Tiny Lights A Journal of Personal Narrative Contest 2009 (in Summer 2010)
Vol. 15 No. 1
In This Issue:
On Good Terms With the Virgin Mary by Kathleen McCormick
On Sloth by Jennifer Ann Janisch
Memories of Berries by Cynthia Patton
Moving Diane by Andy Gloege
Get Along Home by Sindee Ernst
Fishing by B. Morrison
Dog Story by Susan Phillips
Seeing the Trees by Deborah Thompson
Ed Feldman, Marlene Cullen, G.M. Monks, Jane Holly Love, Mary Gaffney, Maggie Manning , Janet Jennings
Tiny Lights celebrates the power of personal voice in this biannual journal devoted to narrative essay. The annual essay contest winners, recipients of more than $1400 in prizes, provide the material for one issue. At present, submissions are closed for 2010. www.tiny-lights.com is a venue for additional voices, information about Tiny Lights and resources for writers. TL is a member of the Council of Literary Magazines and Presses. [clmp] Karin Kascher
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Well, what do you know? TL continues to offer an opportunity to let your light shine and your imagination run free! This on-line monthly column is for those who dare to answer impossible questions. Here’s a sample of upcoming topics and deadlines:
Is being reminded the same as being remembered? (09/15/10)
How do you know what your story's about?(10/15/10) What makes us forget or remember? (11/15/10)
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It is not light that is needed, but fire; it is not the gentle shower, but thunder. We need the storm, the whirlwind and the earthquake! Frederick Douglass
ne of the consolations of running a small magazine is that no one actually expects you to survive, let alone publish on time. At least that’s what I told myself these last few years whenever deadlines got slippery. But after losing my dad at contest time in 2009 and my mom a few months later, every deadline I tried to keep slid out of sight and beyond my grasp. Worst of all, I didn’t care. I might have walked away from Tiny Lights if so many of you hadn’t let me know you were paying attention. Those beacons you raised helped show me the way to go. With gratitude for those who continue to light my path, I offer this issue of the winning essays of 2009 with the 2010 winners to be featured before year’s end.
Susan Bono, Editor July 2010
n First Prize: $350 I Always Felt Like I Was On Pretty Good Terms With The Virgin Mary, Even Though I Didn’t Get Pregnant In High School by Kathleen McCormick
hen girls got pregnant in St. Michael’s parish, the most common, if slightly sinful, response was a church-sanctioned lie. The girl’s parents would issue an announcement in the parish newsletter that their daughter had actually been secretly married for a year, but because she and the groom were underage, despite the consent of both sets of parents (and often grandparents too), the marriage could not be publicized. The baby, therefore, was not only legitimate but, because the parents were Catholic, to be expected. Because all of us knew that worse than having premarital sex was using birth control, it all
made sense. Everyone was relatively happy, even if a few dates were tweaked. I think that’s what we all thought the Virgin Mary and her family had done, only somewhat more elaborately. And so most pregnant girls at St. Michael’s made special vigils to her. I loved Mary too, even though I didn’t get pregnant in high school. There were many other reasons to like Mary. Her concern for girls and for those in poverty were at the top of my list. She frequently made appearances, or “apparitions,” to groups of poor children with a higher percentage of girls in them. I appreciated that—mixed play groups with girls dominating. The kids were usually from some town in Europe or South America that really needed the money her appearance could kick off. She made sure there were shrines requiring builders who’d been out of work and wells needing diggers. Her visits also cried out for commemorative spots, usually with flowers, that had to have gardeners. Priests and nuns were necessary to make everything Christian, to bless the water, and collect the entrance fees. And if a place really caught on, there could be bed and breakfasts, tea shops, souvenir stores displaying relics and selling prayer books, holy cards, medals, and statues, all helping local industry and increasing tourism. Mary also liked clothes, and her fashion sense was to die for. In our religious art class, we learned that when Mary wasn’t making apparitions to the poor, she was dropping in on artists. Mary posed for more painters than any other person who ever lived. She started with St. Luke, but quickly moved on to better painters, especially Italian ones, and her dresses were so beautiful, and not all of them blue, either. Sometimes they were color-coordinated with the wings of the Angel Gabriel. It was as if Mary could see into the future and know in the morning that it was going to be a day requiring maroon brocade. All the Bible stories suggest that her house was small, but it must have had some kind of basement closet because she had the right thing to wear for any occasion. You knew, too, that Mary was a good girl, except for just the one time (and who knows how any of us would respond to an angel—I mean, a real one, not some horny idiot like Joey Pease that Janet had gotten involved with). On the night of March 24th while Bishop O’Brien and a lot of other priests—all dressed in their best lace—were processing into St. Michael’s to celebrate the Vigil of the Feast of the Annunciation, Agnes and Donna and I were all painting our nails a pale blue in honor of Mary’s visit from Gabriel. We were also avoiding studying for the Diocesan exam the following morning. Diocesan exams were given at the end of March to students in Catholic schools throughout Massachusetts from the fourth to the twelfth grade. In order to pass the exam, you had to answer four out of seven essay questions, all of them requiring a knowledge of “theological doctrine”—which none of us really had. Even though every year students—and their parents—had fits about the difficulty of the Diocesan exams, the only question that ever really bothered me was one that year on the Feast of the Annunciation. And it was about the
All Women are alike when the lamp is out. Darkovan proverb Blessed Virgin herself. “I recommend that you all answer Question 5,” Sister Joseph stated sternly. 5. Our Lady has blessed children all over the world by appearing to them. Today she has chosen to appear to you alone. Describe, step-by-step, what you would do— particularly what you would say to her and then what you would do after her visit to preserve her memory, carry out her wishes, etc. Out of all of the hundreds of kids in St. Michael’s school, I was the only one foolish, fearful, obedient, and stupid enough to actually try to answer Question 5. As I read the question over and over, my whole body began to sweat. What if the Virgin appeared to me? It was all well and good her showing up in Fatima or Loretto or Walsingham or remote places we’d never heard of. But if I looked up and saw her, perhaps slightly translucent, floating around the picnic table in my backyard, I would, no questions asked, run like hell until I couldn’t see her anymore. “Go away!” I’d scream. “Our economy is fine here in the greater Boston area. I think they need you in Peru.” I had to collect myself. This was a test. All I needed to do was write something that sounded mildly plausible. To calm myself down, I pictured the Virgin in her lovely dresses, especially in the portraits from Italy. Slide after slide that we’d studied in Religious Art. Red silk. Blue brocade. Green velvet. I breathed in and out slowly, imagining, with increasing tranquility, the feel of those beautiful fabrics in my hands and against Mary’s body. Then my mind went back to the day we’d discussed the Da Vinci Annunciation. Mary was resplendent in a pale red silk empire-styled dress, gathered right under the breasts with a blue velvet ribbon. Her wrap, a sumptuous blue silk lined with gold satin, covered one shoulder and trailed along the tiles of her terrace where she was reading. I had asked Sister why, while Mary’s slender right fingers held down the page of her book, her left arm was raised up, palm forward, suggesting surprise or even a desire to protect herself from Gabriel, to stop his message. Sister had shrieked, “Stop talking!” inadvertently putting her left arm up, palm forward, just as Mary had done. Sister cried out that I was a blasphemer and that my classmates should block their ears so my words could not endanger their souls as they surely blackened my own. Typical. That fine line between salvation and damnation that I supposedly was always crossing. No wonder almost everyone else usually tuned out during class. I loved these paintings and wanted to get a sense of Mary’s real personality from them, but suddenly I was the infidel when it was the Virgin Mary who had put her hand up to Gabriel in the first place. Donna and Agnes glanced over to me, their eyes rolling at Sister Joseph. But I knew they were also rolling at me, at least a little, for caring and questioning when all they wanted was for class to end. So I stopped listening to Sister going on about how evil I was, and I went back to that slide. Mary’s eyes gazed at Gabriel, but she seemed to want to get
back to her reading. Her lips were pursed slightly, in disapproval of having been interrupted, I thought. The slight tilt of her head, her expression, her lips, her eyes, her hand, all suggested polite resistance to Gabriel’s disclosure. She was weighing her options. Now, staring at Question 5, I realized how my reaction to the thought of Mary’s appearing to me resembled her reaction to Gabriel in the Da Vinci painting. She saw Gabriel and, adorned in red silk and blue velvet, with a lovely view of Florence from her garden, said, “No! Go have the baby yourself.” And suddenly there in another slide, wearing a lightgreen satin dress, Mary was breast-feeding Him. I could tell, just from the look on her face, she felt that parenting Jesus was, after all, no picnic. I mean you have a baby, and it turns out to be God. Where does that leave you? Mary couldn’t even discipline Him. He was God, for heaven’s sake. What He wanted, He had to be given. Her breasts must have been bleeding, never mind her Immaculate or His Sacred Heart. How long did it take to toilet train Him? And what did she do during the terrible twos? I felt time slipping away and quickly looked around the class. Everyone else was writing fast, except for a couple of really stupid kids. And me. But it was hard to think of a conversation I might have if Mary appeared to me when I just felt so sorry for her. There she was—poor, innocent (well, fairly innocent) Mary. Why didn’t she run like hell when she first saw Gabriel? Of course, she probably tried, but who stands a chance against an angel? Who stands a chance against your own child when He turns out to be God? So she got to visit painters, but she must have been so harried. Even though I should have been answering the exam question, I started to think how the painters probably made Mary look much more beautiful than she actually was because they were hoping to sell their paintings for a good price. They were supposed to be depicting the Mother of God, after all. And even if, in reality, she looked like crap, sweating, her hair not washed recently, her clothes stained with baby puke, they had to make her look good. And then, just as I was getting used to the terrible idea that Mary didn’t always appear to the painters as a beautiful vision—even though that idea was not helping me answer the question—I had another awful realization. The clothes weren’t hers. When Mary would appear to each artist, she’d look sad and tired and so disappointed in how her life had turned out. She’d be wearing her faded blue, mended, layered-enoughso-they-weren’t-see-through old clothes. The painters, motivated, not by God but by greed, would put her in some other woman’s dress and totally recreate her with vivid palettes and even more vivid imaginations. Then a fly would land on her nose, and she’d give it a quick rub. And the painter would scream at her, “Mother of God, can’t you hold still for ten minutes? Ten minutes. That’s all I ask.” And ten minutes was all I had left for Question 5. I picked up my pen and began to write as fast as I could. I
Contest 2009 May you grow up to be righteous, may you grow up to be true. May you always know the truth and see the lights surrounding you. Bob Dylan
She didn’t even get to keep the clothes, and that was perhaps the least of the offenses committed against Her. Her sorrow is so deep. Everyone asks too much of Her. She is just a woman caught in a God’s world. She is trapped in a domestic situation that is not of her own making. She didn’t have a chance to write her own story. Men have written it, and, as usual, they have elevated Her so long as She could be thought of as the Virgin—compliant, meek, obedient, cooperative, and humble. I predictably did poorly on the exam, which was immaterial to me, but not to anyone in authority. I had to wash blackboards in the grammar school as well as the high school for the rest of the year. But I hardly minded because in writing that paragraph and in the innumerable times I had to read it and try to explain it to my parents, to various nuns, to Sister Joseph, to Sister Superior, and, most embarrassingly, to Bishop O’Brien, who summoned me for a private audience, I started to realize that I might understand Mary better than I had ever imagined. I began to see that even if I didn’t expect her or the Archangel Gabriel to appear to me, others—human others—would appear, with messages and demands, with their own ideas about me and about how I should live my life. Others against whom pursed lips, a disapproving gaze, and even a raised left arm, palm forward, would be insufficient defense. Some already had. Holy Mary, blessed art thou among women. Thanks for the warning. Kathleen Zamboni McCormick is Professor of Literature at SUNY Purchase. Her books include The Culture of Reading and the Teaching of English (MLA Mina Shaughnessy Award), co-edited volumes on Teaching Italian American Literature and Teaching Joyce’s Ulysses, and the almost-finished memoir, Why is God in Daddy’s Slippers?. Chapters have appeared in Witness, South Carolina Review, Rambler, among others.
Second Prize: $250 On Sloth by Jennifer Ann Janisch
said that if Mary appeared to me, I would kneel down and start saying “Hail Marys” (totally lame!). In the quick answer I sketched out, I invited her back to my house to look at my holy card collection and at the statue of her and St. Anne that my mother had just bought. I asked if she wanted me to set up a pilgrimage site, though our block was pretty crowded with three-family houses. She said no. I suggested a small Catholic store and even offered to sell some of my precious holy cards and glow-in-the-dark saints, but she said no. And then she vanished. My apparition—like my essay—was a total bust. I sat in the sweat smelly classroom with everyone still scribbling away and bit on the end of my pen, knowing I would fail this question, but figuring I’d said enough to escape excommunication. With nothing left to lose, I decided that I could write my last paragraph for Mary and not the test givers.
hen the seat of my pants melted, I tore myself from the hot tar, hung my sweaty hat from a back belt loop to cover my bare ass, and ditched my curbpainting duties. I could see the other members of my team along the road up ahead, squatting curbside in their AmeriCorps uniforms with paintbrushes in their hands. I walked up the street, my hat bouncing against my bottom as I passed them. As they turned to me with hands as visors, I mumbled something about heading down to the National Guard Armory. “Gonna change my pants,” I said. We had been staying at the armory in Iowa for a week or so, good living as compared to the roach-infested squalor of Indianapolis a month before, or the condemned building in Kansas City a couple of months before that. The armory looked like a large gymnasium, empty but for the portraits that lined the walls—pictures of the President, the Secretary of Defense, the Army Chief of Staff, and so on. There was an industrial kitchen, a prison-like shower room, and two offices where my ten teammates and I set up cots. In those offices, there were books. Shelves and shelves of books. I had missed reading; literature had been too heavy for travel. But now, I had my own semi-private collection—dusty military handbooks with titles like Counter-Guerilla Operations and Decisive Force and Machine Gun 7.62-mm, M60. I spent many of those Iowan nights after my teammates fell asleep studying the logistics of foxholes, the assembling and disassembling of a machine gun, the images of soldiers in offensive and defensive positions. We were at war, but I did not join AmeriCorps to assist the country in its time of need. I joined for selfish reasons, believing that a year in volunteer work would make
A mind's frigidity: frozen steel, dark rage, morbidity. Cold fire. Stephen King up for the mess I had made of my life, atonement for, say, the years I spent as a teenage delinquent, or the years I spent in college doing drugs, or the years I worked at that strip club. I enrolled in this yearlong duty with a mind set on transformation, but it didn’t last. After painting my eleventh curb yellow, I gave up. I should have turned down the road for the armory, changed my pants, and resumed my position in the row of those burning in the triple digit heat, but I had not enlisted in the program so that I could melt on a road in the middle of nowhere with a dripping paintbrush in one hand and a stolen guide to Army Operational Support in the other. It was laziness, really, and I knew that, but it was only later that I realized how hard I always worked to avoid work—all of those hours planning my evasion, deliberating over exit strategies, trekking far around the circumference of possible witnesses. I had been like this since I first began cutting school at fifteen. Arriving early, I’d steal late passes, forge signatures, bribe the security guards with cigarettes and sweet talk, and leave certain doors propped open for my escape. And I’d run the rest of the day, jumping turnstiles into Manhattan and avoiding contact with adults and authority. Upon returning to the suburbs, I’d collect the homework that other students had written for me and finally go home, exhausted. Back then, I believed that the streets were a better provider of useful education. There was an allure to the city, something exotic that made the suburbs seem that much more isolated. So I sought out subway prophets and club kids as my professors, trading in my academic education for experience. In AmeriCorps, I initially fought this tendency by trying to see work performed as experience gained, but this idea dissolved, much like my pants. I thought I’d join the slothful locals at the bar that afternoon and we’d drink our cold beers and complain about the sun and they’d teach me how to like country music and everyone would be happy avoiding work together. And to some extent, that’s what happened. But despite our mutual hatred of work, there was an explicit distance between the townsfolk and me, much like the disconnection between the suburbs and the city, and I began to feel as much like a tourist here in the country as I did in Manhattan. I first felt this when I ordered a Heineken, unaware that in rural Iowa, or at least in this town, bars only served beer in cans, and only three varieties: Bud, Miller, and Coors. Or maybe it was before that, just as the door closed behind me, when an old man with a scraggly beard and a leather vest said, “I got God on the phone. Is there anything you want to ask him?” He held the receiver out to me and seemed confused when I declined his offer. I realized then that one is essentially alone in sloth. Whatever the old man in the bar was hiding from was not the same as what I was hiding from. Likewise, whatever guilt we would feel later for avoiding our responsibilities would also differ. Perhaps he would not feel guilt at all.
While I never felt remorse for ditching work in school, I felt it in AmeriCorps. Maybe that was why the first project in Kansas City was so difficult. It was a great amount of toil, what with the morning demolition and the afternoon installation of drywall, but it wasn’t so much the work as it was the avoidance of avoiding it. I had signed on for the program, after all, in the hopes that such work would transform me. Logically, then, if I failed to work, I’d fail to transform. After Kansas City, there was Indianapolis, and then Iowa, and throughout the months spent in those different places, I’d held onto that idea of transformation. But when my pants melted, I was able to convince myself that work was not something that transformed, but something that hindered. I tried explaining this to the old man after he had gotten off the phone with God. I told him that there was more to learn from him, for instance, than from painting curbs. “Yeah,” he said. “I guess I have more of a story to tell than some curb.” I tried to rephrase my ideas but he chuckled and shooed me away. “No worries,” he said. He whistled to the bartender—the sort of two-fingered whistle I had always wanted to learn—then abruptly said, “I hate my job.” He gulped the rest of his beer and rolled the empty can between his calloused fingers, watching intently as the aluminum spun along the counter. “What do you do?” “Welding,” he said. “I weld.” But he didn’t want to talk about welding. He wanted to talk about motorcycles. That was his passion. And that was why he was in the bar rather than at his job—the chance to ride his bike in the sun, to drift for a while from town to town and take in a few beers here and there, the chance to enjoy his life. “Before I’m too old to have any fun,” he said. He wanted to show me his motorcycle so I hopped off my stool and led the way, and he mentioned the hat that didn’t quite cover the hole in my pants, and I said, “I hate my job, too.” Outside, he swept his fingers along the frame of his bike, describing the way the wind blew through his hair and the way the rumbling boomed through his body, and I thought that perhaps sloth wasn’t as bad as I had believed it to be, but then I touched the frame and it burned me, as it was hot from sitting in the sun, and I thought of my teammates out there somewhere, perhaps stuck to the melting tar, as I had been, and as the old man rambled about dust-ridden rides in Iowan backcountry, I thought of them sweating, covered in yellow paint, their arms sore from monotonous strokes of the brush. As he talked about being alone, riding in great open spaces, I wondered if the team leader had noticed my absence. And then I saw the government van approaching. I grabbed the man’s arm. Ran for cover. He said, “They’re going to see you.”
Contest 2009 For, while the tale of how we suffer, and how we are delighted, and how we may triumph is never new, it always must be heard. There isn't any other tale to tell, it's the only light we've got in all this darkness. James Baldwin
I said, “No. We have the benefit of the terrain for our defensive position.” He stroked his beard. I said, “Urban Operations Field Manual.” The fifteen-passenger van with its tinted windows and government plates rolled by as the old man and I crouched alongside a building. I imagined my teammates inside asking for the air conditioning to be turned up all the way, fighting over radio station preferences, nudging each other about how good that glass of iced tea is going to taste at lunch and about how much they deserve it, and perhaps thinking that they might save me some of that iced tea, for surely I’m painting a curb somewhere and will join them soon.
Third Prize: $150
Jennifer Ann Janisch received her MFA from George Mason University where she taught undergraduate writing and literature courses and served as Nonfiction Editor of So to Speak. Recent work has been published or is forthcoming in Watershed and The Northern Virginia Review. She lives with her fiancé, Lucas, in Fairfax, Virginia.
Tiny Lights’ Personal Essay Contest Spring 2011
17th Annual Personal Essay Competition First Prize: $350 Second Prize: $250 Third Prize: $150 2 Honorable Mentions: $100 each 3 “Flash” prizes: $150 each Prizes include publication All Participants receive copy of the 2011 contest edition
Deadline: postmark February 18, 2011 SASE recommended for feedback/contest notification Entry Word Limit STANDARD length: no more than 2,000 words FLASH length: no more than 1,000 words Entry Fee: $15 first essay, $10 each additional entry Send manuscripts and checks payable to: Susan Bono, Editor Tiny Lights Publications P.O. Box 928 Petaluma, CA 94953 Please consult contest guidelines @www.tiny-lights.com Winners will be posted on the website by April 11, 2011
Bust Out Magazine Guy Biederman’s low fat fiction is bursting forth online:
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Memories of Berries by Cynthia Patton
t’s late summer, Northern California. The air is heavy with heat, the surrounding hills tawny as the flanks of a mountain lion rippling beneath the sun. I wander the stalls at the farmer’s market. It’s been a long year, an even longer summer. Sweat creeps across my scalp. A man bumps into me and I’m close to snarling. Usually the sight of heirloom tomatoes and lavender honey puts me in a good mood for days. Clearly it’s time to go. I toss my wallet into the worn leather backpack and consolidate my bags for the walk home. I’m working toward the exit when something catches my eye. Blackberries. How did I miss them? I’m startled to realize I have been unconsciously scanning the stalls for weeks. They are late this year. Blackberries. I hurry over and grab four baskets, fumbling with the backpack’s drawstring. Before the weathered farmer can make change, I pop a handful into my mouth. In an instant I am there: the dimpled flesh tart on my tongue, the fruity aroma, the prick of the thorns, the damp grass beneath my bare feet, the slant of the sun, my sticky hands. I eat a few more and when he sees my face, the farmer asks if I want a different batch. “No,” I say. “They’re delicious.” He gives me a doubtful look. An undertow of emotion unmoors my heart. My face crumples beneath his stare and I swallow hard. “It’s just. . .” I choke on the words. “This is the taste of my grandmother.” It’s funny the things you remember when someone is gone. I can no longer recall the shape of my grandmother’s nose or the exact color of her hair before it turned gray. What I remember are berries. My grandmother grew blackberries in her garden. As
By the blue purple yellow red water on the green orange violet mass of the grass In our perfect park made of flecks of light and dark and parasols Stephen Sondheim Sunday in the Park with George a child I ran and laughed and studied the clouds in that overgrown yard where tomatoes and fuchsias tumbled together in careless abandon. Window boxes spilled red geraniums and deep blue lobelia while ivy scrambled up the white clapboard house. Pots overflowed with tropical-hued roses and fragrant herbs crowded the path that led to a glider swinging beneath an arbor. I’d throw myself down in that gently rocking bower and watch blackberries ramble the fence, haloed by the afternoon sun. My younger sister and I picked berries for Grandma in the summer, both of us squeezed between the arching canes. I can still see the ribbed leaves with their prickly thorns and smell the honeyed fragrance of ripe fruit. The reddish-black berries had a dusty bloom, and we learned early that the darkest ones had the sweetest taste. We would eat as many as we picked, arriving at the back door with our hands, mouths, and sometimes our clothes, stained violet-blue. I was in law school the last time I picked fruit in Grandma’s garden. I’d squeezed in a Labor Day visit, and we sat on battered metal chairs, our bare feet hidden in overgrown grass. After three years of cancer, Grandma was fragile as a baby bird, whittled down to skin and bone. I wasn’t used to seeing her this way. All my life she was the picture of health: short and sturdy, full of life. This new grandmother was a stranger, someone I should know, but didn’t. She sipped iced tea. “How’s school?” I grimaced. “I made it through the first year, so I don’t think I’ll flunk out, if that’s what you’re asking.” “No,” she said. “It never crossed my mind.” I smiled despite myself. In this respect, Grandma was just like Mom. Both had more confidence in my intelligence than I did. I took a deep pull from my glass, ice cubes clinking. “They say the first year scares you to death, the second year works you to death, and the third year bores you to death.” She stared at me for a moment, considering. “You think it’s true?” I shrugged. “I’ll find out soon enough.” (In retrospect, it was a surprisingly accurate statement.) We both laughed, and Grandma reached over and patted my knee. “You’ll do fine.” I looked at her and nodded. “Yeah, I think so.” She squeezed, her grip surprisingly strong. “I know so.” I etched her words into my mind for the worried days I knew would come, then told her about an article I wrote for the environmental law review. I may have mentioned citations. I know I discussed case law. She listened politely. It never occurred to me that a woman dying of cancer might not care about developments in the Endangered Species Act. I gulped tea and told her I’d been appointed Associate Editor; next year I would become Editor-in-Chief. I had a plan for tripling the journal’s size and circulation. “How does it feel?” she asked. “How does what feel?”
“Your plan. Does it feel like the correct choice?” I looked at her, confused. What did feelings have to do with it? The plan was logical. She turned toward me, the question still on her face. I shrugged. “I guess.” We sat quietly for awhile, watching birds flit through the rambling canes. I slumped in my chair, droopy in the sun. She spoke quietly. “It doesn’t matter how much education you have; until you learn to trust your intuition, you’ll never be truly intelligent.” I wasn’t sure I’d heard her. Was she telling me to rely on instinct? She might as well have told me to practice voodoo. I sat up and stared at her, aghast. Or maybe it was disdain. A look I’d seen Mom give her a million times. I remember thinking, intuition—what a joke. She looked at me and smiled. I imagine now it was a sad smile, full of wisdom. I suspect she knew how far I was from intuition, how divorced from feeling. This is just one of the things law school cost me. It would take a decade to understand what she meant, to gain those feelings back. Trusting myself took longer. I’m still learning to do that. “Whatever,” I muttered, studying the canes. Either my grandfather or the birds had harvested most of the crop, but from our vantage point I noticed an abundance of lowgrowing fruit. I walked over and got down on my hands and knees. Grandma joined me, lowering her body with surprising grace, and together we picked berries. Initially we showed restraint, but within minutes we were cramming the puckered delicacies in our mouths as the sun warmed our backs. I remember looking up at the sound of her laugh to see her hands stained blue like her eyes, her face sticky and flushed. I wiped my hand on the grass and pushed a strand of hair off her gaunt face. She smiled at me and gazed into middle distance, lost in thought. Finally she spoke. “If I had any idea how bad it would get, I’m not sure I would’ve had the surgery.” I sat back on my heels. While flattered by the intimacy of her confession, her candor stunned me. Fighting tears, I studied my stained hands. “That’s not true.” I blurted it like an accusation. She looked at me and I saw in her eyes that she was tired of fighting, exhausted in a way I didn’t yet understand. But I knew with certainty that she would no more give up the battle than I would drop out of school. We’d both come too far. I studied her face, her eyes crystalline pools cradled in fractured stone. I saw the fierceness hidden in their depths, the hunger. She was finished with sickness, not finished with living. Like me, she wanted to drink life in big gulps. She taught me this. Years later, I realized she taught me something else. At twenty-three I had trouble imagining myself sick of anything worse than the food poisoning I’d caused the previous spring by defrosting chili on the kitchen counter, but a shadowy part of me recognized that some day I might be sick. Someday, my body whispered, I would be the one fighting cancer. When that day came, some twelve years later, I sat in the oncologist’s office and remembered the last three years of my grandmother’s life. It was then I realized
Of evening tinct, The purple-streaming Amethyst is thine. James Thomson Summer she’d shown me how to fight disease with dignity, how to face cancer without fear. But mostly, I think now, she taught me how to live. There in the backyard, I could not meet her gaze. My eyes slid away and I yanked a plump berry, tearing a portion of the cane. I carefully plucked the stem and leaves from the dimpled flesh. I looked at Grandma again. One of her hands played with the collar of her faded blouse. She sighed. “You’re right. No one wants to die.” I fingered the berry, unsure what to say. I wished I could give Grandma my surplus strength the way I planned to hand her my law school diploma to make up for the education she was denied. It didn’t occur to me that she would not live to see me graduate. The doctors had said she would not survive the radiation. They said she would never walk after the broken hip. They said it again after the hip replacement. Each time they were wrong. They said she would never leave the nursing home, never leave hospice care, and yet here she was in her garden, laughing and eating berries. Still on our knees, I placed my palm on the weathered skin of her arm. “You aren’t ready to die.” What I meant was: I’m not ready. She looked at me almost sadly and stroked my hand. “I have no regrets. It’s been a good life.” She plucked a berry and placed it in her mouth. “I’m ready to go.” She said it gently, as if breaking bad news. Her lips were stained blue as she smiled. “But not today.” I would have said more had I known she’d be gone in a few weeks. Or at least I’d like to think that—questions about the old country, about Mom, about life. When I saw her the last time in the hospital, I still didn’t realize it was the end. I knew there was a spot on her lung, but part of me believed Grandma was invincible, that she would prove them wrong again. When they said she had a year, I took it as a minimum. Only now, after six specialists, seven surgeries, and eight years of infertility, do I finally understand that medicine is more educated guess than solid science. Only now do I realize with a shock: she knew. But that day in the garden I had yet to experience the swiftness of change, didn’t realize how life can turn in an instant. We picked berries serenaded by sparrows and eventually gathered enough to share with my grandfather. For dinner we ate blackberries and ice cream. I don’t remember the conversation, but I know there was laughter. I returned to school with a belly full of berries, sated with the feeling we had the luxury of time. Twenty years later, standing at the kitchen sink, I dump berries into a colander and inhale deeply. No matter how hot the weather, the honeyed fragrance of blackberries is a cool caress on my sweating skin, pulling me back to those magical summers long ago. I place a berry in my mouth, and the juice swirls on my tongue. I grimace and bite into a second. I am my grandmother’s garden, wild and overgrown. I no longer attempt to tame my feelings, just as I no longer practice law. I eat another berry and it occurs to
me that my season of loss makes me grateful for the many blessings I retain. My hand returns again and again to the bowl. The sweet blends with the tart, richer for the contrast.
Cynthia Patton has worked as an environmental attorney, scientific editor, nonprofit advocate, and consultant. The California native writes poetry and nonfiction and lives with a rowdy dog, even rowdier cat, and her six-year-old daughter. Cynthia’s work has appeared in magazines, anthologies, and books. She’s revising a memoir. Email her at: firstname.lastname@example.org
2009’s Contest Judges Ken Rodgers teaches online and writes in Boise, Idaho. Ken’s wife, Betty, and he are making a documentary film about the men Ken served with at the siege of Khe Sanh, Vietnam, in 1968. His short story, “Pugilists,” will appear in the fall, 2010 edition of The Farallon Review. www.kennethrodgers.com. Rebecca Lawton’s writing about nature, human and otherwise, has been in Orion, Sierra, Shenandoah, THEMA, San Francisco Chronicle Magazine, and more. Her memoir, Reading Water: Lessons from the River, was a Chronicle Bay Area Bestseller and ForeWord Nature Book of the Year finalist. She has received the Ellen Meloy Fund Award for Desert Writers and other awards. www.beccalawton.com Kat Meads is the author of Little Pockets of Alarm, The Invented Life of Kitty Duncan, Sleep, Born Southern and Restless, Not Waving and other books of fiction, nonfiction and poetry. One of her essays, “Beds, a Reverie,” was selected a Notable Essay of 2008 by Robert Atwan, Series Editor, The Best American Essays 2009, Her third novel, when the dust finally settles, is forthcoming from Ravenna Press. Dan Coshnear lives in Guerneville, works at a group home for homeless in Santa Rosa, and teaches writing at a variety of SF and northbay university extension programs. He is author of Jobs & Other Preoccupations (Helicon Nine 2001) recipient of an Editor's Prize from the Missouri Review and a Christopher Isherwood Foundation Fellowship. He has recently published stories in Juked, Third Coast and The L.A. Review.
Robin Beeman has published three works of fiction: A Parallel Life and Other Stories, A Minus Tide, picked by The Reader’s Choice: 200 Book Club Favorites and The Lost Art of Desire, which won the Texas Review National Novella contest. She is an Iowa Writers’ Workshop graduate. Her stories and essays have appeared in many publications.
Dim eclipse, disastrous twilight. John Milton Paradise Lost
Honorable Mention: $100 Moving Diane
by Andy Gloege
e sat close together at the top of a straight white stairway. It was one of those moments when everything slows down. Her cheeks were pink from moving boxes. I should have kissed her. “How could you sleep with Charlie?” I asked, amazed at the words as they came from my mouth. She cringed, and that ended my relationship with Diane. In the 1980s I worked in San Francisco as a writer for CBS News. The newsroom at a major network’s radio hub is a mad scientist’s experiment, a volatile mix of ego, talent and personality. As a group we were nothing to look at, unkempt and over-stressed, yellow from smoke and fluorescent lighting. Appearance was nothing in the newsroom. Ability was all that mattered. Editors worked furiously at hourly schedules, chopping to usable bits the news of the day. Assistant editors reduced wire copy in frantic haste, with one ear tuned to a police scanner and the other cradling a telephone. Reporters scurried in and out, hungry for attention. Writers pounded dirty keys under clouds of cigarette smoke, pumping out finished copy, twenty-four hours a day. It was a brutal, competitive slaughterhouse manned by unsympathetic, sardonic wiseasses. Every story was filed under a short “slug” line, a word to denote the gist of the piece, shorthand for an editor’s outlines. The “slugs” showed our collective lack of mercy. A bathhouse raid would be slugged “Homo-Arrestus.” A killer drunk driver was “SForBrains.” A bum burned in a trash fire was “BBQ,” just as a burned child would be “ToastyTot.” For broadcast, the scripts were nonjudgmental. Behind the scenes, no one was spared.
I was twenty and still in college when I started editing wire copy. It was heady and nerve-wracking. You survived on tiny amounts of sleep, heard your words read on-air by professional announcers, and worked in the company of so many that could write so brilliantly at such an incredible pace. We were the best, collectively, and knew it, and we were arrogant in our braininess. Clubby in our opinions. Sometimes petty. Often immature. Competitive to a fault. Witty at anyone’s expense. We were the lonely bright and ironic license was ours, and woe to anyone who gave cause for our nervousness or distaste. They would suffer the rapier of our widely heralded opinion. Diane and I worked the newsroom, but rarely at the same time. She covered shifts for staff on vacation, while I worked drive-time mornings. For a while, we were scheduled together on Saturdays, and that is how I got to know Diane. She was attractive in the way twenty-eight-year-old women are attractive to twenty-year-old men, pretty eyes in an otherwise unremarkable face. She walked with her shoulders back, like a girl playing queen. She had the talent of invading your personal space, of getting right in there close when you had a conversation. Her breasts were prominent, forceful under sweaters soft as down. When she stood so near, I would lose my focus, aware of my immaturity. She was sleeping with Charlie. Charlie was the boss. In the newsroom, Diane was treated with nearly open disdain. When she talked to me, I knew what the others were thinking, that she was charged with sex and I should be wary. Eyebrows would be raised as she left the room, as if I’d been involved in something dirty. I’d do the same thing when she met with another editor, as if this was a normal way to behave, leering innuendo behind a girl’s back. When she was called into Charlie’s office, the newsroom would sneer. Charlie was twice my age. He had risen out of another newsroom somewhere, and made it clear people like me were somewhere beneath his notice. At the time I didn’t think of him as a guy with a wife and money and kids. I didn’t think Diane was ruining her life. The morality of the situation didn’t bother me at all. What I thought was that Charlie was forty and nearly out of hair. I was twenty and alone, and my hair was just fine. I figured she’d be a fool not to make the trade. She told me she was changing apartments and asked if I’d help her move. It didn’t occur that she should have other, better friends to help with the project. There was nothing gallant in offering my services. I was twenty. I hoped for the opportunity to get my hands under her sweater. There’s not much Darwinism in the mating rituals of Post Industrialist man. Men rely too much on looks. Women, meanwhile, sort men in broad categories. Couch potato. Clown. Cheater. Subtleties are hard to detect. In the ‘80s there was no Match.com or speed dating or Viagra. We had bars and discos and work. Who will be a good
Wavers at tunnel's end a pin-prick of light, My hope of success, my rest, my faith become sight. J. Randal Matheny companion? Who can be trusted? It’s a tricky game. She had a U-Haul truck packed with help from her father the night before. She’d used a sleeping bag and we bundled that up and moved the last few boxes, then drove to her new place. Everything I owned fit in the trunk of my Chevy. I couldn’t imagine the complexity of an apartment full of my own stuff, a truck full of things attached to my identity. I had people, though. If I was moving, a dozen guys would show up to help pack my car. Diane had only me. There was a wooden staircase painted white that ramped in a straight line to the second floor. I was tireless, running down those stairs light and powering up them heavy. I carried her bedding and clothes in big armfuls that smelled of hair and perfume and detergent, and I could have breathed in those smells all day. It was a weekday, and the world went on without us, unaware of this thing we were doing, moving Diane. When we were done, she left me to get beer, and I was alone with a woman’s things, all her possessions, and the fantasy that somehow these things were mine too, that the smells and underwear and quiet conversations could somehow also be my own. Then I ruined it. The beer was cold and she sat right next to me, her hair mussed from work. We were at the top of that white stairway when the moment came. “How could you sleep with Charlie?” Her smile hardened and her eyes went cold, and I had lost her. Until it left my mouth it didn’t feel like an insult. I think she wanted to cry, but she didn’t. An uncomfortable hour followed, as I insisted on staying to help with a few things she didn’t need me for, hoping to salvage something from the day. She had the courage to invite me to dinner for my efforts, and I had the sense to turn her down. We didn’t see much of each other after that. She left the job after a few months to work at another station, and the rumor mill had several reasons for her going. I tried not to listen. I worked the newsroom for two more years. I was certain then that something defining was happening, that I was preparing for something profound, that these were the greatest days of my life. At twenty, regret is a shirt you slip off. Later it’s a bouquet on a hall table you pass every day, something not always with you, but always there when you get home. Was Diane was involved with Charlie? I don’t even know. I know some women want things so badly they wish them true. I know some men are acutely pragmatic about their needs. And it’s very easy to be an ass. Last night the air was a cool drink. Numbers on the gas pump spun slowly as my little boy made goofy faces through the truck window. A man pulled up on his Harley Davidson. It was flawless, the chrome fine silver. He wore a leather jacket and chaps, and one of those helmets that covered only the top of his head, like a cereal bowl turned
upside down. It was just us alone in the world. He nodded a greeting, looked pointedly at the gleaming motorcycle, and raised his eyebrows to me. This was not a collector of motorbikes, or a chopper gangster. He looked like he’d rolled in straight from the showroom with this mid-life crisis toy, and his eyes wanted me to agree, wanted my approval of his vanity. What we really need are such small things. I grinned at him and nodded. The bike was beautiful. I finished with the gas, stuck my tongue out at my son, who laughed, and we drove away. It’s been twenty years and I’m still scorched from that look on her face. She wanted so little. I’m still trying not to be an ass. Andy Gloege is a former writer and editor for CBS News. He lives in Petaluma with his wife and son.
n Honorable Mention: $100 Get Along Home
by Sindee Ernst
am three-and-one-half years old, the youngest camper at Nashoba Day Camp. There I am: my knees the thickest part of my legs, my stringy brown hair clinging to a layer of sweat at the back of my neck, my bangs looking like ragged tassels instead of a neatly hemmed skirt. The counselors report that I am easily distracted and sometimes disruptive. Too young. My toes wiggle up and down when I am supposed to be still. I squirm during naptime; the wool blanket is scratchy against my skin. It isn’t that I don’t enjoy the crafts, swimming, and boating. It is that I am ready to begin just as it is time to move on, or restless when it is time to focus. And then one day it rains. We can’t do our outside activities, so the whole camp convenes in the dining hall for a music gathering. I only remember singing one song, and in my mind we sing this song for the whole afternoon.
One of the strongest characteristics of genius is the power of lighting its own fire. - -John Watson Foster What rushes through me is not the words or the melody, but the feeling of finally doing the same thing at the same time as the people around me, our words joining together in the communal storytelling of this rainy day song: The Lord said to Noah, there's gonna be a floody, floody… Get those children out of the muddy, muddy… Rise and shine and give God your glory, glory… Noah and the Lord are all mixed up in my mind—one old man with a long white beard, saving the world, saving me. In kindergarten, we go to the multi-purpose room once a week and sit on the floor to sing folk songs. Four classrooms of children are squished together in concentric semi-circles. My tights are red and thick, bunched at the ankles and stretched thin at my knees as I sit “Indian style.” I spread out my dress to cover my folded legs. The teacher stands in front of us holding a guitar. We sing with her. My back is straight and my mouth opens wide to form each word. We sing This Land Is Your Land, and I imagine ribbons of highway, like red and blue strands from a wrapped gift stretching across the land. Made for you and me. I am caught by the idea that it is ours, yours and mine; somehow we all belong to it. A space surrounds me as I sing. The rest of the world does not exist. When we get to the song, Cindy, Cindy, everyone turns to look at me, smiling smiles that don’t seem completely kind. I don’t like this song. Well, I love the melody and the feeling of the words “get along home” inside my mouth. But I do not like “I’ll marry you some day,” or the image of a man as an apple on a tree with my namesake taking a bite. We return to the good songs and I wish I was Michael, rowing his boat ashore, or Dinah, blowing on her horn. By third grade, the teacher with the guitar is gone, and when our classrooms join together, a black and white television is wheeled into the room on a tall metal “AV” cart. Every Tuesday at 2:00 p.m. we watch the Tony Saletan show. He teaches us songs. The words show up at the bottom of the screen with a little white ball bouncing on top of each syllable right when you are supposed to sing it. In the car riding home from school, I sing about the three white gulls that are soaring through the air—sixteen times in time in a row with no break. My sister complains that I am giving her a headache, but I don’t know how to stop. I also love the show’s sendoff song: This is Tony Saletan saying goodbye; Sing, Children, Sing! I am one of those singing children. Sixth grade. The music teacher asks me to keep the beat. This is a big responsibility and I feel important. More than that, I know what it means. It isn’t about marking time; it is the thing I touch that travels through my body to hit the drum. That is what it really means. My rhythm-love gets me invited to a special afterschool class called “Orff”
where we get to play with rhythms. No notes. Just mixed up beats, everyone on a percussion instrument or clapping hands in different patterns until it makes a forest of sound. It is the best thing that has ever happened in my life so far, this Orff class. Right before I begin seventh grade, my family moves. At my new school, we change classrooms for every class. There are always a lot of groans as the herd of jean-clad teens heads to the classroom at the end of hallway G. The Music Room. I don’t join in the groans, but I am very careful to contain myself during music class. Miss Cavalieri is a tall Italian woman with black hair, who looks like she will topple over from the thickness of her upper body resting on such long legs. Our silence is as deep as her enthusiasm. She talks about opera. I roll my eyes when her back is turned and one of the cool girls smiles back at me. In October, a new boy joins our class. Andres. His family has escaped to the United States from Czechoslovakia. I don’t talk to him. He is taller and stronger than the other boys, with hair that is dark, short and thick. There is a furry shadow over his top lip which makes his teeth look very white. He loves music class and Miss Cavalieri loves him. She is always smiling and standing by his desk and making little comments about how nice it would be if everyone was like Andres. I have a secret. I am glad Andres is in my music class because he is not afraid to show the thing I feel: my excitement over learning about notes and time signatures and the leap I experience inside when I see a whole piece of paper with sets of five thin lines from top to bottom. I don’t know if Andres understands much English or if he misses the country where he grew up. But I know that music needs no translation. It is a home he carries with him; it is a home inside of me. I have a new best friend. I met her on my way to Social Studies class. She was standing in front of her open locker, and she started talking to me as if I already knew her. Lorie invites me to her house. She plays the guitar! When I get home, I find my mother’s cheap old Harmony guitar at the back of her closet and unzip the brown canvas case. There are music books inside the piano bench, and I find one that has instructions for forming chords. Cradling the guitar on my knee, I match my fingers to the black polka dots in the instruction book and voila—it sounds like music. One day Lorie plays a song I have never heard before. “Everything in this song is true,” she tells me: Bye, bye, my baby, I'll rock you to sleep, Sing you a sad song, it might make you weep. Your daddy is dead, and he'll never come back, And the reason they killed him because he was black. It takes a lot of verses to tell the whole story. Usually I get bored with long ballads, but I listen to every word of Lorie’s haunting song. Medgar Ever’s Lullaby. Things are not right in the world. I hadn’t known and now I will never not know.
Contest 2009 The universe and the light of the stars come through me. Rumi
It is the middle of June at the end of my eighth grade year and I am going to a new camp. I know is it is an “international” camp and they take you on great hiking trips. I don’t know what I am in for. I don’t know that playing guitar with Lorie is just the tip of a rich blue iceberg. Summer camp is a place for singing. This is such a universal thing there are songs known as “camp songs” that everyone sings at camp, whether it is Jewish kids’ camp or girl scout camp or sports camp; somehow they are the ones that everyone sings. At Camp Interlocken there are campers and counselors from all over the world—Chile, New Zealand, England, Sweden, Jamaica. This is what happens when you include people from other cultures and invite them to share their lives with you: they bring their traditions, their games, their food, and, their music. By the time I get to Interlocken, Cricket is a standard sport, there is a weekly International Food Night, campers get to learn how to play the steel drum, and “camp songs” are sung in many languages. Music isn’t a separate activity, it permeates everything. I have never seen so many instruments. There are banjos, fiddles, concertinas, hammered dulcimers, African thumb pianos, tin whistles, and, of course, guitars. We are visited regularly by local musicians from nearby towns who come in the evenings to play and call country dances. During my second week, Bessie Jones arrives with the Georgia Sea Island Singers. They are an extended family who live off the coast of Georgia and still sing the songs sung by their slave ancestors. They dance and sway when they sing, the littlest two-year-old standing up front and singing right along. They don’t need any instruments except some tambourines—their voices are the instruments, as thick and full as a complete orchestra. My favorite instrument at camp is the five-string banjo. The camp director often opens a meeting or gathering with a song, accompanied by the bright strummy sound that comes from the short fifth string and the way his hand hits the round drum head. His friend Tony comes to camp for a while, and I like him, too. He collects work songs from all over the world, and he always teaches the last line first. That way, when you get to the end of the song, it isn’t the weakest part that you can barely remember; it is that part that brings you home. He teaches me the most beautiful song I will ever learn. Bright morning stars are rising… day is a-breaking in my soul. The high and low parts of this song weave together so well it seems like you are hearing more than two notes at a time. Tony has long hair and a full bushy beard. One day, I am sitting on the wide deck in the center of camp. Tony is playing his guitar and his guitar case is open beside him. While he is singing, I look inside and notice a flyer with a photograph. The flyer is for a concert, and the photograph is of Tony. Not this bearded Tony, but a younger Tony. I am looking so hard at that photograph I can’t move my head. I am realizing the craziest thing I can imagine. Sing,
Children, Sing. Tony Saletan. I don’t make the connection until I see this clean-cut photograph. He is the person who came into my life once a week on a black and white television. He finishes his song and looks at me. “I used to watch you on TV,” I say. He tells me a long story about the TV show and what happened to it, but I can’t hear the words because those old songs and how I felt then and how I feel now are all that I can hold. Because I am still the threeyear-old child, my hand on the thread that will speak to me for my entire life, my body the tuning fork that gets struck into vibration by music and song, fiddles and banjos, the beat of a drum. Sindee Ernst has been in the Baltimore area for twenty-five years. She’s a musician, dancer, writing enthusiast, Integrative Breathing practitioner, and Administrative Assistant for The Leadership in Baltimore. Her work has appeared in Tiny Lights, Passager Journal, Writing It Real, The Urbanite and in the collection Keeping Time: 150 Years of Journal Writing. She is the founder of Memoir Medley, an online text-sharing writing experience.
n Look for Susan Bono and Tiny Lights at: The Sonoma County Book Festival Saturday, September 25, 2010 10-4 Old Courthouse Square in Santa Rosa, CA Admission: FREE As always, hope to see you there! Www.socobookfest.org
15th Annual Petaluma Poetry Walk Sept. 19 10-8 at venues around Petaluma I'll be introducing readings for Mimi Albert, Kit Kennedy, Eileen Malone, Amber Tamblyn and Ed Mycue. Don't miss this avalanche of poetry! Www.petalumapoetrwalk.org
Redwood Writers Conference Theme: Celebration of the Written Word October 29-30 Flamingo Hotel, Santa Rosa, CA Www.redwoodwriters.org
Spirit Mountain Retreat Center Idyllwild, CA October 1-3
Write Ways to Love: A Writers Retreat Facilitators: Susan Bono & Joan Zerrien We will explore the many faces of love through meditation, writing prompts, journaling and more. Fee: $250 includes retreat, private room and meals Commuter Fee: $150 for retreat and meals Register: 951-659-2523 or Abigail@spiritmountainretreat.org Www.spiritmountainretreat.org
Contest 2009 We cannot hold a torch to light another's path without brightening our own. Ben Sweetland
Searchlights & Signal Flares Searchlights & Signal Flares, TL’s monthly online column, is written by readers like you. Join us! Go to www.tiny-lights.com and subscribe to our free monthly newsletter, Sparks: News & Notes, to keep up with the conversation and get Searchlights prompts delivered to your inbox.
Flares from our June 2009 posting:
What are your stories made of ?
t was in the 1960s when I was perhaps eleven or twelve. My father's friend, Mr. Pinkus, drove our family to JFK
Airport. Ah—-Mr. Pinkus. . . Mr. Pinkus ran a mail order businesses; you know, the kind that advertise on the back of a Superman comic or the Police Gazette. His bestselling item was the X-Ray Vision Glasses for only three dollars and ninety-five cents; you put these glasses on and you could see through women's clothes—guaranteed or money back. And Mr. Pinkus advertised this amazing device with a cartoon of a guy looking through a woman's dress (female anatomy discretely shown in silhouette). The cartoon guy's hair always stood straight up for some reason, his eyes opened wide. Geez, that cartoon got our attention. Mr. Pinkus often came to our house carrying a brown briefcase, initialed with a gold H.P., for Herb Pinkus. He always asked me to look inside. So one day I looked and saw that his case was stuffed to the brim with crumpled one and five dollar bills. Later Mr. Pinkus spent time in jail for something called tax evasion, which I didn't understand but knew didn't involve a gun, which made it less exciting. Mrs. Pinkus always wore a mink stole, even in summer. My father told us she might be schizophrenic; we didn't know what that word meant except that we should not stare or ask questions when she said it was raining inside the house. We liked Mrs. Pinkus because she was mostly happy. His son, Joey Pinkus, lived in a tower of the Pinkus house, built to resemble a medieval castle. For twenty-seven years he rarely left that room and eventually developed scurvy because he refused to eat anything that was orange or yellow. Green was okay. And… Hey, wait a minute. What happened to the trip to JFK Airport? I started on a flat road that seemed destined to a pretty lake, bordered by a weeping willow or some such thing, and then a mysterious hand led me on a path somewhere else. Not always to be trusted, that hand. Sometimes story is digression, a path off the clear trail you thought you were traveling. But still you walk, seeking an idealized perfection, out of reach, melting like snow falling on a flowing river.
Ed Feldman is following his path in Sebastopol, CA.
he following comprises the entirety of everything I have written:
Fact/fiction; love/hate/and in between; you/me/them/it; he/she; mad/sad/glad/scared; weird/normal; provocative/boring; poem/ novel/flash fiction/short story/travel piece/satire; dreams/ observations/thoughts; animal/vegetable/mineral; safe/risky; family/strangers; really good/really bad/in between; water/ booze/milk; crime/rules/lots of rules; lots/little; lies/truth/ politics; heroes/scoundrels; coats/undies/hankies/dresses/suits/ hats; rings/feathers/hatpins; wide open spaces/closets/the infinitely small; and more. Oh, I forgot infinity.
G. M. Monks of Fairfield, CA, lives in a hard-core California suburb and works in a hard-core bureaucracy. No wonder she loves to escape into writing. Her poems have been published in Bathtub Gin and Todd Point Review.
want to say my stories are made of bone and gristle or mortar and bricks. I would like to think they're strong with solid foundations. But sometimes when I bite into them, I find fluff, like that spun confection sold at carnivals. But if one of my stories sticks to you like cotton candy, well then, that's a good thing!
Marlene Cullen tries not to write fluff and occasionally succeeds in Petaluma, CA.
y stories are made out of my own confusion. They are built of fits and starts, hesitations, blunders, stalls, lulls, blurts. I imagine the minds of other writers as spacious rooms, properly appointed for the comfort of their muses with comfy chairs, the warm light of well-placed lamps, lots of books, a fully stocked writing desk, windows open to the sea. The inside of my head is more like a dirty kitchen—the stained counters cluttered with crusty dishes, empty cans, spilled coffee grounds, plastic bags and wrappers, the sink slick with sludge, a sticky table littered with dirty coffee cups, crumpled napkins and mail. My thoughts don't laugh musically, lean back into the cushions and take another sip of tea. My thoughts scamper like mice from under the stove, zigzagging from crumb to crumb. Their quick darting movements at the edge of my vision continually startle me, triggering jolts of primal fright. And when they skitter toward me, allowing me a better view of them, I have to fight the urge to leap shrieking onto a chair. Whatever writing I manage to do is an attempt to overcome my fear of these tiny, essentially harmless creatures long enough to make some intelligent guesses about them. It is also an effort to clean up and restore order—to make stories that will nourish my spirit with the unlikely contents of my larder. Lately, it feels like the mice are winning, but I know if I keep trying to make something out of nothing and tidying up, I will one day find my way to that room where my muses wait with their teacups, laughing.
Susan Bono is taking it one dirty cup at a time in Petaluma, CA.
The marsh is quiet at night. The eyelash of a moon stuck against the velvety sky was like an open parenthetical for infinity. The ellipses of Orion's belt. David S. Johnson
Flash Prize: $150
Fishing By B. Morrison
ell, goodbye,â€? he said. I shut the door after him and turned back to the kitchen that seemed too bright with all the lights reflecting on the windows and keeping the darkness out. I usually left most of the lights off, liking the way the shadows pooled in the corners. But it was always the first thing he did, turn on all the lights. I glanced over at the door to the front room, but the boys were quiet. Here in this top-floor apartment, I'd always felt safe. No one could find me in this triple-decker that looked like all the others, full of the musty smell of too many people's comings and goings. But he'd found me. Five years later. I'd told him: Don't come near me for five years. Knowing it would take me that long to get over him. If you're going to leave. Knowing it was better for the kids, still babies then, not even to think he was going to be part of their lives. Iâ€™d been nervous about seeing him again. I planned to dress up, or at least think about what to wear, but before I knew it, he was knocking at the door, and me still in my old jeans and tee shirt. When I opened the door, it was as if no time at all had passed. He looked the same as ever, with his strong compact body and that quirky smile that turned my knees to water. Jeremy, always the bold one, marched right up to him and said, â€œWho are you?â€? â€œNow, Jeremy . . . â€? I began. He looked down at Jeremy and, without smiling, said, â€œIâ€™m Lewis.â€? Jeremy eyed him for a moment and then said, â€œAll right.â€? He turned and walked back to the bedroom saying, â€œItâ€™s okay, Justin. Itâ€™s just Lewis.â€? His younger brother peeped from behind the door. Lewis raised one eyebrow at me. I could only shrug. I had coffee ready, knowing he could never get enough of it. His initial stiffness melted quickly as we sat over our mugs, talking
as we had back in the beginning, politics mostly, agreeing about so much: The City Managerâ€™s office . . . That bunch of crooks . . . Foster care. We talked like old friends who hadnâ€™t seen each other for a while. Meanwhile, the boys raced around screaming, excited at having a stranger in the house. Lewis gave me a rueful grin and said, â€œI guess I should give in and play with them for a while.â€? The boys were delighted that he was willing to get down on the floor and wrestle with them and strong enough to swing even Jeremy up to the ceiling. Watching the boys rough-housing from the door to the kitchen, I felt something long frozen inside me begin to thaw. He gave the boys the fishing rods he'd brought for them, not real ones, toys, with red and white bobbers. Said he'd take them fishing some day, out to Quabbin Reservoir maybe. Donâ€™t, I thought. Then we sat at the kitchen table and talked a little about the five years that stood between us and our old life together. I watched him over the rim of my coffee mug and wondered if he'd stay the night. But he just finished his coffee and called goodbye to the boys before leaving. So I closed the door behind him, not sure if it would be another five years before I heard from him again. And not sure whether that would be a good thing or not. The boys were still awfully quiet in the front room. Walking over to the doorway, I saw the two of them sitting side by side on the couch like stepping stones, with the same blond mop of hair, the same striped knit shirts and corduroy pants, their sneakers not even moving back and forth. They held their rods in both hands, the lines flung out across the rug, the red and white bobbers lying motionless against the dark green fibers of the rug. And the boys silent, not touching, looking steadily at the bobbers, waiting for the twitch, the slightest movement that would signal that somewhere in the green depths a fish had taken the hook. The boys, so young, so sure that if they waited long enough and wanted hard enough, the red and white ball would suddenly start to move, pulled by a silver-scaled trout hidden deep in the dark green water lapping at their feet. I turned away, back to the kitchen, and put both hands over my face to shut out the light. B. Morrison is the author of a poetry collection, Here at Least, and a memoir, Innocent: Confessions of a Welfare Mother, coming out later this year. Her award-winning work has been published in magazines such as The Sun, Sin Fronteras, and Scribble. Visit her website and blog at www.bmorrison.com
n A Better Choice Hypnosis and Energy Psychology Lizzie Hannon 707-280-8470
Sheila Benderâ€™s Writing It Realâ„˘: www.writingitreal.com Premium magazine and resource center for writing from personal experience
Contest 2009 Blessed are the cracked—for is they who let in the light. Betty Winslow
Flash Prize: $150 Deborah Garber
Dog Story By Susan Phillips
hen you get back inside your mother’s car, the old dog, who seemed almost too feeble to haul herself into the back, has climbed over the seat and is sitting straight and tall and alert, like a person, in the passenger seat. She looks like a person, too, and the way she watches the scenery go by, you think perhaps she is, perhaps it was the dog you just left off at the beauty parlor, instead of your mother, so you talk to her, and amazingly, she answers you! At first you think you should drive back to Laney’s Curl Cottage and yank that white haired imposter out of the chair and say, “Bad dog!” Or just pretend it was an innocent mistake. You confer with the sentient being sitting next to you, and she looks you right in the eye, intelligent, comprehending. Let’s go for a ride! So you do. You take her by the waterfall next to the old stone mill that was the library until this year, when they built a new library, so now it’s a mill again, but not a real one: a museum mill, a comelook-at-me mill. You’ve lost all your respect for it, but you do love the waterfall, which is unchanged. So does the dog. You’ve opened her window, and her head and one front leg hang out to get a better look, a better sniff. You go around twice, surprising and pleasing her because she likes it as much as you do. You want to see if the magnolia on the hill, just up from the falls, is in bloom yet. Maybe it’s too early. Maybe someone cut it down. There are people, you tell the dog, who actually cut trees down. The dog is amazed at this. People don’t tell dogs enough; perhaps they don’t think they are intelligent enough to understand. You experiment. You tell her a story. It involves many characters, some of whom she has never met, complex events, spread over a wide range of time. Without a doubt, she understands every word! She’s not looking at the scenery anymore (she ignores that dog jaywalking in front of you). You feel her sympathy, empathy, her understanding. She just might qualify as your New Best Friend. You ask her if she needs anything at the A & P. Jerky treats? Breath freshener? She says she is fine, thank you. You turn on Jacksonburg Creek Road and you both get out to stretch and feel the gentle heat of the spring sunshine. You walk by her side to the creek and watch her drink. She seems very thirsty, watching you as she slowly laps the cold water. You check your watch and report that you must be back at
Laney’s Curl Cottage soon to pick up the one you left there to have her hair done, the one you thought was your mother, but now aren’t quite sure, because you’ve been so wrong about the dog, you can’t be sure of anything. You sense the dog’s reluctance to get back into the car. She doesn’t want this afternoon to end, she is so happy. You could run away together. You could live in the woods on fruits and berries and wild game. You could just get in the car and drive until you run out of gas and money and take up residence wherever that may be. You and your best friend. A life! Or, you could return as promised and pick up your whitehaired mother at the hairdresser’s. The dog watches you go back to the car. She sighs and ambles up the hill. You give her a little boost into the front seat and she smiles at you. She is not young anymore, probably as old as your mother in Dog Years. Your mother comes out of Laney’s Curl Cottage looking so ridiculous that neither you nor the dog can keep a straight face. Its as if her head is a milkweed pod, split open, then lacquered in place just as it was about to disperse its little parachutes. “Looks nice,” you say. The dog wisely yawns and looks at the pet rabbit that sits in a cage by the door, chewing on a lettuce leaf. “Why do you let that dirty dog sit up front?” your mother whines. “Now I’ll have black hairs all over me!” The dog puts on a good act of looking contrite, slithers over the seat, leaving her black tail hanging between you and your mother. “And take that with you,” your mother growls, flipping the long tail into the back. You pull out of the driveway, and as you do, you meet the dog’s eyes in the rearview mirror. You like what she’s done with her hair. Suddenly you know you will laugh all the way home, that you just might not stop laughing. Susan Phillips has always had dogs in her life. Her parent’s first dog was their first “child” (a wedding gift). Susan was third in line, after her brother, for love, attention, table scraps. In the ’80s she began writing quirky short stories and poetry. Years (and many dogs) later, she’s still writing short stories, poems, essays and a novel that may or may not end. The current dog, a pound rescue, sleeps with her head on Susan’s foot.
n Look who is publishing with Jaxon's Press: Poetry, Prose, Music Books & CDs
Sarah Baker Jonah Raskin Ken Rodgers Timothy Williams For information call Timothy Williams 707-579-3249 email@example.com
Contest 2009 There is no such thing as an artist: there is only the world, lit or unlit as the light allows. Annie Dillard Holy the Firm
Flash Prize: $150
Seeing the Trees by Deborah Thompson Kamil Dawson
he day you get your first pair of glasses at eight years old is the most perfect day of autumn, the trees aflame, the air hot against the chill as you walk into your breath. Your brother runs ahead to beat you to the automatic doors of the optometry shop and commands their parting with a stomp. When the optometrist’s assistant brings out the newly-lensed frames, disappointingly thick, all laid out to rest in a tray, you’re hesitant to touch. “Try them on,” your bespectacled mother coaches. You turn to the window so that the first thing you’ll see anew is the burning tree, altogether gold-red-yellowbrown, spectacularly alive in its dying. You lift the glasses to your eyes: the flames are not flames at all, but individual leaves, hundreds and thousands of them, all separate, all distinct. And branches, too, some already bare, which you did not yet know until this moment, though now you see that the bare branches are stiff and spindly, like the spider legs your brother pulled yesterday off the live, squirming insect’s trunk and threw at you, the delicate legs you picked off your pink velour sweatshirt and held up to your eyes, legs thinner than a needle and instantly dead. “Look in the mirror,” the assistant says, and you see first the strangely serious mask that is you and then, behind your shoulder, your brother, who makes circles with his index fingers and thumbs, and then raises them to his eyes in dawning mockery, and you are already the ugly girl with glasses who will obligingly become bookish and good as your brother goes very bad. You look away from the mirror, knowing you will not look back for years, and return to the tree which is now a tree, and you know that the days of glorious, flagrant blur and blending are over, and there will now be clear, hard, minute distinctions everywhere, a world of divisions and dead leaves.
Deborah Thompson is an Associate Professor of English at Colorado State University and a member of the Slow Sand Writers Society.
FLASH IN THE PAN Quarterly explosions of brilliance at www.tiny-lights.com. These pieces are from the 18th Flash:
What the Living Do by Jane Holly Love
almon Creek Beach, Sunday afternoon, my daughter and I are here to escape the inland heat, to fling ourselves into saltwater, to run shivering back to our blanket to eat bread and cheese, potato chips and nectarines. The sun is turning from white gold to blood orange when we hear a shout where Salmon Creek spills from the hillside, pooling into a small but deep lagoon. First, no more than one raised arm, another shout, one person diving down and coming up with a cry, then two arms raised. Then a small knot of people running into the water, something going on where swimmers are surface diving, coming up for air, going down again, then swimming to shore with something in tow. Every person on the beach is turning toward the lagoon, not running over, but turning that way and sitting, as you would at a Fourth of July picnic where you watch the band performing from a discreet distance. All the splashing children have gone silent. We see it clearly now, effort being made over the large, pale form on the sand, the pumping that is going on, people running up the sand dune in lines, like purposeful ants. The pumping rhythm does not stop and soon we hear the faraway drone of a helicopter and then it whirs overhead and lands near where the people are kneeling and pumping. We see someone in a uniform, running. Then, paddles placed on the pale form and limbs jerking upward, again and again, and then falling, still. Nobody on the beach is moving, everyone is still, watching from a distance, on beach towels as colorful as magic carpets. No human sound, just gulls, just the water sucking at the sand, in, out, receding, returning. The helicopter lifts and spins at a crazy angle and some people take the pale form and lift it on a stretcher and cover it, then stagger with it up the path to the parking lot. No one is running now. The sun has slipped to where it sits low and inflamed on the water. I hold my daughter close to me. One by one we rise, brush off sand, fold towels. Thin wail of a baby. My daughter takes the last of the nectarines and sprints to the water. Hurls it in a long, clean arc toward the setting sun.
Jane Holly Love, former Events Coordinator for Copperfield's Books in Sonoma County and editor of "The Dickens" is now living and writing in Eugene, Oregon.
Lend me thy pen To write a word in the moonlight. Au Clair de la Lune
A Flash in the Pan
A Flash in the Pan
Child Walking by Mary Gaffney
Marriage One by Janet Jennings
ome of the neighbors thought I was crazy when I was a child. They thought that because I often walked up and down the sidewalk in front of our house for an hour or more. Other neighbors thought I must be composing music or fantastic stories or something exceptionally creative. I didnâ€™t encourage either idea, but neither did I volunteer any information on what I was thinking. I was embarrassed to say what I thought about during all those hours because, mostly, it was nothing. I might start off daydreaming about what I would be like when I grew up. Beautiful, like my Mother, I hoped, but more sophisticated, with a leopard skin coat, and maybe a leopard too. Or a housewife with children, like her, but one who made chocolate cakes, unlike her. Or maybe one who played bridge in her underwear on hot summer afternoons? That Mom didn't make cakes. She made â€œLadies Drinks,â€? & the other ladies in their undies enjoyed the drinks and the game. Although I didnâ€™t know anyone with a leopard, or even a leopard skin coat, my imagination didnâ€™t usually roam far from our neighborhood or my parentsâ€™ circle of friends. Despite those limitations, it was obvious that there were many variations in female adults. But after a short while of imagining my adult self, I didnâ€™t think about anything. I just walked my blank mind back and forth. Now I realize it was a moving meditation. The only strange thing about it is that I was a child. Wasnâ€™t I lucky that my Mom never said, â€œStop it! The neighbors will think thereâ€™s something wrong with you.â€?
Mary Gaffneyâ€™s writing appears in the Floreant Press anthologies, Tiny Lights, and elsewhere. Her bog: firstname.lastname@example.org.
A Flash in the Pan
Storm Clouds by Maggie Manning
I do not say what I want to say, am wired to say. I catch the impulse to strike back, inflict equal pain. Together we watch a 600pound Siberian tiger pace the short range of its cage. Dark stripes disrupt the outline of its body behind bars. More tigers live in captivity than in the wild, we are told, as fortified horse meat is tossed into the cage. The hunt, the hunt, there will be no hunt. Ears flat against its head, the old drums in its blood, the tiger twitches its tail back and forth. Janet Jennings lives in San Anselmo, California, with her husband and twin daughters. Her work has appeared in Agni, Atlanta Review, Nimrod, and Redivider, among others. Her chapbook, Traces in Water, was published this year.
SONOMA COUNTY WRITERS Petaluma: WRITERS FORUM Third Thursday of the month 7â€”9 p.m. Petaluma Community Center (320 N. McDowell Blvd.) $15 each workshop at the door www.thewritespot.us August 19: Gordon Burgett, author and journalist September 16: Jody Gehrman, author October 21 Mark Burstein, editor November 18: David Corbett, author February 17, 2011: Zoe Fitzgerald Carter, author March 17, 2011: Vern Dreisbach, agent April 15, 2011: Matt Stewart, novelist
SONOMA COUNTY LITERARY UPDATE The Sonoma County Literary Update is undergoing exciting changes! Tim Nonn is the new editor of the monthly email newsletter. Contact him: email@example.com
y mother has one toe in the grave, but she's not ready to step off that cliff just yet. The storm clouds gather as her eighty-first birthday approaches; the voice of death calls more insistently. Still, she sits outside on a warm spring evening, licking her blackberry cone and listening to the soft whir of faraway insects.
Jo-Anne Rosen joins Tim in co-editing the Update blog. Join the Literary Update Support Committee and/or the ongoing discussion at the So Co Lit Update yahoogroup: http://groups.yahoo.com/search?query+SoCoLitUpdate
Maggie Manning, a college professor and wanna-be writer, hopes she will
Aqus CafĂŠ 2nd & H Streets, Petaluma, CA Hosts: Susan Bono & Ransom Stephens November 3, 2010 7-9 p.m.
approach the end of her life with as much equanimity as her mother.
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Aqus Speakeasy Literary Saloon
Who needs a stuffy salon when our quarterly saloon features the best in local literary talent! Come, have a drink, listen to the headliners, and put your name in the hat for a chance at the open mic!
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MARLENE CULLEN Writing Workshops www.thewritespot.us Lighting the path for reflection
A literary print shop. Printing the old way, with metal type & half-ton presses. Classes in letterpress arts, poetry broadside design & chapbooks. Custom printing jobs accepted.
CLARA ROSEMARDA, WriteMind Workshops™ CREATIVE WRITING CLASSES Mornings & Evenings, begin mid-September HEALING THROUGH WORDS: Telling Your Story After a Life-changing Event 4 Tuesdays, begins November 1st 10am to Noon at SCA
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In Jupiter’s Shadow A Memoir by Gregory Gerard
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’ve been rummaging around in already full closets lately, trying to find space for all the stuff I brought home when I emptied my parents’ house last May. It’s been rough going. I stopped wondering why when I realized Mom and Dad lived in their house for thirty-seven years, but that’s only eight years longer than we’ve lived in ours. Our youngest son stumbles upon these scenes of wreckage and finds me staring into space clutching a quilt or wood carving or photograph. I think my uncharacteristic attempts at organization are making him nervous. “What are you doing? What’s that?” he asks. “Oh, this is some of your Great Aunt Emily’s needlepoint,” I tell him a little too eagerly. “These are my Barbie clothes, and here are the baby rompers your great grandmother made for your grandfather back in 1925. You wore them once yourself.” I give him these family history updates knowing full well it’s drifting into one ear on its out the other. At twenty-two, he doesn’t have a sentimental bone in his body. But as long as he keeps asking, I continue to supply the disregarded answers. Telling these stories is a kind of test. I’m trying to figure out how much I actually know about the Scotty dog napkin ring, the china baby doll, the anniversary clock, the piece of Native American pottery. If I don’t remember what my parents told me about these things, what can they really mean to me? “It’s just stuff,” I heard myself say as I watched people carry off Christmas decorations, books, camping gear and clothing from the garage sale I organized to clear my parents’ attic. But I might as well have said, “It’s just stories.” Stories that connect me by an ever-thinning thread to a world that is disappearing. I remember asking my own mother “What’s that?” and “Who are those people?” when I caught her sorting drawers or photographs. I thought I was listening to her explanations, but I didn’t retain much. The tiny mirrored powder box with the ostrich puff, that silver thimble—I know they were her mother’s, but what about the rest of the story? I’m sure she told me more than once, each time straining to remember what her own mother said, knowing a day would come when I would realize the story of an object becomes more precious than the thing itself when there’s no one left to ask about it.
Susan Bono Tiny Lights Publications