be marks for a long time for those who know where to look, but over time the marks will fade, and simply become part of me.

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1985

HyeJin Yu

“Class, when crossing a road, you must always use caution and walk at a crosswalk. Raise one hand really high so drivers can see you, alright?” “Yes, Ms. Lee!” we chorused brightly to our first grade teacher on the first day of school. My knowledge was put to test that very day. At the time, I was living with Mrs. Choi, a widow with a teenage son, on the island of Young-Do in Busan. After our parents’ divorce two years ago, Father tried to pass me off to everyone he knew of kin, including Mother’s family, without success, so I ended up at Mrs. Choi’s house where Father paid for me to stay. I must have been an unruly child or an energetic, over-enthusiastic one because Mother told me years later that I spent hours climbing over her and tried to stand on her head if she was ever sitting still. Mother also said I took pleasure in running errands for her since I was three years old, buying and bringing back sundry grocery items from our neighborhood corner store. Like Mother, Mrs. Choi sent me on an errand to bring back a block of tofu and a bag of rice at a nearby market. To get there, I had to cross a pretty busy four lane road and I was armed and ready with my new found knowledge. I raised my hand straight up over my head and crossed the road with a purpose, patting myself on the back for such bravery. I should have forged on to my destination which was the other side of the street, but instead, I chickened out at the last car lane. Seeing a


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car speeding down at me like a metallic demon, my heart jumped up to my throat. With my hand still held high, I quickly turned around and raced back the way I came. Second and third attempts were futile. I thought, “I may never get my hands on that tofu and rice for Mrs. Choi.” Alas, I saw a break in traffic and made my fourth, hopefully last, attempt. As I crossed the third lane, I spotted a truck barreling down menacingly and my fear overcame my determination. I turned around to go back the way I came and I must not have had my hand raised high because everything went BLACK. When I came to, I recognized Father’s looming face. “You are awake, HyeJin-ah, you were in a car accident, careless girl! A bus hit you as you were crossing the road, but the bus driver did not see you get hit, so he drove away. Luckily, a man across the street saw the whole thing, rescued you, and brought you to this hospital. How are you feeling?” “Dad, I am really dizzy, make it stop spinning,” I said drowsily. I could not keep my eyes open because the world was whirling around so quickly. I received a head injury from the accident, and since the hospital I was at did not have adequate equipment to run tests on my brain, I was transferred to Busan University Hospital where I ended up spending a month under the hospital staff ’s constant monitoring. I swore to myself that I would be careful when crossing a road. Six months after my first accident, Aunt Song and I were walking back from our neighborhood bathhouse when I got hit by a taxi. After Mrs. Choi’s place, I was living in Song-Do with Father, and Aunt Song came to live with us for several months before following her parents, my grandparents, to live in Florida which was in America, so I was told. Had Father not fudged his relationship with her oldest sister, my oldest Aunt Chung who also lived in Florida with her military husband and

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wanted to adopt me because she could not bare children, I would have gone with Aunt Song too, but I was not destined for my American journey until much later. Our one-room home in Song-Do was not equipped with a bathtub or a shower stall, and our bathroom consisted of a communal out-house and two buckets, one to use to wash our faces and another to pour water over our backs and legs when it got sweltering hot during the summer. I loved the neighborhood bathhouse with its numerous temperature-controlled public pools where I dog-paddled around playfully until Aunt would motion me to leave. One day, on our way to the bathhouse, I wanted to show off my running skills. “Aunt, I can run really fast!” Without looking around for cars, I dashed across the road bee-lining for stairs leading up to the bathhouse. I heard a loud screeching of a car breaking and Aunt screaming, “HyeJin-ah! You crazy girl, your dad will kill me if you got hit!” I laughed carelessly, linking my arm with Aunt’s to walk up the steps together. On the way back home, I wanted to show Aunt Song that I was indeed an excellent runner. Second time was the charm, right? “Aunt, this time, I can do it. See me run really fast!” I dashed across the street, not seeing a taxi speeding downhill to where I was. For the second time that year, everything went BLACK. I woke up to a stench so powerful I gagged. I had thrown up kimchi soup Aunt had cooked for lunch all over my shirt. Seeing me stir, Aunt Song exclaimed, “HyeJin-ah, your dad’s going to kill me when he gets here. Why did you have to run across like that, not once but twice? I’m in such trouble!” I had broken my right thigh bone upon impact, flying up over 20 feet afterwards. I could not open my left eye because that side of my face skidded on the concrete road to break my fall, resulting in a huge scab covering my face for weeks to


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come. Doctor told me, “You are lucky to be alive; you would have died if you fell on your head instead of your face.” I ended up in a body cast and lived at the hospital for several months, with Aunt taking care of me. Every morning, Aunt ran down stairs to pick up a newspaper so I could play the “Spot the Difference” game where you looked at two similar pictures side by side and circled the difference between the pictures. I absolutely adored that game. In the afternoons, Aunt hauled me up on her back, body cast and all, and carried me up and down the stairs, from room to room so I could make friends with other patients. Those days spent at the hospital strengthened our bond and since then, Aunt Song had become a mother, a sister, and a friend to me. During my second hospital stay of the year, Mother paid me a visit. Every year, Mother had her fortune told by a famous fortune teller. Forbidden to see me after her family’s refusal to take me in following the divorce, Mother started getting my fortunes told to check up on me. When Mother made her annual visit in 1985, the fortune teller predicted my two near-death events. In panic, Mother tracked me down to Song-Do. She knocked on the door of our one-room house only to find out from our landlady of my car accident and the subsequent hospitalization. Mother rallied up her family and made a secret visit to the hospital late one night while I was asleep. Aunt later told me that Mother silently cried by my bedside surrounded by her family. I had wished I was awake then, to see my mother again and to tell her, “Mother, please don’t cry, I am a big girl now. I survived two car accidents, I can survive anything, so don’t worry. I cried too, Mother, the last time I saw you. You were hiding behind a bus stop, watching as your mother and your brother walked me to my uncle’s restaurant and left me there inside, without a word. Father came later, yelled

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and carried on. I missed you, Mother, but I am alright now, so don’t worry about me. I will be careful, I promise.�


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a walk in the park Camille Peters

When he heard someone approaching, Michael crouched down low behind a wide oak tree. The footsteps were relatively light, and he grinned in the darkness. A woman, and a hesitant one at that. He had been waiting for more than an hour, listening to the sounds of the park settling in for the night. Aside from sporadic highway traffic, he heard only the pattering of small rodents. Most of the larger creatures— including humans—had moved on by now, probably finding a warmer place to rest their heads on this chilly evening. Michael’s thin windbreaker was no match for the winds blowing in from the Bay, and the puddle he’d stepped in upon arrival had seeped through to his sock. Standing here, shivering in the cold—how much longer would he have to wait this time? He’d gotten the idea purely by accident. One night, during Esperanza’s first hospital stay, he had gone for a walk by the lake. The Kaiser waiting room was so filled with anxiety and helplessness that he thought he would choke on it; the cool, open air refreshed him and allowed him to think again. Lost in his worries, Michael gave no thought to his own safety—until he heard a loud rustling, the sound of something large emerging from the trees ahead. Bracing himself for the worst, Michael was shocked to find himself face to face with a petite and de-

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cidedly attractive woman. Her eyes were bright, her full lips curved into a mischievous smile. And Michael was instantly annoyed at that smile, wondering why he was so scared of her but she seemed fearless. He could be a dangerous predator, a man to be feared, the monster the evening news had warned her about—not what he was, a husband anxious about his ailing wife. Almost without realizing it, he advanced toward her, anticipating the terror and comprehension that would appear in her eyes. For a second, he could hear nothing but the squeak of his shoes on the path, her breath puffing in the night air. His vision narrowed until he could see only her face and his shaky hand reaching toward her. Suddenly, the rustling began again, and, sparing him a single quizzical look, the young woman tossed her braided hair to turn toward a short, thickly muscled man appearing behind her. Michael froze, realizing that he would probably lose any fight that broke out when she explained the situation to her lover. But amazingly, she said nothing—didn’t even bother to glance back as they moved wordlessly down the path. And that, he realized later, was what burned the most. He mulled over the encounter for a while, circling the lake until the first streaks of daylight showed themselves in the water’s reflection. He felt a strange mix of denial and determination; he knew what he would do next even if he could not call it by name. And over the next few weeks, as he worked out the details of his plan, he told himself he wasn’t really serious. He maintained the pretense all the way until he was driving to Aquatic Park that first time. By now he’d made the trip a handful of times. He only came to the park when he knew he would not be missed, on the nights when Esperanza took her pills and even


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a freight train going down Foothill couldn’t wake her. Aquatic Park, perched uneasily on the edge of Berkeley and isolated by the interstate and the Bay, was a much better venue than Lake Merritt, with fewer lights to illuminate faces and intentions. There was also far less of a chance of interrupting a romantic tryst here. He’d stumbled upon a few encounters, certainly, but that quiet, hurried grappling probably looked no different than what he would do with this woman. She was tall, perhaps taller than Michael, but thin and drawn-looking. If not for the flimsy house shoes she wore, he would guess that she’d just gotten off work: narrow gray skirt, button-down shirt, dark hair tucked into a still-tidy French braid. Her white shirt was marred by a light brown stain, one it seemed she’d made no effort to treat. No time to don a coat or proper shoes. What was she doing out here by herself at 2 A.M.? He always wondered this. And yet, most nights that he came to the park, at least one woman wandered through alone. Experience had taught him that there was always a good chance that something—a quarrel, loneliness, recklessness, despair—something would drive these women out when they knew they shouldn’t be. He crept forward, ignoring the cold squish in his left shoe. The unknown woman stopped in a clearing, stepping into a beam of watery moonlight. Michael felt his stomach clench with unexpected anxiety. The deep-set eyes, the stern set of her mouth—oh God, she looked a bit like Esperanza. Taking a deep breath to quell the sudden rush of nausea, Michael trod heavily on a stick, the loud crack shattering the silence. It was deliberate. When they were close—but still far enough away that they could escape—he liked to make some horrible racket just to see the fear in their eyes. Now he was also doing it to bolster

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his own courage. He blinked rapidly to relieve the dry, prickly feeling in his eyes, willing his wayward senses out of overdrive. I did not come all this way for nothing, he reminded himself, and I don’t know when I’ll get another chance. Meanwhile, the woman was looking around worriedly. Why did they never run? Sometimes, he saw the scene as if an outsider, an anxious viewer of the scene in a horror film. And sometimes he rooted for them, swallowing back the urge to yell warnings at the screen. That small detail calmed him significantly. His Esperanza would never be foolish enough wait there like a sitting duck—she wasn’t like these women. Feeling the usual excitement rising once again, he pounced, grabbing the fragile wrist hard enough to break it.


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my american dream Pamela Kruse-Buckingham

I can fly in my dreams. I lift my arms and jump up from the ground and soon I am soaring over rooftops and trees, my arms outstretched, wind in my hair. I have butterflies in my stomach; a little scared, yet thrilled. I look down on towns and streets and the details of my life; familiar places and people. I can see them and yet, I am above them, above the fray—free. The source of thrust seems to come from within—I will myself to do this because I wish it. I wish to fly. I wish to be free. What are the cages in my life—the ones I wish to be free from? I am a prisoner of loneliness. At heart I am alone. Amongst family, particularly. Given away at an early age, a result of the sexual experimentation that marked the 1960s—my adoption paperwork coldly stating “… the subject child’s father is not the mother’s husband …” I have an adopted family and a birth family that love me to the greatest extent of their abilities, and yet, I truly belong to neither. I am outside, inside this cage of me. As an adult in my mid-twenties, my (new at the time) husband took me on a trip to the Oregon Coast. On the way home, we had the opportunity to visit my childhood home in Milwalkie, a suburb of Portland. Standing at the curb, looking up at the house and for a moment I was transported back in time. The large mock cherry tree

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that stood in the front yard at the top of the rock garden had been cut down. This tree had sheltered our front windows with shady green leaves and in the spring, bouquets of pure white flowers which sprinkled their petals across the grass like snow. In the winter, its bare branches cradled the tiny snowmen I made and gently placed there. These small snowmen made my mom laugh, until they melted away and disappeared, their twig arms falling to the ground. I was seven years old again. I wanted to run up the steps, throw open the door and shout “Hi Mommy! I’m home!” I wanted to go into my bedroom and bury my face in my familiar-smelling pillow. I wanted to sit at the table and be served milk and graham crackers—an afterschool snack. I wanted to revel in that time before I understood what “adopted” meant, before the time when the ground became unstable beneath my feet, making it so easy to jump up and lift my arms and fly away. Still at the curb, my husband’s strong arm around my shoulders, leading me back to the car—gently, gently. Later at home, in our bed, holding me in his arms saying softly, “Pam, you are home.” This unconditional love is my new truth. It gives me strength. This is what frees me from my cage. I confront my past with this new truth. I make connections with my birth family and visit these strangers who live far away, across the country, in Arkansas, in a cultural landscape very different from my own Northern upbringing. I have a collective history with these people that I love but do not know. My eldest sister, the family spokesperson calls, telling me, “It’s Momma. I think it would be good if you came.” My niece and her husband pick me up at the Little Rock Airport; the oppressive humidity slams me as we walk out into the parking lot. We make pleasantries in the car as we drive along, the


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scenery and place names strange to me. We arrive in Star City and walk up to the nursing home. A crowd of people—family—are waiting, milling around outside at a gazebo that serves as a place to smoke out of the rain. As I approach I am surrounded as if I was Jesus; the prodigal daughter coming home to set her mother free. I am encouraged to sit on the bed, to hold her hand and touch her. I feel strange doing these things, but I do them, because it is the loving thing to do. I lean over and whisper in her ear, “I’m here now. We’re all here now. It’s okay if you go. Fly away Momma.” It is November 4, 2005. It is my birthday. The next morning, my sister gently shakes me awake and says, “She’s gone, just this morning. I need to go to the nursing home to arrange for the mortuary to come and get her.” I go with her and as we drive, I cry. The only people left now at the nursing home are my siblings. Two men from the mortuary have come with a gurney, and they are standing out in the hall, their hands folded, their heads down, waiting. My brothers are inconsolable, holding her body close and rocking her, softly, like a child. I am included in this tableau, but as an observer. We go to the funeral home and meet with the funeral director. We pick out a casket, and we shop for her burial clothes. I go along and provide support, but I can’t really identify with their grief. She was their Mom. Not mine. Not really. Before the wake and viewing, my sisters go to the funeral home to fix Momma’s hair and do her face and nails. My brothers go to Dark Corner Cemetery to dig her grave. I stay behind. I cannot bring myself to intrude on these intimate moments. The wake, visitation and funeral service come and go in a blur of activity and sadness. My sister’s house is filled with family and food—comfort brought by the neighbors, black crepe paper and

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white flowers appear on the front porch to signal, this house is in mourning. I look around and see these faces that look so much like mine. I am brave enough to face this. I am strong enough to bear this. The next day I am on the airplane flying home—flying away from home at the same time.


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socorro reyes quintana abuelita de mina jophrey-reyes Erika Padilla-Morales

Her ancestors came to Puerto Rico with Columbus’ companions and slaves—humble, intelligent people. Survivors. Each woman was born connected to the divine spirit. She knows this because her abuela told her. And her abuela’s abuela told her. Their faces were warmed by the sun. Socorro’s was the color of café. She had wavy, indio hair, with streaks of grey. Her hair was tied into a bun. On each ear she wore small gold ball earrings and a small gold locket on a thin chain around her neck. It was etched on one side with an image of Atabey and on the other with an image of La Virgen. She was tall with an elegant face and neck. Carmen’s skin was suspiciously pale for all of Puerto Rico’s sun. Her hair was short and wooly like a sheep. Her eyes were pale blue like the Caribbean on a perfect morning. Her body was round with laughter, complex with rolling hills, and beautiful Spring had been prosperous in Socorro’s garden. The children came to watch her bind herbs for the market. She invited them to sit in the shade of the bougainvillea grove, drink agua de Jamaica, and play word games. She believed in busy hands and strong minds. They all laughed when they made new trabalenguas like, “Flaco Juan come flan y pan en San Padre de Guayacan. ¡Tántán!”

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On the feast days the whole pueblo burst into flowers. Preparations were made in honor of La Virgen and, unofficially, Oyá, the Lady of the Winds. Officially, no one believed in Santería out of respect for the Church. But no one denied offerings to los Santos. The town’s residents made Oyá offerings of eggplant, grapes, and plums. The children and their grandmothers wove garlands of jamaica for her. Blooms of blood red and canary yellow swayed in the soft breeze around the village square. Socorro and Carmen sang on the way to the Grotto and made plans for this year’s Fiesta de los Reyes. The women had grandchildren now who knew autumn and snow and had English without heavy vowels and clear dipthongs. The women creaked the gate open and walked along the path to the sea wall and the Grotto overlooking the bay. The cemetery sang with colorful flowers. A stone statue of La Virgen had been erected in a small cave to create the Grotto. The interior of the cave was whitewashed and hung with candle lanterns for devotees to make their prayers. Holes at the top of the cave caught the wind just right and would blow a baleful melody, calling visitors to prayer and mindfulness. The women stilled their familiar conversation and crossed themselves with holy water. The wind blew across the top of the Grotto. Socorro clasped her hands, shut her eyes, and replayed the news of her husband’s death in her mind. She squeezed her interlaced fingers tightly around her locket, looked at the statue of Mary, and then drifted her eyes to the candles that surrounded the statue. She watched the flames flicker and dance. Sometimes the flames would move in silence, just listening. Today they formed a funnel. Socorro fixed her eyes on the flame and the funnel churned. Licks of flame


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jumped from the funnel and formed a woman’s face. The woman nodded at Socorro and mouthed “Socorro.” Socorro’s heart leapt. The woman’s lips read: “Be watchful. Be open. You must see.” The face faded into the image of Atabey, then to a jamaica blossom, and finally funneled away into nothing. Socorro’s body jerked. Had she been asleep? She looked over to her friend—eyes closed, rosary wound around her fingers, face softened by prayer, mouth moving to complete the last decand. She wondered if her comadre saw anything like what she saw in the flames. The coquis brought in the evening with their song. Socorro stepped under an arch of sea grapes and looked over the bay. It was beautiful, glowing with the sea faeries, the bioluminescent creatures that mimicked the stars in the sea. She closed her eyes. Eighteen years I miss and love you, Mario. Eighteen years I see our family grow without you. The garden and pueblo are beautiful. And I am fine. But I am worried about this base, papito. I don’t trust it. She sighed and opened her eyes. The evening mantle came over the sky as the sun sank below the horizon and the moon began to rise. She looked across the bay. Suddenly a streak of green like a foul firework painted the night sky. The coquis fell silent. The stillness unsettled her and stood her arm hairs on end. Socorro let out a deep sigh, hoping to pull in strength with her next inbreath. She waited; something was coming next. An explosion—a plume of flame and smoke rose from the direction of the base across the water. Hurried footsteps came from behind her. “Something terrible has happened! A ship has sunk off the base!”

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they call it the bottoms Angela Roberts

“jeremeeeee, c4ll me <3!!1” The message was from three this morning, I’d been asleep. A look at the clock told me it was ten. Not even a booty call, half a sentence, and of course if I called Haruki now he’d be busy sleeping off his hangover until four in the afternoon. I curled into the musty padding of the chair I’d dumpstered when I first moved to Oakland. I was so overjoyed with the faux-leather Eames set that I’d walked some six city blocks and crossed the I-80 overpass, kicking the ottoman forward while I dragged the easy chair behind me, banging the metal posts into my shins and ankles every three steps. My shoulders had been sore the next few days. Now the pain was long gone. The set was long worth the feat of strength, not to mention the mindnumbing fear of being beaten by the kids that heckled me down 14th. I stared out my lonely window, my old habit. I’d plunked the chair right there after pulling it up the stairs. It hadn’t moved since. The view was beautiful, overlooking Mandela, a barely visible downtown. My window’s wobbly ill-fitted panes stretched high, up to the ceiling. We lived in an old Victorian giant in the sketchiest neighborhood in town. I glanced at the worn copies of Junkie and Queer that my boyfriend, now possibly ex-boyfriend, had lent me and insisted I should read during many long


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late night conversations when we’d first met. Burroughs, never? Oh my goodness, honey. Never ever? I brushed of the dirty-looking spliff I’d left on the windowsill earlier in the afternoon and lit it again. I certainly wasn’t in a mood to read that old dirtbag. As I stared at the cracked covers of the seedy old paperbacks I had a creeping feeling that these books had been a wretched influence on Haruki, no doubt the handbook for his latest phase. I shuddered as I lit my spliff and looked out the window. Deviant literature, bad influences; I was such an old fart. The worst of the worst, not a glamorous faded old queen, but pot-addicted hippy fascist. It was best not to think about Haruki. I spent most of my time worrying about him: junky, rent boy, EpiPens, his needles in the trashcan. His zines were stacked next to the Burroughs books. Haruki wrote flamboyant theater of life manifestos and published his diaries in trashy zines with lurid drawings of naked cowboys. I’d read them too many times trying to figure out the boy beyond all the stuff. We’d met down in the dirty thirties, in his old squat in Ghost Town, during a backyard barbecue. Then he’d teased me by the light of the firepit and called me the straightest queen he’d ever met while giving me flirty looks. Haruki must’ve only thought my squareness was quaint or charming then, because since that time he’d endlessly berated me for being frustratingly conventional and bourgeois. I took another drag and blearily looked out the window. The sky was beautiful, a gorgeous Californian shade of blue. The blue was expansive, so bright it almost hurt my eyes to look at it. Walled in my room, I’d get absorbed in my thoughts or whatever show I’d been listening to on NPR. Restless, little things would get to gnaw at me: the stack of filthy dishes in the downstairs sink, Ted’s PBR

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cans scattered about the living room. Did Calamity still owe me money for the last phone bill? I ended up worrying myself into a total state before breakfast some days. I glanced out the window again. The sight of the Tribune Tower shining in the distance and the unbeatably hopeful sky told me I needed to get off of my ass, and at least get down to the kitchen. After all, today was another day.


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who lived in the old gray house? Joyce Denese Mayzck

“Gott verzeihen mir. Mögen Sie Gnade auf unseren Seelen haben. Ich verstand nicht. Verzeihen Sie mir bitte.” Why do those words keep reverberating in my mind? I’m sure the language is German. Yes, definitely German. With the help of my co-worker, Mrs. Ellis, the mystery is unraveled. I remember my younger sister’s words when I told her that I’d learned what those words meant. “Michelle, you are so dramatic. What mystery?” “Tonya, I don’t speak German. I only speak English. Don’t you think it’s rather odd that German phrases stick in my mind? I’ve studied French and Spanish in high school. Never have I even had a passing interest in German.” Tonya says, “I know, huh? The only German I know is ‘Heil Hitler, der wienerschnitzel, hamburger, and frankfurter.’” “Don’t forget ‘Mein Kampf,’” I laughingly add. Now that I think back on that conversation with Tonya, I don’t find the references to Hitler as funny as they seemed that day. “Gott verzeihen mir. Mögen Sie Gnade auf unseren Seelen haben. Ich verstand nicht. Verzeihen Sie mir bitte.” Those words. They mean, “God forgive me. May you have mercy on our souls. I did not understand. Please forgive me.”

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Okay, now I’m beginning to get paranoid. Where are those words coming from? “Stop it! This is not amusing,” I silently command my mind. “This is it. I’m officially crazy. I’m talking to myself. Oh my goodness! I’m answering myself. What in the world is wrong with me?” Earlier today my husband Rashad suggested we go to this new German restaurant in Berkeley. That’s funny. He’s never mentioned liking German food before. Tonight as we returned home, I kept thinking how scrumptious the meal was. Rashad and I both had “Koenigsberger Klopse,” which is meatballs in some sort of white sauce with a lemony flavor along with boiled potatoes and delicious green beans. The bread was good, too. However it was so thick, it reminded of something that might be served in the concentration camps. There I go again. Now how would I have any idea what food was like in the concentration camps? Germany! Hitler! Concentrations camps! If I don’t come to grips with this “whatever it is,” I may have to visit a psychotherapist. Since I’ve been back in Oakland, I’ve driven down my old block about twenty times. As far as I know, Shannon is the only person from my childhood that still lives there. Her parents left her the house. Once I saw this young man sitting on her porch that looked a lot like her. “Hi,” I said. “Are you Shannon’s son?” He answered, “Yes.” “Tell her Michelle said hello. I used to live next door about twenty-five years ago.” I hoped she wasn’t home. No special reason other than I just didn’t feel like strolling down Memory Lane that day. It just dawned on me that the gray house is no longer there. How could I have missed that? That monstrous three-story apartment complex now sits on the spot once occupied by the gray house. The gray house. The


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little old lady. She couldn’t speak much English. She always said, “Come in. Welcome.” Which sounded like velcome in her heavy accent, her heavy German accent. I gasped as I thought of those words again. “Gott verzeihen mir. Mögen Sie Gnade auf unseren Seelen haben. Ich verstand nicht. Verzeihen Sie mir bitte.” That’s what she always said. Her eyes never shed tears, but they were always full of tears. I remember her as just being a regular old and wrinkled white lady. However, she wore the funniest clothes. Shawls, sweaters, and long, ugly dresses. To this very day, I’ve never seen clothes so gray and drab. No one ever visited her or spoke to her, except me. That could have had something to do with the fact that I spread the news that she was a witch. Well, I was only nine. Her fireplace did look like the one in Hansel and Gretel. So, of course she was a witch. But her sad eyes made me feel sorry for her. So one afternoon, I ventured onto her porch when she called me. That was the beginning of my almost-daily visits to check on her. Though she couldn’t understand me, I rattled on and on about my day. She always listened. I knew I couldn’t understand her, but I listened too. I wonder what happened to her. I never even knew her name. She probably told me in German. She seemed to understand my name. She always called softly, “Michelle. Michelle.” It’s funny that after all these years she comes back to mind. Why? Who was that little old German lady? I remember reading in the Jehovah’s Witness Yearbook about the experiences of the Bible Students (as Jehovah’s Witnesses were then called) in the European concentration camps. The guards were so cruel. I remember thinking, “And these were all white people being so inhumanly cruel to other white people.” Images from films and books flash before me of emaciated Jews marching and looking out of train windows. I think about the Polish

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sister at the kingdom hall I attended in Sacramento. How sad her eyes always looked. I remember her smile when I finally spoke to her. Why am I thinking about all these things? “Gott verzeihen mir. Mögen Sie Gnade auf unseren Seelen haben. Ich verstand nicht. Verzeihen Sie mir bitte.” “God forgive me. May you have mercy on our souls. I did not understand. Please forgive me.” Could it be? Could she have been? No!


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not often aggrieved Matt Nelson

I am here, within.

“Do not speak until hollered to.” The vibrations’ intensity rocks me to solitude, or fear. Step quickly. Look up. No! Look down.

Out of anger’s boundary? Frustration grazes my neck and the blunt edge of bitterness doubles me over. Earshot, I hear the present tense and feel equanimous, only crying annually and always alone. Family, loving Mary with hand-oiled Aqua Rosaries and side-eyed views of her son—Jesus—winning hearts and guilts on April Sundays. Every twenty paces; His poses, His outfits, His-story. I, unguided by the stations, but swimming with rapture—all trains flowing under the sea, transbay tubes leading to purgatory. What happens when lightning strikes water?

We steal time to work the weekends and lose to each other most nights. Where I’m from, pain is your male role model and you fear God with age. I watch the cuts

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and blisters regenerate where healing takes place, from the inside out. Bloody knuckles drip onto hard-earned clothes and new white sneakers. “Take good care of them,” he was ordered.

“Count your blessing, 28, 29, 30, 31 … Know you’re loved, or at least try to believe.” “Lights off !” He sits and shakes.

It’s only quiet when you hear the laboring fridge working its night shift. You save things and collect people.

You learn patience by waiting for all the scars to heal until I’m finally able to breathe, right.


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on blood and beauty Joy Tang

Green onions smell sharp, like blood almost, but not hot. Blood always smells hot and thick. Green onions are thin-smelling, like metal in the nose but sweet. I was cutting green onions with a butcher knife my mother had instructed my fatherâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;s mother to purchase for me in Taiwan. I had carried it home to Houston, wrapped in brown paper in my carry-on, five years ago. The blade is now knicked, but it still cuts cleanly. I was cutting green onions at my kitchen counter in my bare feet on a Saturday morning with sun coming in through the window without curtains to my right. The coffee was going. Adam had put on coffee. The coffee was going behind me, and I was leaning over the countertop slicing green onions as thinly as possible with my knicked knife. I told Adam, I loved this knife, because with it you never need another knife. I never understood how to use other knives, never realized that I did not understand, until I went away to Utah for college and saw other knives. I have always thought it so strange that I had never noticed other knives, because I grew up with mostly white people. And then I moved and again lived with white people but started cravingâ&#x20AC;&#x201D;cabbage and tofu, and I had never craved tofu or cabbage in my whole life until I was eighteen and freezing, in Utah. In Utah I wore only slacks because I believed I was fat,

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and fifteen dollar jeans from the local Ross had a way of making me feel even fatter next to the Midwestern blondes I went to class with. Their jeans skimmed long, slender thighbones. Mine left red welts against my midsection. In Houston, my family rarely ate cheese. We barely bought ice cream. We kept milk, but I never drank it. And then I took a room next to the Brigham Young University dairy that sold ice cream in buckets, cheese curds in baggies, and cheddar by the three dollar block. And then I was living on a campus where students do not drink alcohol and so eat ice cream and creamed casseroles instead. And suddenly I was eating cheese and fat, and always hungry (and fat) and always wondering why no one else was fat. And I hated wearing jeans. Adam is next to me now, cutting green onions that I will eventually re-cut. But I don’t mind, because he is there, standing near me as I coat white fish in cornstarch, piling the cornstarch instead of sprinkling it on each cod fillet and then wiping the chunks smooth with my index finger. I think, I say to Adam, I am not sure what I am doing. You, he replies, are doing fine. I stir the rice. I have put cooked brown rice in a pot, and I have added water and I keep adding water because I want it to become gruel and I want this to be something in which I can boil my fish and in which I will stir the green onions and then salt, so then I can serve it to the man I love. I have thought since leaving Utah, was it because I am Chinese? But there was another Joy, also from Houston and also Chinese, but tiny—tiny and white and built like a bird. People at school would come and ask me if I was the Chinese Joy from Houston and I would always answer, No I’m the other Chinese Joy from Houston. I hardly knew the other Joy, but I heard from my mother that their mother was a social stalwart of the Houston Chinese branch of the church. She gave all the parties;


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she did all the traditional events. Everyone knew her, and everyone knew her daughter, and her daughter at BYU cooked the Chinese meals and brought the Chinese foods. Maybe it was just that I could not cook. Back then I was always looking for a secret path towards normal, and maybe I thought I would find it if I were beautiful. I have said to people that in seventh grade I used to walk into school bathrooms between classes to stare into mirrors to see if I was still ugly, and I have said that, back then, I always was. The first time I longed to be normal, I was walking in Utah. I was striding through the university bookstore when I was suddenly struck with a deep longing for normal. And I never questioned that longing, or what or who normal meant I should be, only longed with an ache that caused my nineteen or twenty-year-old body to throb a bit, as if a heart were beating at the top of my head. I wonder now if perhaps I conceived of beauty, back then, as something you were given, as something you were. Perhaps I believed that beauty meant people would look at you and see you and that if I were beautiful, maybe they would look at me and see me. Maybe I thought beautiful would make me feel like there was something to see.

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tall tale Jenny Yap

Ding! Winston stirred suddenly from his daydream when the elevator came to a halt. Twentieth floor. He sighed as the elevator doors opened with a rush. The hallway’s thick, blood-red carpet reflected slightly off of the white walls in the dim light giving a rose-colored hue to the scene. It felt plush cradling his loafer-clad feet. The slickness of his shoes raised little crackles of static electricity, little pinpricks that made the long vertical journey upwards to his ears. Winston was tall. Very tall. Too tall for an Asian. As a child he had stood up proudly. Classmates always chose him first for sports because of his size. They assumed he could block, dunk, and catch better than anybody else. But lacking natural coordination, his arms always moved in discord with his legs and he couldn’t ever get them to agree on any movement. When he tried running for a catch his legs would decide to spring forward as his hand would reach up for the ball. As the elementary school years passed by his classmates realized he was a liability. He was a natural at running but sadly, running wasn’t a social sport especially in elementary school. He fore went waiting for the school bus and instead ran home every day, avoiding the awkwardness of constantly bumping the person’s seat in front of him with his knees. He oftentimes arrived home before the sluggish school


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bus reached his street and that gave him a sense of selfsatisfaction. By the time he was age fifteen he was 6 feet 6 inches tall and was asked, naturally, to be on the basketball team. Arriving at the gym expectant, anxious, but feeling confident in his new red and white basketball shorts, he lined up with the rest of the boys. The coach had each person shoot a few baskets from the free throw line. “That’s some good work Winston.” Good work? He felt elated, determined that this was his chance to change his image at last. But while he could shoot a few decent baskets he couldn’t dribble, couldn’t make his arms and legs comply with his wishes. “Butterfingers!” The pebbled ball shot out from underneath his fingers and some of the boys snickered. The couch passed him the ball hoping he could at least make the lay-up or dunk but his fingers got tangled in the net and he hung there helplessly like a captive fish kicking his legs. Nearly in tears, he ran out of the gym, onto the field and right into a cross country practice where he was somewhat accepted. But he developed a slouch trying to disappear into the laughing crowds of high school which remained with him through adulthood. Winston enters the party and his co-worker offers to introduce him to his cousin, Meilin. Winston inwardly groaned. He hated being introduced to everyone’s Asian friends and/or relatives. Especially Haas business majors. He knew he was a nice, single, Chinese American male with a good job who was making payments on a condo but that did not mean he wanted to meet nice, single, Chinese American female business majors who wanted to perhaps move into his condo. His mother’s voice resonated in his head. “Win-

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stun! Ni you mei you nu peng you? Do you have a girlfriend? Wo gen ni de baba hen danxin ni. Your father and I worry about you. Wo men xi wang ni kuai le … We want you to be happy … Keshi zhongguo nu zui hao. But a Chinese girl is best.” His mother worried about him constantly. He was her baby, her youngest out of three children, but he grew so quickly that it was a constant race to sew him new clothes. The family didn’t have much money so his mother would sew together his brother and sister’s clothes for Winston. He would oftentimes wear the tops of his brother’s pants with his sister’s pant legs attached. As he waited for Will to come back, the cotton of his shirt stuck to the small of his back and he imagined a dark blotch spreading across the expanse of his body slowly engulfing the light blue shirt. The lights seemed too bright and hurt the area behind his eyes and the laughter, small talk, and clinking silverware were getting to him. The sounds rose higher and higher and Winston, a little faint and dizzy, hunched over and held his forehead in one hand and his stomach in the other. Then looking between his fingers he saw the crowd part and saw Will. And walking with him, in slow motion, an Asian female. She was tall. Very tall. Too tall for an Asian female. Meilin. Beautiful forest. Winston held his breath and couldn’t hear anything except for a muffled white noise. His limbs unfurled as he straightened his body. Meilin was above all the other heads in the crowd, the two looking like a pair of scarecrows in a three-month old cornfield. He slowly recovered from his shock and she got over her shyness. The approach. “I have a feeling that we’re going to see eye-to-eye on a lot of issues.” Winston blathered. Pause. “Sorry, bad joke.” “I know. It was. I wasn’t not laughing with you, I was


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not laughing at you.” He gave a polite laugh. Another pause. Awkward silence. Not wanting to meet her eye his gaze shifted to a mole on her left shoulder. “Umm, I’m a little rusty at this.” “At what, communicating with other human beings?” “Just, you know, the whole ice-breaker-into-conversation-thing. Especially with women I’ve just met.” “Well hey, you’re the first person who’s talked to me tonight. I think I’ve pretty much scared off everybody else. You’re also the only man tonight who’s been able to look at me comfortably in the eyes without making me feel like you’re staring at my chest. And as I don’t mind too much if men stare at my chest since I don’t think I have much of one anyway, I know it’s maybe not a preference but a necessity. But you know how men always say they want tall, leggy women? It’s not true.” “I think that you’re just the culmination of too many people’s wishes.” Damn that was a smooth line. Pause. Laugh. “That was a smooth line,” she smiled.

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second start poets Amy Prevedel

second start program coordinator

Students in the Oakland Public Library’s adult literacy program, Second Start, were enthusiastic participants in the Oakland Word project. The house was full for each of the five sessions of our poetry workshop. We used a lot of images of people and familiar places in Oakland to get the words flowing. Literacy students connected their everyday life experiences to words on the page. The workshop provided skills practice—students read a lot, learned new spelling strategies and gained editing and re-writing experience. At the same time, the medium of poetry, as well as some fun experimentation with six-word memoirs, freed people from many of their preoccupations about spelling, punctuation and the more mechanical aspects of writing. Ultimately, poetry became a powerful means of self-expression, and that was a first-time experience for many people! Drafting, sharing and responding to each others’ writing required a great deal of risk-taking. Each participant played an active role in developing a positive learning environment. Developing trust and acceptance through reading, writing and peer tutoring helped transform this writing workshop into a community of writers. Including students’ works in this larger publication expands our Second Start community to readers all over Oakland and beyond.


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six-word memoirs Second Start Poets

Little boy playing. Older man working. Anthony

Traveling: discovering things I didnâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;t know. Bintou

Family forty-eight years. My turn. Miz Cookie

Adult reading program: birth of curiosity. Resonja Willoughby


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Uptown, cafes, Police Chief Anthony Batts. Resonja Willoughby

Retirement went real slow for me. John Martinez

Young, old. Life is a privilege. Rita

Lead me to it. Happy Hour! Rita

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my people

Second Start Poets

My village, my town, my family. These people are my people. We share everything Happiness and sorrow. Bintou

The music is beautiful, And so is the food of my people. The colors are beautiful So are the clothes of my people.

Beautiful also is my neighborhood. Beautiful also is the diversity of my people. A. R. Noble


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My family is beautiful So the look of my people.

The children are beautiful, So the love of my people.

Beautiful, also is the power. Beautiful, also are the gifts of my people. James

The sky is beautiful, So the life of my people.

The days are beautiful, So the ways of my people.

Beautiful, also, are the loved ones. Beautiful, also, are the voices of my people. Tiny

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The heavens are beautiful, So are the spirits of my people. The stars are beautiful, So are the joys of my people.

Beautiful, also, is the sunset, Beautiful is the joy within my people. My people are beautiful. Mrs. Sanders


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love

Second Start Poets

She walked by, I saw her, she stopped I asked her to walk with me forever And she said yes Eddie Witherspoon, Sr.

The sweet wine is a rose. She is so sweet to me. My heart is aching so much. Mike Srey

Strong and alone As she hides tears with laughter As she plays with her Sharing one plate Looking out the window of a nearby restaurant Eddie Witherspoon, Sr.

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acrostic

Second Start Poets

No One Bowls

Like mE.

A. R. Noble

I love Jogging and walking. To trAvel with my wife, Go to the Movies every week spEnd time with my family and listen to muSic when Iâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;m driving. James

Listen to Music in the Evening. Take pictUres with mY family. Meuy


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oakland

Second Start Poets

When I see Oakland I see sunrise. When I see Oakland I see tall buildings. When I see Oakland I see churches. When I see Oakland I see children and schools. When I see Oakland I see restaurants. and when I see Oakland I see home. Tiny

Oakland Laney, Lake Merritt Remembering walking listening Bad, relaxed, good and sad City of Oakland

Mike Srey

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I. A.

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Oakland Boys, Girls People love the city. Walking, driving, striking Oakland. City.

Oakland Lake Merritt, City Standing in Line, walking, going to work Sadness, joy, bad, good City

I. A.

When I see Oakland I see emotions and feel emotions. When I see Oakland I see people building up Oakland. When I see Oakland I see lives that are different When I see Oakland I see sunrise.

When I see Oakland I hear music. When I see Oakland I see beautiful sunsets. When I see Oakland I see beauty, joy, love and the future. Louella Scott


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Oakland Natural wildlife going earthly green. Hybrid, solar, heavenly, lovely City

Ms. Patricia Jordan

Oakland Growing Bay Area Busy, walking, dangerous Proud, excited, concerned. Born here. Home

Anthony

Oakland Poor city. People need jobs, daily lives are hard. Oakland

Meuy

Oakland Beautiful Lake Merritt Going to work, protesting, standing in line Emotional excitement, confused, stressed, Big City

James

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When I see Oakland, I see East 14th Street. When I see Oakland, I see culture. When I see Oakland, I see Lake Merritt.

When I see Oakland, I see people protesting proud. When I see Oakland, I see children playing. When I see Oakland, I see championships, Raiders and Aâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;s. When I see Oakland, I see restaurants. When I see Oakland, I see churches.

When I see Oakland, I see beautiful sunsets. When I see Oakland, I hear music. When I see Oakland, I see a beautiful city. When I see Oakland I see hope. Miz Cookie

Oakland Beautiful, friendly Listening to music, eating, biking Relaxed, soulful, rapturous, depressed Metropolis

John Martinez


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Oakland Scandalous, rude Working, playing, helping Makes me feel sad Oakland Oakland Airport rush Oakland Raiders and Aâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;s Back home to the Bay Area

Oakland Peopleâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;s lives Easter Sunday, sunset Walking around Lake Merritt Happiness

Ronald

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contributor bios

gwendolyn bikis is author of the novel Your Loving Arms, available at the Rockridge and Main Libraries in Oakland. The fiction selection in this anthology is from her soon-to-be-completed novella “Dog’s Dogs,” part of a larger short fiction collection. Her novella “Cleo’s Gone” has seen print in numerous anthologies, some of which are available in the Oakland Public Library System: Close Calls, The Best Lesbian Erotica, and (the one she particularly recommends) Does Your Mama Know? She plays the saxophone sometimes and has taught in Oakland for twenty-one years. leticia garcia bradford holds a BA in theatre from CSUH (now East Bay) and an MA in drama from SF, and has been a literary advocate for over 20 years. She has enjoyed writing songs and poems since she was in grade school where she wrote “Green” poems in the sixth grade. As an East Bay open mic veteran, she has performed her original material for over five years. Leticia is currently writing her solo show “How Do You Slip on a Banana Peel Gracefully?” which will debut March 2011. gleoria bradley-sapp is a native Californian. Born in San Francisco, she lived in San Bruno with her husband for several years before settling in Oakland, CA. Gleoria earned a BA degree while in San Francisco. She recently retired from the University of California, Berkeley. She now has time to be more actively in-


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volved with church, family, recreation, and social activities. This is her first attempt at writing a short story. marijane hope dalayan castillo has a BA in Chinese and a minor in Spanish from the University of California, Berkeley. She was a McNair Scholar and has published and presented her academic research in a variety of venues, including the Berkeley McNair Symposium, the Berkeley McNair Research Journal, the National Association of Chicano/a Scholars and the Berkeley Sociology Symposium. In 2008 she published Las hojas que caen sin fin, Spanish poetry that explores the end of the Porfiriato in Mexico. Oakland Word teacher Bisola Marignay taught her to write for emotions, thoughts, impressions, and for the spirit— something that academic training had done its best to beat mercilessly out of her. Through the workshop, she has found that part again. It had only been waiting for her to come back. fredrick cloyd has been writing privately for a decade and is working on his first collections of writings for publication which combine memoir, autobiographical fiction, and poetry through Japanese and African American traditions, both of which are aspects of his ethnic/racial background. His first works begin with portraits of bi-racial life in ‘Post’-US-Occupied Japan in the 1950s and 60s. He loves steamed rice, steam trains, apple fritters, and postcolonial and post-structural thought toward social justice. He holds an MA in Social Cultural Anthropology from the California Institute of Integral Studies. vincent corbett, jr. grew up in Wichita, KS. The oldest of eight siblings, he lived in a smallish four-bedroom house with one bathroom. As long as he can remember, his father read out loud at the dinner table. As they grew older, they all took turns reading. His father instilled a lifelong love of literature, writing, and the spoken word in all the children. Sadly, he passed away September 2009 right before his 90th birthday and it left a great

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void. Vincent feels being a part of the Oakland Word program has helped fill that void and that his father would approve. tinbete ermyas is a 2008 graduate of Macalester College, where he studied American Studies, Political Science, and History, and was honored to be a Mellon Mays Undergraduate Fellow. A sojourn by nature, he hails from the DC area, has lived in Minnesota, New York, Chicago, Cameroon, and Ethiopia, and currently resides in the Bay Area. As a novice to poetry, he would like to thank Oakland Word and the Spoken Word class for their inspiration, feedback, and openness to letting a verbose, overly-self-critical young man find his voice through poetry. He would like to dedicate “She and I” to his grandmother. He hopes to make poetry more central to his quest for a more just world. linda goering-hutcher has lived in San Francisco and Oakland for over thirty years. She traveled extensively through South America and Mexico, keeping a journal of the amazing sights, sounds and situations she encountered. She hopes to turn those experiences into a collection of short stories. She spends as much time as possible in Playa Buenavista, Mexico, a tiny pueblo just north of Zihuatanejo working with sea turtle conservationists. Currently she lives in the Fruitvale District with her husband and a big fat house cat. She studied literature and Spanish at Sonoma State University. samuel gonzález was conceived in the San Joaquin Valley, educated in Southern California, and seasoned in the Bible Belt. In addition to acting and singing, Samuel has been developing his voice as a writer of poetry, fiction, and magical realism. He served three years on the board of QueLACo (Queer Latin@ Artist Collective) where he worked closely with the Bay Area’s best creative artists. The next phase of his master plan is to create a crack team of QPOC artists and take over the world. He lives out his dreams in Oakland’s east side.


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cathlin goulding is fourth-generation Japanese American. She teaches English and Poetry at Newark Memorial High School. Her essays and short fiction can be found in I Saw My Ex at a Party (Kearny Street Press, 2008). Her piece, “Uncle H’s 1968 Buick Riviera,” was written in response to a prompt about objects and their representation of class, race, and status for Claire Light’s Memoir Writing workshop. laura ortiz guillén was raised by immigrant parents in Fillmore, CA, one hour northwest of Los Angeles. She currently resides in Oakland, CA and has been in the Bay Area for the past six years. Laura received her PhD from Washington State University in Counseling Psychology. She is working on a memoir and on a collection of short stories about having comadres/ sisterhood. She is interested in writing about psychology, indigenous healing and spirituality. She currently works at UC Berkeley as a therapist where she encourages students to write their personal stories, as a way of honoring all of their experiences. She finds it an honor to witness others discover their own innate healing gifts and that via this process they discover and/ or re-discover parts of themselves that will lead to a more joyful and fulfilling life. andrea gutierrez lives, works, and writes in Berkeley. A higher education administrator by day, she hopes to some day make her creative endeavors a bigger part of her life, without first breaking the bank. Though she favors creative nonfiction, the talented folks she met and grew with through Oakland Word have also inspired her to try her hand at fiction. She credits Oakland Word with getting her back in touch with her inner writer, for helping her grow some thick skin, and for introducing her to some dope people she might otherwise never meet on the street. marc hernandez is of Mexican-Italian descent and has want-

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ed to be a writer since he was a kid. He is passionate about visual arts (drawing, painting, and sculpting), dancing, acting, etc... but writing has always been at the forefront. His genre of taste is horror and he chalks it up to books by R.L. Stine and Stephen King. The Oakland Word program has been an amazing experience with great instructors and wonderful peers. debayani kar is a writer, editor, activist and non-profit communications professional. She has worked on many social justice projects over the past fifteen years. Debayani’s family is originally from Bangladesh and India, having migrated to two continents in the 20th century, making migration a prominent theme in her creative writing. Her political writing has appeared on RaceWire, among numerous online outlets. Debayani has performed or published her creative writing in Asian women’s spaces including NAPAWF’s (National Asian Pacific American Women’s Forum) Creative Explosion and South Asian Sisters’ Yoni ki Baat. pamela kruse-buckingham is a recent transplant to the Bay Area and a proud Oaklander. She is a museum director and consultant to many museums in the Bay Area and around the US. She enjoys writing as a hobby and cathartic experience. She enjoys writing essays, poetry/haiku and political/social commentary. This is her first work of creative non-fiction. jennifer ling is a second-generation Chinese American, whose parents were second-generation Chinese residents of what is now Sarawak, Malaysia. She grew up in Houston and received a BA in English from the University of Texas in Austin. Finding the Bay Area a kindred spirit to Austin, she moved to California five years ago. She went on to receive the GreenwoodEmeritus Faculty Prize for Competence in Writing while completing her Master’s in Social Work at UC Berkeley. She lives and works in Oakland as a social worker and makes small oil paint-


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ings in her spare time. She chronicles her misadventures and art work on her blog at sozialarbeiter.blogspot.com. marc lombardo has been various things over the course of his life, among them: a teacher, a board game designer, and a philosopher. He’s not sure what he is anymore, but he’s looking to find out. While he’s not new to writing, he is new to creative writing. He is thankful to Oakland Word for the opportunity to explore this other side of wordsmithing. christina marable is a transplant who decided to swap the smog and starry sunsets of the Inland Empire for the urban landscape of Oakland and she hasn’t looked back since. After earning her BA in Creative Writing from UC Riverside, she moved to participate in the Americorps VISTA program. Currently she is a substitute teacher for Oakland Unified School District and in her free time she rides her bike, volunteers at the Humane Society and hosts extravagant vegan brunches. She’s working on a short story collection. ana martinez sanchez nació el 18 de Mayo de 1961 en la ciudad de Lima, Perú. Ella es la segunda de ocho hermanos. Ella estudió finanzas en la Universidad Nacional Mayor de San Marcos y trabajó diez años en este mercado de trabajo. Cuando su padre murió en 1997 y su madre en 1999, ella era soltera y emigró a los Estados Unidos en agosto del 2000. Ella empezó una nueva vida en este país. Con la esperanza de ejercitar su profesión en este país, empezó a estudiar el idioma inglés. Fue en el salón de clase escribiendo ensayos en inglés donde descubrió sus habilidades de escritora. A ella le gusta escribir poesía y sus memorias que son parte de sus vivencias. joyce denese mayzck is an Oakland native recently returned after twenty-five years. She is a licensed practical nurse currently on hiatus, and is a wife, mother, grandmother and great-

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grandmother hoping to pave the way for future writers in her family. Throughout most of her life she has had an interest in writing, but never seriously pursued it outside of English classes. There are hundreds of stories in her mind, heart, and fingers awaiting birth and nurturing. Oakland Word has given her the impetus to begin writing again. She looks forward to sharing. christia mulvey grew up attending Catholic schools (and wearing a lot of plaid skirts) in suburban Staten Island, New York, and received her BA from Williams College in rural western Massachusetts, where she realized she wanted to be an urban planner. She moved to the Left Coast in 1999 for planning graduate school, and since 2001 has been an affordable housing lender for the City of Oakland. When she retires, she plans to write a series of land use-themed mystery novels. The previous two sentences are not non sequiturs. She has found writing short life story pieces with her classmates and Bisola Marignay to be a wonderful experience. She lives in Old Oakland with a sweet man who will soon be her husband. She also plans to write about her (unfortunately repeated) experiences with temporary disability. She is partial to frequent parenthetical asides in her writing (and speech). matt nelson is a community organizer, campaign strategist, and communications expert. As a social justice entrepreneur, Matt has started four successful small businesses promoting alternative economic structures including the first fair trade, worker collective cafĂŠ in Milwaukee, WI. He has worked as a freelance journalist and the editor of a bilingual weekly newspaper. Matt is also a co-founder of the Freedom Now! Collaborative, and his work related to housing justice, corporate racism, food justice and police brutality has appeared in CNN, the Associated Press, The New York Times, Black Commentator, WireTap, Food Network, Hispanic Vista, and The Nation magazine.


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hanh thi my nguyen is a 31-year-old mom who enjoys writing poems, prose poems and stretching her vocabulary. The Oakland Word class motivated her to write for longer periods and lengthen her poems. She is very proud to have taken the class and will continue to do her best at writing. erika padilla-morales works with adults and youth to inspire their own confidence with new media, and other technologies at Bay Area social benefit (aka non-profit) agencies. Her passion is to bring technology to underserved community members and create opportunities to discover that technology is for all to master, use, and share their stories with the world. She is a journal writer who has taken recently regained the courage to write for its own sake through NaNoWriMo 2009 and the Oakland Word project. In her writing she explores her bloodlines, history of ritual, and cool-weird-girl quirkiness. karla perez-cordero enjoys the language arts and loves the thrill of getting on-stage, reading her work outloud and sharing it with people from all walks of life. She draws a lot of her inspiration from some of her favorite writers: Alice Walker, Sandra Cisneros, Rubén Darío, Eduardo Galeano and Sadia Shepard. During her youth, she had several of her poems published and participated in writing competitions. She’s happy to be able to immerse herself once again in the writing world. These days, her passion includes being a mother of three year-old Isaiah, as well as being a community activist fighting for immigration and education justice. Additionally, she’s a dance addict and partakes in various classes at the Malonga Casquelourd Center, and enjoys the sense of community that dance brings. She’s a proud West Oakland resident and works for TransForm, a non-profit organization in Oakland. camille peters hates writing bios. When she’s not struggling to describe herself to strangers, she is finishing a dissertation in

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music history at UC Berkeley. Originally from Toledo, OH, she has called Oakland home for nearly seven years. She shares an apartment near Lake Merritt with her partner and three cats. In her spare time, she is an intermittent sports fan, a casual baker, an occasional activist, and a closeted fan of a science fiction franchise that shall go unamed. tracy held potter lives in Berkeley where she is revising her full-length play adaptation of Aesop’s “The Ants and the Grasshopper,” which was produced in Spring 2009 at Laney College’s Fusion Theater in Oakland. She’s approaching high schools that may be interested in staging this child-friendly story before she submits the final script for publication. She’s also writing original plays based on her experience as a new mom and pop-culture fiend while studying as many forms of writing as possible, including narrative and poetry through Oakland Word. angela roberts self-publishes an internationally distributed graphic art mini called Supertrooper, and plays cello. She lives with her partner and bandmate Scott in Oakland. Currently she is working on a comic book reinterpretation of Richard Wagner’s opera Das Rheingold and the second draft of a novel about New Orleans. Oakland Word offered a wonderful opportunity to develop her voice. windy ross grew up in Lorain, OH and now resides in Oakland, CA. Before making her big move out west (where her car doors never freeze and there is always fresh fruit) she received a BS degree in Chemical Engineering from the University of Akron in Akron, OH. lai-san seto is a pencil pusher, worm farmer, wok stirrer, urban hiker, and cat wrangler. She is grateful to Oakland Word, her instructors, and her fellow participants for their enthusiasm and support.


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joy tang was born and raised in Houston, TX. She went to college in Utah. She found it cold. Like most people, she likes long walks, sunsets, and chocolate. Unlike most people, she does not like cheesecake. In her work life, she has been a Masters student in Folklore, and a high school English teacher. When Joy is not lesson-planning, eating (not cheesecake), or dancing in her bedroom, she’s sleeping. When she is not doing any of those things, she tries to write words. imogene tondre was born and raised in Oakland. She has been working in community media for several years. She loves dancing, theater, and traveling. funmilayo tyler is a former elementary school teacher who has been a stay at home mom for the past seven years. She is currently homeschooling her children and has a part time acupressure/reflexology practice. Her personal interests are walking, tai chi, and being a spiritual adviser. Her love for learning lead her to pursue her interest in writing. Through the Oakland Word project she has been able to realize a dream of writing and being published. She plans to continue her writing and hopes to get future writings published. vickie vértiz has a BA in Political Science from Williams College and an MPA degree from the LBJ School at the University of Texas, Austin. Her poems and stories are found in I Saw My Ex at a Party (Kearny Street Press, 2008), Mujeres de Maiz, and in Lunada, Galería de la Raza’s poetry anthology. She lives in San Francisco and broken-hearts LA. jenny yap holds an MA in English and is a former lecturer in the English Department at CSU East Bay. After tormenting her students with PowerPoint presentations on independent clauses and the proper use of the semicolon, she decided she needed a more creative outlet. Stories and poems have lived in her

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brain for years but were unable to get out. She is very grateful to Oakland Word because without it she would not have had the motivation and guidance to put them on paper. kuukua dzigbordi yomekpe was born and raised in Ghana, West Africa and immigrated to the United States a few weeks before her nineteenth birthday in 1996 to join the rest of her family who had settled in Columbus, Ohio. She completed a BA and MA in English, but was always hesitant about admitting that she was a writer until she was published. A career student, Kuukua is currently in the last few weeks of completing a Masters degree in Theological Studies at the Graduate Theological Union in Berkeley. Recently accepted into the MFA in Writing and Consciousness, at the California Institute of Integral Studies, Kuukua is finally fulfilling her deepest wish of becoming a “writer when she grows up.” Her most recent publications include personal essays in two anthologies: African Women Writing Resistance: An Anthology of Contemporary Voices and Getting Bi: Voices of Bisexuals Around the World. hyejin yu first fell in love with the San Francisco Bay Area and its proactive residents while studying music and religious studies at University of California at Berkeley in 1996. Since late 2009, HyeJin has been compiling life stories and poetry about her childhood experiences in Busan, South Korea. This has been a therapeutic and rewarding process for her. You can read her literary blog Lyrical Journey in Life (hyejinyu.blogspot.com). She currently lives near Lake Merritt with her fiancé Travis and three kitties.


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about the editor

kenji c. liu is a 1.5 generation Japanese-born Taiwanese American expatriate of New Jersey suburbia. He teaches workshops on a variety of subjects, including meditation and theatre improv for writers and other artists. A Pushcart Prizenominated poet, Kenjiâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;s chapbook You Left Without Your Shoes (Finishing Line Press, 2009) was nominated for a 2009 California Book Award. His writing has appeared in Tea Party Magazine, Kartika Review, and Flick of My Tongue (Kearny Street Workshop, 2009). He is currently the interim poetry editor at Kartika Review and is working on a full-length collection of poetry, prose, and visual art. Kenji is also a freelance graphic designer, and holds an MA in Cultural Anthropology and Social Transformation from the California Institute of Integral Studies. When not writing, he paints, boulders, chases sunshine, and hangs out with puppies.

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photo credits

Isaac W. Baker, Untitled (Portrait of an Indian Boy), c. 1853. Sixth plate daguerreotype. Oakland Museum of California, gift of an Anonymous Donor. p. 58 Jilchristina Vest of SNAPS, Mini Me, 2010. Digital photograph. p. 59 Jilchristina Vest of SNAPS, Mr. Jackson, 2010. Digital photograph. p. 80 Jilchristina Vest of SNAPS, Stones, 2010. Digital photograph. p. 81 Leslie Mah of SNAPS, Smoke, 2010. Digital photograph. p. 144

Isaac W. Baker, Untitled (Chinese Man), c. 1853. Sixth plate daguerreotype. Oakland Museum of California, gift of an Anonymous Donor. p. 145

SNAPS is a fierce group of Bay Area queer women artists and photographers.


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In Your Ear: Selected Writings From Oakland Word  

Between February and April 2010, Oakland Word offered twenty free creative writing workshops to the general public. Featuring a range of voi...