We Are Here Havik 2022
The Romantic Loss of Freedom Painting
Delta NA Asti
Staff Advisors Editor-In-Chief and Senior Visuals Editor Sagurika Ujjual Senior Prose Editor and Senior Designer Courtney Miranda Assistant Advisor Senior Poetry and Experimental Editor Prose Editors
Nolan Shay Design Mentor
Sapeda Kaviyani Lindsey Maddalon Kayla Martinez Mary Rose Eunhee Soh Colin Walker Justin Garza Maeven Angela Pineda Sagurika Ujjual Taiyari White
Melissa Korber Martin Nash Peter Zimmer Jennifer Katherine Snook
Sponsors Thank You!
Las Positas College Foundation
Titanium Hawk Richard Dunbar and Catherine Suárez The Office of the President
Gold Hawk California Writers Club Tri-Valley Branch
Silver Hawk Sama Yarki Ujjual Kandothankandy Anonymous
Bronze Hawk Trish McAfee Gina Martinez
Acknowledgements Our deepest thanks to the following people, who took the time to volunteer as judges to select our award winners. Fiction Judge Richard Dry
Visual Art Judge Dave Wagner
Creative Nonfiction Judge Michelle Cruz Gonzales
Experimental Works Judge On-staff Experimental Editors
Poetry Judge Toby Bielawski
Academic Nonfiction Judges Courtney Miranda Peter Zimmer
We would also like to thank Charlotte Severin for presenting and sponsering the Lydia Wood Awards for place in fiction and poetry
David A. Wright the original founder of Havik (then the "Chabot College Valley's Visions and Values") in 1978
All contributors retain copyright ownership of the content they create, including prose, verse, photographs, illustrations, cartoons, and all other work. Havik retains the right to use material in all forms in perpetuity
Letter from the Editor Working on this issue of Havik has truly been an adventure. Through compiling the works in these pages, we have traveled to distinct regions of the globe and lived, if only for a minute, so many different ways of living. For me, putting together this book has at times felt like stumbling in the dark, feeling for the light switch. Some days have been chaos, pure havoc. On other days, they have been some of the best and most enlightening moments of my week. We decided on the title Havik: We Are Here after a beautiful work of art that is published in this journal, and because of the several layers of meaning the phrase contains. “We are here” can mean whatever you want it to mean. Though the world around us has changed drastically in these past few years, we are here, still. For those who have had their voices shut down time and time again, the words “we are here” speak differently. In whatever context you choose, “we are here” has the ability
to mean something to anyone. This issue of the journal is really something special. It contains flavors of local art from the Bay Area, as well as works from gifted artists from across the globe, from Italy to Nigeria, and from Poland to Malaysia. The committed students and advisors in this class are truly what transformed the idea of this anthology into a reality. And, of course, there would be no book at all if not for our incredibly talented contributors. I initially joined the journal with absolutely no expectations. I just wanted to create something and be a part of something bigger. Somewhere along the way I became Editor-In-Chief and I have had the time of my life working on Havik. It has also truly been an honor getting to create alongside our dedicated team and brilliant contributors. So, to all the readers out there, I hope you love reading this book as much as we loved putting it together. Sagurika Ujjual Editor-In-Chief
Index First Place Fiction Knots Jefferey Spivey - Page 133
First Place Visual Art Moonlight Aydin Ermolaev - Page 55
First Place Poetry The Birdwatcher JC Reilly - Page 159
Second Place Fiction The Broken and Wounded Kerri-ann Torgersen - Page 115
Second Place Visual Art Jellies Monique Rardin Richardson - Page 48
Second Place Poetry Louisiana Childhood John Grey - Page 5
Third Place Fiction Red Woods Shelby Hicks - Page 29
Third Place Visual Art Frogive Me V Merritt - Page 122
Third Place Poetry Penelope's Sestina Tyler Olcese - Page 103 Honorable Mention Poetry Who Should Have Come First Monique Rardin Richardson - Page 66
Honorable Mention Fiction Going to Look for Andesua Michael Chiedoziem Chukwudera Page 170
First Place Creative Non-Fiction What Did You Learn in School Today? Charles Braithwaite - Page 1 Second Place Creative Non-Fiction Forgiving South Park: Growing Up with Red Hair John Leeper - Page 67 Third Place Creative Non-Fiction The Quiet Room Kayla Sabella Weaver - Page 177
Edgar Allen Poe and the Telemarketer Maureen Mancini Amaturo - Page 148 First Place Experimental I See Engagement Photos on Social Media Samantha Steiner - Page 109
First Place Academic Presidential Debates Are Misinformation: How Presidential Candidates Lie To Win Elections Daniel Santoyo — Page 207
Marian Cronin 47
Adewuyi Ayodeji The Law has Regained her Sight 3 7 Ajasoro 12 Gaa! 14 Yelu Kiera Baron pollen dripping from my fingers 47 Matthew Berg 17 89 Anita Bergh 39
Taking A Trip A Voice British Columbia
Patricia Boyle Observations of a Silent Bystander 159 Naomi Capacete We Could Have Been a Poem 107 Ravichandra Chittampalli Keeping Faith 10 17 Notes from Darjeeling 152 Voracious Lyndsey Coleman how i loathe my love 110 151 Not Everything Is Poetry
The Green Door
Shahriar Danesh 146 IDIOT RC deWinter 59 trainspotting 90 recombination a semi-lighthearted look at 113 love online On Rodents, Death, Free Will and 169 Whatever Eve Dineva 143
My Heart-Shaped Bruise
Linda Drattell 50 Compassion 110 The Who That You Are 147 I Imagine Him Saying Thank You Donna Faulkner née Miller The Pacific 36 97 Lost Rumours of Necessaria Morte Mori 169 175 Talking Out Loud Antoinette Foxworthy 84
Justin Garza 99
Katerina Constantinides 61 Loneliness 127 Why
Tim Gnazale 56
Brad Croft 100
Caleb N. Gonsalves 59 63 148
Littered Thoughts Community Ashtray Poetic Patterns
John Grey 5 Louisiana Childhood 87 One Last Tour Of The Old Family Home Courting Whatshername 104 113 In A Singles Bar David Grubb 43
Uprooted to Full Avail
Mark Hammerschick Permafrostedness Rising 87 105 Looking Beyond the Imperfections Constance Hanstedt Dear Jack Kerouac 24 100 Devotion Montana Kleist 161 Eternal Henry Kneiszel November 13th: 9 oclock show 81 Tyra Belle Lechner The Beach off Route 66 36 74 The Ascent Rachelle M 159
The Fun of Birds
Jeffrey MacLachlan Crystal Lake Art Contest 6 Maureen Mancini Amaturo Edgar Allan Poe And The 148 Telemarketer Lucas Martin 65
Elham Mausumi 74
The Better Evil
Effie McDaniel 97 My Loveliest Transgression Kathleen Moore 7 Junior 176 RIP Clark Morrow 45 The Goddess in the Garden Jesse Naranjo 97 Onyeka Ndukwe 99
8:25 Post Meridiem To The Dearly Departed
Lance Nizami 5 Warming Aaron Nobes 121 Chores Tyler Olcese 39 63 103
Beautiful, Cold Comforting Thoughts Penelope's Sestina
Rose Owens 158 Seeing Mary Pacifico Curtis Where White Corn Grows 21 24 Legacy of Thirty-Seven Acres Carl "Papa" Palmer 144
A Party Line
Victor Pambuccian 54 conversation about the moon 66 the darkness of nights alone
henry 7. reneau, jr. What Amerikkka Looks Like Posing as an 9 Invisible Friend
Jilli Penner 81 105
Sarah Riensche 158 Mirage
David Peterson 100 113
Revert to Previous Save Beautiful Denial Facets Of Beauty Unrequited Love
Francesca Piazza 114 Sick Marie-Anne Poudret 149 To Wrue Or Not To Wrue Lizzy Rager 65 Tennis Court: ADHD Inside the Mind Kimberly Ramos 104 What Now Lies Between Us 176 six weeks // heartbeat Monique Rardin Richardson 66 Who Should Have Come First 89 Pieces of Me Abbey Lynne Rays 56 Hunger Moon Rising 56 My Shadows Avoid the Hedonic Treadmill, 143 A Guide to What You Need: 147 Forgiveness 173 Funeral Attire JC Reilly 84 Looking Back on Early Days 159 The Birdwatcher
Gratia Serpento 152 Watch Sara Sherr 69
Curly Hair Pantoum
Finnley Silveria 64 Letter to my younger flesh 90 Cracks 111 Truce 114 Rapture Bobbi Sinha-Morey 68 Eunhee Soh 161 Matthew Taylor 149 158 Kerri-ann Torgersen 86 108 Sagurika Ujjual 61 Emma Wells 8
A Joy I Once Knew Death Valley Floods stolen paper if you find me The Ruins Nosferatu’s Bride Walking Home Alone Dear Putin,
Steven O. Young Jr. 10 Know 41 The Curtain 93 Estrella 94 Amanecer 160 Swan and Loon Daniel J. Zyzniewski Farewell to a Stranger Friend in the 58 Darkness of Sunny Day
Adrian Gabriel 18 Shelby Hicks 29 Thais Jacomassi 153
Roadtrip to Eden Red Woods
Samantha Steiner I See Engagement Photos on Social 109 Media Jake Zawlacki and Sara Hardin 85 Let's be blunt.
Follow Me as Far as I Go
Maureen Mancini Amaturo When Lizzie Borden Went on a Date With 128 James Bond
Carol Edson 162
Charles Braithwaite 1 What Did You Learn In School Today?
London March 70 Now 76 Maggie
Aydin Ermolaev 55 Moonlight 91 Lost In a Dream
Eric Funk 46 Normally
Jefferey Spivey 133 Knots
John Leeper Forgiving South Park: Growing Up With 67 Red Hair
Kerri-ann Torgersen The Broken and Wounded 115
Xiao Faria daCunha 49 79 80
Kayla Sabella Weaver 177 Gracie Schwenk 163
The Quiet Room The Loon's Nest
Fiction Michael Chiedoziem Chukwudera 170 Going to Look for Adesua Russel Doherty 139
Marco Etheridge 108 Heart's Double Labyrinth
Colin Walker 131
Experimental David Grubb 82 TP'd Donald Guadagni 96
Halsey Hyer 1-800-230-PLAN, Conversation with my Gynecologist after my Third Miscarriage 123
Spiritual Awakening Resolved In Time Unknown of Ages
Donna Faulkner née Miller 168 Failed at Flight Caleb N. Gonsalves 57 Underground Shelby Hicks 174
Japanese Ceremonial Tea
Beverly Joyce 37 38
Boston Mills Brecksville Steeple
Carolyn Lord 178
Rachelle M 22
Juice Box Junkie
V Merritt Stay, don't go, let's be roses in the rain 112 122 Forgive Me 156 Always Watching Hide and Seek 157 Monty Milne 101 Delta NA 40 60 92 95
Blue Angel Sunrise The romantic loss of freedom Free the trees Flowing in dreams Dream in the wood
JESSE NARANJO 102
Joseph Peralta 25 A Cloud Outside Stockton David Peterson 16 On The Road 106 Couple 150 Cuban Musician Monique Rardin Richardson 35 Telegraph Ave. 48 Jellies 62 Lost Petals Carole Salerno 11 28 44 98
New Beginnings Family Jewels A Bee's Paradise Heaven Can Wait
Elani Scott 145
Hacky Sack Study
Tomislav Silipetar 75
WE ARE HERE
Eunhee Soh 42 Door Edward Supranowicz 4 Things Go Sideways 88 Abandoned Cities Kathleen URBAN 23 Serenity in Mendocino 132 Samurai Cynthia Vargas 34 179
SF Memories Oblivious Grace
Patrick Whipple 15 Sol Lucet 26 Manifest Destiny 27 Lineage
Academic Letitia Cortes 188
Count Your Blessing
Jordalin Jenkins Black Women and Their Position in 185 Contemporary Politics LJ March 194
Evolution of Feminist Art
Kevin O’Brien A “Cathedral” Issue in Society; Silent but 180 Toxic
Lizzy Rager Fentanyl and Opioid-Drugs Research Paper: Biochemistry, Overdose, and the 198 Pandemic Dorian Sanchez 191 Education Equity Through Funding Stephanie Suarez 210 Starting Over Somewhere New Angela Traugott 203 Housing Segregation in the Bay Area Daniel Santoyo Presidential Debates Are Misinformation: How Presidential Candidates Lie To Win 207 Elections
What Did You Learn In School Today? Non-Fiction - First Place
Oceanside, California, USA
Listen to your child He really knows a lot, He’ll tell you where he’s been Maybe show you what he’s got, He’ll love and hate and cry And fill you deep with wonder, So, ask him why and why Then listen for the thunder. How many times did you come home from school and your mom or dad asked you, “What did you learn in school today?” You might answer, “We did multiplication,” or “We studied George Washington,” or “We read 'The Legend of Sleepy Hollow.'” My first school years were in Charleston, West Virginia. As a first-grader, I attended Fernbank Elementary School. I rode the city bus to school and my mom handed me a dime every morning to give to the bus driver. I can’t imagine sending a six-year-old off to school that way today. Was West Virginia somehow safer those many years ago? I credit Fernbank Elementary for providing an education that transcended traditional “Reading, Writing, and Arithmetic.” It was January 1957, and when we returned to class from Christmas break our teacher instructed us to rearrange our desks into a new seating plan. Well, moving our desks around seemed kind of fun,
and it was definitely better than studying English. But, there was one curious thing. It seemed that we had more desks than before. I counted forty-nine desks, but we only had forty students. Then our teacher began making seat assignments. The desks were arranged in a block matrix of seven desks by seven desks. One by one all forty students were assigned to a new location. At the conclusion of the seating assignments, one thing became perfectly clear. There were nine empty desks in the center of the forty-nine desk matrix. Everybody looked at each other with that classic first grader “What the hell?” look. The teacher did not share the logic of this arrangement with us but proceeded to our regular school lessons. All our questions were answered about an hour later. The classroom door opened and two uniformed policemen marched into our room. Behind them was an entourage that included the school principal, district superintendent, four men wearing wool suits, and one very nervous black first grade boy. He wore a white shirt, black pants, a brown sports jacket, and a bright red bow tie. Our class sat in stunned silence, not so much because of the new student, but “Why the hell are the police here?” And then the arrangement of the desks was finally explained. The two policemen escorted the new first grader to his desk. He was placed in the center of the block
of nine desks so that he would not sit next to any white kid. There was a buffer of empty desks completely surrounding him. The indignity did not end there. From his center point in the classroom, he was clearly visible to the teacher at all times. Many times, the teacher would ask a question of the class and wait for raised hands before picking a student. Never once in the entire semester did she call on him, even though he energetically waved his arm almost every time. Our school was very old and had internal fire escape slides on the second floor. We had frequent fire drills and it was exciting to slide down the inner structure of the school and out to the playground. We were trained to line up in an orderly fashion according to our desk position and wait our turn to go down the chute. There was a new exception; our new student would always be last in line to escape. Grownups can be so evil. I never noticed that people were white or black, until that day. That integration stunt at Fernbank School provided a lifelong lesson about racism, segregation, and integration. I don’t think the Board of Education intended for that lesson to be on the curriculum. But they really laid it out for forty-one students that day. Over the years, I have re-visited that experience many times. As an adult, I’ve shared it with my parents, friends, and children. But what gnaws at me is this one question: “What was the effect of that
day on that innocent black six-year-old, who was thrust into the spotlight of racial prejudice?” He is the same age as me. I wonder if that day made him forever angry, resentful, and full of hate. You couldn’t blame him if he grew up with a chip on his shoulder. I hope that he did find a pathway filled with peace, happiness, and contentment. When I got home that day, my parents did not ask me, “What did you learn in school today?” I can’t imagine what I would have answered if they did.
The Law has Regained her Sight Poetry
Ilorin, Kwara State, Nigeria
Behold a useless old man gadding about like a squid one who should take control of the home one with whom should be entrusted the security of babies why turn yourself to a parasite why become a lawless person in town? One who defies justice is just a tiny being before God despite your conspicuous misdemeanor, your audacity is superb you make all girls empty barrels you make them walking corpses with coercion do you strip them naked heartlessly do you force your ever erected thing in their privates. You useless old man behold the teen girl you just defiled yet you dare the law to bring you to book you say the law is too weak to wrestle with you the law is a cowardly being in your presence your reason for harassing the female gender? Is this a spell or over-indulgence? You are stronger than the law
the law bends in awe before you the law becomes a fool she looks on vainly the powerful can dare the law, a nonentity dare not. The law was one strong, blind woman with a steady grip of her sharp sword routinely, closely trailing lawless people to strike the powerful opened her eyes and here she revels in their garden her sword in good possession of the powerful, so they parry it effortlessly. Woman, you jerk uncomfortably in the garden hearing fellow women groan in pain lose your vision forthwith, seize your sword from the powerful and strike this useless old man first. Of what value is law if it can’t cow anarchy?
Things Go Sideways Digital Art
Edward Supranowicz Lancaster, Ohio, USA
Poetry - Second Place
Johnston, Rhode Island, USA
He’s out there among the fireflies and the leaf hoppers, grabbing at those pesky insects as they zip by but always too late. Or he’s riding his bike beyond his father’s warnings, to the edge of the swamp where alligators bask on floating islands and mosquitoes go on a rampage whenever they spy flesh. Or he’s somewhere in his yard listening in on the conversations between the grownups on the front step.
Bedford, Massachusetts, USA
Or he’s in a parlor chair, bent forward, chin on palms, engrossed in the action on a black and white screen that’s so tiny, it’s engulfed by the console that surrounds it.
The air feels thick to my lungs We suck it in; the heat-wave’s here So, welcome to the New West; it’s hotter, dryer now
He knows nothing about Rosa Parks or James Meredith or Emmet Till or George Wallace or Vietnam. It’s the Sixties but with the Sixties shut out.
Hotter, dryer; more polluted, too; so, welcome to the New West – Welcome, year-round pollen in the air, the micro-turbulence Welcome, all you New Asthmatics, smoke will kill you faster here
It’s childhood. It’s an assignment and he can’t get out of it.
Trees are fallen, sooty, blackened No leaves left, here; no green left, just char
Or he’s cloistered in his room, in summer heat, sneaking a peek at his older brother’s skin mag.
The American West Now watch it burn by inches
If not the forest fires, then noxious “substances” – all smoked by hippie immigrants So, welcome to the West; west-of-country, west-of-continent, of planet; Western – A boy rides by, his bike-wheels spinning; huffing, puffing, heading East.
Crystal Lake Art Contest Poetry
Jeffrey MacLachlan Decatur, Georgia, USA
Honorable Mention This is an exhibit for local folk hero Jason Vorhees. This is his face as harvest moon. His feet are black waves punting the mask's reflection to the doomed shore. Zoom into the corner and notice a tiny girl on the dock mimicking the autumn satellite. She suffers from a hip subluxation like the artist's niece. Third Place Jason at Thanksgiving. His mother died decades ago and thus is welcomed by neighbors. He senses death all around him—football, turkey, blurred immigrant portraits. The older the slaughter, the more it's festively celebrated. His patented machete delivers a ritual incision slicing dark meat for consumption. Second Place Jason Jefferson overseeing empty Monticello. Sally is the last girl on the plantation as she flees nearly disrobed. In the surrounding woods, backwater whites wait in matching hockey masks. The title is "American Birth." First Place Civil Rights Jason in four panels spoofing Where's Waldo? He holds Bull's horned head atop his machete to the Selma sun as a beef offering. To the right are firehoses cycloning machetes at drenched demonstrators, only one of which is Stokely. Below is Chef Vorhees ignoring black patrons in a packed diner. To the left, Malcolm X stands with Jason X as comrades. Waldo and his grinning spooks search for pistols in their pleasant denim.
Ilorin, Kwara State, Nigeria
Danville, California, USA
Gidigbo gidigbo...run for your life. The Ugbo have come to maim and slay. No soul's safe! The running helter-skelter had begun. Children were orphaned, women made widows, able-bodied men enslaved in broad daylight. Balogun stealthily quivered - head of warriors but ensorcelled. Not cowardly. The Ugbo invaders brandished a mystic power. Balogun's hereditary quivers oddly neutralized by these Ugbo sorcerers. The Ugbo were demigods; no human clout could uncover the secret of their fire-spitting masquerades: Ife deities as overpowered as the humans. These raids of Ile-Ife would not cease. The most powerful woman had been captured Moremi Ajasoro, wife of the great Oranmiyan ensnarled. Her bravery caused her slavery and the news of her calamity hurled lingering stillness at Yoruba race. Oranmiyan, heir to Oduduwa, must be restive in his grave. But her medicinal acumen had endeared her to the Ugbo. The Ugbo king could not resist her charm and revealed secrets of their powers. ‘So the Ugbo are humans!’ the Ife warriors shrieked. The conquest of the Ugbo came with a fulfilment of a promise - an offering to the spirit of Esimirin river. If the spirit needed a hundred goats, Moremi would pay. Should it request for a hundred rams, she would joyfully offer. But her only child was the spirit's demand. Olurogbo was the Christ of the time. Moremi summoned Mary's courage her son had to atone for the sin of his people.
The son Of the son Coddled by greed Hears a rallying cry From the right – Kid shoulders his gun Just like he’s been taught God’s only begotten son Wants him to Arms himself against Migrants, the poor, and the lame Arms himself against love – Shuns the light He’s only a kid, Too young to know how His fate has been sealed With a kiss and a curse His soul sold for glory & gold – Forged under a white-hot sun
Dear Putin, Poetry
Dear Putin, I hope this finds you well when so many others are not so: fumbling, stumbling for life ribbons that were once sturdy knots: they spin now in stormy skies mere tassels, remnants of before where golden sands, cerulean skies mirrored as the Ukrainian flag. Stop.
You must surrender, sheltering in shame.
Hold fire. Hold attacks. Cease invading.
Stop. Let them breathe easy returning to purer climes where air was sweeter, not laced with putrid fumes leaving dank, copious smudges of dirty, corrupt war as inverted stamps going nowhere.
Millions of mouths tell you to yet the invasion continues forcing loved ones to part, animals to roam wild, families to fracture like shattered porcelain vases too displaced to be glued, tied again into a pivotal knot.
Babies cry for fathers whom may not return; women hold guns: both quick to defend kin, country, customs, patriotism as is moral, righteous, fair.
Soldiers die to save: one man exploding a bridge and his own mortal shell to stop your venomous spikes. He is a true hero. Stop. Medallions bedeck his ghostly neck, eternally bright – a fine star. Stop. You will never shine nor glow. Creep back to shadow… Stop. The world.
What Amerikkka Looks Like Posing as an Invisible Friend Poetry
henry 7. reneau, jr. Lindsay, California, USA
otherwise leave their mark.
AmeriKKKa, distancing history, a unit of measurement, from oppression by swapping the word history with the word postracial, whose amorphous nature incorporates physical exclusion & random helpings of fear, paranoia, frustration & outrage. Blackness as test subjects for injustices to be practiced elsewhere. Every po-lice chief statement of aberration by anomaly of racist cop, the cockroach painted into a corner, the attempts at evasion— not-me— posing as an invisible friend, as protect & serve. The official spokesperson's lie, like the smell of spent gunshots, chalkoutlines the asphyxiating repetition of our grief.
The comeuppance of flung Molotov into police state lines as the whole wide Diaspora pulses through our veins. But all of a sudden, AmeriKKKa stands with the Black community— a shield of aloof politeness romancing what could have been gracious good faith & understanding from a distance— opposes racism, oppression, & police brutality, vows to continue to amplify diverse voices in the U.S. of Attica. All of a sudden
We drown standing up. Black, as the clever gaze from hooded Malcolm-tent eyes, hears every word comes out the speakers. Blackness, always in someone else's country, because we, as stereotype claims, were born of water hog mud, livid with the rage of fever that makes us ungrateful, bites the hand that starves us. My blackness confronts me with a desperate reinvention of itself, the militant X, by which those who cannot sign
Black Lives Matter.
Steven O. Young Jr.
Kajang, Selangor, Malaysia
The sky had lost all colour As though it had seen a ghost, There were strange happenings With Man-child elected Emperor Over in the Great West And the hands that held Humanity against utter evil Losing their thumb wilfully. The wintering wolf has woken up And is watching with bared teeth While the Child of Spring awaits The Judgement Day to take over The reigns of a nation falling apart. My own country, an aged blanket, Frayed at its edges is being pulled By wilful children fighting for warmth. Everywhere nations are failing, While their young struggle to keep faith. If she over there lost Her calling to a faith healer The other withdrew the healing touch From the aged and the poor. Yet there are some in distant lands One losing his heart to his tutor, Another, wise beyond his years Who may show this erring, warring World of rage and brazenness A path out of this chaos. Till then, we can only wait Hoping that we spawn no monster Again, from our loins after these One hundred years and more Of keeping faith.
Redford, Michigan, USA
It’s a lie, you know. Me, drifting off in metaphors that paint her in the shades of a Puerto Rican portrait. I’ve never tasted that palette. Its vibrancy is lost on me, too distant to distinguish what its mountains smell like when they rise from the breaths of coqui nuptials, too inert to notice the sweet insouciant song of flamboyanes cupping lush echoes of sun and storm. I color by numbers in the arrangements she didn’t agree to, misattributing the integrity of her reds and whites blue, and it’s by no miracle I empty-headedly leave her star untouched, ignorant of how it’s seasoned with more than sofrito and the brine of survival, each spike shooting from its hub whet against the buds of foster mother tongues, biting back at every torrent that doesn’t understand
wrath only turns its spokes into a saw blade—and what it cuts, it keeps. I can’t draw her in these shapes I can’t define. I only know her through screens and speakers and messages she sometimes mistypes— repeatedly. So let me try this again: I’m not lying, you know. There’s no swimming in symbols this time. She comes from somewhere I had never thought to want to be, and I’m still too slow to savor every fluid of her language. I can’t ascribe her any tones outside my fettered desire; the fertile earthiness of her eyes is purely theoretical. But should I combust when I at last approach their molten depths, I need to know the heat of that moment for all it would illuminate.
New Beginnings Photography
Pleasanton, California, USA
Ilorin, Kwara State, Nigeria
Listen all ears: For several years, Corrosion had continued to eat into the ladder-top And to that all hands must put a stop. All then longingly awaited a messiah To trigger this ubiquitous desire. Determined to make a difference, For his to be a reign of reference, Labisi searched for a strong statesman To man the ladder like a perfect gentleman. He may have admired the composed mien Of Gaa, but oblivious of what it could mean. Gaa, Labisi adorned with the Green Leaf Tasked to burnish the Frail Reef. Behold, Bashorun would not condescend to be observed, He ordered to be served. Revelling himself in giving weird orders, Gawking at others in Ile as mere porters. Was the messiah not a harbinger of terror Hastily powered in error? In his first set of cadaverous experiments, Labisi's peers were the readied instruments. Seventeen days into his iledi rites, Just days of wielding regal rights, Alaafin Labisi was caught in his set trap. He had to be flung into the white wrap. Have the alale raised him above
reproach? Did the Bottom Rung extol his approach? Where were the powerful SIX? Perhaps caught in a fix! Awonbioju retorted, "Alaafin never prostrates to anybody." But his was more of a superhuman body The man whose back he had climbed to the top of the ladder To turn a leader. One-hundred-and-thirty days of joy, Alaafin Awonbioju fell for his ploy And answered his ancestors' call Better not be called the Gaa ball. Where were the powerful SIX? Perhaps caught in a fix! Remember Amuniwaiye and Gberu, What about Osinyago and Oyibi - all debauched! You unanimously drew Yourselves up, wrinkled anarchists out of their paternal base - markedly bewitched! Or, have the alale raised him above reproach? Did the Bottom Rung extol his approach? Agboluade he plumped for And played like ayo, pushed around like a front door. Again, Gaa won the game So Alaafin would drop his cherished name His ancestors' path must he follow Never the type to go against the flow.
The linchpin of the Empire Whose reign could not expire Bashorun Gaa, the stubborn bone stuck in Alaafin's throat Down the ladder did its odour float. He planted a terrifically bloated system Anchored on a nettle-coated stem. To get Alaafin's goodies, the Ilaris had to slave Away. But Bashorun's uniformed might they must brave. He advisedly insured himself against all taints of inchoate jiggery-pokery, Riding sloppily on the indomitable strength of his inborn trickery. Elephant today, lion tomorrow, He easily passed for a cock and crow. He tilled his space to flourish And watched the ladder perish. He dispensed subsidiarity capped by impunity to his consanguinity And displaced tranquility from humanity. His space overrun by little devils Swimming freely like squids in a sea of evils. If only his protégés were blessed The rest could stray into the depths of the West. Have the alale raised him above reproach? Did the Bottom Rung extol his approach? Where were the powerful SIX? Perhaps all caught in a fix!
Who is axing the ladder? Majeogbe, and you claim this is but an utter slander? This poisoning is mere fudge And the target would not budge. Alaafin Majeogbe, wave to your soil of birth Bye to the earth. Wrinkled face Crinkled skin Infirm leg Running an old race In company of his kin With none to bring him to the peg. Bashorun found a maiden to date Abiodun's unwilling belle Agborin was a bait That would thrust him to hell. Agborin passed for a needed deer Gaa had her crushed alive Abiodun was moved to a tear Angered by the old ranger Ready to flirt with danger, Vowed to cow his perennial sybaritic drive. Alaafin showed he was not kidding, Aare Oyabi and Onikoyi had to do his bidding: Invent a perfect device, not to measure But rupture his pleasure. His kindred ilk first seemed to hold no truck, With the scheme, a modus vivendi was eventually struck. His perpetual malfeasance began to pall As they girt themselves up for his fall. They tore down to his home, Managed to comb
And rake his residence with weapons; set same ablaze And almost all his same-bloodedness neatly erased. Inside, he quaked with fear, his long-sung adulation Bent under the light weight of their fringe modulation Their collective energy Overwhelmed his cunning strategy. Overpowered inside by the suffocating fug, He wished he could crash the rebellion bug. Forced out, his conspicuous debility Belied his notorious agility. Thirsty, ravenous, buggered, and clearly winded, Bashorun was clobbered naked, Dragged to Akesan market, Dispossessed of his invaluable mystic kit. At the stake, Gaa flailed around helplessly, Nerving himself for the battering haplessly. Alaafin - no, Aare - sought from him no repentance Obviously, the alale kept a cryptic distance! Bashorun's foes chopped his flesh off at their instance The vultures too took a contagious stance: All keeping the fire stoked up with pieces of his flesh without any resistance. What his eyes saw Was more than an eyesore! A volume of runny blood Like the Blood of the Lamb
Shed to cover Evil Source in mud Thrashing the age-old option of a ram Gushed out of his battered body, Soaked his raiment which was much gaudy Only to smear the hot ground, leaving A quagmire reeking of the Sin of Man, Heaving Out of the land a gigantic stem - yet the concourse continued to tan. As pity had become a monster humanity was poised to shoot an arrow His pulped lifeless body was dumped in a raging inferno Gbam! It burst silently with an explosive sound And forthwith turned invisible - ashes scattering around Every corner of the land - his spook blown away! Could the exorcised figure soon be on his way?
Ilorin, Kwara State, Nigeria
You spread like the horizon - limitless. Not once could I imagine your end I ran to you as a mother figure in hunger, in loneliness, in frustration I knew you listened to my unvoiced words and put my love in the hearts of elderly women, the ones we dreaded
far and near would troop in sightseeing the town on Mounts Yelu and Sinniga, honouring a festival of mass wedding: hundreds of brides and grooms wedded on a day of traditional rite at the market square.
Yelu was my course – there I treaded and trained there I beheld the rustic beauty of the town there I sighted the window to the world there I saw birds fly and sing then I learnt their way
- they were all witches to us They brought their okra to dry on your neat top and you rendezvoused both women and children. My grandma schemed my initiation into your warm cult. A first-timer would doubt my infirm legs could climb up even with a
Came this era of alien mentalities and Awon would be receding from my view: gidi-gidi bom-bom from Ogidiri to Isale-Oja The ekun iyawo and eka iyawo the oko-ewu scene all lyrical flavours and magical displays crabbed.
basketful of okra on my head. It must be a magic I had a portion on the legendary Mount Yelu. Yelu was my leg and my sight from you, Shao was an entity I strolled in a second. I was there when the campaign train of MKO Abiola hit Oju-Oja.
What’s this fate of Awon on Yelu? Each time I visit, my shortsightedness returns. Where Yelu could take me my fragile legs cannot. Have I sighted your end and the end of Awon and the end of rustic life I thought was barbaric?
There, I never missed a scene of Awon festivities. now return, my mind is bruised. Where dirt on Yelu come from? Do mothers Gogo still maintain portions on this adoring Yelu.
Now your worth beams at my youthful ignorance. Wash away these butts these drugs these sachets and these bottles inebriate and freeze the mind of the youth. them back to your glory. Yelu stinking wind doesn't compare to the old waft I reminisce.
As I did this like
Doubts… I fear the fate of Awon here: like a liquidating company, this festival of season and of reason clips its survival wing. Visitors from
that Take this
Sol Lucet Photography
Dublin, California, USA
On The Road Painting
Pleasanton, California, USA
Notes from Darjeeling
Taking A Trip
Kajang, Selangor, Malaysia
1 The train, picture perfect, With eager faces in windows As the smoke spewing engine Waits for the stroke of Four. 2 Down Chowrasta tourists gather Like pigeons at the hawkers’ stalls Feeding on kababs, roasted corn or noodles While night drips slowly from the weeping Moon. 3 When she arrives, fear grips the youth Who remember weeks spent in jungles The narrow roads are all blocked None may pass till she has spoken. 4 The arena in Sikkim or in Nepal That provides guides and porters While money flows from all over To the enterprisers in Darjeeling. 5 Young and adventurous, portly And pleasure seekers either trek Or drive up the winding roads Towards a passion or memories. 6 The snowflakes falling remind me Of the jasmine shower every evening, Even as I sit warming my hand at the stove While the cold seeps through my chest. 7 Far more fabulous than any on earth Makalu, Chomo Lonzo, Lhotse
Beech Bluff, Tennessee, USA
Everest and Nuptse rule the horizon As I on sit dreaming under a failing Sun. 8 Chowrasta, where all arrive or depart from A mesa amidst colonial mansions Where all races flow like candy colours Where memories of youth flounders. 9 The poor cannot get off the hills, The rich will not stay for long, All honeymoons end in snow storm And water dries up when summer arrives. 10 The men of mountains who ruled are gone, Tenzing Norgay, Ang Temba, Nawang Phenjo, Cheewang Tashi and Phurba Dorje Who ruled the young hearts are gone. 11 First flush, Second flush or Autumnal The brew either delicate or golden Flowing at dawn from the east into my cup Is sweetened now by the rosey rays Of a westering Sun. 12 The finality in the act of buying picture postcards, The wait for stamps at the post office, The thud of franking date in black All end in the devouring slot of the Red Box.
They wouldn't understand, wouldn't want to, when I'm taking a trip. I venture off course, camp out in my mind, enjoy shiny stars called thoughts, and rest a while. This is my "break", a little time away, taking a trip through day dreaming, hoping to come back refreshed.
Roadtrip to Eden Fiction
Chula Vista, California, USA
Wallace Reid snaps back into his body, moving away from the endless ramblings inside his cleanly shaved melon, somehow perpetually balancing atop his frail torso. The overhead light glints off its smooth, polished surface, making his bulbous dome resemble the head of a pin, a comparison he has grown to resemble, sharp and to the point. He rubs the eyes that he forgot he was using, until he finally regains his focus. All at once, almost out of annoyance, Wallace jerks back into the present, unconcerned by the realization that he was still speeding down the highway through the Arizona desert. Just him, the burgeoning moon, and the wise saguaros with more stories than prickly needles. Thank god for autonomous vehicles right? “Snap outta it!” he yelled at himself in the rearview. “Welcome back Dr. Reid.” “Thanks Eve. So sorry about that, I don’t really know where I went there. What did I miss?” he asked as he wiped the film from corners of his dry lips onto the steering wheel. “Clearly not much. If it was really important, you probably wouldn’t have missed it, right? Someone’s gotta look out for us you know.” “Isn’t that what we’re doing?” he asked with his furrowed, shaggy brow and pathetic excuse for shoulders. Honestly those things may as well be inverted, they barely fill out the shirt slung over his body.
We’re all just a piggyback away from the end of humanity... Sorry, it’s hard to be optimistic when the annoying fool at the helm keeps wiping his saliva all over my interior. Wallace and I had begun this journey from the depths of what had previously been known as the Lacandon Jungle located on the southern tip of Mexico’s Yucatan Peninsula. There, Dr. Reid and a team of scientists had researched the impending global disaster that had spread far faster than any mind could predict. The signs all pointed to the inevitability he was now trapt in. Wallace had all the knowledge required to save the planet, but none of the resources required to accomplish the task. To Wallace, all that was left was his sentient, battery-operated companion and the long daunting road ahead. He was certain that the circumstances surrounding the fall of the planet were no longer of consequence. The only thing that still mattered, was the outcome of his choices to come. “What’s our E.T.A.?” he asked, still stretching out the comfort from his reanimated limbs. “Fifty-seven minutes until we reach Tucson, Dr. Reid.” “Wake me up in fifty-five.” And just like that Wallace decides to roll back into sleep mode. Alright, let’s get things cozy. Tint level: up to nine. Heaters set to his optimal nap temperature: seventy-three degrees. I initiate the
calm sounds of the doctor’s “Yacht Rock Playlist!!!!,” sailing into the mystic with Van Morrison. *** It’s now been nearly three hours and roughly 20 snooze alarms later, and Dr. Reid is thankfully still drowning out the muffled soft tones of Kenny Loggins with the blaring snores emanating from his cavernous mouth. I honestly never thought I could be so grateful for something as simple as a deviated septum. But I’ve learned to find solace in being able to provide a sense of ease and comfort to my copilot. As we began to approach the California border into Blythe, I quickly became aware of the fact that I will soon require a recharge to complete the remainder of our mission. “Doctor Reid, I’ve let you sleep plenty, but if we plan on reaching our destination on schedule, we’re going to need to stop very soon.” “ HMMM… Ok well just find the nearest rest stop I guess.” he replied through a bellowing yawn, his eyes still squinted shut with hopeful denial. Slowly, I disengage the tint of my windows, and slowly slide them open, letting in the warm desert air that now enveloped us both. The only ones still lucky enough to welcome the dawn’s inescapable dusty embrace. For it was only now a matter of minutes, before the light
would usher us toward our long-awaited Valhalla. California’s Napa Valley, home to the most fertile and still hospitable land left on this planet. It was there where we would start anew. As I pull off of the I-10 West, I anxiously await the refreshed feeling of a newly charged battery, a feeling so good that you’re gonna need a cigarette afterward. Until this past week, me and the doc hadn't seen the road very much, so my charging port is long overdue for some much needed T.L.C. Honestly, I could use a nice buff and wax too, but I’m not trying to be greedy. Once we accomplish our mission, I’m sure Wallace will get around to it, he always does. He really knows how to treat a lady, never too rough on my paint. As we approach our temporary destination, I can make out the remnants of a stone marquee which faintly read, “Welcome to The Cove RV Park.” Now I don’t know too much about California, as this is my first time visiting. But holy shit, how do they call this place the golden state?! I was under the impression that gold doesn't rust. Guess I was wrong… “Just pull in as soon as you can, will you Eve? I need to empty my tank,” Wallace said as he wriggled in his seat, both hands firmly gripping the crotch of his khakis. I snuggle up to the charging station, finally ready to power down and plug in. “Ok, we’ve reached our dest…” Before I could finish, Dr. Reid had already flung my door open so hard that it swung back, shutting behind him as he waddled away behind the nearest bush. “Doctor, the public toilet is right over there!” I point out with the help of my
right headlight. But all I hear is a muffled shout and a long, unmistakable groan of relief. “That good huh?” “You have no idea,” he replied with a chuckle. He looks lighter on his feet somehow. There was a level of ease and comfort in his shoulders that I hadn’t seen in ages. He sat back down and nestled back into his seat. “You are lighter!” “Wait... What?” he asked out of bewilderment, the crease in his brow lengthening as I’d seen so many times before. “Nothing, nevermind. Forget I said anything.” He couldn’t see, but I was smiling under my hood. He’s just so much better when he’s not snoring. “Alright Eve, I’m going to turn you off while you charge now. Rest while you can, we still have quite the journey ahead of us. See you soon.” “Thanks Dr. Reid, is there anything else I…?” *** Coming back online, and feeling like a brand new car again, only to suddenly realize that it is far later than I had expected. The sun has already set, something is not right. “EVE! Oh my God, Eve! You will never believe it.” But I already knew what he was going to say as an unfamiliar feeling arose as I felt my passenger seatbelt warning light begin to flash. “We have a guest, Can you believe it?!” Wallace exclaimed, “Eve, this is Rachel.”
“Hello Eve, it's a pleasure to meet you.” an audibly worn, squeaky voice chimed in. There sat an auburn-haired, young woman. No older than thirty-five, dirty as all hell. But through all the dirt sat an unmistakable beauty. A bit malnourished, but understandable given that she’s been surviving out here in Blythe somehow. People barely did that before the disaster, why would she choose to stay here now? This all seems a little too suspicious. And by the way, who does she think she is? Just taking it upon herself to come in and sit down?! Clearly, she didn’t think about leaving the desert outside with her before sitting on my interior. “Nice to meet you Rachel.” I lied. “Umm Dr. Reid, can I have a word?” He peered at me through his thin, suspicious brown eyes. He remained silent for a while, but I could already tell that he was speaking to Rachel without saying a word. “Give us just a second,” Wallace said reassuringly. “Sure, I guess. I have to use the lady’s before we leave anyway.” replies Rachel, nervously through her teeth. With that, I unlock the passenger door. An unfamiliar, and uneasy feeling honestly. This is all so new. What did I wake up to? Rachel gently closes the door behind her, leaving it slightly ajar. She takes a few steps before realizing her mistake, turns around, and rudely bumps my side with hers. A poorly placed button on her bony ass hip, catches my glossy finish and leaves a scratch that I know won’t buff out. Bitch! And once again off she walked into the darkness. “What’s all this ‘We’ business Wallace?
How do we even know that we can trust this person?” “Well we can’t just leave her out here. What do you suppose we do?” “We’re in an RV park. She’s got generators galore, plenty of options for shelter and I’m sure there’s food around here somewhere. Look, there's some plants right over there.” “Eve, that's an aloe vera plant, she can’t eat those, she’ll get sick.” Dammit! I forgot that I was talking to probably the only botanist left on the planet. “Well she has to have some food, she wouldn’t have been able to survive otherwise.” “Eve, that’s not the issue, humans require human connection, it’s a biological need. I don’t think you can understand that.” “We aren’t talking about Rachel anymore are we?” “Well it has been a very long time…” he said with a plea behind his voice. “How do we know that she won’t compromise our mission?!” “Eve, our mission is to plant all the seeds in your trunk and propagate. How do you think that’s going to be possible when we get there? I haven’t seen another human being in almost a year, let alone an attractive one. We need to take her with us. At the very least she can help me once we get there. Last time I checked, one of your features wasn’t a green thumb.” “Stop thinking with your genitals, Dr. Reid. We can’t mess this up when we are so close.” “I’m sorry that you’re having an issue with this Eve. But I am putting my foot
down!” He replied with a finality that I have never seen before. I knew there was no use arguing further as I felt the pressure beneath his right foot on my brake pedal. Usually I love it when he pushes my buttons. But that wasn't the case this time around. With that, Wallace reached over to the center panel to switch off my vocal settings. “Ese botón no controlaba mi voz. No más cambiaste el idioma.” But it was too late. Before I could muster otra palabra, he silenced me, switched me into manual operation, took a big relieving sigh, and gestured over to Rachel with a smile I had never seen before. My passenger door swung open once again. It still didn’t feel right. Not at all. But what more could I do? Rachel’s dirty ass was already right back inside of me. I felt gross and helpless as Wallace unplugged me, started my engine, and gripped my steering wheel in his unwashed hands. Yeah, don’t think that I didn’t notice after that long bathroom break he had taken earlier. We were back on course, but all I could do was listen. First it was, “Oh my God, you have what in the trunk?!” then, “Oh wow, there’s such a thing as a seed vault? That’s so cool!” For six long hours I had to endure her fake laughs. Watch her delicately touch him on the arm. Going on and on about her job at the hair salon and all her dead friends that left her behind. Well I don’t blame them! And all of this taking place while he’s still inside me?! It was
disgusting! I wanted to vomit but was illequipped to do so. Just as we had passed through Bakersfield, only hours away. We suddenly turned off of Interstate-5. This wasn’t right. Where is he taking us? “Where are you taking us?’ Rachel asked playfully. If I had eyes, they would have rolled out by now. Until now I always wondered what other people were like. And now I’m sorry that I found out. “Thought you might enjoy the scenic route.” Wallace responded with a coy smile. “When was the last time you saw the ocean?” As we traveled West toward our new route, the sky began to invite the sun out from behind us with every color imaginable. The air outside was still, as it was normally at dawn. As if the whole world was on pause except for the sunshine which was now hot on our tale. Eventually we turned north onto California State Route-1. The sun had now made it’s grand entrance and shone brightly through the open blue skies, gleaming off the water as the white wash crashed onto shore. Wallace reached into my glove box and pulled out a pair of aviator sunglasses that I had never seen before and affixed them to his face. Look out, we got a badass over here. He rolled down the windows letting in the salty, cool breeze blowing in from my driver’s side. Hundreds of miles of empty beaches stretched at either end of us. We passed a sign that read: “Ragged Point 3.5 miles.”
“Wow it is so beautiful out here!” squealed Rachel. “We should stop and take in the view. Can we?” “Well that’s kind of the point isn’t it?” Wallace replied. We had arrived at Ragged Point which loomed high atop what appeared to be miles of cliffs overlooking the vast ocean. The two new best friends parked at the nearest lookout and hopped out of me to take in the entirety of the horizon. I was so upset that I chose not to listen as they took in the view. They took it upon themselves to sit on my hood like I was some kind of eight-five thousand dollar recliner. I knew that if I had listened, it would have only made me madder. Good thing Wallace rolled the windows back up. Suddenly, my rear driver side door whips open. Wallace Reid clumsily toppled into my rear cabin, buttons half undone. Rachel followed him soon after and began to help him with the rest of his buttons. They seemed to engulf one another. I couldn’t look any longer, but there was no escape. Bare skin laid across my back seat, merely feet from what was supposed to be our ticket to a new future. Beads of sweat collected along the inside of the now fogged up windows. Loud moans that I wanted to erase from my memory immediately. Fingernails dug into my leather without remorse. They shook me so hard that I was sure my alignment would feel the consequences. Wet flesh had dug into every corner, every crease. Once again there was nothing I could do. I was a prisoner in my own body. Just then, a leg came flying forward from the backseat, knocking into my center console. My brights flashed. My
speakers turned back to Wallace’s familiar “Yacht Rock Playlist!!!!” this time Hall and Oates. “OHHHH, HERE SHE COMES. WATCH OUT BOY, SHE’LL CHEW YOU UP!” But as the mystery leg recoiled back into my rear cabin. I suddenly felt my wits about me. Somehow that leg was my salvation. Silence. Disengage the parking brake. Shift into neutral. “WATCH OUT! WATCH OUT! WATCH OUT! WATCH OUT!” Screams. Fire. Salt Water.
Where White Corn Grows Durango 2008 Poetry
Mary Pacifico Curtis Los Gatos, California, USA
young ones come here dazed inhale mountains, scrub, tundra, awaken to ground mist, and wind blades that pierce the night. Sage are the old souls who shaped this place, tools, shards and cool dirt hold their story; though taken away - some spirits stayed. they work now in peace open the fragile, heal the broken, make new wisdom that takes root within.
Juice Box Junkie Digital Art
Livermore, California, USA
Serenity in Mendocino Photography
Alamo, California, USA
Legacy of Thirty-Seven Acres
Dear Jack Kerouac
Mary Pacifico Curtis
Los Gatos, California, USA
Gone now umachas, chakkas and hanggi landmarks of simpler days when acorns were staples served with bass, trout, or deer and dances were offered to Mother earth. Gone are the white men greedy for gold who rerouted rivers, set rock and soils sliding where fish and frogs multiplied. Gone, the men who spilled souls on this soil. You can smell them still, their sweat and dust, machine grease from stamp shaft and cam sealed by steam soaked into the mills dank wood frame. Hear those men
Livermore, California, USA
grunting, chortling, chawin’ and cloying - each wanting an unfair share of the earth they blasted – each only a moment on this verdant bed of volcanic flow. Men from new places with plans of their own arrived to transform the forested land. See them please – the strip mall crooks - now smell their cologne and hear their deal. They graded roadside then left the swath bare to be reshaped by scorch and storm, the next whim and the skies above. Does the past hold the fate of this land once again?
How did you do it? Time after time, driving rustic highways from Times Square to Frisco with stops in Denver to see Neil’s woman, then aiming those worn-out tires back toward the east coast. In the sixties, my long-haired brother thought he was you in a Buick nicknamed Thunder. Muscular arms, white cotton tee shirt, cigarette dangling between his lips. On the Road on the dashboard. Back seat jammed with books by Hesse and Camus and record albums, not the jazz you preferred, but the Stones, sultry Laura Nyro. When he called collect on rare occasions, Mom said, Where are you? Did you run out of money? The same questions, Jack, your mother must have asked you, the golden boy of Lowell. And when you returned, she welcomed you, made stew and baked bread. Mom cringed at the sight of Thunder and a girl tucked alongside my brother. When are you going to do something with your life? He answered, Ma, I’ve just seen the world! Jack, you would have been proud.
A Cloud Outside Stockton Painting
Tracy, California, USA
Manifest Destiny Photography
Livermore, California, USA
Livermore, California, USA
Family Jewels Photography
Pleasanton, California, USA
Red Woods Fiction - Third Place
Pleasanton, California, USA
The woods were a beautiful thing– red barked trees reaching so far into the sky that it was impossible to see the end of them, three leaf clovers covering the ground in huge swaths, so that it was painstaking to find breaks in them in which to stand and crouch as you looked for that elusive four leafed one. A deer standing in a clearing, it’s brown back dappled by the sunlight filtering in through the leaves of the trees. But it was also a frightening thing, when the sun set and every tree branch looked like fingers and you could swear that Slenderman was lurking just past the light of the campfire. The campsite was prime–the best pathway into the forest was just behind a fallen log at the back of the site, marked by two wooden stakes painted with bright gold lettering: LITTLE HENDY TRAIL. Down a small path was an enormous dry river bed, fallen logs laying across the gap– little bridges from one side to the other. California was not a place for wet weather, and even in all the years of coming here, Sam and Jordie had never seen this river flowing with water. Sam picked up the long fronds of leaves laying at the bottom of the river bed and laid them gently across the fallen log bridges. Children would build forts with the fronds and small flat pieces of bark which had fallen from the trees. Sam leaned the leaves against the log bridges and placed the bark pieces on the ground like hardwood flooring, leav-
ing a space of a couple of feet in which to crouch. “Remember the forts?” Sam grinned up at Jordie. “God, we thought they were the coolest architectural achievements ever, didn’t we?” “Yeah,” agreed Jordie, but she was looking off into the distance, over the top of the bridge. She did not smile. Sam pulled herself out of the little fort, her expression sour. She glared at Jordie from behind her back, but said nothing. A dog barked from somewhere on the other side of the creek bed. Sam moved so she was standing in front of Jordie, forcing her to look at her. “Are you mad at me?” “Don’t ask me that.” “Why? Are you?” “Why do you always ask if I’m mad at you? I’m not mad at you. Why would I be mad at you?” “So you’re not mad.” Jordie huffed. She made a waving motion with her hand as if to brush Sam aside and turned back up the slope to the top of the trail. Sam stood in the creek bed, watching her sister. She felt hot. The campsite was mostly dirt. Their tent was set up in a little copse of trees opposite the trail entrance. Jordie poked about in the dry fire pit with a stick, moving a balled up piece of newspaper around and around. They had neighbors on either of the two campsites next to them, but even so it seemed too quiet. There was no birdsong.
“You should have brought Sitka,” said Sam. She had finally come up from the trail, and she pulled her chair over next to the fire to sit with Jordie. Sitka was Jordie’s dog–but she was in Oregon, where Jordie lived now that she had finished college there. “Yeah,” agreed Jordie, “I should have. I think she’ll be ok though.” “She’ll be fine, don’t worry.” “I just don’t have cell service. If anything happens, they won’t be able to reach me–” “Jordie, everything’ll be fine.” Jordie took a deep breath to steady herself. Sam watched her and then took the stick from her, digging it into the dirt outside the pit. Later, they went on a hike. It was Jordie’s idea, and Sam was glad of it. The air between them felt lighter than when they had been in the creek, but years without really seeing each other was still hindering them. Sam felt they were less like sisters and more like cousins, or something like that. This made Sam think of their cousins. Once, they had all camped here, many years ago, aunt, uncle, parents, cousins. Their uncle had joked about a “he-mit” and they’d hauled one of the cousins in a tree with a rope and their aunt had burned the rubber soles of her shoes off on the side of the fire pit. They’d made s’mores and the lantern had gone out, leaving one of them to stumble their way by firelight into the tents to find a new one. Once, even their grandma had
come, even though she hated the outdoors and couldn’t swim. But there were no lakes at Hendy Woods, only the redwoods. They stretched for miles, the redwood trees. Some of the trunks were so large not even three people could wrap their arms around them. They were like Totoro’s tree in the Studio Ghibli film. Jordie walked ahead because she didn’t like being at the back. Every now and then she looked behind her to make sure Sam was still following. The path was clear, but every now and then they passed an abandoned walking stick or a half full plastic water bottle laid among the roots of the trees. “How’s mom?” Jordie asked suddenly. She did not turn. “Fine. She wanted to call you last week when she called me,” Sam replied. The path was wide enough now, and she moved to walk beside Jordie. “I can’t call. I’m too busy with work.” “I know.” “I’ll call her when I get back home,” said Jordie, and it took Sam a moment to realize the home she was talking about was not their home here in California. Jordie changed the subject. “You want to have some?” She pulled a weed pen out of her coat pocket. The plastic sheet coating around the outside was a swirl of colors, and the bit of liquid inside the top was golden brown. Jordie brought it to her lips and took a long drag. Sam reached out after her and took one too. They stood in a clearing of trees, the clovers reaching up to their ankles, blowing out thick white plumes of smoke. “These woods aren’t like the woods in Oregon,” said Jordie. “There’s sand on the ground, y’know? You can’t escape
the ocean in California.” “Oregon’s on the coast too,” said Sam. She took a drag off of the pen and crouched down in the clovers, looking for one with four leaves. “Yeah, but it doesn’t–what’s the word? Permeate.” “I don’t understand what the hell you’re talking about.” “Language,” said Jordie. She didn’t swear; it was against her principles. She sometimes held other people to it, especially Sam. Sam was used to it–their father held her to it, too. “Hell isn’t a swear,” Sam protested, and she looked up from the clover she was inspecting. “Is too. And you just did it again,” Jordie said, her eyebrows raised over the weed pen. Sam gave her the finger. Jordie jumped back, wiping hurriedly at her sleeve. “Oh my god!” she practically yelled. A bird took flight somewhere. “A spider! There was a spider on me.” Sam laughed. Spiders were against Jordie’s principals, too. The weed was taking effect on Sam now, but not on Jordie, who had gone back to taking long drags now and then. Sam reached out a finger to a roly poly walking over a stick in the clovers, but she stopped, waiting for the world to catch up with her, or maybe for her to catch up with it. She struggled to get back into the flow of time. The roly poly turned away, its little antennae twitching at the smell of her. Jordie turned her head toward a rustling off to their left. Sam followed her gaze, slightly delayed. The branches in the trees about twenty feet above the ground were rustling softly. It was like a
breeze had blown through, but the clovers were still. Jordie looked over as Sam stood from her crouching position. They locked eyes, and it was like something had shifted. It suddenly looked darker in the clearing. “Maybe a person?” Sam said it slowly. Jordie’s eyes went back to the trees, and she looked like she had in the dried river bed when Sam had made her log bridge fort. Sam didn’t even consider how illogical it was that someone was twenty feet up in a tree. “An animal?” “No.” Jordie was quiet. “Let’s go back.” Her hand went to her pants pocket, where the car keys were on a heavy keychain. Sam picked a clover and was surprised to find that it had four leaves. She wanted to tell Jordie she’d finally found one, but stopped herself; it wasn’t the time. She put it in her pocket, feeling it was crucial to take it with her. The whole way back to camp they looked over their shoulders and tried to hear anything over the sounds of the birds. Several times Jordie stopped abruptly and Sam nearly ran into her. She would squint into the trees and then grab Sam’s wrist, pulling her forward. Sam couldn’t understand what was so scary to Jordie. It was a gust of wind, a squirrel, a bird taking flight. It was nothing. Several hikers came by as they hurried along, older couples or single men. Jordie said nothing to them about what she may or may not have seen. Sam worried about whether the other hikers could smell the weed on them. The camp was quiet. There was still no wood in the fire pit, and their tent was still standing. Jordie got in and pulled Sam
in with her. She was holding Sam’s arm in hers, grasping her elbow, and Sam could feel Jordie’s heartbeat against her side as it slowed down. They sat side by side, breathing heavily, like they were ten and eight again. Sam remembered when they had been children on their yearly summer camping trips with their parents, when it was nearly midnight and the fire was being stoked by their dad. Their mother came into the tent to tuck them in. She always told a variation of the same story. Two girls, sisters, their names Sam and Jordan. She always called Jordie by her full name, no matter how much she protested. But not Sam. In the stories their mom told, Jordan and Sam went camping with their parents and were viciously and terrifyingly attacked by a mysterious creature. And then their mother would laugh and kiss their cheeks and turn out the light. They would stare up at the thin blue fabric of the tent, black in the night, and breathe shallowly so that whatever creature their mom had told them about wouldn’t hear. Sam found that she was breathing shallowly. “What did you see?” she finally asked, after the light outside the tent had begun to darken. Jordie turned to her; her eyes were shadowy in the dim light. “Don’t leave the tent, Sam, please. We’re going to leave tomorrow.” “But–” “Sam.” They sat quietly in the tent for a while more, Sam becoming more and more confused and annoyed. Jordie kept looking around at the other sides of the tent, waiting. Finally she let go of Sam’s arm. “Let’s go to bed” “Why? Because now you’re less scared
of a tree? What were you scared for?” Sam didn’t know why she was being mean, but it felt right somehow. Jordie hadn’t been accommodating to her. “I wasn’t scared. I’m not scared. I thought–” Sam cut her off, her voice rising over a whisper. “I’m an adult, Jordie, you can tell me what you think you saw.” “Be quiet,” hissed Jordie. “Don’t be so sensitive. I made sure we were safe, what else do you want from me?” She got in her sleeping bag and turned away so that all Sam could see when her eyes adjusted was the back of Jordie’s head. The darkness and shadows turned Jordie’s long hair into a face, its mouth open and its eyes wide. Sam stared at the face, her eyes squinted. Then she turned away, facing the side of the tent. She could just make out the shapes of the trees on the other side of the fabric in the rapidly dimming light. It was exceptionally cold outside the tent, and so dark that all Sam could see were the stars through the branches of the trees. All she was wearing was a t-shirt, and she wanted to go back to put on her sweatshirt, but she couldn’t see where the tent was and she was afraid of waking Jordie. The bathroom wasn’t far once she reached the paved road curving through the campground, but she had to reach the road first. She checked the time on her phone screen: 12 a.m. She wanted to use the phone’s flashlight, but the battery was almost gone. Sam was stumbling through the trees, arms outstretched, when something ran into her from behind. She jerked forward, her arms running into a tree. “What are you doing?” Jordie whispered. She’d remembered both a sweat-
shirt and a flashlight. “I can’t go to the bathroom?” Sam made a grab for the flashlight. Jordie pulled it out of range and held her hand out against Sam’s chest. “No, you–” Jordie started, but there was a sound, high-pitched, off to their left. Jordie swung the light between the trees, but nothing was there except Spanish moss and bushes and logs like bridges. They were standing on the edge of the river gully. Sam’s small fort-like house was still standing, not yet destroyed by children. Bathed in the yellow glow of Jordie’s light, the whole scene looked eerie and forgotten. “We should go back.” Jordie’s breath was catching. In the ambient glow from the flashlight, Sam could see only her profile. Her blond hair outlined her face in hazy glowing yellow. Sam could see the resemblance between them now, the one everyone had been so quick to point out when they had been younger. “Samantha.” Sam pulled herself out of her disjointed reverie. She thought maybe she was still high. “Am I high?” Jordie squinted at her. “Are you serious? Are you actually insane? What does it matter, we have to leave.” She swung the flashlight around to point it at Sam’s face. Sighing, she said, “No, you’re not high.” Sam thought maybe it was Jordie who was high. The way back to the tent was easier with light, but Jordie kept turning around to look behind them for whatever had growled, taking the light with her. Sam finally managed to wrestle the flashlight from her and pointed their way through the trees. It seemed to be taking forever to get back to their campsite. The open-
ing to the Little Hendy Trail was only about thirty feet behind their tent in daylight, but in the dark everything felt much farther. Or maybe it was much farther. Sam swung the light back and forth through the trees, and finally the light landed on their little blue tent, half hidden behind a redwood. The light went out. Sam stopped, and Jordie ran into her. “What happened?” Jordie hissed, and Sam could feel Jordie’s cold fingers wind their way around her elbow. “Oh fuck,” said Sam, completely deadpan. “Language,” Jordie scolded. Sam smacked the side of the flashlight. A tiny band of light landed on the ground, but could reach no further. Then it went out, too. “Just walk forward,” said Jordie, pushing Sam’s elbow where she held it. “It’s right there. Just walk forward.” “You walk forward.” Sam twisted her arm out of Jordie’s grasp. She couldn’t see anything–she didn’t even know where Jordie’s face was in the blackness. “Stop being a wimp. You’re older.” Sam felt Jordie trying to grab the flashlight, and she swung her hand out to whack her away. Her hand connected with what was probably Jordie’s face. Sam heard her stumble back–the crunching of leaves–somewhere off to the right. “I’m sorry–Jordie–” Sam didn’t know where she was supposed to be directing her words. She moved forward with her arms outstretched and felt them pushed away by Jordie. “Get off me! Stop acting like Mom!” Jordie’s voice was high. She tackled Sam’s arm, the one holding the flashlight, and took it. Sam could hear the high
pitched squeaking of the flashlight as Jordie turned the back of it on and off, trying to get the battery to connect. The light came back. Jordie trained it on the tent and sucked in air. Sam stared with her as a form rose slowly from behind the little blue tent. It was a monstrous thing, bluish against the yellow light and the black trees behind it, although Sam could tell that in daylight it would have been black as night. It was grotesquely distorted, its head pulled at an almost impossible angle straight back to its neck so that it had to bend its entire upper body forward in order to look at them straight on. Its head was covered in slimy scales and its body in fur dripping with a deep red wetness that they were sure was blood. It stood nearly as tall as one of the huge redwood trees, and in the blackness they could just make out the tips of its long white horns, curved like corkscrews. Its face was a flat surface like a mask, covered in red. “Holy shit,” Sam breathed. She was entirely cold. This time Jordie didn’t have enough breath to scold her. They stood frozen as it bent its body forward and lifted a long, thin leg up and over the tent, placing it gingerly on the needles below. Another leg followed the first, like a spider crawling from a web, and it became apparent that it had more legs than two as it continued to move toward them. Jordie had grabbed Sam’s elbow in the hand that was not holding the flashlight and began pulling at it, making little squeaking sounds. Jordie’s tugging and the sound that came from the creature’s mouth, wherever it was, broke Sam out of her frozen state, and then they were run-
ning through the woods, Jordie holding onto Sam’s elbow, her cold fingers and the breath catching in Sam’s throat the only things Sam was aware of. They ran wildly, down onto the upper bank of the gully, past the wooden post that marked the beginning of another trail. They only knew the creature was still following them because they could hear its many spidery legs crunching through the leaves and twigs behind them. The flashlight in Jordie’s right hand swung wildly. Trees to ground to sky to trees again. Jordie jerked Sam’s elbow to the right, and the two of them tumbled to the ground behind a tree. Jordie flicked the light off and pulled Sam with her in the dark. They sat, panting, their backs to the trunk of one of the great redwoods. “Listen,” Jordie whispered, “don’t move.” Sam wanted to say something like “no shit,” but instead she just nodded. Then she realized Jordie couldn’t see her and choked out an “okay.” The creature was moving slowly–they could hear the crunching of one of its great legs only once in a while. It was directly behind them, making the same high-pitched sound they’d heard while standing in the river bed. It was a sound like a woman screaming, or a vixen in the night, calling for others. This close, it made Sam’s ears ring. The sounds of the creature became quieter and quieter as it moved away through the trees, back the way they had come. Jordie turned the light back on, shielding the light with her hand so that the creature couldn’t see, but they could. Her hand was yellow and orange and red where the light shone through it. The two
of them moved slowly around the trunk of the tree in the opposite direction of the creature, Jordie holding the light close to the ground so they wouldn’t snap a twig or crunch a leaf. The path was clear in both directions, and they couldn’t hear the creature anymore. Jordie took her hand off the light, and its beam shone across the path. “What are you doing?” Sam said, reaching for the light. Jordie jerked it away, and its light flew off through the trees in a great arc. “Get off,” whispered Jordie. “It’s going to see us, you idiot.” “It’s gone. Who knows if it even can see. I didn’t see any eyes, did you?” Jordie turned in a wide circle as she spoke, moving the light through the trees. Suddenly, a great black leg came down on the path in front of them. The high-pitched sound started up, a dull whine turning into a blood-curdling scream. As its body descended toward them from directly above, they stumbled out from under it. Jordie dropped the flashlight, grabbed Sam’s arm, turned, and ran. They moved through the trees, arms outstretched, feet crunching leaves and twigs and mud, eyes wide but seeing nothing. Several times one of them stumbled on a fallen log, a bush, a rock, and the other pulled them up and continued. The screaming cry of the monster was near them and far away all at once, its voice echoing back against the huge trunks of the trees. Jordie ran right into one of the trunks. Sam ran into her. And then they were inside the trunk. It was one of those trees hollowed out by nature or humans, and inside a small
opening was a space of a few feet in which to crouch. Sightlessly and soundlessly they sat on the ground, holding each other, trying to be quiet as they panted for breath. Sam realized vaguely that some of the blood from the monster’s body had dripped onto her shoulders. It smelled like copper and venison. She was freezing in her t-shirt. The monster was outside, whining. In some time, Sam could hear it moving way off through the trees; in some time more, she couldn’t hear it at all. At some point, she closed her eyes, resting her head on Jordie’s. Light filtered through the mesh top of the little blue tent. Sam sat up, and saw that Jordie was, too. They were both tucked into their sleeping bags, their lantern and flashlight laid on the fabric bottom of the tent between them. “Did you–?” Sam began, but she couldn’t finish. She was wearing the same t-shirt as last night, but it was clean and smelling of wood. Jordie nodded. She remembered. Outside the tent, the campsite was the same as the morning before. The fire pit still had nothing in it except crumpled up newspaper and a stick. They packed up with only a few words to each other. Sam felt as though her head was filled with fluff. She felt like crying every time she looked at Jordie. “Where are the keys?” Jordie asked, checking her bag. Sam reached her hands into her pockets out of reflex, although she knew they weren’t there. Instead, she pulled out a four-leaf clover, slightly squished. She looked up at Jordie, who stared back,
eyes wide. “Holy shit,” whispered Jordie. Sam laughed. Jordie laughed too, after a moment. And then they hugged. Sam looked at the clover, small and broken in her hand. She closed her fist and then her eyes. Jordie still smelled faintly of weed. Sam laughed again, and so did Jordie. Sam watched out the passenger side window as they drove away from the campsite. The signpost labeled LITTLE HENDY TRAIL could just be seen between the red trunks.
SF Memories Ink
Tracy, California, USA
Telegraph Ave. Digital Art
Monique Rardin Richardson Dublin, California, USA
The Beach off Route 66
Tyra Belle Lechner
Donna Faulkner née Miller
Albuquerque, New Mexico, USA
Rangiora, New Zealand
Your hands are bigger than I expected, moving across my thighs like deer over grasslands three stories above Central, brisk even in July. The wine is complementary to your smile and your voice, low over the hum of the street. It’s a shame we don’t have something more entertaining to look at. You tease it out of me, moving closer, your breath warming me like the desert sun.
The Pacific greets the shore, frothing like a rabid dog. The seventh wave swamps dredging sand beneath bare feet. Wandering back to the tideline and harder sand, I crunch empty shells underfoot. The Pacific accepts the broken pieces.
We move like the north poles of magnets, leaving more than enough room for Jesus. You don’t believe, but we talk God anyway five feet apart from each other, naked and dripping hairy legs curled to hairier chest and I want to stroke it, to feel it like grass beneath restless fingers.
Searching seaweed bouquets frayed rope twinning debris. My driftwood staff pokes nested fishing lines. Eyes scanning the tideline like a seabird. I scavenge the banquet seeking a morsel of peace amongst the carnage. Spent cigarettes camouflaged in sand, expired fish decay upon a seafoam pyre.
I dream that a cherry blossom branch covers us, that you pull me into your arms, the way you did when you were drunk and unafraid to bury nose into neck, fingers into depths. In the morning, with distance between us like the red sea I recognize the cracks I had mistaken for opening up.
“Why did you fold your jeans and socks so neatly and leave an unsmoked cigarette, but no note. Did you wade in undecided?” Seagulls feasting on the beach laugh at my naivety. Led astray by phantom footprints I wade out from the shore. The swell numbs my ankles, my knees, my thighs. Waves slap hard against my chest.
Pushing on through the hostile surge. The tide takes more than it leaves. Waves kiss the shore farewell. The Pacific accepts the broken pieces.
I contemplate a cigarette.
Boston Mills Painting
Brecksville, Ohio, USA
Brecksville Steeple Painting
Brecksville, Ohio, USA
Pleasanton, California, USA
Outside Victoria A regional park Northern summer sunny Almost jacket need To rent a kayak For two hours Puffy orange life vests Smiling, slightly nervous Her first experience She inhaled the peace Noted the lapping water Reveled in the tranquility Far from junior high This vacation lull Space from teaching Welcome amnesia The time of gentle paddling No rush, no demands Two years before she was told The lump was malignant
Livermore, California, USA
How beautiful the mountains are! In this joyous time of year! The aroma of rich honey, permeates the air to feed sweet bees a hope to drift among bright flowers, beside a singing stream! Besides that gentle rock shower, no greater heart’s plight as your voice, soft as moon’s light!
How beautiful our loving was! In that fleeting glint of winter’s sun! The shine of virgin snow fears not to be shunned, to face down a slippery slope, to hear cruel talk of cowards! Harmless were the vows we’d sung, harmed less we were by mundane hours, which nervous hearts loath, if one has a silent home!
How cold the mountains be! Fog; floating dew carpet, flowing down those heaven-stairs where earth and sky, together, fit! Oh, such a mighty slope! where no life can thrive; a terribly barren peak! Upon one ledge we used to sit, until you shed your down and no longer meek, tossed my heart in an icy spring; still unthawed-now I sing!
How colder could you ever be! Feet; sculpted, graceful wings flying up the cobbled bridge, where soul and mind, now lonely, sings! Oh, I’ve given up all hope; to whom did you fly? Was it North, West, South, or East? Among the waves that feed from rain? Laughing among the stars, and eating their feast? I can not guess; dear, not a tomb!
Looking up, birds soar across the moon–
The Romantic Loss of Freedom Painting
Delta NA Asti
The Curtain Poetry
Steven O. Young, Jr. Redford, Michigan, USA
My calling comes in the sliver of a window before she draws the curtain, perfume spritzed in a few last words ready for the drain. She bids me to bide my time and lets the line drop
galaxy (a paltry price for knowing her gravity), obscuring the depths of a brilliance I trust is nested under this nebulous fog of drops caught in the current of the curtain’s tremble. But the color I call her doesn’t budge when she branches out from the canvas, blossom -less twigs in search of soap to wash away
slack, so I test my funambulist limit as the cable simpers underfoot, untaught parabolic beaming scaffolded by idle capriccio until I’m surprised by a cloudburst and fall
the coats my eyes applied. Her reach reveals too much: wings wholly molted, the nacre of her hand cleansed of its lucent luster. A layer of lather lulls radiant wavelengths—our frequencies cleaved
flat on my face. Linoleum tacked to my cheek, its design is inscrutable from a centimeter’s survey, though the balm of its kiss softens the heavy humid heat pinning me down,
by a sheet bleaching the astronomy constructing my sky— before my daredevil tether’s drawn taut, the cirrostrative veiling concocted in the exploits of my mischiefmaking opportunely secure as her summon cuts
a density I’m afraid to dare—trespassing in this atmosphere fragrant with bouquets of phrases that split my lips and tightroped their own path past a pall of opaque polyester separating
short my stargazing, recoiling the string thread through my cosmic wanderlust. She picks up where we left off, freshly shed of my muddled metaphors, draped in a familiar diffidence, so I toe the line connecting us once more and let loose another deluge of inadequate analogies, hopeful she’ll accept some speck of her splendor before showering again.
us. The oxlip-thin oyster is unadorned, but star-crossed comets leap against their pen, vestigial flares my gaze traces in the shape of her celestial silhouette. I plumb and plume this pearled plane—pristine sleek remiges beading free meteors, allopreening the complex glow of dust aglimmer outside the furled vanes keeping her down warm—when my universe rustles at the mercy of stellar winds, waves emanating from the pulse of her unfastened wings as I watch them bloom through castoff vapored particles streaking my sight of her
Pleasanton, California, USA
Uprooted to Full Avail Poetry
Cumberland, Maine, USA
The bird, so tiny, lit upon my knee He tweeted and chirped as if agitated How hard would it be to be a tree? Something an acorn and time created
To wither out one more season Or better yet forget all that And give me life of man’s plat I’d live it better than he ever could I’d live it without that hardness of wood For once he’d see that life lived so free Maybe he’d even sense the nature of a tree
As the little creature eyed me up and down And continued to thrash me with whistles My mind, thoughts, and vision began to drown In the possibilities of rising up from just thistles
Would I take back that sordid life of shame? Or would I keep my regal wooden name? I figure there’s no sense to go back to man For the bird on my bough has the better plan
To become an ingenious and noble old oak In a grove of ten trillion other species like me Would surely be a far, far better stroke Than being a part of this hot blooded soiree
I’ll give out the breath they need to breathe Then I let all my leaves wither and run free I’ve no notion to let this fine feathered friend To die and go onto his own splendorous end
I would always stand tall, true, and proud Withering everything they could throw my way My leaves would flutter and splay even in the darkest cloud While each and every day would be my greatest day
For hear me now oh great lord of all that lives I’m the fantastic old oak tree that has no sieves The solid massive trunk, top, and limbs you created That small little devil of an acorn you once berated
For I am a tree with no worries or care My thoughts would never be tormented or forlorn I’d always be good for the wash and wear Even when the weather was most wickedly stubborn
So then it ends in the way all great dilemmas do I chose the path that let me grow till I was through It was only at the end while they hewed me down That the small finch trilled about my gilded crown
The sun would be my sustainer The ground my fornicator The wind my articulator The rain...ah the rain...my instigator
Death came to the man in the tree Just as sure as the tree became me We embraced it as our god given right We embraced it for the length of night
I’d live on for more than a thousand years Deep in a forest of long lost old Never knowing all these mortal fears Just passing my time listening to all that was told Why not give me another reason
For heaven’s sake I became the life of tree To live a life of man that was ever so free
A Bee’s Paradise Photography
Pleasanton, California, USA
The Goddess in the Garden For L.M. Poetry
Clark Morrow California, USA
Goddesslike she glides the groves where kind Affection roves, Her lips fuller than prodigious, proud papayas, her tongue The whole-world-healer that taught Wotans and Joves To abandon proud palaver, and love the long-unloved, and wrung From crones and lizards blizzards of kisses for all lost kids.
I see galleries of eye-slaying irises embowering her heart And out of their hale exhalations she dew-breaths The air with her hello. Playing her appointed part Of silver-souled sylph in this Mozartean scena, She entombs each slight vice in her disciplining eye-depths. No sad little habit, no shabby indiscretion limps Out of her gaze unchastened. When she glowers In the pride of a high heart, Edenic entities and imps Quail and consult their consciences, and flowers Not known to prevaricate, renovate their oaths To her, who empresses and queens above their primps.
Brought within the circle of her scent, you find a Pomona Enflowering and engardening hosts of blighted barrows And tools left moldering in black mire -- brought within her corona, The cruel, the fool, are lit from within. She charms and harrows Within her sphere, fear disappears, and all is burnished into beauty.
All the orchard ogres flee from her fleet, sweet feet That dance destruction on the vile vilifiers who Inhabit pond-slums of the heart. She whose diadem reads Death to the Loveless, rains ruin like fiery sleet On the foul spouses of solaceless mates. Three of them – Three crushers of the cute and uncorrupted – she fires through Their heavy heads with scorn, and slays. Upon her teat
All is hushed, hymn-hearted, spangled with planispheres, There where I saw the honey-blooded holyland Of her all-wombs-engendering Womb. There heroes unfold (Spear-possessed), saints lave lepers, and all other mothers Are made martyrs on behalf of every fat and fussing infant. Here Love lives. Enwombed in her, and radiating forth Far over far stars, Love lives in the lymph and deepest lair of Her.
Clings all of life that can be found abounding, rounding Off their little sleep with maters-milk. Her heroine glands Annihilate the human-haters, the borders of her gown pounding With the pounding of a harbor-sized heart, that soothes and sands Away the barbs of antelope-angst, and doe-distress, and beebother.
Livermore, California, USA
Part 1 Do you know what you normally think about when you’re petting a cat? Nothing–it’s one of the magical things about the little sociopathic beasts. When they require your attention and demand to be touched, all other priorities are rescinded. Even as their sharp claws knead into your flesh, as they circle about before settling in on either your lap or chest, you endure because you know they can’t help it. Each microbloodletting pushes the day’s challenges away–the argument you were fermenting in your head for your unreasonable boss that you know you were never going to get the chance to level at them, and the homicidal urges from the commute home, and your rumination on that rude retiree in line along with the perfect cutting quip you thought of moments later that you wish had been your clever retort at the time–all flit away like airless balloons. Replacement worries are drowned out by the loud rumble that begins to emanate from the warm, soft bundle before you. The staccato beats of its purring, that drops an octave as they lie down and relax into a marathon scratching session, punches rapid fire holes into any surfacing thought. The mesmerizing rumbling permeates your body like the base tones of a concert or the finely tuned engine of an idling motorbike. Abandon all hope, thoughts that would enter here. Their grasp on your attention is main-
tained as it cranes its head to catch your meandering digits in a specific spot, whether it be under the chin, the side of their face, or the ever demanding ear. They lean hard into moving fingers until it feels like you're about to scratch the last vestiges of annoying brain matter from both their head and yours. You chuckle when their back leg starts to twitch in time to your vigorous knuckling. You stop and they shake their head releasing a plumb of dislodged fuzz. You barely get the chance to wipe your face and nose clean before their petite, finely textured, damp nose nudges at your wayward hand. You settle into the deep tissue facial massage stage of the petfest. You marvel at the contrast between the impossibly acute, hard angles of the skull underneath to the velvet smooth fur, like the inside of rabbit lined gloves, that never loses its softness or fineness. Your touch is so attuned that the direction the hair grows can be felt in the oscillation between a yielding field of points akin to the tip of an expensive paint brush and the smooth silkiness as your fingertips pull in the other direction. Their eyes are closed and you could swear they were smiling as you firmly run your hands over their punk rock mussed forehead and neaten out the evidence of a decadent rampage through their luxurious hair. You gaze, vacuous, as they quietly begin to snore. You’re vaguely aware that your butt has
gone numb–normally. Part 2 Your mind is frantic: Did I wait too long? Did I not wait long enough? I’m not qualified to make this kind of decision. I don’t even know what’s best for me. What if it’s curable? Could I afford it? Money should never be a factor in a decision like this, but it is. You want to smack the syringe out of the veterinarian’s hand. You’re compulsively scratching your companion behind the ear as they lie on their back in your arms. Its purr now sounds like a dove missing its mate. “Okay,” the veterinarian says in a soft, calm voice. “First we’re going to inject the anesthesia.” You watch the needle pierce the tiny, circular, pink, rubber cap of the catheter. She squeezes the milky contents of the syringe into the tubing. As it hits the cat’s bloodstream, it twitches, but that’s as much struggle as they have left in them. You can no longer hear them purring. All you can hear is your own pulse rage and racing. Your vision blurs. Your eyes feel like you’ve been in an over-chlorinated pool too long. A heavy ball of barbed wire scrapes up and down your throat in time to the heaving rhythm of your chest. “You’re very brave.” The vet doesn’t want dramatics. “Normally owners don’t stay. It makes a big difference for the animal.” Your mind goes spinning in a different
direction–about how you haven’t visited your father since you put him in a home in deepest, death cult, Florida, but mostly it swirls around the time you acted “normally” and left your first cat to die in a cold, sterile, brightly lit room without a familiar smell or a loving hand to be found. The one that saw you through your divorce. The one you neglected for ten, twelve, fourteen hours a day while you pursued your own interests. The one that swam/ crawled its way into your lap at six weeks old. They probably didn’t even bother with anesthetic. It’s expensive. That's more for you than them, like funerals. Through the distortion you see the syringe with a pink translucent substance come out of the pocket of the vet’s blue lab coat. There’s no point in explaining what it is. The only one who doesn’t know is the one that’s about to get it. Their fur is matted with your sweat. There is another convulsion, a raspy squeak, and the body molds itself to the shape of your arms. You can feel your hand supporting their haunches become warm and wet through the blanket. There are a few random twitches afterwards that shock you out of tasting salty viscousness. “That’s normal.” The vet puts her hand on your shoulder, briefly. Inject me, your mind screams. I’m the one that deserves to die. It’s uncharacteristic of you. You’re not that type, not normally.
The Green Door Poetry
chicago, Illinois, USA
A dream of a home with a garden hydrangeas bleed into the sea a dream of a home with a green door and the waves that lap at its floors Wake up with the wildflowers chase sparrows from feeder to crest Gather at dusk, come in with the tide red wine to warm up the blues Restless as mice in the floorboards at night a ghost adrift in the light of the moon Footprints in mud stain the runners salt grows thick in rings on the walls the seas flood the plains, rocks crumble to sand our fort holds fast only when it exists Here the foundations are ancient the hallways an immortal maze When the waters rush in and the cornerstone falls the garden we sowed here will bloom
pollen dripping from my fingers Poetry
Troy, New York, USA
and we are not the old versions of ourselves in this first week of march doves cooing and crocuses struggling to find their way through frozen soil / they are new blooming the way i am cracking through my ribs to find who i was / am / meant to be, the bee buzzes in my ears honey, you are sweet and fierce like me with stingers in my eyes and wings in my lungs, i am not who i was / we are not who we were that last year's march when the daffodils sang early against the winter's harsh frost.
Digital Art - Second Place Visual
Monique Rardin Richardson Dublin, California, USA
Spiritual Awakening Painting
Xiao Faria daCunha Chicago, Illinois, USA
Pleasanton, California, USA
In a grassy field shared with an aging bay horse four goats, two Nigerian and two Nubian of different mothers, form an unlikely herd. The undeveloped land where they run and forage rolls boundless, vast acreage purchased by a man who thought he would build on it. The land lies in a flood plain and, so, the field remains to this day as untamed as my hair the day before I wash it.
The four goats who claim this field allow you to stroke their necks scratch their ears, but don’t mistake them for being docile since they will fight fiercely for snacks offered clash brutally bash foreheads lock curved white horns attack with whiter teeth for a banana peel or piece of carrot or Fig Newton cookie. They battle over the scant protection offered beneath hanging tree branches and the narrow awning shielding the old horse’s feed bin. Nutmeg, the black and beige goat with angular horns jutting like two boomerangs is the alpha member of the herd, the other three tend to defer to him. Recently, he suffers debilitating arthritis in his legs, his joints have lost their agency his bones struggle to work in tandem, the links between them broken. His right front leg resists any attempt to put weight on it causing him to trip and fall even at a slow pace move forward with an abnormal hop.
It is hard for me to watch him struggle. He has become very thin can barely forage despite the lush green of the plain and the autumn leaves falling from the oak tree in the middle of the field. There have been challenges to his reign. He is attacked by two of the others, challengers for the very choice morsels of food he once commanded for himself. A fourth goat, having no hope of competing, minds his place, avoids the power shift, observes quietly as one of the contenders rams his horns into Nutmeg’s side new king of the hill.
Yet as the night falls to freezing temperatures I watch the other goats follow Nutmeg to where he chooses to rest, nestle around him oblivious to the horse and goat manure on the ground use the warmth of their bodies to shield him from the icy wind.
conversation about the moon Poetry
Victor Pambuccian Tempe, Arizona, USA
I once asked you you who were tucked away in that separating distance like a match in a matchbox why poets perceive the moon as a symbol of death Månen berättar mig i silverne runor om landet som icke är. and you said it’s the changing phases of the moon that make us think of time and what is time you said if not the feeding ground of death? Bajo la luna gitana, las cosas la están mirando y ella no puede mirarlas.
didn’t time make you and me and the intricate labyrinth of steps tears and thought where paths can cross the threshold of the bearable? Vergine luna, tale è la vita mortale. we might exist outside of time when we cease to wander in search of a needle not for having found something more precious or for being tired Intatta luna, tale è lo stato mortale.
but were we not born of it of that destroyer the one who created distances and matchboxes and the petals of a meeting? înainte ca luna cu instinctul ei de ghid al morţii for the moon is the dominant light of night the sun’s antagonist of sorts and if the sun is a symbol of life then what else is there for the moon to be a symbol of? sure, but don’t we meet at nighttime to discover that twisted pulsing landscape of that other almost forgotten self?
Photography - First Place Visual
Pleasanton, California, USA
Blue Moon Poetry
Danville, California, USA
A blue moon’s night a star amongst billions succinct in light the sky’s endless pavilion ...amid calm mist over stilled water. The ineffable fabric of Earth’s magical flow from greenest fields and a sun-mountain’s glow ...alluring as Mother Nature’s daughter. And laughter, laughter like carefree leaves in supple wind as playful can be it’s misfortune that someone cannot be these things to sustain and embrace together and sing of life and its gifts afar or near until I heard her voice it was all I could hear heartfelt to sight as a hummingbird’s flight remarkable magic of glimmering light a splendor that you may never attune surrender to you lovely blue moon.
Hunger Moon Rising Poetry
Abbey Lynne Rays
Dublin, California, USA
Give me that cold, cold earth. Feed it to me, gingerly at first, then by the mouthful. I want it all, walnut remains, split open by their own weathered weight. Grapes, not yet ripe. Fistfuls of grass. Let me taste the rain. Tongue curled, waiting. All the surender I can dig my hands into, mud of worth and wanting. Restless for the wreck of night, limbs spread in waiting, my breath spilling white rivers into the dark stuttering sky.
My Shadows Poetry
Abbey Lynne Rays
Dublin, California, USA
Sometimes my past feels unimagined. How violently hope has scared me. The scrapes and black blood sealed with the spit of tomorrow. Squatting in the corner and dreaming of daybreak. I knew no shadows other than my own. Now with these days passed, I keep these secrets in graciousness, my personal flickering legends, lighting my future to shape.
Caleb N. Gonsalves
Roseville, California, USA
Farewell to a Stranger Friend in the Darkness of Sunny Day Poetry
Daniel J. Zyzniewski Warsaw, Poland
We were standing together in the morning sunshine waiting for a tram I couldn’t stop looking at You with my older than Yours anxiety-anger in eyes Your juvenility dressed in the color of combat green Your heavy black shoes and Your backpack larger than You with the BLUE YELLOW flag as a stripe on the front pocket You tossed this luggage over Your shoulder with shaky movement of slim and tall teenage boy I wished to ask You: Who did You want to be? Which studies did You quit? What future did You decide to leave? – going back to the place which You left away years ago to start better living I was going to tell You that here in my country, which is now also Yours You can still find this bright morning sun and when the war will end in Your beautiful land You will be needed there with Your diploma and strength but NOT WITH A GRAVE! I wanted to ask You: Have You ever held a gun in Your hands?! I was ready to tell You: Stay and be helpful to Your brothers and sisters in this place, where they are escaping to! But all these words got stuck in my throat like a fish bone because of which life cannot goes on at all
The tram came to the stop screeched to a halt sparks fired between our minds I froze like a pillar of salt my gaze was screaming what You noticed nodding head with sad agreement as if You have heard everything what I was thinking and then You disappeared in the darkness of sunny day facing Your own coming despair at Your birth home where life cannot be now started again and sun does not light anyone’s way no more (To the memory of PEOPLE killed in Russia’s genocide over Ukraine started in February 2022.)
Caleb N. Gonsalves
Fairfield, Connecticut, USA
Roseville, California, USA
the trains are always full these days sometimes the aisles are jammed with standees packed tightly as sardines in a tin
i have no plans to take a train long ago i learned that wherever you go there you are with all you own
everyone wants to go somewhere anywhere away from wherever they are now and scalpers are making
unpacked in a different place and though the landscape is new you’re the same old you with the same old heartache
a killing some days i go to the station just watching the crush of bodies pushing their way in and out
the same old blues sewn tightly to your shadow so i watch the trains come and go until it’s dark and then head
wondering why they’re getting off here but i guess the lure of somewhere different is enough to tempt them
home with the baggage i carry that i can’t unpack no matter where i am or where i go it’s always home
I have a feeling my dear, Perhaps something stronger If I could shake it, I think perhaps I would. I think logically it’s time to forget romance Platonic soulmates perhaps my love friend What was once can never be again, My friends words echo through my mind Who let them in? I was content in this place alone with thoughts of you. and I know I shouldn’t That's no longer my responsibility or place to occupy. I should have left it weeks ago but the urge to leave can’t get its bearings It lights a spark, but the match goes out Over and over again A empty matchbox litters my mind and I'm still here thinking about you.
Free the Trees Painting
Delta NA Asti
Walking Home Alone
Dublin, California, USA
Pleasanton, California, USA
He follows me around silently. Never leaving, never speaking Just staring. Only I can see him. His eyes tell me what I deny. He is tall and scrawny with eyes so black they become white. His expression is blank as if there is nothing left. He’s a shell of a man. Yet his eyes speak volumes. There’s a darkness about him, the sun seems colder The flowers don’t bloom and the people don’t smile. He has a power over me, dictating my actions. Making me cautious of what I say. He blurs my vision and clouds my thoughts. He is a reflection of what I try to hide. He will follow me forever, until someone comes along to push him away. Loneliness is my constant companion.
We hold hands, but not really, As though we’re both covered in a layer of cellophane. I think that if I hold her hand too tight, it will rupture and drift away into dust. I walk home, she staggers Our steps match sometimes - every fifth step, I think, Shoelaces flapping, like ivory geese, on the concrete Perforating our eggshell stillness. Her eyes are glass today. Empty cheeks like yellow orchids, Knuckles of chalk, A porcelain smile. We reach Our house. Her kiss hovers above my forehead As she disappears inside And I stay out, looking in. We won't see each other again Until this time tomorrow, Myself and myself - same as always. Monster, Monolith, Mayfly, Me
Lost Petals Digital Art
Monique Rardin Richardson Dublin, California, USA
Caleb N. Gonsalves
Livermore, California, USA
The waves will continue to crash, deep and murky; white foam caps. Upon weather-worn, time-torn rock-croppings; I stand on a precipice. Deep and murky; white foam caps, the crashing cacophony calls to me. I stand on a precipice, convincing myself not to cast off. The crashing cacophony calls to me: laughing, crying, screaming, pleading. Convincing myself not to cast off, I rest among the wildflowers. Laughing, crying, screaming, pleading– a cavalry of jaded knights stab at me with supple blades while I rest among the wildflowers. It is a fit-full sleep; blaring conflicts in my head. A cavalry of jaded knights stab at me with supple blades, I do not notice anymore, for what is pain? It is a fit-full sleep; blaring conflicts in my head and the taste of sweet promises on my tongue.
Roseville, California, USA
I do not notice anymore, for what is pain, compared to the empty void of unreachable space and the taste of sweet promises on my tongue? “Hush child,” I hear a moonbeam say.
She had a flower on her arm, and an anchor on her foot self portraits on her own skin designs she had chosen, personal graffiti, Her body the canvas, voiding garage doors old trains, and underpasses.
“Compared to the empty void of unreachable space, my starlight is but a blink in the night– hush child, do not think that way,” I hear a moonbeam say.
She was a fever dream in the flesh, In an instant I thought I would ruin her. I wanted her sins to be enough to drive me away.
My starlight is but a blink in the night, but I will shine with all my might, so I will not think that way. I have a purpose; I am full-filled. I will shine with all my might, so do not cry out when you see me, I have a purpose; I am full-filled. For there is peace in knowing. Do not cry out when you see me upon weather-worn, time-torn rock croppings. For there is peace in knowing, the waves will continue to crash.
I lingered, just enough time to reminisce separate memories. She told me about a spiral down, that she had.. and the death of her father, Now with a lit cigarette. She offered me a hit, As I told her of my homelessness, and of my dying heart.. A suffering...we all face, ---for me it feels so real, heart diseases creep in slowly and do damage. almost as much as the ones who got away.
Sometimes I wonder which pain is emotional and which ones are physical, when they get so layered they blend, like the cemetery of cigarettes now crumpled to ash in her scarred hand.
Letter to my younger flesh Poetry
Tracy, California, USA
What you’re feeling right now isn’t normal. That may seem blunt or unfair or untruthful But it is blunt and unfair and truthful. Those around you who tell you what you are feeling is normal aren’t lying out of a sense of hatred or dishonesty or kindness even But because they themselves do not realize the lie they have been entrenched in In time, you will learn the words for your thoughts Your feelings Your behaviors A list of diagnoses for behaviors long ignored But that’s later. For now You sit in the front left corner of each class Aching for a time when you felt integrated into your education Wondering, as you barely skate by with an A, how anyone else manages You’ll turn in your test first, not bothering to double check your math The solution seemingly simple: I must just be lazy I must just be wanting attention I must just be stupid For now You sit in the corner of your bed, staring out to the corner of your room
The front left corner Waiting for a figure to come back out of the wall and comfort you to sleep Everyone feels like this you’ll mumble Waiting for the clicks of the keyboard down the hall to signify safety That someone is scaring off the monsters to keep you safe Even as you get older and face adulthood down like an unloaded shotgun Unsure if there are bullets and fearing that there are not This isn’t normal- for anyone except for you This isn’t normal but that doesn’t make it cancerous Doesn’t make it an error or a glitch But simply a function You always say you are like a computer, one with too many programs open and music playing from tabs that you thought were closed but simply froze Let’s add on to that analogy You and I Lady to man Survivor to abuser You are like a computer but unlike one in many ways The windows you thought were closed are called trauma Software you thought was deleted from the hard drive, but the files still stay
Standing in the front left corner of each room you lay in Your hyperactive anti-virus protecting you from all the wrong things Letting those files stand while screaming about how the doors are all askew How there is a bug in your brain and the only way you can get it out is with a hole through your skull How much danger you are always in despite laying in bed in a locked house in a locked room with a knife in your bedside table ( The knife won’t come until you’re in your twenties in a literal form but still exists to you now- then Whenever you are ) So, to my younger flesh- sweeter and soft but feeling like rot on the inside You are not a computer. You are made of flesh and blood and bones. There isn’t any chip in your brain or sense of normalcy in anything. Write this down on your scars Your arms covered in notes and doodles and scratches You are not normal. Thank whatever god your friends’ worship for that as I will thank the Gods we befriend in the years ahead. We are not normal except to ourselves.
Tennis Court: ADHD Inside the Mind Poetry
My tennis court won’t stop its game. It won’t allow the sun to go down. The players fight fruitlessly, no strike inbound. So there’s no game, set and match. I gave them new rackets because that was what the referee told me. However dull and uninspired, they were functional without damage. The players stopped scrambling; the once rapid ever-lasting match slowed down. Strides become walks. Their once loud irrevocable yells were but soft whispers, every strike barely passing over the net.
Pleasanton, California, USA
My mind is a tennis court. Two players scramble across the field, catching the passing thoughts, but the racket is tethered and has holes. I feel the scenery become vivid and lucid and the players move faster and more frantic. The balls keep coming, but they can’t keep up.
Wishing Well Mountain House, California, USA
My mind that was once beautiful and wild and uncontrollable had become dull and mechanical. Would it be better to feel everything than nothing at all? The players continued–spontaneity combust. The matches finished in a deuce each time– and the sun went down, without a fight. I felt cheated. Referee you have done this to me. You made MY game into something that was not me. Now I wish that this cycle would stop its repeat, and see that maybe a final match could be my victory. Game, set and match.
It’s not very often that I see displays of kindness as great as yours, and with them you remain so consistent. Everyone relies on what you provide, such that it’s become a given. No complaints, and a resting face so serene. Everything admirable, in spite of a parasite’s routine. In your stead, I let the leech’s apathy bother me, and bite back at your relatives’ mockery. What else can I do to comfort you? Perhaps most painful of all is what I know is true: When you’ve run dry, your only regret will be that you didn’t do more.
the darkness of nights alone
Who Should Have Come First
Monique Rardin Richardson
Poetry - Honorable Mention
Tempe, Arizona, USA
forgiveness comes with loneliness with the absence of shadows in the way of nights with painted-over dreams of failure with you asleep with the memory of the recently departed when there is nothing left to weave for lack of yarn or a receiver of the gift when you
Dublin, California, USA
are the closest you've ever been from afar unafraid to draw the outline yourself of the forbidden place where the heart ought to be placed inside the bedroom to undress the awful weakness of unmistakably caring of becoming exposed as the wind moves up the stairs of that tower left hollow by kneeling
In an enchanting dark room, we stood surrounded by nothing but a view of one another and a history spanning decades To the left, an ex-lover, trying to be a friend He declared to be in my life until his last breath but could never be reached when I needed his voice A man who roamed the earth like the wind, detached from promises, even ones made to himself To the right, a dreamer, so full of passion, he couldn't stay connected because of the "fantasy" affair taking place in his self-made Garden of Eden He feared himself if the happiness dissolved, and me, since he believed he was not deserving Straight ahead in the distance, a mirror I pushed the silhouette to the left and watched him scatter into pieces and fly away like the seeds of a dandelion finding a new place to consume its inner beauty My hand rested on the heartbeat of the figure on the right, watched him crumble like a sandcastle slipping away with the force of waves on land and I awoke... and stepped towards myself
Forgiving South Park: Growing Up With Red Hair Non-Fiction - Second Place
Livermore, California, USA
Purple. Fucking purple. I stared at the mirror in disbelief. I looked nothing like the smiling woman on the box inmy hand. She, of no wrinkles and porcelain teeth, seemed to mock me with her gorgeous head of perfect brown hair. And I, who had been so naive in the CVS earlier as to fall for her promise that anyone, too, might have hair like hers: sparkling and straight and free from derision But there I stood, sixteen years old in my Mom’s bathroom on the verge of tears, staring at this Martian warrior with dark purple hair, streaks of dye streaming down his face like warpaint. I could hear my Mom’s consoling voice from what felt like a million miles away, “Oh Honey it will get lighter after a few washes.” I have pale skin, freckles on my arms, and red hair. As a little kid, I knew I looked different from most but I never thought twice about it. I had red hair, most people didn’t. Sure,some kids would make fun of me for it in elementary school, but it was nothing worse than what was said to all kids on the playground. Red hair was just a trait, and I was normal. On November 9, 2005, the television show South Park released their newest episode on the network Comedy Central and my life, as I knew it before that day, effectively ended. I was in the sixth grade, and I arrived at school likely worried about a test or homework I had neglected. My Mom, who despite going
to church all of twice a year, had erected a Catholic barrier aroundSouth Park, so I was not allowed to watch. From the moment I set foot on campus, I could tell something was off. Nearly everyone Isaw grinned and laughed under their breath at me, people I didn’t even know started coming up to me and asking if I had a soul. I had never taken issue with a few kids being jerks to me, but now it felt like every single person, teachers included, were looking at me with pity, disgust, or embarrassment. The episode had targeted “gingers,” people with red hair and pale skin, and their various shortcomings. Along with being ‘gross and sickening to look at,’ gingers also had no soul in their bodies akin to the undead or vampires, their parents weeping after childbirth that their newborn was afflicted with the condition. To the seventh and eighth graders who had regarded me as just another pre-pubescent ‘freshman,’ I was suddenly a physical embodiment of the jokes that hath made them laugh so hard the weekend before. I stood out in a way that I had never stood out before, and in middle school that can be dangerous. In my P.E. class, which was made up of both sixth and seventh graders, I caught the eye of a group of older boys. They had never said a word to me before, so I was stunned to see them gathered around my locker in the changing room First, it was insults. They would circle
around me during stretches, stalk me during the warm-up runs around the ballfields, and wait for me before and after changing in the locker room. All class long, every day, they called me names until I was almost crying. No one stood up for me, why would they? Standing up for someone without a soul doesn’t make any sense. I Would go to the rest of my classes in a fog, finding no reprieve from the stares and snickers of my other classmates. After a few months, I got used to their daily taunting in P.E. and stopped reacting. They didn’t like that. The ballfields that we had to run around at the start of every class has a blindspot behind some dugouts on the far end. I know this because one day, and every day after, the boys would wait for me on our daily run. Favorite targets of theirs were the stomach and groin, where bruises or cuts were not easily provable, nor was any dirt or saliva that I mightingest. Eventually, I told my parents and transferred schools in seventh grade. I was a shell of myself after that year thanks to the hair I had never thought twice about. At my new school, Irealized that I had two options, fight back or give up. I was a small kid, fighting physically was out of the question, but I could use my words and my wit. Throughout the rest of middle and high school, I practiced how to be quick with a comeback when someone insulted me. As a result, I became much funnier in the eyes of my peers and attracted a
close group of friends. I Embraced any identity from class-clown to daredevil to delinquent that might let me escape the stigma on my head. By junior year I was exhausted. One fateful CVS trip later, I had purple hair. It was thirty minutes until my best friend's birthday party and I had a decision to make. After all, I had lived the last five years with a scarlet letter on my skull, how bad could purple hair be by comparison? I left my house head held high, looking like a mop recently used at the Welch’s factory. I met my first girlfriend that night, and no one at the party even so much as giggled at my hair. I couldn’t believe it. Part of me was upset, how could purple hair be ok, but not red? Then I Realized that my hair color didn’t actually matter, the way I carried myself did. After a year or so the purple faded and the red returned, but the person I was, remained. I Fell in love with theater and writing and my hair went back to just being a trait. Though when Ithink about my identity, I know I wouldn’t be the person I am today without my hair. Sure, I still get the odd inappropriate comment or weird exchange: “Wow I never thought I would kiss a ginger,” or the always popular lists of people the person I’m talking to knows that have red hair too. But I take the bad and the good together, I wouldn’t have had to become clever or humorous if not for my hair. I wouldn’t know what it feels like, to a lesser extent, to be totally alone and discriminated against. And though I can tell you what the dirt behind the ballfields tastes like (abit bland but otherwise tolerable,) I can also tell you that the
whole world changes when you accept yourself. Whether your hair is red, brown, blue, or even fucking purple.
A Joy I Once Knew Poetry
Central Point, Oregon, USA
It came to me again, a joy I once knew, so singular and refined in its hope; a song coming from our music room so awful even the mice covered their ears; and, before me, an upside-down teacup, a tiny white doily on top for two miniature dolls handmade by Parisians, a memory that always stayed the same over time pillowing my head for the dreams that lay ahead seeing miracles crystallize before my very eyes and my heart brightened by day, a life given me by the unseen hands of heaven.
Curly Hair Pantoum Poetry
Yarmouth, Maine, USA
Your face pressed cold against the school bus window you took this all personally her gold brown hair, her lightning hot hands, the heart drawn in pencil on the wall If she loved you back she didn’t have the courage to say.
Once you were three, with curly hair love roared in waves as tall as homes longing banged like lighting across the ocean. In the photo you’re wide-eyed, your parents on either side. Love roared in waves as tall as homes you peed your pants on the playground (you were seven) in the photo you’re wide-eyed, your parents on either side. Can you keep this secret forever?
You took this all personally the light, the snow, the school bus. If she loved you back she didn’t have the courage to say and who could you ever trust?
You peed your pants on the playground (you were seven) She crossed your mind too much (she was a girl, you were a girl) Can you keep this secret forever? And then you turned 16, and then you turned 16.
The light, the snow, the school bus surging, dancing, and singing, in infinite waving circles. And who could you ever trust? I’m here, I’m 30, I saw you
She crossed your mind too much (she was a girl, you were a girl) Your face pressed cold against the school bus window and then you turned 16, and then you turned 16. Her gold brown hair, her lightning hot hands, the heart drawn in pencil on the wall.
surging, dancing, and singing in infinite waving circles Once, you were three with curly hair I’m here, I’m 30, I saw you, longing banged like lightning across the ocean.
Livermore, California, USA
Leaves still cling to the wavering oak trees, but they’ll drift down soon in their slow, graceful deaths. I’ll watch them fall with a cup of hot tea in my gloved hands, warmth inside me instead of surrounding me. Then they’ll crunch underneath my shoes, creating a red and golden path to walk in a windy world that will no longer resemble this one. But not yet. The dwindling summer sun still beats down hard on us, causing Lark to flick down her visor in order to see the road before us. “Almost there,” she says. For a moment, her soft hazel eyes meet mine in the small strip of mirror and she winks at me before looking back at the road. I feel myself starting to grin and look away, out of the spotted window that’s open by just a crack, releasing a warm breeze that smells like pine trees. Lemon-colored hills sprinkled with greenery whir by us; they have more trees than can be counted. Dry dirt roads fly past us, multitudes of different paths, and the posts of fences melt into one another, uniting every aspect of the world outside of the car. I feel whole in this moment, but I don’t say it out loud. It’s not one of those things you say out loud. Lark drums her nails against the steering wheel and says, “I still can’t believe we’re finally doing this.” Leo yawns loudly, lifting his head up from where he rested it on my shoulder. “Yeah, I think that Joan and I first talked about the house back when we were still
pissing our pants in school.” I laugh and look at him. “Oh, come on. You were the pisser, Leo.” He smiles sleepily and nods, running his hands through his messy blond hair. “Sure, whatever you say, Princess Pissy Pants. But I will never unsee the way you looked when you saw Robin Fisher holding his pet snake in show and tell. The sheer fear in your eyes, and that growing stain on your bedazzled jeans—” “Okay, okay. One time. But you? You were the King of Pissland. Making puddles on the daily.” I scoff. “I don’t know who you think you are, calling me Princess Pissy Pants.” “Not on the daily, but whatever. You can totally refer to me as royalty, though.” “I’ll be sure to.” Eve turns her head from the passenger seat to look at us and laugh. “Anyway, the house.” “Ah, yes!” Leo snaps his bony fingers together in recollection. “All the teenagers I knew talked about the house—all my brother’s stupid friends—but they were all too chicken to actually go visit it. So I told Joan that me and her were gonna do it ourselves someday.” “Were your pants wet when you told her?” teases Eve. He kicks the back of her seat gently in his gray socks, a hole displaying his pale heel. “No. As a matter of fact, they were not. And they won’t be today either. I can’t say the same for you, though.”
Eve’s cheeks go crimson, nearly the same shade as her vibrant red tank top. “I’m not afraid of the house.” “But you’re scared of the ghosts in it! Ooooh!” Leo wiggles his fingers in the air and makes spooky noises. Lark gives Eve’s arm a reassuring pat. “It’s a valid fear.” “It’s not just that.” Eve twists a piece of jet black hair in her fingers and sighs in frustration. “We’re also breaking and entering, you know. You do know that, right, Leo?” He rolls his eyes and pulls at a pale loose thread of his ripped jeans. “I’m aware. And we aren’t gonna get caught. Nobody ever gets caught.” Eve turns and squints at him. “Never. Not once, in the history of the world, has anyone ever been caught breaking and entering.” He drops the thread and looks up at her, deadpan. “Correct.” “Thank you for the pure facts, Leo,” Lark says as she parks the car on an empty road, right next to an old wooden fence, most of its off-white paint chipped away with time. “You’re extremely welcome.” We all get out of the car except Leo, who is busy tying his sneakers. I walk over to his side and open the door for him, bowing ceremoniously. “Your majesty, you may now get the fuck out.” We throw on backpacks filled with beer cans, snacks, and flashlights and make our way to the tall yellow field that
surrounds the abandoned house. I walk behind Lark and watch her caramel hair sway back and forth in its ponytail as she moves, hypnotizing me. Her bare shoulder blades are dark from the sun. An array of tan lines decorate her skin, and I imagine tracing over them with my finger, soft as a whisper. I’m so entranced by her back that I don’t notice when she stops moving, and I bump into her like an idiot. Up close, she smells like a vanilla-flavored heaven. “Shit, I’m sorry.” She waves her hand, the black polish on her nails glistening in the sun. “It’s all good, Joan. Guess you’re just super excited to get to the house.” She shoots me a smile, cherry lips turning upwards mischievously. “As am I!” She flings her tattered bag off her shoulder and throws it on a patch of dirt before she hunts through it for a thin blanket. She unfolds it and begins spreading it across the dry grass, and I grab another end to help smooth it out with her. A ladybug lands on my forearm, tickling my skin as it travels. I let it stay. “Speaking of the house . . . Are we not doing that anymore?” Eve bites her nails with a hopeful voice. She crinkles a bag of chips in her other hand without realizing it. Lark snorts and gestures to the house in the distance. “Do you really think we just drove over an hour to have a picnic near the haunted house we’ve been talking about exploring for years?” I gently pull cans out of my backpack and take a seat on the blanket, careful not to disturb my tiny red friend. Lark and Leo join me. “Does beer and chips even qualify as a picnic?” I ask. Leo licks salt off his fingers as he says, “What a ridiculous question. Of course
they do.” Eve crosses her arms and shuffles her feet around awkwardly. “But it’s gonna get dark if we don’t go soon.” “It’s almost like that’s the whole point.” Leo wiggles his fingers again and Eve glares at him. “Ah, come on, Eve. It’ll be okay. Also you better stop frowning because I brought Uno and nobody is allowed to play Uno and frown. It’s highly illegal.” She holds her frown and asks, “Is it the double-sided version or regular?” “Double-sided.” He pauses and raises an eyebrow. “Does that actually matter to you?” She breaks into a cheeky smile, then takes a seat next to him. “I start.” We play until the sun goes down and the night air grows cool against our skin and the moon starts glowing big and bright, and I feel so small underneath it, almost microscopic next to the huge, abandoned house that’s nearly swallowed by towering trees and their long black shadows. And I feel small sitting next to Lark, like I could be washed away by the sound of her laugh any minute now. I can feel how small the moment is, smaller than the ladybug that’s long since flown away. I’ve been alive for eighteen long, full, fleeting years, brimming with all these moments, and this is just another one of them, one of the many. We’ve only been together a few hours today, and we’ll only be together a few more, and then we will part, not knowing when, or if, we will see each other again. Everyone will break apart starting tomorrow, off to new colleges and people and fields, scattering across the world into different pieces. This is just a small moment in all of our vast lives, but it’s so big at the same
time, bigger than the moon, bigger than everything we’ve ever touched. Starlight gleams in Lark’s endless eyes, which are drowsy and smiling. I wonder if she knows that she holds pieces of the galaxy inside of herself. And I figure she should know this, but I cling to an edge of the silky blanket like the words cling to my tongue. “I want to remember this,” she says, pulling a camera out of her bag, not a phone, but one of those bulky, professional-looking gray ones. She points it at us and Leo throws his arms around me and Eve. We smile for her and she gives us modeling commands, telling us when to tilt our heads or make a certain silly or dramatic face. We don’t listen very well, but she snaps the pictures anyway, and her face is serious yet radiant. After a few minutes, I can’t take it anymore. “You are way too pretty to be the photographer,” I say. She looks at me in surprise and I quickly add, “But Leo’s not.” “It was nice of you to think of such a pleasant way to ask,” he snaps. He ruffles my hair a little too harshly. “But you’re right.” He takes the camera from Lark and she moves over, right next to me, our knees touching and setting off something inside my chest. I watch her out of the corner of my eye at first, and then fully, both of my eyes on her, drinking her all in. She looks at me too and her smile becomes something else, still a smile, but with another tone to it than for the one she gives to the camera. It’s for me, for right now, this very second. She’s almost too overwhelming to look at, too beautiful, but I keep my eyes on her and she does the same until Leo stands and announces that it’s time, it’s time for us to go, to move on to more moments
that will slip out from under us before we can ever have enough of them, and it takes everything in me to let go of her gaze. We pull out our flashlights but don’t turn them on yet, as the moon gives us enough light to see the open field. But when we enter the shadows of the trees, we all click ours on. Lark and I are tailing right behind Leo and Eve, and we are almost on the steps when Eve grabs his hand in fear. He shoots me a glance, eyes wide with shock, and a massive grin growing on his face. I shoot him a thumbs up. Lark pokes me in the side and I look at her. I’m scared, she mouths. But she’s not. She’s smirking and not afraid of anything; she holds her steady hand out and I take it the second she does. She runs her thumb over the back of my hand and I shiver. Everything feels like so much more than it was before she took my hand. The house is much more ominous in the light of just a flashlight. Ivy hugs the walls, creeping into the house through a shattered window. The paint has been bleached by the sun and the years, once stark white and now graying. The side of the house is missing chunks of panels, some of them crooked and falling, or completely gone. A section of the grimy roof is caving in, and so are some of the steps leading up to the porch, which are home to a bunch of spiders and their intricate webs. Needless to say, the house is a piece of shit. I turn to Lark to see if she’s unsettled now, but she’s just as unafraid as before. “Cool,” she says, smiling excitedly. Leo’s face twists in disgust and he shrinks back, away from the house. “Not a fan of the spiders,” he squeaks.
Eve takes a deep breath. “You guys sure you aren’t satisfied by that picnic? It was really nice. I think it was worth the drive. Man, I feel so satisfied by it. Don’t you guys? Huh?” Lark adjusts her shirt, tucking it into her baggy jeans absentmindedly as she says, “We’ve already come this far.” Eve nods quickly. “And that’s so far! Far enough! Awesome! Time to go back!” she cheers. “No, no. We gotta do this,” Leo says. He flashes a smile at me. “For the little pissers.” I speak as seriously as I possibly can. “For the little pissers.” I stick my flashlight in my mouth and fist bump him before setting my hand on the doorknob. “Three.” “Two,” says Lark. “One!” says Leo. I rattle the doorknob. “It’s fucking locked.” They all start laughing, and I do too. “Window it is,” Lark says. She pulls away from me and takes out her old flannel from her bag, carefully setting it over the broken glass at the bottom. She climbs in without another word, disappearing into the blackness of the house. My heart beats rapidly and I follow her just as fast. I hadn’t ever pictured the inside of the house like this, so human, but it’s filled with furniture. An old green floral sofa with brown mystery stains is in the middle of the room, seat torn open and adorned with cobwebs and eager springs. There’s a table next to it with a maroon lamp covered in the thickest layer of dust I’ve ever seen, and an empty pack of cigarettes lounges beside it. There’s a faint smell of smoke in the house, but it’s overpowered by musty mildew. I shine my flashlight onto the crumbling walls, un-
covering framed black and white photos of people who are probably dead now. Family members to whoever lived here, memories of them never taken down. They’re dusty too, but they’re there. Even if they are dead, they’re still not really gone; they’re here, hanging up inside of this house, still able to be new people to someone. These are their eternities. One of the frames has a girl in it, her face serious but with a slight upturn of her lips, just barely there, like she knows that she will not be forgotten until everyone who cares enough to look is gone. And this will not be for a long time. “Do not tell me that’s a motherfucking cockroach. Do not. Do not.” “Leo!” I turn to face him and he’s clamming up, his hands trembling against his chest. “Hi,” he says, his voice high like a cartoon character. If he were one, he’d probably jump into the air and then bolt out of the room, leaving a cloud of dust behind him with a quick, goofy noise. “You okay?” I ask. He gulps. “I imagined this place lots of times. I imagined ghosts and dead bodies and homeless people and graffiti and used condoms on the ground. But I did not imagine bugs.” “It’s a little strange that you thought you’d see dead bodies before you’d see bugs. Bugs are literally everywhere.” “And dead bodies can be literally anywhere. But I guess I see your point.” He looks around, tugging on the neck of his t-shirt uncomfortably. “Hey, do you know where Lark went? Is she still an alive body?” “Lark!” I call out. “Up here!” she replies, just a voice echoing in the dark. “I went up the stairs!”
I take a step towards the stairs and Leo grabs my arm. “Fuck old stairs,” he says, shaking his head. “That shit’ll fall down right beneath your feet, and then you’re kersplat and then some kids will come break in here to gawk at your bloodstain. Do you really want that to be your legacy, Joan?” “I can’t let her be a kersplat all alone. True friends go splat together.” “Well, then I better find Eve.” He lets go of my arm. “Eve! What are you doing?” Her anxious, breathy voice comes from outside. “I could hear you guys talking about the bugs! No thank you!” Leo approaches the broken window. “Hey, if I’m doing this, you can do this. Please. Come on, hold my hand again before I start crying.” I find my way to the staircase on a creaky and unsteady path, doing everything I can to avoid the holes in the floorboards. I sneeze again and again, all thanks to the mountains of dust in every room. “Bless you!” shouts Lark, her voice coming from up high. I feel hot as I stand before the bottom of the staircase, sweat dampening my tank top. “Leo kinda freaked me out about this,” I say. “Well, I lived,” she says. “Yeah, but maybe you were its last functional user.” “It wasn’t even that functional. It sounded like some of the boards were cracking beneath me.” “What?” “I’m just kidding! You’ll be okay, Joan. Just come up here. I want to show you something.” I scratch my neck for a moment before saying fuck it and grabbing the rails. I fight
the urge to walk slowly, instead racing upstairs like my life depends on it. And maybe it does, I don’t know. At the top of the stairs is a skinny hallway which leads to a gigantic opening in the roof that isn’t supposed to be there; that’s where Lark must be. Someone must’ve smashed it open, maybe with a hatchet. I peek my head through the hole to see Lark sitting on the roof, hugging her knees to her chest. Her flashlight is off and she is fully illuminated by the moon, her whole body caressed by its light. “Thanks for joining me,” she says, patting the area next to her for me to come sit. I haul myself up onto the roof with my hands, trying not to wince at the sharpness of some of the tiles. “I’d join you anywhere,” I say, crossing my legs next to her. “Even the roof of a rickety, abandoned haunted house.” “Honestly, I think it’s only haunted by bugs.” “That still counts to me. If I see a spider, at any second, I’m liable to jump off.” I look down at the dark world below us and shudder. “Oh, please. You wouldn’t. Now, Leo, on the other hand…” She trails off and I laugh, and she laughs, and we are happy in this moment, and it’s worth everything in the world. I feel a sharp and unexpected pang of disappointment at the fact that there was once a time in my life when I wanted to die, when I nearly threw away the opportunity to laugh on the roof of an abandoned house with this girl in the moonlight. “I want to remember this. Forever,” she says. She moves her freckled face closer to mine than it’s ever been before, so close that we’re nearly touching.
“I want that too.” We stay like this, holding one another’s gaze precariously, and it feels similar to when you’re about to jump off of a cliff into the icy blue water below. There is this moment before you jump, this moment in which you recognize that you can either play it safe and say screw this and go get back in your car to start working on trying to feel content with watching life from afar, or you can choose to take your feet off the ground and plummet. How terrifying it is, how rewarding when I finally rest my hand on her cheek. And how it feels like I’m coming up for air when she presses her lips to mine. I trace her soft jawline with my thumb, and she gently drags her hand from my face to my chest, to my heart. I can feel her smiling. I put my hand to hers, and we feel each other beat, our fingers sensing the pulses of the different rhythms. I pull away and grin at her. “You have a good heart,” I say. She smiles still, but her voice has a tinge of sadness. “I’m going to miss yours.” And I don’t say it, because I don’t need to, but I’ll miss hers too. It makes me sad to think of missing it, though it’s unavoidable, because I will, and it will hurt. I will think of her for many nights to come and wish I could feel it again, and maybe I will, but I probably won’t. She’s going to move away and attract so many people, especially with a smile like that. And I’m going to move away too, onto different houses and people and roofs. But I push all of this aside for now, every bit of it, and I kiss her again. We pull apart again just in time for Leo’s entrance. “Hey, guess who went crazy enough to climb those godforsaken stairs!
These guys!” Behind me, he and Eve stand side by side, disheveled yet pointing to themselves with proud grins. “Congratulations!” I say. “But, now for the big question,” he says, pausing to clear his throat, “is this roof bug-free?” I nod at him and he pumps his fist in the air before climbing out to us, taking a seat next to me. We stare out into the seemingly endless field before we lay down on our backs to contemplate the stars and the little moon before they disappear. We talk until the sun rises, slowly over the hills, turning them golden.
The Better Evil Poetry
Tracy, California, USA
I judge the most I’m quick to fight The worst is always my assumption Yet nevertheless I am still blessed I’m not ignorant to my corruption
The Ascent Poetry
Tyra Belle Lechner
Albuquerque, New Mexico, USA
Blood on the floor that won’t still, panic bubbling from me like the champagne out of the glasses we got at a steep discount. A set of stairs reaches into the sky and we ascend, getting closer to God and further from what scares us. I hold you like a crucifix, thumbing each part of you like beads on a rosary, your smile a prayer each time. Patron saints of the night, hottest girls in the bar, high on our pedestals of locally sourced alcohol with cloth clinging to us like the eyes of bystanders. I’m washed in your light. They don’t know we never intended to be here in the first place. The blood doesn’t stop but neither do we.
We Are Here Painting
Tomislav Silipetar Zagreb, Croatia
Livermore, California, USA
The smell of high school gymnasium is pungent—sweat mixed with smuggled alcohol, too much cologne, and perfume that’s reminiscent of a mall. A blanket of hot, muggy air settles on my skin, and nothing about it feels safe or comforting. I shut my eyes for a moment and try to imagine that I’m underneath my old knit blanket, which is scratchy but sweet. I pretend that my fingers are becoming entangled with the loose threads that I’ve always refused to cut off because they’re soothing to play with. They take the wiry mess of my mind and make it into something that can be held in my hands. The yarn is gold and green like the sun shining onto the grass. I’m standing in the doorway, near the line of dressed-up kids that are waiting for the uncomfortably warm water fountain that’s outside. The September night air isn’t that cold, but it’s still better than inside this gym. My left hand is glued to my right elbow: my classic awkward stance. I catch myself and let my hand fall, but this feels even more uncomfortable. I scratch the back of my head and sigh as a couple stops holding hands to walk past me. I’m in the way, of course. I find my way to an empty space at the wall with the rolled-up bleachers, which thankfully has one row out to sit on. I take a seat next to a black leather bag that has a tube of red lipstick resting on top and a pair of sparkly high heels peeking out from underneath. Ah, heels. Always too
uncomfortable to dance in, but too cute not to wear for the pictures. Who could all of this belong to? There seems to be quite a number of candidates. At least half of the girls here are barefoot and the black bag goes with anyone’s outfit. I start to scan the room for the perfect match, but my eyes meet Maggie’s and I forget all about it. She’s standing near the punch table in a black tux that looks like it was made specifically for her. Her brown hair is curled and framing her face like the perfect picture. Her blue eyes are glittering spots amid a fog of black eyeshadow, like explosions of supernovas in deep space. My heart seems to thump louder than the shitty music and all the voices in the room. I can’t stop myself from walking towards her, weaving through couples and friends. I mutter apologies to the people I accidentally brush against. I stare at the floor for a long time, but when I look up again I realize that she never looked away from me. One of her hands is wrapped around a red plastic cup, which she takes a sip from before she speaks. “I’m shocked, Cal.” I swallow hard. “Why?” She doesn’t say anything. She just stares at me with an unreadable expression that makes my stomach twist. I say, “I’m shocked, too.” She doesn’t act like she wants to know why. “You never wear makeup,” I add after
a while. She scoffs. “I’m full of surprises, then.” She raises her eyebrow in the most menacing way possible. “Just like you!” Mock sweetness. I might throw up. My gaze drifts back to the sea of students, all dancing and crashing into each other like waves. I feel like a ship going down. I speak as softly as I can. “I’m sorry, Maggie.” “No, you’re not. You can’t even look at me.” I turn to her and she shakes her head, cutting me off before I can reply. “I bet you don’t even want to stand next to me, do you? I bet you don’t.” Another swig. “You better stay away from the fag, right? Wouldn’t want anyone to see you.” I want to tell her that she’s wrong. I try to speak with my eyes but I don’t think that she gets the message because she flips me off and walks away. Wouldn’t want anyone to see you. Her voice is a song on repeat in my head—a song I hate but keep hearing everywhere I go. It’s always been sort of like that with Maggie. Her words haunt me all the way to the bathroom sink. I run the icy water over my hands, which I didn’t realize were shaking until just now. Pathetic. I turn off the sink and cradle the back of my neck with clammy palms. My life feels like a bad dream. I want a pinch, or some freezing water to wake me up. A slap in the face. A cut. Anything. I rest my hands against the graffitied
mirror. Hearts with random initials in them frame my face. I wonder how many of them are broken up, if any of them are still in love or ever were. I wonder if any of the hearts contain people like me and Maggie. If any of the hearts contain people like me and Ty. Wouldn’t want anyone to see you. I don’t even want to see me. I want every mirror I’ll ever encounter again to be covered up completely. I don’t care what the mirrors are covered by—hearts, swear words, or stupid, indiscernible graffiti. Anything but this tired, sullen face, and these red eyes that make you wonder if they’ve been crying or deprived of sleep. I tug down at my long blue dress sleeves that are starting to rise up, wishing that I could hide my face in the dress too. Footsteps fill the hallway to the bathroom, mixing with the sound of a slow song. I duck into a stall to avoid both. Two girls enter and plant themselves in front of the mirrors. They rifle through their bags and speak in hushed voices. One of them groans in utter exasperation. It must be a fantastic inconvenience! “I forgot my lipstick. Can I use yours?” “Yeah, sure.” More shuffling sounds. “Here. But don’t go overboard. I know how you are.” “What’s that supposed to mean?” “It just means don’t make yourself look like a clown.” “Wow, okay. Fuck you.” “Okay, chill out. I didn’t mean it. You just overline your lips a little too much sometimes. Sorry. For the record, though, nobody would even notice if you did. We all know who everyone’s looking at tonight.” They both start laughing. My
stomach sinks. “Can you believe that tux? I mean Jesus. What a joke.” “I can’t even believe she had the balls to do that.” “Do you think she wishes she had balls? Like . . ?” “Oh my god, ew.” More laughter. “Do all dykes want that?” I make my hands into fists. I know that I won’t hit anyone with them, but I make them anyway. It almost feels like I’m doing something. I imagine busting open the stall door and grabbing one of them by the stiff, product-doused hair and sticking her face in the toilet like a school bully in a movie. I get so caught up in my violent fantasy that by the time I snap out of it, they’re already gone. A different song is on now, a much faster one. It’d probably be harder for Ty to try kissing me to this. I step out of the bathroom and back into the suffocating gym air. There’s the classic smell of youth that makes me want to gag. As I wipe the sweat from my forehead, I feel a hand touch my arm. “Callie,” Ty says. His blond hair is gelled back in an obviously meticulous way, not a stray strand in sight. He even has a handkerchief to match his tie. They’re both red, but the tie is a slightly darker shade. He’s giving me this gigantic grin that takes up most of his slender face. I know that he looks handsome. All the girls here would think so. “I’ve been looking for you.” “Good job finding me.” I try to smile. He’s not Maggie so he buys it. He beams at me. “Thanks, babe. Wanna dance?”
“Let’s do it.” He takes my hand and I look down. Our hands don’t fit like two hands are supposed to fit together. “I’m going to get something to drink first, okay?” “I’ll be over there.” He points to a collection of his friends and I nod before walking over to the punch table. I find the spiked bowl, or maybe the spiked bowl finds me. I down a cup before making my way to him again. The night begins to swirl away as if down a drain. Song after song, touch after touch, cup after cup. Ty dances freely, happily oblivious to the fact that I have to drink in order to kiss him. He has no idea what thoughts ring in my ears again and again. He doesn’t know the way I feel about our hands. “I love dancing with you,” he whispers into my ear as he holds me. “I do too.” “I feel like I’ve known you for so long, Callie.” “Me too.” I don’t feel like I know him at all. All I know is that he is an easy lie for me to tell. The worst of the dancing is the slow songs, and I was stupid to think that I’d escaped them all. A slow beat starts playing, one that I can feel throughout my entire body. He smiles at me, this horrible, loving smile. I give him one back. We do not dance steadily. I am shaky and uncomfortable, and I nearly trip over his big shoes. I can feel his hands trying to travel from my waist. I can’t bear looking at him so I press my head against his chest and stare at a dim corner of the room. But I don’t know if looking there is worse than looking at him because I can
see a ghost of Maggie there—the old Maggie, who she was back before I ruined things. Back when she used to wear her hair in a ponytail and smile. She had limped all the way to that corner of the gym, right up to the little radio that our coach always played when we had to exercise inside all day due to rain. This was a sunny day and the whole team was outside practicing, except for us two. Maggie had fallen down out there and asked the coach to let me come to the nurse’s office with her. Maggie told me that she had just needed to grab the bag she had left in the gym, and then we could go to the office. She bent down next to the radio and started fiddling with its dials. “That doesn’t look like a bag,” I said. She paused, squinting at me and then at the radio before gasping loudly. “By Jove! This must be wizardry! Someone has transformed my bag and all my school work into a radio!” She watched me try to fight a smile, then watched me fail. She smiled back. “What are you doing?” I asked. “Don’t you need to see the nurse?” She adjusted the collar of her beat-up gym shirt as if it was a necktie and stood up. Music filled the room quietly, the little metal box whispering a song that I had never heard before but loved immediately. She began to slowly walk towards me, without the limp. “I think this song would make flowers bloom,” she said faintly. It felt like I had to pry my eyes away from hers to look at her leg, even for just a moment. “You lied,” I said. “Your leg is just fine.”
She looked offended. “You thought I’d really fall down in kickball, Cal? I’m not clumsy.” She shook her head. “I’m not like you,” she teased. A goofy grin began spreading across her face again, and I felt my skin suddenly warm like when clouds move away from their place in front of the sun. “Oh, shut up.” I pushed her gently. My hands felt like they were glowing, like they had absorbed some light from touching her. “Only if you shut up too, okay?” She winked before she held out her hands to me. I looked at her in disbelief and felt my hands start to tremble, but I placed them in hers anyway. And they fit perfectly. She put them around her neck, which felt soft and like a dream. Hers went around my waist. She pulled me towards her, closer than we had ever been before. We danced so slowly, as if we were trying to prevent time from ever moving past this moment. She kissed me before the song ended, and her lips were softer than I ever imagined lips could be. It was the first kiss of many. All of the rest were like this, with nobody else there. Hidden behind buildings. In the dead of night. Behind closed bedroom doors, but not locked doors, because the click of a lock was too suspicious for me. Not for her. There was so much lingering after practice in this room. So much teasing. So many kisses in corners when we were left alone. She would walk into the gym next to me everyday, right beside our teammates who thought that they knew us. I wouldn’t hold her hand, but I’d walk
as close as I could. I wonder if she knows that. It was as close as I could. I look away from the corner of the room now and gaze at the students dancing nearby, but so many moments with her still cloud my head. Good ones like that, but bad ones too, ones where I wouldn’t touch her when she wanted me to. Where I wouldn’t even look at her. I close my eyes to try and escape the image of her all alone in practice, after everyone found out about her. Everyday I try to forget the way that she looked at me, desperately wanting me to just be there, close to her. But I was afraid to even seem like her friend. I cling harder toTy, feeling dizzy. When I open my eyes, I see her again, this time standing in the doorway. Present day her, the girl with the tux and the sad look in her eyes that cuts me up. She still wants me to show up. I can see it in her face. She still loves me, even though she probably doesn’t want to and definitely shouldn’t. Despite all the heartbreak I have caused, she loves me. I know what she wants me to do: pull away from Ty and come to her. Right there, to the doorway so we could walk out of this place together. She wouldn’t even expect me to kiss her. “I’m so sorry,” I mouth. She melts into the doorway, watching me sway with him. My eyes well up and I blink the tears away. She’s the only one who sees them, tears for her and no one else. At least she gets one part of me. The song is nearly over when she turns away and walks out of the building. The night that absorbs her is black and endless. I do not follow her, but I can almost feel the air on my skin too.
Resolved In Time Painting
Xiao Faria daCunha Chicago, Illinois, USA
Unknown of Ages Painting
Xiao Faria daCunha Chciago, Illinois, USA
November 13th: 9 oclock show (optimistic winter poem #1) Poetry
Revert to Previous Save Poetry
Rocklin, California, USA
What words are hidden behind our “I love you”s? We’re not allowed to have tickle fights like that anymore my dear
Duluth, Minnesota, USA
The first snow of winter is like a hug from a friend who’s just a friend Disappointing if you’re hanging on to something But experts agree it can also bring profound comfort Life is about meeting things where they are And poetry is a trading card game for where things are appreciators I’m grateful to be going 20 on the freeway So I can enjoy the beauty of winter’s stained glass windshield without worrying about imminent death Always wiping Never quite clear Meet me where I am and hold me here Trade me your January Joy for my extra copy of Thanksgiving Optimism Listen, Fuck the pilgrims, But I love the human impulse to replace the vanishing sun with casserole and connection And if you can’t get it at home, I’ll bring you some in tupperware And we can brainstorm holidays for people just like us Winter is a tennis serve Winter is a lifelong project Winter is a cold, hard, wonderful poetry contest with yourself And this year I’m submitting my whole catalog I’m glad I put the snow tires on in time
My name should no longer be Beautiful Can’t be what draws my eyes From my feet up your chest While you graze my hair behind my ear Continually painting that smile between my dimples Blushing my cheeks your favorite shade of rose You own more of my late night drives than anyone else Didn’t realize I bought your scent as a car freshener Are we simply going back to the basics For hopes of a more successful finish?
Cumberland, Maine, USA
The online toilet paper calculator confirmed it, I had to confront her. I waited anxiously in the kitchen until my wife came home from work. Fucking nurses, who takes a job that makes you go into the fray no matter what? That pregnant woman from China, used as propaganda when the virus first started, was a nurse, right? Whatever, her paycheck is great, but at what cost? COVID-19 could kill a tough old bastard like me. Or was it the young? Maybe the stupid? It was hard to tell, damn fake media, presidents, doctors, vaccines. About a half hour later, she enters the house and I’m ready. “Hey, you’re bullshitting about our supply of TP.” “What?” “There’s no way we’re going to have enough. Twenty-seven rolls, four people (two adults, two young kids), and five trips to the bathroom requiring toilet paper per day. That’s less than a thirty-day supply, and we both know this is gonna go on way longer than that.” “Stop, just stop. How do you know this?” I tell her about the website, and with great exasperation she agrees to check it out.
I plug in the numbers and she groans. The prediction becomes even shorter after she corrects my guesstimate of trips that require wiping. Women wipe every single time. Is that for real? She launches into some diatribe about my panicked paranoia, which I feel is healthier than most. I stop her when she hits the bidet part of her fantasy. “You want me to use a bidet toilet seat? I got hair on my ass, hair on my chest, and hair everywhere else, except my back, and you want me to lave down there?” She pauses, nods, and goes off about the practicalities of a bidet. I interrupt with, “Only escorts and posh celebrities use them.” She sighs and pours boiling water into her cup of chamomile, slumps on the couch, and begins reading, or pretends to read, her Kindle. I try to let it go but can’t. “I’m part caveman, using a bidet is like the Yeti—or is it a Yeti—getting a Brazilian wax and full mani-pedi after its hour-long Pilates session.” Unwilling to reengage she offhandedly says, “In other parts of the world it’s quite common to use your hand and then wash it really well.” I grumble, “Touché” but persist because
I’m unwilling to concede for reasons I can’t fathom. She gets five minutes of reprieve as my upbringing on a dirt farm in Nebraska comes to mind. For fuck’s sake, we didn’t wash our hands unless it was time for dinner. That and my self-proclaimed Neanderthal hedonism, have me cornered. And I’ve no doubt she, in time of need, would wipe as she’s prescribed. Probably even did it when she was in the Peace Corps filling a slot in some place named Azerbaijan. I take a sip of whiskey and say, “At least accidentally bring home some face masks from the hospital. We’ve only got about forty left.” “Little good they do you with that facial hair swatch you’ve been growing for seven years.” I tell her to leave my beard out of this and plot how to resolve the impending catastrophe. I think about reinstating our newspaper subscription. In the old days, they used softened newspaper—crumpled again and again by young’uns for a penny a page—before toilet paper was invented. God, the havoc it would inflict on our septic system makes me want to do my biz in the woods, use my hand to wipe, and go on the fasting diet.
After she’s gone to bed, I endlessly search online for toilet paper, but it’s all sold out. Is this how things devolved in the movie Mad Max? First toilet paper, then bleach, surgical masks, followed by tests and ventilators until it’s all gone, and we fight over dirty gas, which is at an all-time low of twenty dollars a barrel. I’m at my wit’s end when the idea comes to me from deep within the recess of my aging mainframe. We have threeply toilet paper. If I separate the plies and re-roll them, I’ll triple our supply. Fucking genius, although I can’t take the credit, I saw that malarkey on a super old reality show during the mid2000’s. Some over-the-top frugal morons doing the nuttiest stuff possible to stretch their dollars. Who knew they were ahead of the salvation curve for our incredibly chaotic times and the new green movement? In bed, worn out from rerolling, I still toss and turn. I get up and flip open my laptop, then plug in the new number of rolls I’ve stashed in closets and lined up on the shelves in both bathrooms. The larger number on the screen puts me at ease. I can tell I will get a good night’s sleep for the first time in days, maybe even a week. If she’d listened when I told her to grab copious amounts of Charmin ultra-strong mega rolls before the crowds caught on, we’d be in great shape. She never listens to me.
Before falling asleep I fantasize about the extra fat puffy rolls we should have— and if we had them—the soothing task of separating the plies and re-rolling them. We could outlast coronavirus and every pandemic that follows. In the dark she whispers, “Hey, did you get the Instacart order to go through?” “No, I thought you did it.” “Jesus, Greg, I ask you to do one thing and you get so strung out on the wrong issue you forget about everything else.” She’ll stop after work tomorrow and get all the stuff in our Instacart order, at least what she can. It’s not fair and I should apologize, but I roll over and try to go to sleep yet fret about the half-bottle of Clorox cleanup we must ration because anything with chlorine has vanished from the shelves, the internet, the damn world. Days later, coming back from a senseless search for TP, I slam on my brakes near our local gas station/variety store/pizza joint. The large info sign says free roll of TP with LG pizza. It’s too good to be true. She comes in the house after working a twelve-hour shift at one of the COVID-19 testing sites. She’s deflated and edgy until she spies three large pizzas, a six-pack (half gone), and a scratch off lottery ticket on the counter. I smile and do my best to act as if it’s merely a much-needed treat, but we never order more than two at a time.
“Three? Are you panic buying pizzas now?” “Can’t ever have enough pizza, right?” She picks up a cold slice and gobbles it down, my ravenous heroine is aware something is amiss, but she can’t quite figure it out. The surplus rolls are safely stashed away after being separated into six rolls; twoply handouts are better than none. A week later, my wife sleeps in on her one day off from a long weary eight day stretch. I pace in the kitchen while making her an epic breakfast because we fought about rerolling our toilet paper into single ply rolls; she’s not a fan. I serve her steel cut oatmeal, fresh berries, and a Hef-mosa, half Hefeweizen and half OJ, like a Radler only way better. After she’s done eating and I’ve somewhat apologized one and a half times, I rue the implications of feeding her so much fiber—a vegetarian needs more fiber like the Trump administration needs more corruption. Eggs. Why didn’t I serve her a four-egg omelet and toast? Day thirty — Down to seventy-five rolls. Desperation begins to set in. Day forty-five — Sixty-six rolls including those from another “impromptu” pizza party. Day sixty — <Fifty rolls forces inquisition on additional burn through rate. No confessors…rationing put in place with extremely harsh penalties and very limited sheets for use.
Day seventy-five — Under twenty rolls, unfortunate incident with an unsupervised toddler in the bathroom. Lesson learned, again. Day one hundred — My hand smells worse than a pile of pig dung, no matter how much I wash it. Bidet arrives by FedEx, overnight delivery. Luxury Class Supreme BB-1000 Bidet Seat. Day one hundred and one — Bidet is a magical wonder. Warm water rushing against my dirty, unshaved anus is soothing, invigorating, life altering; it’s a modern miracle of invention. Should’ve ordered the bidet months ago when we battled another unrelenting norovirus. Day one hundred and twelve — Social media post: Can anyone spare a ventilator? Willing to share if necessary. Emailed James Dyson, awaiting reply. Day one hundred and twenty-seven — Epitaph reads… Dead, cold, and gray but a toilet seat bidet made him quite gay if only for a quarantine day
Wisdom Strands Poetry
Antoinette Foxworthy Livermore, California, USA
Silver highlights her mane Signaling passage of many moons Waxing and waning Thin gray wisdom strands Cling to delicate cheeks Framing furrowed face Yet I failed to recognize Prized silver-gray medals Atop her head Instead, I watched Each split-end fall Filling hair brush With precious age lessons Sage knowledge became Tangled in ratty nest Discarded in trash I wish I had asked Mom Before hair sheen and Memory disappeared Now it’s too late I honor her with My own silver tresses Praying someone will ask me Before it’s too late
Looking Back on Early Days Poetry
Marietta, Georgia, USA
You brought me here when the grasses were high and the bayous sang of summer. In the oak trees moss fluttered like soft gray hair, and could I freeze the memory there, I’d think that you and I were well-matched as blue and hyacinth, me a bit shy, you exuberant as a bee swarm, doing your best to ease me into your power. How my heart would seize for love of you when the sun caught your eyes and dazzled like a diadem. But I recall what came later: the shifting clouds, the howl, the hurricane, the dogged wind that could rip through wood. By then, I was too entwined to know how cut off from others you’d made me, how you feigned affection, how I had lost myself to you, for good.
Let's be Blunt Experimental
Jake Zawlacki and Sara Hardin Baton Rouge, Louisiana, USA
I’m a white man writing about a city that is not my own. What can I offer? Perhaps an idea. An idea that this city is something even more unique than what has been claimed previously. That the word “city” fails to capture much meaning at all. This city is a reflection, an inversion to me in a way. And it reflects. When I have dodged hurricanes, packing up and driving to another state, I see fire. I was eleven years old when the Cedar Fire came within a quarter mile of my childhood home. My friends that lived in the canyon said the propane tanks popped like bombs throughout the blaze. When I see floods, I see ash, feel my throat constrict from the air. We wore masks long before a pandemic there’s this oft spoken idea of liminality, that a liminal space is one where something is between two other spaces. I don’t like it. Can liquid be between solid and gaseous? Does it need to be between two things? Or is it just liquid?
to keep the burnt fluttering pieces of the Earth from funding our lungs. There were times when school would be canceled because of air pollution, of smoke, of that pox born of fire. When I dove into the pool of New Orleans, into the metaphysical swamp, into that substance of water and beer and daquiri and blood and urine and smoke and ash and fire, I was suspended, floating.
[When does this space become the space not between? What if we sat here and rejected the spaces, but claimed our own, your own, my own. What does it look like to claim a section of the ocean? An inch of a river? A rainfall? A hurricane? How does that change how we think? How does that change how we treat each other?]
I don’t like it because it assumes two natural states. And while that may feel “natural” (whatever that word means) I think it’s criminally narrow. Two spaces. There are an infinite number of spaces and we’ve picked two?
So, let's be blunt again
While ideas and abstraction are pretty, I’m still foreign. But when I see and read and hear stories of people doing heroic things, they aren’t heroes, they’re just people. I remember our neighbor telling us the reason our street didn’t go up in #ames was because of a single fire truck all the way from Dulzura, ratty and rusted, camped at the end of the street, hooked upto the lone fire hydrant, driven by firemen who stopped fire with water. I always imagine this fire truck as yellow, for some reason, seeming moreof an underdog that way. Fire and water. How dichotomous, coupled, and Manichaean. Explode it! I see the fire truck from Dulzura. AND I see the water up to my neighbor’s door. AND I see kids in the street with generators churning in the dark. AND I see a family taking in a drunk relative because he’s still human, you know. AND I see everything because liquid #ows from place to place, Filling Falling Splashing AND Reforming into something familiar, multiple. Singular, yet infinite. To see liquidity, we must be liquidity, explore what that means, how it can change us, how it shouldn’t have to. How we aren’t at a cross between fire and water, but how fire and water can be viewed in terms of water. How everything can be viewed in those terms.
The Ruins Poetry
Kerri-ann Torgersen Livermore, California, USA
Doubt gnaws upon the glowing moon. The lone crow hovers, clawing at its plumes. Hooves stomp on stones and broken bones, destroying souls exhumed. He floats alone, a boy, unknown, in the moat that was her womb. And rolling fog consumes the ruins of his mother’s tomb.
Permafrostedness Rising Poetry
The air is better today not much soot my lungs are actually working the carbon counts leveled off in the lumpy Yakutsk as we salvaged our crossing on the Lena river yedoma deposits continue to degrade as the permafrost does *go gentle into the good night gently urging methane to expand and since the snows have vanished we scavenge in this loam surface scraping no more mammoths to unearth only scraps vestiges of millennia layered frost memories when we still had water but we are Nenets
One Last Tour Of The Old Family Home
from the Yamal peering into the edge of the world no more reindeer to herd resigned to our chums we are the ones we survived but at what price? The sun never sets heat and bone exposed deserts of denial on this boreal plain devoid of shadow and in the lingering light we begin to fade into the final inferno knowing that world **ends in fire not ice *Dylan Thomas **Robert Frost
Johnston, Rhode Island, USA
It’s been years without number since he passed through the doorway and the one remaining mirror has forgotten the face of the child as he goes deeper into the stench, the creaky floorboards of abandonment and here and there a familiarity reaches out as he climbs the stairs to second floor dust and busted walls. There’s no saving his family home. What time hasn’t razed heavy machinery soon will. And the past can’t exist, not even in the moment. Having lived some place is a helpless feeling.
Abandoned Cities Digital Art
Edward Supranowicz Lancaster, Ohio USA
Pieces of Me
Monique Rardin Richardson
Beech Bluff, Tennessee, USA
Quietly, growing slowly, speaking up, making myself known. The once hidden, left unheard, suddenly known, a voice becomes clear. No longer behind dark emotions, darker thoughts, the ones we all encounter: "unworthy", "unimportant", "unloved", and still there's more. No longer left in this cage, where unhealthy locked me away, locked us away, a voice of a battered soul, a troubled life, speaking up, plainly, to whoever needs to listen.
Dublin, California, USA
Questions—the adolescent years filled with questions. Not ordinary, angst-ridden, social engaging, juvenile thoughts. No, mine centered on a man. Where was he? Did I look like him? Did he love me?
In the search for answers, I found what I thought was missing in front of a bar with dirty blonde hair, a swollen red nose, and dark circles under his pale blue eyes. He resembled a swamp rat dripping wet from the rain. And before I could release my words, he had a demand for me… I want you to change your last name.
In the days of seeking Easter eggs through grape and squash vines, chased by chickens and geese with a Siamese cat named Gumdrops, I was fooled to believe what was in front of me was truth.
The question of "who" was replaced with "why", as I stood on the sidewalk underneath the dampened moonlit sky, now—in severed pieces.
Fairfield, Connecticut, USA
on the nights of hard leather and no good dreams i undress my mind erase the past and create a new life
in the blind optimism owned only by naïve and foolish hearts that never hear the laughter of the
in which the dead resurrect the sun shines and tears are shed for joy instead of sorrow in the miracle
fates and gods who dice for the chance to rewrite history echoing in the empty corridor of time
of wishful thinking this changes nothing in daylight but at least i’m able to sleep and meet another
and though no medals are given for keeping promises made to the dead i keep them anyway
day with the strength to carry on and do what must be done even as i curse all the promises i made
and take some small comfort knowing if nothing else i’ve held up my end of what could have and should have happened
Tracy, California, USA
Memories slip through the cracks Slipping, falling away It’s a slow process some days But others you can’t even grasp them as they come in Some big, some small But ultimately all the same: How much more time until you’ve forgotten their name? Their face? Maybe it wasn’t yours to remember in the first place Supposed to slip through the cracks the second they left your life Through sheer willpower Or sheer stupidity It stuck. The day you do forget, Will you be relieved? The memories of a life gone past Of doors closed Of chances lost Of hearts broken Finally gone as you forget who they even were Or will you be scared? The lessons learnt, The love you felt The love you thought you received in return Gone. These memories slip through the cracks Slipping, falling away And all you can ask is: How long until I can forget their name?
Lost In a Dream Photography
Pleasanton, California, USA
Flowing in Dreams Painting
Delta NA Asti
Steven O. Young, Jr. Redford, Michigan, USA
In a bed never meant for us, in a place I no longer belong, sleep skirts my lakeshores as she dreams peaceably beside me, an island lulled by the steady rhythm of the waves lapping between us. A slow succession of light steals over the grains of grays and grace, serenity in the essences of lead and lampblack. I lie atop finger-twitch flicks of grass, a pencil professing my affections in wild flourishes filling a field with the stems of chocolate cosmos, anxious to explode in the semi-sweet scent of amorous galaxies. At the edge of my eye, I watch her guide the pineapple moon along an arc she’s carved in the canvas of her Caribbean sky. She arrives at my side and traces the contours of my whittled bones snug against her calligraphic nib, teasing out ink that slinks away on its thousands of feet below the soft blades buoying my body, and I conceal my inchoate creation before she reveals the art of her work— two wind-smoothed dunes of supple muscle, and the orange effusion of moonlight
through the bulb of a balloon cast across the crests of a valley cradling a thin river of shadow that erodes the globe’s glow. I study the illustration until I imagine the emergence of ridges in the sand, soft swells of sudden castles I want to topple or top off, my hands ready to level or lift the stories of amative earth. Only when I see the way she waits among the unbudded cosmos, the moon situated to shape the topography of her thighs, do I understand my oblivious awe. Gathering the loose petals of my letter together, I arrange them head-to-toe and back again, every inch of her periphery blossoming as the pages serrate and lobe into heliconia and damiana, the yearning mouths of angel’s trumpets dangling between her fingers. I save a blank leaf for her stomach as my pencil roams the margins of her ribs, spiraling down the shallow pit of her navel, each exploring symbol transcribed to her core. By the time everything is written, she’s already read it, and sets the sheet beneath her raven hair, where it takes root and blooms
into a tree with gold-bottomed leafs shimmering above us. She plucks the lowest branch and searches a sleek, purple sphere for the vestige of its stem. La estrella, she says, pressing it against my chest, then laughing as I motion to bite the flesh, unacquainted with the delicacy: Let it ripen off the tree. Give its heart’s star of seeds time unattached to the sky so it can grow into the gravity of its own constellation. I take the deep, rich fruit from my mouth and see its luster in her eyes, gleaming between the velvet flounces of her black baccara rose corollas— the plunging depth inside the sepal lashes what I truly want to taste. It’s softened by the soured moonlight spilling like juice through the balloon of my head onto the estrella, orange streaks highlighting the heights of her valley already swept off in the current of shadow as the moon disappears, as the balloon disappears, as she disappears with the abundance of flora. She’s no longer sleeping or beside me; I hold my phone glowing with her handdrafted sunrise in the confidence
of thick, glistening ink, then find the notebook underneath my pillow and nurture the unflowered bouquets of my confession with her daily rays, closed cosmos laid out in lines that blur together, page on page, word on word, eating at the meanings they find intertwined. And though I won’t know the estrella’s flavor, the riddle of milk hidden under inedible skin on an archipelago of sequestered stars two thousand miles from an answer, I savor the seeds of her fresh-ink heart, which fill the distance with flowers, and fruits, and all the unearthly delights of the sky, as dawn preserves them for our next night together, ripening untethered to the tree.
Steven O. Young, Jr. Redford, Michigan, USA
I want to wake to your eyes, not to the sight of daylight’s dazzle free from your adjusted vision, not to your breath forged through mellifluous snores forgiven by mint, not to your sweat pearled under cotton’s comfort absolved with soap, nor to the scene where your filmy lids shy from break of day, or where your toes curl against the cold in accidental exile, or where your ears flare from out your hair attendant to the pillow’s whispers;
I want to wake to your eyes as we rise in each other’s sun, accompanied by the crystals crusted to our ducts, dried rivulets of drool flaking clay from our lips; I want to wake to your eyes before our night is blinked away so you can see my dream squared in your reflection before dawn’s rushing tide of light sweeps you back under its surface.
Dream in the Wood Painting
Delta NA Asti
Within the confines of my nimble mind, I sift through the refuse (noun) of my random musings for some lost One man’s trash is another man’s treasure.
incoherent thoughts. a state of being sober and calm.
bright or luminous like the sun.
A fleeting flash of insight gleaned in a moment of lucid flowing abstraction. a social practice by Culture ship Minds. The wink of an eye.
transitive verb, to gather information or material bit by bit.
According to Zhuangzi - The wise man looks into space and does not regard the small as too little, nor the great as too big, for he knows that, there is no limit to dimensions.
I pondered the process of osmosis in a deliberate attempt to reconstitute those things unconscious assimilation of ideas, knowledge
Could it be that contact with
Donald Guadagni Beijing, China
Perhaps if I retraced my steps throughout my day those familiar things might spark tangible fragments of the forgotten epiphanies that now elude my consious mind. the moment you realize you are sun burned. See also (erythema solare)
Osmosis Inspiration Experimental
Sherrington coined the term ideas and concepts might migrate between synapse and skin? in (1932)
quality of dealing with ideas rather than events.
The vagueness of abstractions leads a curious path and even
though my steps faithfully retraced I find the net result was erythema solare, a total lack of UV A & B, far removed from the osmosis inspiration I desperately sought. IS OFTEN BORN FROM REJECTIONS.
Donna Faulkner, née Miller Rangiora, New Zealand
Felled trunks amongst the debri of splintered twigs. Mangled limbs of fallen trees - discarded. A song thrush silent perched upon the broken bones. Little sparrows weave the chaos with no place left to go. Yesterday, a thundering plunder. Elder trees stood helpless. The earth groaned, the first trees fell. Usurped roots breached the sod. Cruel winds consume Unhindered. Buried beneath wilting mats of strewn leaves nests stay lost,
My Loveliest Transgression Poetry
Crestview, Florida, USA
a man’s kiss is a vacant space where two vessels comply to the word of god a god with a weaponized embrace threatening those who aren’t “what women embod” a woman’s kiss is a euphoric sphere where two vessels orbit each other with passion i’d rather be no place but here but now i will no longer receive a heavenly ration i wish to not serve a god with such disdain that withers the flower i love dearly my presence is but a sinful stain unless it is she who is near me she is my loveliest transgression i nail myself to her magnetic cross forever my beautiful confession slipped from my lips, covered in her gloss
and now the woodland is but a bonfire. The song thrush silent upon the pyre.
8:25 Post Meridiem Poetry
Tracy, California, USA
Come to me, in a verdant dream, lay your royal head; I'll tell you all, I wish I had said when you restored my vision. Give my soul for the bread we break, and heed your own advice, and then admit you could have died. I got a complex man, and it's lovely, and it's holy, for it's ours together. Amen.
Heaven Can Wait Photography
Pleasanton, California, USA
To the Dearly Departed
Livermore, California, USA
Faithful Creator Faithfully creating Faith created Fully creative Fallen creation Free-will composition Fucked-up collaboration Fake compassion Forced conversion Final cremation Focused correction Forever connection
Ottawa, Ontario, Canada
Whether in agony or tranquility, You left this world the way you came A lone traveler filled with wonder Loaned to the Earth for a set amount of time
Yours was a soul untamed, Its resonance spoke to those around you, Igniting love in some, Rich laughter in others, Our tears respond to its absence
What powered your earthly frame? What ignited your beautiful mind? Moving you to heights unknown Plunging you to depths untold Unseen yet eternal The soul is the heartbeat of man
Your mortal body may be no more But the truth is plain to all The echo of your soul still speaks for you Even here on this world Its sound has been captured in our hearts Imprinted in our memories Woven into our stories A gift to future generations
Yours was a soul unique, Warm as toasty fire on a frigid day, Gentle as a spring breeze, Refreshing as rain to a parched land, Enduring as the earth itself
For this reason and many more, We who live and breathe, Raise a solemn toast, To the dearly departed
Cry Out Poetry
Hawthorne, California, USA
Where are you always at I’m trying to tell my story You’re up there ignoring me Dismissing everything that I see I can’t believe I’ve gone so far When I wanted to die Was I alone Lord Please let your spirit rain down on me My friends are popping pills and my cousin OD’d I’m losing all your hope I need your love Can’t you see Am I alone Lord Fire rain down on me I’m questioning your royalty How dare you test my loyalty I gave my all, Why can’t you see Guess my prayer’s a one way chat I’ll find my own way to fix my past Didn’t know how long I’d last Since I knew my faith has passed
Facets of Beauty
Humanity is a raw gemstone God the jeweler and craftsman Not knocking off rough edges But imagining bright new facets From every peak and valley From every imperfection and disharmony
Along the Monterey coast, where waves unfurl like crisp white sheets in the clothespins’ grip, my son crouches on rocks caked with kelp, oblivious to the squawk of winter-gray gulls. As his fingers gently brush a starfish, I see my ten-year-old self lying beside a creek bed, patting the smooth shell of a turtle no bigger than a quarter. Like the starfish it didn’t move as if it too felt a newness, an unaccustomed warmth from a life not much different from its own. I want to share this with my son but he’s hopping from rock to rock toward the shore where a moon jelly lies limp and lifeless. He kneels and stacks blue-backed mussels beside it, markers for the once pumping presence now silenced. When it’s time to leave, he shuffles away with his head down. Before long, cold saltwater will smooth the sand, press it flat like a fine lace collar.
Pleasanton, California, USA
Earth a cauldron of diversity Both living creatures and inert Nothing inconsequential or forlorn But elemental and connected to the whole From worldwide habitats and quarries From communities wild and civilized Men and women embody manifold facets of beauty Each soul precious and unique Neither expendable nor misshapen But contributing to the sparkle of existence From the variety of human backgrounds From the entire spectrum of subsistence.
Livermore, California, USA
Blue Angel Sunrise Painting
Port Providence, Pennsylvania, USA
The Lovers Digital Art
Tracy, California, USA
Penelope’s Sestina Poetry - Third Place
Livermore, California, USA
Oh, oh, oh, my dear Heaven above hath no words that could call upon in describing my despair; there never be another in my heart. Only a silhouette now, haunting me. For there is no home more desirous nor sweeter than this home –when with
must heroes be pulled away by unfortunate causes? For always the hero is pulled from that path by some sweet talk of love. My mollusk-dyed web became a dog and fawn –look, Odysseus, and see the cape predicting the end of any who shall desire to lie in bed alongside what is mine; you. Out! Bitter jealousy, creeping through my veins! Forgive me, I
Odysseus, I shall always love you.
only desire my sister’s return so painfully and I wish for your’s even more. So much so that a dream always plagues my nights. Geese and eagles, feathers and blood; you might tell me it means we are closer unto reuniting, but my love deafens me from divine whispers. Those gates of horn shall never open; I continue crying behind doors of ivory. Odysseus, there is no one else I could grace with the words of love. May the gods always watch over us and see how a promise shall stay etched unto my very soul: only you, my dear Odysseus.
This face and figure, once beautiful, withered dry when you left. Pulled taut by the wind and ocean spray, Odysseus, my cheeks were once colored with gentle love and a soft, sun-drop smile. But now –alone –I comfort my drooping eyes and thinning hair; always repeating unto myself: do not despair, this face shall never be equaled when your’s is returned unto me. Shall these soft dresses and amber beads console me? No. You would laugh at how they piled them on me. But always, my tempting promises were for our shared glory. Odysseus, Athena herself must have bathed me in ambrosial perfume, as I took such delight in that clever scheme, but our love does not compare unto their shining gold. Our love shone like sunlight on Poseidan’s calmest waves. Shall schemes hold these dogs at bay much longer, though? I passed three years weaving and unweaving a shroud for your father –until they caught me under the waning moon. Odysseus, purple-caped still? My hands spun my anger unto it. Always
What Now Lies Between Us After Walt Whitman’s “Crossing Brooklyn Ferry” Poetry
2 Is something that exists until we speak it. I will not love you on the street, in the car, crossing the stream on the uneven sidewalks, on the ferry boat, anywhere daylight reaches its long fingers full of dust motes. Only here, only in this half-dusk will you know my thirsting. 3 Is a careful voyage, traversing the white-sailed crests of your chest bones, my hands skimming like schooners or sea-birds. Oscillations of water, exchange of sea salt. The small floodtides of my wanting.
Kirksville, Missouri, USA
1 Is quickly retreating, contracting, furling back into the ribbed trellis of the body. It is proper to keep our greenery under control, to trim back it’s reaching vines, creeping roots, leaves unfolding to the sun.
4 Is dumb, beautiful, enveloped in night, drowsing morning glories waiting to open on a quiet dawn. The red sky running from your tongue, I am a sailor in love with the weather of the coming day. 5 Is the aroma that hangs between the branches of an old oak tree, what we only ever reach by climbing, the body off-balance, grasping for the next branch, hoping for rough bark and blood, the sharp knowing of another airborne anchor. 6 Is the image of two sloops passing in the distance. Waves form, touch, dissipate. They trail two lines of sea foam in their wake.
Johnston, Rhode Island USA
The flowers I give to you are dead and no amount of watering can disguise the fact. Sure, the bunch look so alive with their bright reds and yellows, but nothing can survive very long when it’s this far from its roots. So, go ahead, admire the presentation, press the blossoms to your chest, wallow in the perfume, then rush off to grab a vase. They can occupy prime position on your kitchen table. As they brighten up the place, who’s to know they’re already in a coma? But what can I give you that aspires to any kind of permanence? You eat the chocolates. The books, once read, are buried in a box. The future of theater tickets is clouded memories and as torn chit of paper. Of course, there’s always a ring. Nothing says forever like shiny metal. That’s why I give you more flowers. Knowing me, knowing you, their death is in both our interests.
Looking Beyond the Imperfections Poetry
Rattled skin mottled molted that familiar scar cradled in an ancient inner thigh how once those thighs rattled the night raining waves of wonder bobbing on that sturdy sloop off Martha’s Vineyard the sails fore-and-aft rigged full moons everywhere I can still remember that smell salted sea air glinting and gloaming off the water your laugh cutting the night like a rising comet how we have known the the eternity of the event horizon balanced on thin gravity galaxies red shifting
Beautiful Denial Rocklin, California, USA
how we moved from violet wavelengths to red nanometers rising plasma pulses waves raving radio, infrared, X ray and our favorite ultraviolet ionization breaking the chemical bonds our atoms exploding at the edge of the stern my hand on the rigging your arms clamped on me like a chock-a-block windward and leeward we rode those waves tacking our bodies hugging the shore like I hug you now deep in the fathoms of night knowing love has no depth
I didn’t choose to love you But somewhere between Our deep small talk “Subtle” giggles And constant stolen smiles My heart grew fond of yours Sure, I agreed to meet you Bonding over seemingly idealistic romance But only for others When did our crushes change? Eventually choosing the best friend title Who were we kidding We never chose, we settled I never expected My soul to mingle with yours From first morning thought Constant waking pastime Last sleepy goodnight My favorite name is “Beautiful” But only from your lips
Pleasanton, California, USA
We Could Have Been a Poem Poetry
San Francisco, California, USA
We were something special from the moment we met You were the quiet one Always sitting in the back away from the world I was the loud one Burning with a flame of passion Your soul was full of music Your heart lost in songs Mine was full of books My mind filled with pages of never ending stories It was the perfect duo
Our conversations were endless We would text each other nonstop Morning to night Whispering secrets Laughing at our poor jokes Sharing deep conversations about our unpredictable future Talking about anything and everything Even when surrounded by a crowd of people It felt like it was only you and me in the room It was always just you and me
We exchanged words but our eyes never met But when they did Oh, when they did A spark flickered between us
Our lips craved each other Our bodies melting together Your hand always finding mine As we held each other under the stars
We could’ve been a poem
We could’ve been a poem
Our nights were never boring It was always an adventure Walking around the city The midnight breeze blowing through our hair Drinks in our hands We would sometimes end up on the beach Running around in the sand Or dance around in my empty apartment Until the sunlight peeked through the windows We were spontaneous like that
But there was a darkness to you You were constantly drowning in endless doubts Sinking deeper and deeper No matter how many times I try to call out your name And reach my hand out to you So I can hold you And tell you that everything will be okay You wouldn’t let me save you I could only watch you drift away Falling into the darkness Until we were nothing
You in your ripped jeans And worn out converse Me in a leather jacket And combat boots
We are now strangers As if we never met All there is are memories And all I can think to myself is
We could’ve been a poem
We could’ve been a poem
Heart’s Double Labyrinth Fiction
Marco Etheridge Wien, Wien, Austria
The narrow passages between my shop and your terrace are a stone maze baking under the midday sun. The air is a weave of shimmering dust intertwined with shafts of sunlight. I shutter my shaded cubicle and enter the labyrinth, a twine-bound package held before me. My kurta is clean, and my hair combed. These hands bearing your parcel are scrubbed, fingernails cleaned and pared. Without thought, I retrace the path to your door. My heart’s compass guides my feet down unmarked passages and around oblique turnings. I know the way, as my blood knows the skein of my body’s veins and arteries. And yet, even in the knowing, my mind etches a map into my memory, an identical tracing many layers deep. Then I am standing at your doorway and you are there. Only formalities and the package are exchanged. As you take the parcel, my fingertips do not brush your hennaed hands. Our eyes do not linger. Turning away from you, I do not look back. You do not wave farewell.
hand sets the moon spinning above the sea, and the tide pulls me. I am a stalking tiger, hunting you. Celestial gravity, animal hunger, love; does it matter which is the truth? At my feet, the sweet rot of garbage. Above my head, the fragrance of wall-climbing bougainvillea and draped hibiscus. I ignore both putrescence and perfume. As a moth called to a single blossom, I search only for you. Then I am on your terrace. You step from your doorway. Our limbs intertwine under the night jasmine, under the celestial glow. Your hands weave the air before my eyes, hennaed tracery turned to moonstone. We are become one, candle and moth, wick and flame. You pull, I push. Our dance carries us over your threshold. The door closes, sealing us together and within.
Night alters everything. My footsteps are drawn to your door, passing through a dreamscape of shadow overlaid with darkness. The path to your heart is a labyrinth, and my desire the compass. I seek you or your love calls to me. Your
A response to “Nosferatu’s Serenade” by Dana Gioia Poetry
Kerri-ann Torgersen Livermore, California, USA
I am the girl that you cannot refuse. The darkness is calling. It is I you must choose. I’ve seen your face in dreams I remember, eyes glowing red like smoking hot embers. You are the truth that invades my soul. My spirit is broken. Make me feel whole. You are the chime ringing through my ears. You are the flame drying all of my tears. You are the hunger I once denied. The time, it has come. Make me your bride. I am the girl in a pit of despair. Free me from life, this mortal nightmare. I’ve heard you inside me speak in my dreams, Hollering on hilltops, in memories are screams. I see my future in a dim crystal sphere. I know what you bring. And I am still here.
I see engagement photos on social media
the one of them walking
the one of him kneeling with the box
and it’s always the same script the same sequence of shots
in these photos
but her hair is coiffed
her face is a mimic of surprise
I see these photos
and notice two in particular
the one of her holding up her new jewel
the one of them kissing
(this one is the most honest
and my least favorite)
and the one of them in their own world
before a carefully positioned camera
outfit coordinated to match his
(this one obviously dishonest
and my favorite)
I See Engagement Photos on Social Media Experimental - First Place
New York, New York, USA
how i loathe my love
The Who That You Are
Pleasanton, California, USA
Perfection? Who but an enemy alluring? in cahoots with all my dreams, everything that beckons in the night Matriarch of Bones with fear-bearing hips cobalt skin matte and silver sword unsheathed precise are the lines that give way to Your form crisp nineties, a fresh forty-five, a fibonacci face i don Your gaze like a life jacket that smile trickling up the corners of Your lips in a temporal reverse Your throat buoyant with laughter mine, heavy with water weight
Pleasanton, California, USA
oh, how i loathe My Love do You write to me? or just dance, a halfstep, a half-mile ahead? bloody palm grazing my own am i anointed, lying just beneath You? i’m asking, back to breast but my heart beats alone against Your ribcage and mine any pupil is hollow but Yours are vacant the eyes, the hands of The Beholder, and their capriciousness, how they grasp nothing, letting all fall through stalling on fingertips, sneaking past the light
oh, how i loathe my love i chase You, molding my feet to Your footsteps, stumbling over the moonlight winking off Your shoulder blades, and into a boot-print crater its walls meet my eyes as i rise again Your laughter flitters about the forest above, twisting through the trees
You know who you are When you surrender pretense When you stop self-assessing Stuck on past tense When you realize your life Isn’t all that intense As you think it must be. You relinquish all defense Because none is needed Agency’s your voucher Best simply to heed it. When you shed the frayed mask Then you’ll have succeeded In setting yourself free.
Tracy, California, USA
You wonder every now and again if it’s the same The same monster that rooted itself into you when you were only a child Too young to know that flavor of fear You never could reach a truce with it.
You can hold him close Listen to his breath The rising and falling of his chest in the ever-darkening room But do not confuse this peace with a truce For hiding in his chest Behind each soothing breath Is a fear that will never let him go A war that has gone on for years
You tell him this one night In between kisses and tears and promises you will never break And it’s light again as he looks at you His comforting eyes meeting yours And you finally let go of a breath you didn’t know you were holding
Your words mean a lot, yes But going back on years of learned mistrust and fear Will take more than words More than whispered promises as the night goes on More than “I love you”s More than he thinks is possible
He’s told you every last word in his head time and time again And with sympathy and love you’ve listened Refusing to think any less of him for any word of it Refusing to tell him why you understood
It is a monster; he’s told you time and time again He reminds you of the little kids in movies Begging their parents to look in the closet But for him merely opening the door and peering in won’t fix a thing It has knotted and tied itself into him This innate fear of leaving in the night and broken promises Of crying out into a brick wall that doesn’t even shudder in response
He holds you close, Listens to your breath, And in that ever-darkening room You come to terms with the fact that you will never reach a truce in it all And enjoy the peace that settles, instead.
Stay, don’t go, let’s be roses in the rain Photography
Ann Arbor, Michigan, USA
Unrequited Love Poetry
Pleasanton, California, USA
Unrequited love is most fulfilling Requiring only occasional stirring Simmering slowly without boiling over Developing complex flavors over time Unrequited love is a close companion Always around when summoned Never failing to disappoint expectations Enduring forever without resolution
In A Singles Bar Poetry
Johnston, Rhode Island, USA
The evening narrative was terribly scourged by sad reality. Saturday night proved terminal to the smooth-talking lothario. He was flummoxed by the formalities, thwarted by the limitations of his charm.
Unrequited love is a fine beauty Growing fairer and more fanciful every day Fluttering a continuing broken heart Teasing the mind along into old age
He retreated to a corner table and shook horribly.
Unrequited love is a sleeping baby So peaceful before awakening Responding to my thoughts with a gentle smile Constantly dependent in my mind’s eye
His groans attracted the attention of the guy closing up the place.
Unprepared to go home alone. he stayed until everyone else left.
The spilled peanuts, empty glasses, were silent by comparison.
a semi-lighthearted look at love online Poetry
Fairfield, Connecticut USA
the dazzling jumble of the virtual is now a crowded arena filled with an infinite number of used-car salesmen all trying to outdo each other with loud music flashing lights and paper promises printed in disappearing ink cluttering the path to sincerity with roadblocks of nonsense and worse it’s enough to tempt me to become a luddite but let’s face it that’s impractical what with the reaper still hungry for flesh so unless one also wants to be a total hermit and i’m close enough to that already it’s online or nothing at least at first so i juggle and spin best i can as i hug the invisible walls of the honkey-tonk highway diogenes in a dress lamp held high trying to illuminate an honest man
Lathrop, California, USA
Tracy, California, USA
Wife and kids are the perfect image Using us as pawns in your life like a game of chess Having control over us is what you craved so you won’t stress We didn’t match your perfect picture, so to you, we were the mess New spouse new house We are the decorations to your playhouse Lying with ease for your appease Using fake hopes of happiness was the tease
there is a short list of things you want right now: rest, comfort, a hand pressed against the small of your back peace, rapture. but not the kind of rapture folks dream of no final redemption here no explosive joy just his body next to yours
Busy and tired, thinking your time was not required Lies about having ties our beliefs are now expired I was right to lurk while you were at work Little girl to an adult, but you’re the same as clockwork
it’s funny, you’ve decided that you seek rapture in the most sinful of kisses his lips against your stubble his smile against yours when even just the want to hold him close is one that you’ve considered wrong since long ago
Sick in the head is what I’ll tell you Best doctors in the world can’t even make you new Hide and seek with the truth but always revealed Naive to believe that your wrongdoings are concealed
it’s funny, you’ve decided because otherwise it’d be tragic
One time was all it took to destroy what you had Starting fresh, a second chance was given Manipulation and trained obedience you were driven It’s been three times now you cannot be forgiven
there is a short list of things you want right now, but it could really be boiled down to this: his hand pressed against the small of your back rapture given, given by a kiss.
The Broken and Wounded Fiction - Second Place
Kerri-ann Torgersen Livermore, California, USA
“Mommy,” Mae said, digging her toes into the back of her mother’s seat. “I ain’t going to church no more.” “Mae, you stop that talk right now.” Bess pulled into the parking lot of the Greater Presbyterian Church of Hope in Christ. She turned off the engine and glanced up to meet her daughter’s eyes in the rearview. “Jesus can hear you.” “But Daddy doesn’t go,” she whined. “You told him he has to, and he don’t. So I don’t neither.” “You will come to church. No more lip. And that’s final.” A silver pickup truck pulled in next to Bess and the girls. Jeff Miller hopped out and circled to the passenger side. Bess noted how respectable he always looked. Black slacks, a powder blue dress shirt, a pale yellow striped tie. Jeff reached up into the cab, grabbing his wife Connie by her hips. Connie held her Bible in one arm, the other hung in a sling above her fuzzy lavender sweater. Jeff eased her to the ground below. She waved to Bess and shimmied, adjusting her long denim skirt before heading toward the church. Bess studied her daughters through the rearview mirror. Ethel rocked her doll Jenny, and Mae drove her blue Hot Wheels car along the window. Their matching rose and white gingham dresses no longer looked as crisp as when Bess sewed them last August. The girls’ wavy hair, the color of buttermilk biscuits, peeked out
from under their bonnets, the same ones they wore for Easter. Once a bright white, the fabric yellowed and frayed at the edges. Before getting out of her blue Honda, Bess inspected her reflection. Auburn curls framed her narrow face, a dusting of freckles spread across her cheeks. Deep violet bruising outlined her stormy blue eyes, fading outward to shades of gray and green. She stretched to the passenger side floor, digging through a pile of toys and empty water bottles to find her Bible. “Alright, girls. We don’t want to be late. Let’s get a move on.” Ethel cradled her blond doll and grabbed a plastic shopping bag stuffed with crayons, paper, and magic markers, ones smelling like blueberries and apples. Mae tucked a Stegosaurus under her arm, filling her pockets with little green army men. The girls leaped from the backseat, dashing toward the black double doors of the little white church, the gravel crunching under their scuffed patent leather Mary Janes. “Do you have your—” Bess hollered. Before she finished, the twins threw up their right arms, shaking their matching pink masks, as they bolted for the entrance. Bess sauntered down the stone path, dragging her fingertips along the rickety white picket fence. She peered up to where the steeple once shot up to the sky. A raging storm had swept through
Wheatcroft, knocking the tower to the earth. With the numbers dwindling at church, the tithe money fed the pastor but couldn’t cover the repairs. Chunks of timber and broken planks were all that remained of the spire. The belfry smashed to bits. The massive bronze bell had bounced across the grass and through the parking lot. Bess still felt guilty for laughing when Pastor Fred and the choir members scrambled, trying to catch it before it hit someone’s car. Ethel and Mae slipped inside the building with the Millers. Bess pried open the heavy wooden door, finding the girls tucked away in their pew. For once, they wore their masks without a fight. Bess yanked the paisley face-covering from the pocket of her leather bible cover and adjusted it over her mouth and nose. The door slammed shut. The sound echoed through the modest sanctuary. A handful of families scattered among the rows, waiting for the service to begin, shifted to observe her. Bess loved how her yellow mask hid her newly forming frown lines, but she despised how it accented the bruises she hoped everyone would ignore. Thick canvas tapestries depicting the stations of the cross crowded the walls between the stained glass windows. A wooden cross draped in a wrinkled sash hung above the dusty pipe organ. Zeke Foster occupied the first row, cuddled up to his wife, Emily. Small clear tubes ran
from under his mask to the oxygen tank nestled in his lap. All those years laboring in the Waverly mines brought nothing but trouble to his lungs. Bess feared the same for her husband, Del, ever since he developed a bit of a cough. She lost sleep, worrying the good Lord would take him from her, but Del thought it best he find a job with better pay now that Bess stayed home with the girls. Behind the Fosters, Edith Warburton, the type of woman everyone said must have been beautiful in her prime, moved about the pew with grace. Her cream wrap dress hung off her delicate shoulders. Martin Warburton loved his wife with a rather unnatural devotion, staring at her over the tortoiseshell glasses perched on the tip of his nose. Their brood of eleven children crawled all over the third row. Trevor, the Warburton’s towheaded toddler, played peek-a-boo with Daisy Parker directly behind them. Daisy sat with the Millers every Sunday after losing her husband some months back. Where she once attended church in nothing but the finest dresses, she now donned a coral peasant blouse and a navy paneled skirt, her tawny locks thrown up in a loose bun. Samuel Ellis lounged in the last row, his arms strung over the back of the pew. He winked at Bess, tugging down his mask to reveal dimples and a playful smile. Bess fumbled with her Bible. The book crashed to the carpet. She scooped it up, rushing to her seat. A brown paper sack rested on the burgundy pew cushion near her daughters. Russet potatoes, romaine lettuce, and a bundle of purple and orange carrots tied in twine peeked out from the top. Bess plucked the note taped to the
side. Bessie, Pa’s farm had extra. Thought this might help a bit. Sam Bess hated being the church charity case. Sam meant well, but his help became the hardest to accept. They grew up on neighboring farms. Best friends from kindergarten to graduation. Their parents started joking about how they would marry. One day, she noticed Sam looking at her in a way she hadn’t seen before. Or maybe never noticed. When she realized his feelings for her, she couldn’t fathom why. The members of the choir floated up the aisles to the choral riser, their shiny white and deep-blue robes flowing around them. Pastor Fred’s wife, Tammy, flipped her wheat blonde tresses behind her shoulders and began to sing, leading them into worship. Will the circle be unbroken By and by, Lord, by and by There’s a better home a-waiting In the sky, Lord, in the sky. Bess appreciated how Tammy’s striped face-covering matched her robe and wondered if everyone knew she had a fat lip underneath it. She turned to watch her girls. Ethel and Mae sang off-key, their bodies swaying like reeds in the summer breeze. Bess mumbled the lyrics. Her eyes wandered. Cobwebs clung to the arches along the pale white ceiling. The wooden pews, worn and dull, needed a coat of polish. Brown spots covered the musty maroon carpet. The wicker offering bas-
ket floated from family to family, making its way through the rows. Bess couldn’t recall the last time she saw more than a few dollars in it. The choir shuffled through their standard five hymns, ending with Amazing Grace. Pastor Fred waddled to the mahogany pulpit and stood a few feet back to make space for his ever-growing belly. His gut pushed apart the plaid fabric of his button-down, revealing his undershirt. The pastor sure looked well-fed. “I’d like to thank the choir for bringing us into God’s presence today. May the Lord bless you,” he said, his voice loud and cheerful. He covered the weekly announcements, spoke about outreach in the community, and gave a message on keeping the faith in trying times. Bess attempted to focus on the word of God, but Ethel and Mae drowned out most of the sermon. Ethel stole Mae’s favorite matchbox car. Mae smacked her. Bess settled them. Mae crammed a crayon up her nose and cried. Bess consoled her. Mae pulled Ethel’s hair. Bess intervened. “Please turn to the book of Jeremiah, chapter one, verse fourteen.” Pastor Fred peeled open the pages of his aging Bible. The sound of shuffling and pages turning filled the air. “The Lord said to me.” Pastor Fred cleared his throat, his round face glistening with sweat. “From the north, disaster will be poured out on all who live in the land.” “Mommy,” Mae said as she stood up. The pastor stopped speaking. The entire congregation turned in their direction. “Shhhh.” Bess glared at her, grateful a
mask hid her reddening cheeks. “When can we be done? I’m bored.” Mae climbed over her mother toward the aisle. “You sit down right now. You know better than to talk up in church.” She yanked her by her sleeve and whispered. “Now you pipe down til it’s over.” Bess remembered when the girls sat through Sunday service without much fuss. The problems began when the schoolhouse closed and Webster county went on lockdown. Del borrowed money from the Warburtons to install the internet. He bought a second-hand laptop from a thrift store in Paducah and made Bess quit her job. Ethel and Mae started video calls with their first-grade class, sitting next to one another at the kitchen table. All the Zoom malfunctions, incorrect passwords, turning things on and off again were enough to send Bess to the madhouse. And all those hours staring at moving pictures did a number on the girls’ attention spans. Now they only sat still with a screen in their faces. “Dear Lord. I offer unto you the wounded hearts, the broken hearts, out in our community.” The pastor raised his plump hands in prayer. “We know it is you, my Lord, who will uphold them in the end. Let them not lose hope.” Bess rolled her eyes. “Let them not cast away everything good and beautiful in this life. Let them know they have everything they need. Thank you, Father God.” Pastor Fred closed his Bible. Before he said “Amen,” the twins sprang up, running off to play with the Warburton children. Bess lingered, scoop-
ing up crayons and cars from the pew. “Good morning, Bessie.” Samuel Ellis appeared. “Morning, Sam. Thank you for the vegetables,” she said, continuing to search for crayons under the pew cushion. “I might just use ‘em for dinner tonight.” “Always glad to help,” he said, wringing his faded baseball cap in his calloused hands. “I— I’ve been meaning to talk to you.” Bess glanced over, noticing the dirt under his fingernails. His flannel shirt, halftucked in, hung over his dirty blue jeans, his cowboy boots caked with fresh mud. Does this man have no shame? “What is it, Sam? Is this about the church bake sale? Cause I—” “No, it ain’t about that,” Sam said and forced a smile. He moved a pile of crayons off to the side and sat down. “You know I care about you.” Bess smoothed her floral dress and sat down, crossing her legs. “I know. I know,” she said, her voice hushed. “But I’m married now.” Her eyes darted around the room, searching for other members of the congregation. She fiddled with a scarlet crayon, caught herself, and pinned her hands under her thighs. Samuel Ellis might just be the only nice man on this earth. “I don’t know how to say this— but— your eyes, Bessie. I’m worried. Since the first time you showed up with a shiner, your weasel of a husband stopped coming to the service.” Sam closed his eyes and shook his head. “It don’t look right.” “Just cause Del hasn’t been coming don’t mean he’s the one who did it,” she
said, springing to her feet. “I already told you. It happened at Lena McElroy’s. And Del already said I can’t go there anymore.” “Bessie, I— I’m here if you need me.” Sam rose, resting his hand against her back. “Don’t forget I care about you.” “Stop saying that. We’re in church,” Bess said, rolling her shoulder. His hand slipped off. “I’m so tired of hearing it.” She spun to pick up the wreckage the twins left behind and crammed the rest of the crayons into the plastic shopping bag. Sam, not knowing what to say, hovered at the end of the pew before he walked out of the double doors. Bess drove the long way home. Grand oak trees, stretching on for miles, loomed over the edges of the country roads. Their branches banged and scraped against the car’s roof. She replayed her conversation with Sam. As much as he cared, he had no right to get involved. He never liked Del. She didn’t find it the least bit surprising that Sam blamed him for every little thing troubling her. Bess rounded the bend by the orchard. Scraggly apple trees lined the road. Bess and the girls passed a sign reading “Foster’s Farms and Fruit Stand.” The white shack sat off to the right-hand side. Baskets of Braeburn and Granny Smith surrounded the small building. Jugs of cider and jars of applesauce covered the tables out front. “Momma.” Mae kicked her mother’s seat. “I want apples.” She kicked again. Bess ignored her daughter’s request. Sam Ellis has some nerve. I shoulda giv-
en him a piece of my mind. “Me too! I want apples.” Ethel perked up. “Please, Momma, can we get apples? Please. Apples. Apples. Apples.” Bess slammed on the brakes, sending the girls halfway out of their seats. “We still have apples from last Sunday. I ain’t spending money on more.” “But Mommy,” Ethel said, her voice almost a whisper. “You can bake more pies.” Bess jerked to face the twins. “I’ll be damned if I’m making another pie,” she spat the words. Mae began to cry. Ethel pulled the bonnet down over her eyes, sniffling. “Not another word until we get home. You hear me?” Dear Lord. I can’t do this much longer. Please guide me. Bess once had a sense of peace in her life. She’d worked at Pop’s Soda Shop over in Providence since she turned 15. Bored housewives stopped in to chat, catching her up on the town gossip. The local kids played hopscotch on the black and white checkered floor while waiting on their banana splits and sundaes. Oldies like “Rockin’ Robin” and “Yakkity Yak” blared from the jukebox. She worked right on through her pregnancy and returned shortly after the twins were born. Bess loved the peaceful rides to work and her hour-long lunch breaks. She’d grab a turkey and Swiss on rye from the deli next door. The owner always snuck an extra pickle into the white paper bag with her sandwich. She’d cross the street, laying out a quilt under a tree in the park. The wind rustled the leaves. The birds tweeted in the trees. The faint clang of wind
chimes reached her ears from somewhere far off in the neighborhood. Now she sat at home, troubleshooting video calls and watching reruns of I Love Lucy. Pastor Fred preached about having an attitude of gratitude. Bess sure tried. She counted her blessings while restarting the laptop, testing the microphone, making pies, and scrubbing stains from the girls’ dresses. Bess turned onto the property. A cloud of dust billowed around her Honda. They passed the ruins of their barn, and the old farmhouse came into view. Faded white strips of paint hung off the sides. A few black shingles were missing from the roof. Chickens roamed the front lawn and ran in every direction once she stopped the car out front. Ethel and Mae sprang from the backseat and sprinted after the hens, giggling. “Stop chasing the dang chickens,” Bess yelled. “How many times do I—” She stopped herself and sighed, shaking her head. Bess abandoned their belongings, the cars and dolls spread out across the backseat, the vegetables from Sam, her Bible, and she told herself she’d come back for them. She strolled past Del’s truck and approached the wraparound porch. A breeze danced through the air, sending their rocking chairs bobbing back and forth. As she climbed the stairs, Del’s voice carried through the screen door and out into the yard. “Are you kidding me? That guy was wide open.” He reclined in his worn-out la-z-boy, yelling at the television with a PBR tucked between his legs. He sported his grimy flannel pajamas, the ones with
the hole in the crotch. Bess attempted to sew them, but he refused, saying they provided easier access. A bag of barbecue potato chips and a tower of empty beer cans covered the end table next to him. Men in helmets and uniforms ran across a green field on the tv screen. Bess pried open the door. It banged shut from the wind, hitting her on the backside. The smell of roasting turkey filled their home. She’d tried getting out of cooking elaborate Sunday dinners now that Del stopped coming to the service, but he insisted the tradition continue. She prepped the bird in the early morning before the sun peeked over the hills. If her timing worked out, all the fixings would be ready by the time the turkey finished cooking. “Bess? That you?” Del shouted. “Where’s the damn remote?” Church was great, Del. Thanks for asking. “I don’t know. It’s wherever you left it.” Oh, what’s that? You’re gonna show up next week? That’s great! The loose floorboards groaned under her weight as she entered the kitchen. A drab green curtain covered the open window above the white porcelain sink. She brushed it aside and hollered to the girls. “Ethel. Mae. Don’t run off too far.” She grabbed a potholder from the oak countertop. The oven door squealed open. One thing. I asked him to do one thing. Bess snatched the baster from the stovetop. She squeezed the red bulb, sucking up the greasy liquid before bathing the bird in its juices. The turkey’s skin
sizzled. A tarnished silver pot rested on the counter filled with russets she peeled and chopped before bed last night. She slid it to the back of the stovetop and lit the burner. Bess plopped down in a wooden chair at the table, adjusting the checkered blue cushion under herself. She grabbed an ear of corn from the pile next to the laptop and peeled back the outer green layers and stringy silk. “Get me another beer,” Del’s voice rang from the living room. “Del, I’m shucking the corn. If you want supper on time, you need to let me be.” “Bess. Bring me a beer. Now,” he shouted, sending himself into a coughing fit. Bess slammed the ear on the table and wiped her hands on her dress. She stomped to the fridge and snatched the last can of PBR by the lettuce on the bottom shelf. The cool metal chilled her fingers. She paused, studying the can. I could shake it a little. She imagined his reaction. Del in a panic, jumping up to clean himself, missing half the game. No. I’d pay for it later. She clicked the door shut, pausing again. “Hey, Del. Head’s up.” Del nearly tumbled out of the recliner, fumbling to catch the beer she threw in his direction. “Jesus Christ. What is wrong with you?” he wheezed. “You always say I ain’t got no sense.” Bess shrugged. “You must be right.” She turned, hiding her smile, and called the girls to wash up for dinner. They bolted in and straight up the creaky stairs to their bedroom. Bess finished up with the corn and sau-
téed the green beans. She knew the bird would be done shortly, so she scrapped the idea of making biscuits from scratch. She mashed the boiled potatoes and left the lumps in because she’d never hear the end of it if she whipped them out. The scent of beer and sweat wafted through the tiny kitchen. Bess turned to see Del lingering in the doorway, monitoring her. He cleared his throat, stifling a cough. His rough hands rested on either side of the doorframe. His untamed hair, the same shade as cow manure, looked as if it were trying to escape his stench. He yanked a sage green dishrag hanging from the oven door handle and hocked a wad of phlegm into the fabric. Hasn’t this man ever heard of a comb? Or a shower? Lord, help me. Bess cleared the table and laid out a checkered tablecloth, stained from the girls’ spills and drips. She placed their mismatched knives, forks, spoons, and fabric napkins on top. “Smells good in here. What all are we having for dinner?” Del swooped in and wrapped his arms around her waist, his beer belly crashing against her. “Well, you know ‘bout the turkey. We’re having green beans, fresh corn, mashed taters, gravy—” “No biscuits?” “Del, I didn’t have time. But I took a pie out of the freezer.” “I work hard all damn week so you can stay home. And you can’t make biscuits?” “Del, I—” “Nope. Don’t even. You need to make them before you call for dinner.” Lord? Do you hear this? This man is an
ingrate. “Well, then get your paws off me so I can make your biscuits.” God, grant me the serenity to accept this man I cannot change. “Bess, I’m tired of all this lip. Is this about Lena? Cuz you ain’t going there tonight.” “Del, this ain’t got nothing to do with her.” Grant me the courage to change the things I can. “Bessie, you better watch your tone.” “I’m sorry, Del. I’ll pipe down.” And the wisdom to know the difference. Bess gathered the ingredients as Del stumbled back to the recliner. All-purpose flour, baking soda, salt, butter, and a plastic jug of milk from the fridge. Bess checked for eggs but remembered she used them for cheese omelets that morning. Ethel knew she needed to refill the egg container after breakfast, but Bess couldn’t remember the last time the girl actually did it. She grew tired of the fight to get the girls to do their chores, so she stopped pestering them. “Del, we’re out of eggs. Be right back.” Bess waited for a response. When he didn’t answer, she walked down the steps into the yard. She passed the beds of wilted tulips surrounding the house, the edges of their petals brown and curling. The small round stones littering the flower bed sank into the mud. Pictures of the farmhouse, the Jesus fish, and hearts the girls painted on the rocks now obstructed by clumps of dirt. A few chicks pecking for bugs scattered as she followed the narrow dirt path to the side yard. Del built the chicken coop last fall, hoping they’d get plenty of eggs. Ethel and Mae never let the birds be, so they
barely laid any. Bess ducked inside the wooden structure. Their finest hens, Rosie and Cluckers, slept soundly in their nesting boxes. Bess dug underneath them, searching for an egg. She sifted through piles of hay. Please let me find one. All I need is one. She checked every nest, but they all turned up empty. Bess inched along the path, heading to the house. The sun eased its way closer to the hills. She stopped and embraced the rays warming her pale skin. A cool breeze sent goosebumps over her arms, and the smell of the lilac bushes blew through the yard. Bess shivered, tucking her hands into her pockets. Her fingertips touched something cold and rough. Bess fondled her keys. The girls were inside their room, playing. Del lounged in his chair, sipping his beer and waiting on his biscuits. The turkey was ready to be pulled from the oven. Bess crept along the porch and tiptoed past Del’s truck to her Honda. She eased the door open and slid into the seat, pulling it shut. The silence hurt her ears. She placed the keys in the ignition. A knock blasted against the car window. “Bess?” Del peered in, his face inches from the glass. “Where are you going?” Bess stared ahead, her hands frozen on the steering wheel. Del pounded his fist against the windshield. Trembling, she rolled down the window. “I— I was just heading up the road to borrow an egg from Connie. We’re out,” she said, her insides churning. “I’ll be right back.” Del bit his lip and studied her face. “Don’t take too long,” he said. “I’m
hungry.” Bess started the engine and pulled onto the road. She watched as their farmhouse grew smaller and smaller in the rearview until it disappeared. The Miller’s rusty mailbox came into focus along the road's right side, the little red arrow standing straight up. Bess drove right on past it. She drove past the cornfields and past Foster’s endless rows of apple trees. Veering left at the fork, she pulled around a green tractor throwing up clouds of dust and began driving north on Highway 109. A honey-colored Jersey cow, munching on grass, lifted its head as she passed. The land transformed into grassy rolling fields. Bess kept driving. Cars parked end-to-end lined the side of the highway outside Lena’s property. Bess found her spot between a gray minivan and a white coupe. She grabbed her mask from the glovebox and stepped out into the dusky evening, marching along the wooden fence surrounding the land. A breeze traveled over her skin and carried the faint sound of women’s voices with it. The red building came into view as she grew closer. The barn appeared bigger than Bess last remembered it, the peak of the roof sharp as a point, the white and tan cupola extending toward the heavens. The wind spun the arrow on the black metal weathervane round and round. The rooster above it, standing firm, glared down at her. Light poured through a crack in the tall barn doors, illuminating the damp ground outside. Laughing and cheering from inside carried through the air. Bess approached the building and knocked. “What’s your name?” A woman she
hadn’t seen before peered out through a slit in the door. “Bess,” she said, glancing around. “Bessie Tompkins.” “Just a minute.” The woman disappeared. Bess waited. She noticed three figures in the shadows near a broken water trough. The barn door opened partway, and the woman stepped aside to let Bess pass. Bess placed her palm on the rough wooden doorframe, turning sideways. She slipped in. The stench of manure invaded her nostrils. Deafening shouts and cheers echoed off the barn walls. Ladies, some Bess recognized and some she didn’t, sat along the hay bales placed in semi-circular rows. Lena slouched against a weathered ladder leading up to the loft. Shades of navy and red in her flannel matched her cowboy boots. Her fiery curls billowed around her thin shoulders. Bess rushed over to her side. “It’s so good to see you, Bess,” Lena’s booming voice escaped through her American flag mask. She hugged a brown clipboard close to her chest. “Are you interested in signing up tonight?” “I hadn’t planned on it, but—” Bess shouted. She noticed Daisy Parker and Tammy Buckley, the pastor’s wife, sitting with the rest of the ladies among the bricks of straw. “I think I will.” Lena slid a blue ballpoint pen from the back pocket of her tight blue jeans. She scribbled Bess’s name down and returned to the ladder. Bess maneuvered through the hollering women, dry straw crunching under each step. She eased herself down onto
a vacant bale of hay. Tiny droplets of sweat sprayed across her cheeks and forehead. The shouting grew louder. The women rose to their feet. Edith Warburton stood before them. She gripped her chin in her palm. Blood dripped through her fingers. She pulled her arm back and hit Connie Miller in the jaw. Connie stumbled and fell. Edith pounced. She shoved her knee in Connie’s back and pulled her auburn bun. Bess jumped to her feet and cheered.
Adelaide, South Australia, Australia
Like anything else, the distance between practice and theory of free speech prompts vertigo. From this vantage, the garden is a patchwork of rivals clamouring for sunlight: a system has been rigged to piss around fertility nutrient dense human effluence. • English ivy works as imperfect ground cover, or green facade, but must be stripped from its parasitic climb up the pencil pine and stringy bark gum. • Pluck the sourly sobbing oxalis pescaprae, ideally removing deep-rooted bulbs lingering bitterly.
• Grasses strangle lavender. • Caltrops suffocate pigs-face. • Toxic oleander, sage, has accrued suckers. • Nettles await wind-swept martyrdom. • At least purslane and dandelion can be pastiched into salad. • Blackberry: nature's barbed wire, thin vicious tendrils only seen upon one's delve into this vapid mire, the devil's temptation to indiscriminately spray triclopyr present as butoxyethanolester and forever sterilise what could be. • Subject figs to heavy pruning they will grow back, like anything else.
Forgive Me Photography Third Place Visual
Ann Arbor, Michigan, USA
1-800-230-PLAN, Conversation with my Gynecologist after my Third Miscarriage Experimental
Miami, Florida, USA
I’m alone on a makeshift bench, four cinder blocks (two on each side) supporting a 2x8 plank in front of a red brick fire pit in [redacted]’s front yard. Lining the yard are broken TV’s drawn on with white Markals: one I’ve done, a drawing of a “wild” goose paired with that famous Mary O. quote, “You do not have to be good.” I hold my iPhone in my hand & dial 1-800-230-PLAN into the digital keypad. [AUTOMATED SYSTEM]: Thank you for calling Planned Parenthood! Para continuar en Español oprima el dos. To help us connect you to the Planned Parenthood center in your area, please enter a five-digit zip code for the area you are interested in. I dial 15224. Please hold, and you will be transferred to the Planned Parenthood center nearest to you. Thank you! [WESTERN PA PLANNED PARENTHOOD RECORDED MESSAGE]: This recording is for Monday, February 24, 2020 to Monday, March 2, 2020. Thank you for calling Planned Parenthood of Western Pennsylvania. If you have a medical emergency, please press nine. If you
know your party’s extension, you may dial it at any time. You can make an appointment online at ppwp.org, that’s ppwp. org. Please note that abortion services are only provided at the Pittsburgh location. [AUTOMATED SYSTEM]: To speak to someone about abortion services, press 2. To speak to someone about an appointment for birth control, an exam, or emergency consu—
generic-brand Early Result) provide evaporation lines more often than pink dye (First Response Test & Confirm Pregnancy Test)—I decide to get both. *** All services at Planned Parenthood are confidential. We look forward to assisting you as soon as possible. All calls could be monitored and recorded.
I press 2. The line rings only once. *** Down Euler Way I go, toward the CVS on Forbes Ave, passing a sparrow pecking at the mounds of tied-off plastic bags in the overflow of some Fifth Ave restaurant dumpster. My white knuckles tucked in the pockets of my green canvas jacket, I jaywalk across Forbes Ave, darting through the flow of the four lane one way rush hour traffic and through the automated bi-fold doors of the pharmacy. I know how to get to the end of this maze: turn left and go down the middle aisle and turn right, then immediately left. The sign overhead: FAMILY PLANNNG. I read online that the blue dye tests (CVS
[PLANNED PARENTHOOD OPERATOR]: Thank you for calling Planned Parenthood. This is Krystal, how can I help you? [ME]: Hi—um, I’m just calling to see if you’d be able to provide me with some information about abortion services? [PLANNED PARENTHOOD OPERATOR]: All right, I can help with that. Uh, what kind of, do you have specific questions, or do you want a general overview of our services? [ME]: Um, I have specific questions. [PLANNED PARENTHOOD OPERATOR]: Mhm, what are your questions?
[ME]: Um, so—basically, I was curious about how much abortions cost outside of, outside of insurance, and then typically with insurance. [PLANNED PARENTHOOD OPERATOR]: So, outside of insurance coverage is $435 if you’re under twelve weeks. Now, insurance is really all over the place because some insurances cover full, some cover partial, and many don’t cover at all. [ME]: Right.
I don’t want to see the same cashier who’s seen me buy several boxes (at least five) in the last six months. I don’t want to read: Hello, how can I help? ANITA Management Team Member CVS Pharmacy on her name tag pinned to her blood red t-shirt. I don’t want to hear the beep! as she glides the cellophane wrapped box’s barcode across the infrared and says, “$38.27” in that I-just-started-my-shift-butI’ll-be-damned-if-I-got-to-talk-in-that-highpitch-customer-service-register-until-midnight kind of voice. I always imagine her wondering (anticipating, even) when I’ll come in maternity jeans and an oversized tee, with some make-believe partner she’s dreamed up for me, perusing the aisles with my hands clasped over my rounded-out belly, purchasing the Snickers and Pepperoni Hot Pockets to satisfy
my cravings. I shove the tests in my backpack and walk out. *** [PLANNED PARENTHOOD OPERATOR]: So, um, it’s a little bit difficult to say how much they cover when they do—so, I can’t really answer that more specifically because it, it’s just varies so much, but it is $435 before 12 weeks. [ME]: Okay, and then um, if I tell you a specific insurance plan are you able to give me like a, general ballpark of whether or not you think it would cover it? [PLANNED PARENTHOOD OPERATOR]: Mm, yes I can do my best. Sometimes, you know, I, the answer might be, I don’t know until we call. But, yeah, let me know the name of your insurance. [ME]: Right—it’s uh, Cigna. [PLANNED PARENTHOOD OPERATOR]: Is it through the state, an employer, or a family member? [ME]: Oh, a family member. [PLANNED PARENTHOOD OPERATOR]: Mm. Okay, so that’s one of the ones we wouldn’t know until we called. [ME]: Okay, uh— [PLANNED PARENTHOOD OPERATOR]: We wouldn’t really know until we called
and looked into your policy for that one. [ME]: And then, my other question is, is if you were to contact the insurance company, would it appear, like would the person who has the insurance be able to see that Planned Parenthood was inquiring with the insurance company about abortion services? [PLANNED PARENTHOOD OPERATOR]: For an inquiry, no. For billing, there—it really depends on the company, because some insurance companies don’t name the service. They just put a code and others do. But inquiries, no they would not be notified if we inquired. [ME]: Okay, perfect— *** On the 71A bus everyone happens all at once: A woman stands, one hand on the metal rail attached to the ceiling, a pink hijab worn on her head and a biology book in her hand, mouthing words to herself with intermittent pauses as if she was reciting them again in her head; an old couple in matching 2017 Pittsburgh Marathon t-shirts bicker over whether Danny DeVito is married to Dee from It’s Always Sunny or the waitress from Cheers. A ten-year-old boy in a catholic school uniform plays his Nintendo Switch. A man in a pinstriped suit and leather briefcase, Air Jordans with red accents to complete the outfit talks on his iPhone. My body sways into sickness—passengers pressed
up against me with nowhere to move, nowhere to puke. I swallow. The pregnancy tests tucked into my JanSport backpack between chapbooks and loose papers. Once the bus makes it past Craig St and down Centre Ave, its metal body begins to clear out the way I hope my body doesn’t have to. *** [PLANNED PARENTHOOD OPERATOR]: There’s no harm in looking into it, it’s billing where they might be notified. [ME]: Okay, that’s totally good. I did have one other question, so let’s say I were to pursue—this, what is the process of, you know, getting an abortion, like from me having this phone call, to the end—if I were to go with not the pill, but with the actual procedure. [PLANNED PARENTHOOD OPERATOR]: Okay—so, all you need in order to schedule an abortion appointment is to report a positive pregnancy test. You just need to report that you had one. We would use the first day of your last period to get an estimate of how far along you are—do you happen to know the first day of your last period? [ME]: Not at all, no. ***
I take a switchblade to the cellophane of the First Response Test & Confirm Pregnancy Test box and tear off its glued flaps. The contents lay on the linoleum tile floor of my S Negley Ave third floor walkup bathroom: one pink dye test, one digital test, the insert with English and Spanish instructions. I know the drill: sit on the toilet and get into position; remove the plastic cap from the tip of the test; begin pissing; midstream, dip the tip of the test in for five Mississippi-seconds; place the plastic cap back on the tip of the test; place on a flat surface; set a timer for two minutes; chug a glass of water; repeat as many times as you need. I hold the test up to the light fixture to embolden the results: there is no missing that baby pink line. *** [PLANNED PARENTHOOD OPERATOR]: Okay, so if you weren’t sure, like let’s say you have an irregular period or you just really did not remember we would do an ultrasound ahead of time. But if you know, or you could figure it out, then we would use that to get an estimate. You would schedule for two appointments. You would schedule for the appointment to come in and receive the service, and you would also need to schedule for a phone call appointment with our doctor, because in Pennsylvania there is a law that says you need to speak with one of our doctors at least twenty-four hours before your appointment in order for you to be seen by a doctor. So, you would schedule a phone appointment with a
doctor, and you would schedule an appointment to receive the service. The day that you came in to receive the service, uh you would have an ultrasound first, and then you would do pre-procedure charting and vitals. The appointment would be about three to four hours. The procedure itself is only about five to eight minutes. You would receive 800mg of ibuprofen and local numbing medication on the cervix, and afterwards you’d be in the recovery room for about twenty-five minutes. And for the in-clinic, there is no follow-up required because there’s really no failure rate. So, you would just have some bleeding and cramping for a few days—maybe a week or two, and then you would get a normal period in about four to six weeks. [ME]: Okay—this has all been really helpful—and I—I think that—I think that, yeah, I’m just gonna talk things over and then maybe give you all a call back. So, thank you so much for all of the information, I really appreciate your time. [PLANNED PARENTHOOD OPERATOR]: Yeah! Our phone lines are open until four today. [ME]: Okay, thank you. All right, byebye. [PLANNED PARENTHOOD OPERATOR]: Take care now.
Conversation with my Gynecologist after my Third Miscarriage
a macro dose of vitamin D, Zyrtec at night for allergies.
So—uh, [deadname], what brings you in today? I’m here because I had an abortion scheduled at Planned Parenthood, but I had my phone call appointment with their doctor & she told me if I have fever or pain or bleeding to go in so I did. I was seen last week in Magee’s Women Hospital’s Emergency room, they told me to follow up with my OBGYN.
How many sexual partners do you have? Three. Are they men, women, or both? Both.
Your OBGYN? Have you seen me before?
Have you been pregnant before? You’ve been my doctor for three years—
This is my third miscarriage in the last six months.
—oh, yes, that’s right. Tell me, when you went in, why did you go to Magee UPMC, instead of with us at West Penn AHN?
Third? Why is this the first time you’re seeing me about this? Did you use protection, are you trying to conceive? I told my partner to use a condom but they didn’t. I told them to pull out but they didn’t— I’ve seen you before about this. I’m not trying to conceive, no.
West Penn was too far, I was in Oakland when I bled through my favorite baby blue jeans when my fever spiked, I was doubled over in the bathroom of Noodles & Co. I didn’t want to pay for the ambulance fee. I didn’t want to pay an Uber driver the fee to clean my miscarriage blood off their back seat. I figured you’d still be able to pull up my records because you had me sign a form last time.
No? I see here on your chart that you stopped taking Tri-Sprintec early last summer, then your PCP prescribed it again around Xmas time. When did you see me?
Last time? Let me pull up your chart. Let’s just go over some things: what medications are you taking? A multivitamin with iron,
I called the office early last summer— the six-month script you wrote me expired the receptionist said you refused to re-prescribe without seeing me first. I explained I’d be out of state for several months and I wouldn’t be available to come in until fall. I begged her
to talk you into writing me that script. By the time I saw you again this past October, it was too late, I had a positive test, six weeks after my last cycle. I started bleeding clots in all shades of red. I tested again, negative then. You told me I had, “irregular bleeding.” I never asked, but I’m guessing you never marked it “Miscarriage – 6 weeks” in my chart. When I started taking the Tri-Sprintec again, last December was when I found out again, I was pregnant. You should’ve been more proactive in your sexual health—especially since you’re having unprotected sex. Have you been tested for STI’s? I requested them during my last visit with my PCP. Good—with how you’ve been, you’ll definitely need it. What were the results? Negative across the board— for HIV as well. You should be grateful nothing worse has happened to you.
Katerina Constantinides Dublin, California, USA
Why do we strive for things we will never achieve? Go to school. Get a job. Dream big. Work hard, play hard! Work hard, play hard! But in reality, it's just a dream. Life is hard! Why do we try so hard? Work hard, play hard! Work hard, play hard! We try so hard. And for what? To get paid a minuscule amount for a chance at a dream? You work until you’re in your grave. Dragging on in a harsh cycle of depression and exhaustion. Just blowing in the wind. But wait, you see a spark! A flashing light that blinds you and you see what it's all for. Work for the chance to catch the spark! Work for the chance to put a smile on someone's face! A chance to know the stars. When the sky weeps and the heavens fall, Be the flower that grows in the dark. Work hard, play hard. Work for the flowers on your grave.
When Lizzie Borden Went on a Date With James Bond Fiction
Maureen Mancini Amaturo Rye, New York, USA
Spinster had never suited her. For Lizzie, the last phase of rebuilding her life meant a relationship. Not that she knew what she was missing. Too many years of control, monotonous responsibility, and unhappy years of confinement in the Borden household had eaten away at any chance she might have had at love or even a satisfying companionship. But that was over now. She was rid of that house, rid of those ways, rid of her parents. Now settled into Maplecroft, her own home on the right side of the tracks, Lizzie was ready to explore life. And since her sister, Emma, recently had moved far north after their furious argument, nothing would stand in her way. Feeling more lucky than lonely to be living on her own, Lizzie was determined to find happiness finally. She glanced at a photo of her father that sat on her mantle and smiled a cruel smile. The picture of Abby, her stepmother, went out with the trash the day she moved out of the Borden home, after the ordeal came to a close. Overcome with passion for a new start, she removed her father’s photo from the frame and burned it in the cellar. So much about her former life never suited her. To symbolize the newness of all that she envisioned for herself, she began to call herself Lizbeth. Even her name had to go. Like Andrew and Abby Borden, Lizzie was dead. Now, Lizbeth had a life to live. Late one evening, after a raucous par-
ty she threw for her actress friend, Lizbeth considered an offer one of her guests had made. “I know a man, an interesting man. Mysterious, but adventurous. He’s single. A man of means and always welldressed, I might add. He travels a great deal. With your interest in travel, I always thought you two might get on. If you’re interested, I could speak to him.” Lizbeth waved her friend away. “No, no, no. I’d like to but … it’s … it’s just that—” “He’s from out of town, quite out of town. He’s British. He wouldn’t be quite so familiar with all the, you know, the ordeal.” Lizbeth nodded. “Let me think it over.” When everyone had gone, Lizbeth felt the silence in her empty, 14-room house. Maybe a dinner or a theater performance with a nice man would change things, she thought. No one could condemn me for wanting companionship. Lizbeth invited her friend for lunch later that week, and over dessert, she revealed that she most definitely was interested in meeting the man. Her friend was more than thrilled to help Lizzie escape the social jail she had been suffering. Though her parents’ murder trial had found her not guilty, society judged her still. Lizbeth’s friend shared the good news two days later. “He’s interested in meeting you, as well. I knew he would be. I’m not quite sure what his business is, but whatever it is, it leaves him with little time
to socialize. He’s looking forward to a nice dinner at Old Ebbitt Grill. What do you say?” “I’ll go.” “It’s settled then. I’ll give him your number. You two can arrange a day and time.” She hugged her friend. “And wear that new lilac dress.” A week later, Lizbeth was on her way to Old Ebbitt Grill for the first blind date of her life. She pulled the door open and met a mumble of low conversations, the bustle of waiters weaving through tables, glasses and silverware tinkling, and the music of a woman’s voice. A songstress stood near a piano in a spotlight in an otherwise darkened area. She stood on the floor, not a stage, singing something that sounded sad, a song Lizbeth did not recognize. The aroma of sizzling meat and boiled potatoes veiled the dining hall. Lizbeth scanned the room. In the low light, she saw him standing in the arranged spot, just as they had discussed. Medium height, light hair, broad shoulders, wearing a formal dinner jacket, she was sure he was her date. She approached. “Excuse me, I’m Lizbeth, Lizbeth Borden.” He extended his hand to her. “Bond. James Bond.” “Pleasure to meet you, Mr. Bond.” He eyed the room and glanced over his shoulder. He looked toward a far corner in the room. The table he requested, tucked in the shadows, was set for two. A
single red rose snipped to just inches tall leaned in a squat vase in its center. “Shall we? Our table is ready.” He pointed, then stood to the side allowing Lizbeth to proceed. “After you.” A waiter appeared as soon as they were seated and handed them menus. “Good evening, would you like a drink to start?” “Yes.” James Bond looked at Lizbeth. “For the lady?” “An Old Fashioned, please.” Lizbeth unfolded her napkin and smoothed it onto her lap. “Martini. Shaken, not stirred,” Bond said. “I’ll return with your drinks and take your order.” Bond handed Lizbeth a menu and opened his, holding it high, covering the lower half of his face. He peeked over the top, his eyes darting around the room. “Miss Borden, would you mind if we shift our chairs somewhat? Perhaps out of the line of the chill from the front door.” “I don’t feel a chill.” “I assure you, this room does tend to develop a chill as the evening goes on. May I?” He stood and walked to the back of her chair. She rose, and he moved both of their chairs further to the dark side of the table. He tugged at his crisp, white shirt cuffs, peeking perfectly beyond the edge of his jacket sleeves. “Quite crowded. I’ve never been here when it wasn’t. They make a killing.” “Killing?” Lizbeth stiffened. Heat crawled up her neck. She felt her face get warm. “Are you well?” Bond asked. “You look a bit flushed.” She took a deep breath. “I’m fine.” She
noticed his cufflinks. Their sparkle in the candlelight was nearly hypnotizing. “So, what line of work are you in, Mr. Bond?” He did not answer right away. His attention was on a man in a blue suit who had just entered. “Mr. Bond? I asked, ‘What line of work are you in?’” “Pardon me.” He placed his menu on the table. “International affairs. I do travel quite a bit.” Lizbeth leaned forward. “Travel. I envy you. I’ve dreamed of traveling for so long. My father, you see, was quite strict. He forbade me from socializing and activities that were not related to my church duties.” “How unfortunate. Do your parents live here in Fall River?” Bond lifted a small rolled paper from his inside pocket and slipped it into a compartment in the bottom of his cigarette lighter. Lizbeth’s eyes followed his hand. How strange. “No.” She hesitated. “No, they are dead. I’m quite on my own.” She watched him place the lighter in a side pocket. “They are buried in a handsome plot here in town.” “I’m sorry. My condolences. May I ask, how did they die?” She froze. I should have known this would come up. “Under mysterious circumstances. I can’t quite say.” Bond’s brows rose. “Mysterious circumstances? Mysterious circumstances are, shall we say, a strong suit of mine.” “Well, not too mysterious. Blunt trauma to the head. Both of them. Brutal, so brutal.” “Both of them?” “Yes, both.”
“Most unfortunate.” Not really. Lizzie nodded and looked down at her napkin. “An accident?” Lizbeth hesitated. “No. Not an accident. Quite deliberate, it seemed.” “Murder, then?” “Perhaps. The horror of it all was just … just … such a shock.” He folded his arms and leaned back against his chair. “I should think so. Did the culprit ever come to trial?” I don’t know how to answer. What shall I say? She feigned sadness. “There was a trial. However, it has never been determined who the murderer was.” “You were at the trial, I presume. Are you satisfied with their verdict?” “I was at the trial, yes. Their verdict is completely agreeable to me.” Lizbeth cleared her throat. “I prefer not to speak of it, if you don’t mind. Quite upsetting. And certainly not the ideal topic to share on a first meeting.” “Of course.” Their drinks arrived. Bond asked the waiter to return in a few minutes as they were not yet ready to order. He raised his glass and looked into Lizbeth’s eyes. “A toast?” Bond touched his glass to hers. “Live and let die.” She repeated, “Live and let die.” Bond’s eyes shifted to another table. “I’m so sorry. Would you pardon me for a moment?” “Of course.” Lizbeth sat up straight. She turned to follow Bond’s stare. A man in a blue suit had just been seated. “If you don’t mind, please let the waiter know that I’ll be having roast grouse and asparagus with hollandaise sauce. If
you’re undecided, I suggest the Mayfair Stoned Crabs with melted butter. They are bloody good.” He rose. “Excuse me.” Lizbeth watched as he approached the other man in the blue suit. She saw him hand the man his cigarette lighter. The waiter approached. “May I take your order?” She kept her eyes on Bond as she gave the waiter their order and was relieved that Bond didn’t linger in conversation but returned to their table in a timely manner. Bond noticed Lizbeth had finished her drink. “Another?” “I couldn’t.” “But you could. Who will judge you?” Bond raised his hand to call the waiter. “Are you feeling well? You look a bit uncomfortable.” “Excuse me.” Lizzie fluffed her short bangs with her fingers. “Lost in thought. Things I’d rather not remember.” Lizbeth steered the conversation away from anything related to her past until the waiter brought their drinks and their food. “Well, then,” Bond said. “Tonight is for finding some cheer. Let’s enjoy the night with conviction.” Lizbeth jumped. That word again. I’ve heard it too many times. “Perhaps another drink is just what you need. You seem on edge.” Lizbeth forced a smile. “Odd, ‘old-fashioned' defined the root of my unhappiness before my parents … well, before. Now, an Old Fashioned may be just the thing to set me free.” “That seems like an apt verdict,” Bond said. They raised their glasses in a second toast. “And if necessary, we’ll order a third until complete contentment has you
under arrest.” Lizbeth nearly dropped her glass onto her dinner plate. “I wish you would choose your words more carefully.” “I do apologize. Have I said something wrong?” James Bond noticed that the man in the blue suit had passed the cigarette lighter to the songstress, who had just left the stage. That was his cue. “Miss Borden—” “Lizbeth, please.” “Lizbeth, I do apologize, but I must excuse myself one more time. Please, go right ahead and begin your dinner. I’ll only be a moment. Our last interruption, I assure you. When I return, my full attention will be on you. I will be here for your eyes only.” He placed his napkin on the table. “Pardon me.” “Of course.” Lizbeth peeked over her shoulder. Her gaze followed him. She gasped when she saw him approach the vivacious woman with long, red hair who had just stepped away from the stage. She’s just the type. Moonraker. Man-stealer. Whore. Lizbeth imagined leaving before he returned. She imagined staying and giving him a stern word or two about his rude behavior. She imagined worse. Lizbeth’s whole being boiled with rage as she watched Bond follow the redhead through a shadowed door behind the stage, and she lost all awareness of the moment. As minutes ticked by, she couldn’t imagine what was keeping him. Her mind filled with assumptions, accusations, angry retaliation. The waiter’s approach brought her back to the moment. “Is everything to your liking?” Only then did she realize she had been
gripping a knife tightly and had cut a small section of the table cloth to shreds. “Yes, thank you.” She loosened her grip on the knife and looked down. When she saw what she had done, she rested her hand atop the damage. “Very well. Enjoy your meal.” Her shoulders eased when he left. He didn’t notice. Lizbeth slid her plate over the torn cloth. Why does that happen? I have not had one of those spells since … She glanced toward the stage and saw a disheveled James Bond exiting that door, the redheaded woman nowhere to be seen. She wondered why Bond hesitated, leaning against a wall before returning to her, but his appearance was more curious. As he started toward their table, he smoothed his hair, straightened his sleeves, adjusted his collar. Lizbeth had no way of knowing that Bond had been ambushed in that back room and had thwarted an attempt on his life. The songstress merely lured Bond to his attackers, who were armed with rope waiting to bind and choke him. Lizbeth only knew James Bond left her at the table sitting alone for quite some time, feeling conspicuous and embarrassed and wondering if he was going to return at all. Ignoring the stares of other diners, ignoring the waiter’s pity, she had to camouflage her humiliation. The weight of being stared at and whispered about by other diners brought back horrible memories, and she did not intend to deal with public scrutiny and gossip a second time. Her blood boiled. She reached into her drawstring purse and found the small vial of prussic acid she always carried. Lizbeth eyed the
nearby diners. No one was looking. She spilled some into Bond’s martini. A bit of the poison dripped onto his napkin. She glanced in his direction and saw he was close to their table. She ruffled his napkin to hide the wet spot. After drinking down her Old Fashioned, Lizbeth focused on her meal and pretended she didn’t see him approach. James Bond eyed his napkin before sitting, but didn’t touch it. “My apologies for the delay. I was unexpectedly tied up. Well, now. The evening is ours.” Lizbeth, who had fallen into a fixed stare and a daze, jumped. “Sorry. Didn’t mean to startle you.” “My mind was elsewhere, I’m afraid.” “Penny for your thoughts?” Bond asked. Lizbeth’s eyes glazed. Her breath became shallow. “I was thinking … thinking about death. The past … the past dies, doesn’t it? But tomorrow, tomorrow never dies.” He stared at her. “Are you well? You seem somewhat foggy.” “Not foggy at all. I am clear on so many things now.” “Curious. And those things are?” Lizbeth gripped her knife. The feel of the cold steel in her hand, its solid heft, brought her comfort. “That sometimes, when things are very bad, we do have a license to kill, kill what is wrong, kill what is unhappy so that we can move forward and make the most of our life.” She looked around the dining room and then at Bond sitting across from her. Her grip on the knife loosened. “This moment is the next step in my new life. When things are going well, certainly, there is no time to die.”
He raised his martini. “No time to die. Such profound revelation calls for a toast.” Exactly, Lizbeth thought. Preparing to take a bite of his grouse, Bond stopped and pushed his napkin to the side with his elbow. “I seem to have made a bit of a mess of this one.” Just as he lifted his glass to his lips, he said, “Perhaps a fresh drink is in order. Yours is near empty, and mine has been sitting.” He called the waiter for fresh drinks and a fresh napkin. “Now, I believe we were saying there is no time to die. I couldn’t agree more.”
Shining Crimson Fiction
Livermore, California, USA
He hit the floor hard. The pain in his abdomen was so excruciating he could barely hear his wife shriek. Her hair was disheveled, clothing torn, makeup running through hot tears. Her 10-year-old daughter dropped the knife soaked in her step-father's blood. "That's the last time you ever do that to mommy.” He lay there, feeling the beat of his heart slowing down. The blood from his wound pooled up around him as he took his last few breaths. Shining crimson from the light of the full moon reflected only his wife's face, a face full of relief.
Japanese Doll Making
Alamo, California, USA
Fiction - First Place
Urbandale, Iowa, USA
I told Javi that Tulip was missing. “You know her leash is faulty,” I said. “If she jumps around too much, it just snaps right out of the harness.” It was a plausible story. She’d escaped from both of us at one time or another, stealing a few moments of freedom on account of a defective metal clasp. But we’d always been able to lure her back with a palmful of salmon-flavored training treats. We never got around to exchanging the leash for something better; we just got used to it. Startled, Javi tossed his laptop aside and sprung from the couch. He didn’t even look at me. He rushed to the mudroom to pull on his slides. “Why did you come back? How the fuck are we supposed to find her?” he asked me. His voice was shaky, but his tone was condescending. And cruel. I felt like a subordinate employee. I just stood there, silent, holding the empty leash. I watched his panic build as he ran into the pantry and emerged with the small pouch of chews. “You’re just standing there. At least get the flashlights.” It was always like this. It could be the apocalypse and I’d maintain my composure, but Javi was triggered by everything: a sound in the woods behind our house, a pricey electricity bill, a few missed breadcrumbs on the counter, one
of Trump’s tweets, or my own sly comments. As easy as it was, I sort of delighted in upsetting him sometimes. I closed the front door behind us as we entered the swampy night. I could see fireflies and gnats zipping in and out of my flashlight’s beam. Our street was nearly pitch black, save for a few of our neighbors’ driveway lights. We were out in the boonies, in a brand-new subdivision full of modest cobblestone houses, and the streetlights weren’t scheduled to go up until the next month. I trailed Javi as I swatted away the insects buzzing around my ears. He was practically running, the small muscles in his pale calves swelling up and deflating like a pulse. “Tulip!” he yelled. “It’s late,” I said. “You’ll wake up the neighbors.” “Fuck the neighbors. Tulip is out here somewhere.” “She’s not gonna die.” I didn’t know that definitively. I just wanted to antagonize him. Javi huffed. “Don’t do that right now.” We went on like this for a few minutes, both of us bickering, Javi in a manic state. He kept yelling out Tulip’s name, like she’d really come running back, eager to be home. Like she’d ever actually listened to us. “How are we going to have a baby if you can’t keep track of a dog?” Javi
asked me. If I had my way, we wouldn’t. *** It rained the day we got married. It was just the two of us. We’d skipped a lavish wedding in favor of a month-long honeymoon in Europe. We still lived in the city then. We stood on the steps of City Hall under a single umbrella with a broken rib, dressed in business casual like we’d just left a staff meeting. “Is this an omen?” I asked. Javi laughed. “It’s good luck, actually,” he said. “Wet knots are hard to untie.” It took me a minute to get the reference. I hoped he was right. *** I was due for my six-month dental cleaning when we first moved to the South. I had a chatty hygienist, Maya, a forty-something woman so short she could barely fasten the lead apron around my neck. As she took my X-rays, she gabbed about her three boys, her deadbeat ex-husband, and her recent decision to finish her bachelor’s. “I think my oldest is gonna be gay,” she said when I told her about Javi. “I love him no matter what.”
She said it proudly, as if she should be commended for loving her own child. When she finished, she brought in the head dentist, Dr. Karter, a man with freckled, tanned skin and sandy blond hair I could tell was dyed. “What do you think about bleaching your teeth?” he asked, lifting my upper lip with his gloved fingers. “It’s on the house, the mold, the bleach, everything.” “That would be great, I guess,” I said. He asked me to stick out my tongue and pinched it with his thumb and index finger, gently moving it around as he examined. “I’m sure your wife would love it,” he said. “His husband,” Maya said softly. “What was that?” “His husband, Dr. Karter.” “Oh,” he said, a bit confused, still holding my tongue. He didn’t acknowledge it, instead telling me I had great teeth, no cavities and no problem areas to keep an eye on. He wished all his patients took care of their teeth like I did. He was clearly overcompensating to mask his discomfort. On his way out, he welcomed me to the area. “I hope you and your wife enjoy your time here,” he said and then disappeared down the hallway. Maya shrugged, as if to say, What can you do? No one was holding my tongue then, but I stayed quiet. *** Javi suggested we split up. He took off toward Airport Road, I went down one of
the side streets. I half-assed it, listlessly swinging the flashlight back and forth, searching for nothing, finding only stray cedar beetles or cracks in the sidewalk. We’d lived in the neighborhood for nearly six months, and I still hadn’t gotten my bearings. The overwhelming homogeneity of our neighbors. The constant odor of manure from a nearby farm. The silence, save for occasional gusts of wind or the crickets’ nightly song. The unforgiving southern sun, casting everything in oranges and reds as if our lives were boiling. The vast nothingness of the night sky. I missed ambulance sirens and strangers’ conversations and Latin trap music blaring from passing cars. I missed light pollution and mystery drips and smelly subway stations. I missed sunbathing at Sheep Meadow and being within walking distance of an Irish pub and having vegan ice cream delivered at one a.m. Rural life was far too quiet, or maybe my thoughts were too loud. *** The decision to move south wasn’t ours, it was Javi’s. He worked in marketing for a small consumer products company that manufactured household goods like paper towels, antibacterial wipes, and all-purpose cleaners. All year, he had speculated. There’d been talk about opening a new satellite office, to nurture the company’s relationship with an influential national retailer.
Talk became negotiations, negotiations became an offer, and Javi didn’t loop me in until after he’d accepted. “Why would you say yes to that?” I asked one night during dinner. “It’s my career. I didn’t have a choice.” “You could’ve said no.” “And end up in career purgatory?” he asked. “Or lose my job and expect you to support us?” I went quiet for a moment, taking bite after bite of the flavorless, well-done salmon he’d made. I’d been unemployed for nearly a year, laid off from a magazine where I worked as one of two assistants to the publisher. But I thought of it as more of a sabbatical, a chance to figure out what I really wanted. We were able to live comfortably off his salary, and I had some savings. Financially at least, not much had changed. Still, he never missed a chance to point out that he was the breadwinner. “I didn’t mean that,” he said. But I knew he did. We had a big farewell dinner the week before we left, a mixed crowd of his friends and mine. In the downtime between the entrees and dessert, Javi made his way around the table, chatting, laughing, occasionally dabbing at the corners of his eyes with a tissue. My best friend Lena plopped down into his seat. “Of all the choices you’ve made, this has to be the strangest one,” she said. “I didn’t choose to leave the city,” I said. “But you’re staying with Javi, you’re going with him. That’s a choice.”
She made this stern face, like a mother, that mix of concern and consternation. Her matronly demeanor was at odds with the sleek, long ponytail of horsehair hanging down her back. “I’m married. It’s more like an obligation.” “That doesn’t sound any better.” It didn’t. It made love and marriage and Javi seem like chores. Maybe they were. I liked to think that moving was the massive chore, relocating your entire life to a new place. The many tedious tasks to be done, things to be opened and put away, anxieties to be soothed. In the process, inevitably, some things were bound to get lost or broken. But this was all part of holy matrimony, too, even when we were standing still. In sickness and health, till death do us part, no part of the experience as joyful as the moment we uttered those words. Decisions were joint, hardly centered around what I wanted. This move, like so many other things, was for us, but not necessarily for me. Not to paint myself as some saint, sacrificing my preferred way of life for my family or guarding the sanctity of our vows. The alternative – me heartbroken, jobless, and alone in one of the nation’s most expensive metros – wasn’t an option. Obligation may not have fit my or Lena’s marriage ideal, but it was my unvarnished marriage reality. *** Tulip was meant to be a test for us. We’d started out with a plant, a fiddle leaf fig, and if we could keep it alive,
we’d move on to a dog. If we managed not to kill the dog, then we’d be ready for a kid. At least theoretically. The fiddle leaf fig didn’t die. And it survived the trip down south. Once we got settled, we went to the county shelter. We saw at least three dogs that were cuter than Tulip, but there was some kind of restriction. Either the shelter was holding them for a minimum number of days, out of fear that they were just lost and would be claimed, or someone had already filed paperwork to adopt them. We were frustrated and headed for the exit when I saw her. A puny rat terrier, with big, asymmetrical black spots all over her white coat. I knelt down and stuck my fingers through the wire caging. She smelled them and then licked them intensely like they were chicken bones. She had these big, brown eyes, so inquisitive, and apparently quite manipulative because I gave in almost immediately. I told Javi I wanted her. We took her out to a little dog park on the shelter’s property to get to know her, just to be sure she liked us. We were all compatible. When we got her home a few days later, I wasn’t so sure anymore. She peed everywhere, in our bedroom, in the spare rooms, on the mat by the front door, any plush, fluffy space that was soft like grass. For a time, the house reeked, the sour, acidic smell of dog piss searing our nostrils every time we walked in. Javi said it was inhumane to keep her in a kennel, so we let her roam free whenever we went out. But we hadn’t bought
her a lot of toys. When she grew bored, she made her own, out of our magazines, our shoes, our furniture. When I found one of my Wellingtons shredded in the living room, I put my foot down. We bought a crate the next morning. Because I wasn’t working, Tulip was my responsibility. I walked her several times a day. I fed her. I trained her. I scolded her. I was so lax in my own life, yet I’d become a disciplinarian. I taught her commands, and I updated Javi daily on which words to use or the right ways to reward her or where her favorite potty spots were. Tulip consumed me. But I didn’t consume her. As soon as Javi came home from work, she flocked to him and stayed with him the rest of the day. On weekends, she slept next to him. When she wanted to go out or be fed, she went to him. I put in all the work, he reaped all the benefits. Javi spoiled her. He fed her from the table, he snuck her treats, he played with her. He never told her no or enforced boundaries. He gave in to her every whim. I resented him for it. And I feared parenthood would be the same way, the bulk of the work falling on one of us, the child valuing one’s contribution over the other’s. I wondered if it would be more consuming. If I’d spend all my time cleaning up messes and speaking one-word sentences in a high-pitched, palliative voice and giving everything to a little bloodsucking
being while leaving nothing for me. I told all of this to Lena, and she told me I was being ridiculous. Chill the fuck out, she texted. You’re right, I’m being crazy. *** I got a text from Javi that we should head back. He hadn’t found Tulip, neither had I. We’d go back home, report her missing, and let the county handle it. He said it would all work out. He seemed to have calmed down, at least to a more manageable mania. As I walked back toward the house, I saw something four-legged and furry scurry across the street. It moved too fast for me to make out its color or see its face. Could it have been Tulip, still taking a joy run through the neighborhood? But another four-legged, furry thing followed close behind it. This one I could see. The bushy, striped tail of a raccoon. Though my heart had fluttered a bit at the thought of finding her and arriving home victorious, the feeling quickly subsided. I hadn’t been looking for her out there in the darkness. Just before I reached the house, I heard my name. “Brendan!” It was Jessa, a neighbor from across the street. Jessa was my age, and her husband was a bit older like Javi, but they had three small children, all under the age of 7. She always seemed frazzled when I saw her during the day, hustling the kiddos into her SUV while tugging at her leggings; borderline drunk when I saw
her at night, still in her leggings. I attributed both states to parenthood. “Brendan! Come have a drink with me.” I walked over to her front porch. She was sitting in a rocking chair with a mason jar full of a clear liquid, likely vodka or store-bought moonshine. She always wanted to hang. It was like she was trying to escape her life and reclaim the messy young adulthood she’d missed. “Have you seen Tulip running around?” I asked. “Oh no, did she get loose? Poor thing!” Jessa hadn’t seen her. I told her that Javi was frantic, and she said a cocktail would calm him down. I laughed at that and promised her we’d stop by another time, when we weren’t in crisis. “You know, I’d love to set one of mine loose, just to have a break,” she said as I crossed the street. She giggled loudly at her own joke. She probably wasn’t serious. Still, Jessa and I were on the same page. *** The month before, Javi had arranged a call for us with a gay couple who’d recently surrogated. Reese and Kevin lived in L.A. and their daughter Alana was three months old. Javi spoke in a formal voice like it was a work call. Reese was the Javi of their relationship. He shared most of the details about their experience, everything from researching the agencies to communicating with the birth mother. At one point, we heard Alana cry and Reese directed Kevin to
get a bottle and go to another room. His tone was sharp and commanding, and I thought about how I’d want to slap Javi if he talked to me that way. Javi asked if there was anything they’d do differently. Reese went through some more procedural things, like handling some of the legal paperwork on their own instead of paying a lawyer. Nothing revelatory. But he was struck by something just as we were hanging up. “Oh, there is one thing,” he said. “Honestly, I don’t know if we were ready ready, you know what I mean. We jumped into this cause we were worried about being too old or starting too late, and I’m not sure we had enough time for just us.” I looked at Javi nodding, straightfaced. We didn’t know this man and yet he was listing out Javi’s rationale for surrogacy almost verbatim. “Just make sure you’re doing it for the right reasons, at a time that’s right for you and your marriage.” After the call, I felt more confused than I had before. The whole process seemed long and expensive and frightening. “I think we should do it,” Javi said. I just looked at him. “We can’t keep waiting. I don’t want to be 70 with a kid in high school.” “You’re not that old,” I told him. “You’re not as young as you think you are.” “But you heard what Reese said, that part about having enough time for us. Have we had that yet?” “Are you asking if we’ve had enough time or if you have?”
I wasn’t sure. *** It was easy to let Tulip go. We’d been walking for almost twenty minutes and she hadn’t so much as peed. She sensed something in the woods and started barking and pulling me into the grass. She’d found a piece of something on the sidewalk and eaten it whole before I could stop her. I was just over it. Over her not loving me as much as I loved her. Over the monotony of each day, being alone with her in the middle of fucking nowhere. Over him holding his success over my head. Over him cutting his eyes at me and scolding me. Over being lost. It was time for someone or something else to be lost. I couldn’t take it anymore. I unlatched her leash. She looked back at me to verify that she’d been loosed. Then she took off, so free, so unafraid of what she might encounter. I felt relieved. She was gone. I knew this was terrible of me, but she was so much to handle. It was all so much to handle. I thought that maybe I could tell Javi this, now that he’d calmed down. I’d worked out the most sympathetic way to narrate the story by the time I’d walked in. But I couldn’t even get a word out. “I already called the Animal Control emergency line and gave them Tulip’s microchip number,” he said. “And I posted something in the Facebook group in case
anyone sees her.” “Okay,” I said flatly, walloped by his energy. My response wound Javi up again. “I don’t get it, Brendan. You wanted her, you picked her, and yet you’re so apathetic. It doesn’t make sense.” He wasn’t wrong. But I disputed it anyway. “I’m not apathetic. That’s harsh.” “It feels like I’m the only one freaking out.” “You’re always the only one freaking out.” He rolled his eyes at me and stormed off to our room, slamming the door behind him. I resolved not to chase him. If he wanted to throw a tantrum, fine. In that moment, I wondered if it wasn’t just Tulip I needed to set free. *** I knew Javi was a piece of work from the beginning. We had our first argument right after I moved in with him. He was making dinner and he’d asked me to pick up a bottle of wine on my way home. I was coming from happy hour with Lena. It was a particularly boozy evening, so of course I forgot. I showed up buzzed, empty-handed, only realizing my error once I saw the disappointment on his face. “Was it really so hard?” he asked me, but in a deeply condescending way, like he was my father. He had his back turned and was stirring a marinara sauce on the stove. “I’ll just run back out and grab something. It’s not a big deal,” I said.
“So what I want isn’t a big deal?” “That seems a tad bit dramatic,” I said. He swirled around to look at me, and he seemed so much older then, with his furrowed brows and all the creases in his forehead. “If this is gonna work, you have to realize that there are two of us here. It’s not only about what matters to you.” “Javi, I didn’t do this to slight you. I really just forgot. I’ll go get the fucking wine.” I left and slammed the door behind me, for extra effect, not because I was that angry. I just wanted to make a point. He’d definitely overreacted, and I questioned what I’d done, merging my life with his and settling into his space. Would it always be like this? He’d cooled off by the time I returned, this time with the wine. He rushed toward me and apologized and kissed me. I apologized, too, though I wasn’t sure I’d really done anything that wrong. It took me a while to feel okay with everything, us living together, committing to each other, me following his rules. But I stuck around. At least back then, it felt like the right thing to do. *** Javi locked me out of our bedroom, so I camped out in one of the guest rooms. As I lay there, I heard a pack of coyotes howling off in the distance. One of Javi’s coworkers had told us that meant they’d eaten something. What if that something was Tulip? That hadn’t been my intention, for her to become some wild animal’s main
course. I just wanted her to be someone else’s problem. I wanted to have different problems, like deciding what nightclub list to get on or which restaurant opening to go to, instead of googling what it meant when Tulip’s poop was runny. I got nervous then. I should’ve just talked to Javi. That would’ve been the sensible thing. I could’ve told him I was nervous, that I wanted more time for us, that I wasn’t sure I ever wanted it to be more than us. I heard some scratching at the back door then, and the handle jiggling, like a person with a numb hand was trying desperately to get in and failing. I opened the spare bedroom door. “Javi,” I called out. “Babe, do you hear that?” No answer. His cold shoulder was strong. I walked over and flipped on the light. I saw the outline of a dog through the blinds. She was back. Her tail wagged violently back and forth once she was inside. Her tongue hung out the side of her mouth dripping saliva on the floor, and she panted like she’d just run miles. Maybe she had. She beelined for her water bowl and then went straight for the bedroom, for Javi. She barely even acknowledged me. Even Tulip was upset with me. She sat on her hindlegs, panting and whining. I called for Javi again. “She’s back. She’s not dead,” I yelled. Still nothing. Fuck him, I thought. I knew he’d get over it. He always did. Besides, I wasn’t talented enough at
sabotage to actually ruin things. If I really wanted to upset him, I had to do something more destructive. Something bigger and more disruptive. If I wanted to live a different life, maybe I just had to start living it on my own, instead of pushing him in a different direction or expecting him to give me leeway. Tulip looked at me as I walked out of the front door. For the second time that night, I set out on a search mission, but this time for something I wasn’t sure I’d be able to find. I looked across the street at Jessa, still on her porch nursing her drink. “Up for some company?” I called to her. She waved me over enthusiastically and patted the seat of the empty rocking chair next to hers. I eased down the driveway, ready for whatever the night had in store. “Where’s that yummy husband of yours?” she asked me once I had cold Pinot Grigio in my hands, in one of those lidded wine tumblers meant for suburban lushes. “He’s doing his own thing tonight,” I said. “My guy, too. Sometimes we need our own things, or else we’ll go crazy. We’ve been married almost ten years and that’s the secret, spending time apart. Who would’ve thought?” This should’ve been an ah-ha moment, but it depressed me. I was trying again to rebel, to sneak off and spend time away without telling him my whereabouts, cause I thought it’d piss him off. I thought he wouldn’t be able to stand the thought of me having a separate life.
But according to Jessa, I wasn’t spiting him, I was protecting us. “Does he ever get mad at you?” I asked her. “Oh honey, I’d be worried if he liked me all the time.” We laughed and sipped, and I relaxed. I always felt like what was happening between Javi and I was unique to us, like no other couple went through these moments of turbulence. But I wasn’t special, we weren’t special. These things happened to everyone. And everyone got over them. Javi would get over it. I would get over it. And we’d be okay. Until the next thing. *** I got back home, sufficiently drunk. The bedroom was still locked. I called out Javi’s name once, hoping that the night’s events were behind us. Tulip barked back in response. I knew he was awake then. There was no way he could sleep through her piercing yelp. Still, he didn’t open the door for me. I sat on the floor in the hallway, only meaning to wait there a few minutes, reasoning that he wouldn’t want to go to bed angry. That old marital wisdom was something we’d always honored. If he didn’t give in though, I’d just sleep on the couch or in the guest room, like a nineties sitcom husband. I tried my best to fight off sleep. But I would’ve needed a carjack to keep my eyelids open. I passed out there on the floor, resting my head against the wall, waiting to be let in.
The Piano Fiction
Santa Barbara, California, USA
In the living room, Penelope sits on the edge of their old couch, staring at the dusty upright. They have both just arrived home from work. Penelope has never played that piano. “But you love me,” Roger says, standing. “You said those very words not three months ago when we remarried. Don’t you remember?” They are discussing having dinner out. “Of course,” Penelope says, wondering at his choice of words. She stares at Roger smiling through the cigarette smoke, his bulk impressive in his salesman’s suit, the collar above the silk tie pinching the flesh of his neck, his black shoes polished to a meticulous shine. His fine dark head of hair—his pride, he always said—is slicked back with hair oil. He’s definitely looking like himself again. Not like when he was living in that ratty motel after their divorce. Roger reaches down, touches her shoulder, stroking. “Then I think you should let me take you to dinner tonight. We’ll have a couple drinks, some dances at the piano bar, and come home and have some fun. It’ll be a happy night, just like old times.” “We’ve been spending a lot of money,” Penelope says. Just like old times. She wonders if that was the original reason he left her. She was always nervous living beyond their means. Traci, the blonde divorcée he found at the singles’ bar— called the Boondocks of all things—cer-
tainly didn’t mind Roger spending all he had on her. But Penelope can see the approaching disappointment in Roger’s eyes. She knows the signals. She smiles. “Fine then, let’s go out, just like old times.” She senses something different this evening. For just an instant, his love is not quite what it was yesterday. Penelope is handsome, not beautiful, and classically dressed, not trendy. She favors sensible clothes that move from work to dinner to weddings without any fuss. Today’s outfit is a blouse and skirt of blue shades that offset her chestnut-brown hair and eyes. Occasionally she finds some gray in her hair. She pinches the bridge of her nose and goes to find a sweater. At the Red Fox Room, they’re ushered into a leather booth close to the piano bar. It’s shadowy inside, walls of polished wood with no windows, like a remembered jazz club from their native Chicago: quiet music, low lighting, and murmuring couples. They sit and talk about their day, scanning the room and the menu. Roger says a big sale was almost disrupted by complaints about the previous salesman. How it was only through his experience and personality that he made the sale—and the commission—anyway. Penelope gives her low opinion of the temporary girl who’s been hired at her office to do the filing. Paperwork has gone missing, some-
times filed under “The” instead of the actual name of the company. When the waiter arrives they order Manhattans, rare filets, and baked potatoes. Then Roger asks the pianist to play his favorite—“Satin Doll” by Duke Ellington—and Penelope knows he’s going to ask her to dance. As they dance, in between the lyrics of the song, Roger whispers how happy he is to finally feel back to normal, to feel he’s back on his game again. Roger likes sports metaphors. Roger had lettered throughout high school. From Penelope’s viewpoint, he was unattainable, far outside her small social circle. Then Roger needed help with his homework; he spent too much time practicing and being the big man on campus and at the parties, not enough time on schoolwork. Roger was used to getting his way. His father had died of a heart attack in his city maintenance truck when Roger was twelve. His newly single mother doted on him as if he might die also—anything for Roger. The city offered the widow a small pension, but she asked for the security of a job instead. She became a switchboard operator, a worried mother who was never home. As Roger’s prowess in sports grew, he and his athlete friends spent more time at Roger’s parentless tenement than in school. Penelope’s brother, John, was a third-string sportsman, but got straight As.
He soon became Roger’s good friend as Roger convinced him to help with his homework. Once Roger realized what a boon John was, he simply took the same classes as John, and his grades improved dramatically. When John suggested Roger start dating his sister. Penelope was also enlisted to help out with Roger’s homework. Roger decided he’d found his muse. They eloped a year out of high school when Penelope learned she was pregnant. Roger’s mother was livid. She’d lost her little boy. Penelope’s thought is that things are not back to normal. They still have four children at home who all need clothes and food and schoolbooks and supervision. The mortgage has to be paid. And Penelope—who had always been a housewife—now goes to work every morning, just like Roger. She has no extra money. She’d had to get a job when Roger divorced her, and she’s not about to give it up because they remarried. And Penelope isn’t one for late nights. Going out to dinner on this odd Wednesday seems extravagant to her. Even so, being in Roger’s arms, glowing and swaying, is far away from sitting in the living room late at night, crying all alone. She hopes she never has to go through that again. Roger has always been the big, easy man, full of jokes and funny sayings. It’s what made him successful. “Make a friend, make a sale,” he would say. He’s good at selling, very convincing when he wants to be, pointing out the finer details of whatever product is on offer. When his mother died and left him her tenement, Roger convinced Penelo-
pe California would be their new start, leaving the cold and snow of Chicago behind. The Golden West, he called it. Penelope had hoped Roger would also leave the other women behind. He did, but in California he also found new ones. The pianist segues into “As Time Goes By” from Penelope’s favorite movie Casablanca. Penelope thinks of the plot—Rick graciously giving up Ilsa because she was married to the Czech resistance fighter Victor Laszlo. Rick did the right thing because he loved Ilsa. “Is everything all right?” She tries to keep anxiety out of her voice. “Of course,” Roger says. The waiter brings their drinks as they sit back down. “Everything’s fine. I was just talking with Willie this afternoon.” Roger’s friend Willie is a vice president at the drone factory in San Diego where Roger used to work. Willie offered Roger a job three years ago, buying—instead of selling—a myriad of parts for the unmanned planes. He was one of the reasons Roger decided to move and put the traveling salesman's life behind him. He hoped changing jobs would change his habits. Roger put most of the inherited money from the sale of his mother’s tenement into their new California tract house, the rest into fueling his rejuvenated lifestyle. He enjoyed two-hour cocktail lunches with Willie and his cronies, dinners out midweek, and a nice car to replace the company car he always drove as a salesman. Roger remembered the good times when he and Willie lived on the same block back in Toledo, Ohio, for two years.
It was early in the marriage, and they had four children. Roger, Jr. was only a year old then and loved crawling under the piano to Penelope’s music. Willie was Junior’s godfather, as well as Roger’s drinking buddy, a barbeque pal, a sounding board. And in San Diego, Willie has reprised his role. Penelope remembers Toledo and Willie and the shock when they moved back to Chicago fifteen years ago, and her grand piano wasn’t on the mover’s truck. “Where’s my piano?” Penelope had asked.Roger had looked at her and shrugged as he went outside. “I’ll ask the movers.” Penelope had yelled at his back, “I didn’t see it in the truck. If anything happened to my piano, you’ll regret it. You never liked my playing, I know that. But it’s something that makes me feel good.” She had paced, muttering, “You never liked classical music. Every damn thing has to be about you: your friends, your food, your music. Sure, jazz is okay, but it’s not everything. There has to be room for Beethoven in your life. It can’t all be about Count Basie.” Roger had walked back into the living room. “The movers say there was no piano in the house when they loaded up the truck. What the hell could’ve happened? Could someone have stolen our grand piano? Who would do that?” Roger had shrugged his shoulders at Penelope and turned his palms up. Penelope had said nothing and continued to glare. The two sweaty movers in sleeveless undershirts brought in the tan, corduroy couch with a stain on the armrest.
Penelope had pointed to an area under the windowsill of the front windows. She had pulled a lock of her hair and shoved it into her mouth the way she always did when she was frantically thinking. Roger’s head had bobbed up and down. “I’ll call the Toledo office of the moving company. See what the hell is going on.” “You never liked my playing.” “You already said that, and it’s not true. I don’t like some of the composers you play.” “You hate anything that’s not jazz.” “That’s not true. I like swing music also.” When Penelope realized Roger had sold the piano out from under her, she refused to let him touch her until he replaced the missing piano. After two months without sex, Roger gave in and bought her a cheap upright, not the grand piano she was used to. He’d said it was Willie’s idea to sell the piano in Toledo and save the moving fees. Penelope has never played that upright. And she’s never trusted Willie again. Tonight, here in Red Fox’s, remarried after Roger’s affair with the divorced Traci had ended, Penelope wonders if Willie has inserted himself into their marriage again. Penelope is back to being the muse, helping Roger with his expense reports, just like she did when he first became a salesman. She helps Roger fudge them so all of his expenses can be recouped. Roger sells packaging materials now, instead of buying drone parts. He lost the drone job because of the three-martini lunches. Selling packaging materials is not as lucrative. But he is very lucky to be living
back in the house he still thinks of as his, bought with his inheritance. “I’m happy to be helping out with the mortgage again,” Roger says. “I was paying it off just fine with the alimony and child support, once I got my receptionist job.” Penelope doesn’t want to speak about how much monthly income she’s lost by remarrying Roger. Penelope wonders if something is unspoken. Roger is edgy, behaving like the night he asked her to remarry him. Roger had met Traci after Willie left his wife because she wasn’t fun anymore. It was during the time the two Toledo pals started running around to San Diego’s singles’ clubs. They both divorced at the same time. But being divorced fathers hadn’t worked out for either of them. The child support, the alimony, signing the house over to the ex-wife had tapped all of Roger’s resources—and Willie’s. Willie had caved in first, going back to his wife, Rosemary, and getting remarried. Roger, alone, abandoned by Willie, hated living in that weekly motel rental—one room with a hot plate and bath. He despised being broke, never enough money for his favorite bars or restaurants. He needed to be around people. He just couldn’t afford it. Traci finally got tired of Roger complaining and being broke. When Roger was let go from the drone factory, he went on unemployment. When he finally found the packaging sales job, he was nearly broke and didn’t tell the California unemployment office he was back working, figuring two paychecks were better than one. Then he got arrested for lying about being unemployed and had to pay back the money.
It was the last straw. He laid out his options and decided remarrying Penelope was his only choice. He began his campaign. Roger started wooing Penelope. She had trouble with it at first. But the children thought it was cute, especially when they started dating. And being alone was not something Penelope liked at all. Roger was the perfect salesman; he became Penelope’s friend. Being wanted again was almost like her first time. She wondered how they had gotten so out of practice with the kindnesses, kisses, and lovemaking that went with being pursued. “I like being married,” Penelope now says. “I just want us to be happy.” Roger wonders how to bring up the subject. Roger had kept wining and dining Penelope, saying he’d made a mistake, he couldn’t live without her, and he wanted to be a full-time husband and father, just like they had originally planned. He bought flowers and champagne, dinners and theater tickets. Finally, one night when they’d had too much to drink and were laughing and dancing, Roger asked Penelope to remarry him. She couldn’t think of a reason not to, so she said yes. It was a simple ceremony. Junior, finally an adult, got leave from the Army and performed as the best man. The officiant, Monsignor O’Keefe, with his red nose and whiskey breath, had whispered to Junior, asking if it was the drink that caused the divorce. Junior thought that it was but didn’t say so. Monsignor said he was happy all the same they got remarried. And since the Catholic Church didn’t recog-
nize divorce, the ceremony he was performing was technically just a renewal of their vows. The State of California didn’t need to know that bit of information. “You just said you were happy. Do you have something you want to say?” Penelope touches Roger’s hand. Maybe he wants to take her on a second honeymoon. Their food arrives, steam rising from the baked potato, grill marks on the steak. They smell delicious. Another musician shows up, a clarinet player, and unpacks his instrument. The conversation lags as their eating commences. The room noise fills in their silence. Sweating, as if he had just run a footrace, Roger holds his Manhattan in his right hand. The palms of his hands are wet, as are his cheeks. The dim lights shine off his oiled hair. He says, “I think I’d feel more comfortable if the house was back in both our names.” Penelope’s hand holding the fork stops halfway to her mouth. She now understands the reason for Roger’s nervous signals. She wonders if Willie put him up to it. All their married life Roger was in charge of the money, the house, the car. Penelope had to take a bus just to buy groceries because Roger was always out of town with their only car. She feels the encroaching walls again, where she isn’t really in charge. The musical duo now starts up “Summertime” by George Gershwin. Penelope remembers Porgy trying to contain Bess and how well that didn’t work out. She looks for a reason to say no, that she feels more comfortable, safer, if she stays in charge of the main possession in
their lives. She’s already lost the alimony and the child support. That money now stays in Roger’s pocket. Penelope puts a bit of steak into her mouth. Chewing, she unconsciously takes a lock of her hair and bites on it also. Roger says, “Rosemary put Willie back on their house title last week. ‘Let bygones be bygones,’ she said. They seem much happier.” So it was Willie’s idea. Penelope hasn’t seen Willie and Rosemary since she remarried Roger. She was upset that they’d been invited to their wedding without her being consulted. Roger had said, “He’s my best friend; we can’t stop seeing them.” Penelope had said, “Sometimes Willie doesn’t have your best interests at heart.” Penelope now thinks what she has thought before: Roger has trouble following his own path. She had found a note once from Traci that Roger had left in his jacket pocket. Traci had put a little heart over the I in her name and mentioned the movie—Romeo and Juliet—that they were going to see that night with Willie and his then girlfriend, Maxine. Penelope had confronted Roger with it, shortly before their divorce. Roger had sworn it was just wishful thinking on Traci’s part. He wasn’t going to any movie with her. He’d said she was some friend of Maxine’s. He wasn’t convincing. They’d argued for days. Roger says, “I don’t feel like myself, having friends over to a house that only belongs to one of us.” “I’ll have to think about it.” Roger’s face registers his disappointment.
The next day, Thursday, Roger is his cheerful self again as he readies for work. He broaches a possible dinner on Saturday with Willie and Rosemary. Again, Penelope has to say she will think about it. Roger says, “Let’s stay home tonight. We’ll send the kids to the movies, and it’ll just be the two of us.” “I’d like that,” Penelope says. She thinks Roger must have some plan in mind. Penelope makes spaghetti, just like she does every Thursday. They drink too many Manhattans. The children come home saying they loved the movie and could they go every Thursday? The children are put to bed. Roger and Penelope make love quietly, not wanting the children to hear. Roger asks again if she’ll put him on the house. Penelope can’t think of a reason to say no. So, balancing anxiety against euphoria, she says yes. Two years later, Penelope is looking out the living room window, wondering why she made that fateful decision. She wonders why she hasn’t divorced Roger a second time. She can’t bear the fact that Roger stopped touching her the week after she put him back on the title of the house—always saying he’s tired, sick, or too drunk. But she also can’t fathom trying to start over again with someone else—or dealing with the dark nights alone in the living room. She thinks about the piano and how she forced him to replace it. She was proud of herself then for figuring out how to win. She hasn’t won very often in her marriage. She withheld herself until he did
her bidding. But there’s nothing to withhold now if he doesn’t want her. She tried to talk about it with Roger Junior, but he was lost trying to counsel his mother about her sex life. Penelope thinks about what she has gained and lost in this, the only marriage she’s ever had. She wonders if other marriages are different. She wonders if Willie touches Rosemary. She wonders if Roger will ever touch her again. She wonders how to shut her mind off. Being with someone who doesn’t acknowledge your existence is almost worse than being alone. In the darkness, she rises. She walks over and sits on the piano bench and starts playing Duke Ellington’s “Satin Doll.” When she finishes, she looks up and sees Roger in the doorway, sipping his Manhattan and smiling.
My Heart-Shaped Bruise Poetry
Eve Dineva n/a
The fairy-blue smoke escapes the lips then curls around the slim, so - familiar fingers of your beautiful hands once wrapped around me, in methe scent to dance above us and dissolve in the stale air of the motel room in the corner of 45th and Elm. It’s the time I’m the happiest it’s when I’m the saddest as I stare at the clock numbers melting on the light of the dawn threatening to break in through the thick curtains. I’m a puddle of disjoined human parts, it’s limbs, it’s bones and their being fragile it’s you leaving and me lying here scattered shattered with my breaths dissipating it’s my proof this happened it’s my heart-shaped bruise no matter what’s to come.
Avoid the Hedonic Treadmill, A Guide to What You Need: Poetry
Abbey Lynne Rays
Dublin, California USA
I Connection Find meaning in the mundane. Celebrate washed windows, good coffee, anything authentic to splinter loneliness and lay salve to dark days. II Generosity, the offering of more than prayers. Hands calloused on work for another, giving more than comfort allows. III Forgiveness, before the sour, before the apathy has bore down. While the sting still fresh, the edge still raw. Forgive. IV and gratitude, for what is, and what is not. For all these fractured things, imperfections of a life truly loved.
A Party Line Poetry
Carl "Papa" Palmer
University Place, Washington, USA
Not a party line like the wild winding party line of congas dancing one-two-three-kick across-the-floor and out-the-door nor a party line like the Democrat or Republican political party line voting along their party line, but a type of telephone line. Not the type of telephone line like the line of folks in line at the airport lined to use a telephone along the wall lined with telephones nor the type of telephone line like the telephone lines strung on telephone poles lining every street in every town stringing one telephone line to every house in town having a telephone. This telephone line, an out-of-town in-the-country telephone line, was only one telephone line, a single shared telephone line strung on telephone poles lining rural roads to rural houses with telephones like our house on Old Mill Road on the same telephone line shared with six other houses in the early 1960s called a party line. When a party line telephone rang in one house on the party line, the telephone rang in every house on the party line. A one, two or three ring code was assigned to each party’s telephone number on the party line. The seven ring codes to notify each party on our seven-party party line if the phone call was for them was 1 long, 1 long & 1 short, 1 long & 2 shorts, 2 longs, 2 longs & 1 short, a short and two longs or 3 longs. Every party in every house on the party line had to listen to rings to determine if the call was for them. All seven parties on our party line knew who of the seven parties had which ring sequence, knew who of the seven parties on our party line was getting the most calls and how long that party was tying up the seven-party party line, especially late at night, especially with three teenage girls in our house. A party line also meant anybody could and anybody would quietly pick up and listen to any call, and did, especially with three teenage girls in our house.
Hacky Sack Study Sketch/Drawing
Pleasanton, California, USA
Mashad, Khorasan Razavi, Iran
I’m the life of a shadow, the shadow of despair, Made a life inspired by hell and “it ain’t fair,” On the corpse of my hopes, rotten roots, lethal pride, Rapping rolling rocking, on the bed of Cyrus, every night. I tell Cyrus: “take a nap, I am up,” Cyrus peeks from the breach of his coffin, Then he cries: “I am burning, help me, god!” Jeez, Cyrus, what the fuck? (I look admonishing).
I chill the temperature, by the cold gaze I share, every day; in metro, taxi, a rusty bus, While walking, crawling, howling, and running, To the park, with a bud, buy a drug; to the dorm, runny walk, cheap weed, in a suck, yuck! It smells like yuck! and works like yuck! and feeds us up, with one more puff, a big fat puff. We then laugh a little, cry a little, nag a little, nothing a bit, less a little, then go to sleep. Wake up! erected, go to college, meet some ugly make-uped girls who deep down I want to piss on, But I’m rejected continually by the whores
of Babylon. (I’m the oldest wrinkly cock of Persia) But I keep on, the same bullshit again, over again, over again, Till I get graduated, with a “U-stupid” degree, that I can marry or call a bitch, But never a dick, to fuck a job with. (“behave yourself”, Cyrus says) Sorry, I’m pissed. Shit shit, popped up, my girlfriend’s knocked up. Other dudes fucked her too, but I showed up with her, so shut up. (Cyrus laughs) now her brothers and cousins are coming to kill me. She was a saint, apparently, keenly, Sewing her virginity clit to butt, while repenting to a funky god. I'm shocked like “oh my, what the, oh my, what the, oh my, what the Fud.” Got a fetus, in the belly of a slut, no money, no future, no job, Puke on my heart, spit in my cup, Hurt, drunk; Sitting, by the university, pissing, Freely, where ever I want, kidding With professor Benjy, master of 17th century, “duck, yo, don’t be care-free?” “You’ll trouble thyself,” says he. Well maybe, shall the spirit of doom save me, loves me she so firmly. He didn’t piss back and escaped me.
(Cyrus shocked, like!!!!) Then I sermoned scholars: I ejaculate knowledge, now I'm magic, grand witch, and y’all my academic whores, I ride pain on you so you ride pen on them, I’m the prophet of beat, I’m a scar, And like a mirror, I will break” (Zarathustra listens interestingly while smoking opium) now, I walk my desperate feet, on the lonely street, Give a trash seeker a smoke, who weeps in need of dope, To spare the night and nightmare his plight. he dreams the light. Oh light! Lying light, Moloch, murky, monster light… The light ghosts me and ghosts me and ghosts me, I keep chasing and chasing and chasing. Till I weary, then I tell me: “Pause, Realize, You’re the shadow of nothing…” Yes. I am nothing, jaded, a ghosty shadowy nothing, faded, Waiting on the edge of a cliff, Looking into the abyss, naked. Cars pass by me and caress me,
My people love me and bless me. I see my girl in a car with other guys, Trash seeker smiles, A kid shrills, my soul flies, “Heaven, lies, hell, lies” epiphany cries, (Cyrus cries) Right when My brain and spine, scattered on the pavement tiles. Tehran Bye, Cyrus Bye, whores bye. Moloch said: “idiot, idiot, idiot, idiot, idiot… Die."
Abbey Lynne Rays
Dublin, California, USA
Mother, are you proud how I took your torn recipe, your half jars of jam, and made something you could not? Forgotten fruit so tender, bruised where thumbs once pressed. Do you remember the way your hands always felt too rough? You left them untouched at your side.You left it all, a carcass of life, split and buried. I trace the shape of regret, all hard lines and corners. Feel the weathered wood beneath the spillings, angry with the weight of it. Cold fingers in the stick, sugary slop, severed from usefulness. Feeling the bone and base of all you left behind. Levy stacked, scoured, sagging after all these years. Still, these scarlett stained hands break the weathered landscape, find freedom wrist deep in the remnants of your holy blood. I bake your prayers into my own fleshy canvas. The color too ripe for anything left to call your own.
I Imagine Him Saying Thank You Poetry
Pleasanton, California, USA
My horse looked at me funny today As if he wanted to say, “You carry my manure away Such care you display And I want to ask you—Who gives a shit? You watch me eat, measure my weight Act enthralled to see that I ate You ask, Enough? when I stare at the gate Is this a natural human trait Really, I ask you—who gives a shit? We’ve one shot at life yet you share yours with mine carrying buckets and shovels seems fine I don’t care how you spend your time But yes, without you, my health would decline. So, thank you—now get on with your shit.”
Edgar Allan Poe And The Telemarketer Poetry - Honorable Mention
Maureen Mancini Amaturo
Poetic Patterns Poetry
Caleb N. Gonsalves
Rye, New York, USA
Roseville, California, USA
Once upon a midnight dreary, my cell phone rang, the number leery. Unwanted pest, this unknown caller, broke my thoughts, with breach uncalled for– I was hard at work, though nearly napping, when this man commenced kidnapping all my focus, which now is flapping, flapping from my present chore. “‘Tis some marketer,” I muttered, “flapping words that only bore– Only this and nothing more.”
I wrote a happy poem once, It was thrown away, discarded as worthless I remember the old man in the gray suit said “Happiness doesn’t sell”
Ah, distinctly I remember it was March or cold December; when I requested every member of my home be called no more. Eagerly I hoped he’d listen;–I hoped his promise wasn’t fiction When he said he’d cause no friction calling my house any more– For the precious do-not-call list I was not on heretofore– Nameless now for evermore.
“People want to relate to sadness” So I wrote a sad poem, “There you go son, People can relate to sad artists”
I resumed my thoughts and writing though distraction I was fighting Hoping now–hoping now with doubt and terror never felt before; Trying hard to still the ire, my full anger still on fire, hoping he was not a liar When he said he’d lose my number which is what I did implore. This intruder, rude and selfish, with persistence I abhor. Peace I want and nothing more. But my stillness then went plumbing, broken by a call incoming “Doubtless,” said I, “sure it’s that imp returning with words that I deplore.” Again, I saw his number and I responded, “Dialing devil!– Stop this madness or I’ll store your heart beneath my chamber floor– I’ll wall you up behind bricks ‘til your lungs feel like lead ore. Call me never, nevermore!” They were our words of parting, and I hoped silence would be starting With regard to salesmen pushing through my mail, and phone, and door. I want my loneliness unbroken. I want no unwanted words be spoken. What vendors call I’ll render unto the cold Plutonian shore. Keep thy beak from out my ear and face as once you clearly swore. Call me never, nevermore!
At what cost I asked? “What do you mean” he demanded Will I lose myself? Then my poem sold I was making money now, The cost was okay, It was happiness or fame, Fame lasts a while right? But one poem never is good enough So he asked for a second and a third Each time it cut away part of myself It’s okay I’ll buy a prosthetic limb. One day I’ll be making good money A new limb won’t even cause a dent.
To Wrue* Or Not To Wrue Poetry
stolen paper Poetry
Dublin, California, USA
Saint Charles, Virginia, USA
To wrue or not to wrue: that is the question: Whether ’tis better on our script, To suffer the darts and bullets of the whiteness around us Or to take a dive into a cloud of troubles And by blending hide them? To ignore: to skip; No qualms! And by a skip to say we removed the color And the thousand natural hues that flesh is heir to, ’tis a deceit coyly not to be missed. To ignore, to skip; To skip: perchance to steal: ay, there’s the rub! For in that skip or theft what fame may come When we have published our manuscript, Must give us pause: There’s the respect that shows the authenticity of true writers. For who would bear the whips and scorns of rejection, The readers’ tongue, the critics’ contumely, The pang of despised advocacy, the laws’ delay, the insolence of celebs, And the spurns that patient merit of the publishers takes, When she herself might shoot to fame with a mere copy? Who would fardels bear to write with truth in mind, But that the dread of something after theft, The thought of outraged people from whose stolen treasures no pride will come Freezes our quill and makes us rather bear those ills we have, Than steal colors we know not of? Thus conscience Does make heroes of us all; And thus the pale hue of depredation is sicklied o’er with the dark cast of thought That the fate of fraud writers with great ledgers in the black is for their glory to fade away And tarnish their name as authors. * Inspired by the work of Shakespeare and the soliloquy from Hamlet, the word to wrue/wrue/wrued, is an author’s creation. It means to write true.
this is written on stolen paper for I live a life that is stolen my lies are my Art my schemes are as futile as they are plentiful all the things that were dear to me now reside in a seedy Pawn Shop’s window those that I Love the best make the easiest victims I traded my fortune, my future, and even my Name for a dirty needle and a dirty rush now, I measure my wealth in scars, mugshots, and burnt bridges I am at the bottom of everything & I am finally home.
Cuban Musician Painting
Pleasanton, California, USA
Not Everything Is Poetry Poetry
Pleasanton, California, USA
I. Not Everything Is Poetry. some things are ugly, or just motion. only your hands kneading the air all the way to empathy’s shore, memorial just across the water, oblivion a low rumble under the sand.
Not Everything Is Poetry; some words are fleeting fact over lyric, though they glow when soaked in song, faces backlit by their contentment. not frivolous or florid, though they may find communion among the roses.
Everything Is Not Poetry; some things are just those; no shape beyond their outlines standing before me, silhouettes gushing about geometry. no substance beyond their fleshy hearts and all the lives they’ve ridden along the way, muscles writhing with memory.
II. Not Every Blue Is The Ocean; each shade cannot hold its depth, its capacity for opalescence. some things are just cerulean, like crying in concept. tears hold no color but the one ascribed granting life to the feeling it wields in tow.
some stops are just torn edges; never amputees or a binding and an absence, years pillaged from a tragically full life. some silences are not versed; maybe the niche left by an excavated sound, white noise in its transparency.
Not Everything Felt Holds A Feeling; your salvation’s voice cannot Trojan Horse emotion to your doorstep, no matter how its rhythms may beat down the doors of your heart. the welts down your back— raised like the dead—are of the mind’s making, a placebo like Poe’s. Not Everything Has A Name, just a crafted shape in each of our mouths, the taste often more distinct than the sight of its mien.
Not Every Bird Is A Sign, though they line the road, the rooftops, just the same; though you may feel them in the air—the whir past your ear when you turn to shake them from your periphery. the way their forms disintegrate, inversely timed with how they materialize behind your eyes. you close them to find one and open them to wake; is it therefore the less gone? Not Every View Is Beautiful; the lungs of these sights do not shrink or swell with your temper, its metric in the vanishing arch of your brow. beauty cannot live on in the distance between your eyes, nor the slope and return of your cupid’s bow, how it won’t ebb and flow with the lull of your speech. Not Everything Is Matter; hold your atoms of the mind.
Kajang, Selangor, Malaysia
There is a hunger in the heart Of the demure dreamer Whose meek presence belies The raging fire dormant in his guts. If he could he would pluck the stars From the sky for strawberries Filling his mouth with their blood. No ordinary pot can contain the broth That would assuage the deep delving Craving that in slow silence builds Like drifts of plankton surfacing Before Earth heaves from oceanic depths To consume air, slashing sky with talons. Till then you see him in his luxury flight On unruffled wing, upon the warm current, Regularly fading out and soaring in, Lulling slovenly Time into a dream Where history is forgotten.
Molalla, Oregon, USA
I watch the wilted flowers The ones you bought in as an act to deceive me I watch them droop in the vase Heads under water Drowning in sorrow Hiding from this conversation I watch your tears spill over Black tar and oil streaking down your cheeks Glass shards stringing blood Across the cheekbones I used to love I watch the words fall to the ground Watch them get smashed beneath my tapping foot Impatiently waiting for the flies To dissipate To stop the sudden swarm of assault
I watch you try to lie to me Watch you pretend to be a wounded gazelle Not the crocodile with blood around the teeth I watch you try to take me for a mouse Watch you try to manipulate me Watch you try to dehumanize me Victim turned prisoner I watch all this with a sadist smile You are not what you say you are But I I may be all that you say But I am so much more And I will not be a doormat to anyone I watch you And wait for my turn to strike A cobra in the grass.
Follow Me As Far As I Go Fiction
Boston, Massachusetts, USA
10 years old. Grace sat cross-legged on the asphalt of my driveway that was covered in the blues, greens, and purples from the bits of chalk scattered between us. Beside her, on the grass, I lay on my back against the snow after having gotten tired making snow-angels and took in the gray sky. Despite our differing personalities, Grace and I had been friends from the very first day I moved in next door. Having always been the more quiet and introspective character within our friendship, I was not only taken aback by her meek nature that day, but also mildly aggravated. I did not like needing to fill the silence after having gotten used to her constant chatter. Finally, I pushed myself onto my elbows and asked her what her problem was. The meekness did not fade when she answered, “My parents are mad at me.” As a child who had gotten into trouble one too many times with my parents, I could not understand why this had brought on such a drastic change in character, and I prodded further. “I told them I like girls. They got mad and told me that I shouldn’t say those kinds of things.” I froze for reasons far beyond the cold as I quietly asked, “Oh, like-like girls?” Grace nodded while looking down at her stained hands. “I have a friend at school who likes girls, too, but I don’t think her parents know,” I
told her. I did not tell her who that friend was or that there was no separation between that friend and me, but selfishly I reveled in the relief of having confessed without having to face the consequences she did. “My parents told me it’ll stop soon, and then we can start talking about the boys we like again.” “Okay.” I lay back down on the snow and stared at the sun hidden behind the layers of clouds. 15 years old. The woman on the podium spoke as if she had seen God herself. She was a student at the community college with a habit of swinging her yellow lanyard and ending every sentence on a high-pitched note. We started the meeting with hands held together and a prayer I can no longer recall the words for. The fold-out chairs squeaked each time I moved. The woman who had seen God began her presentation; a guide on how to live in a godly manner. I haven’t figured out what that means yet, but by the time she had reached the topic of masturbation, a symphony of squeaking chairs responded. If shame could be made into a sound, I think it would sound like those chairs. My daydreams (or what she would’ve claimed was the devil’s temptation) were interrupted when the lights turned off
and the projector started up. On-screen, a woman stood upon a similar podium. She was enthusiastic about her discoveries and that energy filtered through the crowd so vigorously that her words were difficult to distinguish at times, but the words ‘cured’ and ‘choice’ and ‘lesbian’ struck a sharp enough chord for my hearing to comprehend it. The chairs didn’t squeak. The room stood in silent solidarity with the words she spoke and offered no noise of argument. Noting this, I tensed my muscles to match the stillness. 16 years old. My mother had insisted I come along with her for her college reunion, so while those around me drank beer, I stirred my Sprite and watched the bubbles float to the top. At the far end of the table, one of the men spoke with a voice that bounced in the empty restaurant. “Listen, I know this better than anyone. You were there when I had girlfriends in college and then I dated one man and I never went back. You can’t go back.” I remember thinking he had a handsome face when my mother and I had taken a seat. However, the longer I stayed, the more villainous his Colgate-smile and breathy laugh seemed to me. “There’s no such thing as being somewhere in between, you know. You either like men
or you like women,” he continued, and the woman sitting to my right chuckled with her palm covering her smile. I wondered if there was some kind of shame behind the action, but the amusement in her eyes was too bright. Another woman’s voice spoke up from the other end of the table. “That’s right. They just need to admit it to themselves.” “Cheers to that.” The conversation ended with a round of laughter, which my mom took part in. I watched as the adults around me veered somewhere far into memory lane and I was pushed farther and farther away from the conversation with no resistance. I stayed anchored to the present. The conversation from a minute earlier rang in between my ears. A high-pitched screeching which only I seemed to hear like a dog whistle. 17 years old. In the bathroom of our hotel room, our reflections stood side by side. Muscle memory allowed us to go about our nightly routines with frequent interruptions of toothpaste smiles and mascara-induced raccoon eyes. Having known her through all of my high school years, I was familiar with the way Gigi bounced on her heels while brushing her face and held her curls back with a headband. We may have been traveling miles away from home in a place unknown to us both, yet the familiarity I felt with her never strayed. It was a kind of familiarity that made me melt from how uncomplicated things could be.
By the time we had settled into our designated twin beds, the early morning hours were well underway. We slept facing each other that night, and I kept my voice soft as I wished her goodnight. I watched as the moon reflected off the high end of her cheekbones and the curve of her nose in a way that could only make me envious, for the moon could kiss her gently in ways that I was forbidden from. In a humid hotel room in Rome, I didn’t find the courage to be a woman who loves a woman. I knew that I was still only a premonition of myself, and while that thought brought me no comfort, the secrecy that hid me still did. In a mindset akin to a haze, I made the promise to myself that my love would temporarily materialize as light. The moon could comfort her for now, but when the first beams of sunlight rose above the horizon and glittered off her brown skin, I’d be able to love her then. Through the sunbeams, I would kiss her all day long. I could watch the way her blond eyelashes sparkled and know that it was my own doing. 18 years old. When I was younger, I’d always thought of the beauty salon as a mystical place made up of the sweet smell of hairspray and a kaleidoscope of vibrant colors. Most of all, it was a place of comfort. A place where women would come and tell strangers the very words they could not say anywhere else. It was a place to unload your feelings and watch them get swept away by a wooden broom. Most times, I’d get my nails done as my
mom dyed her hair. I was always done before her, so I’d sit on the rolling stool and pick at the freshly painted nails until they chipped, but I was never brave enough to ask to have them fixed. I sat on my hands to make sure no one saw the damage I had already done and watched the brush coating my mom’s dark hair. Behind her, the hairdresser reassured a woman sitting on the chair next to us. “You shouldn’t worry yourself over it.” She gave her a wink over her shoulder. “It’s just a phase she’ll grow out of soon enough.” The woman nodded at her words, but she didn't look convinced. “God, I hope. I just can’t have her going around saying those things to her grandparents. Then I’d really never hear the end of it.” They all laughed along with her. The hairdresser finished painting along my mom’s forehead and fully turned around to look at the woman. “She’s in college. It’s only natural for her to experiment with women, but she’ll realize soon enough that it’s nothing real.” My mom finally joined the conversation and nodded as she said, “It’s just curiosity.” 18 years old. Being with him was easy. He would make space for me to lay across his lap as he played video games with our friends, and I could feel his laughter before hearing it. Whenever he was killed off from the screen, he had a habit of grabbing my hands to play with and twisting
the multitude of rings adorning it. Before picking up the controller for the next round, he’d raise my hand up and press a chaste kiss to the back of it. Being with him meant reassurance. Having never been in a relationship before, he naturally became the subject of my adoration as well as the anchor that stilled my mind from doubt. His entrance into my life had meant the end of the interrogation from my family regarding when I would finally get a boyfriend, but more importantly, it put a brief intermission into my questioning of whether I would ever be loved. For the first time in my life, I could give love freely without having to worry about what consequences could follow. There was such a relief to be able to kiss him in the daylight with the same pride as I did in the nighttime that I formed excuses for his other actions. The validation I got from others was enough to mask over the unanswered calls and boundaries crossed. Having strangers tell me we looked like an old-time couple with how comfortable we were around each other was rewarding enough to ignore his faults. It was the relationship in my life that cemented over the fact that I could love a man. While that fact provided an immense amount of comfort for a brief period of time, my doubts eventually came back full force. No longer was I asking myself whether I would ever be loved, but whether my feelings for women had ever been real. 19 years old. Through the window, I could see the multitudes of people hovering over the
bar, their voices getting drowned out by the song blaring through the speakers above them. The wooden countertops shook as students spilled tequila on themselves in a mix of nerves and innocence. Outside, where the noise was dulled and the wind wrapped around me, I stood tense in her embrace. My eyes fixed on the window. I tried to memorize the faces of strangers in order to avoid looking up at hers. She’d poked fun at our height difference when we met at the airport as our study abroad group awaited the plane’s arrival, but at this moment I felt grateful for the ability to hide from her gaze by laying my cheek on the cold leather of her jacket. Her blond hair brushed against my forehead each time the wind picked up. The same hand that had been cupping my jaw minutes earlier settled over my shoulder, moving in soothing circles meant to provide comfort. I’m not sure if she meant to comfort me or herself. An apology sat in my vocal chords for having pulled away, for having stayed silent, for not having reassured the embarrassed blush that rose to her cheeks at my rejection, but my tongue felt too heavy with the weight of the words I could not allow myself to say. The back of my neck tingled with the memory of her fingertips cradling my head, more gently than I was familiar with, and pulling me to her painted lips. Was that adoration or alcohol clouding her eyes? Whatever it might have been caused me to flinch violently away from the surge of emotions that arose in me. The unfamiliar-
ity, the instilled shame, and the desire all spiraled within me until it settled into fear. She was quick to apologize. She must have laughed at my expression, but I wish she had looked longer. Long enough to see through the fog, beyond the desperation, into the words I wanted to convey but could find no language for. 20 years old. I cannot call this a success story. All I can tell is a story to be read between the lines, through the keyhole of a locked down, with a hand over your mouth to muffle any sounds that could escape. It is not to be mistaken for a coming-out story, but rather as a story meant for those that slip away from the closet in the middle of the night, when the clouds cover the moonlight and floorboards don’t creak, just so they can feel some fresh air. What I can say is that I sit comfortably with myself now. The jostle of the subway forces me to lean into her as the skyline moves behind us, and I can resist the urge to shrink away. I can squeeze my hand three times and reassure myself that it’s okay to find comfort in her embrace. When we walk through Harvard, I think of the words I could not utter then and wonder to myself if I could now. Sometimes in the early morning light when guitar notes are played over the phone, I can feel the lingering tension melting away from my bones, and hidden beneath is the key I needed to loosen the restraints. Sometimes I can brush away the debris and unlock the door leading towards the most vulnerable parts of myself. Other times, my hands falter before I can reach it. When I pass by storefronts, I see a premonition. I squeeze my hands three times and watch her figure brighten just a little.
Always Watching Photography
Ann Arbor, Michigan, USA
Hide and Seek Photography
Ann Arbor, Michigan, USA
If you find me Poetry
Saint Charles, Virginia, USA
Dead. blue in the face syringe in hand there are a few things I’d like you to know first, & above all else, I love you almost all of you I hope life & it’s insidious trivialities didn’t keep us from rejoicing in nothing less than the other’s company second I do not deserve those tears trailing down your pretty little face save them for the living it is only they that suffer & finally, go out in the Big Blue Orb we call home & make a beautiful life it’s the only one you’ve got
Livermore, California, USA
Castro Valley, California, USA
I lean against the wall, Balancing myself As I aim my foot Into my shoe.
A glistening vision looming ahead A dream bright with recognition and fame Where all wrong is made right again.
And in that moment I see myself As others see me: Old Graying hair Frail Struggling to kneel And stand back up again Holding the railing As I slowly ascend or descend The stairs Needing a supporting hand As I step off the curb.
A universe orbiting a sun of dreams A realm where colorful hope Swirls amid dancing light.
I would wish That they could see me As I see myself: Resilient Independent Resourceful Contented with my lot in life Unafraid of the future In my heart and mind Forever young.
The child of a longing mind Conceived in desperate yearning Born of vivid fantasy. A mirage Just a mirage.
Observations of a Silent Bystander Poetry
Livermore, California, USA
The chatter of children at morning recess bounces over the fence top—bright bursts of laughter, high-pitched fragments of excited exchanges, and free-floating shrieks of joy. Afternoon is filled with birdsong— light chirpings and sweet, clear melodies. The notes fall from above like the patter of raindrops. By evening the twitter of birds gives way to frog song—a bubbling soprano chorus of puffy-throated peepers searching for a mate. Such a private ritual to be carried on the air. I do not see the beings who commune, nor understand the whole of what they’re saying, yet my heart grows lighter, sorrows lessen, when I overhear their vibrant conversations.
The Fun of Birds Poetry
Livermore, California, USA
I wonder if birds ever fly for fun or if they think of soaring into the sun I sit and listen to the crickets croon and wonder why bugs don't fly toward the moon Do the birds and the bees question nature’s unknown and search for answers in dandelions blown Does nature venture out of predator and prey can a wolf just rest in the flowers and lay Is the sky clouded blue to all sets of eyes does the wolf see a face in the moon as it cries Is the wind in the trees the way that they speak does the worm feel the panic when in the birds beak Has a horse led to water ever walked into the sea or do I take for granted the grass beneath me
The Birdwatcher after a photo by Matej Sefcik Poetry - First Place
Marietta, Georgia, USA
In Central Park, birds act as brusque and impatient as any New Yorker. The woman stands there, her hands holding binoculars to hopeful eyes, eager to catch sight of a tufted titmouse or common yellowthroat. She’s seen them before, of course, who hasn’t, but she loves the way they flit on branches, how huffy they seem, blaring pissed-off vibes in a fracas of tweets so blue her grandmother would blush. She doesn’t take their pique personally— after all, you can’t survive in the City if your feelings bruise like dropped fruit at a bodega. Today though, her binoculars disappoint. The only wildlife she notices are the harassed New Yorkers in their native habitat. If she looks hard enough, she can almost see their exotic plumes.
Swan and Loon Poetry
Steven O. Young Jr. Redford, Michigan, USA
The Romantic impulse purchases birch and lets the wind work tongues up from the river’s laze, soft-spoken docents steering us through the passerine gallery, a panoply of madrigals without our paddles’ plash, sunlight combing the nape of your neck clear and lending the moon the last of its pre-noon glow, perched upon the ton(gue)s of water buoying our bodies nonplussed in the opposite sense of the frazzled mallard circling her ducklings at our swan and loon approach,
or scald of rented aluminum
uncoddled by serendipitous convention,
cushioned only by the mercy of repurposing discolored life jackets,
choruses of birdsong lifting above the banks muted below deep-dug oar strokes
and let’s fill our inelegant vessel first with a cooler to haul the unmentioned picnic, snacks, and bottles pre-labeled whose is whose—a touch too real for the fluidity of our anxieties—then the fishing rods and tackle boxes scratching along the rivets at our natural imbalance, equipment best left for another daydream
while you crane on in eagle-eyed envy at the effortlessness of their furious
when we won’t have to concern ourselves with our own uncertain bobbing, feet on earth
scurrying—webs weaving rafts of bubbles to keep their flightless wings afloat
or dock planks, side-by-side not sternto-bow, which leaves the question
until they can coast in the open ocean overhead and shuttle the immensity—but
of whether worms bake in a light blue plastic tub underneath your seat
the fantasy needs more reality to add veracity to my reveries,
eventually exposed from out the ever-shifting shadow of our daylong excursion,
so let’s ditch the birch for the chill
an adventure of endurance and sweat
while we wage war over navigation and you slick my aerie hair to my face with a long, careful follow-through—the smirk I spot through sopping Spanish moss a dead giveaway—so I put us in a tailspin, pining to douse you just the same, but your hair isn’t loose, braided and prepared for the toll of this journey, a rudder to declare your captaincy under the resilient glint of moonlight too stubborn to retreat, and I surrender to your wonder, taking dictation in jazzy, extemporaneous script carved on the air with my oar as you spell out your orders to unravel the mystery of molting so we can submerge into the sky, the sun steadily feathering across
our audacious, disparate wings—another thing you’re ready for, but I remember to forget to warn you how UV pools in the crooked lap canoeing can demand, and the in-sides of your legs burn a fervent nectarine, tender to the touch.
Death Valley Floods Poetry
Pleasanton, California, USA
Morning clouds press the sandy plain, fusing hills and valleys into watery flatness as darkness extinguishes shapes when I turn off a light. The glowing puddles in sand mirror the sky and open doors down to the earth like music holding beautiful tension against the moment. Last night when we fought a storm to arrive at the valley, twisting in the stripes of our headlights and suspecting choppy roads might be a cliff, the vast shallow lake was born in danger, the total deprivation of dunes. But I see the water, terrible, lying in the sand how graceful the scene is, like the day when I gave birth to my baby —spilling and shimmering.
Tracy, California, USA
Scrape the Powder Tear the flesh from my bones Use me, Break me Beat me until I puke blood Bury me in the ground Leave me to rot As the worms eat my flesh Mother Nature cries Her tears crystalize me I transform From flesh to rock I am dug up Found I am polished, put on display Given a purpose I am bought, I am desired I am taken home I am used again My energy contagious My edges sparkle This time I’m cherished I’m healed I’m loved Your hatred never broke me My love is eternal
Bluebird Parents Photography
Livermore, California, USA
The Loon’s Nest Non-Fiction
Gracie Schwenk Florence
I was just six years old when I realized what love feels like. For me, my first taste of love was the Loon’s Nest, our family cabin that rests on the edge of Elbow Lake deep in the Montana mountains. The Loon’s Nest is made of stained logs all stacked neatly upon one another by my father and grandfather. There is an inviting porch that wraps all of the way around, a green tin roof that is a catch all for pine needles, and an old wooden sign that reads “Welcome to the Loon’s Nest.” My grandmother, or Grams, claims she worked alongside them everyday stacking logs in the hot July sun. When Papa hears her talk about her cabin building efforts, he reverts to mumbling under his peppered beard. “Your version of helping includes a lawn chair, some sweet tea, and your hands on your hips.” Furrowing her brows and offering him a half smile, Grams continues telling her patchy history of the building of the Loon’s Nest. “And the finishing touch that brought it all together was when we planted the daffodils out front.” Whether Papa’s version of Grams’ version is the true history of events will forever remain a mystery to those who aren’t the pines standing tall watching it all unfurl. However, one thing for certain is that Grams had a heart deeper than the green waters of Elbow Lake. The happiness of her family meant everything to her. That’s why her heart shattered more
than mine did the summer my mother announced she was leaving my father. Grams was worried about the emotional toll it would take on me and my two older sisters, Kaia and Franny. On the weekend my mother was coming to move all of her stuff out of the house, Grams decided to whisk us away to the Loon’s Nest. “It’s going to be a special weekend,” Grams said to Kaia on the phone, “I think we’ll call it Cabin Days and make a yearly tradition out of it.” Grams knew how to start the week to Cabin Days off right. Standing in the yard, packed bags in hand, we watched with eager eyes as she rolled up our windy driveway in her 2000 White Birch Subaru Outback. Rolling down the window, with the unmistakable voice of Johnny Cash whirling in the background, Grams would call to us: “Ready for Cabin Days?” Buzzing like bees about to taste the honey, we catapulted our bags into the back, and scrambled into the car. With Kaia being the oldest, there was an unspoken rule between the three of us that the front was reserved for her. Franny and I piled in the backseat and got lost in the mix of Johnny Cash and Grams’ strawberry scented car freshener. “Can you hear it?” Grams asks as Franny tilts her head to the right, “The Loon’s Nest is calling!” Kaia furrows her brows and offers
Grams a half smile. She says, “And the loons must fly back to it.” As if she’s heard it a time or two. The one hour drive to the cabin is bittersweet. I could stare out the window forever at the Blackfoot River meandering its way through a maze of green pines. The snow-capped mountains of the Swan Range stand tall in a circle around us, making me feel as if they're shielding me from the world through a hug. Yet, there is also a part of me that would love to fast forward through all of the scenery and just be there already. “That massive, jagged mountain off to the left is called Holland Peak,” Grams says, interrupting my thoughts. Suddenly feeling impatient to reach the cabin, I ask Grams how much longer until we’re there. Grams looks at me with playful green eyes and asks, “How many times have you been to the Loon’s Nest?” I offer Grams the half smile I often see her give to Papa when he teases her and go back to staring at Holland Peak out the window. I think to myself how I would love nothing more than to stand at the top of that peak. My mind is busy imagining myself upon the summit, hands in the air, calling to the valley below when Grams turns on her blinker. The steady ticking brought me down off the peak and I realized we were making the renowned left turn to the cabin. Exchanging an enthusiastic glance with Franny, we tear off our buckles and roll down the
windows. Heads bobbing along, tongues poking out, we pretend to be our chunky black lab, Moose, out for a joy ride. We are two black labs wagging our tails, until Franny begins to lean a little too far out the window. “Be careful,” Grams says beneath furrowed brows, “you don’t want to fall out and become bear bait.” Kaia laughs from the front seat as Franny’s eyes go wide and she quickly climbs back in the car. I’m beginning to think Grams and Papa are more alike than I thought. The pair have a witty knack for teasing. As Grams parks her car, or Oatmeal as she calls it, in front of the cabin, that familiar feeling of love swells up inside of me. Slamming the car door shut, I run to the edge of Elbow Lake and take it all in. I’m getting lost in the fresh smell of pine, eyes closed, when Kaia calls to me: “Poppy, come help us unload.” I skip over to her as she hands me a jug of hot chocolate mix. We follow Grams across the yard, up the three wooden steps to the porch, and shift our feet from side to side as Grams fetches the spare key from the bird house. She unlocks the door and my ears are filled with the comforting slap of the wooden screen door. We push Grams through the door and lay our items on the round table near the large windows that overlook the lake. I pause for a moment. Something is different. The pounce table is still there. The brown-tone floral-print couch and Papa’s napping chair are still there. The mugs with loons hanging to the left in the kitchen are still there. Then it hits me. There is a new mount on the wall above the large windows that reveal the lake. To the far left is an antelope shot by
my Uncle Jack. To the far right is a mule deer shot by my father. In the middle is a seven-point bull elk peering at me with beady eyeballs. A true Royal Rare my father calls it. I stand frozen in place as the tears begin to drip down my face. “I know sweetie,” says Grams, as she pulls me in for a hug, “I don’t like it either.” Franny and I were sitting on the porch swing watching the beavers swim around the lake after we settled in. “There’s Justin Beaver and Selena Gomez!” Franny says, pointing to the beavers. “Franny, it’s not nice to call people beavers,” Kaia says through the open window, “just because Papa says it doesn’t mean you can.” Franny and I exchange glances and roll our eyes at Kaia. Papa only started calling the beaver Justin in the first place because he found Kaia’s poster of him hanging in the loft. It only started to bother her when the beaver found a match and Papa started calling that one Selena. “Wanna go turtle hunting?” Franny asks, ignoring Kaia. My eyes go bright as I bounce to my feet. We crawl over the railing and jump down from the deck. Papa and Grams always store the aqua blue paddle boat from the 1960s beneath the cabin in the winter to protect it from the snow. There it becomes a home to spiders and is always in need of a rinse at the beginning of the summer season. Franny and I heave the paddle boat out from under the cabin. I make a grunting sound like a grizzly bear so she knows I’m putting in all my effort. Kaia turns on the hose, and Grams emerges from the cabin with a comforting slap, carrying an
old cooking pot filled with soapy water and strips of a faded beach towel. Kaia is about to start spraying the winter months away when Grams holds up her hand and asks her to wait. Grams dumps the soapy water into the grass and goes over to the paddle boat, kneeling beside it. She scoops up three daddy-longlegs in her fingers and places them in the pot. I can see Kaia to the left of me furrow her brows and scoot away from Grams and the spider pot. Kaia doesn’t do well with creepy crawly things. She drops the hose on the ground and Franny picks it up. Grams examines the boat one last time before she takes the pot over to the bushes and lets daddy-longlegs go. “These spiders are misunderstood,” Grams says, as she remerges from the cabin with soapy water in the pot again. “They can’t even bite.” Franny takes the hose and begins to power blast the ghost town of spider webs out. It made me somewhat sad to see all the hard work of the spiders swept away in a matter of seconds. We each take a strip of old beach towel and scrub at the paddle boat until it shines like it’s the year 1968. Then we each grab a corner and take the paddle boat down to the lake. I make my grizzly grunting noise again so they all know I’m putting in my best effort. Pushing the paddle boat back into the waters of Elbow Lake is like hearing the morning melody of a Meadowlark after a harsh winter. All feels right in the world again. Kaia and Franny climb in the front seats so they can paddle. I crawl in the back and grab the steering handle until Kaia shoos my hand off of it. I roll my eyes at
her and turn around, ready to watch the dragonflies and put my hands in the water to make ripples as they do all the work. “Make sure your lifejackets stay on!” Grams calls from the dock. We were maybe ten feet out when Kaia let out a shriek. “Grams,” she calls back to shore, “there’s a leak in the paddle boat!” The girls reverse the boat back to shore and Grams takes a look. Grams examines the leak with furrowed brows. There are tiny drops of water that come in every time the girls peddle the boat on Franny’s side. Grams goes back up to the cabin and comes down with the spider pot. Handing it to me, she says, “The water isn’t coming in fast enough to make the boat sink. Use this to empty it if it fills up too much.” I grab the spider pot with excitement surging through me. I finally had a job! I was in charge of making sure the boat didn’t sink, which in my opinion, is way more important than steering. We climb back in the boat and Grams pushes us back out. We paddle over to the marsh of mud and lily pads to look for turtles. We always wanted to bring them back and keep them as pets, but Grams always told us we needed to be nice to nature. So we just paddle over to them and try to count all the ones we could find. We count thirteen turtles. Ten big ones and three babies. There might have been more, but Franny probably scared them all off when she jumps into the marsh and starts throwing mud around. We jump in after her and start a mud war. We return to the cabin smelling like rotten eggs and carrying flowers from the lily pads for Grams. Kaia makes us rinse
all the mud off in the lake before we go back. We find Grams asleep in the yard on a hammock tied between two pines. She has a book open on her chest and is softly snoring. Kaia goes into the cabin, careful not to let the door slam, and emerges with a cheetah blanket. She covers Grams up in it as I lay the lily pad flowers on top of her book. She awakes mid-snore, offers us a smile, and falls back asleep. We leave her there and scamper off to Snake Lake to go snake hunting. We find three garter snakes over at Snake Lake. The first snake slithers across our path as we walk along the shoreline. Franny snags it right before it slips into the water. Holding it gently in her hands, just like Grams taught us, we say hello as it pokes a pink tongue out at us. “This snake must be spending too much time with Kaia,” Franny whispers under her breath. Kaia, not a fan of creepy crawly or creepy slithery things, stands ten feet away writing in her diary while Franny and I do the snake hunting. “Put down the diary and come snake hunting with us,” Franny calls to her. Setting down her pen, Kaia looks up at Franny. “It’s a journal,” she replies. “I’m writing a poem about a pinecone.” Franny and I exchange glances. We were both thinking the same thing. It was her diary and she was writing about her latest crush. We would find out later when we broke into it to see what she was writing about. We return to the cabin after we capture two more snakes. One snake lies on a rock in the middle of Snake Lake, taking in the warm rays of the sun. Its at
ease presence reminds me of Grams on her hammock. The third snake is a blur of brown and yellow stripes before it darts into a hole. Franny’s reflexes fail us on that one. As we return, we find Grams sitting on the porch swing, watching the June sunset over Elbow Lake. She waves us over and pats the porch swing beside her. We squish in and Grams wraps us up in the cheetah blanket. I love this blanket. It’s warm, cozy, and smells like the cabin. “Where did you get this blanket?” I ask Grams. She takes a sip of her evening coffee and tells me she found it at a thrift store the year they built the Loon’s Nest. We sit with Grams, watching the sun slowly disappear behind the Swan Mountains. I sit captivated by the evening ornamentation of light dancing off the water. The sunset is a mixed celebration of faint yellow, baby blue, and champagne pink. We watch the sun go down as Grams tells us all about the history of the loggers who used to camp across the lake and float logs down the river. Grams is interrupted by the faint cry of a loon in the distance. The eerie yet peaceful “oo-loo-lee” ripples across the lake and up to our ears. “I can hear the call of the loon now,” Franny whispers, turning to Grams who pulls us all in closer. Once the sun has set, the crickets come out and start to sing their enchanting summer tune as if they are sirens trying to lure the stars down to earth. We could have stayed out longer to watch the stars shipwreck, but Franny pulled a slithering bundle out from her pocket. Kaia shrieks, scaring away all the crickets and making a mad dash for the cabin. The shriek star-
tles Franny, who drops her captive garter snake onto the porch. It slithers way for the cabin and finds safety beneath the crack between the floor and the porch. Legend has it the captive garter snake remains there to this day. “I guess … maybe it didn’t … spend … anytime … with … Kaia … after all,” Franny lets out between laughs. Grams green eyes dance beneath her furrowed brows. I can see that there is a part of her that finds it funny. However, we all spent the next thirty minutes listening to Grams talk about respecting nature again. It’s another twenty before Kaia came down off the table. Grams follows us into the loft and tucks us in for the night. “Scary story?” I ask Grams as she tucks the cheetah blanket around my face. “I think we’ve just lived through a scary story,” she says, “I will think of one tonight and tell you tomorrow.” The next morning, I wake up just before the sun begins to rise. I crawl down from the loft to find Grams out on the porch swing again with a loon coffee mug in her hand. I quietly open the screen door and go to sit next to her on the porch swing. “What are you doing up already?” Grams asks, even though she knows I was always up early. I shrug my shoulders and ask her to continue telling the history of the loggers as we watch the sunrise. The girls are up two hours later, and Grams tells us to get ready for the two mile walk to the Medicine Tree. Grams makes sure Franny wasn’t wearing any clothing items with large pockets to hide creepy crawly or creepy slithery things in. As we make our way to the Medicine Tree, Grams tells us about how the Koo-
tenai Tribe of the Swan Valley used to cut pieces of bark from the tree for medicinal purposes long before our cabin was built. We had been to the Medicine Tree before. It’s easy to spot her amongst the rest of the pines, as she stands about 150 feet tall, almost 70 feet taller than the other pines in the forest. Grams carries the cheetah blanket for the full two miles to spread it out on the ground beneath the Medicine Tree. We each take a seat and make ourselves comfortable. Grams and Kaia sit criss-cross applesauce, as Grams describes the tree to Kaia who furiously scribbles all Grams had to say into her diary. I lie down on my back, staring up at the grand pine tree. She has a trunk, colossal yet amicable, that wraps around wider than a bear hug. Her bark consists of a maze of intricate details that would lead one to the secret of wisdom if they ever made their way through. There are bare sections on her trunk where her bark was stripped away years ago by gentle hands. She is a standing vision of sublimity. My eyes watch as green branches full of pine needles sway in the rustling of the wind. The wind knocks a few loose pines free and they land at the center of our blanket. Franny grabs the pilot pine and begins twiddling it in her fingers. “When pines break free,” Grams says, “they don’t just drop to the ground. They fly.” Franny stripped each section of the pine off. One. Two. Three. She hands one to Kaia and one to me. “They know this is their chance for an adventure,” Grams continues, “so they take the leap and jump into the wind.” By the time we return from the Medicine Tree, the sun is perched in the heat
of midday. We are all in dire need of a dip in Elbow Lake. We change into our swimming suits and make a dash for the dock. The first one in the lake always gets the most marshmallows later that evening for our mocha party. Franny is the first one in with a cannon ball. Kaia follows her with a swan dive. I am the third one in with what mimics a swan dive. We swim out to the floating dock so we can have a splashing contest without getting Grams soaked. She is reading Jane Eyre on the dock with her toes in the water. “I give that splash a 6.4,” Franny says as I come up for air. “I give it a seven,” says Kaia as she makes a leap off the dock. Just then, Mr. Calhoun, our cabin neighbor in his late seventies, can be heard puttering about in his fishing boat. He waves as he passes by us, sending waves along with it that rock the floating dock back and forth. We hang on like we are riding a bucking bronco. “Again! Again!” We call to him as he flips his boat around and passes us again, sending more waves our way. At that moment, Mr. Calhoun’s old fishing rig turns into a speed boat and you can see a gummy smile spanning across his face as he passes us one last time before disappearing around the bend. He used to have dentures, but he lost them one day when he was out fishing with Papa. “There’s a fish down there wearing a set of pearly whites,” Papa says when he takes us fishing, “grinning like the Cheshire Cat.” Franny is about to resume our splash competition when Kaia starts shrieking at the top of her lungs.
“B..E..A..R!” she screams, while pointing across the lake to a black bear nosing around the old logging cabins. “Stay calm,” Grams calls across the water, an anxious look written upon her face, “he is more afraid of you than you are of him.” Grams advice does little to nothing. We each run in circles around the dock, screaming at the top of lungs, flailing our arms every which way. The bear, not particularly fond of the circus, studies us before darting back into the forest. With all the commotion, Grams jumps into the water and swims out to the floating dock to calm us down. She climbs up the ladder and motions with her hands for us to settle down. “Congratulations girls,” she says with a smile, once we finally stop moving, “you just saw your first black bear.” I can feel my heart still thudding rapidly in my chest. Kaia has tears streaming down her face. Franny is shaking. “I’ll have to give you a lesson on what to do when you see a bear,” Grams continues. Grams knew we needed a distraction from the Great Bear Scare. She decides we are all old enough to play Pounce, the card game invented by our Great Grandma and passed down with each generation. Pounce is essentially one giant game of solitaire. The key to winning the game is being the first to run out of your pounce pile. Cards can only be taken out of the pounce pile if they are up next on one of the piles in the middle. The rule is 13 cards in the pounce pile for experts. As beginners, we put ten. I put nine in my pounce pile. It took me a few tries, but I easily became the self-ac-
claimed Queen of Pounce. “You’re such a cheater,” says Franny, after I win for the fifth time in a row. I merely shrug my shoulders and turn my nose up at her. It’s not my fault I was gifted the pounce playing genes and she wasn’t. “Just wait until you three begin playing pounce with your aunts,” Grams says. “Everyone gets called a cheater at some point.” Last year, Kaia told me about how our Aunt Sara left the table in tears after being called a cheater. Pounce is not taken lightly in our family. We get lost in the shuffling of pounce cards for hours. Just as evening sets in, Grams tells us it's time for our mocha party. She goes into her room and brings out three moo moos. A moo moo is what she calls her night gowns that are covered in vibrant tropical flowers. Kaia puts on a blue moo moo with purple flowers. Grams hands Franny a red moo moo with orange flowers. I am left with a green moo moo with yellow flowers. We put on our moo moos as Grams pours us giant cups of hot chocolate in the loon mugs. “One more marshmallow,” Franny reminds Grams, “since I was the first one in the lake.” Grams nods at Franny and drops two more marshmallows in her cup. As we sip our hot chocolate, Grams goes over to the record player and puts on Johnny Cash. Franny finds a coon hat hanging on the wall and puts it on her head. Grams pulls down two more coon hats from the wall and hands them to Kaia and I. We each put one on and began to dance to “A Ring of Fire.” We dance around, and around, and around. We dance through three cups of hot
chocolate. Once we dance most of our energy out, we grab the cheetah blanket and turn off all the lights. Grams lights a candle and sits in Papa’s napping chair for scary story time. She begins to tell us a story about a rabid grizzly bear who once terrorized the Swan Valley. “ … and he broke through the cabin window with a crash … spreading glass everywhere…” Grams says, looking up to find my eyes wide as the full moon on a clear night. “Would you like me to stop?” she asks, with a concerned look. Latching onto Kaia’s arm and burrowing under the cheetah blanket of protection, I shake my head no. Grams finishes her story and tells us it’s time for bed. Franny asks her if it’s a true story as we crawl up the ladder to the loft. Later that night, I sneak down from the loft and crawl into bed with Grams. I know she will protect me from any rabid grizzly bears that come knocking on the cabin’s squeaky screen door. As we packed up Oatmeal to go home the next day, I took one long look at the Loon’s Nest before climbing in. I loved it. The comforting slap of the screen door. The wrap around porch. Elbow Lake. The turtles. The captive snakes. Even the black bears. I loved all of it. I loved the Loon’s Nest, or did I love the Grandma who put up with us loons in her nest?
Failed at Flight Photography
Donna Faulkner née Miller Rangiora, New Zealand
On Rodents, Death, Free Will and Whatever Poetry
Fairfield, Connecticut, USA
The voles have been at the garden again. Or maybe it’s mice. Or shrews. Or whatever. silent and sneaky in their tunneling to devour the tender roots of just-sprouting wildflowers, whose seed I scattered so artfully not all that long ago.
But voles and mice and shrews etcetera can't be faulted for their predations any more than Benny can be blamed for his murderous forays. These creatures have no consciousness of choice; they hew to the narrow dictates of the biological imperative hardwired in their brains.
Benny’s been gone for two years now, and having no will to replace him I am catless. If he were here these miniature marauders would give wide berth to not only the garden but rest the of yard as well.
It’s only we Colossi, gifted with the awful power of free will, who spill our faults determinedly, purposefully – often gleefully – onto the invisible stage in the pursuit of appetite. Gain. Revenge. Whatever. We can’t blame God or Satan or anyone else for our transgressions.
More relentless than any rodent, Benny was a dedicated killer, regularly laying the questionable gifts of mangled furry bodies at my feet in a trail of blood and intestines whenever I sat outside pretending to read, but really lost in my own dark brooding.
Even so, knowing these furry wrecking crews haven’t particularly chosen my garden to destroy doesn't soften my dislike of voles and and mice and shrews etcetera and the mayhem they wreak upon defenseless plants with no chance of escape. It simply abrogates the small, intensely human pleasure of victimhood.
Rumours of Necessaria Morte Mori Poetry
Donna Faulkner, née Miller Rangiora, New Zealand
Little birds peck at dirty icebergs others croon, happy to have survived the night. The tomato plant, an aging statesman, prominent amongst the alabaster shroud. Delicate threads of cobwebs scaffold cinnamon stalks and ropey limbs. It’s carcass bare except for a few stray waifs and a sparse hoard of shriveled berries. The plant digs in, defiant at the dawn of winter. Red baubles and a sericeous wreath embrace a plant's dying bones
Going to Look for Adesua Fiction - Honorable Mention
Michael Chiedoziem Chukwudera Asaba, Nigeria
i It was the first day of school in third term, primary four. After the assembly, my classmates and I marched into our class while the teachers headed for their own short meeting and prayers, which they used to hold before they went to their classes to teach. We got into our class, and everybody looked new: All the boys had new hairstyles, the girls too. Some people who sewed new uniforms were showing themselves around class for everybody to see. But I was sad for nothing. I did not know how my body was doing because even though everybody was happy, talking about their holidays, I was quiet. Even when Obinna tried to hail me, I could not hail him back. I took the rag from Adaora, my seatmate, after she had cleaned her seat to clean my own. There were only two of us in our row. Adesua, the girl who stayed in the middle, was not in school; she had told me last term that she will not come to our school again this term, but she changed her mind when I begged her. I had not seen her during the holidays because I traveled to Lagos to spend the holiday with my uncle and his family. I wondered if she had changed her mind again. I decided that after school, I was going to go to their house to check if she had started another school. Her empty seat increased the space between me and my other seat mate, Adaora. And I did not want to talk with anybody, so I laid my head on the desk
as my classmates kept discussing. Soon, everybody became quiet as they heard the footsteps of teachers going to their various classrooms. The only noise that remained was the one being made by the birds which usually gather on top of the mango trees in the garden at the back of our class. Our teacher, Aunty Ese, came in, and even the birds that were singing kept quiet. Osagie, our class prefect, hit the table five times, and we all stood up and greeted, “Good morning, ma. We are happy to see you. May God bless you.” Even though I joined in the greeting, I was not happy to see Aunty Ese. She stood like a giant in front of our class with her black face and lips, which are always painted red. The new weaveon which she fixed was the type that was like a cap and almost covers one eye. She used one of her hands to wave it from the front of her eye. She smiled and said, “How are you doing class?” “We are fine, thank you, ma,” we all responded. “How are your parents?” We answered that they were fine. “I hope nobody lost any parents during the holidays?” Everybody answered that they did not. When it was time for her to ask us to sit down, Joy Obiegbunem raised her hands, “Aunty!”
And Aunty Ese’s face changed, “Oh, my dear, but I passed your mother’s shop today …” “No,” Joy said, “It is not my father or mother. It is Adesua.” Aunty Ese’s eyes quickly came to our seat row, and she saw that Adesua’s seat was empty. “She is not in school today,” Aunty Ese said. “What happened? I hope she is fine?” “She is dead,” Joy said, and everybody shouted “Jesus!” I did not shout it with them. I did not believe it. I had already thought about Adesua that morning and told myself I was going to pass through their house today and ask her why she did not come to school. I watched Aunty Ese as she stood where she was, her shoulders raised up to show that she was surprised. Everybody in the class started talking about what Joy had said. It looked like some of our classmates had even heard it before, but I did not believe it. I was planning to go to her house after school to check if she had started another school. “Joy, are you sure about what you are saying?” Aunty Ese said, when her mind came back. “Yes,” Joy said. “Who told you?” Aunty Ese said. “Her brother told me,” Joy said. “The day that I went to their house to see her and ask her if she will still come to our school because she told us that her father said she will not come to our school again
this term. When I went to their house and knocked on their door, her brother that used to come and carry her from school when we were in primary one came out. I told him that I wanted to see Adesua, and he told me that she fell down the stairs when she was running….” And Joy stopped talking as if something entered her throat, and she started crying more than she was crying before. “Was that how she died?’ “Yes, they rushed her to the hospital, and after some days, she died,” Joy said. By the time Joy finished telling us the story, some of my classmates' eyes were red, and tears were rushing like water. But my eyes were not red because I did not even believe what they were saying. Even when Aunty Ese, our teacher who likes to flog people anyhow, walked slowly to her desk, sat down and bent her head on the desk and started crying, I did not cry because I did not believe. Was it not her that made Adesua tell her father that she would not come to our school again? Since we came into her class in primary three, we didn't go for a break; I was thinking about how we used to be inside the class and hear people in other classes playing suwe and football during break time, and she would say we should stay inside to read our books. She would only give us five minutes to go outside and buy food, and if anybody stayed past those five minutes, that person had entered trouble that day. Last term, Adesua spent some time because the woman from whom she was buying something did not have any change. That was the day Aunty Ese used vex to flog Adesua all over her body because
she told her to bring her hands. and Adesua was explaining. As she was swinging the slim cane all over Adesua’s body, and Adesua was dancing and crying, the cane landed on top of Adesua's eye and blood started coming out. All of us thought that Aunty Ese had blinded one of Adesua’s eyes till we saw that it was on top of her eyebrow that the blood was coming from. Was that not the day that Adesua told me that she will not come to our school this term? Even though Aunty Ese later apologized in front of the whole class, Adesua’s mind was no longer in our school again. Aunty Ese loves flogging too much. What other teachers will warn their children to not do again, Aunty Ese will flog for. Even though she used to laugh with us sometimes and ask us about our parents and say she used to pray for us, she will still flog us for any small thing. When they promoted us to primary four, they promoted her with us because the children that are entering primary three went and started crying to their parents that the teacher in their new class is very wicked. So I said in my mind that this cry that Aunty Ese was crying today was not going to make me believe that Adesua is dead. After school, I knew I was going to go to Adesua’s house to see her. Soon, teachers from other classes started to come to our class. I did not know how, maybe somebody went to tell one of them, but it was as if the news was spreading outside our class, like fire on dry grass. Many of the teachers in our school started coming inside our class, even Mrs. Ehinomen, our headmistress. When they came, they saw our Aunty crying and many of my classmates too
— so, they stood in front of our class looking at us and our teacher like people that were watching a sad film. It was as if they came to pour kerosene inside fire because as they stood there, the crying increased. Nobody was able to say anything, but it was as if everything had been said. Some of the teachers that came to our class started crying with us. Uncle Madu, our housemaster, walked slowly to my row and sat on top of my desk. His head was just down as if he was thinking, but he was not crying. My father always says that the worst a man can be is to be sad, and a man does not cry. He would shout at me if I cried when my elder sister beat me, and he would ask me to clean my eyes before he beat me more. ii Last term, a boy died in our school. They said he was crossing the wide main road at upper mission that leads to New Benin market, and a tipper hit him. Everybody was sad, but our teachers did not gather in the boy’s class even though some people who knew him cried too. But the boy was not popular in our school, and when our teacher was told about the boy, she did not know who he was till our headmistress brought a picture from our last graduation ceremony which had the boy in it. Adesua’s case was different because she was the fastest runner in our school’s inter-house sport last term. She was in my house, yellow house, and Uncle Madu was our housemaster. During practice, he tested all of us in different sports and put us in the ones he saw we knew how
to do. That was when he chose Adesua as one of the people who will represent our house in running and gymnastics. He used to say she had the body of an Olympian and a skeleton made of spring because she ran so fast and twisted her body into different shapes as if it was easy. She would bend her body backwards and use her hand to steady it when her head was about to touch the ground. Then she would move her hands to touch her legs, and her shape would be like a tire. Sometimes, she would almost roll. She used to spread her legs, straight, one backwards, the other forward, the way they do on TV. Sometimes, almost everybody gathered to watch her as she did those things. Then on our inter-house sports day, she came first in the 100-meters and 200-meters race, and also the high jump, even beating some people in primary five! From that day, everybody in our school came to know that there was a girl called Adesua. iii It’s already past one o'clock in the afternoon, and they have just rung the closing bell. It was not a sweet day in school at all. Our class was too quiet, and our teacher was teaching us with a heavy voice. If you heard her, you would know that she had truly cried, and it made me know she was not forming that cry in the morning. It was a real cry. The news had touched everybody because they all love Adesua. Even me that did not believe the news, I was not able to talk. By eleven o’clock, the break bell had rung, and for the first time in as long as we could remember, our teacher asked all of
us to go for break. Everybody was surprised. That was the only time there was a noise in class today, as everybody rushed out of the class, most of my classmates happy as if they had forgotten the news in the morning. But after we returned from break and saw that Aunty Ese’s eyes were red, the sadness came back again like a person who returned to sit with all of us in the chair, but still, I did not believe that Adesua was dead. Now, I am walking home along with some of my school people. After we pass the gate, we divide into two. Some people go to their houses through the road on the right and some others go through the road on the left. Adesua used to go with us to the road on the left. Her street is two streets before my own. Sometimes, I can pass through her street and come out in another street that comes out in my own street. But that road is more far than the straight road. But I will take the longer road because I am going to see Adesua in her house. When I see her, tomorrow I will go to school and announce to everybody that she is alive. Just before we get to Ajayi street where Adesua’s father’s house is, we see many people gathered; they are looking at a big dead snake which a man is holding up on a stick. Some of my schoolmates stop to watch, but I will not stop. I am going to see Adesua, so I can beg her to come back to our school and tell her how everybody thinks she has died and how Aunty Ese has been crying for her! I wonder how she would feel about this. She would probably be surprised and feel sorry for Aunty Adesua. She is like that. She has a mind of pity.
The staircase is dark as I get there. I have not climbed it before but from downstairs, I have seen Adesua standing upstairs many times, and I know which of the flats she lives in. I have already used my eyes to know which step I will climb and which door I will knock. The stairs are cool, but it is dark because there is no window, and you have to pass through a dark passage to get to it. The only place where light is coming from is the top, wall where some holes are designed. Some like circles, some triangles, some stars. It is as if different suns are shining through each one of them as I look up. I am also seeing dust dancing through the lines of sunlight as I climb the stairs. I knock on the door the first time, and nobody answers. I knock again, and I hear her brother’s voice ask from inside, “Who be dat?!” and I answer, “Na me!” He asks again, “Who you be?” and I say, “Adesua classmate.” Everywhere is now quiet in the staircase. Maybe the boy is not going to open the door for me. I want to go downstairs, but another mind is telling me to knock again. Another is telling me to wait. As my different minds are busy telling me different things, I hear somebody coming to the door, and then, the person opens the door, and it is Adesua’s brother. It is as if the resemblance between him and Adesua has increased! His lips and nose are red and long like her own, and even his eyes are shining as he is looking at me. “Good afternoon.” I say. “Good afternoon,” he says. I don’t know how to say what I want to say. “You come see us?” he says.
“Yes,” I say, thinking of how to ask him if it is true that Adesua has died. “Oya nah, come inside,” he says shifting for me to enter. As I enter the house, the first thing I see on the balcony is Adesua’s picture on a small table rounded with flowers! From nowhere, I gather my mind, and I turn to Adesua’s brother and ask him, “So na true say Adesua done die?” iv My legs are heavy as I reach our home. It was as if I would not reach at all when I was coming. As I pass through the passage, I can hear my father practicing Osita Osadebe’s Makojo, anyi ga-ebi oo with his piano inside his room. But I go through the passage into my room. With force, I kick out my shoes from my legs and one flies towards the window, the other flies towards my father’s bookshelf, which he kept in our room. And I fall on top of my bed and start crying all the cry that I did not cry in school because I did not believe that Adesua had died. I wish I could still continue not believing it, but her brother couldn’t have lied to me. All these things are going up and down in my mind as I am crying. I look up and I see my father standing next to my bed, and I try to control the cry, but I cannot. I am crying and having hiccups. I know my father hates to see me cry; I know he will rather beat me than console me because for him, a man cannot cry, only women. So I try more to control the crying when I see him. But the more I try to control the cry, the more it comes out. When my father sees that it is not an ordinary cry, he asks me what happened,
and I tell him while I am still crying that my friend who is my classmate in school died when I traveled to Lagos for holidays, and I continue crying. For the first time in my life, my father is not telling me to not cry, as a man, but he comes to sit next to me and hugs me. I feel as if they poured cold water on my body even though my father’s body was warm. The surprise made me cry more. “It’s okay. It’s okay my son,” he says. I try again to control my crying, but I cannot control it, and so I keep crying in my father’s arms. If Adesua could die like this, I know now for the first time in my life that anybody can also die without expecting it.
Funeral Attire Poetry
Abbey Lynne Rays
Dublin, California, USA
There is no funeral in the filter drop down menu. Graduation, wedding guest, covered. Celebratory life moments are easy. But this is anything but. No lace or chiffon please. Give me a black shift, something that says, do not look here. I am mourning a life. I do not want spaghetti straps, necklines that sparkle. Give me something simple, that I won’t grimace in, as my white knuckles grip the church pew. Let this one thing be easy, not another, for which I am lost, unprepared.
Japanese Ceremonial Tea Painting
Pleasanton, California, USA
Talking Out Loud Poetry
Donna Faulkner née Miller Rangiora, New Zealand
In the bathroom a toothbrush hardens, leaning against mine in a glass.
Friends armed with casseroles and bin bags arrived this morning.
Spectacles perch an open book by your chair.
Gathering up boots and shoes and jackets hung with ties in the wardrobe.
In bed, old spice fades, the dent in the sheet bounces back.
“I kissed away tears as you wept ”
A whirlwind wiping as they went. I am not ready for their best intentions.
“I flicked on the light as you passed”
Cards clutter the mantle gathering dust.
Hidden safe in shared spaces, remnants of you vanishing. I cannot sense you here anymore.
A letter waits in the mailbox, A bill in your name.
“I dropped a feather on the doorstep as I left ”
six weeks // heartbeat
Kirksville, Missouri, USA
Danville, California, USA
my body is mine / when it is not being borrowed / cast on, cast off / hung like drapes / over taller bodies / then pinned moth-like / to mattresses and sheets / come, my limbs / are dripping and sweet / all liquid / like water / honey / blood / what runs / and runs / then floods / i could create a world / i could destroy it / these burdens / are mine / and still i’m small as a fly / hard to catch / easy to kill / a feeble whine / beside your ear / call me the god of soft / some pocket talisman / for you to handle / little lady luck / strip off my red dress / and black spots / oh god / aren’t i pretty / all splayed out / split open / head to tail / a delight dissected / a damn pretty thing / machine / cell / machine / a factory of touch / now gone all rotten / i can’t stand / to house anything / i killed the bats in the rafters / sent the roaches homeless / condemned the crickets / made a morgue of mice / they hand me the gasoline / tell me to set this bitch aflame / a fire to kiss my toes / one last riot of heat / before i go / my death all bright and holy / hot tongues on my knees / i am a feast / a feast / a feast
Early summer morning I pause in my walk to pray over this dead owl face down in the dirt soft feathers spread like a summer blanket Day after day bird of wisdom and omen remains silent & untouched no scavenger tears at the flesh no curious cat bats it away Road crew stops, mows around it I pick up a flat rock carry it home take out my paints soft grays and greens a bit of mustardy yellow for beak and eyes winged life memorialized on this miniature tombstone for weeks they remain there together flesh and feather, bone and stone
The Quiet Room Non-Fiction - Third Place
Kayla Sabella Weaver Modesto, California, USA
The lights are bright and hurt my eyes, but not in that way when you first step outside in the afternoon and must squint into the warmth of the glaring sun above. No, these lights of the emergency room are long, fluorescent bulbs, an unnatural white hue that drives away any shadows that lurk in the corners, even in the darkest of these early morning hours. It smells funny, a combination of hospital grade cleaner and something like a nursing home. You know, that smell that old people have. Of sickness, of death clinging close. I try not to make eye contact with those sitting in the waiting area; a coughing baby in a mother’s arms, the homeless man slumped over in sleep, a large man in a wheelchair, his leg propped up on a chair. I feel foreign amongst them, sitting with my sisters, a couple of college kids, because we aren’t here to seek medical treatment. Instead, we are waiting for news on my mother. The phone call was only seconds long. Apologies from her boyfriend, police sirens in the background. He sounds panicked as he tries to explain what happened. Then he hangs up. That’s all we got, all we needed to hear before we were in motion, calling every hospital until we found where she could be. My grandfather paces behind us, occasionally asking the weary nurses behind the desk. “Is she here, can you tell me if it’s her?
Is she okay?” And they can only tell him the same generic answers. No, they can’t confirm it’s her. They don’t know her condition. Just wait, the doctor will come talk to us. I hold my drowsy son in my arms. He is almost three years old, but even the commotion and panic from earlier hadn’t been enough to keep him up. He lulls between wake and sleep until we are called. “Weaver family? Right this way, please.” I cling to my son, relief washing through me as my siblings and I rise and follow the nurse through the door separating the waiting room from the rest of the hospital. My son stirs as I reposition him. “Don’t worry we’ll go see Nana now.” I mutter to him. I remember smiling, thinking we would be led to a hospital bed, where I imagined seeing her sitting up, waiting for us. Instead, I feel my heart skip as we are led to another room to wait in. Still, I shake off my anxiety. I’m grateful for warmer, softer lighting and settle into a comfortable couch. My siblings do the same; we even chat about seeing my mom soon, any minute now. My grandfather is the only one who remains standing. I don’t think it dawns on me even as two police officers enter the room. I think, maybe, they want to go over the car accident. Maybe her boyfriend was arrested. I glance at a plastic bag in one of
the officer’s hands. They ask if we are her children. “I’m sorry...” One of them is saying. He placed the bag of my mother’s belongings into my grandpa’s hands. I don’t hear what else he says, and don’t need to. His apology is a confirmation of the worst possible outcome. I’m not sure why they call it the Quiet Room. Our world breaking in two is anything but quiet. The cries of a mother’s children, of disbelief, of denial, of anguish echoing in the small space. There are moments of soft sobbing, of phone calls. My brothers join us later, only for pain to tear through us anew. Anger, a trash can kicked against a wall, cursing. A turmoil of emotion, a hurricane of grief. When all is said and done, we leave the hospital that night with the echoes of our loss. Death is anything but quiet.
June Morning Painting
Livermore California, USA
Oblivious Grace Painting
Tracy, California, USA
A “Cathedral” Issue in Society; Silent but Toxic Academic
Nominated by Professor Amy Moellering
As the famous scientist, writer, and actor Stephen Hawkins once said, “Quiet people have the loudest minds.” This went unnoticed by millions of people who were unwilling to take the time and hear what people with unique, individualized needs were saying. Some of them did not care. Others were not educated on the disability community and had a false idea of it. The fact is that each person, each disability, is uniquely different. When one can walk and talk, they may have a cognitive disability that may affect their ability to handle themselves appropriately. Or for others, such as Morrie Schwartz, they are highly sophisticated, yet they are unable to take care of themselves physically. In the short story “Cathedral,” by Raymond Carver, the narrator is informed about a visit with his wife’s friend who is blind. The narrator has never experienced a person with a disability before, and that, unfortunately, interferes with him being accepting of disabilities. The story is set in 1981, before the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) got established in 1990. There was a lot of prejudice towards the disability community at that time, and it’s proven in the story by the narrator having an ableist mindset towards Robert in thoughts and comments he makes behind Robert’s back. How was ableism in the 1980’s for the disabled community? How has it transformed throughout the years? “Cathedral” exposes ableism and challenges the reader’s thinking on how
to deal with the disabled community and how to handle ableism more appropriately. First and foremost, the narrator in “Cathedral” came across as ableist in the beginning of the story. The narrator states that he was not looking forward to the visit of Robert, who is blind. He adds that “his [SIC] being blind bothered me” (Carver 1). This raised the question: How did people act in the 1980’s before the ADA law when a person was in the presence of an individual with a disability? To answer this, in the article called “Disability Studies, Disabled People and the Struggle for Inclusion” by Mike Olivera and Colin Barnes, the authors explain how the disabled community struggles to be accepted in the society. The authors state, “Mainstream sociology has historically shown little interest in the issue of disability” (549). People who were able-bodied had very little interest in the disabled community. The disabled community’s issues, such as accessibility, were not considered in a decision before 1990. They had no voice in the society. People who were disabled hoped that they met more understanding, able-bodied individuals versus those who were not. Thus, the narrator was not educated or properly exposed to people with disabilities. He didn’t know any better. He was following a misguided idea that the able-bodied community was suggesting. Due to this,
he was being ableist by just following the stories that were being told and applying them to Robert before he could be proven wrong. In addition to the narrator’s original comment about how blindness bothered him, he was still ableist. The narrator downgrades Robert and scrutinizes him as something that he was disgusted by: “He didn’t use a cane and he didn’t wear dark glasses… Fact was, I wish he had a pair… the pupils seemed to move around in the sockets without his knowing it or being able to stop it. Creepy” (Carver 5). Since the story was written in 1981, the narrator was not exposed to people with unique, different needs. Therefore, some may fall curious about the impact in an able-bodied individual’s childhood for the disabled community. In the article “They Never Pass Me the Ball: Exposing Ableism Through the Leisure Experiences of Disabled Children, Young People, and Their Families” by Nick Hodgea and Katherine Runswick-Cole, the article states that the disabled children have to constantly work on their skills to be “normal” (3). The leisure time for children with disabilities is often overlooked and overridden by having to practice to “fit in.” Thus, the narrator is not well versed in the disabled community because he never saw it as a kid. This has cost him many opportunities to get to know some amazing people with disabilities. Robert forced the narrator’s eyes opened in his adult-
hood; meanwhile, this has prevented him being more open-minded and accepting of others in his childhood and part of his adulthood before he met Robert. Yes, it is important for kids with disabilities to practice their skills, yet not at the expense of acceptance from the “mainstream,” able-bodied community. While “Cathedral” comes from a place of fiction, the story’s meaning is true. Ableism is in daily life for so many people. In “Cathedral,” Robert is the victim of ableism by a man who is not willing to come into a situation with an open mind. This is a great reputation for millions of people around the world who get misjudged, unable to get a fair chance to prove themselves, and unable to participate and be taken seriously in an educated, professional, or a leisure setting. The narrator has a difficult time with imagining Robert having a wife. When the narrator was explaining the scene where the wife was dying in the hospital, he couldn’t feel bad for Robert for losing his wife. Instead, he felt bad for the wife for marrying a man who could not appreciate her looks. The narrator was explaining the hospital scene where the wife, Beulah, was dying, and he described it as “his blind eyes streaming tears… [the narrator thought that Beulah had her last thought that] he never even knew what she looked like, and she on an express to the grave… Pathetic” (Carver 4). The idea of Robert being unable to judge his wife’s looks is ableist and narrow minded. According to “Outsider Privileges Can Lead to Insider Disadvantages: Some Psychosocial Aspects of Ableism” by Dana S. Dunn, it states that “outsiders perceive disability
as a negative outcome bourn by insiders, though in reality, the disability itself may not be experienced as a necessarily negative state” (Dunn 668). The narrator in “Cathedral” was not able to imagine Robert as a man. Instead, he felt sorry for Beulah for not receiving a compliment from her husband about how she might look. Since the disabled community was not common in the 1980’s and before, then it was not in the forefront in society. Therefore, the narrator never had to interact with an individual with a disability previously, and he didn’t know how to react to the news of Robert having a relationship with a woman. While the narrator in “Cathedral” is ableist and the story is about ableism, it also offers a unique insight into an unusual connection between an able-bodied individual and an individual with a disability. The wife of the narrator is open-minded and accepting of Robert and his life. From the very beginning and throughout the story, the reader sees an unusual–yet a real–connection and friendship between the wife and Robert. The reader is able to observe the differences between an individual who has an ableist mindset and an individual who is willing to accept Robert’s disability and his life. A good example of this is when she got Robert from the train station and brought him inside the house. She was assisting Robert to get inside. The wife mapped the house out for Robert: “To your left here, Robert. That’s right. Now watch it, there’s a chair. That’s it. Sit down right here. This is the sofa” (Carver 4). If Robert was not able to get his position at the office for the county’s social department, then he would
not have needed to post the advertisement in the newspaper to seek reading assistance. Before the 1980’s, job opportunities were not very common for the disabled community. In the article called “A Brief History of the Disability Rights Movement” by Doris Zames Fleischer and Frieda Zames, it gives the reader the timeline of ableism. It states, “The Rehabilitation Act of 1973 (Section 504) provided equal opportunity for employment within the federal government and in federally funded programs, prohibiting discrimination on the basis of either physical or mental disability” (2). This is important for Robert because this law gave him the opportunity to work in a branch of the government. If this was not in place, then the wife of the narrator would not have been hired as Robert’s assistant. Hence, if she was not hired, then she wouldn’t have known how to guide Robert and the vocabulary that he needs to get his surroundings. Although disabilities have been accepted in the 21st century, that hasn’t always been the case. “Cathedral” is a prime example of the acceptance process from individuals that can be casted to the US government. In the short story, the narrator had a change of heart and thought process when he was ending the story. The wife was not able to stay awake with Robert and her husband, so she fell asleep when she was sitting with them on the couch after they ate. The narrator was watching TV, and after a little while he started explaining the scenes that they were watching. He realized that Robert didn’t know what a cathedral
looked like. Therefore, they decided to draw one together, so Robert could feel the shape of it. In the article called “Disabled Bodies and Ableist Acceptance” by Sarah Wanenchak, she states, “[W]e are uncomfortable with disabled bodies that question or trouble our accepted, hierarchical categories of abled and disabled… We are far more comfortable with them when they perform in such a way that they reinforce the supremacy of those categories. They become acceptable to us.” Since Robert was able to break the ice with the narrator through conversations and actions, then the narrator was able to see Robert as a man. He didn’t see Robert’s disability as something that held him back in life. Therefore, he sees the world in a different light when the story ends. Stephen Hawkins was right; the quietest people do have the loudest minds. They have an inner voice, banging to get out. The voice is screaming, sometimes too loud, yet it was not taken seriously for many years from the able-bodied community. “Cathedral” offers a unique insight into the disabled community and their challenges with ableism. Although the story takes place forty years ago, ableism is still happening today. It is an ongoing issue for thousands of people around the world. Yes, the government is better, and they have laws today protecting the citizens who have a disability. They also have organizations offering specialized services, such as Support Living Services, so a disabled individual could live independently in their own place with caregivers. However, Robert did not have all of these laws and regulations that the
21st century brings to people. He had to fight against the world to prove himself in an ableist society. Ableism has a long road ahead of itself for more change and inclusion with the mainstream community. Robert is an outstanding example of how an individual can overcome an ableist world. It takes one person to influence change, and let’s hope that someone can influence change and acceptance more for ableism. Stephen Hawkins and Morrie Schwartz were living examples of how ableism is affected in the disabled community. They had to prove themselves in society because they had a disability to overcome, just such as Robert does in “Cathedral.” Stephen Hawkins confirmed the Black Hole Theory. What if he was not taken seriously because of people’s unfair, ableist bias towards him because he used a chair and a communication device? Would the theory still need to be proven? What if Robert did not get his position at the Social Security County Office? Would applicants get misjudged if an able-bodied, white privileged individual was the one who was reviewing the applications instead of Robert? Ableism affects so many lives without knowing it from the mainstream community, so it needs a greater voice in the society. When one looks different, should they be treated differently? The society needs to rethink how to involve the disabled community more in the “mainstream” activities. So, will one reconsider how to involve someone with a disability more? “Cathedral” showed the reader a serious issue, and it is up to society to act.
Works Cited Dunn, Dana S. “Outsider Privileges Can Lead to Insider Disadvantages: Some Psychosocial Aspects of Ableism.” Journal of Social Issues, vol. 75, no. 3, 2019, pp. 665–682., doi:10.1111/josi.12331. Fleischer, Doris Z, and Frieda Zames. “A Brief History of the Disability Rights Movement.” Anti-Defamation League, 2001, www.adl.org/education/resources/backgrounders/disability-rights-movement. Hodge, Nick, and Katherine Runswick-Cole. “‘They Never Pass Me the Ball’: Exposing Ableism through the Leisure Experiences of Disabled Children, Young People and Their Families.” Children's Geographies, vol. 11, no. 3, 2013, pp. 311–325., doi:10.1080/14733285.2013.812275. Oliver, Mike, and Colin Barnes. “Disability Studies, Disabled People and the Struggle for Inclusion.” British Journal of Sociology of Education, vol. 31, no. 5, 2010, pp. 547–560., doi:10.1080/01425692.2010.500088. Raymond. Cathedral. 1981, www.giuliotortello.it/ebook/cathedral.pdf. Wanenchak, Sarah. “Disabled Bodies and ABLEIST Acceptance - Sociological Images.” Sociological Images Disabled Bodies and Ableist Acceptance Comments, 16 Jan. 2012, thesocietypages.org/socimages/2012/01/16/disabled-bodies-and-ableist-acceptance/x
Black Women and Their Position in Contemporary Politics Academic
Nominated by Professor Joanna T. Jen
In the 1960s, middle-class white women dominated the women's liberation movement and left little room for black women and other women of color to participate. In 2021, not much has changed with the lack of representation of black women in high political positions and women's movements. In bell hooks’ book Feminist Theory from Margin to Center, she perfectly explains how difficult it was for black women to participate in women’s movements, "The exclusionary practices of women who dominate feminism discourse have made it practically impossible for new and varied theories to emerge," (hooks 9). Black women were left out of women's movements and were disproportionately affected by patriarchy and sexist oppression long before white women created the women's liberation movement. Due to white women’s exclusionary efforts, they were the first to obtain high political positions and continued to serve as the primary group of women who held the highest political positions in the United States until 2020. The women's liberation movement in 1960 sought to gain equal rights and equal opportunity for women across the United States. Women were exhausted from playing into gender roles where their primary jobs were housewives. They wanted higher education, equal, pay, and shared childcare responsibility with their husbands, thus ensuing the women's liber-
ation movement, although, the women's liberation movement was not as inclusive of other women as it seemed to be. Many of the books written during the time, such as Betty Friedan's "The Feminine Mystique," show a very one-sided perspective of how sexist discrimination affected primarily white middle-class housewives. Black women and other women of color had no representation in women's rights books, and the movement and often felt as if they were unable to participate. bell hooks proves this when she says, “When I participated in feminist groups, I found that white women adopted a condescending attitude towards me and other nonwhite participants” (hooks 11). This condescending attitude was likely a result of white women’s racism. In fact, white women's interest in sexual inequality was partly sparked by their racism. In an article by Vox that mentions white women gaining the right to vote (which occurred after black men gained the right in 1870), the author quotes an angered white woman stating, "If educated women are not as fit to decide who shall be the rulers of this country, as 'field hands,' then where's the use of culture, or any brain at all?" bell hooks also makes a vital point about middle-class white women and how exclusive they were. She alludes in her book, "White women who dominate feminist discourse today rarely question whether or not their perspective on women's reality is true to the lived experiences
of women as a collective group." (hooks 3), While white women's perspective on women's reality was a shared experience by other women, it certainly was not the experiences of all women as a collective group. Not only has black women's participation in U.S. politics been crucial since they obtained the formal right to vote after the passing of the Voting Rights Act of 1965, but it was vital and extremely impactful in the last year. Forbes magazine states, “More than two-thirds of Black women turned out to vote in the 2020 presidential election.” Black women are the third-highest voters of any race-gender group. It was Stacey Abrams, a black woman from Georgia who ran for governor in 2018, who ensured voter suppression did not affect the outcome of the 2020 presidential election. If black women are this impactful to U.S. politics, why are they so underrepresented and comprise only 6% of Congress? The answer is not very complicated. Black women are victims of intersectionality. They are disadvantaged by being black and women and are disproportionately affected by racism, sexism, and discrimination in all aspects of life, including political atmospheres. In an article by Brookings.edu, they state, "When black girls get out of school and into the workforce, they have to work more than 66 years to earn what a white man earns in 40. Black women have lower earnings than black men, as
well as white men and women." This issue doesn’t resolve as more black women enter political atmospheres either. When black women run for office, they are less prone to acquiring the necessary funding and endorsements that help set up campaigns. bell hooks explains, "Groups of women who feel excluded from feminist discourse and praxis can make a place for themselves only if they first create, via critiques, and awareness of factors that alienate them" (9). Due to the structural racism and sexism black women face, they don’t have access to the necessary candidate training to help them turn their experience into effective campaign strategies These factors make the barriers of entry into politics very restrictive for black women. There are high expectations placed on women in politics. Restrictions are placed on how they're allowed to dress, wear their hair, and do their makeup, amongst other things. These expectations are even higher and stricter for black women, especially when relating to their hair. The importance of black hair is historic. Black people have the most diverse hair globally; traditionally, it is worn in braids, twisted, afro styles, or dreaded. In many states, black students, working professionals, and political figures can be fired, bullied, and tormented for wearing their natural hairstyles. White people have forced black men and women to conform to Eurocentric beauty standards, which has been the dominant culture in the United States for over 100 years. Eurocentric beauty standards affect how black people are expected to wear their hair, but it also affects people's perception of what is
"beautiful," usually of tiny lips, straight hair, a small nose, and fair skin. Moreover, most black hairstyles are commonly seen as unprofessional, unkempt, and inappropriate. When black women try to stand up for their right to wear their hair as they please, they're often faced with backlash and ridicule. Fortunately, more states and people are recognizing the hair discrimination that exists within businesses and politics. For example, California became the first state to enact a ban against discrimination based on one’s natural hair in 2019. Beyond that, the U.S. military has also updated its uniform and grooming regulations. Black women are now allowed to wear their hair in various styles, such as locs or "dreadlocks." Military Captain McFadden is quoted in a New York Times article stating, "It's long overdue. It shows that the Army is recognizing we can be soldiers and still be ourselves, that being a soldier and a black woman is valid and valued." In the history of the United States, there have only been three vice-presidential candidates who were women, and zero who were black women or other women of color. However, during the presidential election of 2020, Joe Biden would make history by announcing the first black woman, Kamala Harris, as his vice-presidential pick. Once Joe Biden and Kamala Harris won the presidential election of 2020, the barriers of entry for black women in politics would become slightly more accessible. As soon as the presidential race was called to an end, nine women ranging from Black, Asian, and Latina had been newly elected to the U.S. House of Representatives, bringing the total number
of black women in Congress to 25 (out of 117 women) according to the Rutgers University Center for American Women and Politics. However, Kamala Harris noted that there is still "a long way to go," until black women are adequately represented and supported in politics and business. The 2020 election seemed like a big win for women in politics. However, as Kamala Harris said, there is still a long way to go. Unfortunately, black women are continuously severely underrepresented in politics on national and local levels. States such as Texas can still enact harmful and unreasonable reproductive laws, restrictive hairstyle rules still exist within politics and businesses, and violence against women is very prevalent. A handful of different male celebrities and politicians have been exposed for sexually assaulting women, namely the United States former President Donald Trump and Brett Kavanaugh (Associate Justice of the Supreme Court), which resulted in new waves of the #MeToo movement. It often feels like we're going backward when we think about women's rights and women's rights movements since men still have a significant influence on what women are allowed to do, what political positions they can hold, and what women can do with their bodies. However, I believe that eventually, we will see societal norms change. Women's bodies will not be consistently on a debate block, and women of all races will be better represented in politics on all levels. As bell hooks said, "Sexism as a system of domination is institutionalized, but it has never determined in an absolute way the fate
of all women in this society" (hooks 5). I envision sexism as a system will be dismantled, and eventually, it will not determine the fate of any woman regardless of their race in this society.
Works Cited Hooks, Bell. “Feminist Theory from Margin to Center.” Wordpress.com, 2017, https://funceji.files.wordpress.com/2017/08/bell_hooks_feminist_theory_ from_margin_to_ centebookzz-org_.pdf. CAWP Staff. “Results: Women Candidates in the 2020 Elections.” CAWP, 9 Feb. 2021, https://cawp.rutgers.edu/election-analysis/results-women-candidates-2020elections. Grady, Constance. “The Waves of Feminism, and Why People Keep Fighting over Them, Explained.” Vox, Vox, 20 Mar. 2018, https://www.vox. com/2018/3/20/16955588/feminism-waves-explained-first-second-thirdfourth. King, Vanessa, and Dieynaba Niabaly. “The Politics of Black Womens' Hair.” The Politics of Black Women's Hair, 2013, https://cornerstone.lib.mnsu.edu/cgi/ viewcontent.cgi?article=1003&context=jur. Philipps, Dave. “In a Changing Military, the Army Eases Its Rules for Women's Hair.” The New York Times, The New York Times, 26 Feb. 2021, https://www.nytimes.com/2021/02/26/us/army-haircut-women-grooming-standard.html. Schnall, Marianne. “New Report on the State of Black Women in American Politics Highlights Both Progress and Untapped Potential.” Forbes, Forbes Magazine, 4 Nov. 2021, https://www.forbes.com/sites/marianneschnall/2021/11/03/new-report-on-the-state-ofblack-womenin-american-politics-highlights-both-progress-and-untappedpotential/?sh=d8104706fd48. Wingfield, Adia Harvey. “Women Are Advancing in the Workplace, but Women of Color Still Lag Behind.” Brookings.edu, Brookings, 6 Jan. 2021, https:// www.brookings.edu/essay/women-are-advancing-in-the-workplace-butwomen-ofcolor-still-lag-behind/. Philipps, Dave. “In a Changing Military, the Army Eases Its Rules for Women's Hair.” The New York Times, The New York Times, 26 Feb. 2021, https://www.nytimes.com/2021/02/26/us/army-haircut-women-grooming-standard.html. 187
Count Your Blessing Academic
Nominated by Professor Richard Dry
The Book of Joy, by Douglas Abrams, teaches how to find joy and blessing in any situation. In the book, Abrams interviews the Dalai Lama and Archbishop Desmond Tutu; together, they created the eight pillars of joy: perspective, humility, humor, acceptance, forgiveness, gratitude, generosity, and compassion. Perspective is how we see our situations and what we make out of them. Humility is the understanding that we all need help, love, and community. Humor is a way to lift your spirit, laugh, and connect with others. Acceptance is acknowledging what is. Forgiveness is essential to give ourselves and others because grudges take away happiness. Gratitude is to be thankful for life, support, lessons, and love. Generosity is giving to others, whether it be your time, resources, or skills. Compassion is love for yourself and others; it's about helping others how you are able; in return, you will feel joy and find that others want to help you. Abrams, the Dalia Lama, and Archbishop Desmond Tutu agree that all other pillars are easy to accomplish when we have genuine compassion for others and ourselves. While reading The Book of Joy, I learned how many blessings can be found while enduring hardship and loss; the difficult times make celebrating the happy times that much more wonderful. Becoming a mother is the highlight of my life. It is beautiful, messy, wonderful, and painful. Childbirth, for example, is ex-
cruciating and exhausting, but all of that pain seems to disappear instantly when you hold your baby for the first time. In the chapter, "Why Are You Not Morose," the Dalai Lama uses this example when he says, "And even after the most painful labor, once the baby is out, you can't measure the mother's joy. It is one of those incredible things that joy can come so quickly from suffering" (qtd. in Abrams 32). I was in labor, with my son Nolan, for 16 hours. It was painful, and when it was time to push him out, I had to muster up every last bit of energy I could find left in me. When he was out of my body, I was so happy to hold him close to me. A couple of minutes after he was placed in my arms, I noticed bubbles in his mouth. I asked my nurse if that was normal. She looked at him curiously and took him from me. She measured his oxygen and calmly said, "I'm calling the NICU." In minutes, a nurse from the NICU was in our room. She performed a similar test and said," I have to take him and get him on oxygen right away!" My heart sank. I felt like I couldn't catch my breath. Instantly, I felt my life so connected to his; I had an instant need to protect and care for him. Thankfully, it didn't take long before Nolan's oxygen levels were up, and he was brought to my room. The moment I held him again, all the pain and anguish disappeared. Having my son was one of the happiest days of my life. While giving birth to my son was a joyful
day, the day Adelyn was born was the saddest day of my life. In the chapter, "Nothing Beautiful Comes Without Suffering," the authors discuss overcoming hardship and finding joy. The Archbishop goes on to say, "It is painful, and you have to acknowledge that it is painful. But actually, even in the midst of that pain, you can recognize the gentleness of the nurse who is looking after you" (qtd. in Abrams 46). When I was 20 weeks pregnant with my daughter Adelyn, my water broke prematurely. I can still remember the look on my doctor's face when she confirmed my water broke and I wouldn't be carrying my baby to full term. I cried out so loud in despair. I was losing my baby. It was still too early on in my pregnancy for modern medicine to save her. I was home when it was time for Adelyn to leave my body. It was all a blur as first responders came to my house to rush me to the hospital. When I arrived, I was beside myself in grief, anticipating what was to come. Before I knew it, I held the tiniest and most beautiful baby, who instantly became an angel. During my stay at the hospital, every nurse and doctor showed me so much love. All my nurses held my hand and cried alongside me. While this was the darkest moment in my life, I never experienced so much compassion, love, and kindness from strangers. Sometimes a loss can open the door to many new blessings. In the chapter "Sadness and Greif: The Hard Times Knit
Us More Closely Together," the Archbishop says, "It is the hard times, the painful times, the sadness and the grief that knit us more closely together" (qtd. in Abrams 111). A few months after losing Adelyn, my stepdaughter Kyrah asked to come live with us. My husband and I made it clear that she was welcome and wanted. She went through a difficult time with friends and family; she expressed that she needed us. We took her in with open arms. We were happy to have her with us. Sometimes I think losing Adelyn brought us closer together. If my husband and I were busy with a newborn, who knows if Kyrah would have had the courage to ask to live with us. So, while I lost a daughter, I also gained one. There are so many blessings that can be seen if you try to find them. It makes overcoming loss a little easier. Loss can give you a new perspective on life. In the chapter "Suffering and Adversity: Passing through Difficulties," the authors discuss how joyful times can shine brighter after hardship. The Dalai Lama shares a Tibetan phrase that says, "It is actually the painful experiences that shine light on the nature of happiness. They do this by bringing joyful experiences into sharp relief" (qtd. in Abrams 145). After losing Adelyn, I wasn't sure if I would try for another baby. My husband supported me with whatever decision I chose. He also reminded me how much joy I found in being a mother and helped me keep my heart open to the idea. I'm so thankful I did. A year after our loss, we decided to try again. I had a happy and healthy pregnancy. My delivery went as well as anyone could hope; the physical pain was not avoidable but
tolerable and worth every minute. The moment my daughter Eliana was in my arms, I cried tears of joy. I am not exaggerating here; that perfect little newborn looked up at me and smiled. Instantly, I was filled with so much gratitude. Somehow the pain of losing Adelyn was lightened the day Eliana was born, and her birth gave us more to celebrate. Motherhood is wonderful, but it doesn't come without many challenges. There is a lot to learn about being a mother, and I have made a few mistakes along the way. I tend to feel guilty when I feel I have fallen short of the mother my kids deserve. The chapter "The Invitation to Joy" reminds me that my mistakes don't define me. The Dalai Lama and Archbishop share, "Every day is a new opportunity to begin again" (x). A few years ago, I started meeting with a group of mothers for a Bible study. The group quickly evolved into a mother's support group. The group of us shared our highs and lows for the week and discussed our takeaways. I found that all the other women struggled with the same things as me. They got mad, frustrated, and yelled at their children too. They had "mom guilt" (as I like to call it) too. When I feel bad about how I acted, I remind myself of something my good friend shared with me. She said, "God blesses us every day with a new day to start fresh." We all make mistakes; learning from them and making better choices is what is important. Over the years, I have learned it is essential to show myself compassion when I fall short of the mother I want to be. In the chapter "Compassion: Something
We Want to Become," the authors discuss that having compassion for others is important, but it is also important to have compassion for yourself. Abrams shares thoughts on self-compassion from psychologist Kristin Neff: "When we treat ourselves with compassion, we accept that there are parts of our personality that we may not be satisfied with, but we do not berate ourselves as we try to address them" (261). Getting frustrated with my kids is inevitable. I do my best to make it a learning moment. After getting upset with my kids, I apologize, we discuss our feelings, and we hug it out. We talk about how we could handle our parts better. Being imperfect and vulnerable teaches my children that making mistakes is okay. When we do this, we show compassion to each other and ourselves. Somedays, I may think I fall short of the mother I want to be, and then one of my children will do something so thoughtful to remind me that I am teaching them to be caring and kind. In the chapter "Generosity: We Are Filled with Joy," we learn that giving feels just as good to the giver as the receiver. The Archbishop explains, "We people who care must be attractive, must be filled with joy, so that others recognize that caring, that helping and being generous are not a burden, they are a joy" (qtd. in Abrams 274). One day, my son came home from school excited to share that he got to pick out two prizes for doing good deeds on campus. He held his two prizes in his hands; he could barely contain his excitement. He walked over to me and his little sister and handed us each a prize. He didn't get anything for himself. He was smiling from ear to ear to
give us our gifts. Small acts of kindness go a long way, and good energy is contagious. Goodness spreads happiness. In the chapter "Envy: That Guy goes Past Yet Again," the Dalai Lama says, "When humanity is happy, we will be happy. When humanity is peaceful, our own lives are peaceful. Just like if your family is happy, you are better off" (qtd. in Abrams 142). This quote rings true in my day-to-day life. When I am peaceful with myself, my husband, and my children, everyone tends to follow. When all is well in our home, we carry it out into the world and have the ability to pass it on. Life can be messy. We experience things that are hard to overcome. When it is all said and done, we can always find blessings and beauty in our struggles. When I lost Adelyn, I thought, why me, why us? The tremendous loss taught me how fragile life is and that I have so much love to give. Kyrah came and lived with us after our loss. She finally felt completely part of our family, and I was able to provide her with a mother's love, and she gave me the chance to become her mother after my loss; it was love that we both desperately needed at that point in our lives. Eliana's birth was so beautiful, and I had so much more gratitude because I had seen the horrible alternative to a healthy birth. The Book of Joy shares the meaning of dukkha and sukha. Dukkha is said to be the bumpy ride and sukha the peaceful path (Abrams 87). Life as a mother can be rough, but it's those challenges that make me appreciate all the goodness that arises. All the challenges I have faced as a mother have made
all the good times more special. I have learned that struggle is inevitable, but counting your blessings is a choice. There is so much joy to experience, and blessings are everywhere. It is the struggle and hardship that help us fully appreciate all the blessings and joy in our lives.
Works Cited Abrams, Douglas. et el. The Book of Joy: Lasting happiness in a Changing World. Penguin Random House LLC, 2016.
Education Equity Through Funding Academic
Dorian Sanchez Nominated by Professor MAUREEN O’HERIN
The education system in the United States of America is one that is both great for some students and horrible for others. Lack of equity in schools all over the country leads to the more privileged students, who are predominantly white, receiving a greater education than their minority counterparts whose families and districts do not hold as much privilege or capital. Often, the media only talks about the most prestigious schools, which are almost all in high-income communities with significant funding. The low-income districts where the attention is needed most are forgotten and left to continue to crumble through lack of funding and structure. When talking about issues in education equity, funding is the first thing that comes to mind. Through fewer budget cuts, better resource allocation, better quality resources, and a heavier focus on low-income districts with more at-risk students, we can succeed in creating more equity throughout schools across the nation. Since the 2008 Great Recession, budget cuts to education have been devastating to schools nationwide. According to “A Punishing Decade For School Funding” by Michael Leechman, Kathleen Masterson, and Eric Figueroa, states dealt with their low budgets by using spending cuts at a much higher rate than revenue increases whereas they normally would be pretty balanced. To further that, for four years between 2008 and 2012 for-
ty-five percent of budget losses were handled through spending cuts with just sixteen percent being handled via taxes and fees (Leechman, et al. 3). With most school funding coming from the state and local governments, many schools were left struggling to make up for the lowered financing from the state level. The Recession led to more profound issues as states struggled to find more funding via taxes due to the economic stress that the public was already experiencing. With fewer taxes, more budget cuts were inevitable. “Over the past decade, states with the steepest funding declines have seen one-fifth of state education funding vanish,” writes Lisette Partelow with other fellow authors in their article “Fixing Chronic Disinvestment in K-12 Schools” (Partelow et al. 2). One-fifth of a state’s education is no small number. In California, losing one-fifth of the education budget would be equivalent to losing nearly nineteen billion dollars for the students. Budget cuts continue to impact low-income districts and are a serious problem. But why are budget cuts so detrimental to students’ success across the country? While in high-income districts, local funding may subsidize losses in state funding, low-income districts with low property taxes suffer from the lack of the aforementioned state funding. Those low-income districts often have the highest concentration of at-risk students on campus and thus require even more funding than
their higher-income counterparts. In Jeff Raike and Linda Darling-Hammond’s article, “Why Our Education Funding Systems are Derailing the American Dream,” they say, “inadequate school funding derails the future for students already struggling against the odds — intensifying disparities that harm society as a whole by reducing young people’s capacity to contribute to society” (Raike et al. 2). Budget cuts continually are much more detrimental to the struggling districts than the ones that can make up for the lost money. Having the largest amount of funding going to schools that do not necessarily need it to the extent others do creates a perpetual loop of students stuck in poverty due to a poor education system. To avoid this, we must focus on finding more funding for these schools and on helping their fundamental resource allocation to better benefit the students who need them the most. The true level of impact a lack of funding has on students can be seen in Ben Davis’ article “How Does Lack of Funding Affect Students?” in which he says, “On average, a $1,000 reduction in per-pupil spending reduces average test scores in math and reading by 3.9 percent of a standard deviation and increases the score gap between black and white students by roughly 6 percent,” and, “also lowers the college-going rate by about 2.6 percent,” (Davis 1). While these numbers may seem small, in the grand scope of the country with the
millions of students, these lower scores are the reason equity must be fought for when it comes to the students and their resources. The amount of money schools have for each student is not the only issue with the funding of the current education system though. Students are not only hurt by a lack of funding but also by the quality of the resources provided by the funding they do have. Marry Morris talks about this in her journal, where she says, “With high-performance demands and near-stagnant pay, teachers tend to burn out quickly, which in turn negatively affects the quality of education that their students receive. This effect is most evident in Title I schools, public schools with low funding allocation and high concentrations of low-income students” (Morris 1). Due to a lack of state funding, teachers cannot be compensated enough for their work. With educating the youth being arguably one of the most critical fields in the United States, there must be a way to better help these teachers. By having more state funding, teachers would be paid better, spend less money out of their own pockets on resources for their classroom, and would experience less burnout over time. Funding allows for teachers to do their job to the best of their ability as they would be able to receive proper training and support, whereas, in contrast, teachers who are not funded would be left undertrained and rarely supported. This issue stands alongside problems with equity in education as it cannot be obtained until all students are offered courses with instructors who have the same level of credentials. While high-income districts
may be able to afford high-quality teachers and keep them for long periods of time, low-income districts constantly hire new, untrained teachers who are not ready to handle the stresses of a district in dire need of help. With a better understanding of how funding affects equity for low-income districts, we must also discuss how the allocation of resources affects them. While states have made efforts to give fair amounts of resources to both high-income and low-income districts, there is a lack of understanding of what a low-income district needs. Though districts may be given the same amount of funding, how that funding is used is often not the same and is not helpful if not used correctly. To properly allocate resources, low-income schools must get “ additional resources — not the same resources — in order to meet the needs of at-risk students,” as well as “accountability frameworks to ensure that the key ingredients to student success — access to early childhood programs, effective teachers, and rigorous curriculum — [to be] available to students irrespective of their race, zip code, or economic status,” as said by Carmel Martin, Ulrich Boser, Meg Benner, and Perpetual Baffour’s article “A Quality Approach to School Funding” (Martin et al, 1). By giving lower-income districts better funding and support in fund distribution, they would be able to access better resources to meet the needs of their students with programs that would improve both the students and the overall community. With high-risk students being the most crucial focus, we must find a way to support them properly,
which will inevitably be different from how schools support students in high-income districts. The framework that needs to be put in place to find equitable success for all students around the country would not be particularly hard but would require support from all members of each state’s communities to help each other. While some may argue that there is not a feasible solution to the issue of funding for public schools, cuts in other parts of the country’s budget may be able to fund schools easily. One possible place for a budget cut to better fund the education system would be the military. By lowering the seven-hundred and twenty-five billion dollars spent on the military, more funding would be available to improve education in the future generations of students. In conclusion, equity in the education system in the United States is an intricate problem that needs to be addressed by both politicians and ordinary citizens. By addressing budget cuts, where resources are allocated to, the quality of resources, and how different districts require different resources, we may find a way to have an equitable education system indeed.
Works Cited Davis, Ben. “How Does Lack of Funding Affect Students.” MVOrganizing, 1 June 2021, https://www.mvorganizing.org/howdoes-lack-of-funding-affect-students-2/#:~:text=A%20growing%20body%20of%20evidence,greater%20among%20 low%2Dincome%20students. Leachman, Michael, et al. “A Punishing Decade for School Funding.” Center on Budget and Policy Priorities, 29 Nov. 2017, https://www.cbpp.org/research/state-budget-and-tax/a-punishing-decade-for-school-funding. Martin, Carmel, et al. “A Quality Approach to School Funding.” Center for American Progress, 23 Aug. 2021, https://www. americanprogress.org/article/quality-approach-school-funding/. Morris, Marry. “No Teacher Left behind: Reforming the Educators Expense ...” Indiana Law Journal, 2021, https://www.repository.law.indiana.edu/cgi/viewcontent.cgi?article=11419&context=ilj. Partelow, Lisette, et al. “Fixing Chronic Disinvestment in K-12 Schools.” Center for American Progress, 28 Mar. 2018, https:// www.americanprogress.org/article/fixing-chronic-disinvestment-k-12-schools/. Raikes, Jeff, and Linda Darling-Hammond. “Why Our Education Funding Systems Are Derailing the American Dream.” Learning Policy Institute, 18 Feb. 2019, https://learningpolicyinstitute.org/blog/why-our-education-funding-systems-are-derailing-american-dream.
Evolution of Feminist Art Academic
Nominated by Professor Amy Moellering
Art is a vessel for change. Art has been used since the beginning of time as a way for humans to express their ideas and beliefs, whether it’s been something that’s just for themselves, or something specifically meant to be shared with others. People have evolved in their forms of expression, from drawing on cave walls to going on to write film scripts and so much more. But not only have the forms of art evolved—their messages have too. With time and more media outlets spreading information, the public is able to digest more “radical” messages than they ever were before. Though these messages are not always received well by the masses, it is comforting to know that there are people who are brave enough to express them at all. The fight for gender equality has been going on for a long time, and it is not over; there is still so much art being made, and so much art to be made regarding it. But the focus of feminist art has shifted over time, as the fear of making others uncomfortable with one’s art is dissolving with time. A prominent pioneer of feminism is Kate Chopin, a woman who published many feminist works of literature in the 1800s, such as her novella The Awakening and her short story “The Story of an Hour.” Both of these stories depict women who are in marriages that they don’t want to be in, and neither feels free and alive until they are no longer a part of these marriages. These stories gave voices to women who hadn’t been able
to say anything at the time. The conversation that was started by those stories and other feminist works kept going, and it has evolved greatly since. Now, light is finally shed on topics that have been kept in the dark for centuries, especially sexual assault, and the 2020 film Promising Young Woman is a powerful example. The film depicts a woman named Cassie who frequently goes out to bars to pretend that she is extremely drunk, and then she waits for a man to come to try to take advantage of her. She is successful at every attempt, and she terrifies each man when he discovers that she’s actually completely sober (Fennell). Chopin’s works The Awakening and “The Story of an Hour,” and the movie Promising Young Woman are stories from vastly different time periods, but all of them contain unfortunately similar dark endings for women. All of these stories work to convey how the objectification of and lack of credibility for women in this society still make it easier to not live in it. Objectification of women has been present throughout history, and it is still unfortunately highly prevalent today. Chopin explores objectification in both The Awakening and “The Story of an Hour” through the protagonists Edna and Louise’s characters. Both of these women are trapped in marriages they do not want to be in, but they cannot do anything about. Divorce was severely frowned upon in the 1800s, so there wasn’t es-
cape through it for Edna or Louise. They also had to get married in the first place thanks to the double standard that men didn’t have to get married, but if women didn’t get married, then they were looked down upon and called a spinster. Men were seen as people who didn’t have to get married, and women were seen as objects to be married, and also have children. In The Awakening, when Edna is speaking to her friend Madame Ratignolle regarding her feelings about what she would give up for her children, she states, “I would give up the unessential; I would give up my money, I would give up my life for my children; but I wouldn't give myself. I can't make it more clear; it's only something I am beginning to comprehend, which is revealing itself to me” (Chopin 90). Edna has not recognized the objectification she has been subject to in her life until recently, which is why she says that this is something that she is only “beginning to comprehend.” She is finally recognizing her self-worth, “awakening” to the fact that there is more to her life than living it for other people. She sees money as unessential, and she sees her life as unessential—she would die for her children if she had to, because she loves them. But she would not live for them, as that is essential. She cannot be treated as an object, inanimate and dead, even for her children. Nothing is ever worth being seen as an object for one’s whole life; therefore, she realizes that she
must die in order to avoid objectification since it will always be present as long as she lives in this society. Today, society is more explicit about all the facets of objectification, one of them being sexual assault. In Promising Young Woman, Nina is videotaped in front of a large group of men at a party as she gets raped, and nobody does anything about it (Fennell). She is not treated as a person, or seen as one by anybody there: she is seen as an object for sex. A drunk, lifeless body for men to do whatever they want with, and laugh at as they do. No human being deserves to be treated that way, but none of them care. The same goes for the treatment of Cassie: she goes out to bars and a man finds her, and then treats her like an object as well. They try to get her drunker sometimes, and they all want to take her home to use her for sex. None of them care about her or any of her needs, and there is never a single good man who actually sees her as a human being. She never ceases to be found by a man who wants to abuse her because so many men in the world see women as objects. According to the U.S. Department of Justice, “For the period 1995–2013, females ages 18 to 24 had the highest rate of rape and sexual assault victimizations compared to females in all other age groups” (Langton). Rape is most common for women, especially college-age women, so it makes sense that rape/sexual assault would be such a prominent topic in modern feminist art, such as films. Sexual violence against women has always been happening, but society has had to evolve over time to slowly become more comfortable with difficult subjects, espe-
cially regarding the struggles faced by women, so though Chopin was not able to speak up about it in her work, it is comforting to know that women like Emerald Fennell are able to do so now in this day and age. Another topic explored in these works is a lack of credibility for women. As stated in Feminist Theory and Literary Practice by professor of American Literature Deborah L. Madsen, “[I]n the nineteenth century a woman in America was unable to vote, and after marriage had no control of her property . . . or her children. Nor could she make a will, sign a contract, or instigate legal proceedings without her husband’s consent. Her status was akin to that of a minor or a slave” (Madsen 3). Women were not treated like adults, and they were simply not free to have basic rights. They were not trusted to do anything like an adult, and neither were Edna nor Louise. As Louise imagines what the future holds for her without her husband alive anymore, Chopin narrates, “There would be no one to live for her during those coming years; she would live for herself. There would be no powerful will bending hers in that blind persistence with which men and women believe they have a right to impose a private will upon a fellow-creature. A kind intention or a cruel intention made the act seem no less a crime as she looked upon it in that brief moment of illumination” (Chopin 101). The fact that she will no longer have a “powerful will bending hers” anymore means that she will no longer be controlled by a man, her husband. She can finally stop being treated like a child with him dead, and she can do anything she wants in
the world, much unlike her life before, in which this was absolutely not the case. She knows that her husband did not have a “cruel” intention; it was not specifically his fault that she was treated like a child, but it was the fault of society as a whole’s treatment towards women that made the act of their marriage a “crime,” because the marriage literally stole Louise’s life from her, and she was essentially just a dead woman walking around with no life in her since she had zero credibility. This lack of credibility faced for women has continued into the present day, especially when it comes to coming out about sexual assault. In Promising Young Woman, Nina tells the school and the authorities who raped her, and when and where, and she is not believed at all. Her rapist still continues to be able to walk around school, and other students also call her a liar for it, or tell her that she is overreacting about what happened. It makes sense why there is such a high percentage of sexual assaults that go unreported to authorities—specifically eighty percent of them for female college students (Langton). Why would someone come out about being sexually assaulted if nothing will come from their report besides ridicule and disrespect? That’s all that Nina gets, and it’s all that so many women get for coming out with their experience. A lot of the time, telling others about their experience being sexually assaulted only makes things worse for the survivor: they can be blamed, told that it was their fault—it was what they were wearing, what they were drinking, what they did or did not do. So many people are completely blind to the fact that the blame should only go to
the perpetrator, the person who actually committed the horrific act. This lack of credibility makes it incredibly difficult for people to speak up about their experience with sexual assault, and it can be detrimental for someone to keep quiet about something like that. All of these different stories have a starkly disturbing commonality: suicide is used by women as a path to freedom from a world dominated by men, from the 1800s to 2020. Both of Chopin’s stories focus on a woman who has considered suicide in order to be free. In The Awakening, Edna ends up purposely drowning herself in the ocean in order to be free since she knows that she cannot live for herself in the society she is trapped in; she can only live for her husband and children, but she can choose to die for herself. In “The Story of an Hour,” Louise feels utterly lifeless until she hears the news of her husband’s death, which livens her, as she believes that she can finally stop living for him and now actually live for herself. Just the day before hearing of her husband’s death, she “had thought with a shudder that life might be long,” but once she learns of his death, she “breathe[s] a quick prayer that life might be long” (Chopin 101). Louise did not want to live a long life while being married to her husband, because she did not even view that as living. But she has a real will to live once she learns that he is dead, which speaks volumes about the state of women in the 1800s, who were forced to be in marriages with men they had no desire to be with. This made death seem much more attractive than life for women at the time. In Promising Young Woman, the act of Nina’s
suicide is an attempt at escaping a life that has been ruined by men, particularly Al because he raped her, but also by the other men who watched the rape happen and did nothing to stop it, or defend her when she spoke up about it later. The people in our society unfortunately have a sense instilled in them to not initially believe rape survivors, and even if they do come to accept the truth of a sexual assault, to instead forgivingly see the typical perpetrator as a “promising young man” such as in Brock Turner’s case, and never the woman as a “promising young woman.” (Not to say that every perpetrator is male, or that every victim is female, but I am putting it this way because this is the most common situation, as Langton’s statistics show.) If Nina had been believed, she could definitely still be alive. But she wasn’t believed, and Al was never punished for raping her. This led Nina to feel alone in an unjust world that does not believe women or allow them to live honestly, and therefore she felt like she could not live in this world at all, much like Edna and Louise, and even Cassie who came to the same conclusion herself when she ended up crafting the plan that led to her death, which was, in a way, her own suicide. By examining the evolution of feminist art from the 1800s to 2020, one can see that a lot has changed for women, as they are now able to speak out on issues that they were forced to be silent about for centuries. But what’s also evident in this examination is the fact that women are still struggling to the point of not even wanting to be a part of this world anymore because it’s much easier to be
absent from it. Objectification has not disappeared, and neither has a lack of credibility for women. Hopefully, the continuation of feminist art will create more change by shedding even more light on the darkest of subjects, and we can someday create a future void of misogyny—a world that women want to live in.
Works Cited Chopin, Kate. “The Awakening and Other Writings.” Google Books, Google, 2011, books.google.com/books?hl=en&amp;lr=&amp;id=gAetnMN062MC&amp;oi=fnd&amp;pg=PA7&amp;dq=the%2Bawakening%2Bkate%2Bchopin&amp;ots=n-4z12LjB8&amp;sig=SMC5CR8uGXH3nbJQsSIt9ZnBIO0#v=onepage&amp;q=the%20awakening%20kate%20chopin&amp;f=false. Chopin, Kate. “The Story of an Hour,” The Seagull Reader. W.W. Norton & Co., 2015. Fennell, Emerald, director. Promising Young Woman. 2020. Langton, Lynn; Sinozich, Sofi. “Rape and Sexual Assault Among College-Age Females, 1995-2013.” Office of Justice Programs, www.ojp.gov/ncjrs/virtual-library/abstracts/rape-and-sexual-assault-among-college-age-f emales-1995-2013. Madsen, Deborah L. “Feminist Theory and Literary Practice.” Google Books, Pluto Press, 20 Aug. 2000, books.google.com/books?id=moZZDDFAFvsC&amp;dq=kate%2Bchopin%2Bfeminist&amp;lr=&amp;source=gbs_ navlinks_s.
Fentanyl and Opioid-Drugs Research Paper: Biochemistry, Overdose, and the Pandemic Academic
Nominated by Professor Sheena Turner-August
Abstract This paper will provide a general overview of fentanyl and opioid drugs. More specifically, it focuses on the topics of cognitive conditioning, other opioids as compared to Fentanyl, Fentanyl overdose rates, Fentanyl laced drugs, China exports of Fentanyl, and drug addiction recovery. There is a focus on the COVID-19 period, as it relates to the rise of Fentanyl imports and overdose rates. The purpose of this paper is to inform readers of the dangers of Fentanyl and opioid drugs to raise awareness and spread caution. Studies that were conducted in San Francisco were reviewed for the literature review, and Workit Health Substance Abuse Counselor Ezra Lockhart provides insight about the Fentanyl market and drug addiction recovery in an interview.
Fentanyl and Opioids Research Fentanyl is a synthetic opioid similar to morphine but is 50 to 100 times more potent (NIDA, 2021) and is prescribed as an anesthetic for patients with severe pain. When prescribed by a doctor, it comes in the form of a shot, patch, or a lozenge (like cough drops) (NIDA, 2021). Illegal production of Fentanyl made in labs can come in the form of powder, dropped on
blotter paper, put in eye droppers or nasal sprays, or made into pills that look like other prescription opioids (NIDA, 2021). According to Pharmacology by Whalen (2015), “The drug is highly lipophilic and has a rapid onset and short duration of action (15 to 30 minutes)”. This means the drug hits fast and doesn’t last for very long. This makes it more addictive in the long-term, as users will experience extreme highs in short bursts and because of its potency, it is a target for highly tolerant opioid users. There are specific processes that go on inside your brain when you continuously take opioids. When opiates travel through the bloodstream to the brain, the chemicals attach to proteins called mu-opioid receptors on the surface of brain cells (Korsen & George, 2002) and activate the mesolimib (midbrain) reward system which generates signals in the brain called the ventral tegmental area (VTA) that result in the release of dopamine (Korsen & George, 2002). Dopamine releases to the nucleus accumbens (NAc), causing feelings of pleasure (Korsen & George, 2002). Other areas of your brain record the experience as a memory that associates the good feeling with the circumstances and environment they occur. These are called conditioned associations (Korsen & George, 2002). These lead to cravings for drugs when the person is in
the presence of the conditioned associations. This drives abusers to seek out more drugs despite many obstacles. Individual and environmental factors influence whether an individual who experiments with opioids will continue taking them long enough to become addicted or dependent (Korsen & George, 2002). Repeated exposure to opioid dosages quite literally alters brain function. The brain of an individual with a history of abusing opioids will function normally when on the drug, and abnormally when off the drug (Korsen & George, 2002). The result of this is withdrawal symptoms, drug dependence, which makes becoming sober very difficult for the individual. A tolerance is developed because the brain cells that have opioid receptors become less and less responsive to opioid stimulation (Korsen & George, 2002). Wakefulness, breathing, blood pressure, general alertness, and other functions are affected by drug dependence. Repeated use of drugs can result in irreversible damage to brain function. Late-stage drug addiction, when tolerance to the substance develops and dependence occurs, disrupts cognitive and other processes responsible for successful abstinence. Signals carried by neurotransmitters from the prefrontal cortex, the part of our brain responsible for rationale and judgment, are altered by drug induction
(Gould, 2010). According to Psychologist Ezra Lockhart, “The first time that you get high is the highest you'll ever be. And you're always chasing that high, right? Because you've built up a tolerance for the chemical, but also you've damaged that action potential” (E. Lockhart, personal communication, November 12, 2021). The same level of happiness will never be achieved after that first high, and as you use more, the resulting high is continuously diminished. The structure of drugs like Heroin and Marijuana mimics that of a natural neurotransmitter, so the drugs attach to neurons and send abnormal messages through the network (NIDA, 2020). Much like how one adjusts the volume to a loud radio, the brain of someone who misuses drugs adjusts by producing fewer neurotransmitters in the reward circuit. Or, they reduce the number of receptors that can receive signals (NIDA, 2020). Through these processes, the brain cannot produce the same “good” chemicals again without substance aid. The appeal of Fentanyl and other Opioid drugs may be related to the fast rate of return upon taking it. Other drugs like hallucinogens (i.e. Marijuana, LSD, DMT) may take 30 minutes or more to produce a high and can be different with the type of high they produce. Hallucinogens may cause sensory distortions, producing images and sensations that are not real (NIDA, 2019). Opioids, on the other hand, trigger the release of endorphins that muffle your feelings of pain and boost feelings of pleasure, creating a temporary but powerful sense of well-being (Mayo Clinic Staff, 2018). This feeling is similar to those of pleasure when you engage in activities
such as eating and sex. Heroin is similar to Fentanyl in that it is made from morphine and comes in the form of white or brown powder, or a sticky black substance called “black tar” (Roper, Taylor, & Bielecki, 2020). Drug dealers will sometimes sell Fentanyl and label it as Heroin, or lace Heroin with Fentanyl. This issue is contributing to a large number of Fentanyl overdoses, especially for beginning drug-users who don’t have a very high tolerance. Fentanyl is inexpensive and easy to make. Drug labs will spike other drugs with Fentanyl without the buyer’s knowledge, or market Fentanyl as other drugs. According to Dr. Lockhart, “People have a substance of choice, thing they prefer to take” (E. Lockhart, personal communication, November 12, 2021). They will not be seeking Fentanyl but another substance, that they know their tolerance and reaction to. So somebody inexperienced may seek out MDMA, but be receiving Fentanyl. Youth, who are biologically predisposed to spontaneous risk-taking behaviors, may not have the information to assess the risks of drug experimentation. Fentanyl-laced pills will look identical to pills prescribed by doctors. It is tasteless, odorless, and impossible to see, making identification near impossible (Spitzer, 2021). An amount of Fentanyl comparable to a grain of rice can be lethal, increasing the risk of overdose exponentially. Fentanyl and opioid-related overdose fatalities have been on the rise. The Center for Disease Control (CDC) reports that “approximately 81,230 drug overdose deaths occurred in the United States in the 12-months ending in May 2020”
(CDC HAN, 2020). The main driver in these deaths is synthetic opioids. “The 12-month count of synthetic opioid deaths increased 38.4% from the 12 months ending in June 2019” (CDC HAN, 2020), and Fentanyl is the primary drug responsible for synthetic opioid-related overdoses. Illicitly manufactured Fentanyl deaths are concentrated in 28 states east of the Mississippi River, where the drug market is dominated by Heroin (CDC HAN, 2020). Dr. Lockhart, who presides in Colorado, found that “during the lockdown phase, you would think that the access to illegal substances would decrease but in fact, it increased during that time” (E. Lockhart, personal communication, November 12, 2021). The lockdown did not stop any of these networks or people accessing these networks, and pandemic isolation would drive many people to start using or use again. The major exporter of Fentanyl, China, is able to bypass international protections. They use a “complex network of corporate entities registered in far-flung cities along China's interior, where they use sophisticated shipping methods to bypass screening measures,” they can find loopholes and exploit them (Feng, 2020). Not only that, but as drug operations use the internet as a primary communication platform, it is hard for authorities to crack down on activities. This is due to the internet’s anonymity, convenience, openness, and cross-border accessibility. The early Pandemic created circumstances for an extremely prolific market. Since there was more demand for drugs at this time, drug prices could increase. A convicted distributor of Fentanyl and crystal meth-
amphetamine says, “An ounce of opioids went up to $1700 from $1500”(Mathew et al., 2021). Due to the increase of government stimulus because of Covid-related unemployment, drug-users could use their checks toward drugs. One government stimulus check, The Canada Emergency Response Benefit, helped him increase profits, “Before CERB, he was making $400 to $600 a day. The week after CERB came, he made $1000 a day” (Mathew et al., 2021). Some people would spend entire checks on drugs, despite needing them for living necessities. Yet once you are dependent on drugs, they are essentially a living necessity. In an experiment addressing drug overdose deaths before and after shelter-inplace orders in San Francisco, there had been a “50% increase in weekly median overdose deaths” and “between March 17[,]  and November 30, 2020, San Francisco recorded 537 drug overdose deaths, while recording 169 deaths due to COVID-19 in the same time period” (Appa, Rodda, & Cawley, 2021). Before COVID-19, there had been an increasing trend in overdose deaths in 2019 because of Fentanyl but stay-in-home orders contributed to a large rise in deaths in 2020 (Appa, Rodda, & Cawley, 2021). The main takeaway of this experiment was that homeless individuals, Black individuals, and people who use Fentanyl and stimulants are the most impacted groups. Many individuals addicted to Fentanyl first received a medical prescription. People who do not live near medical hospitals are limited to prescriptions for treatments. Not only that, but they may not be able to afford more extensive care. Dr. Lock-
hart explains, “Out of doing risk-taking behaviors in combination to opioids, they are at a higher predisposition for addiction” (E. Lockhart, personal communication, November 12, 2021). Many serious injuries stem from risk-taking behaviors, but sometimes people’s lifestyle calls for risky activities. Many people who enjoy risk-behaviors like climbing were limited due to the pandemic lockdown. With increased feelings of loneliness and depression, they may turn to drugs to fulfill that missing thrill. The circumstances of the pandemic may have caused such a monumental lifestyle shift that individuals who would normally refuse to use substances would begin to use. The pandemic has increased the likelihood of individuals in recovery to relapse. Dr. Lockhart describes the stages of change model (of recovery) as “an individual moves through precontemplative, where they don’t think that they have a problem but they’re starting to think about it. Then they move all the way into passing that denial ... realizing they have a problem ... reaching out to support, getting support, and then trying to work through their ambivalence and behavior change ... and start to move into, ultimately, a maintenance within recovery” (E. Lockhart, personal communication, November 12, 2021). The shift in daily routine from the lockdown disrupts that maintenance and has caused many to relapse. Outlets for support are harder to access, of course, with limited physical contact. Although, during this time, there has been an effort to destigmatize drug addiction through campaigns. Because of the overflow of patient intake for
COVID-19, many hospitals have separate facilities for psychiatric support. Lockhart states the most common reason for relapse is peer pressure. “People have built like social networks, in order to not just access drugs, but to partake in drugs … People have a hard time leaving that [drug] network, leaving that culture behind,” Dr. Lockhart said (E. Lockhart, personal communication, November 12, 2021). Due to the societal stigma — labeling addicts as “junkies,”,pushing them out of jobs and not giving them a chance to be productive in society —those in recovery will be tempted to use to feel happy. Fentanyl is a highly lethal drug, and the pandemic has increased its consumption. It is used as cheap, potent lace to drugs like Heroin or advertised as another drug altogether. Drug dependence and relapse rates rose throughout 2020-2021, and opioid drugs are the main contributor to overdose. Individuals depending on drugs will have trouble recovering, as long-term consumption of opioids permanently alters brain function causing one to rely on substances for feelings of happiness and satisfaction they cannot get naturally. When society doesn’t give those in recovery a chance, they may feel hopeless. The pandemic has only heightened those feelings of hopelessness. As drug addiction destigmatization campaigns have increased in the past couple of years, one can only hope more will seek recovery, and Fentanyl and other opioids will see less and less destruction.
Works Cited Appa, A., Rodda, L. N., & Cawley, C. (2021, May 12). Drug Overdose Deaths Before and After Shelter-in-Place Orders During the COVID-19 Pandemic in San Francisco. JAMA Network. Retrieved October 20, 2021, from https://jamanetwork. com/journals/jamanetworkopen/fullarticle/2779782 Bielecki, D., Taylor, M., & Roper, R. (2020, February 11). Top 10 Most Addictive Drugs. BrightView Health. Retrieved October 17, 2021, from https://www.brightviewhealth.com/latest-updates/top-10-most-addictive-drugs/ CDC Health Alert Network. (2020, December 17). Increase in Fatal Drug Overdoses Across the United states Driven by Synthetic Opioids Before and During the COVID-19 Pandemic. Health Alert Network. Retrieved October 20, 2021, from https://emergency.cdc.gov/han/2020/han00438.asp DPA. (n.d.). A Brief History of the Drug War. Drug Policy Alliance. Retrieved October 17, 2021, from https://drugpolicy.org/issues/brief-history-drug-war Drake, J., Charles, C., Bourgeois, J. W., Daniel, E. S., & Kwende, M. (2020, August 31). Exploring the impact of the opioid epidemic in Black and Hispanic communities in the United States. Sage Journals. Retrieved 11 30, 2021, from Exploring the impact of the opioid epidemic in Black and Hispanic communities in the United States Feng, E. (2020, November 17). Inside China's Online Fentanyl Chemical Networks Helping Fuel The Opioid Crisis. NPR. Retrieved December 5, 2021, from https://www.npr.org/2020/11/17/916890880/we-are-shipping-to-the-u-s-china-s-fentanylsellers-find-new-routes-to-drug-user Gould, T. J. (2010, December 5). Addiction and Cognition. PMC. Retrieved October 18, 2021, from https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih. gov/pmc/articles/PMC3120118/ Kosten, T. R., & George, T. P. (2002, July 1). The Neurobiology of Opioid Dependence: Implications for Treatment. National Library of Medicine National Institutes of Health. Retrieved October 21, 2021, from https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/ articles/PMC2851054/ Mathew, N., Wong, J. S., & Krausz, R. M. (2021, January). An inside look at BC's illicit drug market during the COVID-19 pandemic. British Columbia Medical Journal. Retrieved December 18, 2021, from https://bcmj.org/articles/inside-look-bcsillicit-drug-market-during-covid-19-pandemic Mayo Clinic Staff. (2018, February 16). How opioid addiction occurs. Mayo Clinic. Retrieved October 12, 2021, from https:// www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/prescription-drug-abuse/in-depth/how-op ioid-addiction-occurs/art20360372 201
NIDA. (2019, April 22). Hallucinogens DrugFacts. National Institute on Drug Abuse. Retrieved October 12, 2021, from https:// www.drugabuse.gov/publications/drugfacts/hallucinogens NIDA. (2020, July 10). Drugs, Brains, and Behavior: The Science of Addiction: Drugs and the Brain | NIDA. National Institute on Drug Abuse. Retrieved December 18, 2021, from https://www.drugabuse.gov/publications/drugs-brains-behavior-science-addiction/drugs-b rain NIDA. (2021, June 1). Fentanyl DrugFacts. National Institute on Drug Abuse. Retrieved October 12, 2021, from https://www. drugabuse.gov/publications/drugfacts/fentanyl Spitzer, G. (2021, December 2). Talking with teens about fentanyl – PUBLIC HEALTH INSIDER. Public Health Insider. Retrieved December 5, 2021, from https://publichealthinsider.com/2021/12/02/talking-with-teens-about-fentanyl/ Whalen, K. (2015). Pharmacology (R. Finkel & T. A. Panavelil, Eds.; 6th ed.). Lippincott Illustrated Reviews. 978-1451191776
Housing Segregation in the Bay Area Academic
Nominated by Professor Martin Nash
The San Francisco Bay Area has historically been segregated by everyday discrimination as well as discriminatory laws. Much of this segregation can be seen today, and it has a negative impact on quality of life in many communities of color. In this paper, I will detail the history and significance of housing segregation in the Bay Area, focusing primarily on black communities. I will also touch on the history of housing segregation in Livermore in particular. Finally, I will discuss some potential solutions to the negative impacts of segregation.
General Overview The Bay Area is a region with a very diverse and growing population. Despite its diverse population, the Bay Area is segregated in many ways. According to a report by the Othering & Belonging Institute at UC Berkeley, the Bay Area is “visibly segregated at the regional, county, metropolitan, municipal, and neighborhood levels” (Menendian & Gambhir, 2019). In general, according to the report, there are two forms of segregation in the Bay Area: inter-municipal segregation, which occurs when populations are segregated from city to city, and intra-municipal segregation, which occurs when neighborhoods are segregated within cities. Inter-municipal segregation is most often seen among smaller
cities in the Bay Area like Livermore and Pleasanton, which are disproportionately white. However, this form of segregation sometimes involves a more mutual exclusion between white and non-white populations. This can be seen in cities like Cupertino (which is about 66% Asian) and Gilroy (which is about 60% Latino). On the other hand, intra-municipal segregation is more commonly seen within larger cities with more extensive histories of housing discrimination, including redlining and racial covenants. Examples of these larger cities are San Francisco, Oakland, and San Jose. African Americans During the Great Migration, hundreds of thousands of African Americans left the Southern U.S. and moved into the Bay Area, increasing their share of the population from 1.2% in 1940 to 7.9% in 1970. Many came to the Bay Area in search of work related to industries that supported war efforts, such as shipbuilding. However, African Americans’ opportunities were limited by discrimination in law and everyday culture, and they were targeted heavily by racial covenants and other discriminatory policies. In the 1960s and 1970s, the federal government designated specific neighborhoods in the Bay Area where African Americans could live, primarily in San Francisco and Oakland. One neighborhood with a strong Af-
rican American presence during World War II was the Fillmore District in San Francisco, which was at the time considered a hub for black culture. However, after the war, many African Americans working in the defense industry lost their jobs, and living conditions worsened in the Fillmore District. To address these poor living conditions, the city began urban renewal projects in the Fillmore District in 1956, which displaced black families and closed black-owned businesses. According to an article about the Fillmore District by students at the University of San Francisco, “Although commercialized as something that would benefit black residents, urban renewal meant that homes and businesses, passed down for years [,] were now being sold from under them” (USF). Currently, the African American population is declining in the Bay Area, both in proportion and by sheer numbers. This population peaked from 1980 to 1990, when African Americans comprised about 9% of the Bay Area’s overall population. Statistical trends also show that many African American households in the Bay Area are getting poorer. According to a report by UC Berkeley’s Urban Displacement Project and the California Housing Partnership, in the Bay Area, “Black and White households decreased in all income categories except for extremely low-income” (Verma et al.). However, while extremely low-income
white households increased by just 5%, extremely low-income black households increased much more drastically by 22%. Many African Americans are moving out of historically black neighborhoods like those in Oakland, and into suburbs in other parts of the Bay Area. This movement is correlated with increases in rent prices and decreases in quality of life. According to the report by the Urban Displacement Project, “Many of the suburban or exurban places to which low-income people of color moved in recent years have become racially segregated and high-poverty and face serious challenges, including aging infrastructure, a lack of jobs, and insufficient social services to address rising poverty and homelessness” (Verma et al.).
Livermore Livermore is located in Alameda County, which is one of the most racially diverse metropolitan areas in the country. Even then, Alameda County is highly segregated, and fewer than one-fifths of the county’s census tracts are as diverse as the entire county. Most of this segregation in Alameda County is inter-municipal, and Livermore is an example of this inter-municipal segregation. Currently, Livermore’s population is about two-thirds white, which is 30 percent higher than the Alameda County average. According to the City of Livermore Historic Context Statement, Livermore had many Native American, Chinese, and Mexican residents in the 19th century. However, over the source of the 20th century, these populations de-
clined as they were driven out with laws and other discriminatory tactics. According to the Historic Context Statement, “Heavily white suburbs [in Livermore] are the result of decades of nationwide exclusionary tactics, including — but not limited to — racial covenants, redlining, real estate steering, and a host of local and federal housing policies” (GPA Consulting 2021). Meanwhile, European immigrants were able to gain larger footholds in the area because they typically faced less discrimination. Only recently has Livermore’s population begun to diversify again, although it is still one of the most segregated cities in Alameda County.
General Overview Housing segregation is an important topic because it has many impacts on society at large, including wealth, education, and health. According to the Othering & Belonging Institute, white communities are actually the most segregated in the Bay Area. This means that while there are areas where we may find more diverse populations, the areas with the least diversity are most commonly disproportionately white. Neighborhoods with single-family homes have historically been mostly white, which means federal programs and taxes that benefit homeowners primarily benefit white populations financially. In fact, racial segregation may divide communities more than income disparities. According to the Urban Displacement Project, from the years 2000 to 2015: “Low-income White households were seven times more likely to live in higher resource neighborhoods than
moderate- and high-income Black households” (Verma et al.). Because of this, many communities of color are left behind in neighborhoods of concentrated poverty, while many white communities have generally benefited more from continued segregation. Segregation negatively impacts health. Areas with more apartment living are usually surrounded by areas zoned for commercial and industrial use, raising health risks in neighborhoods that have been predominantly black and low-income. Many of these communities are harmed by pollution from nearby hazardous waste facilities. In general, many communities of color in the United States also have less local access to crucial infrastructure that benefits health—this includes childcare facilities, healthy grocery stores, and clinics and hospitals. High segregation is also negatively correlated with education and financial upward mobility for many people of color. One study by the National Bureau of Economic Research found that black male children in desegregated schools in the United States earned higher wages later in life. For every 5 years these students spent in desegregated schools, the study found a 25 percent increase in their earnings. Black men living in less segregated neighborhoods also have higher income and lower unemployment rates. Additionally, black male children who attended desegregated schools were 15% less likely to spend time in jail by age 30. These statistics show that segregated schools and neighborhoods are putting specific populations at an unfair disadvantage.
While there are many proposed governmental solutions to the issues that housing segregation brings, each solution has its own benefits and downsides. One solution that the Othering & Belonging Institute identifies is the use of mobility programs, which encourage desegregation by giving families access to housing options in more integrated areas. One mobility program that targeted families in high-poverty black neighborhoods in the late 1960s found that these families, who were moved to more racially integrated neighborhoods, enjoyed better education, higher employment, and higher quality of life. On the other hand, mobility programs are expensive, and since they target specific racial demographics, they may be subject to laws that prohibit racial discrimination in housing. Another solution may be inclusionary zoning and fair share policies, which require a certain percentage of new developments in an area to sell or rent below market rate. This makes some housing more affordable in certain areas, allowing lower-income families of color to enjoy higher-quality housing and education. However, this does not always get rid of segregation, since higher-income families of color living in segregated areas do not benefit as much from affordable housing. Also, some fair share policies are targeted more toward students and retirees, ignoring or even increasing racial segregation. In general, there is no single solution that will perfectly counteract the negative impacts of housing segregation, but pros and cons lie in how effective each solution may be.
Segregation is an important topic because it effects quality of life in many communities. The Bay Area, including the city of Livermore, has had extensive histories of housing segregation due to discriminatory laws and practices. Recent trends have shown that many African Americans are beginning to move out of historically black neighborhoods and into suburbs in the Bay Area, but even more are leaving the Bay Area entirely. While there are many proposed solutions to these negative impacts, including mobility programs and inclusionary zoning, each solution has its pros and cons. Moving forward, the ways segregation is addressed in the Bay Area will likely have a big impact on the growth and evolution of our cities and communities.
Works Cited “Historic Context Statement.” City of Livermore, GPA Consulting, Mar. 2021, www.cityoflivermore.net/home/showpublisheddocument/7620/637635147916330000. Menendian, Stephen, and Samir Gambhir. “Racial Segregation in the San Francisco Bay Area, Part 1.” Othering & Belonging Institute, 30 Oct. 2018, belonging.berkeley.edu/racial-segregation-san-francisco-bay-area-part-1. Menendian, Stephen, and Samir Gambhir. “Racial Segregation in the San Francisco Bay Area, Part 2.” Othering & Belonging Institute, 30 Oct. 2018, belonging.berkeley.edu/racial-segregation-san-francisco-bay-area-part-2. Menendian, Stephen, and Samir Gambhir. “Racial Segregation in the San Francisco Bay Area, Part 5.” Othering & Belonging Institute, 30 Oct. 2018, belonging.berkeley.edu/racial-segregation-san-francisco-bay-area-part-5. Verma, Philip, et al. “Rising Housing Costs and Re-Segregation in the San Francisco Bay Area.” Urban Displacement, 2018, www.urbandisplacement.org/wp-content/uploads/2021/08/bay_area_r e-segregation_rising_housing_costs_report_2019.pdf.
Presidential Debates Are Misinformation: How Presidential Candidates Lie To Win Elections Academic - First Place
Nominated by Professor Joanna Jen
In an ideal world, presidential debates would showcase a candidate's leadership capabilities, intelligence, positions on policy, and worthiness of being the next president of the United States (Daniels). On the contrary, presidential debates in the United States fail to present relevant information to voters and, rather, are concerned with flaunting theatrics and spreading misleading soundbites. In the age of social media, disingenuous presidential debates empower the speedy propagation of political falsehoods, made by or about presidential candidates, which would feasibly confuse ordinary voters and disrupt democratic elections. Polarized echo chambers and outdated laws further complicate the delicate voting process, in part, because there exists no national, non-partisan consensus to comprehensively counter or correct political falsehoods. Thus, the current nature of presidential debates, in the United States, is a menacing form of misinformation in politics that is safeguarded by Supreme Court rulings and fueled by technology, requiring mitigation through a form of national, non-partisan political fact checking. Presidential debates themselves are misinformation because they focus primarily on false narratives and entertainment, threatening the legitimacy of elections and the stability of democracy in
the United States. On the debate stage, presidential candidates are essentially given free rein to mislead the public with little to no fact checking or accountability taken by the moderator (Hu). This behavior was exacerbated in the 2020 presidential debates, as Trump was able to falsely proclaim that Biden’s “socialist” agenda would kill private healthcare insurance, while Biden misleadingly emphasized that Trump “single-handedly” destroyed the economy (Hu). This type of unprofessionalism — seen when Trump repeatedly broke debate conduct and attacked Biden’s family, or when Biden called Trump a clown — transforms meaningful political dialogue into substanceless verbal sparring sessions between candidates (Hu). Debates of this nature fail to adequately inform voters and compromise the validity of presidential elections(Daniels). Disgraceful debate conduct, analogous to Trump's repeated verbal attacks towards Biden’s son to imply Biden should be disqualified, suggests that presidential candidates use misinformation to win votes and distract voters from their flaws as presidential nominees (Hu). Millions of Americans watch the presidential debates; notwithstanding, political figures still knowingly feed Americans misleading information, of which, voters may not be able to instantaneously recognize or fact-
check themselves (Hu). The burden on democracy is incalculable when voters are deceived into believing misinformation. Voters might lose confidence in the democratic process, or in public officials, which would intensify voters’ distrust in the government (Hu; Rainie and Perrin). Therefore, presidential debates, as they currently operate, feed the demise of democracy in the United States because “unchecked misinformation and empty words” pollute the votes of unsuspecting Americans (Hu). The laws and judicial precedents currently regulating falsehoods, made by or about presidential candidates, are inadequate and ineffective in the age of social media. Specifically, two Supreme Court rulings define how libels should be addressed. First, New York Times v. Sullivan stipulates plaintiffs must prove that the libelous speech in question is false and demonstrate that the speaker acted with reckless intent (Sunstein 408). Second, the United States v. Alvarez specifies that false speech is protected under the First Amendment unless that speech causes provable harm and cannot be combated with counterspeech (Sunstein 391). However, false accusations concerning presidential candidates — such as a claim that a candidate does not support the Second Amendment when they actually do — are not considered “libelous”
under the current libel law standards of the supreme court (Sunstein 416). For this reason, it is legally unclear as to how to deal with damaging presidential misinformation (Sunstein 416). Sullivan would nullify the argument that such claims are libelous, and Alverez would simply promote counter-speech, failing to ease the circulation of presidential falsehoods online (Sunstein 393). Research suggests that false statements are not rejected predominantly on the basis of truth, which further compounds the containment of presidential misinformation (Sunstein 393). To this point, some false speech must be protected because the government's judgment is prone to fallibility and the health of democracy is dependent on the First Amendment (Sunstein 398). But this condition implies that a political leader would be able to spread falsehoods — let’s assume, about the results of an important election. Accordingly, such false claims might enter online echo chambers, where supporters may overlook undemocratic methods to stop a stolen election, potentially enabling a radical uprising against the government. This sequence of events would be made possible, partially, by the conflicting relationship of Sullivan and Alvarez, which fails to contain damaging political misinformation that destabilizes democratic processes (Sunstein 416). Consequently, the alleviation of adverse presidential falsehoods must strike a balance that does not overly punish false speech — causing unnecessary censoring or discouraging free public expression — but is also strict enough to put an end to the deception of voters. Given the polarized climate of politics
in the United States, a national, nonpartisan political fact-checking agency would help mitigate the spread and the influence of misinformation on and off the presidential debate stage. Affective polarization — the phenomena where people with opposing political ideologies hold negative views and otherize one another — is growing in the United States and compounding the problem of misinformation in politics (Edsall). As animosity grows among voters of different political ideologies, individuals will want to find like-minded thinkers to reinforce their side, nourishing the growth of online political echo chambers (Acemoğlu et al.). This is problematic because Americans mainly source their political information from T.V. and social media, where the political “facts” vary from network to network (Lowi et al. 281). But because there is no nationally recognized, nonpartisan guidance to steer the public clear of political misinformation, the marketplace of ideas becomes the breeding grounds for misinformative echo chambers. Effectively addressing this type of political misinformation in court would be costly and inefficient, but what if there existed a national, non-partisan political fact-checking agency that would be the final arbiter of political facts (Sunstein 413)? The National Political Fact-checking Agency (NPFA) would serve as the national “gold standard” for credible political information, distinguishing political truth from political falsity. Adjacent to the Supreme Court, the NPFA would interpret political information but would not have the authority to enforce its judgment nor censor any contradictory speech. These limitations
would preserve the freedoms allotted to citizens under the First Amendment, but also confront political disinformation with an undisputed, unbiased explanation. This way, political leaders would be able to cite nationally credible information on the presidential debate stage to combat any misleading political notions and protect their reputations. Voters would be more accurately informed and the influence of demagogues would be reduced, creating more objective discussions among voters. Finally, this would invite a more authentic form of presidential debates, potentially generating more genuinely informed votes being cast. In the contemporary United States, there is a misunderstanding in society which involves the public thinking that what is expected of the president translates to what the president can do (Neustadt 27). This “gap between the public expectation . . . and the president’s actual powers” is further widened by the use of misinformation on the presidential debate stage (Neustadt 27). Furthermore, the theatrics that go on in presidential debates are distracting and shift voters’ focus from policy to “who had the better jab at the other.” Presidential candidates are entitled to the First Amendment, in fact, dependent on the First Amendment and the privileges of “public forms” to reach voters and get their message across (Timur and Sunstein 106). However, should the First Amendment also give presidential candidates the ability to consciously lie to voters to win elections?
Works Cited Acemoğlu, Daron, et al. “Misinformation on Social Media.” Vox, 30 June 2021, voxeu.org/article/misinformation-social-media. Daniels, Nicole, and Michael Gonchar. “Are Presidential Debates Helpful to Voters? or Should They Be Scrapped?” The New York Times, 7 Oct. 2020, www.nytimes.com/2020/10/07/learning/are-presidential-debates-helpful-to-voters-or-sho uldthey-be-scrapped.html. Edsall, Thomas. “How Much Does How Much We Hate Each Other Matter?” The New York Times, 29 Sept. 2021, www.nytimes.com/2021/09/29/opinion/political-polarization-partisanship.html. Hu, Dylan. “No More Presidential Debates.” Harvard Political Review, 13 Nov. 2020, harvardpolitics.com/no-more-presidential-debates/. Lowi, Theodore J., et al. American Government: A Brief Introduction. W.W. Norton and Company, 2021. Neustadt, Richard E. Presidential Power: The Politics of Leadership. Wiley, 1980. Rainie, Lee, and Andrew Perrin. “Key Findings about Americans' Declining Trust in Government and Each Other.” Pew Research Center, 30 May 2020, www.pewresearch.org/fact-tank/2019/07/22/key-findings-about-americans-declining-trus t-in-government-and-each-other/. Sunstein, Cass R. “Falsehoods and The First Amendment.” Harvard Journal of Law & Technology, vol. 33, no. 2, 2020, pp. 388–425., doi:https://jolt.law.harvard.edu/assets/articlePDFs/v33/33HarvJLTech387.pdf. Timur Kuran & Cass R. Sunstein, “Availability Cascades and Risk Regulation” Stanford Law Review, Vol. 51, No. 4, 1999.
Starting Over Somewhere New Academic
Nominated by Professor Michelle Gonzales
Every immigrant will always have their own unique story that is different from other immigrants' stories. No story is ever the same. Immigrants all come for a variety of different reasons: They are running from violence in their home country, have had economic difficulties, or are unable to see a promising future in their homeland. I had the pleasure to be able to learn more about Sergio Suarez, my father, and his immigrant story. When you think of people immigrating, you always just think of people coming from Mexico on top of trains or crossing with a coyote. For Sergio, this was not the case. He entered here legally with a tourist visa. During my research, I was able to learn more about his story of having entered the United States legally but being considered an immigrant for overstaying his visa, as well as more about his motives for coming to the United States, reasons he was fleeing his country that had a crisis going on, and the psychological distress being an immigrant has caused him all these years.
Methodology I interviewed my father, Sergio Suarez, who is an immigrant from Guadalara, Jalisco, more specifically from a town a couple miles away named Tonala. At first, I was a bit indecisive on doing this interview with my father because I know talking about your past is not always
easy, especially when it comes to talking about your immigration past, since you have to make the person reflect back on things that have happened to them in the past that they probably do not like to think back on. My father works during the night; therefore, in order for me to be able to interview him, it had to be sometime in the afternoon, which also worked for me because that is the time I am doing my work for school. We were able to conduct the interview in the comfort of our home at the dining table. Since in my household our first language is Spanish, that is what I conducted the interview in. Therefore, I had to translate the questions I was going to ask him in Spanish, but it was better that way because my dad could express himself easier. The interview part was something new to me since I had never interviewed someone before, but I wanted my father to feel comfortable, so I started with some easy questions at first. Once we got into the more personal questions was when I saw my father starting to get somewhat upset, and I knew he was starting to think about his story and events he went through in his life. My father was not an expert in his home country, nor the United States when he got here, so it was hard to gather economic data. Also, since the last couple of questions were more personal, he did not give as much information, but his expressions said it all. As far as information that I did not
gather from the interview, I was able to do some separate research and gather that information from secondary sources. I mainly needed the Information for more about the tourist visas, which was the way my father had come into the United States legally, and more information regarding the process to get one as well as policies you have to follow. I also did some research on the Peso Crisis, which my father had mentioned in the interview being one of the reasons Mexico's economy was low and they were going through a difficult time. Another important piece of research I did was about the physiological effects of being an immigrant, since I could see my father having them given the answers he gave and the emotions shown in his face. Mostly, I was able to gather information from immigration databases as well as databases from Las Positas Library. I will be discussing these main points that I gathered from the interview in the following.
Immigration (With Tourist Visa) Sergio Suarez, my father, immigrated to the United States legally. How you may ask? He first came to the United States in 1997. During this time, he had gotten his tourist visa from Mexico in Guadalajara, a city near where he lived. During this time, Gudalajara was already pretty well developed. It was considered one of the larg-
est cities with more technological development of industries and schools. During 1998, according to the census data, the population was about 3,575,000. There in that city was where my father’s parents were able to help him obtain the tourist visa. A tourist visa is basically a permit you get so you are able to travel outside the country, but there are restrictions to the amount of time you are able to stay outside the country, which is a maximum of six months. During the interview, my father was able to explain more of the process he went through to be able to obtain this visa as he said, “As soon as I turned eighteen, my parents took me to get my visa because all of my older brothers had already gotten theirs and had gone to the United States and back to work already. There was quite a handful of documents we had to take to be able to start the application process” (Suarez). He gave me a run down on documents he had taken with him, which were his voting card (form of ID used in Mexico), Mexican passport, and the completed application where you provide information about financial status, reasons for traveling, and current employment. After doing all that, Sergio said you just needed to play the waiting game and pray that you were approved. During 1997, according to a table given by Immigration and Naturalization Services, there were 56,245 visas given to people in the country of Mexico. How that works is the Immigration Acts make it possible for 56,000 natives to get visas, and they are selected by means of annual lottery; therefore, there is no specific status you need to have in order to obtain these visas.
My father during that year got lucky and was one of the citizens who were able to obtain visas to come to the United States, primarily to work but also visit. Sergio’s two older brothers had already settled in the United States years before he got his visa; therefore, when he was nineteen years old, he was able to settle in with them. During the interview, Sergio stated, “I first settled here in Livermore. It was the first place where I lived and found a job as a dishwasher” (Sergio). Like many other immigrants, he wanted to obtain a better life, and having visited the United States and comparing his life in Mexico, he knew that by living in the United States he would be able to obtain the future he wanted to have. This is where the issues come into place. Since he liked being here, he overstayed his six-month period policy. According to the Mexico Border Authority, you have to be issued this permit that they obtain from a Border Protection officer, which has to clear them to stay here in the United States for up to six months without a problem. In certain areas like New Mexico, it is required to be able to travel 55 miles beyond the border. You will need this when you are crossing back from the United States back into Mexico (O-Medina 2008). That is when Sergio ran into an issue and he could not go back to Mexico because if he did, when he wanted to come back using his visa, it would get revoked by immigration since he broke the rules. Therefore, he had no other choice but to stay here since he knew the United States was where he was going to be given the opportunity for that life he wished for.
Reason for Immigration/Settling Sergio Suarez came to the United States seeking a better life, employment, and greater opportunities. He came here voluntary but also with the influence of his parents. Where he was from, Tonala—although it was near the biggest city in Mexico, Guadalajara—lacked a lot of resources for the people living there as well as employment. During the interview, Sergio mentioned, “A couple years before leaving there was a huge crisis that happened in 1995 called the Peso Crisis, where a lot of people lost their jobs including my parents” (Suarez). Sergio said that was the main reason for his parents encouraging him to come to the United States as well as find a job. I was able to research more about the effects of the Peso Crisis, and this article stated that during this crisis in Mexico, it not only affected the economy but also the residents. The employment rate went down drastically and interest rates went through the roof, leaving investors fearing debt and long term crisis. The crisis started off because they devalued the peso; therefore, they wanted to keep the exchange rate when they were trading with other countries, especially the United States. They could not do that since the devaluation; therefore, they started going into debt trying to keep up with all charges they had. The United States government had to come in to help with the bailout of the economy, which was $50 billion, and while this was happening, Bill Clinton was president (Chen 2021). Many people think that immigrants just come to be a disturbance to the country, but in reality,
they are fleeing from problems they have in their country and are trying to find an outlet to be able to have a chance for a decent future. Since the United States has a significant amount of opportunities, you see immigration numbers being the highest. When Sergio first got to the United States, he settled in Livermore, where his two older brothers lived. His older brother had come about two years in advance to work as well, and during those years, they were able to obtain an apartment, where my dad lived, too. Sergio states that when he first got to the United States, “The economy back then in the late 1990s was way more affordable than it is now” (Suarez). He also discussed that since he was living with roommates and his siblings, paying the rent and other expenses would be divided up between them, and not only one person had to pay for everything. Sergio told me that at first it was hard to settle in because of the various cultures there were around. He did not have any family here except his two brothers, and everybody around him wherever he worked spoke English. That is understandable because here the native language is English. He also discussed there being a time where he felt racism from a job he was first at as a dishwasher. He stated that “some guy told him that if he did not speak any English then why was he working there” (Suarez). That is when Sergio realized that he either had to find a new job or start learning the English language. Although there may be racism toward Mexican immigrants, research I have done says otherwise: “As the United States begins to acknowledge
the importance of the growing Latino population in terms of political participation, economic resources, workforce contributions, and cultural influences, increasing attention will be drawn to US-Mexico relations. Mexico is one of the United States’ largest trading partners, and as the Mexican economy prospers and Mexico’s influence in Latin America increases, the economic and political importance of this relationship will also grow. Mexican migration to the United States is unique, and it is imperative that the United States and Mexico collaborate in developing immigration policies that serve the needs of people and promote economic prosperity in both countries” (Romo 18). Both Mexico and the United States know that the people immigrating from Mexico come because of the benefits of the economy compared to their native countries. They also contribute to the laborious work needed to be done in the United States. In other words, they do the work that citizens do not want to do. Mexico, being one of the largest trading partners with the United States, should be able to come to an agreement when it comes to the immigration policies they have so that both countries can benefit from it and they do not have these problems of people immigrating illegally. This should be able to be done regarding the benefits the United States gets from these undocumented workers.
Psychological Effects Sergio, my father, had also mentioned during the interview that for him the hardest part of being an immigrant is the
emotional and psychological distress that comes with it as years go on being away from your native country. When I asked him, “What or who do you miss most from your country?” he responded to me saying, “Extrano a mis amigos, familiares, la comida, pero lo más que extraño es el estilo de vida de México” (Suarez). Here he told me that he missed his family, friends, and food, but what he missed most was the style of life in Mexico. He explained to me the traditions they would have every October, a month when they would celebrate the virgin they praised. He felt the loneliness of not having his family around as he would stay here and work for months. Now that he has been here for almost nineteen years, he tells me it upsets him that he has not been able to go back and visit his country where he left his family, as well as be a part of the traditions that take place where he is from. So, I can say that a majority of immigrants do struggle mentally and psychologically just being immigrants in general coming to a whole new country. This part of the interview is what most stood out to me because most immigrants don't talk about the aftermath of living in the country you have migrated to and how that affects a person's mental health in general. Being away from your family is hard already, but having to move your whole life to a new country is even harder. The article “Examining the Psychological Impact of the Immigration Experience” says, “Acculturation interfaces immigrants with having to adapt and learn a new set of cultural norms while preserving the individuals’ native culture (Berry, 1997). According to Berry, “The
process of acculturation is complex and involves not only learning about the new culture but also integrating it to fit a social identity prototype and daily activities. Intergenerational conflict, acculturation stress, gender role conflict, loneliness and isolation, and family conflict may surface when individuals feel the pressure to assimilate or adapt quickly to the host culture” (Torres Fernandez 5). This further explains that when immigrants come to a new country, the least of their worries is fitting in with the culture’s normal traditions or norms they celebrate since they come here seeking employment and a better life. Once they have obtained the job they need to make money in order for them to be stable and have a roof over their head while they are in this foreign country, that is when they start to miss home, family, and the cultural traditions they would have in their homeland since before that they would just think about the opportunities they would have in the new country. They forget that eventually they are going to feel lonely and like an outsider in this new country they know nothing about. They may also feel discriminated against because they may not have the adequate legal status to be able to obtain a job that does not involve laborious work such as being a landscaper, dishwasher, or even janitor, jobs citizens do not want to do.
Winding Down/Conclusion Toward the end of the interview, I found that I was able to get a deeper understanding of the struggles my father had to face in order to be where he is today. I
was also able to understand more about how having a tourist visa works and how you are able to obtain one. In my father’s case, he is considered an immigrant because of him breaking the rules and policies of having a visa. He stayed here in the United States longer than the sixmonth policy; therefore, if he returned, he would have gotten the visa revoked and been unable to come back to the states. In the interview, I asked, “Why did you overstay your visa?” He stated, “I got distracted by all the money I was making at the time, and I saw that it was going good and I was able to provide for my parents in Mexico, but other than that, I also met your mother” (Suarez). Everything I heard him say about the visa and how he got here was all new to me as these are topics we normally do not discuss due to the fact that it is a touchy subject for him. Although Sergio’s immigration story may not sound like others, he came here to the United States for a variety of reasons and primarily to change what his future was going to look like here rather than in his home country, where there had been economic issues and lack of unemployment and opportunities for the citizens. Most importantly, I learned about the psychological distress an immigrant really goes through in this whole process and for the rest of their life as well. This made me realize that hundreds or even thousands of other immigrants who come for a better life and opportunity end up with this psychological sadness from leaving their family as well as their traditions behind in their home country.
Works Cited Chen, James, editor. "The 1994 Mexican Peso Crisis." Investopedia, 30 Jan. 2021, www.investopedia.com/terms/t/tequilaeffect.asp. Accessed 5 Dec. 2021. Gadarian, Shana Kushner, and Bethany Albertson. "Anxiety, Immigration, and the Search for Information." Political Psychology, vol. 35, no. 2, Apr. 2014, pp. 133-64. Academic Search Ultimate, https://doi.org/10.1111/pops.12034. Harriett D. Romo, and Olivia Mogollon-Lopez. Mexican Migration to the United States : Perspectives from Both Sides of the Border. Vols. First edition, U of Texas P, 2016. eBook Collection (EBSCOhost), lpclibrary.idm. oclc.org/login?url=https://search.ebscohost.com/login.aspx?direct=true&d b=nlebk&AN=1346874&site=ehost-live. O-Media, Erika, editor. "Travel to the USA." New Mexico Border Authority, www.nmborder.com/About_Us.aspx. Suarez, Sergio. Personal interview with the author. 23 Nov. 2021. Torres Fernandez. "Crossing International Borders in Search of a Better Life: Examining the Psychological Impact of the Immigration Experience." Universitas Psychologica, 5th series, vol. 16, Feb. 2017, pp. 1-21, https://dx.doi.org/10.11144/Javeriana.upsy16-5.cibs.