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issue 1 contra costa community college district writers & artists spring 2016

Issue 1 Spring 2016



contra costa community college district writers & artists


Founding Editors: Ben Jahn & Jeffrey Michels Editor: Ben Jahn Assistant Poetry Editor: Gregg Brown Editorial Assistants: Nina Cestaro, Pedro Perez, Gabriel Quiroz Acknowledgments: The following people have contributed time, expertise, encouragement, and enthusiasm to The Optimist: Dr. Helen Benjamin, Eloine Chapman, Jennifer Dunn, Tammeil Gilkerson, and Tracy Wilks. And thanks are due to the students, faculty, and staff who helped to spread the word. Printer: Community Printers, 1827 Soquel Avenue, Santa Cruz, CA

Submissions: send poetry, fiction, and art to

Guidelines: Send up to three poems, or one short story (up to 3,000 words), as Word document attachments. Artists please submit 6x9 or larger at 300ppi. Front cover: Sacramento Cornejo, Newborn, graphite Back cover: Eloine Chapman, Hills of Contra Costa, digital photo


Editor’s Note

Why The Optimist?

Last month, while reading fiction to an audience at the Contra Costa College library, I choked up. Just for a moment, toward the end of the story, my voice caught in my throat. I was reading my first published piece of fiction, “Quiet Right Now” (ZYZZYVA, Spring 2001), a story about friendship and loss and youth. I’ll admit, I was feeling sentimental, nostalgic. I was remembering the “real” people, places, and events that had given rise to the “fictional” characters, settings, and actions of the story. But the world of the story—the world on the page—is the realer world now, because much of what was real has been forgotten, and those old friends...well, you know how way leads onto way. Anyway, my nostalgia was complicated, and complicated further because I had been reading submissions to this magazine, most of which were coming in from young (or at least beginning) writers. So I was back, not only in the world of the story, but also in the slightly-removed-from-that-world world of the dark, first-floor apartment on Adams Street in Davis where I processed the words of “Quiet Right Now” on my then-girlfriend’s monolithic HP desktop. I remembered, as I read, the feeling of finishing the story and printing it out and reading it aloud to make sure the words were the right words in the right order. I remembered stuffing the story into envelopes addressed to literary magazines, and I remembered the glue on the envelopes’ flaps had a little sugar in it, so they went out sweet. Optimism—even though all of my stories had come back bitter, rejected. Optimism—because this might be the one that breaks through. Optimism—listening for the dulcet tones of the mailman’s radio tuned to more rock less talk, because this time he might be bearing acceptance.

I imagine that many of the contributors to these pages felt the way I felt 15 years ago submitting work. I tried to honor that feeling of nervous hope, that brave act of sharing work with the world. That was the idea when I, along with my colleague Jeffrey Michels, answered chancellor Helen Benjamin’s call for innovation with a proposal for a district-wide literary magazine: to provide the students, staff, and faculty of the district a place to come together to share their creative work, their voices and visions. Because whatever else we are trying to become— whatever else we were, are, or will be—we are, herein, a community of writers and artists. And one day, ages hence, perhaps one of us will pick this up and read aloud. And the voice will catch. Yours in optimism, Ben Jahn



Aida Agaeva: Two Poems……………………………………...4 Sabien Cuevas: Gallery………………………………………….6 Jeffrey Michels: Two Poems…………………………………..7 Mariah Daniels: Three Poems……………………………..15 Darlene Delos Santos: Lipstick…………………………….28 Sakeema Payne: To the Girls of Instagram…………...29 Isaac Arriaga: Metropolitan Illusions…………………..48 Aimee Stalker: I Am……………………………………………56 Rachel Garcia: Two Poems………………………………….57 Cindy Diaz: My Dear Friend………………………………...59 Azi Carter: The Cosmic Queen……………………………..61 Alea Faith martin: Two Poems…………………….………63 Andrew Kuo: Three Poems…………………………………67 Megan Reither: The Windmills……………………………70 Diane Nieves: Miss You……………………………………….71 Joshua Kala-Abrego: The Fish Bowl……………………..76 Joslyn Haygood: Inner Self………………………………….77 Nina Cestaro: Under Hot Lights…………………………..78 Dulce Guadalupe Gutierrez: Dream……………………..79 Erica Walton: Snowfall.........................................................90 Tahji Merchant.........................................................................91 Ty Norman: Splenda…………………………………………...92 Eloine Chapman: The Bells of Time……………………..94 Robert Brown: yo life is.......................................................97 Jeannette Chiappone: 100 M……………………………….98 4


Ariel McIntyre: Can’t Spell Love Without 703………...1 Tiffany Brooks: In Her Skin…………………………………...9 Brandon Lawson: Mr. Big’s Room………………………..18 Cody Lewis: Night Howler Savings & Loan…………..49 Gabriel Luis Quiroz: Car Wash…………………………….31 Jeannette Chiappone: Framing the Fenster………….65 Sakeema Payne: Stupid Notebook……………………….72 Pedro Perez: Goodbye Peter Pan…………………………80


Stephanie Gomez……………………………………….6, 34, 89 Sacramento Cornejo……………………………cover, 26, 86 Gabriella Santos…………………………………………………30 Anaclara DeMatos………………………………………………33 Joanna Perry-Folino……………………………………………35 Sina A. ………………………………………………………….36-37 Garry Moore………………………………………………….38-39 Wilfredo Andrade………………………………………………46 Jules Means………………………………………………………..46 Victor Sanchez………………………………………...47, 87, 95 Mary Frances Crabtree……………………………………….60 Lawrence Buford…………………………………………..88, 96 Contributors.............................................................................99 5

Stephanie Gomez: Untitled, graphite on paper


Can’t Spell Love Without 703 Ariel McIntyre


e saw her at the bottom of the stairs before she saw him. Amy, the girl in the apartment next door to him, who he could sometimes

hear singing through the paper-thin walls. While her voice was always

low and muffled, it was like he could clearly hear it in its full vibrato—as if he was in the room with her. Just seeing her with that bag of groceries, grabbing for her keys, he couldn’t help but think about the things that made him attracted to her. Like her long auburn hair that he was sure

smelled like coconuts (based on the empty bottle of shampoo he found in her trash bags). It was so clear and he could smell it now, as if the smell

rose up the flights of stairs to meet him. And Amy’s fair skin, which was

probably soft to the touch and had a hint of lavender, which must be her favorite (based on the smell that sometimes came out from under her apartment door).

Amy hadn’t really ever talked to him. He wasn’t even sure if she

knew he existed, but that didn’t stop him from getting to know her. The trash was a wonderful way of getting information. Like last week she

had just broke up with her boyfriend, he could tell because one morning

there was an abundance of old sappy love letters and ripped-up pictures, as well as an empty bottle of vodka. So that same day last week he sat in

his small, bare apartment with his face pressed against the wall and just listened; maybe he would find his cue to go over there and talk to her

finally. There were the sounds of movement and running water from the shower, and he wondered if he would ever get the chance to enjoy that

shower with her and feel her skin pressed against his. The thought made 1

his knees weak and his hands shake. His attention to this daydream was only broken by the sounds of her voice, which was hard to hear over

the sound of the water moving through the pipes in the walls. When the

water stopped and her muffled footsteps could be heard again, he could

picture her, the towel wrapped around her. He imagined the towel to be light pink, like a sweater he saw her wearing at least once a week. A few moments later he could hear what sounded like sobbing. It hurt him to

hear her pain through the walls. It was that ex of hers that made her cry,

he knew. There was nothing he wanted more than to go and hold her and let her cry on his shoulder and place his head on top of hers and place

a gentle kiss to comfort her. He wanted nothing more than to tell her it

was going to be OK. But he knew she needed time, so he would give that

to her. He would wait as long as she needed it. He would always be there for her; he promised himself that.

This scene was like a recurring dream replaying in his mind as

he sat up at the top of the stairs watching her collect her mail from the

boxes on the first floor. Amy was going to climb those stairs, which was always her routine. She always left for the day at 8am to work at the

local law firm where she was a receptionist. She worked until 5pm, and,

since it was Monday, she would be carrying a week’s supply of groceries. Her mail box would contained more junk mail than personal letters

(based on what he had found in her trash). She would climb the stairs to her apartment next to his, where he would follow his own routine and

imagine what she did every night with his face pressed against the wall. But tonight he would break this routine. He was going to talk to her. He

would make her see him finally and get to know her touch instead of just imagining it.

“H-hello,” his voice stumbled out as she approached the top of the

steps and passed right by him. His heart was beating so hard he could hear it in his ears and feel it all the way down at his feet.

“Oh, hello. It was Steve wasn’t it?” Amy’s voice sounded even better 2

and sweeter without a wall separating it from his ears. “Uh, yes.”

“Well, hi. OK. I’ll see you around.” She turned gracefully and

purposefully and went to the door marked 703. After fumbling with her keys for a second, she opened the door, and, as she closed it, he caught her eyes. She gave what looked to be a smile before closing the door behind her. The sound of the locks could be heard, and the deadbolt made a hard sound sliding home.

She knows my name! He celebrated inside his apartment, ready to

take up his spot against the wall they shared. The next step is realizing she loves me.


Two poems by Aida Agaeva

THE ESSENCE OF A WRITER The art of not knowing when you’ll sleep Lips awaiting the tea that will steep

A crescent moon floating perfectly high Drawing your gaze to the sky

As your reach your solitude state

Are you alone in the universe or alone in yourself? Just seek comfort from those books on the shelf



Somehow connected despite the distance Infatuation facing no resistance

Your compelling being lured me in Writing to you on a whim

Who molded your mellifluous smile and warm, brown eyes Which make me wonder and agonize?

That button nose and encompassing smile

Makes the pain of not seeing you all worthwhile Lost in the depths of your soul and your heart I cannot stand to be apart

They say other people are not medicine It’s strange that I see no comparison

Although talking to you has the same effect I am still my own cure in retrospect.


Sabian Cuevas


Nothing of the times were forgotten.

It’s all still there; supposedly we’re forgiven.

Each word logged and none of the pain fogged. Every memento intact.

But of all the pictures on display

Why’s mine hidden amongst the rest? Covered in dust and turning gray,

With a broken frame and covered in webs. Theirs are fine and in plain sight,

With yours enshrined and freshly shined.

Mine lies shattered on the floor underneath yours. Not even a thought in the back of your mind.


Two poems by Jeffrey Michels


This is as old as I have ever been, So I indulge myself,

Much as when I was young, I indulged myself;

One is only young once, after all.



All the rest is shared: songs of praise, grace, even glory.

All the heart transcends: forgiveness, longing, even envy. All inspiration, labor, understanding, even fear,

All freedom, all wisdom, all deliverance, even personal, All the world enjoys.

But here in my bunker,

Bolstered by the bonds that tie me to one truth,           one side, one future, one god, Raised up in righteousness,

I stand on the brink of redemption, ready to sacrifice. My direction has been chosen only for me.

And my children will never be born into confusion.


In Her Skin Tiffany Brooks


s she gazed at the ceiling she found a water stain to focus on as she had done many times before. This particular stain reminded her

of a happier time when life was simple and easy. The smell of breakfast

cooking in the morning filled her nostrils, the chuckle of her little sister

as she was tickled by her annoying little brother, the softness of the clean white sheets against her face while the sun peered through her curtains begging her to come out and play. Her serene reflection was abruptly interrupted. The smell of breakfast cooking turned into the stench of

stale cigarette smoke, mildewed walls and musk. The sound of children laughing turned into heavy breathing and groaning. The soft white

sheets against her cheeks turned into semen-stained sheets as her frail

body was continuously thrust into the bed in the filthy hotel room. How did I get here?


The school bell rang announcing the end of the day. She grabbed

her books from her small desk and stuffed them into her pink Hannah Montana backpack. Excited, she ran past the graffitied lockers that

lined the hallways, her pink converse pounding on the linoleum as she

sprinted past the metal detectors that surrounded the entrance of her Jr. High School. She pushed past the big metal doors and the afternoon sun temporarily blinded her as she searched for his car in the parking lot. 9

Dang, he wasn’t here yet. Anxiously waiting for him she nibbled on the

ends of her braided hair. Minutes later his boisterous stereo announced

his arrival. She waved her arm to catch his attention. She rushed towards his white 1979 Cadillac Deville that wore a pair of diligently-cleaned,

20-inch white spoke wheels. As she opened the door she could see his

chocolate brown skin glow as he flashed his perfect gold grin that melted her heart.

“Heyyyy, baby girl” “Hi, Daddy!”

She opened the car door and slid onto his all white custom leath-

er interior. He wrapped his manicured hands around her and gave her a hug. As he drove her home she admired his long luxurious permed

hair as it blew in the wind. Her daddy was always dressed to the teeth,

from his red silk Versace shirt that exposed his hairy chest, his perfectly tailored leopard slacks down to his $300 dollar snakeskin shoes. She

could stare at him for hours. She loved how his Gucci glasses framed his

face just right and how his big pinky ring sparkled in the light. Her daddy would always tell her, “If you follow a boss you’ll never get lost,” and he

most definitely was always dressed like a boss. As she gazed out the window she chuckled to herself because she was her daddy’s favorite; she was daddy’s little girl.

When they arrived home, she ran into the house and was greeted by

her mother. Her mother was dressed in a blue midriff top that exposed

her war wounds of giving birth to three children, a black mini skirt that left virtually nothing to the imagination and a platinum blonde wig. “Hey, baby girl. How was school?”


“It was fine, Mama. I’m hungry.”

“There’s some fried chicken in there I just cooked. Where yo daddy “He’s outside waiting for ya’ll. Ya’ll finna go to work?”

“Yea, I’m just waiting for yo auntie’s to bring they asses on. They 10

better hurry up before daddy get out that car.”

Just as she spoke those words her two aunties pushed passed the

back door cursing and laughing as they always did. “Hi, Aunt Coco.” “Hi, little girl.”

She hated her the most. Aunt Coco wore a white fake fur jacket and

some tiny black shorts. Aunt Coco always smelled like a ton of perfume

and painted her face full of colors. For some reason it seemed like Aunt

Coco didn’t like her mama much—or her for that matter, but she always came around.

“Hi, Aunt Chanel.”

“Baby girl! Look at you looking all cute in your little pink outfit.”

She liked Aunt Chanel, who always gave her $10 when she saw her.

Aunt Chanel was dressed in a gold body suit that framed her tight form

just right. Aunt Chanel was beautiful with long thick black hair and a per-

fect caramel complexion. She wanted to be beautiful just like Aunt Chanel when she grew up.

The front door slammed opened and startled her.

Her daddy busted into the house. “What is taking ya’ll tricks so

long?” Her mom and aunts got quiet. Her mom spoke first.

“We sorry, Daddy. We had to make sure baby girl had something to

eat before we left.”

“Time is money and money is time and I ain’t got no time for play-

ing with you bitches. Get on outside before you make me mad.” They rushed outside.

“Baby girl, you make sure yo sister and brother eat, we’ll be back

later.” He kissed her gently on her cheek.

After fighting with her little brother and sister to go to bed she

found her favorite Hello Kitty pajamas to put on and wrapped her hair with a scarf because she didn’t want to hear her mama naggin in the 11

morning. She snuggled under her pink furry blanket that her daddy

bought her and stared at the water spot that had made its home on her bedroom ceiling. She dozed off feeling safe and secure.

She was awakened by the front door. Three male voices—one of

which she recognized as her daddy. She eagerly crept out of bed and

headed toward the top of the stairs to her secret hiding place to steal a

glance at her daddy like she’d done every night since she was a little girl. Her daddy was with two other men that she had never seen before.

Soon after their arrival, her mom and aunts came wobbling into the

door, feet sore from walking for hours on end in 6-inch heels. Her mama spoke.

“Daddy, you and yo friends want something to eat?”

“Naw, we cool. Why don’t you take them tricks in the other room

and leave us men alone to talk some grown man shit.” “OK. Daddy.”

Aunt Coco walked by daddy and sensually rubbed his arm. “What

ya’ll finna talk about?”

“Don’t worry about the mule gone blind, sit tight and hold the line.

This here is business. Ya’ll split-tails don’t need to be in this shit.”

Aunt Coco rolled her eyes and sucked her teeth. “OK, Daddy.”

When Aunt Chanel walked past her daddy and his new friends, their

eyes stayed glued to her ass.

“Man, that’s a bad bitch right there, Clarence.”

“Nigga, don’t worry about all that over there. Let’s talk about this

business.” Her daddy pulled out a plastic bag. He opened the bag and

poured the contents on the table. Her daddy grabbed a straw from the box that he kept his funny cigarettes in and snorted up the powder.

She chuckles to herself. Her daddy loved sugar so much that he puts

it in his nose. She decided that in the morning she was going to surprise him with cookies since he loves sugar so much.

His friends snorted the sugar. “Yea, that’s that shit right there. How 12

much you want for it?”

“How much you tryna get.”

The friend snickered to himself. “We want all yo shit, but we want it

for free.”

Daddy’s face got serious.

The hairs on the back of her neck stood up. She knows that when

daddy makes that face nothing nice follows. Daddy reached under the

table, but before she could even blink she heard the loud explosion that forever changed her life.

Her daddy’s friend held a smoking gun in his hand. Her mom and aunts ran into room.


Screams and cries echoed in the girl’s ears as she crouched para-

lyzed on the top of the stairs in her favorite hiding place.

Daddy’s friend said, “Ya’ll need to shut the fuck up!”

Screams and cries were followed by more shots. Her mama and

aunts fell to the ground. The second friend spoke. “Come on. Let’s get the shit and go.”

Paralyzed with fear, she waited at the top of the stairs as if she was

waiting for her daddy to wake up and give her permission to come down. Slowly, she trembled down the stairs towards her daddy hunched over on the couch. The back of his head was missing and pieces of his brain were stuck to the wall. In disbelief, she touched her daddy’s hand. “Daddy, wake up, the bad men are gone.”

No response. She shook his hand harder.


PLEASE!” She started to cry hysterically now. His chin lay on his chest, so

she grabbed each side of what was left of his head and pulled his head up in order to get a better look at his face. Her daddy’s eyes were lifeless. A small bullet hole was planted on his forehead. The back of his head was

peeled open like a halfway peeled orange. Her Hello Kitty pajamas were 13

now saturated in blood. “DADDY, PLEASE!”

She hugged her daddy’s neck with all her might and cried herself to



Three poems by Mariah Daniels

BROKEN LOVER He is a mirror looking at me,

His broken soul surrounds me, I don’t quite know who I am, So I reflect,

Trying to save him and myself, By breaking that mirror,

By shattering his demons,

Cutting myself with the pieces he left behind, For me to clean up,

With these bloody hands, That feed him.


FEAR I am not afraid of heights, I am afraid of falling.

I am not afraid of spiders, I am afraid of poison.

I am not afraid of death,

I am afraid of disappearing. I am not afraid to cry,

I am afraid of the reason why. I am not afraid of love,

I am afraid of not giving and receiving enough.


BROTHER GORILLA Our relationship, Like habitats during an ice age, Isolated and shrinking, Though we can’t find a way to part. We fight each other with our love, Speaking in nothing But huffs and puffs. We share the same traumatic memories. Knuckle-walking carefully, Trying not to hurt me, Though man weighs more, Brings man to tears when he is done.


The Amazing Story of Mr. Big’s Room Brandon Lawson


s Jimmy walked calmly from the store, the sun started to shine on

his face. He could feel the cool breeze of the L.A. spring. Right before

he got past the door, he felt a force strike his back, and his face went

crashing down onto the rough black rug. A huge man in a Lakers jacket had his knee on Jimmy’s back. The man was overweight, his belly pro-

truding past his belt so far that Jimmy felt it on his back in addition to the man’s knee.

“You should have never done that, kid!” The man yelled as he stood

Jimmy up.

“What are you talking about? Get off of me! I didn’t do anything

wrong!” wig.

The man reached into Jimmy’s backpack and pulled out a blonde

“Needed more hair?” The man grunted as he began pulling Jimmy


As the security guard and Jimmy moved toward the back of the

store, people started to look at the two. Jimmy and the security guard

went into the back of the store, and the man opened a door that was next to the bathrooms.

“I always wanted to know what was behind this door.” “Well, now you’re going to find out, you little punk.”

The two walked into a room that was almost dark. It was dimmed

by just a small little light that hung from the ceiling by a string. The man 18

shoved Jimmy behind a metal rectangular table. Jimmy scratched his

neck as the goosebumps rose from the cold temperature of the room. It

was very odd, it was sunny outside, yet Jimmy could see his own breathe from the cold inside the dark room. The security guard stood in the corner as he scorned at Jimmy.

“So what are you? Too serious to be a crossing guard, and too fat to

be a police officer, so now you’re being a rent-a-cop at a store that sells lingerie, perfume, and hair?”

The security guard walked towards Jimmy and leaned toward his face with a disgusted look.

“At least I am not the one who is about to have their world turned


“Yeah, right.”

The security guard stepped back into the corner as the door

opened. Jimmy turned around and saw another huge man, but this time

the man was built like a professional athlete. He was around 6’4 and 250 pounds with a head that was bald like an egg. His shoulders were wide, and his hands looked as if they could crush human skulls. He was in an

all-white suit, with white church shoes, and a gold watch. The man began to walk towards an empty stool across the table from Jimmy.

“How many loans did you have to take out to purchase that outfit?

I know with manager paychecks, you cannot afford it.” Jimmy laughed as the man sat down with a smile on his face. “You know I used to be like you.” “Oh, I bet.”

“Of course I was. Parents died in a car accident, so you and your

younger sister got put into foster care. The only problem with that was

you adapted to your environment in a bad way. Had no guidance, so you

hung out with the wrong crowd, got in trouble, got arrested many times, got expelled from schools, you and your sister were moved to many

homes; it still didn’t help. You were put into the juvenile system over and 19

over, and now, eighteen years old, months away from the end of your

high school career, and you won’t even graduate. I bet you’re being a big role model to your 10 year old sister, Jimmy.”

As the man had revealed the information, the smile on Jimmy’s face

had been replaced with a look of shock. The man turned towards the security guard.

“Leave us, please.”

The security guard left the room. Jimmy stared at the table, blinking

and breathing fast.

“What’s wrong, Jimmy, no more jokes, or cute little catchphrases? Jimmy looked up.

“How do you know all of this?”

“Doesn’t matter, Jimmy. All that matters is that you just committed a

misdemeanor, but because of your history with the law, the judge won’t

take it so lightly. You just turned eighteen. How does a five-year sentence in Pelican Bay sound for a birthday present?” Jimmy had no words.

“I’m sure Sandy will love to see her brother after so many years,

but I don’t know how she will be able handle the changes you will go

through.” The man gloated as he picked up the wig that was placed on the table. “Who was this for, anyways?”

“My sister, she has cancer, and the kids at school keep teasing her.

Our foster parents don’t care, and she told me she wants to look beautiful.”

“Tell me about your parents, Jimmy.” “I thought you knew everything.” “Not everything.”

“They were taken away from me nine years ago when I was nine

and my sister was one.”

“How did they die?”

“They were shot. One evening after the movies, while Sandy was 20

with the babysitter, my parents and I were walking to our car, and some guy in a black hoody shot both of them in the back. He took the car, and fled. The cops found the car crashed into a ditch. He was dead from im-

pact. All I remember about the man was that he had a scar on the side of

his cheek.” Tears began to run down Jimmy’s face. “Do you want to know, how my sister got cancer, too?”

The man sighed. “Jimmy, be honest with me. Do you want to go to


“Of course not.”

“I’ll let you walk out of here, if you do me a favor.” “What is it?”

The man stood up as he went towards the side of the room near the

white popcorn-textured wall. He pushed his hands up towards the wall

as it caved in; this left open more space. In the empty space in which the wall used to be, was a white door.

“Come,” the man instructed Jimmy.

Jimmy stood up and began walking slowly. The man pulled out a

key which opened up a grey slot attached to the door. In the slot was a

retinal scanner against which the man placed his eye. A red ray shot out

as it scanned the man’s eye. Soon, the door opened and both the man and Jimmy stepped in. Once they were in, both the door and the wall closed.

The entire room was completely granite white which contributed to the sparkly shine it had. In the middle of the room was a small triangular pool of water sunk into the floor.

“By the way, you can call me Mr. Big.” “Mr. Big?”

“Yes, now follow me would you?”

Jimmy and Mr. Big walked to the pool of water and looked down in

it. The pool was very deep, the bottom not able to be seen. Jimmy looked at the man.

“What is going on?”


“When you see it, you’ll know what to do, Jimmy.”

Mr. Big suddenly gripped the top part of Jimmy’s shirt near his neck.

He then gripped Jimmy’s belt as if he was getting ready to throw him. “Wait! What!” Jimmy yelled.

The man launched Jimmy into the pool, causing the water to splash

all over the floor. Jimmy tried to swim out, but it was no good. For some

reason, Jimmy felt as if he was getting sucked into the bottom of the pool.

The blurry image of Mr. Big became blurrier as Jimmy felt water going up his nose. Jimmy hadn’t touched the bottom, but he couldn’t see Mr. Big

anymore; he kept getting pulled in. For Jimmy, the thought of not breathing in the water was as central as suffocating from lack of air. He didn’t

know if he was going to die from breathing in the water, or not breathing at all, but the water started to fill his lungs, and it began to hurt. Is this how I die? Jimmy thought to himself. He was sure it would be the last

thing he ever thought. He stopped struggling, certain that he would die.

Abruptly, air filled Jimmy’s lungs. He opened his eyes and coughed

up water. His breathing began to slow down as the refreshment of air into Jimmy’s body made it certain that he was alive and well. Air had

never felt so good. His clothes were soaking wet, and he felt sand on his hands. Jimmy stood up and looked around. He was on Venice Beach, a

couple feet in the water. It was still sunny. There were many people on

the beach as well. Jimmy began walking back onto the shore. What happened? Jimmy thought.

“You’re lost, you must find the way.”

Jimmy turned to his side where the voice came from. It was a little

girl, no older than four. She had dirty blonde hair, gel blue eyes, and

puffy round cheeks. She stood on the sand, but she was not in any beach clothing. She was dressed in a grey tank top, and blue jeans with brown sandals.

“What?” Jimmy wondered.

“You’re lost, you must find the way.” 22

The girl walked away while Jimmy was wondering what he just

heard. Nevertheless, Jimmy began walking. He saw that a lot of people

were playing beach volleyball as music was playing loudly. Many people

Jimmy walked past had shirts with Spring Break 2008 on them. More and more people had shirts with Spring Break 2008 on them.

“Excuse me, what’s the date?” Jimmy asked a random person. “March 25.”

“And the time?” “2:30.”


The person walked off. Jimmy was stunned as he recalled to himself,

“When you see it, you’ll know what to do.”

Jimmy left the beach. Four hours later, he had made his way up

toward Hollywood. He was exhausted, and the sun had begun to set. He

arrived at the TCL Theater, barely able to walk anymore from the lack of food and water. The soles of his feet were sore and his legs were aching. Jimmy looked around and spotted a man, woman, and a little boy walk-

ing out of the theater. They were smiling and laughing as they headed to

their car parked on the side of the street. Jimmy felt a tug on his shoulder as a man with a black hoody bumped into him.

“Watch it!” The man barked as he turned his head toward Jimmy. In that brief moment, Jimmy had seen a scar on the man’s cheek.

The man continued to walk, but Jimmy didn’t move, he had frozen. Im-

mediately, the man began to walk faster towards the couple and the son who had their backs turned toward him. As the man got near them, he

reached for his pocket, which alerted Jimmy. Jimmy dashed towards the man in a race against time.

“No!” Jimmy yelled as he lunged at the man, sending them both

crashing onto the ground.

A pistol scattered onto the ground as the family gasped in fright.

The collision had caused a scene. People started to gather around to see 23

the commotion.

“Get off of me!”

“No! I won’t let you hurt anyone this time!”

Jimmy had his knee planted on the man’s back and his arm around

his neck in a chokehold.

“What are you talking about?”

Two nearby police officers got out of their vehicle and stormed

towards the scene.

“What is going on?”

“Officer,” Jimmy spoke, “This man had a gun, and was going to kill

this family to take the car. His gun is on the ground over there.”

One of the officers went over to the gun and picked it up. The man

with the scar was still on the ground with Jimmy on top of him. “He’s lying, I didn’t do anything!”

“Get off of him,” the other officer instructed. Jimmy let the man up.

“That’s not my gun. He came out of nowhere and attacked me!” Jimmy reached into the man’s pocket which caused him to yell,


Jimmy pulled his hand out of the man’s pocket with two bullets in

his palm.

“See, officers, this man has bullets in his pockets. That is his gun!” The officers looked at the man.

“Still doesn’t prove that I was going to commit murder.”

“Do you have a permit for the gun?” One of the officers questioned. “I…I...I,” the man stumbled. “You’re coming with us.”

The officers placed the man in handcuffs, and then proceeded to es-

cort him to their car as Jimmy looked on satisfied. Jimmy turned toward the couple and smiled. The little boy looked up at Jimmy with a curious look.


“Have a nice day, kid.” Jimmy cheered as he began walking away

from the scene.

He noticed the same little girl from the beach, in the middle of the street. “You have found the way, now you must go back.”

No cars were passing by, so Jimmy hurried over to the girl and put

his hands on her shoulders.

“What are you talking about? Who are you?”

“You have found the way, now you must go back.”

Jimmy remained confused, but not for long, for he heard a honk, and

felt his feet lift as he side-smashed into the windshield of a moving car. It was the last thing he remembered before everything went black. “Rise and shine.”

“Where am I?” Jimmy wondered.

“In the hospital of course. You were hit by a car, but luckily you only

sustained a mild concussion,” the doctor said.

Jimmy looked around. He lay in a hospital bed. He felt a sharp pain

in his head, as if nails were scraping away at his skull. “Where’s the girl?” “What girl, son?”

Jimmy didn’t respond.

“We didn’t find an ID on you, what is your name?” “James Wallace.”

“I’ll be back, to see if we have your records here, James.”

The doctor left the room and closed the door behind him. While

Jimmy was in the bed, he began to stare at the ceiling. What now, he

thought. Suddenly Jimmy noticed water on the floor which made him

suspicious. It was as if the water was filling into the room. In seconds, the water started to rise up to a couple feet. “Hey!” Jimmy yelled.

No one answered as the water continued to rise. Jimmy bounced out

of his bed and went for the door. He tried to open it, but it was locked. 25

He kept hitting the glass and yelling, but the people outside of the door

didn’t notice him. There was no water outside of the door, yet the water soon reached up to his mouth. Before Jimmy realized, the water had hit the ceiling, and he was once again in a life and death situation.

Jimmy opened his eyes. He was standing in a store. It was the same

store he was in before, and he was in the same spot he was in before the security guard had tackled him. In shock, Jimmy turned around. He saw

many shoppers. His clothes were dried, and his head felt normal. Was it a dream? Jimmy wondered. Without knowing what had happened, Jimmy proceeded to leave the store until he felt a hand on his shoulder. “Excuse me.”

Jimmy quickly turned around to see the face of the fat security

guard he ran into before. “You forgot this.”

The security guard handed Jimmy a store bag.

“Have a nice day,” the security guard said and walked away.

Jimmy looked into the bag where he spotted a blonde wig. He took

a look back at the store. What in the world happened? Jimmy questioned before he slowly walked away. As Jimmy went past the door, he recog-

nized the man with the scar on his cheek walking into the store. Jimmy turned back and the man smiled.

“Dad!” The man with the scar greeted someone, opened up his

arms. He soon hugged who turned out to be Mr. Big. The two hugged as Jimmy looked on. As Mr. Big hugged his son, he looked at Jimmy with a smile and winked.

Sacramento Cornejo: Larissa, charcoal on paper 26


Darlene Delos Santos


“Why would you change the appearance of yourself just because he’s not a part of you anymore?” Think about it this way: Say you and your boyfriend break up. He gets tired of you and just dumps you. You don’t change a thing at all about yourself.

And years from now, he sees you again and smiles. He smiles, remembering the face that used to light up whenever he came in the room. He remembers the way you smell, remembers the same color of your hair that used to get in his face when you lay in bed. He remembers the same soft pink lips he would kiss after kissing all over that same pale skin. And just like that, he thinks he still knows you. All of you. DOES THAT EVEN SOUND FAIR? That he gets to smile at you like one does after finding an old toy they grew out of? You know, like when you see something you used to enjoy and you smile thinking, “Aw, I remember that!” NO, IT’S NOT SUPPOSED TO BE LIKE THAT.

And that’s why I’m doing it. It won’t change my feelings, but it’s a step in the right direction.

And when he sees me in a few years, it’ll take him more than a second to recognize me. He’ll wonder instead of reminisce. He’ll wonder if my lipstick has always been red when it grazed his cheeks. He’ll wonder if my hair has always been that healthy and that shade of brown. He’ll wonder if maybe I lost weight, or maybe even gained a few. And then he’ll try to remember how it even used to be. And the funny part is, he won’t.


Sakeema Payne

TO THE GIRLS OF INSTAGRAM Why? Just tell me why. Why must you show your body “pimp” your body for Followers. People that don’t even know you. What. What if they met you in real life. Yeah they probably would still look up to you Wish they were you. They don’t know that all you want… Them and me know Your Secret. Not Victoria’s, But Your’s. All you want is someone to notice you someone to care.


Gabriella Santos: Marycake, digital sketch


Car Wash

Gabriel Luis Quiroz


iddled with mud, blood, and birdshit, a silver Chevy sits in the

driveway of a tattered one-bedroom house. A man walks out of the

house in sweatpants and a white T-shirt. He looks disgusted by the car. Bryan has been staring at those spots for almost a year now, but today

they bother him a little more than usual. He walks around the car a few

times before he opens the backseat, where he finds a half-empty bottle of whiskey with its label peeled off. He grabs it and proceeds to open it, but

before it gets to his lips he throws it to the ground as if someone else has ripped it from him. He looks around, and then he begins to clean up the broken pieces.

Blood drips from his hands. He rips off one of his sleeves and wraps

it around his left hand and continues to clean. Looking further into the Chevy, he sees a small denim jacket sitting underneath the front pas-

senger seat. He smells it but is interrupted by his blood dripping on it. Taking one last smell, he places it in his trashcan.

Bryan pops the trunk, where everything is meticulously placed.

There are multiple containers of bleach, soap, garbage bags, spong-

es, rope, a bucket, and other car wash supplies. He grabs the soap, the

bucket, and sponge, closes the trunk, and looks around once more. He

goes up to the hose in the front of the house and begins filling the bucket. As this is going on, his neighbors walk by, but he refuses to meet their

glance. He waits for them to pass before returning to the car. The blood is first—the driver side door handle as well as the left front headlight.

His hands shake as he goes to wipe the door handle, but once he gets to

the headlights his hand is steady again and the blood seems to disappear 31

from the car, staining the sponge and streaming down onto the concrete.

Next is the bird shit. The front passenger window is covered, almost as if

the birds were his enemies. This is not so long a process as the blood, but disgusting just the same. Finally, he takes on the mud. It is caked to the tires and the front of the car, so he decides to bring the hose down. But before he turns around he hears sirens and falls to his knees.

Anaclara DeMatos: The Nurture of Ignorance, colored pencil on paper 32


Stephanie Gomez: Wise Mind, mixed media on paper

Joanna Perry-Folino: Spring Blossoms, digital photo 34


Sina A.: Untitled, digital photo 36

Sina A.: Untitled, digital photo 37

Garry Moore: Dinosaur, digital art 38

Garry Moore: Fire, digital art 39

Interview with Poet Norma Liliana Valdez Norma Liliana Valdez is an alumna of the VONA/Voices Writing Workshop, the Writing Program at UC Berkeley Extension, and a 2014 Hedgebrook writer-in-residence. A member of the Macondo Writers’ Workshop, she is the poetry winner of the 2015 San Miguel Writers’ Conference writing contest. Her poems can be found in Calyx: A Journal of Art and Literature by Women, Dismantle: An Anthology of Writing from the VONA/Voices Writing Workshop, Poetry of Resistance, and forthcoming in Huizache, among others. She corresponded with The Optimist over email in April. NORMA LILIANA VALDEZ

You might notice that I write under a slightly different name than the one most of my colleagues and students know me by (Norma Val-

dez-Jimenez). When I began to find my poet’s voice, I quickly discovered

that writing under my birth name allowed access to internal and external spaces that were not weighed down by labels such as “mother,” “coun-

selor,” and “wife.” I also felt that I owed it to my creative practice to name the voice from which it was born. Writing as Norma Liliana Valdez is

a liberating and revolutionary act for me. It is reclamation of my most authentic voice.


I’ve seen you read a few times now, and each time I am struck by the way you set up your poems. You have a great ability to move between the voices of your poems and what I’ll call your “social voice.” Where did you learn the responsibilities of reading? And have you always been a natural performer? 40


I’ve never considered myself a natural performer. In college, I shied away from public speaking courses in favor of interpersonal communication. I was a psychology major as an undergrad and definitely felt more in my element in one-on-one interactions. That said, there are probably two pivotal factors that influence how I’ve learned to read my work. First, my reading style is informed by my experience as an educator. Being

in front of the classroom requires a certain kind of dialogue, or conversation. What you call my “social voice” comes from what I’ve learned about teaching, and engaging with my students. I especially use this

voice when reading in front of an audience who may have had limited exposure to poetry as a way to pry open the poems I’m about to read. Second, I think many poets might agree that there is an intimacy be-

tween the poem and the poet. For me, this intimacy engages language,

narrative, emotion, and sound. When I am immersed in the writing of a

poem, I recite it over and over in my head. Then I read it aloud repeated-

ly. Sometimes there is a dissonance between the way it sounds internally and the way it sounds coming out of my mouth. This helps with revision, with opening the potential of the poem, and with finding the voice of

the poem. Ultimately, it is this voice that I want to come through to the audience.


Has your job as a community college counselor affected your poetry?


It sure has! On a very practical level, as a counselor I am also a faculty member, which means my work schedule follows the academic calen-

dar. I take advantage of the summer and winter intersessions to partic41

ipate in writing workshops, residencies, and conferences without these

interfering with my work obligations. To give you a few examples, in the summer of 2014 I spent two weeks as a writer-in-residence at Hedge-

brook on Whidbey Island in Washington state. Hedgebrook provides a

radical and transformative residency experience for women writers. I’ve also received fellowships from the San Miguel Writers’ Conference (San Miguel de Allende, Guanajuato, Mexico) and Under the Volcano Writ-

ers’ Workshop (Tepoztlán, Morelos, Mexico), two experiences that have

significantly energized my work. These not only provide space and time

to write, but equally as important, they provide space and time to create

community with other poets and writers. This is essential to me because much of my time is dedicated to my work life and my home life, and so, I have to be purposeful in carving out the spaces that nurture my writing. As a counselor, I am also privileged with my students’ stories. Not that I

necessarily write about them, but their stories give me a deeper connection to the expansiveness of our human condition. INTERVIEWER

Do you see writing as a political act? (I want this question to apply to poems that are not overtly political.)


How can it not be, particularly when there are consistent and threaten-

ing attempts to hijack our narratives. All one has to do is turn to any sort of media to find toxic rhetoric aimed at marginalizing whole groups of people. Just look at our current presidential race. All camps use nar-

rative to gain votes, so who gets to tell the stories? Writing has always been political, across time and geographies. Poets have, and continue

to be, at the forefront of political movements whether intentionally or

not. In 2011, the Mexican poet, Javier Sicilia lost his son in the escalating 42

drug-related violence that has been poisoning the country for years. In his grief, Sicilia began a series of protest marches in Mexico and the US called Caravana por la Paz, or Caravan for Peace, as a direct action in

support of other families who have lost loved ones to narco and state vi-

olence, and as a direct challenge to the political institutions on both sides of the border. Late last year, the Chilean government finally admitted

that the great Pablo Neruda may have been murdered by the Pinochet

regime. Most recently, Syrian poet Mohammad Bashir al-Aani was murdered by the Islamic State after extensive international pleas to spare

his life. Writing is absolutely political because it has the power to bring

back truth to narrative; to bring narrative back to the people. It has the

power to challenge and topple institutions. Even the most personal kind of writing can be political and revolutionary. INTERVIEWER

Creative writing students at Contra Costa College were invited to con-

tribute questions to this interview. The next two questions come from students Carol Sparks and Pedro Perez.

If you had one piece of advice for fellow poets—or for beginning poets—what would it be? NORMA LILIANA VALDEZ

READ, READ, READ! Read poetry you love. Read poetry you hate. Read poetry you don’t understand. Read poetry that moves you, even if you can’t immediately pinpoint why. When you read, pay attention to the

line. Pay attention to the aesthetic of the line; to how it is composed, to how it is broken. Poetry, itself, teaches you how to read it and how to

write it. Read poetry aloud, others’ as well as your own. What you’ll find is that this level of keen attention will teach you to find your own poetic 43

voice. And even though you only asked for one piece of advice, I’m going to give you two. Share your work with other poets and writers. You will

learn the potential of a poem from them, as trusted readers. Sometimes you will receive feedback that reveals something about the poem that

you could not see because of your proximity to the work. Know that you don’t have to accept all of the feedback you are given. Trust what feels right and learn not to take feedback as personal criticism. Over time,

you’ll know who your trusted readers are. Create community with them. Write together. Read together. Submit for publication together, and champion each other’s work.

Are there any special rituals you do before you write poetry? NORMA LILIANA VALDEZ

I’m horrible at this! I don’t have a writing desk, much less a room of my own. I write at the dining room table, and have to do so at hours when the house is quiet (at night or on Fridays when my sons are at school).

This is what I meant earlier about having to be purposeful in carving out time and space to write. And although I wouldn’t call them rituals, there are some activities that I practice that grant me access to the writing. I love music. I’ve noticed that I write a lot less when I’m listening to too

much NPR. I don’t actually listen to music as I write. Rather, I infuse my day with music. You might see me arriving to work and leaving work

with my earbuds on. Another activity is going outdoors for a run or a

walk. This practice releases energies in the body while also opening up

the senses to nature, which to me, is essential to cultivating the attention that poetry demands. I also read a lot of poetry when I’m writing. Part of working on a poem often involves leafing through pages of poetry

books I love. Whenever I feel stuck, any of these activities serve to bring me back to the writing.



You mentioned, at the reading in the CCC library, that you like the work of Salvadoran-American poet Javier Zamora. Who are some of your other favorite poets? NORMA LILIANA VALDEZ

I am really drawn to the work of contemporary poets who are living

and breathing in the world right now. The list is so expansive, and the poetry currently being written, especially by writers of color, is exqui-

site! I’m eagerly awaiting Ocean Vuong’s first collection, Night Sky with Exit Wounds. The book was just released and already it’s sold out and

on its second printing. Eduardo Corral’s Slow Lightning only leaves my nightstand to accompany me when I travel. When I want to access the

goddess, Ruth Forman’s Prayers Like Shoes is sure to do the trick. Danez Smith, Craig Santos Perez, and Claudia Rankine engage issues of jus-

tice in such profound and personal ways. Some poems just floor me from the first read: “Service” by Ada Limón, “A Small Needful Fact” by Ross

Gay, and “Upon Reading That Eric Dolphy Transcribed Even the Calls of

Certain Species of Birds” by John Murillo, to name a few. Oh, and the

violence in “Narco” by Erika L. Sánchez is so disturbing, yet a necessary

witnessing. I’m a sucker for the tenderness of a father in Li-Young Lee’s “The Gift” and the musicality in Terrance Hayes’ “The Rose Has Teeth.”

Then there are the collections, Furious Dusk by David Campos and Keetje Kuipers’ Beautiful in the Mouth. And I just ordered the verse-drama Pink Mist by Owen Sheers. As you can see, I can probably keep going and going with this!


Jules Means: Serenity at Marsh Creek, digital photo

Wilfredo Andrade: Untitled, digital photo Victor Sanchez: Liquid Dreams, digital image



Isaac Arriaga

METROPOLITAN ILLUSIONS Metropolis. City of Lights.

Where dreams are made and crushed.

Where the poor rummage through garbage, And the rich bet on money that isn’t theirs. Women prospect for success. Men die in search of love. Animals find addictions. Hope finds poverty.

Children sleep in broken homes. Imagination runs free,

Before it withers in the sewers. The Golden City.

The Immigrant Dream.

Beautiful and nocturnal, Ugly and falling apart.

She loves me, she hates me. I can never leave her.

She can never leave me.

My soul is hers until I die,

When she may grant my heart her rich, growing soil.


Night Howler Savings & Loan Cody Lewis

Chapter One


y name is Jack O’Dwyer. I live in an apartment above a bar. It makes it easy to find a drink. It also makes it easy for people to find me.

You see, I’m a P.I. and people just keep finding me. Like she found me. I

didn’t mind that she found me at first. I mean she was a knockout. 5’6” in heels, fiery red hair, cute face. She was pale, and she kept the makeup to

a minimum. She was wearing a pinstriped suit with a skirt that cut off at the knee. Her jewelry said well off, but subtle.

“My name is Vanessa Douglas. I’m looking for a P.I.”

“Well I am a dick.” She lifted an eyebrow at my perfectly charming

if slightly slurred pun. “It’s about my husband.” Well, that cut it. I was no longer interested. I had been down that road before. It doesn’t end well for anyone.

“There is something wrong with him.” “He’s cheating on you.” “What?”

“Cheating. On you. That’s what it always is. Trust me.” I didn’t really

want one of those jobs, but divorce cases were a P.I.’s bread and butter.

“I’ll pay you.” That perked me up a bit. I certainly needed the money,

enough to take a job even. Beggars can’t be choosers after all. “How much?” I asked.


“He’s not cheating on me.” “I asked how much.”

“Ten thousand dollars.”

“That’ll pay some bills.” (And buy a few drinks). “He’s not cheating on me.”

“Of course not. What do you need me for then?” “I need you to figure out what’s wrong.”

She informed me that he had been acting strange lately. He looked

tired and had been leaving in the middle of the night. Yeah, because that doesn’t sound like cheating at all. Still, it was a lot of money. I decided to take the case. We traded information, and told her I’d be in touch. When we shook hands, her dainty fingers made my hand look gruff and oversized.

I finished my drink, and went upstairs. I would have to catch a few

hours before tonight. Most would consider my apartment bare, but I

liked it like that. The floors were hard wood covered with cheap rugs.

The couch was in the middle of the room facing a blank wall. I had to sell the TV. I figured there was one in the bar anyway. The walls were brick.

Through the door on the right was the kitchen. On the left was my room. I stumbled toward it, and collapsed on the couch instead.

I woke up around six. I got dressed in blue jeans, work boots and

a grey shirt, then shrugged into my coat, and grabbed my sawed-off 12

gauge from under the bed. I went over to the only painting I own, flipped it over and cut into its backing. I pulled out the envelope of cash and went to go follow another woman’s husband.

Chapter Two

I was sitting in the parking lot in my battered old jeep. I had fol-

lowed Vanessa’s husband around for an hour. He had gone straight from 50

the Bank where he worked, to a crappy diner. I guess he had no plans

for a dinner at home. Then he stopped at a gas station and ran inside.

He came out carrying armloads of junk food. He sat in his car and began stuffing his face. How much was he planning to eat? His car started up

again. I waited to start my car until he left the parking lot. I followed him

back to the Mendocino County Savings and parked around the corner out of view. The street was empty. The bank was closed but he had the key.

He unlocked the door and went inside. I waited ten minutes then twenty but he didn’t come back out.

This shit seemed shady. I decided that this probably wasn’t a typi-

cal affair case. I needed to get in there and figure out what was going on. Vanessa might decide not to pay me if I sent her husband to prison. The

police might pay well. I’ve worked with them before. They usually keep a small fund on hand for my type of work.

I checked the street for people, but it was completely empty. Twenty

minutes, no movement. I got out of the jeep and walked up to the front

door. I looked inside. I couldn’t see anything, it was just too dark. I looked at the door. It was unlocked. What was this guy thinking? He just rushed inside. I grabbed my gloves and pulled them on. I pulled a flashlight out

of my pocket and pushed open the door. I swept the light over the empty teller windows. It was eerie. Where was the security guard? Did Mister Douglas deactivate the alarm? And where was he in all this. Man, I am

stupid, what if the cops showed up? Were there security cameras? I was breaking and entering for God’s sake. As a cop, anything I gathered after this point would be dismissed, but being a P.I. was a little different. I

would still be in some serious trouble if I were caught, no doubt about that.

There was a light up ahead. It spilled out of an office in the back.

I moved forward carefully, trying my hardest not to make a sound. I

tripped over something noisy. I brought up my flashlight and my gun, looking for anyone who could have heard the noise I made. Nothing 51

moved in the office they must have been gone. I looked back at what

tripped me. So that’s where the guard went. He was torn to shreds, blood soaked through his white shirt. I gagged, forcing down vomit. After all, I

didn’t want to puke on a murder scene. The gashes across his chest were deep enough to scrape bone. I looked down at my legs; there was blood on my pants. I heard a sound coming from the lobby.

I stood back up and stepped toward the office. I could hear move-

ment coming toward the hallway like sharp clicks on tile. I scanned the

hall with my flashlight. Near the entrance, I saw it. It looked like nothing I had seen before. It was covered with thick, tangled fur, matted with

blood. It stood on two hind legs, its long arms ended with a set of claws. Its face was a muzzle. White teeth stood out against the dripping blood that coated its face. I backpedaled toward the office. It began to move

toward me. I fired, emptying both barrels into its chest. A roar bubbled in his chest. He jerked back but shrugged it off like it was nothing. The beast just kept moving forward toward me. I scrambled into the office

closing the solid oak door behind me. I flipped the latch and pushed up against the door, unable to think.

That thing should have been writhing in pain on its back. Anything

else would have been on the ground after two barrels of rock salt to the

tits, but that thing just kept coming. It had me trapped now. I was locked in a windowless office, and it was only a matter of time before it would get through the door. It kept pounding on the door. What the hell was

that thing? It looked like a wolf but that was impossible. Things like that were impossible. Things like that shouldn’t exist.

That thing looked like it came straight out of a crappy horror film.

Was that thing a werewolf? No, those things don’t exist. I’ve just been hitting the sauce too hard. The banging on the door continued. God,

what was that then? And, more importantly, how in the hell am I getting out of here? I pushed myself away from the door, toward the desk. Maybe there was something I could use. Maybe I could find some liquor. A 52

gun would have done nicely, too. All I had brought with me was rock salt rounds, and a fat lot of good those things did. The banging and scratching on the door continued.

Turns out that Mr. Douglas isn’t a drinker, and he didn’t stash a gun

in his office. I guess that’s what job satisfaction looks like. There was a picture of his wife on the desk. Vanessa was blowing the camera a kiss. There was very little left to the imagination. There was a shelf behind

the desk filled with some knickknacks. There was a letter opener with a

little stand lying on the shelf. “Always yours—Vanessa” was engraved on the handle, but the blade itself was silver. Better than nothing I guess. I gripped the knife tightly, my knuckles turning white. Any minute now

that thing would get in here and try to paint the room with a lovely shade of my lower intestine.

The door cracked and was smashed out of the frame all at once. It

leaped across the desk and pushed me up against the wall, using one

giant hand to try and smash my throat. My vision swam as it smashed my head into the wall again. I swung with the letter opener, leaving a

gash across its shoulder. The beast used its other claw to swipe at my

chest, cutting through my thick coat and shirt into my side. It roared and smashed my head into the wall again. I could feel the cheap plaster being

crushed by my skull. I swung again, this time taking off a piece of his ear.

I started to black out. I stabbed at it again, lodging the letter opener deep into the opening between its ribs. The wolf man screamed and dropped me to the floor and I let go of the knife. I fell to my knees as it moved

backwards, tripping over his cheap office chair. Its skin started churning and it let out the pained sounds of a dying animal. It collapsed to the floor and began to seize. Its hair melted away from its body as it con-

torted in pain. It was more human now and the noise it made sounded

somewhere between a sob and a scream. The seizing stopped and I was standing over the dead naked form of Mr. Douglas. 53

Chapter Three

He wasn’t dead. He scared the hell out of me when he sucked in a

lungful of air. I sat him up and looked at the knife. He tried to pull on it, and I stopped him. I was pretty sure that the silver was the only thing keeping him from changing.

“Don’t touch it. It will only make the bleeding worse.” I told him.

He nodded half-heartedly. I went into the bathroom that connected to

the office and came back with some paper towels. I started inspecting

the wound; there wasn’t as much blood as there should have been. The

whole floor should have been soaked with it by now. I touched the blade

and jolted my hand away. The thing was hot to the touch, enough to burn

me. It had cauterized the wound. That explained why there wasn’t more blood.

“I’m pretty sure the knife is what is keeping you from changing

back.” He just looked up at me. “What happened here?” I asked him. “I locked myself in the vault. I… the last time I changed.” He

stopped. “I hurt someone. I didn’t know what I was doing.” His eyes filled with tears. “It wasn’t my fault; it was that thing inside me. It wants me

to do more, to hurt people. I try to say no, but every night it makes me.

Locking me in the vault is the only way to stop it. Ron would disable the security cameras and let me out again in the mornings.”

“Was Ron the security guard?” I asked. He nodded meekly. I sighed.

“He’s dead.” His face fell. “He must have opened the vault while you were still changed.” At least I didn’t have to worry about cameras. I looked

down at him. He was still naked. I looked at myself. I had blood all over my shirt and pants. “I have some clothes in the car you can borrow. I’ll give you a minute.”

I walked back through the lobby, careful not to disturb Ron’s body.

It made sense there wouldn’t be a security guard at all if the cameras

hadn’t been down, and as manager Mr. Douglas could bring in whoev54

er he needed. Before I left the bank I flipped up the collar on my jacket and took a beanie out of my pocket and pulled it down over my head. I walked out to my jeep and climbed into the back seat and managed to

strip without getting blood on anything. I stuffed the soiled clothes into

a garbage bag. I twisted around and dropped my sawed-off into the back and pushed it underneath the seat. I pulled on some of the spare clothes

I keep in my jeep. I grabbed a spare set for Mr. Douglas. I started to reach for the door.

I heard sirens first. Then I saw the lights. Police cars whizzed past

me and around the corner to the bank. The street in front of the bank

filled with police cars and lights began to focus on the door. A black ar-

mored van pulled to a stop and men poured out of it in full combat gear.

They rushed the doors and entered unopposed. From where I sat I could hear the gunshots. I cringed. An ambulance pulled up beside the police cars.

I drove away.

Three blocks away I dumped the clothes into a trash can and

burned them. Then I got back in my jeep and drove home.


Aimee Stalker


I am a mother and a friend I wonder when my life will end I hear birds outside my window at night I want a happy life I am a mother and I pretend that everything Is ok. I feel my grandfather’s hand Though I know he passed I see the stars in the sky I worry about my kids I cry when someone I love dies I am a mother and A friend—I understand that life is hard I say God please Give me strength every day I dream of better days when I am happy Again and everything is ok I try my best in school I hope to graduate in May I am a mother and a friend.


Two poems by Rachel Garcia


The candleflame dances in the darkness. “Don’t get too close.” I clearly never learned. I like the burn, the pain, The sting—better to ache than to not feel a thing.

I yearn for the flame as it shines, As it flickers and sparks—it draws Me near, holds me “Just like a moth.” It’s an addiction, an attraction, a dangerous game. This one flame that shines through The night makes me feel protected. This flame and nothing else. 



There’s a lot that makes me happy And there’s a lot that makes me scared There’s a lot that I keep hidden And there’s a lot that I have shared There’s a lot that I look forward to And there’s a lot I try to forget There’s a lot that I give up on And a lot I try to perfect There’s a lot that I want out of life And there’s a lot that I need A lot of dreams seem obtainable As long as you’re with me I can…breathe a little easier Smile a little bigger Laugh a little louder Be a little bolder Try a little harder Feel a little better Maybe this is too much pressure Maybe it’s not fair to say Maybe this is way off base But maybe you feel the same way Maybe you were meant to come to me Maybe I was meant to wait Maybe we were meant to be Maybe this is fate I could love you for a lifetime I have loved you from the start I was only trying to speak my mind But it seems I’ve spoken my heart


Cindy Diaz


The vastness of the ocean— I like to contemplate Its waves so symmetric and perfect Worthy of appreciation The ocean, my friend The sound Waves whisper in my ears Reminding me to stay Humble in respect to its grand force Never have I felt so much respect, appreciation and admiration for a friend


Mary Frances Crabtree: Nature’s Theater, pastel chalk on black paper 60

Azi Carter


Awakened by the Sun, her dawning has just begun, as she beckons the breezes that rise from the trees. Standing boldly in her royalty and womanness. Queenly and Statuesque aligned and immersed in total bliss. Stepping into her own she claims her crown and graces the realms from distances far and consciousness wide, taking life in as she increases her stride, projecting her courage and her heritage pride. The Cosmic Queen, the real true thing, not just of this earth but an enlightened being, searching constantly for the ultimate seeing, while she practices just being. The Cosmic Queen Doing Her Thing The most tantalizing being you have ever seen, The Cosmic Queen This Jazzy, Luscious, Seductive, Cosmic Queen, not afraid to claim her titles, coming through many cumbersome battles, carries her scars as her prize trophies, surviving the harshness and cruelties of men even while she commits mortal sins. She regains her composure and begins her life again, realizing life’s journey and learning how to make her own amends. Heart Stopper, Head Turner, Irresistible Captivator. Easy on the Eyes, fly, gentle, makes any man jump to his feet. The Cosmic Queen knows her true destiny and holds her dreams close within. The Cosmic Queen. Majestically causing the planets to spin. Enchanting, hypnotic, sensuous and erotic, breathtaking, tantalizing, captivating as she snatches your soul and places in orbit the life forces of the galaxies, rocketing to the stars, calling forth with her hands their alignment, exquisitely, sassy and free, this rare beauty to be seen, embracing now her true identity; charming and keen, Vivacious, sensational, captivating, dazzling, dainty, delightful, a delicacy for you. Alluring, bewitching, not on cue. The Cosmic Queen Poised, gorgeous and graceful as she dances pristine. Spinning and Turning, doing her thing, Jamming and Slamming to the beats on the Scene, 61

Bootylicious Babe, Tantalizing and Hypnotizing, every man’s dream. The Cosmic Queen, Struttin’ her stuff in her Donna K Jeans, bodacious and courageous, taking her time with the order of things. Knowing her timing, enchanting and fine, this woman so sublime, she is truly one of a kind. The Cosmic Queen Doing Her Thing


Two poems by Alea Faith Martin


People sing in the rain The rain’s beautiful music Pitter-patter beats Quiet melodies Leaves falling easy Tiny drops falling almost silent Green rolling hills Sun rising up Flowers burst into bloom



No one around The breeze against my skin Cold and quick I can feel it I can hear it But I can’t see it

Oh, how jealous I am of the wind Invisible, fast and always on the go Never in one place Never told where to go or what to do


Framing the Fenster Jeanette Chiappone


h, the shriek of police whistles and the clanging of firetruck bells. I sniffed the air for trouble and it smelled of smoke with a hint of

burning rubber. I took off out the kitchen door before Mama could snatch me back in for chores. I shot down the alley past spilling garbage bins

and women in curlers sweeping back stoops, chasing mayhem. When I

got to Prinz-Albrect-Strasse, I slowed to a stroll and disappeared among

the crowds of bootlickers and Reich officials. Then down the lane next to the Big Church, I popped out across the street from chaos.

A three-story apartment building spit angry tongues of flame from

half the windows. Heat and smoke drove back the gathering mass of

onlookers. Firemen strained against hoses and ladders, struggling to tame the blaze.


I tugged my old cap down, pulled my raggedy scarf up high, and

found cover behind a battleship of a woman in a gray coat. The child

she clasped to her great thighs eyed me warily. The woman squealed, pointing to flames dancing toward the roof and the kid turned. I kept my head tilted like I was watching, too, but my eyes were at hip level scanning pockets and purses.

A line of Brown Shirts contained the swelling mass while I

surveyed the quarry. That’s when I saw him. Just a few people in front of 65

me: that greasy rat, Fenstermeir. His scrawny arms crossed over his thin chest, his flat, empty eyes stared up at the inferno, his thin scowl slack.

Fenstermeir was a friend of the Gestapo; he was known to whisper lies about his neighbors just to get an extra rationing coupon or two. Then those same neighbors would vanish soon after.

Glass shattered and flames burst through a row of windows, one

jarring blast after another, each one punctuated by a collective gasp. And there she was, as perfect a mark as you could ask for. A wisp of a woman with tight silver curls in a well-padded coat standing to Fenstermeir’s left, her black patent leather purse just barely cracked open.

Oh, it was tempting to take it all for myself. I needed every last

pfennig to pay for the forged papers that would spring me from this hell. But this opportunity was too rich to pass up. The question was, could I pull it off?

I willed myself nimble and invisible, snaked my way through the

surging mass and took my spot. I waited. A cry rose from the mob. A

baby, clutched in its mother’s grasp, dangled from a third floor window. Now.

As light as air, I eased the woman’s wallet free and let it slip

halfway into Fenstermeir’s overcoat pocket. I took a soft step back

and gave a quick yank to her purse just as the crowd swallowed me up behind her. She looked down and screamed. “Theif!”

She grabbed her wallet from Fenstermeir’s pocket and pushed him

with all of her might. Someone grabbed him by the arm and twisted it

behind him. Brown Shirts pushed their way through and swarmed the

skinny rat. The baby fell from the window. Horrified gasps. Then cheers. A fireman held the unharmed baby up for all to see.

I drifted back. The battleship of a woman squeezed that poor child

nearly to death. The kid’s eyes were right on me. I gave him a quick wink and slipped away.


Three poems by Andrew Kuo

WRITING WHILE SICK Crushing airless like to call it a night shuffle over to Dirty Frank’s— whiskey and ice Rolling Rock— put my two ton head on a black table right after red wine— so the poor slob can tell me “Guy, you can’t sleep here,” and get my kick in the ass.



Grave of regrets. Ahistorical crossroads’ maze guardian daemon at each corner sucks out your life through a straw: averted faces, piss stained Broad Street Station, leaves your apartment burgled, face spat on. If after cashing out, sunshine looks clearer, laughter grows wilder, then you’re a real Philadelphian.


FOR EAST ASIANS THAT SAY, “WOW! YOUR FAMILY IS SO FAR AWAY!” These years every time my septuagenarian uncle sees me he asks, “Have you talked to your dad?” Shake my head.

Last Chinese New Year uncle tracked down dad in the snow.

Staked out apartment building, how long? Before slipping behind closing lobby door. “I talked to the Supe told me he’s in 311.”

He heard something inside. Uncle called, knocked, waited 5, 10, 15 minutes thinking of the years. Dad never answered.

You see a black sheep isn’t so much an animal it’s too touchy too fragile too human.


Megan Reither


After Van Gogh’s Le Moulin De Blute-fin, Montmartre

I can almost feel the cool, dry breeze kissing my cheeks And the hot rays of the sun on my scalp The man works faithfully in his green, luscious yard Enjoying the peaceful day. The sky is cloudless. Just a deep, sapphire, never-ending expanse That makes you long to disappear into its depths. But no, the man must stay and tend to his windmills. The wildflowers sway delicately in the slight breeze, Their sweet fragrance dancing daintily through the air as the man works. The flag of his nation flies proudly atop his roof, Flapping like a caged bird trying to break free. The windmills turn in infinite circles And the man is still there Eternally tending his yard.


Diane Nieves


I miss you like the wind in hot summer I miss you like the rain when the clouds fade I miss you like the snow in a warm spring Like the sun on a cloudy day Like the day you started to fade And I miss you like the day you left this place


Stupid Notebook Sakeema Payne

Tuesday, September 18th, 2012

Mr. Iland told me to write my thoughts in this notebook so I could bump my grade up. Said he wasn’t gonna read the entries, but was just gonna make sure that I wrote in half of it. That’s a lot. I don’t want to do this. Too much. Too much work. English is my native language, of course I know how to speak it. . . I don’t need any grade for that. Tuesday, September 25, 2012

I remember Hutchinson nervously pacing back and forth as he began to

speak. I don’t know why I’m here. I don’t know why I have to stay. No one cares about this school; him, the teachers, I don’t even think the students care. Marcel was texting on his phone the whole orientation. I guess the iPhone 5 is as good as any phone ever will be. The hype is real. Thursday, September 27, 2012

The world is going to end soon. I’m waiting for December to arrive. I’ll

be watching the New Year’s count down on the 31st, waiting for the whole world to just explode after everyone yells “1”. I heard people are killin’

themselves jumpin’ off of bridges and stuff now. If I die, I’ll just die. I’ve

lived 17 years; 11th grade sucks. My dad’s in the whole “always workin’,” and I never see my brother.

Monday October 1, 2012

Marcel is mad that they just made another iPhone—the 5S. To tell you the truth it looks much better than his. It’s slimmer and has a larger

screen. Well, I can’t afford it. I don’t even know how he can. Android for 72

life. Playin’ ball was good today. Varsity tryouts are coming up. Next February is going to be lit. I know Ima’ get on the team. Wednesday October 3, 2012

I’m sick of writing these journal entries. Teacher isn’t even going to look

at mine. I’m not even sure that he even knows my name. “The Motto” has been playing at least 3 times on the radio for the past week. I think I’m getting sick of Drake too. Ball is Life

Friday October 5, 2012

VS Tryouts, are next week and Marcel thinks he’s gonna make it to the NBA. Okay. What am I going to do? I can’t rap. I’m too slender to play

football. Maybe I can make it too. Yeah, yeah, I’m going to make it to the NBA!

Sunday October 7, 2012

Pops lost it last night. Got in an argument with Ty, who’s been gone for

how long. I wouldn’t like to be in either of their shoes. Ty gonna come to me like “Derreck, Der. . .how you doin’ lil’ bro? Can I hold a few dol-

lars?” No. Never. That’s why Im’a make it to the NBA. They’ll be no more worrying. No more worrying about rent. No more eating frozen dinners every night. No more pops. No more Ty.

Monday October 8, 2012

Some idiot thought it was okay to throw stink bombs in the hallway

today. Monday. Seriously? I think it was J’. Him and his crew must have been getting revenge, on the way he was treated last week. They sus-

pended him just for getting into an argument with a teacher. From what I heard, over plagiarism or something like that. He’s a great athlete though. Tryouts are tomorrow.

Thursday October 11, 2012

I don’t know if I made it. Don’t ask me. I attempted 12 layups and missed

about 6. I did pretty well on the suicide challenge. Ha. Suicide. 2012. Ha. 73

Let me stop.

Friday October 12, 2012

’Cels parents let me hang over tonight. We played 2K. His brothers

fought all night over some toy, and ’Cels mother, dad, and little sister cooked Carne Guisada. Food was good. Overall it was a good night. Bored

Monday October 15, 2012

Cutting class wasn’t the best decision. ’Cel wanted to hoop and I didn’t wanna go to Geography. Like I said no one cares about us anyway. Wednesday October 17, 2012

People are talking about this storm, Sandy, coming the East coast. Saw

on the news that people are leavin’ New York and Jersey. Glad I don’t live there, but Uncle Melvin does; wonder what he’s doin’. Saturday October 20, 2012

Pops is worried about the cable. He’s been payin’ for it for years but,

it’s goin’ up. He told me to get a job. I don’t want one though. I’m still a

kid, right? Does seventeen still even count? I have too many things to do

already!—stupid class, ball, and now this?! Naw, man. . . naw. . . . I mean— maybe I can try.

Monday October 22, 2012

That storm hit the EC pretty hard. I can’t believe people actually cleared that Times Square place. That place is always flooded with people. Still

haven’t’ called Uncle Melvin. I haven’t spoken to him in years. Still haven’t found a job. I’m thinkin’ about running away. No more school. No more pops. No more Ty. I need a fresh start. Poor

Tuesday October 23, 2012

I guess you can say I’m like every other Black person I know—poor.

Cable was cut off today. Still haven’t got a job. I applied though—to work 74

at Target. I hope I get it. I don’t even got a pair of Khaki’s but ’Cel might have some—with his spoiled self.

Wednesday October 24, 2012

Today we prepared for the CAHSEE. California High school Exit Exam—

or somethin’ like that. Herd they were gonna be pickin’ certain students out of their classes and putting them into special “CAHSEE classes” to

improve their chances of passin’ the test. From what I heard you gottta

pass it to graduate. So, even if you finished and got credits for all of your classes, if you don’t pass this test then you don’t graduate. That sucks. Friday October 26, 2012

Ty came home drunk tonight. What a poor excuse for a brother. What’s he gonna do with his life? 27 years old, and he hasn’t done anything to help himself. Let alone me or pops.

Saturday October 27, 2012

Went to play ball with ’Cel today. Didn’t do to well. I haven’t heard back from Target. They said I would get an email about a week from when I did the application. What’s the hold up? Seriously. Monday October 29, 2012

I made it!—I made the team. I’m happy—to tell you the truth. I feel different. Proud of myself. Practice starts next week.

Wednesday October 31, 2012

Halloween is for children.


Joshua Kala-Abrego


Invisible barrier I know it’s there Keeping me in Devoted to silence. What’s beyond the wall? I scope the empty skies Is it only me? Or is there another Beyond what I can cognize— Outside my grasp Teasing my helpless soul? All I can do Is enjoy what’s here In this bowl.


Joslyn Haygood


I hold my face in my two hands No I am not crying To keep the loneliness warm Two hands nourishing Two hands preventing My soul from leaving In anger


Nina Cestaro


Red glitter shoes music booms Bachata, Prince Royce, hips sway –side to side- monkey shoulder shimmy silver skirts swirl feels sexy,  confident sweet   beads of sweat surfacing hands out, together dancers move back center front  salsa embrace, eyes up,     thank the ancestors spectators’ love clap clapclap clap.


Dulce Gutierrez


Mind in the land of the Dream my father decided to leave to cross the deadly stream

Wall of deaths became his fate where the fight for opportunity is what America creates My father, 16 and no shoes our life to gain a country to lose “Mija” became sweetie and “hola” became hi assimilation hello and my culture goodbye

Now my goals are being reached in this land of dreams But I always remember what my dad had to teach: “Guadalupe is your religion and Spanish is your tongue always be proud of where your parents came from you are special, daughter of a survivor, with dark hair roots and caramel skin but not the immigrant, not the outsider” I am American As Mexican I seem With no fear I say I AM the Dream


Goodbye Peter Pan Pedro Perez


s I look back, I’m still not entirely sure why I was in the closet.

The best thing I can say is that I was overtaken by the energy and

curiosity of youth. I remembered from my last birthday that my Grandma always hid my presents in my uncle’s closet. Midway through the party, my uncle, Ernesto, mentioned that we were running low on soda, beer

and chips. I saw him pull Jenny, his fiancé, aside and ask her if she could quickly run to the store. She shook her head—after all, the store was a

thirty-minute drive from our home. He then kissed her earlobe and whis-

pered something that made her turn red. I decided that this would be my perfect opportunity to find those presents.

I started to follow my Uncle and his fiancé into the pearl-colored

living room. My grandma called for me, insisting that I say hello to my cousins, who came all the way from Salinas. Not wanting to upset my

grandma, I ran out of the living room. Behind me, I heard the slamming of a car door. Outside, standing on artificial grass, I shook my cousin’s

hand and listened as Jenny’s old Volkswagen started and drove away. I assumed that both she and Ernesto had left.

So there I was in my Uncle’s closet, eyelids peeled back with child-

hood curiosity and astonishment. My uncle, who was like my father fig-

ure, was kissing a woman that was not his fiancé. I was seeing something

pagan, something carnal, something that went over my little ten-year-old head. Two entwined bodies, one of them my uncle, fell into bed, land-

ing with a mixture of giggles and shameless moans. I had forgotten my 80

original mission, forgotten about my birthday present. The dust particles danced inside the cramped closet. I tried to pinch my nose, but I was too late; I sneezed, silencing the sounds of pleasure. Now I was going to be found out. I heard footsteps closing on the closet. I could make out my uncle’s tall figure coming closer to the closet’s vertical slit panels. He

walked purposely slow and slower towards me. The door opened and there I was exposed.

I saw his wolfish grin and pallid face and heaving chest covered

with auburn hair.

“Armando…” he pulled me out of the closet, I tried grasping a white

shirt of his that hung on a closet hanger. I didn’t want this to occur. I

wanted to go back into the closet. The woman arose from the bed, buttoned up her rose blouse and left the room without looking at us. My uncle looked proud. I felt anxious.

“Happy Birthday Armando. Every day you’re looking more and

more like your mother. How I wish Ester wasn’t in Jail. You know we all love you. Family is important.”

My uncle buttoned up his steel blue shirt. He leaned his face next

to mine and smiled. His eyes widened, almost like a hungry cat when he sees a lonely stupid mouse wandering by itself. He sat me on his satin sheet bed and told me to wait a minute, that he had a surprise for me.

He paced the room hung with ppictures of pop stars, half naked women, mini posters of paintings by Diego Rivera—a Casanova, as well, I would find out later in life—and a painting by my uncle, a multicolored Hum-

mingbird that hung oddly placed next to his bed. He remembered where the thing he looked for was hiding. He reached into the old heirloom

trunk, and pulled out a green hat with red trim at the edges and placed it

on my head. I moved my head. The hat smelled of moth balls and it didn’t fit. The hat fell onto the shaggy rug. I didn’t want it. He reached into his

pant pocket and took out his faux leather wallet, opened it, and gave my

chubby little hand a twenty-dollar bill. Before he left the room, he turned 81

to me and said, “Not a word to Jenny. She’s planning on giving you kite for your birthday. Oh, guess I spoiled it for you…. Jenny, loves you so much…she says you’re her favorite nephew.”

He closed the door and there I stood confused for a second. I felt

bad for Jenny. She was nice. She always smelled of honey chamomile,

and her personality was honey chamomile as well. She always helped

me with my homework. She would comfort me when I grew homesick

and when I missed my mother. She was more my mother than my actual

mother. I felt bad for two reasons: I felt bad for Jenny, who was the nicest person on earth—it was not her fault that my unfaithful uncle couldn’t

commit to her. Secondly, I felt bad because I would keep the money and remain silent.

I went into the living room, where some of my older female cousins

were hanging out with each other. I heard them say that they were forced to come to this party. They didn’t realize that it was me whose party

ruined their Saturday. Then they smelled the wafting aroma of carne asada beckoning them for over-indulgence. They got over themselves and

picked up their soda cans and walked out of the living room, through the kitchen, and finally into the backyard, laughing along the way, pointing out their lame outfits. They laughed like geese. I hated them.

I didn’t want to go outside. People entered the living room, smil-

ing at me, wishing me a happy birthday. Children passed through living

asking for the bathroom, laughing, running and having fun. I was lost in a daze of guilt and confusion. Jenny opened the door, carrying paper bags full of snacks. She placed them next to me and headed outside carrying

the 2-liter soda like a baby. She walked past me and she smelled of honey chamomile. She glowed there in the living room. She smiled and asked

me what I was doing here and that I should be out there because everyone’s having fun except for me.

I lied, somewhat. “I miss my mom,” I said.

There was this look on her face. A look I haven’t seen in years. A 82

look that requires total abandonment of ego, total vulnerability and concern. Actual concern. She was kinder than Mama. She didn’t need to say anything, give me anything, take me anywhere. She won me and all she did was listen.

She came over and brushed my hair with her hand. “Your mother

loves, dear. She did something wrong, because she was sick. But, Honey,

she loves you so much. If you close your eyes you can almost feel her energy, because love transcends all. It has no boundaries. Remember that.” I didn’t believe her, though I wanted to. She pulled me up. “C’mon, let’s go to Neverland,” she said whimsically. I didn’t move.

“Let’s go party, silly. I saw a table full of gifts waiting for you.” “I don’t want to. I’m scared.”

“Why? It’s only your family. Last time I checked they don’t bite.”

“Remember, Armando, the world may seem dark and cold. But in

those times where everything seems bleak and dismal, you always have family.” She petted my head. I felt heavy, heavy with guilt and helpless-

ness, like a poppy filled with seed that tried to stay up against the bullying wind.

Outside, everyone was having fun. Kids were running around

playing tag, screaming with glee and youth. Only their outlines could be

seen running against each other. I was sitting on a white picnic bench, my paper plate on the chipped picnic table, playing with my food. I looked to the sky and the trees were bending in the spring wind. Beyond the

towering trees, the deep blue sky carried some grey clouds. I wanted to cry. I wanted to laugh. I wanted to go inside. The day seemed to have a

day-glo tinge to it that made me feel dizzy. I felt as if I was wearing a veil

of adrenaline. Nothing made sense. Everything seemed distant. I felt dif-

ferent. While I was lost in thought, my grandmother managed to sit next to me. Her breath smelled of cilantro and lemons.

“You haven’t touch your food. If you don’t eat, we won’t open pres83


I laughed out loud. I was harboring a secret that no one knew. I held

a key to the secret garden that burned with rosy-red decadence. I didn’t want to; I didn’t want to be the vessel to a secret that made me feel so

old. I saw my uncle playing, or attempting to play, soccer with some of my younger cousins. The adults saw how fun it looked and decided to

join. There was a tussle about a play my uncle made. There was a heated argument with an older male relative who glared and called my uncle a

cheater. My uncle laughed and put his arm around the angered man. That seemed to calm the other man. They went back to playing soccer.

“That man is stupid. My Ernesto never cheats,” Grandma said as she

chomped into a taco. I just blinked.

“You know, you should aspire to be like your uncle. Not like your

mother. That girl always was a disappointment.”

I blinked again, suppressing tears. I never liked it when Grandma

talked about my mother. She never said anything nice about her. There was a tightness in my throat. It felt heavy with pebbles. I pushed the paper plate away.

The wolf in the garden suddenly appeared into my sight of vision.

He walked towards the picnic table.

“There you are my favorite nephew. I was looking for you.”

I smiled meekly. His façade had fallen. I knew now what I was

dealing with, that he was a person who enjoyed his hold on me. He made an announcement, which I believed was beer-influenced, about how I

was his favorite nephew and how he missed my mother. Then he asked

everyone to pray for my mother’s safety. Finally, he announced the date of his marriage with who he called his beautiful Jenny.

“It’s going to be before summer, at the end of May,” he said, howling

with happiness. I saw in the crowd the lady with the rose blouse. She

smiled and looked at me. In that moment she looked like a hungry aphid, and I was a rose. Her stare, her dirty look, was a look that said we are in 84

this together. It tore off a piece of my innocence, a petal of the figurative rose that was my youth. After my uncle’s marriage announcement, he

ended his talk with a joke. Everyone laughed and everyone went back to doing what they were doing. People eating, people dancing, people laughing, kids running around playing tag, music playing. My uncle

looked at me and smiled, revealing those canine teeth of his, and pulled Jenny and placed his arm around her waist and said, “Don’t we make a beautiful couple?”

I agreed, and, in the oppressive silence, I felt older. He made me feel




Sacramento Cornejo: Little Joshie, charcoal and graphite on paper


Victor Sanchez: Bella, digital photo

Lawrence Buford: Malcolm X, gypsum cement 88

Stephanie Gomez: Overthinking, mixed on paper 89

Erica Walton


The snowfall brings an eerie silence One that calms you It humbles you It marvels you Your joy is that of a child’s on Christmas day The evergreens stand delicately decorated in white Even the rotting logs are perfect under this blanket Tears come to your eyes You are full of wonder Your boots crunch into the icy terrain It is the only sound Your wonder begins to fade

The silence that once marveled you scares you It is not the snow that freezes you It is your mind Your fears hidden by guarded thoughts cannot be sealed away Not here In what you thought was a serene landscape you find chaos You are consumed Guilt Failed ambitions Loss These tear away at your soul Piece by piece

You lay upon the ice bed Gazing at the empty sky You and the sky share that quality Yet you are a storm inside

Stay in your mind, friend Do not lose yourself within your deafening thoughts 90

Tahji Merchant


I feel the air shifting Ballet shoes gliding

My child’s soul hiding

While all alone he’s there

The phantom silently stares As I twirl through the night I wish to fly like a kite

Don’t hurt me dearly tonight

While all your fears give you fright I’m singing you a song my dear My amour you’re near

Sweet phantom hold me tight For this is our last night

Light peaks through the shadows Our world slowly disappears As I shed a single tear

Because my phantom’s no longer here


Ty Norman


Dreams filled the serene air Were replaced with a blaring, boisterous beep Staring at the asbestos covered ceiling Becomes scrolling on a harsh LED screen Impractical information siphoned through the eyes Like viscous motor oil Facades as pertinent mental nutrition But slowly poisoning viewers With pseudo-knowledge Breakfast was no different Milk from cows not treated with rBST But fed with grains teeming with pesticides Cereal coated in refined corn syrup glaze Crackled like biting into a styrofoam peanut Fruit set in amber-esque wax Preserved long beyond its natural shelf life Silverware sterilized with chemicals Residue left for later ingestion

The commute was no different Drivers crammed the roadways Pushing through like crabs in a bucket Respirated air from dirty filters Cost effectively left unchanged While secreting rancid fluids And belching lethal chemicals One could almost see The fumes wafting through open car windows Upward to the nostrils of bystanders Work was no different Superiors administered projects Incessant demands for more


Used would sooner rot than sell New must be oxygen The necessity never questioned Buried under reams of paper Nonchalantly touching nature’s death Can’t remember the last time trees were noticed or touched Home was no different Showered to clean the stench Washed hair with shampoo leaving plastic coat Tiredly lumbered to a germ-riddled couch Sprayed with fragrant aerosol Dust and crumbs clung to damp skin Bacteria clambered onto slothful flesh Another electronic screen turned on The room filled with blue synthetic light Television was no different Anchors done up to entice viewers Headlines presented to confuse them Important messages worded deceitfully Transitioned to tales of heroic pets Comedies filled with canned laughter Or melodramas written for housewives All are interrupted to remind you to spend That money of your lifesavings

Everything is different In years prior goods were made to last Food was made to heartily sustain, not entertain Information was presented for your benefit Sleep must be aided with medicines and essential oils Now drowning in choices, we lose our joy Think for yourself Create something authentic Relish your life


Eloine Chapman

THE BELLS OF TIME If only I could grasp the ropes

that pull this life and stop the bells of time.

I could stay frozen in a moment of choosing forever. I would never need to look over my shoulder because the present would always be and memories would always stay

and never fade to something untrue.

But alas the rope does slip and burns the hands as the bells of time do ring

and how they chime and chime and chime.


Victor Sanchez: Silent Prayers, digital photo 95

Lawrence Buford: Malcolm X, bronze 96

Robert Brown


yo life is a struggle a strife this I know I’ve had my hard times but life goes on so u rolled the dice an u were dealt a bad hand yea I know it’s a struggle an u fall on hard times and u think it’s the end of the world but it’s not people not seeing a hot age making minimum wage but life goes on an it doesn’t stop for no one life isn’t about the pretty flowers or rainbows but it’s about how hard of it u can take and still be able get back up because life will knock u down Hard and u won’t be able to get back up man all I can say is this live life to the fullest like there’s no tomorrow life goes on


Jeannette Chiappone

100 M

crack blast drive drive drive push drive push drive push drive lift drive lift drive rise rise rise fly

push glide fight drive claw glide rip drive maul glide crush drive kill glide gut drive lunge release ROAR unspool

stagger kneel breathe stand bask

breathe LAUGH

breathe walk

b r e a t h e 98


Sina A. is a student at CCC. She has a special interest in photography and enjoys capturing the beauty of nature around us. Wilfredo Andrade is a student at CCC. His photo was taken on a Canon Rebel t5i and was then edited on an editing application called Fisheye, which was how the crystal ball effect was achieved.

Joshua Abrego is a psychology student/writer/martial artist attending LMC. His ultimate mission is to help people create their own meaningful life. He’s a fiend for learning and building his tool belt with the latest discoveries in psychology. In his spare time, he loves taking life one second at a time, enjoying stargazing and winding down with his family. One day, he wants to explore the world and become a semi-master in everything, ranging from cooking to reading body language to jamming on the guitar. Aida Agaeva is a student at LMC.

Isaac Arriaga is a student at DVC and LMC. He has loved film his entire life, so he is studying it at DVC while taking GE classes at LMC. He hopes to someday write, direct, and act in his own big screen films, but for the time being he makes short films. Everything he writes about, he first envisions as a film and then he either writes it as a script, short story, or poem. Tiffany Brooks is a student at CCC majoring in business administration. Robert Brown is a student at LMC.

Lawrence H. Buford is currently taking a class at CCC. The focus of his practice is the study of the human form. He interprets the body in his drawings and sculptures. He resides in the Napa valley, and he worked as a lithographer prior to retiring. Azahara Carter is a student at LMC who began writing poetry for fun and designing greeting cards for family and friends at an early age. She was first published in 1993. Her poem, “Bringing Hope to a Hopeless World,” was featured in A Woman’s Anthology,the third annual multicultural anthology of women’s art and literature. Over the past decade, she has worked in alternative medicine and holistic health. She self-published, 99

My Journey to the Fountain of Youth in 2012. Currently, Azahara is working on a one-woman show that delves into the life of the reinvented version of herself, “Welcome to Azi’s World.”

Nina Marie Cestaro, a student at CCC, resides in Richmond, CA. She is a poet, swimmer, and singer. She works with inner city youth as an afterschool instructor teaching dance and multimedia arts. She earned a B.A. in Ethic Studies and Dance at UC Berkeley. She has lived in New York, Texas, and California, and has visited eight countries and was born in Bogota’, Colombia. Eloine Chapman is a web administrator at LMC. Jeannette Chiappone is a student at CCC. Sacramento Cornejo is a student at CCC.

Mary Frances Crabtree, a CCC student, says that drawing is the basis for all of her work, both as an artist and as an art instructor in a city of Concord sponsored multi-level class for youth.

Sabian Cuevas is a student at LMC who enjoys writing poetry and fiction. He is currently working on the first book in a series of novels he plans on writing. Mariah Jade Elizabeth Daniels, a student at LMC, wants to share her story, express her passion, and spark feeling in others. Darlene Delos Santos is a student at LMC.

Anaclara DeMatos is a student at LMC. Many of her pieces explore the human body in surrealistic scenarios in which organic aspects seen in nature are woven into the composition in a way to hold the viewer’s attention. In an attempt to create metaphors of feminist ideas and personal struggles as they clash with the morals of today’s society, each piece reveals a different struggle and how the figure embraces it. Most influences come from personal experiences that impact her, which she attempts to capture in her art metaphorically. This piece was the first of a series of 12, which she made last year for her high school AP art concentration, which received one of the highest scores in the world. Cindy Diaz is a student at CCC.


Rachel Garcia is a student at LMC. She will graduate this year with an Associate degree in Anthropology. Her work is inspired by her loving relationship. She is thankful for Titan for all the light he has brought into her life.

Stephanie Gomez is a first-generation college honors student at LMC. As a studio arts major, her educational objective is to transfer to a four year institution to further enhance the skill set she has already acquired, and to expand her knowledge on new techniques. Her art practice consists of incorporating realism, abstraction, and psychological components. Her primary subject is the human figure. While she enjoys working with a variety of media, drawing is her strength. Her goal is to cultivate her artistic identity and refine her personal artistic style. She wants to be a studio artist, working each day doing what she is passionate about. She envisions herself eventually working as a studio arts professor at an institution of higher education, teaching, influencing and inspiring aspiring artists who have goals to reach for their artistic purpose and identity.

Dulce Guadalupe Gutierrez is a student at LMC. She is a Latina pursuing a degree in science. Poetry is something she loves doing in her free time. She has heard the stories of struggle of many who come to America. These stories inspired her to write “Dream.” Her piece is dedicated to her mom and dad. Joslyn Haygood is a student at LMC.

Andrew Kuo graduated from Sarah Lawrence College and San Jose State. He works at the CCC library, and he loves his job! His poems have been published in three online literary magazines. His poems deal with a variety of subjects, including family, work, time, death and love–some of the parts and pieces that knit together what we consider reality. Brandon Lawson is studying accounting at LMC. He has written many kinds of works over the years—poems, short stories, and even a book, which he hasn’t published yet. His strong suit is storytelling. He has his own website where he shows his work: Cody Lewis is a student at LMC.

Alea Faith Martin is a student at LMC pursuing her degree in marketing and advertising. Writing poetry is her passion. She has always wanted to 101

share her work with the world. Her writing is inspired by Robert Frost and Lisa Ann Sandell. 

Ariel McIntyre is a third year student at LMC. She is in the process of getting an AA in Theater Arts and Acting and transferring next year. She is currently writing her first one act play, and she helped to write a full play which will be performed by students at LMC in May. When she isn’t writing, she enjoys acting silly on stage for audiences and playing copious amounts of video games as well as waiting patiently for the newest episodes of Game of Thrones with her cats, Tyrion and Daenerys. Jules Patrice Means is an Honor student at LMC majoring in Administration of Justice and Psychology. She has a passion for taking photos of beautiful landscapes.   Tahji Merchant is a student at LMC. She says that reality is a box, imagination rules. Jeffrey Michels is an English professor at CCC. Garry Moore is a student at DVC and CCC.

Diane Nieves is a student at LMC. She has enjoyed reading books since she was young. She started writing poetry in high school, and her favorite poet is Edgar Allen Poe. Ty Norman is a student at LMC who writes occasionally and wishes it was better. Procrastination usually destroys the flow.

Sakeema Payne is a Communications major at CCC. She will graduate this May, and will attend San José State University in Fall of 2016 to major in Advertising and minor in Film Production. Payne is a lover of art, politics, and civil rights activism. Find her on social media at @spaynefilms.

Pedro Perez is a student at CCC. He fell in love with reading as a child, and he discovered creative writing as a teen. As an adult, he finally decided to write. His stories have a slight tinge of fantasy but they are mostly reality-based. He blends influences of folklore and contemporary writing. HIs road to writing is new and his only goal is to entertain you. Please stay tuned for more. Joanna Perry-Folino is a full time Drama and Film Professor at LMC. She 102

was recently accepted into the weekend MFA program in Film and TV Production with a social justice component at Mount Saint Mary›s University in Los Angeles. Most of her photographs are taken on her daily hike with her rescue dog Brando. She lives in a 100-year-old cottage in the Berkeley Hills with deep gratitude for all she’s been given. Gabriel Quiroz is a student at CCC.

Megan Reither is a sophomore English Major at LMC. She was published once before in her high school’s literary magazine and has won a few awards over the years for writing. She currently lives in Antioch with her family and their two Boston Terriers, and she has plans to transfer after the fall semester.

Victor Sanchez is passionate about creating beauty that is found hidden in the heart of a vivacious stroke of color. The words that one can paint to express layers of unfolding emotions fascinate him. He feels that it is his purpose to give his art a voice through paint or any type of media. Currently, he is a student at CCC studying Psychology in pursuit of a career in the mental health field as an Art Therapist. He is so excited to share a bit of his heart that is painted in each of these pieces! Gabriella Santos draws for fun. She finds inspiration for what to draw on Instagram, taking screenshots of things she finds interesting. She is a graphic design major at LMC and wants to work at Pixar in the future. Aimee Stalker is a student at LMC who will graduate in May. She will be applying to the LVN program and is a mother of 3 beautiful kids.

Erica Walton is a full time student at LMC. She is a novice writer and enjoys both science and art. She hopes to one day get a degree in Marine Biology.



Contra Costa Community College District is committed to equal opportunity in educational programs, employment, and campus life. The District does not discriminate on the basis of age, ancestry, color, disability, gender, marital status, national origin, parental status, race, religion, sexual orientation, or veteran status in any access to and treatment in College programs, activities, and application for employment.

The Optimist  

Contra Costa Community College District Writers & Artist

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